A Spanish Reflection

A Spanish Reflection

After spending a full Saturday exploring pockets of Barcelona, I woke up the following Sunday morning thinking it would be nice to get a run in, even though I couldn’t run in the Cursa De La Mercè race. 
 
Sunday morning walk through streets
Sunday morning walk through streets
 
I ended up doing a short 3 miler, out and back, on the city streets. There weren’t too many people out, and since a race was taking place, there were actually a number of runners warming up. I actually ended up walking by the course and seeing the runners when I was on my way to coffee and chocolate con churros, haha! 
 
Forn d'en Pau , Sant Antoni neighborhood
Forn d’en Pau , Sant Antoni neighborhood
 
For my late-ish breakfast, I actually ended up having churros with just coffee. The language barrier prevented me from clarifying if the churros came with hot chocolate, so what I ended up getting was coffee to dip them in. 
 
Churros & Coffee
Churros & Coffee
 
The churros themselves were hot and crispy, but they had no sugar or cinnamon on them so they literally tasted like fried pieces of unflavored dough. But at least it was authentic unflavored Spanish dough? 
 
After spending some time in the cafe, I walked back to my Airbnb and packed up all my things slowly. I made the walk over to Sants station so that I could catch a train headed to Sitges, where my conference was taking place. 
 
Rao
Rodalies de Catalunya

The train ride to Sitges was about a half an hour, and a lot of the people that got off with me were decked out in beach gear and barely had any belongings with them. A sign that this beach town was a getaway for most people living in the city. The first thing I noticed while looking out the window on the train was how bright blue the ocean was…like, unbelievably, I’ve-never-seen-the-color-blue-until-now, blue.

The train station was a small one, and the set-up of he town was adorable. Of course I made the wrong turn when trying to navigate to my Airbnb with Google Maps, but once I was able to orient myself correctly, it was just a short walk away from the station to my Airbnb.

The cute town of Sitges
The cute town of Sitges

Later that afternoon, I walked over to where my conference was taking place, and it happened to be just around a mile in distance so it was another short walk.

Sunday afternoon views
Sunday afternoon views

The conference actually began in the late morning, so I arrived in time for some of the later talks and the reception.

After marking my attendance there, I slowly walked back so I could take in the gorgeous landscape around me.

<3

Along with stalking stray cats…

Two cats and a kitten---I died ♥
Two cats and a kitten—I died, their cuteness killed me ♥

The views were just incredible…no wonder the city folk come here so nonchalantly for a break from bustling city life.

♥

I ended up on a path that led me directly to the shores of the beach, in front of a couple of restaurants. I saved time for more exploring the next day, since I was feeling a bit tired and wanted to get back so I could just chill, haha.

I spent the majority of the day the next day at the conference, jotting down notes during the talks, sipping on cups of free coffee, and munching on finger foods and a buffet-style lunch at the hotel restaurant.

Conference views...
Conference views…

Poster session 1 also took place that day, so I was able to review and discuss the projects of other grad students and post-docs who were presenting. My poster presentation was the following day, so it was a good preview for me.

In the evening, I went out for a long walk, starting out in the opposite direction from where I started yesterday.

I stumbled upon opportunities to capture panoramic views of the gorgeous Mediterranean sea…

♥

I walked through the neighborhoods and felt like I stepped back in time…

The architecture was just...gahhh
The architecture was just…gahhh

There was so much activity and noise from people strolling about…there was so much to see.

Purposefully getting lost :P
Purposefully getting lost 😛

I walked for a while on the road parallel to the train station, walking in and out of shops until I ended up in a residential area.

Wonder how much that real estate costs...
Wonder how much that real estate costs…

I stopped to sit down at a bench facing the sand and ocean when I got closer to the beach again. The sun was setting, and the moment was just perfect to stop and reflect. I didn’t have a pen or paper to manually write thoughts onto, but I did write a personal entry into my Notes app. I was definitely feeling some feels, so jotting my thoughts down (even digitally) was something I had the urge to do.

And because it had some iconic significance, I stopped by the Iglesia de San Bartolomé y Santa Tecla (I totally copied/pasted the name from Google, haha). Just like you can’t draw the NY skyline without Lady Liberty of LA’s without the Hollywood sign peeking from the background, this church found its way into all of the coastline pictures I took.

♥

I realized my stay had been a short one the next day, after attending and presenting my work on the final day of the conference. It would have been nice to have had an extra day (rather than just two evenings) to explore the town more. The people I had been staying with were so thoughtful and engaging, and they even helped me out with getting a return train ticket back to Barcelona since my whole credit card/PIN thing was an issue at the Sitges station! I wish I could have had time to talk to them more too. I guess all of these are reasons to go back one day…

Barcelona, 6:30AM
The green side of Barcelona, 6:30AM

I took the train back to El Prat de Llobregat since I was staying at a place close to the airport. Again, because I could not purchase a metro ticket because I lacked a PIN number, I learned that being close to the airport was equivalent to ~50 minute walk. It was the first time on this trip I did not make a single wrong turn when heading out.

Literally walking to the airport...
Literally walking to the airport…

My 2.5 mile walk with luggage was enough of a reason to get a legit order of chocolate con churros. I spotted Caffe di Fiore when I entered my departing terminal, and was grateful that I had enough time to sit down and eat!

Hello, food
Hello, breakfast.

Now, this was what I imagined when I set out to find this on Sunday morning:

Yas.
Yaaaas.

The churros were crispy (not at all soft and doughy on the inside like the ones I had on Sunday were), and the hot chocolate was thicker than a generic Swiss Miss hot chocolate drink, but had a thinner consistency than say, chocolate frosting.

Whatever, it was good, and that’s all that matters.

I took Aer Lingus from Barcelona to Dublin, and even though going through three security checkpoints in Dublin felt like a total nightmare, at least I didn’t have to worry about all of that fun stuff when arriving in LA. It was like getting off a domestic flight: straight to baggage claim!

I got out of my jet-lag funk and processed a lot of thoughts post-trip—

Usually when I come back from a really good trip, I feel a longing to be back that eventually goes away with time and settling into my routine, but it’s as if the opposite happened with Spain.

