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Good evening Reader, 

My name is Ravensunset (well, it is for blogging purposes at least). I love to walk, listen to audiobooks, and travel. I always work to improve myself, even when I find that I am ruining myself in the process. I think it’s important to try hard and to always remember one’s goals.

I am writing this all in the pursuit of one of my goals, namely, that of “self-actualization,” despite at times it feeling like a pursuit toward self-destruction. 

Sometimes I have trouble keeping a balance in my life. I have a distinct tendency to complete a task with an “all or nothing” mentality. I believe it is indeed this mentality that is the source of about 49% of my woes (the other 51% stemming from an odd mix of overanalysis, hyper-sensitivity, unrealistic expectations, and pop culture).

I hope that by writing here occasionally, I can be better at understanding myself and at helping myself (rather than self-destructing). Maybe through these musings I can bring you a shred of amusement, joy, or distraction, so in this hope, I am opening up my journey to anyone with internet access.

So, dear reader, enjoy (or don’t… free country)!

Love,

Raven

Do Not Bathe in the Toxic Swamp

Cambridge, MA, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

Everyone is busy with something and I am no exception. I have made a (mental) list of New Year’s resolutions for myself and I’m finding it hard to make time to do everything that I would like to do consistently. One of my 2020 challenges is to run a half marathon in May. I used to jog so getting back into the swing of things physically has not been hard, however, squeezing an hour into my schedule to train at times seems insurmountable. I tend to take things to the extreme, training for this half marathon is one of those times.

My daily commute to work is about 2.5 miles. In the past, I would always walk this distance leisurely while listening to music or audiobooks. Lately, I feel as if I do not have time to accommodate my commute, so on several occasions I have instead opted to take transport to the gym in the morning to complete a more strenuous workout in lieu of my walk. While this has worked on busier days, the busiest of days have required more radical adjustments. ‘Go big or go home,’ aka the unwitting motto of my life underpins my exercise routine on some of my busiest days. A few days ago, strapped for time and stressed, I made the impulsive decision to run to work. The result was poorly executed, but blood-pumping all the same.

On the morning of my impromptu jog, I was feeling stressed because I was I running about 15-20mins behind schedule. This slight shift in timing would have serious consequences to my morning productivity that I did not have the emotional capacity to cope with at the time. I put on my coat and boots, but left my gym bag by the door, because I knew that I could not squeeze in a gym session. By the time that I reached the front of my building my stress levels had seemingly spiked. It felt as if I had pent-up, dormant stress that was just waiting to be released. A slave to my biochemistry, I tried to release the toxic energy as immediately as I could—I started running.

I took off my hat, pulled my hair back into a pony tail, and shoved my scarf into my bag. Clad in my thick, thigh-length outerwear and my stiff boots, I began to run down the sidewalk. What a sight it must be to behold a woman, clutching her bag and running with purpose but to no physical end. I felt like I was in pursuit of an invisible bus or like I was a shady Depression-era bandit with a burlap sack hightailing it from the coppers.

Exercise releases endorphins that can make you feel happy. This biochemical reaction in a way is like natural medication for the body. In my mind, a human being is like a body of water. When humans are emotionally healthy, their bodies are like fresh streams with clear, thirst-quenching water. When humans are emotionally unbalanced, the stream gets cut off, the water stagnates and what once was a clear pool becomes a pit of toxic sludge and grimy muck. When we feel bad it can be hard to drain and refresh the swamp. I spend a lot of time trying to examine and understand my feelings; while this can be productive, often, I feel as if I am stewing in my own murky waters. When I jog, I feel as if the dam quarantining my goo is slowly giving way allowing the slime to leak out and fresh water to flow in. Sustained cardiovascular exercise has this cleansing effect on my psyche but, also, I am positive, a salubrious effect on my brain.

I arrived at my destination after my run with my face dripping with sweat and body radiating with heat. Because I ran, I actually did make up for my delay this morning. I felt better in the same way that one does after taking an ibuprofen at the crescendo of an impending migraine. I felt as if the run were medication designed to target and relieve my pain. Unlike ibuprofen, this medication does not need to be ingested every 4-6 hours to sustain the effect; after one jog, I was good for the entirety of the day.

Whether it is jogging, meditating, or taking some time to reflect, it is important to understand and know how you relate to and manage stress. This experience showed me that just 20-30 minutes of cardio is all it takes for me to cool down from a stressful episode…. Also, this run has taught me that if I plan to jog to work then I should really plan to bring a change of clothes…even if the temperatures do not climb above freezing.

Stress is a devious fiend, but not the most unpredictable adversary. I felt stressed because I was finding it hard to pursue my goals. Jogging helped me emotionally cope and had the added benefit of getting me one step ahead in my training for the half marathon. Whether you need to heat up or cool down, Dear Reader, I wish you the best in your stress management and hope you will live a beautiful, stress-minimal life.

