2020: New Year, Same Great Me

It’s 2020! My main goal for the year is to keep on being the best version of myself. I like the person I am. I want to keep being me, do good, and make and do cool stuff.

collage of pictures representing my mood for 202, including "okay, boomer," "legalize witchcraft," Giles (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) with a chainsaw, and a possum wearing a foil hat.
2020 mood board

Here’s what I want to do this year:

  • Make good food and not waste the food I make or buy.
  • Read at least one book per week.
  • Read the books I already have.
  • Read library books and bike or walk to the library for most trips.
  • Bike or walk to places around town as much as possible.
  • Keep at my weight lifting and exercise, mostly as a support for roller derby. It is really fun and rewarding to compete in weight lifting, but it’s hard to do both. This year I’m going to focus on derby as my main sport.
  • Play roller derby and have fun doing it. I’m going to take breaks when necessary and remember that it’s a fun hobby.
  • Announce derby at tournaments, make opportunities for new people to try announcing and find ways to support other announcers.
  • Coach derby. I started coaching towards the end of 2019 and I aim to continue.
  • Knit a shirt or sweater and learn a new knitting technique, like brioche.
  • Sew a cool item of clothing.
  • Learn how to mend things and do some mending. I bought thread and needle, plus some books on embroidery techniques. I’m two-thirds of the way there.
  • Stop buying shit I don’t need.
  • Support small/local/woman-owned businesses when I do need to buy things.
  • Garden. Keep my herbs alive for more than a month. I usually get lazy and stop watering them, but I like to have fresh herbs.
  • Try new things.
  • Be an informed voter and help others to be informed, especially considering the upcoming election.
  • Take the DELE C1 exam. This is a Spanish proficiency exam I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years but I’m going to do it this year for real. I already have the date set: July 10.
  • Get better at Icelandic.
  • Spend time with people I care about. Don’t rely on facebook to maintain my relationships.
  • Be generous.
  • Have and enforce boundaries.
  • Relax (not as easy as it sounds thanks to 🌈anxiety🌈).

2019: The 12th Annual Year in Books

This year I read 73 books, which is a lot! Last year I read 58 and my average for the previous decade of reading was 52 books per year. This is the second-most books I’ve read in a year (the most is 90), beating out 2015’s 71 books.

  •  Page count: 23,510. Interestingly, this is only about 1,300 more pages than last year, so I read a lot more books this year but they were shorter.
  • Library use: 30 of this year’s 73 books were from the library. I did start the year trying to read through books I already own, but the allure of the library is strong, especially because I have made it a weekly custom to ride my bike to the local branch.
  • Female/male authors: 58 books by women authors, 3 books with multiple authors that included men and women, and 12 just men. That means about 80% of the books I read this year were written by women, even excluding the mixed-gender authors.
  • Digital and analog: 42 ebooks, 31 paper books. ebooks are more convenient, especially when traveling or lounging in the bath, but I still enjoy paper books.
  • Fiction and non-fiction: 42 fiction, 31 non-fiction. I read a lot more non-fiction this year. I’m preoccupied with the world and what’s happening in it. I’m reading for the revolution.
  • Books in other languages: just one, though I started and abandoned several. 2020 may be more fruitful on this front.
  • Favorites: This is a lot of favorites, but I have good taste so it makes sense that a lot of the books I read would be that good. Looking at my list, I want to recommend almost everything as a favorite but I kept it to just these 10.

And now for the list!

Date FinishedTitleAuthor
1/1/19Read and Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to ActivismNadya Tolokonnikova
1/8Cold SteelKate Elliott
1/10Crow After Roe: How “Separate But Equal” Has Become the New Standard In Women’s Health And How We Can Change ThatRobin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo
1/15Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win Clara Zetkin
1/17She Would Be KingWeyétu Moore
1/28Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession Alice Bolin
2/2The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption Kathryn Joyce
2/4My Sister, the Serial KillerOyinkan Braithwaite
2/18The Mortal WorldGenevieve Cogman
2/19The Third HotelLaure Van den Berb
2/21Roller GirlVictoria Jamieson
2/24Tomorrow’s KinNancy Kress
3/7If Tomorrow Comes Nancy Kress
3/18Terran Tomorrow Nancy Kress
3/21The Light BrigadeKameron Hurley
3/21Brillant ImperfectionEli Clare
4/2The Raven TowerAnn Leckie
4/9SemiosisSue Burke
4/12VoxChristina Dalcher
4/26Lost Children Archive: A NovelValeria Luiselli
4/29How Long ’til Black Future MonthN. K. Jemisin
5/1Handbook for a Post-Roe AmericaRobin Marty
5/8A Memory Called EmpireArkady Martine
5/13Wild SeedOctavia Butler
5/15The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban TragedyAnna Clark
5/24Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry that Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in your Car, and Food on Your PlateRose George
5/26Mind of My MindOctavia Butler
5/31I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of LifeEd Yong
6/1El Espejo EnterradoCarlos Fuentes
6/5CirceMadeline Miller
6/13The Collected SchizophreniasEsmé Weijun Wang
6/20The Night TigerYangsze Choo
6/22Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects us and Undermines DemocracySiva Vaidhyanathan
6/26Mother of EdenChris Beckett
6/29Daughter of EdenChris Beckett
7/4The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp HumanityAmy Webb
7/6The Water CureSopihe Mackintosh
7/13Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, WitchNeil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
7/16The Black God’s Drums P. Djèlí Clark
7/23Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for MenCaroline Criado Perez
7/24Storm of LocustsRebecca Roanhorse
7/27This Is How You Lose the Time WarAmal el-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
8/1How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention EconomyJenny Odell
8/10Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of LanguageGretchen McCulloch
8/13Late in the Day: A NovelTessa Hadley
8/15WitchmarkC.L. Polk
8/23Confessions of the FoxJordy Rosenberg
8/26Not Funny Ha-Ha: A Handbook for Something HardLeah Hayes
9/17House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian MafiaCraig Unger
9/17Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of PlantsRobin Wall Kimmerer
9/20Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary AmericaKathleen Belew
9/22The TestamentsMargaret Atwood
9/27InlandTéa Obreht
10/4The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 ElectionMalcolm Nance
10/14The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and GirlsMona Eltahawy
10/23New Suns: Original Speculative fiction by People of ColorNisi Shawl (editor)
10/29Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our PastSarah Parcak
11/4Burial Rights: A NovelHannah Kent
11/9Interference Sue Burke
11/11In the Dream House: A MemoirCarmen Maria Machado
11/16A Jewel Bright SeaClaire O’Dell
11/19Magic for LiarsSarah Gailey
11/23Silent SpringRachel Carson
11/26The Ten Thousand Doors of JanuaryAlix E. Harrow
11/30Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You HaveTatiana Schlossberg
12/9Threads of Life: A History of the World through the Eye if a NeedleClare Hunter
12/10You Have the Right to Remain Fat: A ManifestoVirgie Tovar
12/16All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator Barry Levine and Monique el-Faizy
12/20You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder PlaceJanelle Shane
12/23How to Be an AntiracistIbram X. Kendi
12/26Gideon the NinthTamsyn Muir
12/28ALL SYSTEMS REDMartha Wells
12/30Artificial Condition Martha Wells

2019: A Year in the Life

This year has been a lot. Living in these bullshit times is fatiguing. New political insanity on the daily makes every week seem like at least a month. It’s mind boggling but all we can do is keep on living and raging against it. That said, here’s my annual celebration of living and raging on.

