things I want to tell you

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whether you’re my mum, my siblings or my friend far away.
i have devised strategies for injecting joy into my day, in order to survive this not very sane way of living:
  1. i walk down the street and look with minute detail at the blades of grass, the texture of the brick. the blossoms still hanging on, the shape of the clouds in the sky, and for that 3 minutes or so, i am refreshed anew
  2. whenever i have the good fortune to be alone in the lift, i blast a jazzy song in my headphones and dance exuberantly (keeping a close eye for the doors opening!)
  3. i smile warmly and speak kindly to everyone i come across (which sometimes requires a bit of effort), and invariably they respond in kind
  4. i send little emails to my professors when i come across an article pertinent to their teaching, or if i really appreciated something in their lecture
  5. i give myself time off when i feel i really need it, accepting that energy ebbs and flows, and that things will inevitably get done in the end
  6. i read books unrelated to class and they remind me that i am not, and in fact am never, alone
  7. i make silly comments to myself and others and embrace humour wherever I find it, even in lame professor jokes (honestly, especially in lame professor jokes)
  8. i bask in the satisfaction of every assignment completed, and congratulate myself for it even as i start prepping for the next one
other things:
– it’s 25 days until I am free
– 27 days until I see my mum
– 34 days until I graduate
– 35 days until I move to New York
— all coming around fast!
one final thing – i may not be like, feeling easy breezy with all this work and pressure, and yet I am still thriving.
I am in a state where I am really accepting myself and my qualities for who I am. I’m not going to go along with anything that isn’t right. i’m full of warmth and love and support for everyone around me. and I’m achieving these moments of culmination that take my breath away and bring tears to my eyes. I’m doing it, I really am.
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reminders to myself

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ah yes, it’s that time again. when we get into the business end of the semester.
every time, i’m irked by the limitations of time, that my readings start falling by the wayside, that i can’t devote quite enough time to that paper or presentation, that some interesting talks and activities are no longer an option, because i need that time for more pressing things.
i am smart, and i can critique, and I have knowledge, and I can write with clarity and coherence, and yet – grad school is still very, very hard. trying to meet every expectation perfectly is like jumping on a trampoline and trying to burst up through the atmosphere to orbit around earth – not possible.
I feel like i’m trying to strike this deft balance where i’m getting through 70% of each class rather than 100 in one and 40 in another – yet nothing is ever quite that straightforward.
I remind myself:
  1. of all the alums you talked to, who are impossibly bright and dedicated and driven (more so than you!), they all told you how difficult and overwhelming it was
  2. grad school is supposed to be stretching and challenging. it’s part of why you wanted to do it
  3. in the future, you’re not going to look back on any medium grades and be devastated. as long as you don’t fail anything, it’s not going to matter later on
  4. you have two months of this whole thing left (as in, ever). it’s going to fly
  5. it’s good you are ready to leave. if you didn’t want to leave school, that probably means you should be doing a PhD, which is not at all in the current plan. so basically, you can be pleased you’re on the right track
  6. the fact that you doubt and question yourself means that you are human, and thoughtful, and trying your best to do the right thing in all areas of your life. you want to do the right thing as a daughter, and a sister, and a friend, and a girlfriend, and a student, and an employee. you have integrity and a sense of doing right by others, and doing right by yourself.
  7. you have never set yourself the goal of doing anything truly extraordinary. you aim to set no world records, get on no rich lists or power lists. you want to shine as yourself and be true to your nature: nothing more, nothing less.
  8. sometimes you wonder to yourself what you could achieve were you truly pushed to your limits, because you fear that you coast and don’t push hard enough in assessments and activities and networks. and yet, sweet girl, you have accomplished a lot, and your resume alone is pretty cool. don’t try to persuade yourself out of the joy of an ordinary, balanced life.
  9. you are you. you are always going to be you, you’re not going to get transformed into anything else. everything in your future is going to demand the same things of you: your bravery, your hard work, your grace, your light and open heart. every day you do this, you are practising for the rest of your life

