Chestnuts are Assholes, but I Love Them Anyway

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? More like, exploding in my oven! Come for the holiday cheer, stay for the junior high humor.

Ahh, chestnuts…the thought of them probably conjures up something like this, am I right?

Relaxing by the hearth as the rich aroma of roasted nuts fills your nostrils, wrapped in a fleece blanket, sipping decadent hot cocoa, basking in the warm glow of Christmas tree lights…

To most of us, especially here in the US, chestnuts are a holiday abstraction. This classic Christmas song brings comfort and joy during a period as the nights get longer and colder, when all you desire is to stuff your face and hibernate.

The true story of chestnuts is anything but warm and fuzzy. The reality is sharp and painful. In fact, chestnuts are assholes. They grow inside prickly nut-sacks that hurt like hell if you accidentally step on one. They also bloom ugly, stringy “flowers” during the hottest days of summer which smell like death. Not to mention, chestnut trees spew metric tons of leaves in the yard and into the gutters.

Chestnuts grow inside spiky green balls. They usually drop their nuts in September, hee hee ūüôā

However, life has not been easy for the American chestnut tree. In the early 20th century, there were over 4 billion chestnut trees growing in the states, according to the American Chestnut Foundation. Aside from everyone and their squirrel trying to get a piece of DEEZ NUTS, some douchebag brought a fungal disease called the “Chestnut Blight” from Asia in the early 20th century. This invasive pathogen wiped out nearly all the trees by the mid-century. The American Chestnut tree is now considered “functionally extinct.” Most species of chestnuts that grow here are of the Asian or European variety.

The famed “Christmas Song” was written in 1946, inspired by experiences my grandparents had of harvesting and roasting chestnuts. Yet for us Millennials, our only exposure to chestnuts is a Chestnut Praline latte from Starbucks (better than the Pumpkin Spice, in my opinion). So when I moved into my new house around Christmas of 2016, I unwittingly picked up a spiny bastard hidden in a pile of leaves with my bare hands while cleaning my yard, and it freaking HURT, man! I wanted to know what the hell kind of tree was dropping these God-forsaken things on my property.

After pounding “tree that grows weaponized tennis balls” into Google, I realized I had encountered a chestnut tree. It actually grows in my neighbor’s yard, but half the tree canopy extends onto our property and turns my backyard into a minefield. I had second thoughts about taking a chainsaw to my neighbor’s tree. If I could, in fact, eat them, perhaps having to fill three large garbage cans of spiny bastards every fall would be worth it…

However, not all chestnuts are edible. I needed to ensure that the chestnuts that grew in my yard were not poisonous. There are several species of chestnut-like plants which, if eaten raw, could cause ” vomiting, diarrhea, inflammation of mucous membranes, fever, stupor, muscle weakness and twitching, hemolysis, and respiratory paralysis” according this report in the FDA’s Poisonous Plants database.

Don’t eat these fake-azz nuts unless you want to spend copious amounts of time on the toilet
Actual chestnuts harvested from my yard.

The following September (2017), I decided I would harvest the chestnuts as a consolation prize for the pain and suffering caused by their spiny casings. I knew nothing about cooking or harvesting chestnuts. I figured I would just pick a few that fell on the ground and store them in a glass jar in the kitchen until the holiday season because who wants to roast chestnuts on an open fire when it’s 85 degrees outside?

Well, I learned the hard way that chestnuts actually rot if they are not stored in the fridge. They also like a bit of moisture while storing, so they do well in a Zip-Loc bag. Read more on how to store chestnuts.

Aside from the nuts shriveling up like an old man’s balls, I encountered a scene straight out of a cheesy creature horror film. At the bottom of the glass jar were piles of these maggot-like things writhing about. I was terrified I had flies in my kitchen and they were breeding inside the chestnuts.

After fumigating the kitchen and Googling the nightmare I just witnessed, I realized one of the nuts I picked up was infested by a creature known as a “chestnut weevil.” There are apparently other kinds of “nut weevils” out there, but their modus operandi is the similar: Lay eggs inside the spiny maturing nuts, which hatch grubs that bore out of the nut and they grow into adult pests over the winter and spring, only to repeat the cycle.

The lesson I learned was to, again, not let the nuts sit for too long. Usually baking them in the oven will kill the bastards before they have a chance to hatch. This meant that the nuts I had gathered that year were no bueno, so I had to wait until the following year to attempt a chestnut harvest.

My living nightmare

Adult chestnut weevils busting a nut before busting a nut

September 2018 comes. I store my chestnuts in the fridge and plan to cook them soon after harvest, whether it still feels like summer or not. I throw away any soft nuts or nuts with holes in them. Now, the only thing to do is learn how to roast them.