I was feeling hurried and worn out before I left for Spain. I was coming off of three additional overnighters in lab, and wrapping up some time-sensitive experiments. There was no time to really plan anything. It was like I was going with a “just got to get this conference thing checked off” attitude vs. a “OMG I’m GOING to Spain on my own for the VERY FIRST TIME” one.

My feelings changed over the course of the day I spent exploring Barcelona. I felt so independent, confident, and free, going where I pleased and finding joy in everything around me. And then when I got to Sitges, it felt like I was the leading female protagonist in one of those “young woman goes abroad on her own” novels, haha.

To be honest, I did come with a sense trepidation, considering the idea of being targeted by pickpockets or being singled out because I was a young lady traveling on my own, but I actually found the people I interacted with to be very kind and thoughtful. I didn’t leave with a heavy heart, but even as I write this almost a month later, I have a longing to go back.

The experience made me realize that I want to travel, or at least live in a different country for a few years.

When I moved to LA in the fall of 2014 (time flies by so fast…I can’t repeat that often enough!), I was anxious and excited to finally be living on my own and in the city. Over the course of three years, I found a way out of my eating disorder struggles, I worked my way through the beginning stages of recovery, I established strong friendships (both old and new), and most importantly, I found (and continue to find) peace with my body. Self love and confidence were probably the things I would say I am most grateful for achieving since moving to LA.

And after this past year of travel and exponential self-growth, I am seriously considering moving outside of the country for my “next move” after getting my PhD. I feel like I would only be holding myself back if I stayed here…in my now comfort zone. I feel like I want and need to ready myself for a whole new cultural immersion and way of living. I’m excited just thinking about it…

Barcelona, will I see you again soon?
Barcelona, will I see you again soon?

I’m not setting anything in stone or making my mind up permanently, but I am comfortable with keeping my options open. After living so long with limitations, just feeling limitless is exhilarating enough.

Being in Barcelona, Day 1

Being in Barcelona, Day 1

So, about Spain.

I’d have to say that the chance to go was definitely unexpected. Work-related business ultimately led me to this opportunity, and I’d go so far as to say that it was one of the best experiences of this year. I’d like to use my last recap post of the trip as a “personal reflection”, but I’m incredibly behind on recapping in general, so I’m just gonna get right to it!

I left for Barcelona on a Thursday morning, Cali time. It felt odd to not go into lab, but I quickly got into the traveler’s mindset when my Lyft came by to take me to the airport. I flew to Charlotte via American Airlines, and while this leg wasn’t so bad, I quickly grew to despise AA when flying out of Charlotte.

I was carrying a conference poster rolled up in a tall case, and every time I tried to secure it in an overhead compartment, it would promptly roll out. Passengers around me had no problem tapping my shoulder and pointing at my loose poster roll, but did anyone bother to help me out? Yeah-no.

When it fell out and the cap burst off and rolled under someone’s seat beyond my reach, I requested their help but no one would budge. I asked a stewardess to help, but she quickly proved herself to be one big female canine if you know what I mean…

Eventually a guy stood up, found the cap, and helped me secure the poster better. I thanked him but I still felt heated from the whole situation. At least I had eight or so hours to myself and to cool down…

I arrived in Barcelona at around 11am local time. I didn’t have a window seat, so I missed out on getting a sneak peak of the city, but my concern upon landing was how would I make it out to the city.

My first Airbnb was near a major transport hub, and my host recommended Intake Aerobus. But that’s when I encountered my first issue.

Hmm...should have been simple, but it became complicated quickly...
Hmm…should have been simple, but it became complicated quickly…

Lesson #1 – Always bring cash when traveling in Spain from another country.

I quickly learned that in order for me to be able to use a credit card overseas, at least at a ticket vendor machine, I needed to have a PIN associated with that car. Clueless me was puzzled about this when I attempted to purchase an Aerobus ticket. The ticketmaster ultimately came over, and after trying it for himself, he simply said “No.” and handed the card back to me.

Again, my concern was just making it out to the city in one piece, so I had to find a way. I next tried to purchase some Metro tickets at one of the automated kiosks. No luck there, since it once again asked for a PIN and I was stuck. Luckily, a woman who was supervising the area gave me the recommendation to get a HOLA BCN card at the counter, since I could purchase it with a credit card without providing a PIN.

That was a success, and it only cost me €14 for a 48hr pass! I immediately found the station out, and headed towards Plaça de Espãnya.

.
Plaça de Espãnya

I was staying at an Airbnb that was near the center of all things—it was close to a multi-story mall that was converted from a bull fighting arena, and there was just activity all-around.

The architecture of everything had me stop in my tracks...
The architecture of everything had me stop in my tracks…

I was in awe of everything around me…I did clutch on my backpack and suitcase tightly because I had read about pickpockets (and I wanted go avoid what I had experienced in Paris earlier this summer with my family), but as soon as I saw the Airbnb I was staying at, I became more relaxed.

I checked in easily, set my things aside, and immediately fell into a glorious nap! I woke up later that afternoon and talked to my Dad for a bit before deciding that I should at least go for a walk to get rid of the grogginess. It was cold and rainy outside, and I probably should have packed a jacket, but I made do and walked north in the direction of Plaça de Cataunya.

Rainy day in Barcelona
Rainy day in Barcelona

I walked by an array of shops, markets, paella cafes, and coffee cafes, but what blue me away was how clean the streets were. Compared to the polluted streets of London and dusty roads of Paris, Barcelona was pretty much spotless, haha!

There were two Starbucks along my route, and I stopped at each in order to use their wifi and check where I was. I didn’t want to go out too far as it got darker and colder, and since I was feeling tired, I turned around after getting to Plaça de Cataunya. I tried to find a vegan place that was supposedly in the city center, but it was hard to navigate to and I was getting more tired, hungry, and impatient.

I ended up deciding on a place close to the Airbnb: SandwiChez.

Falafel wrap & tea at Sandwichez
Falafel wrap & tea at SandwiChez

It was a cozy coffee shop chain, and I got myself a simple Falafel Wrap with a side of chai tea. Everything was warmed up, and I found a convenient little spot by the wall to relax and enjoy my meal.

Something to soothe the jetlag.
Something to soothe the jetlag.

I surprisingly didn’t have too much jetlag that night, and I was able to fall asleep pretty quickly. I did wake up a few times in the early morning, but I was tired enough to stay in bed until 9am the next morning. I slowly got ready, and tried to map out what I’d like to do and what would be the best way to get to these attractions.