Love,

Raven

All’s Bad that Ends Badly

Newport, RI, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

Sometimes leaving is the worst part. Does anyone else get the last-day-of-vacation blues (more here). I surely do. After a lovey few days in Newport, Rhode Island, I had a rough time returning home. As this trip is my only experience with the city, I associate Newport in my mind with sunny days and good times. Home in Boston, while it is dear to me, feels like a mixed bag of nuts compared to my brief getaway.

The “last-day-of-vacation” and “Sunday” blues are real phenomena that describe the feeling of dread associated with the return to the monotony and stress of day-to-day work life. On my journey back from Newport, I felt as if I were being forcibly ripped from the reality that I had only just gotten a taste of. The hotel was beautiful and centrally located, the air was cold but the skies were clear, and the seafood was abundant and fresh. Newport is what vacations are made of. In my mind, just one more day would have been enough to quench my thirst for this city.

I believe there is some credence to the saying “all’s well that end’s well.” We perceive experiences better overall when they end on a good note. I ended my trip to Newport on a bad note. The morning that we were due to depart, I woke up feeling cranky after a restless night. Instead of getting out of bed immediately and starting the day, I rolled around, stewed in my disappointment, and scrolled mindlessly on my phone. After about a half hour, I became annoyed at myself for letting my negative thoughts fester, so I decided to start the day productively with exercise at the gym. I crept down the hotel hallways in the early hours and tried to access the fitness center with my keycard. Although the small room was open to guests 24/7, my keycard would not grant me entry into the guarded space. After several unproductive wacks of my card to the door handle, I gave up and called the front desk. Someone answered immediately and informed me that the door was on the fritz and the engineers would not arrive to fix it until well after 7am. I looked down at my watch, it was 6:25am. Frustrated, I knew that I could not wait potentially over an hour to use the gym—I didn’t have all morning.

In a worse mood, I returned to the hotel room, changed out of my workout clothes, and simmered for several minutes as I decided my next moves. When I do not get my way, it is extremely hard for me to settle on a second course of action. I came up with three options about what to do next a.) go to a café and work on my laptop or read, b.) go for a long walk, or c.) sit in the dark hotel room and wait to leave. I was stuck between a. and b.. Unable, to make up my mind, I decided to bring my laptop out with me just in case. Being outside in the fresh air made me want to go on a long walk. Unfortunately, I had squandered so much time dithering that I did not have time to take a long walk.

Empire Tea & Coffee

At this point, it made the most sense to me that I should go to a cafe rather than walk around aimlessly with my bulky laptop slung over my shoulder. I had two cafes in mind, ‘Starbucks’ and a local chain called ‘Empire Tea & Coffee.’ I was torn between the two because I enjoyed the local chain but I also had a gift card to Starbucks. The frugal side of me won out and I made a sharp turn towards Starbucks. I bought a cup of herbal tea and a bottle of water. As soon as I sat down and plugged in my laptop, I knew that I did not really want to be there. It was as if I needed to feel the “badness” of my Starbucks decision to know what I really wanted. Because I wanted to feel like I had gotten my money’s worth, I typed out a single email and drank half of my tea, before I left to walk to Empire Tea & Coffee. At café number 2, I ordered a tea latte that did not taste as sweet as it did in my imagination. My short stay at this café was, perhaps, less satisfying as the clock was quickly ticking before my eyes signally my imminent departure. As I walked back to the hotel, the cool fresh air and the blue skies made me feel foolish for choosing two mediocre café visits over a refreshing walk.

In summary, I ruined myself that morning:

• I woke up on the wrong side of the bed,

• became frustrated when I could not access the gym,

• spent too much time and mental energy internally complaining instead of thinking about how to move forward,

• chose to go to Starbucks when I preferred Empire,

• spent too much time sitting at Starbucks,

• did not enjoy my latte at Empire,

• walked back to the hotel feeling foolish and sad that I had to return home.

Sometimes, I have a garbage mind. Something did not go my way and I let the feelings of disappointment poison my emotions. Instead of taking the closed gym as an opportunity to have an unexpected adventure, I treated it as a hinderance to my happiness. I could have had a good last day despite, but I let my emotions get the better of me and ruined the experience for myself. I very much enjoyed Newport and won’t let the last day mar my memories. I will let this post be a reminder to myself that it is not worth it to get upset over silly things (even if they do not feel so silly at the time).

Dear Reader, I wish you all happy travel, happy days, and enjoyable alternatives if things do not go the way that you planned. Either way, I hope things go well for you.

Love,

Raven

City by the Sea

Fort Adams, Newport, RI, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

Have you ever visited the City by the Sea? According to Wikipedia, this is a nickname for Newport, Rhode Island. Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting this small city and I had some interesting takeaways from my experience. Before I share my observations and impressions, it is important to note that I visited Newport in the dead of winter and all of my commentary is written about the city during this time of year.