Looking back at my goals and my mood board for the year, I feel like I lived up to it as best I could. Although I didn’t meet some of my specific goals, like deadlifting 405 pounds (see you in 2020, 400-pound deadlift), I kept to the spirit of my goals of being resourceful, consuming less, and doing cool stuff.

A collage of images representing my mood for the year
2019 Mood Board

This year I started writing/blogging regularly, which has been really cool. I’ve had this blog for about five years now but haven’t used it for much. Giving my weekly update a standard format and schedule has made it a lot easier to write. I look at it and think “well, what did I cook this week?” Instead of “fuck what have I done this week.” With that in mind, allow me to address the question of, “what the fuck have I done this year” with something familiar.

Consuming

Here are some things I read, media I enjoyed, and stuff I bought this year. I won’t talk much about reading here because my next post will be my annual Books of the Year list. My stated goal for the year was to read at least 52 books. As of this writing, I’m over 70, which is awesome.

  • Podcasts: I’m a huge fan of Gaslit Nation for the hosts’ ability to make complex political topics understandable, and help us understand what we can do about it. I’ve also enjoyed the Lingthusiasm podcast, which deals with linguistics and Holding Space with Magical Wheelism, which deals with representation and other important topics in the roller derby community.
  • TV and movies: Kirk and I watched Star Trek: Voyager, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and The Legend of Korra, among other fun shows. I re-watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer because sometimes that’s just what you need.
  • Rampant Consumerism: Notable things I bought include my Raaka chocolate subscription, Bombas socks, shirts with my own face, and who could forget our newly remodeled shower?
a screenshot of my amazon "your orders" page showing 0 orders placed in the last 6 months
Zero Amazon orders in the last six months. Progress.

As a footnote on the issue of rampant consumerism, I checked my Amazon account to see if I really did stop buying things on Amazon. It wasn’t something I listed as a goal for the year, but it is something that has been on my mind as part of thinking and acting locally and sustainably. I made only one purchase from Amazon this year, in February, to use up some gift cards and buy a kindle ereader, so I’d still be able to read all the ebooks I’ve bought through them (I switched to Kobo a couple of years ago).

Making Things and Doing Stuff

I did so much this year! I really tried to get in the habit of not getting lost in the internet’s infinite scroll and to do things that I enjoy. A few major factors make it possible for me to do a lot of things and not die. First, I got diagnosed with sleep apnea at the end of last year and started using a CPAP. I really can’t overstate how much more awake and alert I feel all the time. Second, working from home makes it a lot easier to do things. I can set up a bread dough and check on it every hour or so and that doesn’t make it any harder for me to get work done. Finally, I’ve developed a general level of comfort with myself and my life in the last few years. I don’t feel the need to stare into the void looking for validation all day so I can go about my business. When I was younger, I really did feel the need to be online all the time because I didn’t know what to do with myself and felt weird and needed that lifeline. Now I’m more self actualized.

This year I had fun traveling and hanging out with Kirk. We went to Peru in November and we spent a weekend at Lake Tahoe in June, during which he took me axe throwing. We built a garden bed in the backyard and started gardening, which was not all that successful but I’m hoping we’ll do better in 2020.

Languages

This year ended up being something of a maintenance year for both Icelandic and Spanish studies. I got a little bored with my routine and took a long break from flashcards and the “work” of studying, which is good and bad. For Spanish, I kept working with my teacher and we met regularly to keep up my skills but I didn’t feel like I learned anything new. Icelandic has been hard because I keep getting to a point where I’m about to improve and then our classes get interrupted for various reasons. Although I’m only learning Icelandic for fun, so it’s not like there’s any real pressure or deadline. This is a long paragraph for essentially saying “nothing changed,” but blog space is infinite.

Derby Life

I’ve said before that roller derby will take over your whole life if you let it. Derby wasn’t my entire life in 2019 but it was for sure a significant portion. Here are some roller derby highlights for this year:

  • Made the Sacramento Roller Derby B team and played almost every B and C team game this year, including some back-to-back games for double headers
  • Took second place at the Attack of the C Squads tournament
  • Went to Rollercon and did everything
  • Announced at the Lobstah Roll and Boardwalk Empire tournaments
  • Started coaching new skaters
  • Went to, like, a million hours of practice
  • Scheduled announcers for all of our home games and gave new people the opportunity to learn
  • Received the Announcer of the Year award from my league

Knitting and Crafts

So much knitting! Knitting has become what I do to relax, for the most part. Most of my other activities involve a lot of thinking or a lot of moving and this requires only a little of each. I learned the art of socks, made three hooded caplets, and learned how to sew buttons onto things. I intended to do more sewing this year, but while knitting is something I can do kind of passively, sewing is a whole activity unto itself. That said, I did make a set of cloth napkins and a table runner. I also made half of a blanket for me (other half, coming soon I suppose), and a whole blanket for my friend’s baby.

Strongs

This year I felt more tension between wanting to lift and wanting to play roller derby. I competed in one strong(wo)man competition in the spring and took third place in my class. In the summer, I decided to change gyms, which started with deciding to leave a gym and then it took a few months to rejoin a new one, so I didn’t make a whole lot of gains this year. The major upside of the new gym is it’s just a few minutes from my house and I can go whenever I want. It’s been nice to get my workout done during my lunch breaks. The downside is it’s a regular gym and not all close-knit like it was at Body Tribe. I started a lifting program from Iron Octopus that is specifically for roller derby athletes. So I’m looking forward to more gains and better roller derby in 2020.

Kitchen Witchery

Food is probably what I write about the most here so I won’t belabor the point, but I did want to post a gallery of some of the best foods I made this year. I made so many new things and improved my bread skills majorly. I learned to pickle things (for Kirk’s sake. I still hate pickles) and tried out sous vide cooking, mostly so I could cook food at Rollercon. This year was also the first year of cookbook club! We technically started last December, but 2019 was the real start of things. Cookbook club is cool because it got me making things I wouldn’t have thought to make plus I got to hang out and eat food with my friends.

Finally, would it even be a post if there weren’t some cat photos for your nerves? Huey and Viola had a pretty good year too.