I had no aspirations to be an accidental arsonist, so I turned to Google once again to discover you can indeed roast them in the oven. I followed these instructions. It is very important to cut a deep “x” in the nut so the pressure does not cause it to explode while it roasts. Kind of like a baked potato, except chestnuts have a hard-ass outer shell that requires a sharp knife to score. I may or may not have sliced my finger open preparing these things…

I put the chestnuts in oven, keeping a diligent eye on them. The kitchen starts to smell AMAZING. I understand why there are songs written about this. Despite the hot temperatures outside, I am fully engrossed in my Christmas fantasy until…


I peer into the oven. One by one, nuts are exploding. Shotgun sounds permeate my kitchen. Nut-meat is blasted all over the place and crusting the inside of my oven. The sweet, homey aroma turns into the acrid smell of burnt popcorn. I turn off the oven and abort mission. I was only able to salvage a few, but damn were they tasty!! Cleaning the oven afterwards, was NOT fun.

The few. The proud. The tasty.

This fall rolls around, and I learn my lesson once again. I cut deeper scores into the chestnuts (and into my fingers). I watch them like a hawk and pull any nuts out that looks like they will explode. I was able to enjoy many more chestnuts this year, and hope to be even better and more efficient at cooking and shelling them next year.

I’ve injured myself a lot for the sake of this treat. I’m not going to lie, Mother Nature makes me WORK for this! As painful as it’s been, there is something incredible about discovering a food source in the backyard that is not readily available in the mainstream grocery store. As more chestnut trees continue to re-populate here in the US, I wonder how many people have something growing in their yard and miss out because they weren’t just a little bit curious about…DEEZ NUTS!!!

The Elements of Jung’s Cognitive Functions (With Pretty Pictures)

If you have ever been to my place, you may have noticed this picture. People often ask me what it means, so rather than bore them with a lecture on Jungian psychology, I figured I would just write a post about it. In short, the drawing is an illustration of archetypal balance, with mapping Jung’s cognitive functions to the elements…which I explain below.

So what’s with the sun and the moon and the green people?

I’ve developed a passion for learning about Jungian psychology and archetypes for over a decade now. Jung posited that there exists a collective unconscious, in which universal ideals, thoughts, and patterns (the archetypes) live. These archetypes have existed since time immemorial; one could say they were created by (insert theological deity of your choice). They are symbols that seem to exist across cultures, whether or not the cultures had contact and could influence each other.

Archetypes can manifest in both the conscious realm (i.e. reality), and also within each person’s subconscious. The core archetypes are:

  1. The Persona – What we exhibit to the outside world; the self the world wants us to be
  2. The Shadow – The thoughts and areas we don’t want to acknowledge; the things that make us uncomfortable – the Dark Side.
  3. The Animus – The archetype of inherently masculine characteristics (associated with the Yang, in Eastern philosophy)
  4. The Anima – The archetype of inherentiy feminine characteristics (often associated with the Yin)

Over the years, scholars and authors have come up with very distinct manifestations of the archetypes, such as the Mother, the Hero, The Wise Man, etc.

Like pretty much everything in psychology, how these archetypes actualize or become dominant depends on nature and nurture. When they are very out of balance, it causes angst and depression. So its not surprising that many people today are popping pills or lining the pockets of psychotherapists because their ideal self is nothing like who they actually are. Especially in today’s world of social media, when the gulf between the real self and the ideal self have become even wider.

When our persona and our shadow, and the anima and animus, are are truly accepted as a whole, a person’s true authentic self emerges. It often involves a syzygy – a reconciliation of opposites (and also a great Scrabble word). This may involve accepting the things about ourselves we do not like, or being comfortable with certain aspects of our own or opposite gender.The important thing is that the person has recognized and accepted th e right combination of archetypal influence, not always shifting to the opposite extreme.

OK, that’s great, but what do those letters mean? Are they chemical symbols or what?

The letters refer to Jung’s 8 cognitive processes.

Carl Jung

The core concept of Jung’s Psychological Types is the idea of Introversion and Extraversion. These are not the actual personality types which which you’re familiar, but the ideas behind them. Introversion involves directing energy towards one’s inner thoughts and feelings, while Extraversion involves focusing on the external world and other people.

Jung also distinguished dimensions by which people process information (Sensing and Intuition), and how they make decisions (Thinking and Feeling).¬†This remind you of a personality test you had to take for work or school or church. Maybe it was my Mass Effect MBTI Chart – which ironically, draws most of the traffic to this site :p. While many people have heard of the Myers-Briggs tests and personality types, what is interesting is that this test is based off of Jung’s cognitive functions.

The Sensing process involves a preference for processing tangible facts – what is right in front of you. People who use iNtuition are more comfortable processing concepts and ideas. Sensing considers “what is or what was” and iNtuition looks as “what could be”. These are both what are known as the “perceiving functions.”¬†Thinking and Feeling are the “Judging” functions. Some people more readily prefer to use logic to make decisions, while others prefer to take personal relationships into account.