Small-Town Winter City

In America, settlements with as little as 1,500 to 5,000 people can be considered a city. Newport boasts a population of about 25,000 residents. Coming from Boston, which has 23 neighborhoods and a population of just under 700,000, Newport seemed a bit more like a small town than a city. Newport is not only a small city but is also a seasonal one. In June, July, and August business booms, yachts speckle the shimmering ocean, and vacationers crowd the sidewalks. Now, in mid-February, the city has entered a state of hibernation.  

Newport is made up of just 7.7 square miles of land. In this area, commerce is concentrated in the west coast along the main shopping strip and along the waterfront. Eateries are mostly pubs and quick bites with a smattering of upscale restaurants. Newport does not seem to have much of a café culture with just one Starbucks, a local chain called Empire Tea & Coffee, and a few other establishments that all seem to open late and close early. In February, we see that many businesses have transitioned to off-season hours and others have totally shut their doors for the season. On more than one occasion when my boyfriend and I tried to find a coffee shop, we learned that many closed by 3pm, most by 4pm, and (to my knowledge) only Starbucks and two Empire Tea & Coffee locations by 6pm. We got our hopes up and then crushed when we found a quirky café called Kaffeology on Google Maps and arrived in person only to discover that the store was closed for business.

New England

Founded in 1639, Newport is a colonial city and preserves its New England charm. If your only experience with New England is Boston, Massachusetts, it would be as if your only experience with cheese is Kraft singles. Newport oozes “New England” with its architecture. Many structures are adorned with colored wood, some windows have artificial shutters, and the roofs are slanted giving attics vaulted ceilings. One quirky architectural feature is the rounded towers and pointy roofs on some walls (this description is terrible, please see the photo above for detail). 

People

As a Bostonian, I found Newport’s small-town vibe to be a nice change of pace. The people greeted me with “good mornings,” and “hellos.” On one occasion I even mumbled “what?” because I did not think that a stranger would speak to me unless they had some small request.

Community

Even in this slow time, the city had made an effort to drum up enthusiasm within the community. I learned when I arrived that Newport was in the midst of celebrating its “Winter Festival.” During this time, special events are put on in the city including a chili cook off, specialty cocktail offerings at select restaurants, live music, and other small activities. The Winter Festival ends on February 23rd (2020) with Beach Polo. As a finale, people of all ages gather on the sand to enjoy horsemanship up-close with the beautiful views of Aquidneck Island as the backdrop.

Empire Tea & Coffee

I love cafes and visited Empire Tea & Coffee on multiple occasions at both of its Newport locations. Although my initial visit was driven by a scarcity of options, my repeated stays were a testament to the quality of this establishment. This café has plenty of seating, yet maintains a quaint and cozy vibe. In addition to standard coffees and teas, the café also serves specialty drinks like bubble tea and an assortment of tea and coffee lattes. More than once I ordered the Red Velvet Latte, which is a rooibos tea mixed with milk, vanilla, and white chocolate. To me, this tasted like an upscale spin on a traditional “white hot chocolate.”

P.S. For those of you who follow my blog, this cafe was the location of breakfast number 2 mentioned in a previous post (more here).

The Breakers, Newport

Overall

Newport is a lovely city, and a nice place to visit for the weekend. In the winter, the expansive and untouchable ocean, green pastures, and gated mansions are colorful backdrops for the still city. Newport is the sort of place where I imagine a writer could hole up in an inn for a few weeks and spend the quiet mornings strolling, the days writing, and the evenings, imbibing at the tavern. Although activity within the city seems to drop with the declining temperatures, there is still much to do if you are curious and open-minded. During my stay, I enjoyed visiting The Breakers mansion (more here), a trip to Fort Adams (the inside is closed during the winter), as well as nightly appearances at bars and restaurants. 

Even in the winter, Newport is welcoming and charming. If you can get past the cold and the wind, Dear Reader, you are sure to enjoy a low-key weekend in the City by the Sea.

Love,

Raven

Behold the White Elephant

The Breakers, Newport, RI, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

There is nothing that old money cannot buy. Newport, Rhode Island is certainly an “old money” town. Streets are lined with mansions belonging to 19th century robber barons and captains of industry. Less than a mile south of the central commerce area, the streets begin to change. The sidewalks become narrower and the properties are lined with walls and fences tall and robust and enough to keep out the riff raff. Many of these estates are now owned by the “Preservation Society of Newport County,” which is a private, non-profit. For a price, visitors can tour these magnificent manors with the aid of an audio guide or on a tour. Perhaps, the most famous house owned by the organization is “The Breakers,” which was the Vanderbilt family summer home. Intrigued by this large structure, my boyfriend and I sprung for a tour.

The Breakers was built in 1895 in an Italian Renaissance style under Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who made his fortune in the railroad and shipping industries. With four floors, a basement, over 30 bedrooms for family, servants, and guests, and around 20 bathrooms—this building is a testament to the overindulgence and conspicuous consumption of the Gilded age. The house was designed to showcase the family’s wealth and entertain high profile, high-net worth individuals.


