Dark Green and Leafy

Dear Reader,

As the year draws to a close, I find myself repeatedly reflecting to help myself map out a course for 2020. I always make New Year’s resolutions and I’m excited to finalize my list for the 2020. One thing that I would like to improve is my overall health. In particular, I want to maintain a healthier diet that includes colorful fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes, I feel like my body is an old gothic manor. My floorboards creak, the door hinges squeak, and the plumping is on the fritz. However, I am structurally sound. I do not have any major health concerns, but I feel like I would benefit from basic maintenance. Specifically, I would like to include more dark green, leafy vegetables into my diet. I came to this conclusion in a very superficial way. One morning, I looked into the mirror and decided I was no longer satisfied with the bags under my eyes. I looked up treatments and found a long list of topical creams and oils that I could apply to my face to fix the problem. However, these solutions did not satisfy me. To go back to the house metaphor, applying face cream to an underlying health concern would be like applying a new coat of paint to termite-invested wood.

I refocused my search on dark bags under the eyes to natural remedies and diet-based solutions. Through this line of inquiries, I learned that dark bags under the eyes can be a result of poor blood circulation. This immediately caught my attention, because I know that my blood circulation is not the best. My legs and arms tend to fall asleep quite quickly if awkwardly positioned and my toes and fingers freeze and lose feeling easily in the winter. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and circulation. Capillaries in the body can become weak and leak when vitamin K levels are low. When this happens to the capillaries around the eyes, it can result in a bruise-like discoloration, aka dark circles.

Apparently, there are a number of other vitamins that can negatively impact your skin health and worsen dark circles under the eyes when deficient. Reading about vitamins A, B12, C, E, as well as, iron, make me realize that simply up-ing my intake of dark leafy greens will not be enough to improve my overall health. In 2020, I will resolve to eat more fruits and vegetables and any other food that will do more than satisfy a fleeting craving. Although this resolution was born out of vanity, it gave me an overall better awareness of my health.  

Many of our general health complaints—acne, weak hair/ nails, dry skin, etc.—have some connection to our diets. For example, a high sugar diet will not only increase one’s risk of developing acne but can also cause inflammation and damage to the skin’s collagen. I guess this is a reminder to myself that the human body changes from the inside out. Eating healthily and living well will give us the best return on investment. Quick fixes like creams and makeup may only be covering up problems.

Our bodies are complex and sensitive systems. It is important to remember to take care of ourselves physically as well as mentally and emotionally. At the end of the day, it is our health that is most important. In that spirit, Dear Reader, I wish you a dark green and leafy new year.



Insert Two Tokens for Fun

Arcade, Pittsburgh, PA, winter 2019

Dear Reader,

It has become a cliché to criticize today’s technology in favor of older and simpler activities. How many times have you heard phrases beginning with “kids these days…” or “back in my day…” from your elders? Often, these preludes are followed by some statement, which glorify the simplicity of youth without handheld devices and moan the advent of Instagram, Twitter, or whatever. While I generally try to keep up to date on technological trends, I must admit I was taken aback to see a children’s arcade from my childhood turned into a chamber of flashing bright lights and loud noises.

I grew up in the era when children were glued to Gameboys and Playstations, but also enjoyed boardgames and ran around outside. This was before social media, iPhones, and tablets. While I definitely had computer/ videogame phases, I feel that the technological dependence was nowhere near as strong then as it is now. I don’t want to be someone who uniformly favors her own childhood over that of the younger generation, but I do have a few observations to share….

I recently visited a mall in Pittsburgh that had a little arcade for children. The arcade was huddled in an artificially lit, windowless alcove. All games cost about 50 cents to 1 dollar to play. With this small sum, customers can secure about two minutes of game time. One game I looked at in particular was a shooting game with the “Transformers” movie theme. Players can play alone or compete in pairs to shoot down the enemy robots. I must admit, this game was hard to follow. It seemed that the game was over not so long after we inserted our tokens. The screen moved so quickly between shots it was hard to tell where to aim or whether your shots were even successful. The game ended abruptly as if in the middle of a scene and presented the player with an option to insert a few more coins to continue the game where it left off. Is this actually fun for people?