These processes can be Introverted (drawn inward), or extraverted (drawn outward). Since each process can be either introverted or extraverted, therein lies 8 cognitive functions. These form the backbone of the Myers-Briggs test:


People differ in which of these functions come naturally or cause struggle, but we use all 8. This is explains why people see things differently, and why HR departments everywhere want people to take this test so it can help people understand other personality types, which hopefully will minimize conflict, and make less work for them :-).*

When you take a Myers-Briggs test , it is trying to measure the specific order in which you prefer using each function – from being just as natural as breathing to requiring intense effort.The ease at which these cognitive functions come to you are ranked as primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. A person’s most preferred 4 processes are associated with the persona or the conscious self. It is what we know we have mastered. The lesser-preferred functions are those that often manifest subconsciously (like I said, we use all 8), and may be associated with an unresolved part of ourselves, or a part that makes us feel vulnerable.

How the different Myers Briggs types prefer to use each function.

OK, I kinda sorta know what where those letters come from, but what’s with the volcanoes and stuff?

A few years back, I read about this theory from a psychiatrist who was able to map the functions to an archetype, and each function played a particular archetypal role depending on the order of preference (i.e. your Myers-Briggs “preference”.)

I’ve also spent a copious amount of time playing role-playing games, and one thing that interested me was how there were certain kinds of “magic” worked against certain types of enemies. Often, fire would be strong against ice, but weak against water. Perhaps I have taken a few too many of those fluffy Facebook quizzes about “what element am I”¬† that I started to wonder if it would be possible to not only match up the elements in such a way they manifested in these cognitive processes, but how they interacted with each other. When we extrovert one function, the introverted part of that same function.

So, now the meat and potatoes of this blog post.

Extraverted Functions

Above the sun, you have the Extraverted functions. These tend be associated with the Yang.


Extraverted Thinking (Te)

The outward focus of applying logic to ones environment. It is process that often drives scientific experimentation, systems building, logistics, and process improvements. I chose Ice to represent this function not just because this manifests itself as a bit like “cold, hard logic”, but because ice is crystallized water, meaning that it has a distinct and orderly structure. Snowflakes are special and unique, but are all based on a hexagonal pattern.



Extroverted Sensing (Se)

This is pure, unadulterated living in the moment. It is complete awareness of what is happening around us. It drives us to be focused on what’s right in front of us, rather than trying to project to the past or future. I chose Air to represent Se because this process manifests itself as the freedom to just “be” and enjoy life. Like a clear, sunny day, it brings out color and focus into our environment.



Extraverted Intuition (Ne)

Envision a group of advertising professionals in a brainstorming session. Changes are, they are using Ne – taking existing concepts and finding new ways to apply them.¬† I imagine the “brain on Ne” as a constant “storm” of ideas, with frontal cortex neurons firing on all cylinders. I chose Lightning to represent this process because just as quickly as a an electrical moves from one cloud to another, so does Ne when it comes to integrating concepts because…the possibilities are endless!.



Extraverted Feeling (Fe)

Extraverted feeling, in its mature form, manifests itself like a warm hug. It can also be used to manipulate others because this process is what helps us to understand people. Generally, people who have a high preference for Fe present a serene, positive aura and disposition. I chose plants and flora for Fe because, to be real, there is nothing more zen and calming than walking in a garden. But while some flowers are pretty, others have thorns.


Introverted Functions

Below the moon, you have the Introverted Functions. Introverted functions correlate more to the Yin. They operate a lot like their extraverted cousins, but they illustrate how the process is drawn inward.


Introverted Thinking (Ti)

Moving clockwise, we come to Introverted Thinking. This function is associated with inductive reasoning, or theory building. It is what enables us to come up with theories and models to most succinctly explain how the world works. I chose Cosmos for this because what fundamentally drives our biggest questions more than space-time? People who use this function may spend a lot of time in their heads, trying to reconcile tough questions, like who created us or whether we are along in the universe.


Introverted Intuition (Ni)

Introverted iNtuition is similar to its cousin Ne, but instead of mashing up concepts and trying to find new ideas, Ni looks to find symbols and meaning through unseen events or ideas that exist only in the person’s head.** I chose water to represent Ne because, at least internally, it can be broad and deep. The world is 70% ocean, but we know so little about what is underneath it – an inner world waiting to be explored.


Introverted Sensing (Si)

I chose Earth for Introverted Sensing because this process keeps us grounded. People who use Si spend a lot of time experiencing the word, but in their heads through past moments they have already experienced. It is pragmatic. Like mountains and rocks are built upon layers of lava and sediment, Si is built upon past experiences. Brainstormers and innovators are well and good, but we need people who can execute their visions, snap them into the real world and keep new traditions going.


Introverted Feeling (Fi)

When Feeling is directed inward, the focus becomes ones emotional relationship to ones self. It explores what we can feel passionate about, and ensures that we are living a life consistent with your internal “moral compass.”¬† Fi reminds me of lava under the surface, so I chose Fire to represent it. The emotions it opens us up to will burn in a way that fuels us, but often can provide great pain. This “inner flame ensures that we do not become cold to what we’re passionate about.


