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North Carolina: Sightseeing in Topsail, Wilmington, and Durham!

It’s been three days since I got back to California. While I definitely missed the San Francisco fog while I was in North Carolina, now I’m missing being able to walk across the street and onto the beach.

It was my first time in the south, and my first time getting to dip my toes into the Atlantic. I’d never heard of Topsail before this trip, and if you haven’t, either, just know that it’s like every cute little east coast beach town you’ve seen in the movies.

I went with family to go visit more family, so most of our time was spent visiting, but we did see a few places that blew my mind in a variety of ways.

The first was The Copper Penny in Wilmington. Now, I wasn’t expecting much, since my North Carolinian relatives called it “pub food,” but then they mentioned that they just wrapped filming part of an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives there a short while ago and I started to get excited.

Y’all.

It was so good. We ended up getting an order of their handmade spring rolls and chose the “get both” option, so we got 4 southwest black bean rolls and 4 cheesesteak rolls. I thought I’d died and gone straight to heaven. I only got to have one of each, and both of them were so amazing I would honestly go back to North Carolina just to pick up a few orders of The Copper Penny’s spring rolls. The egg roll wrapper was crispy and perfectly fried without being greasy, and the insides of both kinds of roll had this amazing creamy texture.

I also ended up getting a spring mix salad because I was hungry but not starving and needed some greens, and it did not disappoint. I don’t tend to order salad in restaurants because I find it tedious to eat, and if I’m paying for food, I usually want there to be a little more protein in it. But that didn’t matter, mostly because the candied pecans absolutely stole the show. I don’t know how to describe them, but they were so crispy and delicious and filling that I actually felt completely satisfied by the time I ate my last bite of salad. The raspberry vinaigrette definitely helped tie it all together.

What I’m saying is, is that if The Copper Penny can make a salad that makes me swoon, you need to go. Wilmington is a fun town with tons of beautiful historic buildings and I’d love to explore it more, but if I ever get a chance to go back to NC, I’m hitting up The Copper Penny first thing.

On our last day on Topsail (pronounced Top-sull by locals, which is weird, but whatever), we drove to this donut shop that every single one of our family members and friends who live anywhere near Topsail wouldn’t stop talking about. Now I know why.

It’s called The Fractured Prune and they do donuts differently than anywhere else I’ve ever been. They make each donut to order and fry it right as you ask, so when you bite into your donut moments later, it’s still the warmest, freshest donut you’ve ever had the pleasure of taking a bite of. I’m a big fan of maple bacon donuts, so that’s what I got. It ended up being the best cake donut I’ve ever had, with maple glaze and cinnamon sugar topped with crispy bacon bits. I could’ve eaten a whole dozen of those alone. Everybody else raved about theirs, too, and we got a pretty wide variety of flavors. The experience of eating a fresh, warm, deep-fried cake donut is stellar, and if you’re near any of their other locations in other parts of the US, please take advantage of that fact. For me.

Our last major stop before our trip was Duke University, specifically the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. I’ve been to quite a few botanical gardens and arboretums, but I was still absolutely blown away by these ones. I really enjoyed the historic gardens area (the ponds are so pretty! So many cool trees! The really cool and slightly ominous Patrick Dougherty art installation!) and the tulip gardens were absolutely stunning.

It was a short trip, so I know there’s still a ton left that I want to explore in North Carolina, but I’m so glad I got to see what I did!

Where are your favorite spots in North Carolina? Also, what is Waffle House like?? I couldn’t convince my family to stop at one and I’m still a little bummed.

Pushing Through a Reading Dry Spell

In the final months of my undergrad, I was dying for the freedom to read whatever I wanted. I dreamt of a day when I would go back to all those books that had been collecting dust for years, waiting for when I had the brain space to read them. At the time, it seemed like the only thing missing that would allow me to fully dive back into reading was free time.

Well, I have free time now. So what have I been reading?

Not much.

I’ve been able to delve into some nonfiction books. I’ve really been digging Come As You Are over the last couple weeks. I listened to a good portion of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up before 428374928 different life things got in the way. I was also really enjoying What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You on my commute to and from work, but my phone battery just isn’t what it used to be. The point is, I never quite seem to finish the books I start. The last book I finished was Turtles All the Way Down (which I reviewed here), which felt like a weird exceptional blip in this reading dry spell I’ve been having.

A huge part of the problem is that I read for a living. I read books as I look for writers to reach out to, and then read those books again as I proofread them. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reading dozens (or potentially even hundreds) of submissions to the writing contest I’m running for work.

