Food for Thought

  — My new vlog series

A scene from Lunch at an Italian Grocer

I published three videos recently. Having a sense that my days in Berlin are numbered, I feel an urgency to capture the 'everyday'.

While The Art of Cooking While Jet-lagged is mostly about lasagna making at 3 am, there are clips from a visit to my grocery store to pick up remaining ingredients.

Welcome to my kitchen...

Pseudo Buttermilk Pancakes is entirely shot at home. It captures what weekend mornings are like, when I'm antsy to get the day started but I'm alone in being awake since my husband is usually sleeping in.

In Lunch at an Italian Grocer, my husband and I walk five minutes to a specialty Italian shop, where they serve lunch in the back. It's a very cozy space and you can get a sense of the ambiance from the background conversations in German and Italian.

Since I'm still new to the video format, there's a lot I'm picking up in putting these videos together. The main thing I'm working on is being more natural in front of the camera. I'm actually putting a lot of energy into relaxing.


Contingent Happiness

  — Not even close to the real thing

A morsel of wisdom I picked up from the beach...

Yesterday I realized how much happiness is free from contingencies.

I watched the first four episodes of Big Little Lies where there are several million dollar beach front homes. Many scenes involve someone looking out at the water--exactly what you'd imagine if you were 'lucky' enough to have a million dollar mansion.

Looking onto the water is a specific activity... If I were to feel happy in these homes, I'd have to spend time staring at the water. There's work involved--is it really happiness if I have to live out the details in a specific way? The characters themselves were having a hard time enjoying their lives because they were spending energy living out specifics: appearing as a good mother, appearing as if in a perfect relationship or appearing as a successful career woman. 'Enjoying' a preferred lifestyle seems to require some sort of enslavement.

I was reminded of my trip to the beach last month. I wanted to see the ocean so badly because I hadn't seen it in a while. On our four hour drive over, I imagined a nice stroll on the beach with my husband.

When we got there, it wasn't anything outside what I expected. It was a nice beach, but I felt obligated to enjoy it in the way I anticipated. 'Let's walk on the beach and ENJOY!'

After sometime, I realized how hard I was working and decided to turn around. We drove to a trail more inland. I didn't know what the hike was going to look like. There were no ideas on how it should be enjoyed so I ended up enjoying it a lot more.

It's funny because with desire, there's this idea that I know what it's like. I know enough of the specifics that I can desire something. When I'm on my way towards it, during my anticipation, I'm living through the good parts in my mind. When I get there, I've already been there. Do I have to relive it in physical form? Such a chore.


The Philosophy of a Home

  — Modern requirements

A hand made home I visited in rural Poland

Last year, I painted an Ikea cabinet. It looks great but then I had to smell paint for a couple months. 'If I really want to decorate my place, I gotta get comfortable with this smell,' I thought.

Rarely are there home decor ideas that don't involve paint. But architect Steven Ehrlich built his entire home without any. He gives a video tour of his Venice, California home.

"There's no paint. The white walls that you see on the ceilings are actually white plaster burnished with wax over it." - Steven Ehrlich

I'd like my home to philosophically represent me. As I get serious about planning, I feel I need to be more selective. The structure and items have to be something I believe in.

"This see the trowel marks of the craftsman?"

Paint has always represented artifice. It's used to cover up irregularities and despite the number of brush strokes, the surfaces come out even. There's no detection of any hand work involved.

I'd have to know more about materials. Color would have to be baked into materials I select for my home.

"it's made out of white cement and pumice and bead blasted in the factory..."

Ehrlich has a wall of custom-made concrete blocks. Up close, the multi-colored specks resemble terrazzo...but it's a concrete block. It looks surprisingly good.

Decades of ideas poured into a house...I wonder how long it'll take me, especially since I'm not an architect.

Like any luxurious home in Venice, the home opens into a courtyard. I don't know who wouldn't want more fresh air.

"I started to truly understand the power or potential of courtyard housing when I lived in Africa. I lived in a courtyard house right in the heart of the Medina, the ancient city of Marrakech. You become connected to nature." Why aren't there more courtyards?

Ehrlich also designs furniture and the video features his 'floating plane' table. "I designed these benches just so you would experience this table and not have other things, like the back of a chair".