*You may be wondering why the Myers-Briggs test has 16 results instead of 8. That’s because Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs (yes,it was invented by women – you go girls! :p) added another layer – Judging and Perceiving as dimensions. You can read more about this here,¬†


Often people will take the Myers-Briggs and get a result that is NOT them. Unfortunately, the test asks a lot about behavioral and thought tendencies to get a sense of your thought preferences, but because we are often putting on our “persona” in the would, we may skew our responses accordingly.. The test is truly limited because it cannot directly measure what’s going on in your head, but it can indicate to some degree, your personality “tendencies.” I hesitate to use the word “type” because people are nuanced…and we’re all special snowflakes, am I right? .¬†¬†

To get the most accurate results, I advise a) taking a test that has more than 10 questions (like those fluffy ones on Facebook), and b) taking the test in the comfort of your homes…or in a busy Starbucks if you’re an extrovert ;-). The longer the test, the better it can really assess your preferences. Usually these cost $$, but If you are looking for a free test that does not want your account information, I would check out They have a 100+ question test…¬†

**To be honest, Ni is he most abstract of the functions, and I say this because it happens to by my dominant process. Often, things make perfect sense in my head, but when I try to put them in some tangible form (e.g writing, art, or verbalizing), I feel like I flub it up somehow. 

Adventures in SCUBA diving

A few years ago, my dad decided to learn how to SCUBA dive. So when he and my stepmother went down to a Sandals resort for a few days, he got his Open Water certification, and has been obsessed with the underwater world ever since. He has expanded his dive training to explore deeper waters, underwater wrecks, and exotic coral reefs.

It pleases me to see my dad find something he is so passionate about, and to have courage to try something new. However, SCUBA is a very social activity – it is not something you do alone. Unfortunately, few people have the courage, money, or time to invest in it. So, he’s emphatically suggested in nearly every conversation I have with him that my brother and I get SCUBA certified, in hopes we’ll enjoy it as much as he does.

Over the Martin Luther King day weekend, my brother and I decided to “take the plunge” and go to Key Largo to get certified. My dad suggested a dive shop that offers a two day class to get the certification, provided you take the coursework beforehand. I could totally swing two days over a long weekend and miss as little work as possible.¬†My brother had already taken the swimming pool portion, so he at least had some idea as to what he was getting into. I, on the other hand, had not been in any water other than a shower for over a year.

Before the trip, I envisioned calmly swimming in clear, tropical waters. I would easily master all the skills required — the online class made it look so easy and fun! And after the two days, I would beam proudly with my dad in a photo showing off my newly minted certificate. I’d post it on social media, get tons of likes, and people would think my life was amaze-balls.

Well, that didn’t happen…

Continue reading… →

Happy Holidays!

2017 has been a wild ride, to say the least. There were some good moments, and not so good moments. Just letting the inter-webs know I am still here.

The highlights:

  • Visiting Provence and Paris
  • Getting used to being a homeowner
  • Becoming an auntie!

The bummers:

  • My cat was sick.
  • Work issues for hubs and I.
  • All the horrible things that are happening around the world, and not being able to do anything about them.

I do have a couple of blog updates. Check out the links to the left to view a new comic series I am starting (Adulting Amy), and to see my pictures from France.

I also reorganized my Photos page and added a lot more pictures, so go have a look :).

Peace and blessings this holiday season, with more to come in 2018.

Merry Christmas from Pusheen and Stormy

Eat My Shortz, Will! (How to Dominate the Sunday Crossword)

My ideal Sunday morning. Coffee, museli, and the Sunday puzzle.

I’ve been a crossword junkie since I was a kid. I come by it honestly, though. My mom¬†has always been into puzzles. Most girls get¬†into their mother’s make-up; I got into her¬†monthly World of Puzzles magazine.

I started my crossword journey with the weekday puzzles and those $3 booklets from the supermarket magazine aisle. It did not take long to dominate those puzzles, and now those Easy & Fun crosswords are an insult to my mad word skills.

With more puzzles under their¬†belt, crossword aficionados quickly learn¬†that clues follow strict rules and often reappear in puzzles (a.k.a crosswordese). ¬†Frequent puzzle solvers are well aware that “eft” is a 3-letter term for salamander,¬†a “nene” is a Hawaiian goose (and state bird), and an “amah” is an Asian nanny.

We expect the answer¬†to mirror the clue. For example, if the clue is is plural, then the answer is plural. If the clue is abbreviated, some or all of the answer is abbreviated. If it’s an adverb or superlative, then so is the answer, and so on…

When I attempted¬†the New York Times Sunday Puzzle in my younger years, I would get owned. I’d be lucky¬†to fill in a corner. The answers I thought were correct were not. People I know who do crosswords regularly get¬†stumped at the Sunday Puzzle. It is a truly humbling experience to come before editor Will Shortz’s epic word grids, even as a veteran solver.

Some puzzle enthusiasts hit a wall and content themselves with easier puzzles. They wonder how they deftly¬†complete¬†the “hard” crossword in the airline magazine, but cannot fill in more than a few squares of the Sunday Puzzle.¬†Why?¬†Because the¬†Sunday Puzzle takes all the rules you know about solving crosswords and says F*** YOU!

Tried and true crossword tips, along with a full head of trivia and decent vocabulary, only get you so far. Below I unpack 3 riddles to help you on your way. The Sphinx himself offers similar insight into tackling these puzzles.