Upon entering the house, we were given an audio tour guide, which was a touchscreen, ipod-like device. First, we entered the great room, which had ceilings that rose two stories, with paintings, and architectural, rococo flourishes. Underneath the main staircase hid a grotto, with a small water fountain. We continued on to the spacious breakfast room, with an oriental rug that cost more than I make in a year, and, then, the dining room that could easily be mistaken for the Palace of Versailles in France or the Summer Palace in Russia.

In addition to describing the architectural style and the history of the estate, the audio guide also included small anecdotes from Vanderbilt family members and architectural critics. According to one historian, The Breakers began to take on a negative public perception by 1907. Writer Henry James described the Newport mansions as “white elephants,” meaning that these monoliths were “beautiful but useless.” In fact, the opinion of many critics is that this house does not contain any real architectural merit. For example, we saw angels carved in stone over a doorway that were lying right in front of a steam-powered train. Seeing Italian renaissance style angels in the same frame as an American locomotive, would be like seeing a painting of Alexander Graham Bell fiddling with an iPhone.

The second floor of the house was grand and spacious, however, more conservative and conventional in its stylings. Upstairs also offered the most spectacular view of the backyard and blue ocean beyond. If a grand house must be built, at least let it be one with a billion-dollar view. Before heading out, we navigated back downstairs through the servant’s and butler’s staircase. The house is segregated in a way that allows the waitstaff to navigate their way through special passages in the house and answer family members’ beck and call through phone systems and buzzers located along several walls.

As time passed, the Vanderbilts had trouble holding onto the property. The patriarch, Cornelius, died just four years after it was built in 1899 of cerebral hemorrhaging. His wife died in 1934 and bequeathed the estate to her youngest daughter, a Countess. By the 1940s, it was clear that the house was becoming too much to handle, and the family began to lease it out to the Preservation Society of Newport County for the symbolic price of $1 per year. In 1972, the Society bought the estate and most of its furnishings for today’s equivalent of $2.2 million. Today, if you are willing to fork over $26, you can experience a few sections of the house through an entertaining and informative audio tour. At first, I was hesitant to pay so much just to see the inside of a house, however, I am glad that I took this opportunity. I learned a lot, I saw a lot, and I experienced a few “awe” moments (more here).

The Breakers is a window into a different time. I saw a number of mansions on my walks around Newport and am glad that I had a chance to behold what is inside the wrought iron gates and stone walls of this old-monied fortress. While the critics lambast the property as gaudy, highfalutin, and extravagant, in my opinion, for $26 this house was well worth the price 😉

Love,

Raven

High Price, Higher Expectations

One Bellevue restaurant, Newport, RI, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

Sometimes we conflate a high-price tag with quality. This is an understandable mistake as many good products come with a value that makes one really consider before handing over a credit card. However, other times some things are expensive and are just not worth it. My boyfriend and I visited the One Bellevue restaurant in Newport, Rhode Island for breakfast one morning. This little dining establishment is situated right inside a nice hotel near a shopping center. The upscale setting and pricey menu items suggest that this eatery offers a quality breakfast experience… or so we thought.

We were seated in a sunny section of the small restaurant at a table already made up for two. Glancing at the menu, I saw many dishes with eggs, avocado, and salmon that I thought I may enjoy. However, when my eyes drifted to the dollar signs, I reconsidered all my thoughts. For example, salmon on a bagel could be a nice breakfast, however, for $15, the entrée seemed wildly overpriced. I quickly scanned the room to see what other guests had ordered. Omelets, waffles, toast, all looked nice but not worth the “dinner prices” slated on the menu. When I peered back down at the menu, I immediately became irked. Why was it okay to sell a breakfast sandwich for $16 and an additional egg for $5?? I became so heated in the moment that I resolved myself to order the cheapest thing on the menu—the oatmeal with brown sugar, berries, and nuts.

The server came over to take our drink orders. My boyfriend requested an orange juice granted that it was fresh. The server confirmed that the orange juice was indeed freshly-squeezed and I placed my order of a tap water, stressing the word “tap” to avoid any extra charge for bottled water. When the server came back she brought the orange juice (forgetting the water…). With a quick sip of the juice, it was apparent that the tangy liquid was procured from a carton rather than pressed from a fruit. At this point we had a different server for some reason. When we asked the woman whether the juice was fresh she brusquely said “no, none of our juice is fresh.” She removed the drink and promised to bring me the water that I never received.

The entrees appeared rather quickly. On this bone-chillingly cold morning, I was looking forward to my overpriced “old fashioned rolled oats.” Only, when I inspected the dish, I was disappointed to see that there were no nuts. When the server returned, I quickly asked whether there were supposed to be nuts in the oatmeal and she said matter-of-factly, “people don’t really notice the nuts.” What!? “On the menu, it said that there would be nuts,” I retorted. She responded that the kitchen was out of nuts. Again, what!? If an ingredient is missing, isn’t it necessary to inform the consumer? I really like nuts and one of the reasons I went for the oatmeal over similarly priced items was because I believed that it contained a solid protein source. I became upset upon hearing this. The woman curtly said, “well, do you want it or not?” Her tone and request caught me off guard. I became flustered and mumbled something signaling that I would stick to the dish. However, one spoonful in, I changed my mind.