I ask this, because the arcade did not appear to be very popular at all. The room was mostly empty and the only game that was being played was air hockey. I did visit more than one arcade recently and saw that the flashy arcade games did not appear as interesting to children as more classic games like bowling, basketball, laser tag, among others. If this is the case, there could be many reasons for this. For example, the first arcade I visited was in a movie theatre and the second in a bowling alley. Children at both locations clearly came for movies and bowling rather than to spend their coins rapidly clicking buttons. Another reason could be parents, in my experience, parents are not always willing to hand over wads of cash to allow their offspring to pseudo-gamble away their hard-earned money in a matter of minutes.

Encore, Boston, MA, fall 2019

A few months ago, I visited a casino in Boston—aka a grown-up arcade. I feel that my experience there was very similar to the one in the children’s arcade. Flashy games line the walls and cover the floor. The lights were dimmed in a way that could fool one into believing that it could be anytime on any day of the year. Again, the games beckon you with their blinking lights and “cha-chings” and “pings.” Once you put some money into the slot machine you are in its grasp for mere seconds, before your game concludes and the machine resets like you were never there.

I’m not much a fan of these games, if you couldn’t already tell. I feel like I am always looking for something more personal and lasting. These games are too transactional for my taste. In the end, children will exchange their tickets for prizes and adults will cash out their receipts. It is almost as if the point of the games is not to enjoy oneself, but to simply come out the biggest winner. How much fun can genuinely be had in two minutes? It’s more like a spike of adrenaline than any sort of real happiness.

I don’t buy into the notion that kids these days are suffering at the hands of such cheap little games. If anything, I think there is a misperception about what people really want. What gets someone’s attention, is not the same thing that sustains someone’s attention. Perhaps, the lights and sounds will draw you in, but they may not keep you there for more than a few minutes. At the end of the day, I feel that we humans all want something a little more meaningful and lasting. I predict that even if virtual reality takes over all arcades across America, games that bring people together like bowling will persist for generations to come.

We all just want to enjoy ourselves and have a good time, Dear Reader, I hope you will find lasting happiness wherever you seek it.



Little Latin America

Cafe Tu y Yo, Pittsburgh, PA, winter 2019

Dear Reader,

How often do you drive by the same places without ever stopping to check them out? Today, I visited a little café on a familiar street corner near Pittsburgh for the first time. The place is called “Cafe Tu y Yo” and it is a family-owned business that sells Latin American coffee, pastries, and food. My first impression of the cafe is just how tiny and unassuming it is. They only serve one type of drip coffee at a time (today’s variety is Columbian) and they have a little handwritten menu on chalkboard on a colored wall. Spanish-language hits including “Despacito” and others play from a radio on repeat.

The woman behind the counter was eager to greet us and take our order. She informed us that the cafe was only 10 weeks old and that she had opened the place with her daughter. We ordered coffee, tea and a few food items. Everything was served to us on disposable paper plates with matching cups. I got an alfajor, which is two sugar cookies covered in powdered sugar with caramel in between. I was very excited to see this item on the menu as it became a staple of my diet when I visited Argentina. This was my first alfajor in years, however, it cannot hold a candle to the pastries that they make in Buenos Aires. My boyfriend ordered a pupusa with cheese. Pupusas are thick corn flour pastries with different fillings. Again, while the anticipation was high for this dish, the reality was good, but not great. Regardless, our experience was quite good, especially considering that the food was inexpensive.

Alfajor and black tea

I am familiar with this area and remember that the Three Little Birds Cafe & Juice Bar used to occupy the spot where Cafe Tu y Yo now sits. I must say, as cute as this little café is, I really do worry about its future. The Three Little Birds served a variety of juices and had the same family-owned café feel without pretense. The Three Little Birds did not last too long (maybe only a few years). Today, Cafe Tu y Yo was deserted when my boyfriend and I arrived. How can a little place like Café Tu y Yo survive in a somewhat remote location?

I was thinking about this question and I feel that it is near impossible to run a small café on this particular street corner without aggressive marketing. The café is located on the side of the road at a “drive by” location. The small plaza it sits on does not turn heads and the café sign does little to catch a driver’s eye. I don’t want to sound negative, but I am skeptical about Café Tu y Yo’s future survival. This little street corner is a location for big dreams and harsh realities. In fact, a number of family-owned businesses have started and ended right there. I appreciate the fact that a cute little place like the Café Tu y Yo exists – how many other Latin American cafes can one find in Southwestern Pennsylvania?