To fill in the box, think outside of the box.

I have seen puzzles where letters are replaced with symbols (e.g. the symbol for pi, the letter X for “cross”), and others where the answer is not simply across or down. Often, the puzzle theme¬†provides¬†some clue of¬†what to expect, and you may have to fill in a clue somewhere in the puzzle to get a better sense (e.g. the clue states something like “Like the answers in this puzzle” and the answer is “climbing” means that you may need to look in a different direction for the answer).

If you find part of your answers seems right, but not quite fitting the boxes, you could be dealing with a puzzle of this type. In my opinion, these are the most difficult puzzles.

Be hesitant with your pen, but daring with your thoughts.

The clue was “Crabby.” I put down irritated. The answer was¬†irritable.¬†How irritating! ūüėČ

Attempting¬†this puzzle in straight pen is like having unprotected sex on a one-night stand. You might get lucky and the answer is correct, but you’ll likely end up with a hot mess. A scratchy, scribbled mess…

You can get the app, ¬†but I am old school and prefer solving¬†in print so¬†don’t fry my eyes with screen-glare when cross-referencing.

As someone who believes pencils are for drawing, I get you, fellow pen-lover. I actually use a ballpoint pen and write very lightly what I think the answer is. I also check it with the perpendicular clue to make sure the answers line up.

However, to solve this puzzle, you have to put down a clue and see what happens, even when unsure of the answer. Write something and see what happens. For short answers, visually imagine the letters on the grid before writing it down to see if it lines up with the respective across or down answers. If you are shut down, you have not put down any wrong letters.

A clue has many meanings, but only one answer.

A crossword clue ending¬†in a question implies the answer is a play on words. The harder the puzzle, the more these clues appear. But for¬†the Sunday Puzzle, don’t assume a non-question clue is straightforward. Any¬†clue can have an indirect answer. Exceptions are Proper Names / Fill-in-the-Blanks (i.e. straight facts you either know or don’t).. For any level of crossword, I¬†recommend beginning¬†the¬†puzzles with these.

For the Sunday Puzzle, you can’t get too cocky. You could get a clue “Capital of Massachusetts.” ¬†Obviously, the answer is Boston, but it could be an alternate name for the city, like “Beantown.” So when the answer is 8 letters rather than 6, get over that WTF moment and think of what else that answer is called. The clue will not always indicate whether the answer is straightforward, a slang term, etc.

Sometimes the¬†“know-it-or-you-don’t” clues are outside your knowledge base.¬†Even seasoned cruciverbalists¬†encounter¬†this. A 4-letter word for excrement happens…

I suppose one positive side of aging is knowing more. As a younger solver, I felt many clues were before my time.¬†However, I have seen crosswords with¬†very current references and “text-speak” clues younger generations would know. I envision¬†“bae” or “boo” joining the crosswordese ranks for clues such as¬†“dear one” or “main squeeze”.

Also, since 8+ letter answers appear more frequently in this puzzle, don’t assume the solution¬†is only one word. Particularly for plural clues.The probability a¬†plural clue will end in an “S” is still more than 50%, but less of a guarantee.

Enter if you dare…

Solving the Sunday Puzzle is a rewarding experience. It is a great way to pass the time while stretching your mind. Especially over a cup of coffee.

A word of caution: once you start solving these regularly, you will find the easier puzzles offer the mental stimulation of watching paint peel. I recommend crossword booklets that contain many Sunday Puzzles. For the cost of a movie ticket, I get 50+ hours of mind-bliss.

Happy solving!

I owned it Will Shortz! #sundaycrossword #nohelp #crosswordpuzzle

A photo posted by Laura (@lchoyce2010) on

Kitties to Follow on Instagram

Happy Caturday!

Cats have dominated the internet for awhile now. They are the muses for countless memes, launched by the “I can haz cheezburger” Happy Cat. Which¬†then inspired¬†Ceiling Cat, Monorail Cat, Longcat, and the Invisible Bicycle. In 2013, a dour-faced cat named Tardar Sauce gained international fame, endorsements, a movie, and its own agents and lawyers. I have no idea who owns Longcat or Monorail Cat, who had their cult following, but everyone knows about Grumpy Cat.

Instragram is flooded with people who want to make their cats Internet-famous. Why do cats dominate the internet, especially when it seems most¬†people in real life are “dog people?” I suspect it is because when people go out to walk their dog, they get lots of “real-life” likes from those who pass by. But most cats are indoors, and the majority of outdoor cats are unapproachable. Cats do not like to be led along on a leash. But their owners can share their darling fur-babies with an iPhone and and a couple social media accounts.

I love these cats so much that I want to share them with you. Some of these you may have already heard of, but some are less-followed.

Pudge the Cat (@pudgethecat)
Breed: Exotic Shorthair
Location: Minneapolis, MD


A photo posted by Pudge (@pudgethecat) on

This laid-back, patch-worked beauty with a permanent milk mustache has quite a following (100,000 followers). She keeps herself nice and plump to get through those cold Minnesota winters. Got milk to go with this adorable loaf of love?