Park Guell sounded intriguing, almost like an architectural amusement park. It was also a destination that required some travel planning, so I decided to check that out first. I used the Metro to get to the closest station, and when I exited, I found myself in the most gorgeous-looking, quiet, European neighborhood. It almost reminded me of the hilly streets of San Francisco combined with the green earthiness of the PNW.

Where am I??
Where am I??

I ended up walking in the wrong direction for about 20 minutes before re-orienting myself and actually heading towards Park Guell. Even though it was on top of a hill, it wasn’t too arduous to get to…there were escalators guiding visitors up!

And the view was very well worth it…

That's Barcelona over yonder...
That’s Barcelona over yonder…

Everything was architectural eye candy…

l

My favorite were these iconic arch structures:

Falling in love with Park Guell ♥
Falling in love with Park Guell ♥

After walking for a bit, I stopped for some coffee, and even took a look inside the gift shop.

Coffee break
Coffee break

There were so many colorful and cute knick-knacks, but I didn’t find anything that called out to me as “gift material”.

Gift shop!
Gift shop!

I soon walked out of Park Guell, and into another coffee shop (Coffee Park) that was just outside the exit. Since I didn’t have any food (just coffee), I was on the hunt for some churros, or something.

What actually ended up catching my eye were the cannolis. I intended to order one, but since they had a minimum credit card charge, I “had” to get two 😉

Italian dessert in Spain lol I know
Italian dessert in Spain lol I know

They were delicious, but maybe two was overkill, haha.

I walked back to the closest metro station and easily used the map to get off at the Sagrada Familia station. As soon as I stepped out from underground, I was met with a stunning view of a gothic cathedral. Everyone around me was just standing and staring at the grand, behemoth building before them.

Sagrada Família
Sagrada Família

It was hard to get a clear picture due to the sun rays, so I walked around to the entrance on the other side. I didn’t go inside the cathedral, but seeing the outside was enough for me.

I did some more exploring of the neighborhood by foot. I even stopped inside a supermarket and just walked around, familiarizing myself with what a typical Spanish person eats on a daily basis.

There was a whole section for donuts...that was an interesting find.
There was a whole section for donuts…that was an interesting find.

I heard that the Arc de Triomf was worth checking out, so I used my HOLA BCN card to hop on a bus. Ever since moving to LA, I’ve made it one of my unofficial missions to learn how to use the modes of public transit in the cities I visit. I got a taste of how the trains work, so it only made sense that I hop on board a bus eventually during my visit.

The Arc De Triomphe of Paris is nothing compared to Spain’s.

Arc de Triomf
Arc de Triomf

Just walking under the structure and along the pathway was such a happy event. There was a good crowd, not too many people, and so much activity taking place. I really wanted to take a selfie but angles just weren’t cutting it.

Exploring the area
Exploring the area

This was proving to be the place to be, especially on a sunny day right after a cold and rainy one.

To be continued in Part 2!

Back in August…

Back in August…

Man, I have a TON of posts to catch up on! But if I procrastinate any longer, I proably won’t even remember enough about the pictures I have to write about them…better late than ever.

Also goes to show that being busy enough not to blog means that life things are picking up, and have me occupied in a good way. I have some big travel plans coming up in a few weeks (work-related, but still exciting!), and I’m looking forward to what that experience will bring.

In the meantime, I’ll reflect back on what I was doing in early August, right after my b-day celebrations and my sister’s arrival back in Cali. It was my last weekend with the car in my possession, but I didn’t have the desire to drive out too far…

Actually, there was a lot going on locally. The USC Village was something that was under construction for a long time now, near the downtown area. Since it’s grand opening was scheduled for mid-August to coincide with move-in day, some of the stores and restaurants had soft openings a week prior. One of the restaurants was CAVA…funny how I visited the Santa Monica location only days before!

CAVA, USC Village
CAVA, USC Village

For their soft opening, the CAVA at USC Village was giving away free food from 12-2pm! I stood in line with some of my labmates for almost 1.5 hours, but since I knew the kind of food we would be getting wasn’t some cheap meal, I had to begrudgingly admit that it was worth it.

CAVA Menu
CAVA Menu

Although…by the time we got inside and were able to place our orders, they had run out of flatbread. We all opted for grain bowls, and I had mine based with lentils, the spicy veggies and all of the other crisp veggie toppings. I think I opted for some lemon dressing this time around instead of the apricot sriracha, but it fit well with what ended up being a warm salad bowl.

Grain Bowl!
Grain Bowl!

I ate my late lunch with E before we continued on with our work day.

When Saturday rolled around, I first drove to Sprouts after a morning run to pick up a snack. I’ve been on a GoMacro bar kick lately (my latest bar obsession), and Sprouts carries their Everlasting Joy flavor, the proceeds of which go to help the homeless.

GoMacro Everlasting Joy
GoMacro Everlasting Joy

I love their chocolate chip/nut butter flavors, so this was an instant favorite of mine. I mean, coconut flakes added to either of those types of flavors can only make it better.

I worked in lab for some of the morning, and since E was also finishing up some stuff, we finished around noon and walked over to where I parked the car to drive off to lunch.

She suggested earlier in the week that we both share a Turkish Breakfast at Mama’s Secret, a cozy, Turkish establishment very close to Beverly Connection.

Anyone got $1,000 for breakfast??
Anyone got $1,000 for breakfast??

Maybe if we combined a good chunk of our monthly income, we could have split the $1,000 pancakes…but we weren’t feeling too rich that day, haha!

What we could afford vs. what we couldn't
What we could afford vs. what we couldn’t

Nah, the Turkish Breakfast and cheese-stuffed flatbread not only sounded affordable, but well-rounded and filling for two people.

The Turkish breakfast was served with an assortment of cheeses, veggies, turkey slices (that we left alone), and flatbread. The sauces/dips were filled in cups and included hummus, tahini, honey, jam, nutella, and a ricotta-looking cheese curd.

TURKISH BREAKFAST
TURKISH BREAKFAST

And of course we had some warm tea…

The cheese-stuffed flatbread was my favorite, even though it wasn’t part of the breakfast platter. It came out already cut out in small portions so it was easy to split.

