January 17, 2016

Loving Lately: Winter Break 2015-16

A family friend once told me that her small village in Poland received a delivery of bananas once a year - during Christmas time. Her mom would wait in a long line to pick some up to bring home, and the bananas simply made Christmas that much more special. Nowadays, bananas can be found at any grocery or convenience store throughout the entire year, but she's still just as grateful to be able to eat them because she learned to value them.

On a similar (but less moving) note, winter break at home reminded me a lot about the little pleasures that I took for granted:

To begin, I sincerely enjoyed the time to read for pleasure. High school consumed most of my time, and any free time I had was devoted to simply vegetating on the couch because I was too exhausted to do anything else. Reading takes up energy, but it's so rewarding when you stumble across a book that really captivates your attention and is exciting to you. Over the past few years, I haven't read very many fiction novels for pleasure (mostly non-fiction if I had the time), partly because of my lack of time but also because I struggle to find books that are adequately suited for my reading level (something that I have not considered since the 5th grade, but is still an important factor!) and that are engaging. Out of the three books I read, The Great Gatsby, The Cuckoo's Calling (written under JK Rowling's pen name), and The Life We Bury, the third book was my favorite. Gatsby is a classic, but I think I lacked a deeper interest/appreciation because I had read another book, The Artful Edit, on my plane ride home, that dissected a lot of the novel/Fitzgerald's writing process and spoiled quite a bit for me. The Cuckoo's Calling had an interesting story line/was enjoyable, and I was excited to read something by the genius who wrote the Harry Potter series, but much of the English vernacular and Rowling's tendency to draw out a lot of details made me lose interest now and then. (I did, however, enjoy the discovery that my high school AP Lang teacher read the same novel over winter break as I did when I stopped by to chat!) The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens, however, was mainly packed with action, and if there wasn't something happening, you were gaining quite a bit of information that helped move the story along. Both Rowling's and Eskens' noveles were mysteries, but Eskens' had the more surprising ending, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I would characterize Eskens' to be more of an easy-read because my energy was devoted more towards detective work/figuring out the guilty character rather than trying to pay attention to the words, but isn't that what you'd like in a novel that you read in your spare time ;)?

My second favorite would be the monogrammed Anthropologie mug (photographed above) that my best friend gifted me (thank you, Yasmeen!); and a third favorite to follow would be my all-time favorite drink: hot chocolate. A nightly routine throughout winter break was drinking a cup of hot chocolate and watching my favorite shows, which includes my fourth favorite, The Office. You might be thinking, "hot chocolate every night? that's not very healthy", but don't worry - my recipe essentially makes a hot chocolate that's healthified to the point that many would not consider it to be hot chocolate ;) I really only add almond milk, a tablespoon of Hershey's dark cocoa powder, and a teaspoon of honey, so it's pretty dark and not that guilty, but I love it anyways. Backtracking to The Office, I rediscovered this middle/early high school favorite of mine when I stopped by Princeton Record Exchange, my new favorite discovery (like that juxtaposition there? a rediscovery and a new discovery?). I'll describe Princeton Record Exchange in greater detail in a future blog post about my favorite places in Princeton, but let's just say that it's the perfect location for someone who loves to collect things, find treasures, and thrift shop. 

A less exciting but equally as valued favorite would be waking up and taking the time to enjoy my breakfast. My friend and a former teacher agreed that mornings are often too rushed, and there's just something so special to a quiet, relaxing morning routine that makes it a luxury. There were many mornings where I had to get started with the day fairly quickly, but the handful of mornings where I could eat my breakfast (my favorite - oatmeal with almond butter and banana slices) were appreciated.

Winter break also gave me a lot of time to be with my parents and my brother, and I was especially grateful that my mom spent nearly the entire break at home. Granted, we all still had work and applications and homework to do, but we were also privileged enough to have three opportunities to eat out at restaurants as a family: once at a Korean spot (blog post to come!), a buffet on New Year's day, and a third time at Tortuga's (my favorite restaurant and another Princeton gem) on my last night at home. We don't always get to enjoy meals together like that, where we don't have to worry or get back to work quickly, and as a foodie, it's always great to enjoy good food with important people. 