A Week in the Life: December 27, 2019

a wooden board covered in a variety of holiday cookies

Another year and Christmas has come and gone! We had quite a nice Christmas and spent it chilling at home, which is my favorite way to spend Christmas. I got multiple gift certificates for my local yarn store and my mom signed me up for a “knitalong,” which means I’ll be getting surprise yarn in the mail this year. I also got some cool cookbooks, and my sister bought me some nice bath stuff. Kirk and I told family members who lamented “we don’t know what to get you,” to get us Home Depot gift cards, and now we have a not-insignificant amount of Home Depot cash. I’m also excited because Kirk bought me a Le Creuset dutch oven, which I have been wanting for a while but I have been unwilling to lay down the money for a single pot. It’s taking it’s inaugural voyage tonight and I will report back next week on how it went.

Consuming

Here are some things I read, watched, or bought this week.

Reading

book cover of Gideon the Ninth as seen on the Kobo ereader
Gideon the Ninth

This week I read Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir in basically two days. A little while ago, an author I follow on twitter posted a blurb about its sequel that read “the necromancers are back and they’re gayer than ever!” Naturally I was like, what blessed tome is this? Which is how Gideon the Ninth ended up on my radar and my ereader. This book is so good. It’s a new favorite, not just of the year but of ever. The main character’s voice is very “regular person who has to put up with supernatural bullshit” and I was reading it thinking, yep, I’d also be calling her a dick in this situation. It has arcane bone magic, intrigue, space travel, ancient secrets, and lesbians. It’s basically a perfect book. I spent most of Christmas eve and Christmas day on the couch reading it and I wanted to stay up all night reading but I’m a responsible adult and here we are. Anyway, I immediately pre-ordered the sequel, Harrow the Ninth, in which the necromancers are back.

In more serious books, I read How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. This book is part memoir and part guide. Kendi takes the reader through a series of topics and explains what made him rethink each one and how he was able to come to an anti-racist view, and how you can too. The main conclusion of the book is that racism comes from policy. Our laws are racist so we decide that means it’s okay, and behave accordingly. Kendi asserts that, to become anti-racist, we have to develop and adopt anti-racist policies. One thing I really liked about this book is that the author explicitly defines everything to make sure everyone is using the same language. This makes it easy to follow his arguments and to give everyone an anti-racist vocabulary.

Huey the black cat next to the book How to Be an Anti-Racist
Huey P Newton and I learning how to be anti-racist

Watching

This week I watched the movie Atomic Blonde. It’s a spy movie set in Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin wall. It was reasonably entertaining but not life changing. I think the recent Rick and Morty episode lighting up the heist genre has low-key ruined anything with a bunch of double crosses. That’s okay though, it was still something I could knit to.

Rampant Consumerism

As a Christmas gift to myself, I bought a few ebooks (in part because Kobo has a sale and part because no one wants to buy me books because they don’t know what I have). I bought Gideon the Ninth, as discussed above, as well as The Sisters of the Winter Wood, All Systems Red, and the Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heap.

Making Things and Doing Stuff

This week didn’t feel that action-packed, but that’s probably two days of unrepentant laziness talking. Last Saturday I went to a holiday brunch/party with some friends and that was really nice. There was cookie and ornament decorating, which was a really good party activity. I brought my knitting because that’s the person I’ve become. Two other people there saw me knitting and said “dang, I should have brought my knitting!” More knitting at parties coming in 2020, you heard it here first.

Kitchen Witchery

I mostly made more treats this week, and I am looking forward to taking a break from that for a while. Delicious though they are, after a few days of Christmas eating, I am recalling why a balanced diet is important. This week I made toffee (recipe from The Baking Bible), snickerdoodles, and shortbread (recipe from How to Cook Everything). Most of the cookies I made this season went to the Cookie Project, but I kept a bit of each and presented what I’m calling my “cookie portfolio” on Christmas. Cookies aside, I finally tried making this glorious macaroni and cheese recipe and it was as great as it sounds. It’s one of those things that’s constantly appearing on my twitter feed, but it’s more work than I normally put into macaroni. All I can say is that it was worth it but it’s definitely not something I should be eating too often. To round out the week’s carbohydrates, I also made some regular sandwich bread and some small bread bowls (not pictured because I forgot) for Christmas eve dinner with my in-laws.

Strongs

Despite Christmas—both the year-end inertia and how surprisingly crowded my gym has been—I kept to my goal of going to the gym three times this week. My program increase reps of the same exercises for a few weeks then goes back down towards the end, so this week I was able to push my lifts a little heavier because I had fewer reps. I got up to 195 on my back squat and 45 with dumbbell bench presses. I haven’t done my last workout yet for this week, but I’m hoping to go a little heavier with my sumo deadlifts tomorrow.

Finally, here are some cat pictures for your nerves. Although Huey’s intense gaze is more likely to unnerve you than calm you. The cats got a scratching post and a ribbon toy for Christmas. They’ve both enjoyed them, but Huey made an early move to let everyone know they belong to her.

A Week in the Life: December 20, 2019

This week felt incredibly long to me. Is it the approaching winter solstice? Impeachment? Christmas anticipation? I don’t have answers, only more questions, as usual. Although I am, actually, feeling some Christmas anticipation. I’ve appreciated being festive this year with getting our tree up and baking a lot. It also helps to have the trappings of Christmas; last year I made a tree skirt and stockings so that was already done. Thanks, past self.

Consuming

Here are some things I read, watched, or bought this week.

Reading

book: You Look Like a Thing and I Love You
You Look Like a Thing and I Love You

This morning I finished You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place by Janelle Shane. You may recognize the author from the neural network-generated roller derby names she shared a while back. The book is an entertaining and easy-to-understand primer on artificial intelligence, including how it does and doesn’t work. Shane also illustrates a the book with her comical line drawings to make points about AIs solving problems in ways humans don’t expect, like traveling from one place to another by being really tall and falling to their destination. It’s fun, informative reading and I recommend it to everyone because we are all affected by the decisions that AI makes.

Most of the things I’ve read online this week have been depressing and heavy as hell, so read at your own risk.

  • Resolution impeaching President Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors via the Washington Post. Many other people have said basically everything that needs to be said on impeachment in the last two days, but I would be remiss to not mark the occasion. I’m glad he’s been impeached. I’m sad but unsurprised that this will not encourage him to leave or change his behavior.
  • Tech giants sued over ‘appalling’ deaths of children who mine their cobalt via CBC. Cobalt is a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, you know, those things that make your phone work. Children working in horrific conditions are mining it. Modern life is fucking terrible.
  • Mormon church has mislead members on $100 billion tax-exempt investment fund, whistleblower alleges via Washington Post. The fact that the Mormon church isn’t using its funds for good doesn’t surprise me, but the $100 billion figure does. It’s fucked up that this church can keep its tax exempt status while it does this. I accidentally got into some internet comment fights with people about this article and, unfortunately, I think a lot of Mormons aren’t going to think critically about this situation and what it means for them. As usual, I have zero regrets about leaving this pyramid scheme masquerading as a religion.