My Cat Kyle (@mycatkyle)
Breed: Mixed / Domestic Longhair
Location: Unknown

A photo posted by 💜 Kyle 💜 (@mycatkyle) on

Kyle, another milk-mustachioed feline, has not had it easy. He was part of a cluster of 30 cats that were abandoned when their owners were involved in a fatal domestic violence situation. On top of that, Kyle has several medical issues, such as persistent dandruff, missing teeth, partial blindness, and hip dysplasia. His most distinctive feature are his haphazard whiskers, which complement his white stache. This gives him that rough old man look, but you can see the kind heart beneath it. His owners are wonderful people who take care of him, and he is a “spokes-kitty” for domestic violence awareness.

Smoothie The Cat (@smoothiethecat)
Breed: British Longhair
Location: Netherlands

A photo posted by @smoothiethecat on

Her silky, peaches-and-cream fur and striking emerald eyes cause many to deem her the most beautiful cat on the Internet. I have been following Smoothie for several months because she reminds me of my childhood cat (who was also a diva). Her likes have skyrocketed during this time, especially in the last month. She loves to show off her fluffy belly, and who can resist double-tapping that?

Twelve Cats Lady (@12catslady)
Breed: Chinchilla Persian
Location: Japan

Michelle is a full-time cat-mommy to this “dirty dozen”, though how she keeps her place shed-free is beyond me. She adopted three chinchilla Persians, who ended up having nine babies that were too cute to give up. My personal favorite is the black one. What is most impressive is how well they get along and how they all eat together in a row. These kitties are getting rapid Internet notice-ability.

Fuzzy Stinky (@fuzzystinky)
Breed: Mixed
Location: Japan

This multi-cat family from Japan is not as well-known, but this clowder of cuteness and unique name got my follow. These are 13 rescued cats. Most of them are black, with some silver kitties. This would probably be my life if my husband loved cats as much as I do. But in reality, I am not sure if I could deal with all the cat hair and litter boxes.

Kooty the Owl Cat (@kootytheowlcat)
Breed: Persian
Location: Middle East?

With that fluffy black belly and bold yellow eyes, Kooty might dethrone Smoothie as most beautiful Internet cat-diva. I admit that I have a special place in my heart for fluffy black cats because I have two of my own. Kooty bears a striking resemblance to my cat Musashi (below). Kooty is missing a few teeth, but smiles are overrated when you have eyes like that.

Sorry for the self-promotion bit, but did you really think you could get through reading this without posting pictures of my own? Like every pet-mommy out there, I think my fur-babies are the cutest.

Putt the Teacup Cat (@teacuppuff)
Breed: Teacup Persian
Location: Washington, DC

Puff is a golden-haired, teddy bear of a kitty who just wants to snuggle in bed, especially on Mondays. Who could blame him, as I know firsthand how stressful D.C. commuting can be. However, seeing this little cutie makes life a bit more bearable ūüôā

Princess Monster Truck (@princessmonstertruck)
Breed: Domestic Longhair
Location: New York

Princess Monster Truck’s beauty stands in contrast to her trademark overbite. But the whole package works together to create a one cool-looking cat. She even has her own merchandise (T-shirts, etc.). You’d never know she was wandering the streets of New York all alone until her owners found her.

What I find most amazing about these kitties is how diverse they are in their beauty (my bias for fluffy black cats aside). For most, their attractiveness¬†is reflected in their imperfections and unique features, rather than fitting into some cookie-cutter¬†image. It’s a shame that human beings often cannot see this in ourselves and in each other, as there is often so much pressure to conform and hide our flaws.

At the end of the day, cats are cats. They don’t care what you think ūüôā

Cruising the Caribbean Like a Boss

My husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary earlier this month. April¬†is also a milestone birthday for him, so I decided that we should do something more substantial than the classic dinner out and eating cake encrusted in a¬†year’s worth of frosting, we decided to take a cruise.

A view of Cuba at sunrise
A view of Cuba at sunrise

This was my fourth cruise, but a first for my husband. Since we were not sure how he would like it, we found a 5 day Western Caribbean voyage, leaving from Fort Lauderdale and stopping in Belize City and Cozumel. It was perfect…just long enough to really feel like we got away, but not too long in case hubby hated it. With some Dramamine and tips from this “veteran” cruiser, he did just fine and enjoyed himself. Plus, we were on a very large ship (approx. 4,000 pasengers and 1,500 crew).

When it’s your first cruise, there are always things you have to get used to. Despite having gone on several cruises, there are always things you forget about or learn.

First, you wait in line…a lot.¬†It takes about 1 hour from the time you arrive at port until you set foot on the ship to get processed. Then, it takes about the same time to get off the ship. Frequent cruisers or those who book suites can bypass some of the lines.