One of the cheese-stuffed flatbreads they offered. I believe ours was spiced with parsley and basil.
One of the cheese-stuffed flatbreads they offered. I believe ours was spiced with parsley and basil.

I had no idea that these cheese-filled flatbreads were a staple of Turkish cuisine, but my friend confirmed this foodie fact. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of my new favorite dishes now!

E was meeting some other friends for a movie-in-the-park event (one that I actually went to myself for a friend’s birthday last year…) so I dropped her off before heading home. I felt tired enough to go to sleep early, but I did have a night dessert before turning in.

That Snickerdoodle Dough
That Snickerdoodle Dough

Nada Moo’s Snickerdoodle is cream was soft and creamy, but the lack of dough pieces was a huge disappointment and sub-par in comparison to So Delicious’ offering. Ah well, they tried…

What your current food obsession?

Have you ever had a Turkish breakfast?

Mama's Secret Bakery & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Weekend One with the Sis

Weekend One with the Sis

The first weekend my sister stayed over was spent apartment scoping, food tasting, and shopping (for her, while I anxiously tried to plan my upcoming week in lab/submit a very important email…). It’s funny how this was a weekend in early June, and this post is only going live in mid-July… #PhDStudentLife

We drove down to Irvine after we went to lab. She was able to help me finish faster and with lab experience of her own, I could tell her to do something without worrying if she knew how to do it accurately, haha. We were on the road before noon, and had enough time to stop for lunch before her apartment viewing appointment. So Veggie Grill at the Irvine Spectrum it was!

♥

Because my visits to Veggie Grill have encompassed many of their locations, I like to visit when they have seasonal specials just so I can make sure I am trying something completely new. Their summer menu was featured this time around, and the Super Rica burger was calling my name…

♥

My sister went with her favorite Southern Fried Chik’n plate, as usual, but I did not regret my choice.

The Super Rica Burger, made with Beyond burger, chorizo queso, fire-roasted poblanos, cherry pepper, charred onions, lettuce, tomato, house made "corn nuts" + crispy fries
The Super Rica Burger, made with Beyond burger, chorizo queso, fire-roasted poblanos, cherry pepper, charred onions, lettuce, tomato, house made “corn nuts” + crispy fries

It had the perfect blend of spicy, creamy, and crunchy. I didn’t have fries on the side, but the coleslaw was not some poorly made side dish—it brought it’s out flavorful punch too!

♥

I guess I was hungrier than I thought, because I finished my plate entirely and helped my sister out with hers.

It was soon approaching 1pm so we made our way back to the car and drove towards the apartment complex she booked a tour at. The visit was alright, but the cons definitely outweighed the pros. Finding a place in the OC that was decently priced and clean was surprisingly not too easy a task, and I could tell my sister was feeling frustrated. I was able to propose a solution for her that didn’t solve the housing problem, but at least it took her mind off the issue for a little bit.

Churned Creamery, Cypress
Churned Creamery, Cypress

We were able to stop by Churned Creamery in Cypress for a tasting of their constantly-churning ice cream (the ice cream is in huge vats that are consistently being mixed through). They had number of options, including their unique CroCream: a croissant stuffed with ice cream and toppings.

.

The servers were all super sweet ladies enthusiastic about ice cream. After sampling a few flavors, I went with one of their recommendations—Whiskey cream ice cream stuffed in a warm, crispy croissant and topped with Mochi cubes.

♥

The croissant was a flaky, golden brown on the outside and edges, but perfectly soft on the inside.

Whiskey Cream Crocone with mochi and strawberries ♥
Whiskey Cream CroCream with mochi and strawberries ♥

My sister of course got her chocolate fix with an ice cold, thick chocolate milkshake mixed with a scoop of Oreo ice cream. She could not deny that it was quite a dense and thick shake indeed.

♥

Looking at all the flavors of ice cream they offered, the possibilities seemed endless! It just so happened that we could have gone by their Irvine location (their grand opening was that day…), but the Cypress staff accommodated us on short-notice without a doubt.

We were back on the road and headed home soon after. Our plans the following day turned out to be similar—woke up, long run before going to lab, getting out and feeling crazy ravenous, and driving up to NoHo only to find out the restaurant we were planning to have lunch at was closed on Sundays…

We ended up getting veggie burgers at a chain restaurant, and then driving to the Glendale Galleria to find a graduation gift for our friend who graduated at the end of June. While at the mall, I made a stop at GNC and picked up the new Quest Hero bars.

Blueberry Cobbler was my favorite, with a vanilla yogurt coating and a fruity, chewy filling.

Blueberry Cobbler
Blueberry Cobbler

Vanilla Caramel was decent, but I thought the texture of the filling was pretty dry.

Vanilla
Vanilla Caramel

I could go without having another of the Chocolate Caramel Pecan flavor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a chocolate lover (such as my sister) found this to be their favorite of the three.

Chocolate
Chocolate Caramel Pecan

Even though apartment hunting was a bust on this particular weekend, at least we made the most of our dining out choices. And just having my sister for company made the weekend all the more enjoyable.

Veggie Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Visit to Novel Cafe (Before Writing My Own Novel…)

A Visit to Novel Cafe (Before Writing My Own Novel…)

I have a huge 12 page proposal due soon, and with this on my mind the weekend before Thanksgiving, I was anxiously-driven to put in some concrete hours working on it.

picmonkey-collage
Tried a new RX Bar flavor from Trader Joe’s—Maple Sea Salt! I love how it has salt speckles that sparkle like diamonds!

Fortunately, I didn’t have to go into lab that weekend, so it also gave me plenty of time to sleep in for a bit, and then set up shop at a local library.

apple-caramel-yogurt
Tried this interesting new seasonal greek yogurt flavor —> Apple Caramel Greek Yogurt? Tastes more like cream cheese with apple pieces…uh, I guess that could be appetizing but when you expect yogurt and taste cream cheese, it’s quite a surprise 🤔 .