When I’m not working, the idea of reading seems entirely unappealing. I’m much more interested in curling up on the couch and watching/yelling at Mad Men or attempting to take over the world in Europa IV for the 574356th time of just sitting quietly on my phone and scrolling through Pinterest. This feels like a moral failing to me, having been an English major and a voracious reader since I was a toddler.

So, what’s a proofreader and webnovel manager to do?

I don’t have a plan in place just yet, but once I start figuring out how to get out of my tech- and work-induced reading funk, y’all will be the first to know.

How do you handle reading dry spells? Any tips for keeping up a reading habit? Leave a comment below!

March Update

I finally feel like I’m out of the weeds and able to breathe more easily. Literally.

Back in September, I started complaining about just generally feeling gross. At first I thought it was just my generally terrible immune system, which likes to fall apart for about 6 months out of the year, leaving me with bronchitis that lasts for months and a constant feeling of malaise. From September through February, I had three or four low-grade fevers and could not stop coughing. Strangely, it didn’t seem like the bronchitis I usually get after a cold. It was mostly due to a constant tickle in my throat that never seemed to go away. It started getting hard to eat certain things because I felt like they’d just end up getting stuck in my throat the way popcorn kernels do.

I went to urgent care twice in about five weeks, and they were scratching their heads over what it might be. I took one strep culture, two rapid strep tests, one test for mono, and was prescribed antibiotics. Nothing helped. In between both those visits, I noticed my tonsils looking almost impossibly swollen, which explained the “something in my throat” feeling. I went to my usual doctor after about three months when it still wasn’t going away, hoping she might at least be able to confirm whether or not it was viral (which still felt weird, since I should’ve gotten over a virus much more quickly). She said my tonsils were really swollen and recommended I see an ENT, because she couldn’t confirm exactly what was wrong.

I finally got to the ENT, feeling exhausted by the whole thing and like a weenie for not being able to fight some basic infection. But I was a little heartened when he told me that my tonsils looked really, really swollen and he recommended I get them taken out, as the infection seemed unlikely to clear up since it just kept recurring month after month.

That led up to me getting my tonsils taken out last month, and I’m now starting week 4 of recovery. The first week after the surgery was pretty awful. It hurt less than I thought it would but also much more than I thought it would, if that makes sense. Drinking water hurt. Eating ice cream hurt. Accidentally eating something spicy was super painful, 0/10 do not recommend.

Luckily, everything is basically normal now except for the fact that sneezing hurts way more than you’d think it would. I can finally sleep properly because I’m not snoring anymore, and can eat like a regular human being again for the first time in almost half a year. You wouldn’t think I’d be super excited to have salad, but here we are!

I’ve been celebrating being tonsil-free for a couple weeks now, but my partner and I  culminated those celebrations this weekend with a few days full of frozen margaritas. (We… may or may not have finished an entire bottle of tequila this weekend.) I’m still trying to perfect my recipe, but I think my favorite of all the different combinations I put together was a strawberry-guava margarita that was absolutely stellar. I’ll have to take pictures next time I make them. There wasn’t much time to take photos this time around because they came out so delicious they honestly didn’t stay in the glass all that long.

After a weekend of enjoying margaritas and being cozy at home, I finally feel a little more ready to attempt to conquer the world again. Expect to hear a whole lot more from me in the coming weeks.

[Review] Turtles All the Way Down

Mental illness is part of my everyday life. On a good day, it’s quiet background noise, a voice whispering cruel things that my rational self is able to ignore and brush aside. On a bad day, my nerves are jangling, waiting for my anxiety to pounce again and force me into a series of repetitive thoughts that get harder to control as every new thought appears. On a bad day, my brain will settle on something to obsess over and pick, pick, pick at it until I am struggling to get through my day.

So when I heard that John Green, master of writing relatable teenagers with varying degrees of social and/or plain old anxiety, was writing a book with a main character with OCD… I was pretty excited. But I’ve strayed from reading YA in recent years, as I am getting to the point where they no longer feel like they’re for me. Reading about kids in high school feels like reading about an alien planet I once lived on but have no desire to go back to. So I filed the knowledge away to be taken advantage of at another time, figuring I’d maybe read it someday when I had time.

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Luckily, my partner knows me better than I often know myself and put Turtles All the Way Down on hold at our local library branch before the book was even released. (Frugal and romantic! He knows the way to my heart, y’all.) It took a few weeks before a copy was available, but as soon as it was, I started reading.