I think this café needs a little help. I’m sure there is a big audience for a Latin American café, yet I don’t think the message is out about it yet. Café Tu y Yo could be a hub for local Spanish tutors who would like to take an immersive trip with their pupils. I’m sure the local school district would consider catering from Café Tu y Yo for an end-of-the-year Spanish class fiesta. At the time of this writing, the café only has the smallest internet presence—a barebones website and nothing more.

I’m glad I went to visit the café today. It is a reminder to me that if you enjoy something, appreciate it and show your appreciation. Small, family-owned businesses depend on the support of the entire community. If you like someplace, tell your friends and return; your support is invaluable. You can do so much, Dear Reader, why not try someplace new, you never quite know what you’re going to find.



Around the World in 30 Rooms

Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh, PA, winter 2019

Dear Reader,

It is Christmas today in the United States, but it is not Christmas everywhere.

A few days ago, I visited the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, PA. The Cathedral of Learning is an academic building owned by the University of Pittsburgh and is home to many classrooms, offices, and program departments. Built in 1926, this gothic structure stands at around 535 feet tall with 42 floors. The Cathedral of Learning is a historic Pittsburgh landmark and also the tallest university building in the United States (second in the world after the Moscow State University building).

Upon entering the first floor of “Cathy,” as it is referred to by Pitt students, you are immediately immersed in the late Gothic revival architecture. The smooth stone surrounds you and climbs up high above to meet at pointed ceilings. Iron chandeliers hang and give the space a warm, almost medieval candelight glow. The atmosphere is somewhat reminiscent of the Great Hall in Harry Potter. While the interior is impressive, there is something else very special about the Cathy that sets it apart from other academic buildings.

Behind some of the closed doors of the classrooms on the first and third floors lie very special classrooms called Nationality Rooms. With about 30 in total, these rooms are designed to respresent the country and some of the culture of its national benefactor. The only thing that the nationality rooms have in common are that they are designed to be classrooms with desks or tables and a black board or projector. With this foundation in mind, each room is decorated from floor to ceiling with furnishings from that country’s culture.

Austrian Room, Cathedral of Learning
Welsh Room, Cathedral of Learning

The Austria room, for example, takes on a royal Viennese baroque style, with a red and white interior and chandelier. The Welsh room, on the other hand, is more spartan, with wooden desks designed to look like church pews. Other rooms include France, India, Japan, and the Philippines, just to name a few.

Israeli Room, Cathedral of Learning

Around the holidays, these rooms are adorned with little festive decorations and informational displays, explaining the traditions in each country. For example, Armenia’s room explained that the holiday is celebrated between January 1st and 6th with visits to relatives and the exchanging of gifts. Another example, is that many German-speaking countries hold their primary Christmas festivities on the 24th and have celebrations that last a few days. In the Israel room, there was one little corner with a menorah and dreidel display and brief explanation of Hanukkah.

For me, it’s so much more fun and interesting to learn about different cultures in context. It was especially nice to see and learn about the winter festivities that go on around the world when I’m here spending Christmas the American way. The Nationality Rooms can be a fun, little educational adventure if you’re in the area. To those of you celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of the other many holidays at this time— merry days to you all and to all a good night!



Merry and Bright

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, winter 2019

Dear Reader,

The winter holidays are finally here. Hanukkah is in its midst and Christmas Eve in the U.S. is being observed at the time of this writing. With the winter solstice just days behind us, we are in the middle of the darkest time of the year. However, during the holidays, the night is a little brighter with Chistmas lights.

Did you ever notice the strong tendancy to celebrate Christmas with lights? String lights wrap around Christmas trees, candles hold vigil in windows, and outdoor decorations are aglow—these are just a few examples of how we celebrate the season with lights.

I started thinking about the importance of lights to Christmas because of my visit to the “Winter Flower Show and Light Garden” at Phipps Conservatory. Phipps Conservatory is a botanical garden located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Built in 1893, this large, glasshouse is home to many different plant ecosystems and species. To celebrate the holiday season, the building is decorated from floor to ceiling with Christmas lights. The “Winter Flower Show and Light Garden” is a very popular event. It is highly recommended that you buy tickets in advance.