october 31

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As a graduate student, over the past year or so, I have started to hold opinions on china, east asia, government policies and economic strategies.
But I do so lightly, gently. I chose, no, rather felt on an intuitive level, that any opinion or view could be refuted by opposing information. I don’t know if I have ever been a person with truly strong, stubborn views (certainly not compared to some people I know), but I think the combination of understanding economics (taught by professors who though subscribing to free market views, freely admitted their shortcomings and limitations), speaking three languages, experiencing living in different countries and interacting with different people, something inside of me protests against a truly dogmatic or one sided view of the world. I inhabit the grey, keenly aware of the shifting factors and effects that cannot be summed up with a pithy headline. once reached, my opinions still come with a silent “and yet” addendum.
i continue to feel this way in DC. something inside me rebels against too neat, too tidy an argument (though I certainly can appreciate an elegant concept or through line). writing off a country, a ruler, even a policy as wholly bad is not for me – i always try to pry out the sometimes minute seed of good that an otherwise useless or awful thing has caused, and the reverse for something good.
the world is too complex for our brains. it troubles me when we forget that, when we think a tidy narrative of racism, populism, ideology, religion or cynicism explains it all. just existing in this world and trying to understand it is a true act of cognitive dissonance that we have to bravely embrace, and not resort to low tactics. we have to be willing to say this is confusing and unexplainable and I will go on doing my best anyway. I will continue to give things the benefit of the doubt, to stay open, to hold room for the unimaginable. To admit you don’t have the answers and live the questions all the same.
So, I will go on with my innumerable readings, my talks and my conversations, holding the information in my brain, trying to make sense of it all, even as I know I cannot. Just trying is the aim, as it invariably has been, is and will be, in every fragment of my life.

a day in the life

This is a little snapshot into my life as a grad student in Washington DC, as taken from tuesday 25 october. Not every day is like this – I work 3 shifts a week as a student worker in admissions, go to a lot of talks given by experts at school, and obviously do things outside of school too haha, but this is a little taste of a tuesday in my life!

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7:30 am: I wake up, get dressed and head downstairs. First stop, coffee and breakfast. I make porridge and then sit and work out what I have on today with the help of my diary. I set out tasks, sip my coffee and enjoy my porridge. I then have a read of my current book, Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. I only have the last chapter to go so I manage to finish it.

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9:00 am: I walk down to our gorgeous neighbourhood library, which is less than a ten minute walk from our house – what a luxury. I return the books I’ve read, borrow the ones they’ve got on hold for me (What I Know For Sure by Oprah and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl – I’m on a memoir kick at the moment). I sit down at one of their lovely wooden tables in a sunny spot and do some equity market reading for my class the next day on my laptop.

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11:00 am: My laptop is low on battery so I pack up to go. I walk a circuitous route home, enjoying the pretty street art, gorgeous turning leaves and stellar blue sky. Once home, I finely slice some cabbage I have in the fridge and stirfry it along with cracked black pepper, some dried chilli and some salt. I top it with some crunchy breadcrumbs. I also make a slice of peanut butter and honey toast for good measure, with some of my beloved Alvarado Street Bakery bread which is the closest thing I can find to vogels here.

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12:00 pm: I sit out on our upstairs balcony to eat it, and enjoy sunning myself and watching the crazy squirrels racing along the telephone lines.

1:20 pm: After doing work in the living room, it’s time to head into school for my two o’clock class. I end up biking to school in convoy with my flatmate which is novel because we go her route which is a little different to my usual. We park up and head into our respective classes.

I have comparative politics, which goes by fairly quickly. I spent a while on the readings this week, so I’m able to contribute by answering some questions. After class, I walk down the road to one of the other uni buildings and bump into an acquaintance from Nanjing. We catch up for a while and then I head into the cafeteria – it’s the weekly free cookie hour. I snag one for now and another for later and then head back to find my bike. I usually have a tutorial from 6-7pm on a Tuesday but we don’t have one this week because of midterms, so it is a nice treat to head home much earlier than usual.