Watching

Kirk and I have been watching Star Trek: Enterprise for the last month or two and we’re almost done with season two. It has a deserved reputation for being the worst Star Trek but there are things to like about it. The character of Commander Tucker has become one of my favorites for his facial expressions, and of course I love the Vulcan character, T’Pol. Fun fact: I had never watched Star Trek before I met Kirk. We watched the original series probably five or six years ago and have been slowly making our way through the rest of it.

Rampant Consumerism

a pom pom maker, in a package that looks at least 30 years old
more pom, more better

I haven’t bought a lot this week (other than my last few gifts), but my friend Sharlotte and I did visit ReCreate in Roseville after our office holiday party on Wednesday. It’s basically a second-hand craft store full of surreal things like barrels of trophy parts and spare doorknobs, plus fabric and glue guns. I spent 75 cents on this package of pom pom makers. Next time I knit something that needs a pom, I will be so ready.

Making Things and Doing Stuff

a Thor doll perched on the top of our christmas tree
Thor is my co-pilot

We’ve been doing some Christmas stuff here. Last Friday we bought a tree and we finally decorated it on Monday. Thor tops our tree because we have yet to get ahold of the Spock tree topper of our dreams. Huey has spent a lot of time camping under the tree, which is not pictured here because it’s impossible to take a picture of a black cat in a dark place and not end up with gleaming demon eyes. I would like to say that I’ve put gifts under the tree, but I have not. The cats will tear the paper apart and gnaw on it, so our countertops are festively adored with Christmas packages. We make do.

My office had a Christmas party this week and I decided to attend to keep myself from being seen as too anti-social. That said, I wish I hadn’t gone. Among several awkward things (like not getting a gift in the gift exchange, and only having the option of eating quiche for lunch [note: I do not like eggs]), I got to hear a number of colleagues complain about everyone’s favorite generational punching bag: Millennials. You’d think after a decade of “Millennials are ruining ___” headlines, I’d be over it, but it is incredibly uncomfortable to sit around listening to people—management really—talk about how millennials don’t want to have cars or move away from home. It sucked because I didn’t really feel like I could say anything, though I could say a lot about how student loan debt and poverty has crippled our generation, how not driving is good for the environment, or perhaps how I’m right here and you’re saying all this to my face. Great to know what the people I work with really think of me.

a collage of headlines about all the industries that millenials are "killing"
we stay busy

Strongs

I haven’t had a lot of exciting things to say about working out lately, but I will say I am starting to get back into the rhythm of it. This month, I have been determined to get in three workouts each week so I can rebuild my habits and I have so far been successful. One activity in my program this month is sumo deadlifts, and after a couple weeks of warming back up, I was able to do a set at 225 pounds last Saturday, which is exciting. I’m still not lifting as heavy as I feel like I “should” or that I want to, but I’m happy that I am making progress again.

Kitchen Witchery

My holiday cookie rampage raged on this week. I made luxury oatmeal cookies (from the Baking Bible), in which you make oatmeal-based granola and then mix that into the batter instead of plain oats. It called for raisins (gross) so I substituted those for more chocolate and the results were really good. I also made these caramel swirl hunks to use up some more dulce de leche (not pictured because I forgot to take a photo!). They were good but not mind blowing. Finally, I made these spiced sugar cookies, which are a refreshing addition to the holiday cookie canon.

In less successful baking, I tried to make a yule log for this month’s cookbook club. The recipe in Martha Stewart’s Christmas Cookbook calls for a genoise sponge, which I recognized from watching the Great British Baking Show. Unfortunately, genoise is as stupid and difficult as it seems to be on the show and mine came out rubbery and gross. I planned my day badly and was pressed for time, so I didn’t let the mousse set long enough and also didn’t have enough time for my meringue decorations to cook. Anyway, our gathering was great, but my dessert was garbage. Hopefully no one is holding it against me.

Finally, here’s a cat picture for your nerves.

Viola on the bed, being lit dramatically by the sun
beauty, grace, Viola staring into your soul

A Week in the Life: December 13, 2019

Two house drama sagas were resolved this week: the ants and the shower. To be fair, the ants were resolved on the day they started. My duct tape barricade was effective, for the most part, but what really finished the job was the rain, which made it impossible for the ants to maintain their trail to the house. Kirk found the crack in the wall they were using to enter and patched it with a line of caulking, which also helped. As to the shower, it has been “done” for a month, but we were waiting on our final permit inspection, which finally happened yesterday (after a fair bit of harassing the contractor). The inspector approved everything, the contractor came out for a final walkthrough, and we sent the last of the money. FINALLY OVER. I look forward to never remodeling a shower again.

Consuming

Here are some things I read, watched, or bought this week.

Reading

I read some interesting books this week! One, Threads of Life: A History of the World through the Eye of a Needle is a combination of a social history of needlecraft and memoir. I enjoyed reading about something that we don’t have a lot of documented (well, written) history about because it’s often disregarded as unimportant since it’s “women’s work.” I’ve said before that knitting has really taught me how much work goes into making textiles and this book is another entry into my personal syllabus. Side note: I borrowed this book from the library, but the library bought it because I asked them too, which is pretty boss. Sacramento Public Library lets you put in up to 30 materials requests annually!

The second book, You Have the Right to Remain Fat: A Manifesto is pretty well what it sounds like. This book is, in a word, refreshing. It’s good to have a plainly written reminder that you are under no obligation to be thin. You can take up as much space as you want. Two bits that stuck with me are the phrase “In the future, I’m fat” and an anecdote about how, in certain cultures, fat is prized over thinness. The part that particularly stood out is that women in these cultures will pile clothes on before being weighed at the doctor instead of taking them off, which is what I tend to do. It just emphasizes that this is all made up. You don’t have to be any kind of way. Be how you want.

Some other reading from around the internet this week:

Watching

In a run of total comfort-watching, I watched the holiday episodes of the Great British Baking Show. I got really excited when they made Icelandic laufabrauð in the technical challenge because I knew what it was, and I’ve usually never heard of any of the stuff they make in the technical challenge.

Rampant Consumerism

In the ongoing effort to reduce the plastic in my life, I ordered some “naked” soaps from Lush to replace my normal face wash stuff. I must report that so far, so good. They probably are a bit more expensive than buying Target brand or what have you, but they smell really nice and are less wasteful.

Making Things and Doing Stuff

Kirk bowling, taken from behind
Kirk doing the bowling

This week has been full of activity. Despite that it’s the off season, there were derby things last weekend. I’ve been filling all my evening time with reading and baking. I have been invited to help out with something called the Cookie Project, which involves delivering homemade cookies to people working shitty, non-essential jobs on Christmas day, so I’ve finally got a good excuse to make an unreasonable amount of cookies (because otherwise I’ll just eat them all). On top of all that, Kirk and I went bowling last weekend. Kirk was into it, but I was like, what, you just throw balls in a straight line and the people around you make noise and that’s it? Regardless, I told Kirk I’d give it another chance sometime.