This reminded me of a similar table I came across in Taipei. I went to Woolloomooloo and sat at their large square table. The center is hard to reach. 'How is this functional?'

The middle space was empty at all times. Looking back, I realized the purpose: the hard to reach areas are empty. Why else did I feel so relaxed sitting in that cafe? The scene in front of me was blank, a spatial expanse devoid of stimulation.

Lastly, the video featured something I never knew existed. "This is an African stargazing bed. It's carved out of one log." I, too, want to star gaze so much that I need furniture dedicated to the activity.


Sustainable Fitness

  — Multiple birds with one stone

Someone's got to work this off... fatty and delicious, a brioche to start out my sedentary day.

I was hanging the laundry today when my arms got tired. Is there a way to keep fit from household chores?

There are a ton of physical activities related to the home. Whether its preparing food, fixing furnishings or cleaning, chores are part of a more active lifestyle.

I don't do laundry as much as I should. I wish I cooked more, but I'm often too lazy to peel a potato.

If I consider these tasks as going to the gym, perhaps I would be more motivated.

'Here's your chance! To get some physical activity!'

I'm not just preparing dinner, I'm peeling the potato because my grip needs strengthening. Wiping the windows becomes an activity about my arm strength. I work on the computer all day so any activity, no matter how small, makes a huge difference.

Back in the day, when people worked on farms, they suffered from over activity. However, there were less issues related to sedentary living. Maybe there's a balance that doesn't overextend?

When I used to go to the gym, it would take time to pack and then I had to transport myself there and back. After all the time and energy spent in getting a workout, I'd come home to a messy place.

Maybe there will be a physician who'll come up with a similar fitness plan. But it's probably not as lucrative as current gyms, a communal space that provides a reason to buy and wear cute outfits. Gyms already accomplish multiple things at once: a place to keep fit but also see and be seen.

It's obvious which activities are more important. Who necessarily needs their windows cleaned?


Confessions of a Beginning Vlogger

  — What it's like behind the camera (and in front)

When the camera turns on, I feel immediate congestion. It feels like someone had hit the mute button and I've abruptly lost the capability to express myself.

There are so many details I'd share naturally, or describe with more descriptions and with more energy. I'm in the process of breaking through the invisible force that's bottling me.

My latest vlog

I love playing around with videos, so I've started vlogging again. Also, I'm a fan of stories others share on youtube. My husband isn't a fan of the entire genre and from his standpoint, I've been able to see how this type of day to day 'mundane' content has niche appeal.

Regardless, I enjoy it and I know a handful of others do as well. Maybe it has something to do with peeking into other people's lives.

In making videos, there are a few things I try to keep in mind. These are things that I often stray away from, but are the very things that keep me in check. As someone starting out, it can be overwhelming when trying to create something bigger than I can handle. It's happened many times. I quit and end up taking a long break.

Here are the methods I'm using to reduce 'overwhelmningess':

I. Film only part of the day.

It gets super exhausting to film during the entire day. I am now just filming a few hours in the morning. Then the rest of the day the camera is put away.

When I first started, I carried my camera everywhere and pulled it out all throughout the day. It's an overwhelming amount of footage to deal with, but also, I'm hardly present in any activity. Thinking about what I'm going to do with the video or whether something in front of me should be shot, my mind has no space to be present.

There's also social anxiety in filming in public. Not everyone has it, but I haven't gotten over the anxiety and it adds stress.

Holding the camera correctly is another thing that takes time to understand. Not creating too much footage allows me to keep track of the conditions that result in better composition. Where is the lighting coming from when I shot that scene in the park? How fast can I move while walking so that I don't make the viewer nauseous? It takes attention to learn.

Keep it simple to start. Don't film so much and when filming, pay attention.

II. Don't be basic!

This has been very helpful to my personal well being. There are obvious places to film, cute brunch places or touristy hot spots.

Working on content that I know will get a good response makes me very unhappy. It might not for many people, I'm just one that should not be doing it.

It's easy to copy when starting. A lot of the inspiration comes from pre-existing videos. But the videos that inspire the greatest amount of people, of glamorous travel destinations and trendy cafes, have been done.

Yesterday, I filmed in the morning, but in the evening, my husband and I went to a hipster food event with over 50 food stalls. All were cute and all had deliciously instagrammable exotic cuisine. It would be the type of place a popular youtuber would want to do their vlog. And people would probably be very interested in watching it.