I was able to order another dish, but much to my disappointment, nothing on the menu seemed to be very appetizing. In resigned calm, I ordered the Raisin Bran—a cereal of my youth served to me in a small bowl (a mere 140 calories) with a tiny cup of berries, and even tinier dispenser of milk for the cost of ten green, American dollars. Ten bucks, Dear Reader. You can buy a family sized box of cereal for $4.99, a gallon of milk for $3.99, and for the berries—who cares, it’s Raisin Bran.

Experiences like this make me want to write Yelp reviews. A nice exterior and a high price tag should be signs of quality. However, I have now experienced a few instances (more here), where an elegant appearance is nothing more than a fanciful façade shrouding mediocrity. I think that restaurants are free to charge what they will, but I think that we as consumers should be made aware in advance of what we are paying for. Pictures of the entrees and detailed descriptions from our servers go a long way. When we asked whether the juice was fresh, our young server was caught off guard and perhaps just said ‘yes’ without thinking. She was not very well informed. Our second server neglected to tell us that an ingredient was missing from my entrée. Maybe she forgot, however, she really did not seem too concerned or apologetic. In fact, she seemed taken aback that I would even care that the dish I ordered turned out to be incomplete.

This dining experience left me feeling disapointed and annoyed. The more I experience displeasure eating out, the less that I am willing to go out of my way to try new (expensive) things. Immediately following the breakfast, we stopped at a café for breakfast number 2—an egg, cheese, and avocado sandwich on a bolo bun (which is like a sweet English muffin). This little sandwich cost me $5.85 and was worth every single cent. Maybe I’m just cheap, but, I don’t even care anymore. I feel uncomfortable when I feel like I am overpaying. Upscale dining is apparently not for me and I think that my wallet and sanity are all the better for it.

Eating out should be a treat. If it is expensive, I hope it’s worth it. If it’s not worth it, then I think it is worth talking to the server to understand why the quality is not what was promised. I will no longer be meek; I demand quality. I will make a Yelp account and be sure to share my experience with others. We’re all on the same team here. When something is great—tip the waitstaff well and spread the word. When something feels like a rip-off—speak with your server, tip what you think is fair, and spread the word. Whether a five-star restaurant, or a food truck, it is important that the price tag match the quality.

Love,

Raven

The Wheels on the Bus

South Station, Boston, MA, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

Are you a fan of weekend excursions? I certainly am. Near, far, or within my own city I enjoy traveling. This weekend my boyfriend and I traveled south to Newport to celebrate a nice weekend away. To get to our coastal, Rhode Island destination, we took a bus that departs from downtown Boston and arrives right in the middle of Newport. While I have lived in Boston for the past few years, I am not terribly familiar with the New England area. On this bus ride, I was afforded a nice peak into the picturesque north Atlantic.

South Station

We took a Peter Pan bus from South Station in Boston to start our journey. In my opinion, buses, rather than cars, are better for sightseeing because passengers tower over other vehicles and are granted an uninterrupted view of the changing landscape. Although chilly, we were lucky to make our journey on a perfectly clear and sunny day. Within minutes we had escaped downtown and could see coastal-front properties in the greater Boston area. I am specifically referring to the Dorchester and Quincy areas, which are connected to the city through the underground metro system, known as the “T.” That’s one thing that I love about Boston, the T can whisk you from Cambridge to downtown to Quincy and Dorchester, for under three bucks without ever needing to leave your seat.

Boston

Our first stop on the bus ride was about an hour south in Fall River, Massachusetts. This city is located on the border with Rhode Island and is framed by water on two sides. From the bus, we could see Battleship Cove, which (apparently) houses the largest collection of WWII naval vessels. To my mind, Fall River from a distance kind of reminded me of a small European city. The town area is set on a hillside and from the bus on our left we could see houses and church spires peeping out between the light-green foliage. On the right we could see the brilliant blue ocean, shimmering under a stately bridge.

Fall River, MA, winter 2020

Once the bus entered the main commerce area, the city began to look less European and more American to me. The first thing to catch my eye was that many of the buildings looked like old factories or mills. Immediately fascinated, I looked up Fall River to find out more. Through a quick Wikipedia search, I learned that Fall River at one point had over 120 cotton textile mills, and today 65 of these historic structures are still standing. It really is a sight to see factory upon factory, with their ruddy bricks lined with windows and tall chimneys. These buildings are similar in the way that offspring are to their siblings—they look like they came from the same source materials.