Kitchen Witchery

It’s cold, it’s the holiday season, and my evenings are free from roller derby so I have been on a baking rampage, in addition to my regularly scheduled cooking at eating. This week I made a bean and bacon soup that was perfect (here’s the recipe). I used to eat the canned version all the time and of course the homemade version is superior. I also made a turkey noodle soup to use up some leftover turkey and the turkey stock I made after Thanksgiving. Of course since I made soup I had to make bread and I tried a sweet potato loaf from The Bread Bible. It’s a totally soft, delicious loaf that I will make again.

On to the cookie rampage: I made ginger snaps, except I make them soft so I guess they are just ginger cookies, using the recipe in How to Cook Everything. I tried out this recipe for double chocolate coconut cookies, which was a success. They’re a little bit like little brownies. But the best thing I made this week was millionaire’s shortbread. I had an excess of dulce de leche (which I made for our derby awards party but most of it did not get eaten) so I tweaked the recipe to make what I am calling Million Peso Shortbread: cinnamon shortbread, dulce de leche caramel, and a bit of chili mixed into the chocolate. Catch me on the Great British Bake-Off next year.

Languages

I think I mentioned last week that I was getting back into my Icelandic groove and it is paying off. In my lesson this week, Svava told me that whatever I’m doing is working because I sound much smoother putting words together than even last week. I told her that the secret is flashcards. I have talked a lot this year about flashcards and should I do other things and am I bored/burned out with that, but at this stage of Icelandic, I just need that repetition. Flashcards are making a comeback for 2020.

Derby Life

derby awards: two trophies and a certificate
an honor just to be nominated

Even though it is the off-season, there were roller derby happenings last weekend. Our junior team had a big game against Santa Cruz to test its ranking. As our head announcer, I decided it would be a good training opportunity and was very pleased to get Shanita Crutch on the mic for the first time. It’s very satisfying to make opportunities for people to try new things and develop skills. That’s the true spirit of roller derby.

On Sunday we had our end-season awards party. The league honored me with the Announcer of the Year award for the second consecutive year. My initial reaction was that I didn’t do a lot of announcing this year so is this just a popularity vote or what? But, I have been working some tournaments away from home and do behind-the-scenes stuff to train people up and keep us organized, so perhaps that is indeed award worthy. I was also very happy to receive the Dynamic Duo award with my partner in crime Jacked RipHer. It’s very cool to be recognized as a derby power pairing. Our C-team coaches also gave every skater an individual award. Mine is the “Stone Mountain” award for being an immovable object on the track. Pretty sweet.

Finally, here are some cat pictures for your nerves.

A Week in the Life: December 6, 2019

Nothing makes me feel old quite like when December rolls around and I exclaim, “Wow, December already! The year has really flown by.” Every year flies by when you’re old. Anyway, here I am it’s-already-Decembering. That’s okay though, December is an enjoyable month.

This morning I was reflecting on the fact that I’ve made it through a whole week without any wild drama manifesting and I thought, maybe things are settling down.

That’s when I found the ants.

Viola had been prancing around and making noise in an usual spot, which I initially dismissed as regularly scheduled cat hysterics, so I started brushing her to calm her the heck down. Once I was on the floor I noticed an ant, then another and, and a third ant. Three ants is more than coincidence. I set about murdering them then tracked down the source. The ants are creeping in between the baseboard and the wall in my living room. I stuck duct tape around that stretch of floor-meets-wall and then the murders began. We’re not at full-blown ant epidemic, but I have killed a lot of them today. Now that I’ve contained the problem, I’m mostly catching them when they’re confused and trying to leave. I haven’t seen any come in. On the upside, this has motivated to me to go on a cleaning rampage today. Yay?

Consuming

Here are some things I read, watched, or bought this week.

Reading

book cover of "Inconspicuous Consumption" by Tatiana Schlossberg
Inconspicuous Consumption, and good cover design

Last weekend I read Inconspicuous Consumption: the Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg. This book was a total pleasure to read, both in content and style. Schlossberg takes the reader through several big-picture issues like food and transportation and gets into the details of several examples in each category. She asks questions like is it better to eat local food or food flown in from Argentina? The answer to almost every question is: it’s complicated. The main argument of the book is that we live in a complex, connected society. A lot of the issues we deal with stem from our attitudes and expectations as a culture (like wanting our packages to be delivered two hours after ordering or insisting on being able to eat strawberries year round) rather than food or transportation itself. One thing that was interesting for me is how much the content linked with other things I have read this year like Ninety Percent of Everything, which is all about the shipping industry.

Another tidbit that stayed with me from a discussion of using the internet and how much electricity that requires. We (non-experts in technology, I suppose) tend to think of just the devices we use to access the internet when we tally up the power required to use the internet, but that’s not the full story. The internet lives in servers, which are on all the time and have to be kept cold, which adds another layer of complexity to the issue. Even though I know that servers have to be on and cool, it had never occurred to me to link that to the environmental impact of using the internet. The whole book is full of ideas like this that Schlossberg connects together.

Inconspicuous Consumption could easily be a dry read, but Schlossberg’s self-deprecating humor is enjoyable and lets the reader in on how ridiculous modern life is. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has been feeling climate anxiety or who is trying to better understand how our choices impact the environment.

Watching

I finally watched Book Smart, which is a comedy about two friends trying to have new social experiences on the eve of their high school graduation. I related to this movie a lot. The protagonists are high-achieving girls who have done everything “right” and never partied or broken the rules. One of the main characters realizes that some of her fellow students she deemed less worthy were accepted to the same top tier college that she was and she is forced to reevaluate her sense of self. I also loved the portrayal of female friendship—it’s something we should all aspire to.

Rampant Consumerism

In the quest to use less plastic, I ordered some Stasher bags over the weekend. They are not here yet but I am looking forward to trying them out. I saw them in a list of ways to cut down on plastic use in the kitchen and I’m hoping to use them in place of plastic bags when buying bulk items from the grocery store. I hope they work. It’s tempting to get caught up in the rampant consumerism of being eco-friendly, but at a certain point, we’re not helping anyone by buying a bunch of new crap. It’s an ongoing struggle to find the right balance.

Making Things and Doing Stuff

This has been a low-key week and I’m happy about that. I’ve been relaxing and knitting (not pictured because it’s a secret gift), reading, and enjoying the great indoors this week while it’s been rainy. I usually go through my phone photos when writing to blog to figure out what I did this week, but all I have are cat and book pictures, and a picture of the cookies I baked today.

Kitchen Witchery

a sheet pan with 12 chocolate chip cookies
You can never go wrong with chocolate chip

After all the Thanksgiving mania I did not cook much this week. I did remix my leftovers into some turkey shepherd’s pie and today I made a turkey pot pie. I tossed most of my turkey in the freezer right after Thanksgiving, so today’s pie was not from turkey that’s been sitting in the fridge for a week, don’t fret.

Just looking at this photo has motivated me to eat another cookie, by the way.