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5:00 pm: I bike down 16th street which has an extraordinarily large amount of old, gorgeous churches. While I’m stopped at the lights I can’t help take a photo of this one illuminated in the golden light. I head down the road to Trader Joes. I lock my bike up outside and zip in to get groceries for the dinner I’m cooking my flatmates tonight. I walk out awkwardly as my arms are filled with the groceries I bought, but I stow them successfully in my bike basket and take off again – uphill this time.

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5:30 pm: I arrive home and get cooking. I’m making sausage casserole with rice and peas, a family classic. I have a cooking rotation with two of my flatmates, so 3 nights a week we have dinner together. It’s always a treat to have dinner cooked for you, and they always cook something yummy and different.

6:00 pm: while the casserole is in the oven, I sit down with some of my flatmates for an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show we’re currently working our way through and just loving – we’re currently in season 3 (of 7!) We watch Buffy slay vampires and deal with teenage angsty friendships and it’s great fun.

7:10 pm: dinner’s ready. I dish up and we eat together at the table. We have a glass of wine in celebration of papers submitted and midterms completed which quite rightly deserves a celebration.

8:00 pm: I get back to my readings and keep working on those, writing detailed notes. I’m going to have to refer back to them anyway when I write my paper on the capital markets in China, so I may as well make it easier on myself and figure out the key points now.

9:45 pm: the content of the readings is no longer sinking in and I head up to have a shower. I put on my pjs and start reading one of my library books I Take You by Eliza Kennedy. It’s funny and gripping and feminist and I can’t put it down.

11:45 pm: I notice the time with a start and quickly put the book down, set my alarm, turn off the light and fall asleep, ready for another big day of uni.

thoughts on living overseas

i was at dinner last night with friends who have all moved overseas and one of them said something that really struck me. she said she wished she could tell everyone back home to go and live in another country for a while, as she just thinks it’s so important for your development (especially as we were all in our early twenties) and after thinking it over i definitely agree.

obviously travel itself is great for your confidence and resilience, but i also think making a life for yourself in a place is uniquely special in a way that a backpacking trip doesn’t necessarily equate to. making your own routines, finding your locals, making new friends, trying a new activity or hobby (me doing zumba and volunteering with kids in nanjing) all are part of making a life in a place. and when you push through the stress and the administrative dramas that characterise the first phase (along with excitement and new discoveries, naturellement) you find yourself happy in a place that you never knew you could be.
i.e. me in Nanjing: look at me! i’m away from my countrymen, not able to do the things i love (get books out from the library, cook, go to barre class, hang out with my family) and yet I’m ok. better yet, i’m happy!

and then when i left china. all the things that i felt so keenly being ripped away from me. street eats, constant language breakthroughs, pudgy babies all around, zumba, my new friends, fun conversations with chinese people all the time…. those were all things i just loved!

and yet. in london i’m back with my uni friends, back cooking (and loving it), finding new places and neighbourhoods, finding enjoyment in earning and being a productive member of society again, being in a multicultural atmosphere, enjoying architectural splendour and fun day trips.

and i realise. there are so many ways to be happy. there are so many ways to build a rich, full life.
life staying always in one place can feel one dimensional. and i’m not saying it is, but we forget about all the rich possibilities and choices we have available to us. moving somewhere new gives a new lens to view the world through, opens everything up and puts it all on the table. and makes us realise what we can do without and surprisingly enough be ok without.

it is bittersweet. right now I know that all the people i love and care about will never all live in the same place with me. that’s a hard thought. i’ll always be a bit behind in their life, communicating through social media and the odd message rather than in person hugs and walks and long lazy dinners. but how lucky am I that i can visualize a life in four cities (chch, dunedin, nanjing and london) and from those countless more, since i know what it is to pack everything and go somewhere new and start afresh and succeed?

on replay: open heart, open mind and you’ll be fine.

ps – i feel i’ve learned so much in my short life of 22 years. can’t imagine the lessons and wisdom the next 60 or so have in store for me!

i’m back!

hi! it’s been a bit, hasn’t it?