There are many rooms in the Conservatory that house similarly “themed” plants. For example, guests can see large, colorful flowers in the tropical room and pointy succulents in the desert room. All of the rooms showcase light in some way. One room, features a large Christmas tree adorned with blue string lights. In the main entryway, lights hang from the ceilings in halo patterns. The lights at Phipps, however, are extra special for an interesting reason. Visitors are offered special glasses, which make all the lights look like snowflakes. To illustrate this point, I did my best to take a picture of the lights through the glasses with my phone (pictured directly above).

Although quirky, the glasses really did add to the overall experience. I was delighted to see the light snowflakes dance and rotate as I turned my head. I was even more surpised to look out of the glass dome to see that the street lights had transformed into large snowflakes. Phipps Conservatory was absolutely beautiful, but I really think it was the snowflake glasses that made the experience the most memorable.

Lights around Christmas time have become as classic as the tree itself. Buildings become gingerbread houses, residential neighborhoods become exihbitions, and city streets become festive paths. Lights, especially those at night, bring comfort and familiarity. To those of you observing the winter holidays, I wish you happy days. And to us all, Dear Reader, I wish that our winter nights are made just a little bit warmer and brighter with the lights this holiday season.



Dreaming of a Flight Christmas

Pittsburgh International Airport, winter 2019

Dear Reader,

Have you ever travelled over the winter holidays? As one may expect, holiday travel is busy, however, to me, if there are no problems, it can be the most exciting time to travel.

My boyfriend and I are taking a trip this season. We got to the airport this morning to see serpentine lines in front of the check-in counters and security. While apparently long, at least these lines moved rather quickly. Near Christmas time, the Boston Logan airport is decorated with Christmas trees, wreaths and lights. Wherever you go you will hear all sorts of Christmas tunes playing over the speakers, you have the epitome of Christmas pop with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” religious Christmas like “Mary Did You Know,” and jazzy Christmas like the instrumental version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it is undeniable that American airports become something special around Christmas.

Walking through airports around the holidays allow me to imagine alternate holiday plans. After passing through security, I remember hearing a final boarding call to Cancun, Mexico. I have never had a tropical holiday adventure, but recall stories of friends who have taken their holidays to warmer climes. Spending Christmas in a hotel always seemed kind of sad to me as a kid, however, as an adult the promise of white sand and blue ocean have a certain allure. I also saw signs for flights to many average American cities, including Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh. How many of us Bostonians are transplants returning to our roots for the holidays? Is the number of us leaving Boston greater than the number of us coming to Boston in the days before Christmas? How many of us are spending the holidays with friends and relatives? And, how many of us are traveling for completely different reasons and get caught up in the holiday swell?

A few thoughts about holiday air travel:

• Always arrive at least two hours before your flight. This goes without saying, but I wanted to send a reminder to those who only arrive at the airport 1hr to 90 mins early under normal circumstances.

• Do not pack wrapped presents. The TSA has a right to search wrapped presents. You may as well just wrap them at your destination.

• Plan all flight connections to allow yourself enough in-between time. When there is more foot and air traffic it can be even more of a challenge to make those closely scheduled flights.

• Leave some room in your suitcase for gifts. If you are expecting to receive a few gifts over the holidays, it is only reasonable to leave some extra space in your bag for your new toys. While traveling light has always been my style, it is always an option to bring an empty carry on for holiday acquisitions.

Whether you are celebrating the holidays at home or away, I wish you a pleasant and relaxing holiday season.



Eternal Sunshine of the Present Mind

Pacific Northwest, USA, summer 2019

Dear Reader,

Do you ever have a day that just doesn’t start until 2pm? I’m a morning person, so for me staying home any later than 8am is cause for alarm. However, today, I did not make it out the door until the middle of the afternoon and it’s not for lack of trying. Do you know Salvador Dali’s famous painting “Persistence of Memory,” that surrealist image of melting clocks in the middle of nowhere? That’s what my day felt like. Every time I checked the clock it was an hour later than last time. Time felt like it was just slipping through my fingers.