Once you board, you will realize that there are bars everywhere. Seriously, it’s like Starbucks in D.C. While your food is included, the drinks are not, and the drinks are expensive (unless you get the drink packages, which are only economical if you plan to drink more than 5 drinks a day). We learned that¬†for a 7 day cruise, they sell about 10,000 beers. Which means, on average, each passenger has about 1.5 brewskies a day. Plus Lord¬†knows how many tropical drinks and wine…

Cacao plant at the Mayan Cacao Company, where we learned how chocolate was made by the ancient Mayans (they use a lot less sugar :-) )
Cacao plant at the Mayan Cacao Company, where we learned how chocolate was made by the ancient Mayans (they use a lot less sugar ūüôā )

Speaking of food, there is a lot of it. If you love to eat, this is the way to travel. There is so much food aboard the ship that you wonder where they put it all. A lot of the food is locally sourced, since cruise ships are often in the tropics and in the seas where fresh produce and seafood abound. There was a pizza parlor on the ship that was open from lunch time until 3 AM. Ironically, college kids and pot smokers are not the typical cruise clientele.

To prevent the spread of viruses, there are about 2 hand-sanitizing stations for every¬†bar. So, this is important. There are crew¬†who stand outside each dining room to make sure you “washy washy.” Just a little bit of Purell is better than spending your cruise with noro-virus.

There are lots of duty-free and souvenir shops on cruise ships, so people often stock up on cigarettes, perfume, alcohol, and rum cake. Since ours was one of the larger vessels, it had a “promenade” with stores and restaurants in the center of the ship. Generally, you don’t really save a ton on duty-free, but the best time to get deals on souvenirs¬†is on the last 2 days, where they are trying to get rid of everything.

Mayan Ruins in Cozumel
Mayan Ruins in Cozumel

The cruise line also will have several excursions you can book. There will also be¬†excursions you can book at the port of call that are cheaper. However, some of these can be dodgy. Also, if you book through the cruise line and your tour is late, then the ship will not leave without you. On our recent cruise, we took a riverboat tour on the Belize river to view wildlife. Well, the boat was supposed to leave at 4:00 PM and we missed our last ferry back to the cruise ship. Thankfully, they didn’t forget about us and they were able to send a ferry for us.

The cruise line may stop at a “private island.” These are anything but private. In fact, if 3 ships arrive and dump 3,000 passengers a piece on four square miles of land (of which a fraction is habitable), well…you get the drift.

I definitely recommend taking advantage of the port of calls when you arrive, even if it is just walking around the port city and exploring. I don’t recommend the city tours since they cost around $60 a person, plus I prefer being self-guided and not prodded to shop at the cruise line’s “recommended” stores.

A Margay taking an afternoon nap at the Belize Zoo
A Margay taking an afternoon nap at the Belize Zoo

On¬†the days where we were not at a port of call, we did several of the ship’s on-board activities. We went to most of the evening shows. The comedy shows and the play production were our favorites. On our last day, we also did Big Bang Theory trivia and took a quick dance lesson, where we learned how to cha-cha. Ironically, we learned that we are not the most die-hard Big Bang Theory fans out there, and we can do a ballroom dance without tripping over each other. Also, they will have dance parties and activities well after midnight. Though we were so wiped out from the excursions that we ended up going to bed on the early side. Meanwhile, all the Boomer cruisers were partying hard at the midnight 70’s dance party.

It was a fun time. Cruises are an easy way to travel. While the initial cost is relatively cheap, the extras can add up quite a bit. On average, usually budget for 50% of your cruise fare for these add-ons. I know a lot of people are interested in cruising, but have hesitations, usually with regards to seasickness. You’ll hardly feel the boat moving, but you do feel it more on the upper decks. You may also feel a bit of “phantom” rocking¬†a couple days after the cruise, but it goes away.

There are all kinds of species of iguana in the Caribbean. Our tour guide spotted this dragon-like beauty up in the trees while traveling on the Belize river.

Please feel free to add in the comments any additional tips that might help future and first-time cruisers. And I hope you enjoyed the photos, taken with my new Canon Rebel. Additional photos will be added on the Photos page.

Personality Purgatory: The Talkative Introvert

Ever since Susan Cain came out with her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, more people are declaring their introversion as a badge of honor. There are now tons of blogs, forums and periodicals devoted to introversion and personality theory, which means this is getting more exposure and there¬†are¬†more people I can nerd out with on this subject. Sweet!67865829_18e7655583_m (1)

But, as with any new fad topic that gets ingested by the masses (hello, Presidential election?), the views become polarized, and we forget that the world is actually¬†nuanced and complex. It’s those annoying, chatty extroverts vs. the calm, quiet¬†introverts. And while there are now articles about different kinds of introverts, there seems to be one area the zeitgeist can’t let go of: how much –or how little – we talk determines the camp in which we belong. Some things are like seats on an airplane; no one wants to be in¬†the middle.

Even the title of Susan Cain’s book snarks at those who tend to speak more prolifically; the world is full of obnoxious¬†people who won’t shut up. But what people seem to forget is all introversion and extroversion mean is: where do you derive your energy? In other words, how long can you be around people before you feel worn down?