'Oh I should have brought my camera.' As if the filming of this event would allow me passage to elite Youtuber ranks. I corrected my initial reaction with the opposite thought: 'I'm glad I didn't decide to film in the evening'. Without the camera I had the mental space to enjoy the food.

Everything cute has already been done.

III. No one's going to watch.

That is a wonderful thing.

It is disappointing when only a handful of people enjoy your work, but I've realized, that's not why I do the work.

I enjoy editing and putting the movie together, figuring out how to frame a scene.

I'm just starting. Like I mentioned before, I cannot even express myself naturally when the camera starts recording. I'm relieved there aren't many people watching. There's no expectations and I feel free to enjoy creating in the way that pleases me the most.

Enjoy the freedom of being 'unfamous'.

These principles work for me right now. It's a framework that gives me confidence, a belief that I'm moving in the right direction. Of course, it'll change over time.

Follow my progrss on Youtube.


Organized Professionalism

  — Escaping 'content calendar' type of writing

What's in store for today?

“The writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” - Donald Barthelme

When I started this blog, I thought I needed a content calendar. A responsible adult isn't willy nilly about projects they're working on. Mondays are about food, Tuesdays are about home interiors, Fridays are cool links...

I fell into and out of this program. It would work for a week, then I'd become unhappy. The excitement in writing about something scheduled, rather than something I found interesting that day, is so different.

Who can reduce a post into a categorical subject? I often have a hard time knowing which category is most appropriate. Whether it's art, cooking or tv shows, every post is about me, a commentary on life in reference to different topics.

Feeling professional, organized like an adult, is just a feeling, like any other. During the few times when I was 'efficiently' working with a content calendar, I felt confident in my 'professionalism'. Outside those moments, I feel like a schleppy failure who can't get her shit together.

It feels good to be empowered. But the feeling comes from working mechanically. I felt my thoughts, the ideas I'm actually here to share, become lackluster.

In non-mechanical writing or any creative work, you don't know where you'll end up. It's new. No one had a process, no one knows what it's like. You can't schedule it to come.

"Gerald Stern put it this way: 'If you start out to write a poem about two dogs fucking, and you write a poem about two dogs fucking – then you wrote a poem about two dogs fucking.' Einstein, always the smarty-pants, outdid them both: 'No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.' - George Saunders, 'What Writers Really Do When They Write'

While I constantly feel insecure about my work here, I have to feel that way. Will I have any more ideas tomorrow? We'll see. Honing confidence from being an 'organized professional' is not what I'm doing this for.


Personal Space

  — Unstable subconscious

Feeling incongruent like this dandelion on a bridge wall

Every time I walk in my neighborhood in Berlin, I think people are trying to run me over. Whether they're approaching me or getting around me, people get uncomfortably close.

'They're passively aggressively telling me I'm in their way,' I think. But how could so many people be passive aggressive?

I assumed the aggression was the result of living in a city. Claim every inch you can get! Overtime, people become mean.

'I have to move to the country. Look how city living has made these people! I don't want to end up so passive aggressive. It's not healthy to be around so much aggression'. Perhaps where there's more space, people are relaxed enough to give way.

Discovering my need for personal space in my latest vlog

Only after I came back from the States did I realize what was actually happening. Even on the narrowest sidewalks in Seattle or Austin, no one was pushing beyond a certain distance from me. I never felt like my personal space was being invaded.

The difference is subtle. But because I have a larger sense of personal space, the threshold I'm comfortable gets invaded by those who have a smaller sense of personal space. It's appropriate to get that close to me because, why not? They wouldn't feel uncomfortable.

Seeing that perhaps there are no mean intentions, I am more relaxed walking around.

I never thought my sense of personal space would be such an issue.


Sitting Back

  — A new posture of living

For some reason, I never had confidence in chair designers. I have a habit of sitting at the edge of my seat. I guess it has more to do with feeling anxious in anticipation of what happens next. Now with back issues, I 've started leaning back.

I've been watching Youtube a lot more and one of the channels I recently came across features two twins, the Bella Twins. One twin is pregnant and the other isn't. They both have a career in WWE. After watching a couple shows, I realized how relaxed in body composure the pregnant twin is in comparison to the non-pregnant twin.