I also had a hankering for pizza, so I made it my first priority to get myself a warm, hearty tomato-based pie before working. This meant waking up around 8 (because that’s my definition of sleeping in) and then heading over to Novel Cafe because I heard they had pretty good pizza, among other things.

vegan-pizza
Novel Cafe

The outside was covered in calligraphy and murals, while the inside had an interesting layout. There were one (or two?) shops within the restaurant selling what I assume was jewelry, but they also didn’t seem to be affiliated with the restaurant.

teninthemorning
Casual seating area

I sat at a table in the center, and in my view was an empty juice bar, and bakery cases full of pastries and bread. I was handed a long, laminated menu and my eyes immediately gravitated to the pizza section. I had to go for the organic vegan topped with zen buddha cheese…

vegan-pizza
VEGAN PIZZA,COME TO ME!

…it also came with other goodies like rich tomato sauce, zucchini, and mushrooms!

melt
That melty “cheese”

My pizza was a medium, but it was the perfectly-sized personal pizza. It took me a while to finish, but that’s because each bread-y bite took some work to chew. Each slice was thin enough to fold NY style.

I left with a full tummy and gathered enough energy to get to work on my paper for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. I spent a good three hours at the library, hard at work, before I decided to venture home and crash into a carb-induced coma of a nap.

The next day, I continued to put those carbs to use when I ventured out for a fourteen miler with my marathon team. My running buddy and I kept a consistent pace the entire time, making us enthusiastic about our marathon prospects. If all goes well, I may be significantly PR’ing come March 😉

veggie-wrap
Trader Joe’s Veggie Wrap w/ Hummus – The wrap itself is so soft…and each bite is chock full of hummus!

I did some grocery shopping after the run and before heading home, all on now-tight quads! I picked up a new-to-me wrap from Trader Joe’s for lunch while watching the latest SNL episode.

hummus-wrap
What I had to say about this wrap —-> Is it actually raining in So Cal today 😱?? I thought it was pretty good timing on my part getting back home after a 14mi run JUST before the downpour. I wanted to get a lot of my written proposal done, but a lot of napping, SNL watching, and veggie wrap with hummus eating happened instead 😛 But at least I did catch up in the sleep department 👍

I had my fair share of hard work and relaxation in the weekend immediately preceding Thanksgiving, but I am more excited to type out my Thanksgiving recaps! That is…if I ever finish this proposal 😛

Novel Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

That Lab Life

That Lab Life

I often reference how I have to “pop into lab” or “go out for lunch after lab” in many of my posts, but I have not had the chance (or the patience) to go into detail about my life in lab. I thought it would be fun to describe the usual hierarchy of a lab, so you could have at least some idea of what I have to deal with on a daily basis…

Before I became the dedicated PhD student researcher I am today ( 😉 ) , I was an overworked, overexhausted undergrad student, who was treated like a grad student during my first lab research experience. Not all was bad though, as I learned a lot, and had face-time with my boss every time I was in the lab, but as an undergrad student I could only spend so much time in the lab. My boss at the time didn’t understand this, and she kept pressuring me to stay longer, work more, etc. I was able to hold on for a year before moving on to my next experience!

The undergrads in my current lab are more like these guys though…

(source)

They’re not annoying, but most of them work under a post-doc in my lab who likes to call them “minions”. In my lab, they tend to carry out smaller experiments and tasks, but don’t necessarily have a project on their own. In comparison, I would say I had it a lot better (if we’re talking about getting experience and training…if we’re talking about the preservation of my sanity, then perhaps it would be the opposite 😛 ).

Next up on the lab hierarchy are usually research techs/lab assistants. Usually people that are at this stage are students that just finished undergrad, and are trying to keep busy while waiting to hear from the grad/medical school programs they applied to. I fell into this stage right after I graduated from undergrad a year early, and fortunately, it was in a lab that was very laid-back. I wasn’t paid (so that meant working evening shifts at a local outlet store for some $$…), but it kept me in-tune with the research world as I applied, which also helped with my interviews! But not all research techs/lab assistants are students-in-waiting. In fact, I’ve come across many people who are older adults, or people who got a B.S. or M.S. in some science major and had to take a hiatus from lab work due to personal circumstances.

In either case, they’re on a never-ending quest to prove that they’ve got what it takes.

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Then there are the grad students, the PhD-type 😉 . Their origin can be one of these two: a continuing masters student, or one who is constantly replying “No, I came straight from bachelors” to anyone who asks “Did you get a masters first?”.

Compared to my years as an undergrad, I would say being a grad student is less intense. Shocked? Don’t be! I still have plenty of work, and with my qualifying exam coming up, I’ll probably be rethinking what I type here, but I am being completely honest when I say I felt more stressed/anxious/obsessive about my work as an undergrad than I do now. I view the work I do now as my job, and I don’t necessarily see myself as a student in the traditional sense. I do have classes I have to take, but unlike in undergrad where my focus was on class and doing well in class, now it’s produce work in lab and just show your face in class 😛

This will totally be me as I get closer to earning my degree!

Just above the PhD students, you have the post-docs. These guys and gals try very hard to make sure everyone knows that they are NO LONGER STUDENTS and that they do in fact have 100% earned the right to be called _______ , PhD. There is no denying the fact that they do deserve this, but it can get irritating when you have grad student vs. post-doc arguments debates. The PhD student doesn’t want to look stupid when he/she asks a question to the post-doc, and the post-doc wants to make sure that they give the right answer, and “look good” doing so. They also have added pressure to be even more independent than a student, and are often regarded as mini-bosses in the lab.

I think they’re having one of those grad student vs. post-doc “debates”. The grad student is a fiesty one 😉

Finally, we have the primary investigator (PI). The head honcho. The big boss. The don…

LOL! Can you imagine Shah Rukh Khan—the face of Bollywood—leading a scientific research lab?!

I’ve come across three PIs in my overall experience so far (not including rotations), and while they all have their own quirks and personality traits, a couple things stay common for all. As a PI, your biggest responsibility is making sure your lab has adequate finances. It’s what gives you the freedom to run your lab the way you want to. It’s no secret that funding is extremely tight, so labs can get competitive when it comes to raking in mon-ayyy. In order to make sure that your lab is successful, a PI needs to be assertive, exact, frank, and be able to compromise if necessary (especially when it comes to collaborations, as science is definitely a “it’s who you know” kind of industry)!

Me minus the fur :P
Me minus the fur 😛

It’s kind of funny that as a grad student, I fall right in the middle of all these interesting characters! At times, it almost feels like I’m in a sitcom or a TV show with all the crazy interactions and dynamics that go on around me or involve me. I do love it though 😛 !