Language Learning

Now that things have mostly settled down again (ants notwithstanding), I’ve been trying to get back into my Icelandic groove, in particular. I’ve been working through my flashcard backlog on Memrise (I started the month at 2,500 -_-) and I had class on Thursday, which went well. I’m trying to remind myself of all the stuff I already know so I can move forward. I keep feeling like I’m on the cusp of getting a little better and then something interrupts me. Hopefully I can carry some Icelandic momentum into 2020.

Finally, here’s a cat photo for your nerves.

Viola peeking out from a cave made from a blanket
cozy cat life

A Week in the Life: November 29, 2019

a picture of Ina Garten that says "Holiday Hosting Tip: For a personal touch, I like to go around the table and ask each guest how they've challenged the patriarchythis year. If they can't answer, I take away their plate and tell them to eat from the trash because they are garbage."

Yesterday was Thanksgiving! I love Thanksgiving because I enjoy cooking and eating and the holiday is a great venue for doing so. However, I don’t love the history of colonial violence, so it’s a fraught thing. Today’s blog is mostly dedicated to Thanksgiving: food, reading, and the rest.

Consuming

Here are some things I read, watched, or bought this week.

Reading

These are some of the things I read online this week:

Watching

I’ve been watching His Dark Materials on HBO and it’s really good. It’s pretty and well done. I loved the book when I was growing up. Fun anecdote: I got the book as a gift on my 14th birthday from the one friend who showed up to my birthday party that year. Adolescence is hard.

Rampant Consumerism

I suppose this isn’t strictly a consumer act, but I am continuing the tradition I started last year of making a donation to an indigenous group. Last year I donated to the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, but it seems like it’s since been rolled into a government program. So, this year I donated NATIFS: North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, which is “dedicated to addressing the economic and health crises affecting Native communities by re-establishing Native foodways.” I have determined that if I’m going to “celebrate” a holiday that essentially commemorates wiping out indigenous cultures, the least I can do is give something back to support the regrowth of those cultures. I encourage everyone who can to use Thanksgiving as a time to support Native causes.

wrapped packets in a box
my yarn-based advent calendar

In actual consumerism, my advent calendar was delivered this week! I ordered this advent calendar way back in May or June and then sort of forgot about it so it was exciting to get it this week—a gift from my past self. It’s a special yarn-filled calendar from Earl Grey Fiber Company that has tiny bunches of yarn each day. It also came with knitting patterns and other secret stuff. I love surprises so I am looking forward to this gift from myself. Plus, it’s Great British Bake-Off themed, what more could I want?

Making Things and Doing Stuff

Most of the things I did this week were food related and I feel good about that.

Kitchen Witchery

I get the impression that a lot of you read my blog for food talk/photos, so let’s get to it! I was highly organized this year and planned everything out so I would do very little cooking on Thanksgiving itself. I dry brined my turkey on Monday, spent Tuesday and Wednesday prepping dishes like the stuffing and a potato and spaghetti squash gratin so I could just toss them into the oven on Thursday. I also made butternut squash soup in advance then put it in the crock pot on the “warm” setting all afternoon on Thursday, which worked perfectly. Overall, I was really pleased with how everything turned out. I make food for myself first and if everyone else happens to like it, all the better. Here’s everything we made:

  • Appetizers: cheese board (honey gouda, port salut, sharp cheddar, and goat cheese with herbs) with crackers and homemade bread, plus olives, almonds, dried pineapple, and a chocolate spread we bought in Peru. Kirk also made deviled eggs but I hate them so I didn’t think to take a photo.
  • Starter: Butternut squash soup and sweet potato biscuits
  • Main course: turkey (obviously), mashed potatoes, stuffing, potato and spaghetti squash gratin, crescent rolls, cauliflower with pumpkin seeds, brown butter and lime, roasted brussels sprouts with pomegranate glaze, and honey-glazed spiced carrots
  • Accoutrements: honey butter, herb butter, gravy, and cranberry sauce
  • Desserts: homemade vanilla ice cream, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake (which my dad brought), and lemon meringue pie (from my mother in law)

In the spirit of full disclosure, here’s a picture of the kitchen at the end of the night.

kitchen sink piled high with dishes
the aftermath

Last weekend we had my in-laws over to celebrate my mother in law’s birthday so obviously I made a chocolate cake. This is a chocolate cake with a layer of chocolate mousse in the middle and ganache on top (recipe from The Baking Bible). I also made ice cream, which left me with a surplus of egg whites, so I made two meringue cookie recipes from The Baking Bible: pecan praline meringues and a meringue with dates and almonds.

Knitting and Crafts

I finally learned how to sew buttons onto my knits thanks to this helpful youtube video (side note: you can be certified as a master knitter?) and set about affixing buttons on all three hooded caplets: the original one I knitted for me, the one for my mom, and the newly finished caplet for Mandy.

I had good intentions of sewing a table runner and cloth napkins in a fall-themed fabric for Thanksgiving, but I procrastinated. On Thursday morning, I made the table runner but lacked the will to make napkins too. Next year.

Finally, here’s a Huey cat for your nerves.

Huey the cat when her front paws on the lip of the shower, staring at the shower floor
Huey, contemplating the shower

A Week in the Life: November 22, 2019

This week we settled back into our non-vacation, oxygen-rich lives, but our return was not unmarked by drama. Just a few hours after coming home from Peru, my mail carrier handed me a certified letter from the neighbors we share a backyard border with. They told us they have tried “many times” (read: twice) to get us to trim the pine trees in our backyard and that it’s causing them damage and they are prepared to take “LEGAL ACTION” (yes, all caps). A threatening letter from a neighbor is not what I want to receive after vacation and, after laughing at how stupid it was, I was admittedly stressed. We decided to ask around to see if other neighbors have had issues with these ridiculous people and it turns out, yes. In a moment of pure unscripted awkwardness, Kirk visited some neighbors only to arrive while they were freshly mourning for the lady of the house. It’s uncomfortable to go talk about neighbor drama when someone has just died. So, we did the only decent thing and went back a couple days later with a card (“we know we just met, but …”) and some brownies. They found this very considerate so I guess the one good outcome of this ongoing house drama is we made friends with someone.

We did also go speak to the belligerent neighbors to ask “what is your damage?” and “why did you send a fucking letter?” There is, in fact, no damage, but it riles them up when large branches fall in their pool. They also think our trees—again, pine trees—look very suspicious and they told us that “those trees don’t live very long.” Okay.

In better news, our shower remodel is truly almost done. The contractor finally came out to replace the window they installed. They originally installed one without tempered glass, so when the permit inspector arrived, he said he couldn’t approve the work. Now all that’s left is one more inspection and hopefully I can finally stop letting strange men into my house.

Consuming

Here are some things I read, watched, or bought this week.

Reading

I read quite a lot in the last couple weeks. There’s not much else to do in airports.