Some days are hard, Dear Reader. Sometimes things are overwhelmingly busy and we are forced to push through. However, other times we must listen to ourselves and allow our bodies, brains, and emotions to take the day off. I did not feel too great today, Dear Reader.

The human brain has an enormous capacity for imagination. Sometimes if we feel bad, we imagine we are doomed to continue to feel bad. Sometimes we rely too much on the past and present to predict the future. Just because something is one way now or was one way then, it does not mean it is always destined to be that way. Things change when we make them. We create nice futures for ourselves when we make good, healthful, forward-looking decisions for ourselves. We must never dwell on the past, Dear Reader, for better or for worse, the past is behind us and it is there for a reason. What we left behind or what left us behind are now just memories. We must come to terms with the past and turn lingering painful thoughts into memories. We must allow ourselves some distance. If we don’t we leave ourselves vulnerable to fear and regret.

We all deserve a happy future, Dear Reader, one filled with love, friendship, and adventure. We are happiest when our minds are free to live in the moment and take pleasure from the people and opportunities around us. A clear mind is like a breath of fresh air or a glass of water with a perfect pH balance (7 by the way). ‘What if’s’ and ‘what could have been’s’ are scripts for disaster. If you must lie in bed all, Dear Reader, I hope you will keep these things in mind. Healing takes time. If you need to hear it again, I will repeat—healing takes time. I hope you find your inner peace, the journey will be well worth the outcome.



Keep on Giving

Dear Reader,

When was the last time that you gave someone a handmade gift? Handmade gifts were a staple of my childhood. I even remember in grade school that sometimes around the holidays, the art project would be holiday themed and intended to be a gift for a parent.

As an adult, handmade gifts always seemed a bit childish to me—expect in the case of artists, craftsmen, or other skilled professionals. Anything I make by hand looks so obviously like it was made by hand. All of my crafts are literally rough around the edges with little mistakes mixed in. In short, the things I make by hand generally ought not be gifted.

Christmas is fast approaching and I am still getting gifts together. Some gifts are easy, as some family members have ‘recurring’ gifts—for me, I can count on someone wanting lottery tickets every year. Others are more challenging, because the family member is silent on the topic of gifts or because what they want is way out of my price range. Still others are nearly impossible. Some people are hard to please, however at the same time sometimes we just don’t listen. Sometimes I don’t listen and get things wrong. However, this year, I will finally get this gift right.

I have a family member who asked for a handmade gift. My schedule is generally pretty busy, so handmade gifts to me just sound like a bunch more work. I knew this request was coming, the request comes annually but it’s just so hard for me to put in effort for something l am not interested in doing. This year, I did have some extra time so I adjusted my mindset and became eager to start on the project.

I set out to write a short story of this family member. I drafted a short adventure tale. It reads like a kid’s book and looks a little like a comic—but with stick figures rather than expert drawings. Each page has one to three simple sentences as well as a drawing in colored pencil. To make up for my mediocre artistic skills I threw in as much humor into the tale as possible. I must say I spent a lot of time on this little project. I tried to complete chunks of it in one-sitting which left me very hungry and dehydrated. Like all of my other works, this one was rough around the edges, yet amusing.

At the end of the day, a gift is about the recipient. While it would have been much easier for me to buy something, this would just have been a waste of my own money if it wasn’t what my family member wanted. Even though this was a long (and surprisingly arduous) project, it was well worth it. I did have a good time making the little book. I also love that I got to see it from start to finish—from a few little notes on my iPhone to a colored and (crudely) self-laminated production. This little gift already brought me joy. Dear Reader, the absolute best gifts are the ones that keep on giving.



A Peek into the Dollhouse

Elaborate victorian dollhouse, Chicago, IL

Dear Reader,

Do you know those big, antique dollhouses that you can open in half and peer into all rooms? These dollhouses allow you to see every tiny detail within the interior and see how the spaces connect and relate to each other. There is a style of movie that I enjoy that reminds me of a dollhouse. I am interested in movies about romantic relationships between people. To me, it is most interesting to see a relationship grow, change, or even tragically, fall apart. The movies that I enjoy are emotionally intense; all are dramas that focus on the relationship without much other external action. Movies, in my opinion, that are representative of this are Revolutionary Road, Blue Valentine, Comet, and one that I just finished today called Marriage Story.