I guess when you're pregnant, you have to take notice of whether you're sitting comfortably. There's so much additional weight. As someone who isn't pregnant, I can afford to sit leaning one way or another, sit cross legged or half way in a seat. Exactly what the non-pregnant twin does.

This morning, I decided to sit back in my chair. I don't usually do this, I'm often leaning over things, even if just slightly.

It was surprisingly comfortable. Then I realized: 'I've never sat in this chair like this. Not once since I purchased it three years ago.' It felt entirely different.

I'm starting to experience aches and pains from old age and inactivity (mostly from inactivity). They say if you want to change things you have to break habits.

What would a pregnant woman do? Pretending I am pregnant, as silly as it sounds, may be just the inspiration I need to become more aware of my body. I think I'll try it out to get rid of habits that are the source of my aches and pains.


A Mirage

  — So tangible yet it was imagined

Sometimes I realize how much I'm at the mercy of the universe...flash downpour in Panama.

'Breathe in. Breathe out.'

I've been anxious for my eye exam. Three months anxious. I don't normally use iCalender but I saved the appointment on my phone so I wouldn't forget. Every time I glanced at the search page of my phone the appointment would show up. I had a minor anxiety attack each time.

Why is it showing me that on my calendar? It's so far away. I was pissed at Apple.

Not understanding German makes visiting a new doctor stressful. The receptionist at the ophthalmologist barely spoke English when I made the appointment. Why am I scared? What am I expecting? I don't make the effort to learn.

I even slept poorly. There's a feeling that perhaps I don't deserve the things others do. Will I fail so bad that I won't get to see the doctor?

I googled the office and got a few Yelp results. I could see the first two sentences, then Yelp demands that I download the app--who uses Yelp? English speaking patients who visited years ago were happy with their visit. I've also never come across a single doctor in Germany who didn't know English.

No matter what I told myself I couldn't rationalize my way out. Once I realized, I relaxed. I stopped forcing deep breaths. The anxious energy was here to stay until my visit.

Half hour before, I marveled at the instability within me. The anxiety was so strong yet at the same time, I knew it was temporary. I felt like I was examining a mirage.

The second I opened the door to the doctor's office the energy disappeared. As if it no sort of fear ever happened, I was confident in communicating in broken German. Without any intermission, I transformed into the opposite of the person I entered as.


My Muse

  — A role in my selfish dreams

With my husband on a morning beach walk.

Cooking and baking are activities that seem selfless.

I would love to make fresh bread or croissants for my husband to have in the morning. It's this wonderful idea that I can whip up something delicious to surprise him. I get excited thinking about him waking up to the smell of fresh pastries....

That's a fantasy I have, not him. If he had a list of 100 things he'd do before he dies, eating croissants wouldn't be one of them. I'm taking his time and energy when I place a fresh baked item in front of his face.

It's not that he doesn't enjoy it, it's that he's enjoying it because I'm enjoying the thought of him enjoying it. My husband probably enjoys the convenience much more: the food is placed in front of him when he's hungry. I'm extrapolating the delight I get from tasting and smelling fresh pastries onto him when I imagine this wonderful experience.

My husband doesn't enjoy baked goods to the extent I do, so this 'wonderful experience' isn't based on anything real. It's a collage of different aspects of my life. He's actually doing me a favor by having them.

Kalaloch Beach right before sunrise, around the time I would ideally get up and bake things. I rarely get up that early, that's why it's a fantasy.

I'm tickling myself. I know he'll eat my food because he's hungry in the morning. I orchestrate the scenario, then I get happy when it happens.

'Did you like it?' His positive feedback is crucial to how satisfied I am with the experience I've created for myself.

With the inspiration of waking up to fresh baked goods, I started bread baking again. This time I'm using Tartine Book No. 3: Ancient Grains. The same recipe for the country bread is in the book, the one I attempted more than a dozen times. Instead of looking up Youtube videos and other sites to get alterations on the recipe, I'm going to actually follow the recipe.

I strayed from the directions when things didn't work out. But now with clear photos, I can see how close I was to the original method, closer than any of the altered techniques I tried.

Today, I prepared the yeast. It'll sit for three days before I can start feeding it. Soon, I'll be able to live my dream.

A reading of this post is available on Soundcloud and iTunes.