Now, I am an introvert. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs several times, and am squarely an introvert each time. I prefer low-key,¬†solitary activities. Being in crowds causes me to shut down. When I take the Metro in the morning, if it’s really crowded, just being in the presence of all of those people exhausts me before I even get in the office. I’m not one for loud, crowded environments where you can’t have a good conversation, like a bar.

But here’s the thing. I do like to converse. In fact, I have come to the realization that I talk. A LOT. As in, I ramble, over-share background details, and am long-winded. I have a lot of ideas in my head, and everything feels connected. My mind jumps from one topic to the next, and it’s hard for me to stay focused. My ideas¬†sound awesome¬†in my head,¬†but tortuous to others. I also have a bad habit of thinking out loud, or literally talking myself through something. No, it’s not an invitation to brainstorm or provide unsolicited advice.¬†When I speak aloud, I add concreteness to the craziness¬†that is in my head, and I can action it.

However,  I still have to function the workplace, my marriage, and around others. I recently came across this article from the Ask a Manager blog, which provides great tips on being concise at work. Reading this was a breath of fresh air. People had some awesome insights not just for work, but in general, and there were many people like myself who struggled with this and were also classically introverted.

Now, this article advises people who suffer from¬†verbal diarrhea in both spoken and written word. I will play my introvert card and adamantly state that I am naturally a better writer than speaker. When I write, I can carefully craft what I want to say and omit the fluff. Even writing this piece, I probably deleted 20 instances of the¬†words “just”, “literally”, “like”…along with numerous unnecessary articles (the, that, etc.). However, the¬†Allman Brothers hit¬†Ramblin’ Man (or woman) sums up my oral communication.

I don’t want to extrapolate this quirk to other introverts, but clearly there are others out there who require solitude, but can talk your ear off. So how can this be?

Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Chickadee

As an introvert, I spend a lot of time in my head. I’m always thinking, and my thoughts are like a cute little chickadee jumping quickly from branch to branch. Despite how quickly the stream of consciousness moves in my head, the stream is also deep and meandering. Meaning, I naturally prefer depth instead of breadth, but¬†I will eventually circle back to the original thought. It just takes me a bit longer. Like the Beatles song Long and Winding Road.

When I write, I have more time to let the thoughts playfully jump and explore before getting to the point. I can step back and edit what comes out, ensuring that the point is clear and makes sense to a reader. Unfortunately, a verbal exchange is not like that. There is a time limit to process what to say before it gets awkward. And sometimes, my brain and mouth are not in sync.

Why? Because multitasking!

According to this study, introverts struggle with social exchanges because it’s basically multi-tasking. Not only are you trying to compose your point, you have to gauge social reaction and monitor and change your behavior accordingly. Extroverts, who are better at processing many things, but not as deeply, can naturally respond quicker. This is an advantage for social situations, so they can quickly read a room when talking. The “wow, I need to tone down the fluff and get to the point” alarm sounds more quickly.

Today’s world demands so much of us, even to the point¬†the most extroverted reach their breaking point. We are hooked to our smartphones and computers, which provide information instantaneously. The downside is that it’s programming our world and our brains to function this way. We can adapt to a point, but we are not computers. Perhaps this is why Susan Cain’s book and #netflixandchill are¬†so popular. All this stimulation is making introversion vogue.

But not all introverts are alike. True, some of us just prefer not to talk or naturally have better filters. We¬†love to talk, we just don’t like the¬†noise.


A Brief History of the Perception of Time

Lately there seems to be a lot of buzz about librarians getting into data science-type roles, and mastery of creating infographics is becoming a hot skill. While standard office programs like Excel and PowerPoint have basic chart tools, they are very institutional in presentation. With so much data out there, being able to capture it in an engaging visual is important. Infographics are taking over statistical reporting everywhere from cost of living around the world to how to keep food fresh in your fridge.

Last year at a Research Staff meeting, a coworker brought up the use of a free*¬†infographics tool called Canva, which she heard about at a law library conference. As a bit of a graphic design nerd, I hopped on to create an account and play around. They have a lot of free layouts and sizes for various print and social media posting, and a decent sized art library. I personally did not find it difficult to navigate, but I have experience using programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. However, I would say anyone with any basic image editing experience¬†will not experience¬†a steep learning curve. But for those of us who are used to all the bells and whistles of Photoshop and Illustrator…don’t get excited. You will find what you can do with this application more limited.

I thought Canva¬†would be perfect to illustrate a comic idea that I’ve had in my head for a while. You know how some things just seem to drag while other things seem to go by in a blink of an eye, irrespective of the actual amount of time? Waiting at¬†the bus stop for five minutes feels like torture, while you wonder where two days of weekend went (all you have to do is turn around on Friday and then you see Monday again). So…I plotted it all out on this graph.

Click to read
Click for full size image

Maybe you can relate to some of these, maybe you can’t. Like it says…time is relative.

Granted, it still took me a while to do, but having the pre-set library of graphics made it a lot easier than trying to create this thing in Illustrator from scratch. I am sure serious designers would think I am cheating, but…who has time for that ;-)?

*Layouts or graphics that do not state they are Free on them have an extra charge.