These movies are like dollhouses, because they allow the viewer to see inside romantic relationships through life’s little vignettes. “Marriage Story” (on Netflix at the time of this writing) details the divorce of a young couple, once passionately in love. The movie revolves around the relationship between the man and woman and their young boy through this tough time. To me, the relationship between the two feuding protagonists in this movie can be broken down and compartmentalized like the rooms of a dollhouse. We see the couple young and in love, we see them fight, we see them cry, we see them struggle together and apart. We, the viewer, can peer into all their little rooms and watch the action unfold.

Movies like “Marriage Story” and the others I listed above (all of which I recommend by the way!) can be emotionally challenging. These movies are filled with monologue, dialogue, and not much else happening. I think I enjoy these movies because they reveal the most precious and tender aspects of humanity. These movies show us our own vulnerability, our need for love and acceptance, and desire to achieve whatever fantasy we have envisioned for ourselves. These movies teach us that love does not always conquer all and that pain is necessary for healing. I am not a pessimist. I also do not enjoy watching others in pain. However, I feel like I enjoy these movies, because I connect with the characters on a very basic human level. I want to learn from others’ experiences. I want a new perspective, I want to understand the problems, and identify solutions.

I am not a people person, but I love humans. I love human creativity, human kindness, and human capacity for good. I also like to explore human fears, fragility, and vulnerability. Good romantic dramas are relatable. Even if the characters are unlike you, the dialogue is something that those of us in relationships have all thought before but would be fascinated to see play out on screen. These movies often leave me feeling heavy, as if my emotions were temporarily hijacked by the films. As the credits begin to role, I always find myself jumping to put on something lighthearted to cleanse my emotional palette. Are you familiar with any of the movies that I mentioned, Dear Reader? These movies are not for everyone. In fact, if you are a fan of action or sci-fi, you will probably find these films lacking in some way fundamental to your interests. However, if you want some perspective on life or relationships, try peeking into the dollhouse every once and a while.



Beautiful, Complex, and Fragile

Hawaii, Spring 2010

Dear Reader,

How much can you ever really help someone change? In my early adult years, I was close to a few people who suffer from anxiety and depression. They are all on medication that help their symptoms to some extent, however, the root of the problem—whatever is causing the anxiety and depression—remains.

Can we as outsiders help those close to us deal with their inner turmoil? Whatever is going on in my head is certainly very different than what is going on in anyone else’s. I’ve heard cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to be a treatment for a variety of conditions including anxiety and depression, but also eating disorders and substance abuse.

CBT aims to improve mental health by focusing on unhelpful thoughts and behaviors and improving our emotional reaction and the development of coping techniques. Unlike medications, CBT treats the “humanness” around the conditions. It gets to the root of the repetitive negative, thoughts, impulses, and outlooks. While CBT alone is not enough to treat many conditions, it is thought of as a beneficial complement to a medicine regime.

CBT gets people to recognize and combat their own challenges. It is by nature a very personal experience. CBT is the sort of positive change that a trained professional can facilitate. However, how much can we laypeople do to help those close to us? I ask myself this question whenever I am around a friend or loved one is struggling. How can I help, is it possible?

I have seen the symptoms of depression up close. I have seen depression take away one’s appetite, take away one’s will to leave the house, and ability to take care of oneself on a basic level. How can we help when we do not know what is going on in one’s head or we cannot feel the intense emotions that another regularly lives with? I don’t know. I can listen, I can be there when you need me, but I all I really want to do is take those evil little emotions out from your head and wash your brain clean of harmful thoughts. In my experience, we cannot do so much. Unfortunately, we the ones close to you cannot take away the pain, however, we can witness, offer support when you need it, and call for help when you cannot do it on your own.

I wish we could all think our way to a better place, however, I know that this is naive and nothing more than a pipe dream. Ultimately, I think change comes from within ourselves. Some need lifestyle change, others improve with CBT, and many require medication. We humans are beautiful, complex, and fragile creatures. We could all use a good friend. At the end of the day, Dear Reader, a little more goodness never hurt anyone.



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