And… had to stop not too far in.

It wasn’t because the book was bad. Oh, no. It was because it was too good. Reading it spiked my anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t have OCD, but the main character Aza’s fears of germs and disgust of things like the process of eating and digestion, and her constant questioning of whether or not she was real felt extremely familiar.

I powered through it, though. There were so many portions of the story that pinged some core feeling inside me. Aza’s struggle with physical intimacy because of invasive thoughts about germs, her descriptions of “thought spirals” and questions about what controls our thoughts and whether our thoughts are us or not, and the way stressors in her life eventually get her to this point where she feels as if her control over her thoughts is even more limited than normal – so much of it felt like things I had experienced, and the writing is visceral enough that sometimes I had to stop and catch my breath for a minute and remind myself that I was okay.

However, while it felt amazing and made me felt seen to have these kinds of trials put to paper, the thing that really made Turtles feel important was its focus on healing. Note that I don’t say “recovery.” If you’re looking for a book where everything ends very neatly and the main character conquers their mental illness entirely and everything is hunky-dory, don’t expect Turtles to be that book. Aza is not perfect at the end of the novel by any stretch of the imagination. But she has taken the time to use the tools at her disposal to be the best she can be, and that was a deeply important message for me to read. This is a book about healing hurts and knowing that sometimes, even though you have healed, your pain can sometimes try to come back to haunt you, and that’s not the end of the world if you have the right tools to handle the pain when it arrives. It’s also about life going on, and how, despite mental illness often being an unwelcome guest that will likely never leave you, you can still go on to live your life and do all the things you dream of doing.

I felt like John Green summed up that sentiment really well at the end of his acknowledgments.

Lastly, Dr. Joellen Hosler and Dr. Sunil Patel have made my life immeasurably better by providing the kind of high-quality mental health care that unfortunately remains out of reach for too many. My family and I are grateful. If you need mental health services in the United States, please call the SAMHSA treatment referral helpline… It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

Despite some meandering plot lines and a kind of slowness that drags portions of the book down, I still think this is, if not one of the best, then one of the most important books I’ve read in a while.

What’s a Spice Witch?

As a kid, I was really obsessed with scents. I have a pretty strong nose and scent is really powerful for me. I picked up books from the library about making your own perfume and even dabbled in making some of my own from empty perfume bottles I’d find at the thrift store or these cute apothecary-style bottles I found at Michaels, some rubbing alcohol, and a variety of essential oils. I’d make my scents to suit the individual I was making it for.

My interest in making these homemade perfumes (which tended to dissipate much too quickly in the rubbing alcohol solution) dwindled over time. But I was still really attached to scent and the thought of being able to make beautiful perfumes. I just wasn’t entirely sure how to go about making those scents stick. I started focusing less on making gifts for others and more on creating a scent profile for myself. Jasmine was my favorite for a long time. All of my products would have that scent. I would wash my hair with jasmine-scented shampoo and conditioner, use jasmine-scented body washes and lotions, and put a few drops of jasmine essential oil on my pulse points and in my hair each morning.

Eventually, I realized that this regimen was a bit overwhelming and all the chemically-scented products were not exactly great for my eczema-prone skin. I relaxed a little and settled for reading Jitterbug Perfume rather than making my own for a while.

Then came college and being simultaneously broke as hell and also sensitive to every product known to man. I couldn’t find a deodorant that didn’t make me itch and burn like crazy and that also didn’t make it seem like I was neglecting my personal hygiene. I tried tons of different products and none of them worked. So, I returned to my crafty, kitchen-focused DIY roots and started digging through different recipes for homemade deodorant. I ended up using this one. It was great. I felt like I’d finally figured out a solution.

Then, a light bulb went off. I had all of this stuff to make this deodorant. Wouldn’t it make sense for me to make extra and try and sell it? After all, I was a broke college kid and every bit of extra cash would make a difference. I could sell deodorant, and maybe even solid perfume! I could get back to my perfume-obsessed roots! I could finally take the time to learn how to make bath bombs and candles and all kinds of fun, naturally-scented things!

It didn’t take long for me to start setting up an Etsy store. But I needed a name.

I needed a name that would describe me and my product. I needed something that was cute, simple, earthy, and memorable. I don’t remember what the first thing I thought of was, but it obviously didn’t check off the “memorable” category. After a few months selling my product, I felt like I needed a new name. My boyfriend and I were discussing the idea of there being different types of witches. I said I thought if I were to be a witch at all, I would be a kitchen witch, focused on bringing in good things into my home and life through food and cooking, working charms into soups and bread dough for good luck, happiness, health and the like. There would also be lots of gardening involved. He said that while that fit okay, there was something missing. After a few moments of thinking about it, he said, “You’re a spice witch.”