Fall River, MA, winter 2020

Continuing south, we unceremoniously crossed into Rhode Island and went past a grassy stretch of land. In no time at all, we passed through the city of Portsmouth and then reached the outskirts of Newport. This bus ride was interesting to me because I was able to see a different side to New England. In addition to what I have described, I also briefly saw some rural parts of New England. Unfortunately, I was unable to snap a picture in time of Prescott Farm. On the left-hand side, there was a colonial windmill, which looked curiously extratemporal considering we started our journey from modern downtown. Then, on the right, we saw a cluster of schoolchildren leaning over each other to pet the docile farm animals.

Throughout the journey we saw blue skies, bluer waters, and small towns (or cities according to Wikipedia). In my Boston bubble, anything outside the reach of public transportation seems much too far for me. However, places like Fall River is under a two-hour drive with light traffic. New England is so compact. It’s good to know that there are many places to see in an area just slightly larger than Washington state. Whether it is a bus, a train, or the comfort of your own car, if you have wheels, then consider traveling!

Love,

Raven

A Love to Look

Prudential Center, Boston, MA, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

Do you enjoy visiting the mall? Earlier this week, I was scheduled to attend an event in Boston. Although I tried to plan my commute downtown carefully, I ended up arriving several minutes early. Because it was a brisk February morning, I decided to pass my free time wandering around the Prudential Center mall in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.

As weird as it sounds, ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by indoor shopping malls. I have a distinct memory from when I was kid, when my mom and my aunt took my cousin and I to the mall late one evening because they had an errand to run and we weren’t ready to go to bed. I remember my cousin and I excitedly changing out of our pajamas and into proper clothing and absconding like bandits into the darkness in a minivan headed downtown. That night the mall felt like a magical escape from the suburban humdrum.

I think my love for (nice) malls is explained in part by my love for architecture. When I was younger, I would marvel at how malls were a menagerie of eclectic architectural styles. My young mind was intrigued by a neighborhood of tiny buildings, which I now know are architectural facades rather than true structures. When I was in high school, I was serious about pursuing a career in architecture. I considered applying to 5-year bachelor programs, which put students on a fast track to attain licensing, as well as 4-year bachelor plus 2-year master programs. I ultimately matriculated into undergrad undecided, however, during the application process, I wrote an essay on my love for architecture by explaining my love for the buildings on the Las Vegas strip inside and out, including the malls. Here is an excerpt, courtesy of 17-year old me:

The Strip, Las Vegas, NV,

“Lights everywhere, buildings of all shapes and sizes. I am standing on a bridge as the city stretches out before me. To my right stands the durable marble columns of Rome that were able to hold up one of the greatest ancient empires. Above me there is a tower composed of intertwining thin rods lit up with the excitement of the night. Lastly, in the distance lies the majestic figure of a pharaoh’s head on a cat’s body perched in front of a sleek black pyramid. From where I am standing, I can see Caesar’s Palace, the Eiffel Tower and a sphinx. Why are all of these monuments in the same place? They are all here because I am in Las Vegas. Now that I look back on the experience, I realize that while I was there, I was obsessed with the way that everything looked. I can remember thinking “Wow, a glass dome,” or “Cool! A building shaped liked a pyramid!” Even though the thoughts were simple statements at the time, they mean much more to me now. My favorite hotel in Las Vegas is Caesar’s Palace. Inside and out it looks like it was created by the Romans. The ceilings are painted like the sky, and even though it is inside, the spaciousness of the hotel makes you feel like you are actually in Rome. There are columns and arches everywhere, which I love because not only do they support the hotel, but they also contribute to its charm. Even though I love the attractions in Las Vegas, one thing I didn’t even realize I loved was the architecture….”

Forum Shops, Caesar’s Palace

A bit over the top? Well, I was an eager high-school senior. Rereading this passage, I am reminded of how excited I was to just look, no shopping, just taking in the expensive, larger-than-life eye candy. My trip to Vegas was with my family. With a gaggle of kids, seeing the sites inside and out was a top activity (in combination with splashing in the hotel pool). In fact, I remember clearly taking a bus tour to see the strip and devoting more than one evening to walking through the hotels and malls in the evening.

I thought about my trip to Vegas when I was passing time walking through Boston’s Prudential Center. In fact, my experience ogling the palatial malls on the strip, made me physically stop, put my phone in my pocket, back up, and soak in the beautiful design of the building around me. While the Prudential Center is not the biggest nor best mall by any standard, it is certainly nice, clean, and fun to look at.

The Prudential Center is set a few floors up from street level. The halls have an airy feel as visitors have a clear view overlooking the city streets. The long passages are somewhat narrow, but the ceilings are high and open with panels of windows. One section of the mall, the Winter Garden, is planted with trees and flowers and overlooks a courtyard. While it’s no Caesar’s Palace, the Prudential Center was a nice distraction for me. The more we engage with our surroundings, the more we are bound to appreciate them. Whether in nature or in the city, I wish beautiful things will catch your eyes today, Dear Reader.