Do you like your workplace?

Four Survey

Four Survey

When it’s raining outside, it’s definitely a sign to complete a survey! I have to thank Irina for making me aware of this one!

 The morning after a wicked storm.
The morning after a wicked storm.

Four jobs I’ve had:

  1. Cashier (my first summer job inbetween high school and undergrad)
  2. Peer Adviser (in my last year as an undergrad)
  3. Sales Associate (in two different stores during my “gap” year)
  4. Lab Intern/Research Assistant (in labs throughout undergrad—and now!)

Four movies I’ve watched more than once:

  1. Up (one of Pixar’s best!!)
  2. My Neighbor Totoro (Studio Ghibli ♥)
  3. Kal Ho Naa Ho (a Hindi movie that I would say one of my best friends loves 10x more than I do!!)
  4. The Princess Diaries (it’s one of those movies that always happens to be on TV when there is nothing else to watch 😛 )

Four books I’d recommend:

  1. One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (I remember I really liked this book because it had interwoven stories)
  2. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer  by Siddhartha Mukherjee (I read this over the summer, and as a student heading into the research field, found it to be a balanced example of storytelling and academic information)
  3. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande (I had to read this as an undergrad and found it such a fascinating read)
  4. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (This was actually a book my sister had to read in high school, but I ended up liking the book more than she did!)

Four places I’ve lived:

 Life in LA as a student includes boba breaks with your classmates :P
Life in LA as a student includes boba breaks with your classmates 😛
  1. Oklahoma
  2. UK
  3. NorCal
  4. Los Angeles!!!

Four places I’ve been:

  1. NYC (but one weekend doesn’t count in my opinion 😉 )
  2. India (visitng family)
  3. New Mexico (one of my most favorite family trips growing up!)
  4. Texas (more family visits)

Four places I’d rather be right now (or would like to eventually visit!):

 My friend recently got to go to Voodoo Donuts and teased me with this picture of one of their vegan donuts!!! Gahhh!!!
My friend recently got to go to Voodoo Donuts when she was in Portland, and teased me with this picture of one of their vegan donuts!!! Gahhh!!!
  1. Portland, Oregon (specifically for the Voodoo Donuts and great running/outdoor exploration weather!)
  2. Singapore or Malaysia (for the fish spas! I have an annoying callus on the ball of my left foot, and I wouldn’t mind having some tiny fish nibble it away for me)
  3. Japan (it’s the one place I always wanted to visit—I was such a big anime/manga fan back in middle/high school 🙂 )
  4. Australia (it sounds like a cool enough country/continent—and isn’t it summer there right now 😉 ? )

Four things I don’t eat/drink:

 My dinner from Friday put the veg in vegetarian!
My dinner from Friday put the veg in vegetarian!
  1. Meat (I’m vegetarian)
  2. Raw banana (if used as an ingredient, I’m okay. But the texture is just, ew. I can’t…)
  3. Raw zucchini (again, if used as an ingredient, I’m okay. But the texture is just, ew. I can’t…)
  4. Soda or alcohol (I stopped drinking soda years ago after hearing about how detrimental it can be to bone health. I don’t drink alcohol for personal reasons, as well as the fact I can’t stand the smell >< )

Four of my favorite foods (but not my only favorites!!):

 Quest Bar Love
Quest Bar Love
  1. Quest bars (Top 3 flavors = cookies & cream, white chocolate raspberry, and cookie dough—in no particular order of course 😉 )
  2. Vegan Nachos (my favorite thing to order at vegan restaurants)
  3. (Vegetarian-friendly) Gummies (who can’t resist fun, chewy candies???)
  4. Chocolate Peanut Butter/Nut Butter (or flavored nut butters in general!)

Four TV shows that I watch:

  1. The Newsroom (the one from HBO, the final episode was on Sunday!!)
  2. Shark Tank (I especially love learning about the food-related products on the show!)
  3. The Good Wife (I’ve been watching it since I was a freshman in undergrad. It’s a pretty good show.)
  4. Saturday Night Live (I end up watching it on Sunday during the day, haha)

Four things I’m looking forward to this week/month/next year:

  1. Week [.1] – hosting my favorite girls + sister for a couple days in the city! (We have been daydreaming about this for years, and now, we really will get to have those ‘girls nights’ out on the town! )
  2. Week [.2] – checking out a chic gym for one week (I scored a free one-week pass at the last race I ran.)
  3. Month – going back up north for a week to visit the family for Christmas/New Years (can’t fight the opportunity for family time!)
  4. Next Year – kicking it up a notch for marathon training/my second lab rotation + new class schedule 😉 (Bring on the new PDRs, and even though I have a love/hate relationship with change, I would say the ‘love part’ = having a new class schedule)

Four things I’m always saying/quoting:

(via Google Images)
  1. Lines from Spongebob (“What’s better than 24? 25…”)
  2. “He-eeeeey” (my greeting for whenever I talk to my friends)
  3. “Argh” (I don’t curse—I talk like a pirate 😛 )
  4. “That’s good to know” (my default response when someone gives me advice)

Four people I’m tagging in this survey:

Do this if you haven’t yet! 😀

Events Taking Place Pre-Race

Events Taking Place Pre-Race

There is something about October that (almost) makes it my favorite month. I guess I can go far as to say it’s my second favorite month, perhaps because there is so much going on and my time has been occupied by things that keep me busy, but in a good way. 

Besides studying/lab rotations, spending my weekends exploring the city, eating, and sleeping, running has been a major part of my schedule. I signed up for the Rock n Roll LA Half back in June, excited about the prospect that my fifth half, and my second fall half would take place in the heart of my new home!

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It was also my first RNR race altogether, and I have to admit that I was majorly influenced by the constant stream of ads for the race series when I picked up and read issues of Competitor from my old gym. More about my experience with the race to come, but for now, let’s get back to expo day

I originally would have liked to make it out to the expo for packet pick-up on Friday afternoon, but I was occupied in lab until about an hour and a half before the expo closing time. I decided to just make it out to pick-up right when they opened at the LA Convention Center at 9:30am the next morning. 

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I expected it to be crowded, crazy, and take too long, but it was actually the opposite. In fact, I probably was only there for about an hour total for packet pick-up and booth browsing.