  • Interference by Sue Burke is the sequel to Semiosis and deals with colonists on another planet where plant life is sentient. It’s a really interesting concept and a well-written story. Highly recommended for fans of speculative fiction.
  • In the Dream House is a memoir from Carmen Maria Machado. When I pre-ordered it, I did not realize it was a memoir; I thought it was another set of short stories. In fact, it deals with Machado’s experience of being abused in a lesbian relationship. She says she wrote the book specifically to put abuse in same-sex relationships into our literary canon. A fascinating, emotional read.
  • A Jewel Bright Sea by Claire O’Dell has a little bit of magic, a little bit of pirates, a little bit of romance—a perfect vacation read.
  • Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey (not pictured) is a book I actually started before vacation then hurriedly finished after to get it back to the library on time. It’s basically a detective novel set at a magic high school. I liked it but there’s a lot of people pretending to be something they’re not and that kind of storyline always gives me second-hand embarrassment. Read at your own risk.

In non-book reading, I really resonated with this piece on paying for civilization. The author talks about being thankful to pay taxes because it funds a lot of good stuff. It’s great to pay into civilization. This, of course, is in contrast to our typical American narrative about how taxes are horrible and we should all be out on the frontier stealing land for ourselves and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. It’s refreshing to see a different perspective on something that’s so essential to making our society function.

Watching

I watched season five of Schitt’s Creek and I just have to say that I love that show so much. It’s the perfect show: hilarious, sweet, fashionable. If you haven’t watched it, what are you even doing with your life.

Rampant Consumerism

After a bit of a shopping bonanza in Peru (largely for gift-giving purposes; Christmas is nearly upon us), I didn’t spent a lot of money this week. However, I did go grocery shopping today to stock my pantry for Thanksgiving, which is its own kind of consumer frenzy. I love Thanksgiving and it’s fun for me to plan out a big meal. I know some people hate grocery shopping but I enjoy it, as long as the store isn’t packed. Fortunately, working from home gives me some leeway and I can shop at calmer times of day.

Making Things and Doing Stuff

I spent half of this week being pretty listless after our trip and, surprisingly, I did a lot of work this week too. We’re setting up a new system for managing our content at work that is going to be really efficient. It’s much easier to invest in working when I know people aren’t going to come fuck it up after me.

Knitting and Crafts

It turns out that I completely messed up my knitting pattern while I was on vacation. I got about one-third through a shawl only to get home and realize my increases were not working as intended. Something about “purl front and back” was not working out for me. I unwound the whole thing, including the stitches I did at Machu Picchu but I assume the yarn is still blessed from the traveling.

Kitchen Witchery

Would I even be back home if I weren’t baking something? After a couple of days I started to feel normal again and of course got back to making foods. It was a great relief to eat homemade food again. It’s getting chilly so our diet has been heavy on soups and stews. I made beef stew (not pictured because it’s impossible to take an attractive photo of stew. recipe from How to Cook Everything) and bean and butternut squash soup. I also made the aforementioned grief brownies (also from How to Cook Everything) and delicious loaves of white bread (The Bread Bible) that made for perfect grilled cheese sandwiches. For snacking purposes, I tried out this recipe for almond butter date balls, except I used peanut butter because I’m unpretentious like that. They’re pretty good and may help me stop buying granola bars, which are stupidly expensive.

Languages

I had Icelandic class this week after a bit of a break during which my teacher had a baby. It was very difficult to try to switch back to my not-that-great Icelandic after a week of Spanish immersion, but better to rip that bandaid off. I also got back to Spanish lessons this week, though I found myself questioning why I scheduled anything when I felt, at the time, ready to do nothing at all. That said, I am thinking again about signing up to take the C1 spanish exam, so maybe it’s a time for seriousness in studying.

Finally, here are some cat photos for your nerves.

A Week in the Life: Peru Trip Edition

me seated in front of two llamas

I’ve been writing this post off and on for the last couple days as I recover and try to organize my thoughts. This trip was good but it was deeply exhausting. The tomfoolery began before we even left Sacramento: when we arrived at the airport we were informed that American Airlines had changed their flight schedule and our flight would not arrive in LAX early enough to make our plane to Lima. The airline had not bothered to inform anyone of this change and we retreated to start again the next day.

However, the good stuff of the trip was really good. It was wonderful to visit our friend Anne in Cuzco and I loved seeing Machu Picchu and trying new things. I think one of the nice things about travel is it can remind you of what you like about being at home, too. I thrive on routine but too much routine can make you restless. After this trip, I’m glad to be home and back to doing things like planning out what to cook this week and when to go to the gym.

Lima

We had planned for about two days of sightseeing in Lima, but thanks to the airline fuckery we were only really had one. We did get to see some cool things like John F. Kennedy park, which is full of cats. Kirk said he knew that’s what I wanted to do most so we made that our first stop. See the world, pet the cats there.

After stopping at the cat park, we mostly walked around the Miraflores neighborhood, which is the main touristy area where we stayed. We spent a while walking up the Malecón, which is a big pedestrian walkway that overlooks the ocean. Just for kicks, we walked up to a fancy mall called Larcomar, which was pretty much like every other fancy mall that you would find anywhere. It’s so weird, yet boring, how capitalism replicates itself all over the place.

Cuzco

After Lima, we spent five days in Cuzco. Cuzco is a really cool city. It’s situated in a steep valley and the neighborhoods seem arranged vertically. What we liked the most is that there is a mix of old and new throughout the city, which is what makes it unique. You can see the colonialism overlaid on the old Incan architecture, but a lot of that has been reclaimed again—lots of buildings are converted monasteries, like the hotel we stayed in and some of the museums we visited. Things come back around. We had a few good vantage points for city photos, including Anne’s apartment in the San Blas neighborhood and the view from Christo Blanco, which is a giant statue of Jesus up on a hill.

me holding a baby goat and standing with three indigenous women
tourist hustle

I decided to embrace being a tourist. I know a lot of people like to blend in or otherwise act cool when traveling, but, especially somewhere like Cuzco, there is no blending in for a large white person like me. Plus, I am a tourist. I am there being confused and impressed by things the locals see every day. I did my best not to get hustled but did fail a few times. On a walk to the Plaza de Armas, some women leapt into my path and shoved a baby goat in my arms, which is something I’m really not going to turn down. I got Kirk to take a photo and then started talking to the women because I knew they would want a tip for this experience. They tried to charge me 10 soles per person in the photo and I had to laugh. I gave them 10 soles total and walked on. And now I have this ridiculous photo of me holding a goat. Not pictured: the first goat they handed me would not stop kicking me until they took him back. Docile goat photos only.

Chocolate Workshop

One of our first tourist activities was to take a chocolate-making workshop at Choco Museo. This was a lot of fun and I actually learned a lot about how chocolate gets made. We roasted and ground up cocoa beans, tempered and molded chocolate, plus did silly activities like compete for who can make the best llama out of a pile of cocoa beans …. we did not win. When we started the class, I assumed I’d be shepherding my beans from pod to bar (to be fair, it is advertised as a “bean to bar” workshop), but cocoa beans take weeks to dry and process into chocolately goodness. I didn’t realize just how long it takes to turn cocoa into chocolate. Still, we got to mold our own chocolate and mix in flavors and ingredients like Peru’s ubiquitous ají chili, coconut, or M&Ms. The results were delicious.