Love,

Raven

The Breakfast Club: College Edition

Dear Reader, 

Physical closeness is a surefire way to bring people together. A few days ago, I attended a prospective student event for graduate school admissions. A small group of us with diverse backgrounds and interests met for a few days to visit the university. One component of our visit included one-on-one meetings with faculty members. When we were not in a professor’s office, we took refuge in an empty classroom. At one point it seemed as if the bulk of us were just waiting—a group of adults polished in professional attire yet slumped over and unenthusiastic in a classroom. In our boredom, interesting conversations between the unfamiliar group ensued.

All names have been changed.

Trent walked into the quiet classroom where all of us were either on our phones or laptops engrossed in our little worlds. The talker of the group, Trent started a light conversation about the day. Mike, a current student from Philadelphia, eagerly chimed in. Without too much prelude, Trent posed the question: What nationality would a baby have if it were born on the moon?

“The parents’ nationality,” of course, volunteered Stella. 

“The law would probably be the same as if a baby were born in international waters,” added Mike.

“But there is no such law on the moon. So, what would the baby’s nationality be?” responded Trent.

Someone in the group suggested that the baby should inherent the moon. Stella, intrigued, inquired how a baby would have been born on the moon in the first place. This question then spiraled into an excited discussion about sending pioneers to the moon and setting up civilization there.

When things settled down, Jann started things back up again when he made the statement: I don’t support vegetarianism except if it is for health reasons. Stella was immediately riled up. Stella comes from the rural west and grew up in a community that slaughtered cows for a living. While she is not inherently against meat consumption, she found Jann to be incredibly closed-minded on the subject. Jann responded by saying that, “there is a hierarchy in place that we must respect. Animals should be eaten.”

Jann has a stern face and a tone of voice that is powerful but without too much inflection. Stella asked whether he was serious, and Jann replied, “Unless I die from some sort of freak accident, I’m positive that I will die from high cholesterol, because I think that meat should be eaten.” Mike and Trent were eager to get into the discussion.

Trent volunteered, “I was tricked into eating alligator once because I was told it was shrimp.”

“What did it taste like?” asked Mike.

“Shrimp!” yelled Trent.

Trent volunteered that he did not eat cow. Then Sonya, a quiet girl, meekly stated, “I grew up in a country where cows are revered creatures and I can tell you that they are dumb as s***.”

Out of nowhere Mike stated in a serious tone, “I saw a conveyor belt of chickens the other day…” However, this thought was never finished because four others jumped in asking what a “conveyor belt of chickens” could even mean.

Classroom snacks

I left the room for a few minutes to use the restroom, but when I returned, the conversation on vegetarianism was still in full swing. Mike was speaking as I entered the room.

“Every culture draws a line when it comes to eating animals: cow, chicken, horse, dog, cat, etc. Some people will draw a vertical line between chicken and horse (signaling that they would eat cow and chicken but not horse), others between horse and dog. As for me…, well, I would draw a horizontal line below all animals,” Mike said jokingly, insinuating that he would eat anything.

In an equally absurd tone, Trent stated, “Did you know that crocodile counts as fish on Fridays during lent because they live in the water?”

Everything that was said was followed up on enthusiastically. When a group of bored strangers are stuck in a classroom, they will find ways to entertain themselves. In those 90 minutes, we discussed where to find the best Indian food in the U.S. (apparently a restaurant in rural Indiana), learned about SoCal vs NorCal rivalries, and heard for the first time about the problematic Mummers parade in Philadelphia.

Although the atmosphere at the prospective student event was tense at times, I think that it is safe to say that we all found ways to enjoy ourselves. There’s something about being left alone in a classroom that brings people together. As long as we remain friendly and open-minded, Dear Reader, then camaraderie can be found wherever it is sought. I will close out this post with an iconic line from The Breakfast Club movie: We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.

Love,

Raven

The Elephant at the Table

The Bebop, Boston, MA, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

Have you ever attended a dinner where no one knew each other? I had a similar experience recently when I went to an informal dinner with prospective applicants to a graduate program. There were 8 prospective students in attendance and 3 current students acting as university ambassadors. We ended up going to a cozy pub in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood called the Bebop which served large-portioned American fare. The place was only half full, however, it was quite loud with a string band (guitar, violin, cello, and base) with amplifiers. We were seated in the back of the restaurant in a square booth, where three sides of the table were enclosed. This meant that if someone at the back of the table wanted to get up to use the restroom then 4-5 people would have to slide over and stand up with that person.

It can be hard to get a lively conversation going with a group of strangers, especially in the tight quarters of our 3-walled booth. As the last person to come to the table, I was seated in a corner between two current students. In my spot I felt isolated from some of the more interesting conversations that were happening between the prospective students on the other side. I politely asked the current students questions, but all I really wanted to do was conspire with prospectives to find out what other schools they applied to and whether they had already received any admission decisions.

I tried to start a conversation with the two women seated in the opposite corner of me, but this proved to be a bit of a challenge. I leaned over my neighbor to yell out questions across the table. The woman that I was speaking with uttered her words softly and had a Korean accent which made some words difficult to understand. The loud Irish music muffled our voices and forced us to yell “what?” and “could you repeat that?” too frequently for comfort.