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Not taking the time to browse over-priced expo merch.

There were plenty of vendors, mostly pushing/selling their products at “expo prices”, but there was a good share of freebies being handed out as well. I got (waytoomuch!) reusable tote bags, pens, and other random non-food goods. A lot of the food/beverage samples were being portioned out unfortunately, for me. I did sip on a sample of a vanilla protein shake while checking out the Geico booth, but my favorite booth from the expo was Mahatma Rice’s.

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Yeah, so I may have gotten a lousy paper fan as my “spin-the-wheel-prize”, but the booth guy was like “hold up!” as I was about to leave, and handed me two sample packs of rice! Um, thank you very much! 😀

Since the expo bored me pretty quickly after I made my way around to all of the booths, I left the Convention Center with one of my reusable totes filled with the freebies I happened to pick up, and boarded the Metro to Venice. I was looking forward to getting off at an earlier stop on the Santa Monica route and not only saving time, but gathering more freebies at Vitamin Shoppe’s health “fair” and getting lunch for the first time at Cafe Gratitude.

My first stop was Vitamin Shoppe for Quest Bars (of course…), but since they were having health fairs in their stores nationwide, I ended up getting yet another reusable bag full of samples! I looked like a super bag lady walking out of the store 😉 !

With my bags in tow, I walked 2 miles coast-wards, and ended up on Lincoln and Rose for part of the walk. I noticed that the area took the name to heart.

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When two cross-streets have a logo, you know you’re in a pretty savvy place B)

My destination was in housed in a brick building, and I would have absentmindedly passed by it had I not looked up at the right moment.

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When I walked in, I could tell that it was lunch time—the place was packed!

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I was able to get a table for one right up against the wall at the back of the restaurant. Great for picture-taking and out-the-window gazing…

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I love how the menu items start with “I am…” and then finish with some sort of adjective. I ended up getting the Humble bowl, which, when you think about the ingredients, really does sound humbling!

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 HUMBLE indian curry bowl  14 Red lentil dal, roasted heirloom tomatoes, sautéed spinach, fresh corn, spicy mint chutney, sweet tamarind sauce, chopped scallions, choice of local brown rice or quinoa
The Humble Indian Curry Bowl ~ Red lentil dal, roasted heirloom tomatoes, sautéed spinach, fresh corn, spicy mint chutney, sweet tamarind sauce, chopped scallions, local brown rice or quinoa

It was humble in flavor too (in other words, it was lacking in spice & seasoning!!)

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But if were just keeping score based on looks? 10/10.

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I had a hard time picking up the small bits of quinoa though. Perhaps a side order of bread would have been helpful in this case…

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What am I grateful for?

Free stuff. And good food. 😀

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What are your experiences with race expo(s)?

What are you grateful for?

Cafe Gratitude on Urbanspoon

The GRE: How I Prepared

The GRE: How I Prepared

It’s been a long while since I wrote a student/studies-related post, and I figured that since I just finished taking the GRE and now in the middle of finishing those PhD application essays, I would post my experience with taking the revised GRE.

The first time I took the GRE was after my first year of college. I decided to take it that early because a) everyone was making a big deal about the test changing after August 2011 and how much more difficult it would be (which is relative in my opinion) and b) if I did well enough, I wouldn’t have to worry about it later on.

After taking the exam, I received above average scores, meaning that I wouldn’t have to retake it if I really didn’t want to, but it wouldn’t hurt to retake it again and shoot for a higher score. I kept hearing mixed reviews from various sources about how much GRE scores weigh into a person’s application, and so I didn’t consider retaking the exam since most of the comments I heard about my field was focused solely on research experience. As long as I had that, everything would be okay.

But what caused me to reconsider? Over the summer, I was encouraged to reassess my decision to take a GRE Subject Test over the general GRE. Bearing in mind that many of the schools I planned to apply to only recommended/did not even require a subject test, but displayed statistics of what constituted a competitive general GRE exam score, I decided that it would be in my best interest to give the revised GRE a shot.

I had eight weeks to prepare in order to have enough time to expedite my scores to schools before application deadlines. I also had to think about how to best organize the resources available to me so that I had enough practice material to work on each day. For me, two months worked out to be a great time frame—not too short, not too long, and enough time to gauge progress.

Over the first few weeks of my prep period, I focused in on material found in library books (paper and e-versions). To make one thing clear, I spent $0.00 on the following books I used for my study:

  • Cracking the GRE
  • Kaplan Premier
  • ETS Official Guide
  • Nova’s GRE Math Bible
  • Barron’s
Books I used to prepare for the GRE.
Books I used to prepare for the GRE.

Cracking the GRE was a good book for initial review and practice problems, but after the first week, I had to move on to problems that were more realistic. That’s when I reviewed the ETS Official Guide, which is the most accurate in terms of practice questions from all the books in the bunch since it is from the makers of the actual exam! I used Kaplan Premier and Barron’s for their practice tests in the back of the book(s), and Nova’s GRE Math Bible I highly recommend for tailored math practice. The math “bible” doesn’t have questions that mimic the actual GRE (they are more like review-of-the-concept-you-just-read questions), but they helped me solidify that math foundation you need to conquer the Quantitative Reasoning section.

While books can provide a plethora of practice material, I have stuck with this method of studying since my days of SAT prep, and felt like exploring other study options. Looking back, I shunned and shuddered at the thought of shelling out the money for test courses from Kaplan, Princeton Review, and the like, but seeing that I had a distinct goal of achieving a certain goal—and I had a desire to achieve that goal at whatever cost—I figured a monetary investment in additional resources could really help me out in ways unlike before.

That’s when I stumbled upon Magoosh, an online test prep company that was non-existent during the first time I studied for the GRE, but now was a prime hub for all things revised GRE.

They offered 6-month subscriptions to their Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, or both, as well as a 30-day subscription for $79 as a promo price when I purchased it. I was taking my test prep in a new direction with this decision, but I was willing to try anything new if it would help me boost my score.

I found their lesson videos extremely helpful—especially Verbal Reasoning. Their math questions were a bit on the difficult side, but better to practice difficult questions than to feel ignorantly confident with oneself. They offered about 500+ practice questions for each section, and also had the option to make customizable timed tests—which was perfect for me so I could practice time management and develop the endurance needed to complete the 3-hour-and-50-minute exam.