“A spice witch?” I was very skeptical.

He explained that a spice witch was someone who worked their magic by combining different scents into specific objects, like bath bombs and perfumes. Spice witches use scents to shape the world around them.

I loved this idea, and ended up changing my shop name to Spice Witch. I felt like it was fitting, and like the Spice Witch moniker could also encompass many of the parts of my identity that I would have categorized as falling under the “kitchen witch” umbrella.

My Etsy shop is closed indefinitely at this point and has been for a while, but I still consider myself a spice witch, and I feel like I probably always will.

How to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Pro, Part 2: Know Thyself

For part one of this series, “The Basics,” click here.

We all have quirks in the way we write. For some of us (*cough* me), those quirks include long sentences, overuse of commas, and overuse of em dashes. One of my best friends always used to mistype “minute” as “minuet,” not because she didn’t know how to spell the word, but because her fingers tended to jumble up the E and the T. Other people tend to mistype certain phrases – “all of a sudden” becomes “all the sudden,” for example.

Quirks like these are perfectly normal, and sometimes they can even be endearing. Unfortunately, a lot of people’s written quirks are pretty grating and can affect their audience’s experience negatively. Luckily, with some extra attention to detail, most of your more annoying quirks/repeated misspellings/regularly broken grammar rules will disappear.

So, how do you fix things?

The first step to fixing these issues is really analyzing both your own writing and other people’s writing. If you’re a novelist, read some high-quality novels and really take time to look at how they word things. If you’re a blogger, read some blogs written by professionals that have a really strong grasp of English and see how they put things together. Once you’ve done that, go back and look at your own writing. Older pieces will be better for this, as you’ve had some time away from them and they’ll feel a bit more like they were written by someone else. This will help you see your writing with new eyes.

Once you’re looking at your own writing, get really nitpicky about it. Are you using that word correctly? Are your paragraphs and sentences too long? Too short? Are they all one length with little variation? Are you using extra words you don’t need? (“Just” and “suddenly” are often used unnecessarily.)

Identifying these shortcomings can be difficult if you haven’t practiced it or if English isn’t your first language, but it’s a vital part of becoming a better writer and self-editor. Finding out what mistakes you make most often in your writing will help in two important ways. First, it will make your existing writing higher-quality and easier to read. Secondly, it will keep you from making those same mistakes in the future. This will allow you to update old posts and make them easier to read and increase audience engagement in the future by ensuring readers aren’t turned off by easily-avoided errors. With a little editing, everyone’s happier!

2017 Wrap-Up and Looking Ahead to 2018

It has now been nine months since I started this blog. My inaugural post was about the beer trap I put together to try and fight off the snails in my community garden plot. Over the course of the next few months, I wrote more about gardening, body positivity, and minimalism. I’m proud of all of the writing I did over the course of 2017. I was more consistent than I expected that I would be and found a way to discuss a broad range of topics. Every time I was running out of ideas, my gajillion lists of possible blogging topics I had squirreled away and my partner helped me figure out something to say. 2017 was a good year for this blog.

I am hoping to improve some things on this blog in 2018. I want to post more regularly and increase the quality of each post. As far as specific ideas I’d like to cover, I would love to make more posts about:

  • cooking!
  • San Francisco hiking, history, and cool places to visit
  • running a small business/flipping
  • financial health posts

I have a lot more ideas, but those four topics are parts of my daily life that I haven’t really tapped into and would like to discuss a bit more.

On a personal, non-blog-related note, I’d like to take a moment to say I’m pretty proud of what I accomplished this year. I finished up my last semester of school, graduated summa cum laude, and was offered a full-time position at a company I really like working for pretty soon after that. I’ve learned a lot of new things at work and am getting better at what I do all the time. I’ve become a better editor and a stronger communicator.

Outside of work, I’ve worked on strengthening my relationship with my partner and also becoming more comfortable being independent. Without school in the picture for the moment, my life looks a lot different and I’m still working on figuring out exactly who I am and what I want to prioritize in my life. 2017 has been the year of having enough space in my life to figure all that out.

I am hoping 2018 will be a year of finding my groove and generating a lot of forward momentum. There’s lots to do and learn and I’m ready for it.