Following that, I had the privilege to meet up with several teachers (twice) and my closest high school friends. It's not easy to reminisce about the past because you're reminded of both the good and the bad, but it's comforting to do so when you're around people who mean a great deal to you, and it's also exciting to share new stories and even new concerns. As someone who prefers to fill her life with a small number of extremely close relationships, I love talking to people who know me very well. I even stopped by two new coffee/tea shops while meeting up with two of my friends, making that a total of 3 new coffee/tea shops discovered within two months (the very first was discovered over Thanksgiving). The first and second were local staples that I just never had the excuse to go to, but the third was something that I had wanted to visit for a long long long time - Infini-T, an eclectic vegan & gluten-free cafe in, (wait for it), Princeton (which will also be mentioned in my future Princeton blogpost). 

And speaking of food, I think I'd have to say that my favorite recipe from winter break would have to be my buckwheat pancakes. I did try a few new recipes here and there, but I mainly resorted back to my good old staple recipes that I've missed making (which explains the lack of new recipe posts over winter break), and out of everything that I made, I made these pancakes the most. 

Something along the lines of food would be face masks - the best ones are the DIY ones, and I'll post my new favorite soon! Over the years, I've found that skincare is connected more strongly with the internal state of your body rather than with topical treatments, but a (somewhat forced) family trip to a Korean spa reminded me that I can't forget about the value in treating the surface of your skin. A decent skincare routine and good face masks can actually change your complexion pretty significantly, especially with the dry, cold winter winds.

When it came to fashion, the extreme range of temperatures made it difficult to find a single piece that I wore consistently (aside from the all-time favorite - black leggings), but my mom and I were at Forever 21 about a week before I left, and found a green plaid flannel that I've been gravitating towards quite a bit since I bought it. It can top off a loose white t shirt and black leggings, the collar can poke out of a cozy sweater, or it can be dressed up when worn on top of a black dress; in other words, it's versatile, made of a durable flannel material, and the colors are mellow enough but still stand out.

Winter break also gave me the chance to venture into NYC three times over the 3.5 week break. The first time was only a few days after flying home, when I met up with Jess and Erik, the second time was for Christmas, and the third time included a visit to the Golden Unicorn, a dim sum restaurant. I had never liked NYC all that much until last spring when I discovered Erik's vlogs (or else I would have applied to a few schools there); his videos made me realize and appreciate everything the city has to offer, and I'm grateful that I've had the chances to explore it (restaurant review of a Vietnamese restaurant near Washington Square Park and a potential guide to my favorite NYC spots to come) and enjoy it some more. 

Lastly, winter break was a much needed break from academic work. I was consumed with freelance writing and tedious applications (a bad reminder of the college application process), but comparatively speaking, I did have much more free time to do what I sincerely enjoy doing - writing, taking photos, editing photos - in a nutshell, I had the time to create content, which I find to be so fulfilling and exciting.
I felt like this blog plummeted a bit during the fall because I didn't anticipate all of the changes to come, but I used winter break to prepare myself with extra content, (more than enough, actually), so that I can blog consistently until I go home for spring break (when I'll create some more content in advance for the weeks to follow!). My English professor asked us to write for the entire class period on Friday about our history with reading/writing, and it was through that exercise that I acknowledged how fulfilling and meaningful writing is to me, so I'm very happy to say that I'll be able to continue posting content that I'm proud of for a while.

In retrospect, it's not like winter break (or any vacation/break) is ever going to be idealistic and perfect. One of my former teachers, whom I visited, acknowledged that a vacation, in its own way, can be as stressful as daily life. But when you make an effort to choose happiness (as Shay Carl often says) and to focus on what's great, you tend to only remember the good moments, and I'm just very grateful for them.

xoxo, han

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