Culture

a scene from a folk dance with men and women in indigenous outfits
whirling and twirling

We took in a little cultural enrichment too, starting with a folk dance performance at the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo. I mostly enjoy folk dance for the whirling and twirling of costumes. Folk dances seem to always have these strong codifications of gender roles, which is kind of weird to watch. But I guess that’s culture for you?

We visited a few museums too. My favorite was the Textile Museum because, particularly since I learned to knit, I’ve developed a major appreciation for the effort and artistry that goes into making things. This museum also sells the yarn that women there make, and I bought several balls of alpaca yarn that I’m looking forward to knitting into a sweater.

indigenous women weaving at the textile museum
weaving away

La Mal de Altura

Altitude sickness, or “soroche” as its colloquially known in Peru, is pretty serious shit when you’re at 3,400 meters (11,155 feet). I knew it would be hard to breathe in Cuzco but I completely underestimated how bad that would feel. I got a prescription for altitude medication from my doctor before the trip and decided I would wait to take it and see how things felt when we arrived. I got a headache more or less immediately when we arrived on Sunday afternoon, so I took the altitude medication before bed after concluding that there was no prize for toughing things out.

I kept taking the medication on Monday, but by Tuesday, I was not feeling very good. We had planned to hike up a few miles to Christo Blanco, but Anne suggested we take a taxi up and walk back down, which seemed like a great alternative. As we were walking around that morning, I was feeling pretty shitty, physically and mentally. It was hard to feel like I could barely do anything when I know I have made a lot of progress athletically and I am strong and capable. We tried doing a low-key hike to a small archaeological site called the Templo de la Luna. I had to stop every 15 to 20 feet to spend five minutes catching my breath. Afterwards, we took an afternoon rest at the hotel and I took a nap but was still faring just as badly as before, so Kirk started researching the medication I was taking and what I should do. I emailed my doctor who said I probably had altitude sickness and that I needed to go to a doctor in Peru immediately so things wouldn’t get worse.

I asked the front desk at our hotel if they had a recommendation for a clinic we could visit. Altitude sickness is pretty common among tourists and they were prepared. They called the local clinic and a doctor actually came to the hotel to assess me. My resting heart rate was 111 and my blood oxygen saturation was at 86 percent (I have since learned that a normal range is around 92 to 96 percent). The doctor said we’d need to go to the hospital for me to get some oxygen. What this meant in practice was taking an ambulance to a hospital that seemed specifically designed for de-oxygenated tourists and spending the whole afternoon and evening there trying to get my oxygen levels back up.

As an American, my first question was: what does this cost? It turns out that an ambulance trip, a six-hour hospital stay, a lung x-ray, hours of oxygen, and a handful of prescriptions will only run you about 850 soles, or 275 dollars, which I found shockingly inexpensive. There’s room here for some political commentary, but I suppose I’ll leave all that for another post.

I spent the last few days in Cuzco moving slowly and trying to avoid any extra exertion like walking uphill. Luckily, I’m a rich white woman and can afford to take taxis everywhere if that’s what I want. Plus, the day after the hospital trip, we had plans for Machu Picchu, which is at a lower elevation (around 8,500 feet) than the city so that made life mildly easier.

Dogs of Cuzco

On a lighter note, the city of Cuzco is absolutely teeming with dogs. I took pictures of a lot of dogs because I like cute animals. One dog, which Anne has been calling Lady, even hiked with us, despite my excruciatingly slow pace. She would run up the hill then come back down to be pet whenever we took a rest. It was adorable.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was of course on our itinerary. We took a train on PeruRail called the VistaDome, which has big windows on the sides and roof of the train so you can watch the landscape go by. It takes about three hours to reach Machu Picchu even though it’s only about a 60-mile trip. The train winds through the Andean countryside, which I found peaceful. Plus it was a nice break after having just recovered from altitude sickness.

When you arrive in the town of Machu Picchu, you still have to travel to the site itself. We were informed that you can take a bus (about a 30 minute wind up the mountainside) or walk. We chose the bus.

Machu Picchu is as impressive in person as you would expect it to be. My only complaint is there is not a lot of information there about the site. I expected more plaques or perhaps a map on entry so I would know what I was looking at. For example, one large rock was labelled simply “sacred rock,” which I do not find especially informative. There were tour guides for hire, but I don’t really like to be hampered by a guide; I want to move at my own pace (that day’s pace: slow). Even without knowing all the details, Machu Picchu is amazing. Plus, I was able to pet no fewer than four llamas, so I had a good day.

me knitting in front of Machu Picchu

I was excited to spend a few minutes at Machu Picchu knitting. I know that might seem a little weird, but it’s my own quasi-spiritual experience. Women through the ages have knitted and prepared textiles in places like these and I wanted to commune with the matriarchy in some kind of way. Most of history is about men, but given the heritage of textile art we see in the Andes, we know women were there making amazing stuff. So, this is my small tribute to their efforts.

Food

Peru is known for having amazing food and I can confirm that this is true. I can be a bit of a finicky eater (a lot of things disagree with me), but I was able to eat a lot of tasty food in Peru, even though I can’t eat quinoa or fish without getting sick. We tried a lot of regional dishes like ají gallina (chicken in a yellow chili sauce), adobo (a pork chop soup said to cure hangovers), lomo saltado (a meat and vegetable dish), pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken), plus desserts and many other tasty foods. Even the food I had at the hospital was pretty decent. It’s possible that we got a better-than-average sample of good food in Cuzco since we had Anne guiding us to all her favorite spots. Still, I’m sold on Peruvian food overall.

I noticed a couple of food trends. One was that you can get pollo a la brasa everywhere. There are chicken restaurants all over the place where you order chicken by the quarter, half, or whole and it comes with a pile of french fries. We even tried a grocery store version of this in a moment of fatigue and desperation when I was hungry and too tired too walk anywhere (this being hours before the hospital trip). The other trend is a drink called chicha, which is fermented purple corn. Peruvians use it in a spiced drink called chicha morada (purple chicha), and it’s actually pretty good. We also had a pudding-like dessert made of chicha (pictured below). It’s nice to encounter uses of corn that aren’t the high fructose kind.

The main spice that runs through a lot of Peruvian cuisine is the ají chili. It’s not something I’ve noticed here at home, and being the sort of person I am, I spent our trip keeping an eye out for ají to buy and bring home. I found some ají sauce at the grocery store and then, luckily, on our last day as we were browsing the San Pedro market, I found people selling packets of dried ají. I also bought a cookbook of Peruvian recipes so I am looking forward to having a go at some Peruvian dishes once I’m settled in again.

It was a good trip but I am glad to be home and breathing air with more oxygen in it. Plus, home is where my cats are.