The Bebop, Boston

At the dinner, we talked about our research interests and the school, all the while ignoring the elephant in the room—who will be the lucky ones to get an acceptance to the school. The prospective students clearly wanted to size up the competition. We wanted to know to where we applied, whether we got any admission decisions, and whether we were going to receive an acceptance or a rejection from this particular school. When a current student asked us to how many schools we applied to, the table became silent. Another current student offered that he had applied to seven and one prospective woman chirped in that she had applied to twelve, then, silence. It was as if we were all on-guard and suspicious that leaking information about our applications would threaten our chances in some way. While conversation picked up again and we were able to bond over some unrelated topics, the question had inadvertently reminded us that we were competitors above all else.

In my opinion, space to move around is key to facilitate conversation for groups of strangers. At the pub, we felt locked into our seats and committed to our neighbors as conversation partners. At the next evenings dinner, there were several round tables, an open bar, and enough space to glide between people and in and out of conversation. When there is freedom to move from one person to the next, we no longer feel like a group of competitors trying to outdo each other. Instead, the pressure drops, we are able to get to know each other more naturally, and the elephant in the room is less apparent. We’re all people and we all want to make the best of our experiences; it’s good to find spaces that make us feel free and comfortable rather than confined.

My visit to the school went well. Please cross your fingers for me, Dear Reader, and I will wish you the very best in all your endeavors!

Love,

Raven

Vegan Friendly

True Bistro, Somerville, MA, winter 2020

Dear Reader,

How many of you out there are vegan? I have no strong opinion about veganism, but recently visited a nice vegan restaurant in Somerville called True Bistro with my boyfriend. Unlike a few other vegetarian and vegan eateries in the area like Veggie Galaxy, True Bistro boasts an upscale atmosphere in addition to a quirky no-meat reputation.

The dinner menu was divided into three sections—salads, small plates, and large plates. Dishes included Butternut Squash Manicotti, Crispy Polenta Squares, and Devils on Horseback. As someone with dietary restrictions, it was a very nice experience for me to peruse the entirety of the menu without having to guess whether an unknown ingredient was a meat product. After much deliberation, I decided on the Butternut Squash Manicotti only to discover to my chagrin that the dish was unavailable, so I ordered the Fresh Saffron Fettuccine.

Devils on Horseback

My honest first impression was that the dishes were rather small—fancy but “French” sized. My boyfriend ordered the Devils on Horse Back as an appetizer, which were two dates, wrapped in tofu, and topped with cashew “cheese.” The “small plate” was in fact two bite-sized pieces. The server described the small plates as ‘appetizers,’ however, in my opinion, this would only be a suitable appetizer for a single person. The fettuccine was flavorful with garlic, vegetables, and tasted slightly cheesy without any real cheese.

Fresh Saffron Fettuccine

Looking over the menu items, I noticed that many dishes were carbohydrate dense, with a strong reliance on pasta, potatoes, and rice. Even the tofu and seitan meals were merely sprinkled with protein under hearty carbohydrate bases. I’m a protein and vegetable person and even the “large dishes” felt rather light. Our dinner at True Bistro ended with dessert—pumpkin cheesecake and a “chocolate for life,” which was a mocha mousse cake and chocolate cookie with whipped cream. As a cheesecake fanatic, I felt that the pumpkin creation was too sweet and did not have the cheesecake taste (although the look was spot on!)—however, for a vegan product, it was excellent!

Pumpkin Cheesecake

A thought on veganism, in my limited experience with vegan friends and family members, I feel that there are two large categories of consumers—the reluctant and the enthusiastic vegan. By ‘reluctant’ and ‘enthusiastic’ I do not mean the attitudes towards veganism itself, rather the approach to non-animal product consumption. In my opinion, ‘reluctant’ vegans have a diet that consists of snack foods, protein bars, and faux meat products like ‘veggie’ sausage and burgers. ‘Enthusiastic’ vegans, in my mind, are those who eagerly slice, dice, mix and sauté vegetables, tofu, and grains (or just buy these less-processed dishes). Of course, some reluctant vegans enjoy veggie stir fry and more natural dishes, while enthusiastic vegans may be delighted to find an “impossible” burger at a restaurant. I only point out this observation, because Tue Bistro seemed to be more ‘enthusiastically’ vegan. The restaurant celebrated vegetables and grains rather than pressing them into unnatural shapes and injecting them with foreign flavors.

More than one of my vegan friends have stated that if you cook for yourself then veganism is quite easy. They say that is only when they attend events or go out to eat that their veganism seems like a restriction. It’s great to know that there are places like True Bistro that can offer a unique, quality dining experience for vegans. While it may not be my new favorite dinner spot, it was definitely a welcome and interesting change of pace. I hope that you too, Dear Reader, will continue to find little ways to spark joy in your life.

Love,

Raven

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