They also have a downloadable app for smart phones, so I was able to watch videos from the comfort of my couch on-the-go.  Another app they offered was the flashcards app, which was even better for on-the-go studying since you don’t need Wi-Fi to access it. The words are grouped in fifties from sections in Basic all the way to Advanced, and it “remembers” which words you already know, are familiar with, and have mastered.

Still the frugal student at heart, I took advantage of some free online resources as well. My local library is not only marvelous when it comes to providing a bounty of test prep books, but it also has a partnership with Learning Express Library, which had links to PDFs like 501 Verbal practice questions and various practice tests. Manhattan Prep is another well-reputable GRE prep company, and they offered a free practice test which I thought was very similar to what ETS puts out.

So with all of this material, how did I manage the most important factor: time? For the remaining 4-5 weeks, I spent a lot of my study time using Magoosh, and for most of my eight-week period, spent each weekend doing one practice test under simulated test conditions (no interruptions, quiet area, on the computer, going through all sections—-including the essay and experimental section).

It seems obvious, but I highly recommend taking practice exams for the GRE under simulated conditions AND on the computer for the most accurate experience, since it helps when it comes to measuring your predicted score and progress. It also helps to mimic the experience so as to see how anxious you get, and so that you can prepare yourself for it ;).

From my experience, I did see improvement as the weeks progressed, but the real results would reveal themselves on test day. I decided to take my exam at a different testing center from where I took the GRE the first time so that I would have a change of environment and not feel subconsciously bogged down by the past experience. The staff was amicable, and once I filled out paperwork and put my personal items/snacks (<—very crucial!) into a locker, I waited to be seated at a computer station.

*Sidenote: Never where cargo pants/clothing with an innumerable amount of pockets since the staff are supposed to check every.single.one. I made that mistake the first time I took the exam and it was awfully embarrasing :P!*

Cute, but do yourself a favor and don't wear these on test day!!
Cute, but do yourself a favor and don’t wear these on test day!!
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I took the exam in the afternoon, and while this is often my body’s nap time, I had no other choice but to take this exam at this time since registration was filling up quickly for the exam dates I was looking at when I first signed up. Good thing I had the Analytical Writing section first though, since writing serves as a good warm-up before tackling two verbal, two quantitative, and one experimental (unscored) section. The thing is, however, that you must treat each section like it’s the one being scored because the experimental section can appear anytime throughout the exam.

I can’t go into details about what exactly was in my exam, but I can say that the practice material I used from Magoosh, the ETS Powerprep Software (two free computer-adaptive exams from the makers of the GRE), and even the free Manhattan GRE exam contributed to the improvement of my score, since I was used to the format and design of the questions.

After sitting for ~4 hours, you are given the option to see your scores. Even though my stomach was churning like crazy, I knew I had to report them…and I was curious of course. To my pleasant surprise, my scores surpassed my target score, and I had an improvement of 110 points using the scoring of the old exam (which is about a 8 point jump on the new exam). Needless to say, I was thrilled.

You are given the option to send four free score reports to schools or scholarship programs, and I had my institution codes ready for just that. Driving back home that evening, I couldn’t have felt happier. The experience taught me that the right kind of hard work goes a long way if you want to see results. Anyone can sit at a table for 8+ hours staring into a book, but 3 hours of tailored practice will go a longer way in regards to actual progress.

So now that this part of my application process is checked off and ready to go, I now have the time to focus in on a just-as-important component of PhD program applications…essays.

Have you ever worked hard toward something and didn’t get the result you desired? What did you do to fix that the second time around?

Summertime

Summertime

It’s almost the end of the second week of summer, and I’m finally getting into a more relaxed mode.

I think it takes me about three days to feel comfortable with a shifting schedule. Last week was the hardest, because I went from a stress-heavy/event-packed week to a very, very “lazy” one. I felt anxious about not having to go to class, coming to my senses about the fact that I had just graduated and would not be returning to school in the fall, and things I need/want to do before graduate school.

I did my best to just take things day-by-day last week, and tried to carry this relaxed attitude into this week.

  • I let go of the fact that my weekly running mileage was poor to my standards, and kept active through ZUMBA, U-Jam, weights, tennis, and walking instead. I had to remind myself that fatigue and sore legs after running 3+ miles would be expected after a week of not running (thanks to final exams!!)
  • I wasted time enjoyed watching movies and special summer TV series’ (HGTV and Food Network star!)

    I always watch "the star" shows when they premiere every summer. Millionaire Matchmaker has been a show I've recently picked up (what happens when you wake up at 5 am everyday and it's "the only thing good on".
    I always watch “the Star” shows when they premiere every summer. Millionaire Matchmaker has been a show I’ve recently picked up (what happens when you wake up at 5 am everyday and it’s “the only thing good on”). Someone recommended The Newsroom to me, and I HIGHLY recommend it!
  • I kept my brain busy by going to the lab, since I am continuing my internship into the summer. In regards to grad school prep, I began researching schools, programs, and faculty.
  • On the job front…I got a part-time job as a sales associate at a pretty nice clothing store (now I won’t have an excuse not to gradually shift my wardrobe to be more “professional”) that pays more per hour than any job I’ve had so far. I also submitted an application for a job in “my industry”, but we’ll see how that turns out :)!

I think I feel less anxious and more at ease with how things are going right now. I also have some exciting things planned for this summer, and I shouldn’t be worried about anything right now. In fact, I should feel the happiest I have been in a long time.

Food wise, I have been on a strange (but good) pancake kick lately. It’s been a canvas for our frozen bags of blueberries, chocolate peanut butter spread, and $0.66 Chobani cups.

A large blueberry pancake topped with dark cherry Chob. (Rest of the cup not pictured)
A large blueberry pancake topped with dark cherry Chob. (Rest of the cup not pictured)

I also signed up for three races, but am looking for three more to meet my “race for each month of the year” goal. One of them includes this exciting half…

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It’s gonna rock!!! is an understatement, for sure.

And to add more excitement to the running fun, I am thinking about running for charity at a destination race sometime early next year. There is still a lot that needs to be worked out, but I am hoping it happens because I believe this is the perfect time to do something like this.

How are you enjoying your summer?

 Are you running the NW(H)M?

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