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…ok, more than a bit!

would it placate you to tell you that the last 4 months have been action packed and contained my 21st birthday, a graduation, two 21st party weekends in wellington and friends visiting Christchurch?

no? how about homemade gingernut icecream, mango tart, yeasted naan, sweet and savoury scrolls, a midwinter christmas dinner and a indian feast?

now I’m just teasing you, aren’t I.

seriously though, I’m well. and filled with happiness and joy to be blogging again, which is just as well, because..

blooming anna is going international!

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Nanjing, China to be exact.

and i can’t wait to share my adventures in the middle kingdom with you. I’m practising my tones, packing my bags and trying to squeeze every last bit of family and friend bonding, new zealand scenic appreciation and delicious flat whites into the last few weeks.

the last 8 months have been fantastic – so special to have this time at home which i may not have had if the terms hadn’t worked out the way they did.

of course cooking has been a great joy this year – always such a treat to use the home kitchen rather than the grotty flat ones i’ve had to contend with in recent years. it’s just as well as i won’t have access to one in China (I KNOW, how will i cope?!)

so, i’ll be back very soon with my no doubt scintillating thoughts on packing (aka the worst chore/activity there is), travel, and my impressions of CHINA!

i’ll leave you with the recipe for mango tart, which was absolutely superb and one of the tastiest desserts i have ever made! I made it for my mum’s birthday, and it went down a treat. this recipe inspired me, and then little and friday plus this lady online helped me narrow down the exact execution.

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Mango, lemongrass and coconut tart

lemon and coconut sweet pastry
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup toasted thread coconut
1 cup icing sugar
pinch of salt
250g butter, well chilled and cubed
1 egg
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest

Blitz flour, sugar and salt briefly in food processor. add butter and process to breadcrumbs. add all other ingredients and pulse until it forms a ball.
turn out, gather to a dough and wrap in plastic wrap. let it rest for at least an hour.
you will use 2/3 of the pastry. either remove 1/3 immediately or roll out with this in mind. roll out to 3mm thickness and line a removable bottom fluted tart pan.
rest for an hour in the fridge.
blind bake for 15 mins with beans/paper in. remove filling and bake for another 10 mins.
allow to cool completely.

lemongrass custard
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 stalks lemongrass, sliced
600ml cream
1/4 cup cornflour

heat cream and lemongrass in a saucepan to a simmer. turn heat off and let steep for 20 mins. strain and return cream to saucepan.
beat egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until very pale and fluffy. add a small amount of hot cream, whisk to temper, then add the rest of the cream in increments.
pour back into the saucepan. place over a low heat and stir constantly. it is VERY EASY to curdle. when it comes to boil, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely in the fridge.

topping
3 perfectly ripe mangoes

peel mangoes with a potato peeler. Slice the cheeks and the other sides off. slice into half moon shapes 2 mm thick – you are aiming for delicate and flexible but not floppy.

dollop lemongrass custard evenly into tart shell and spread with a knife. arrange mango in rose formation.

serve! and wait for the compliments to pour in (it is just so good).

it’s good to be back in this space, friends!

lots of love, Anna, BA, DipLang, 21 years of age (how official this all sounds!)

the art of alone time

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being a raging ENFP, I’m not terribly good at being by myself, especially for long stretches of time. the uncomfortable feeling I’m told introverts get after being social for too long is what i get when i’m alone for too long – insufferable cabin fever. this used to manifest itself hugely around exam time, where hours spent being silent studying in the library would drive me cuckoo. frankly put, i want to be around (friendly) others most of the time.

however, as I get older, i’m learning to appreciate time spent alone. this was put to the test when my mum and sister went away for the easter weekend, and i had the house to myself for 4 days. Now, i was working for two of them, (hence why i didn’t join the trip to my favourite place), but two days and three evenings is quite sizeable for this extrovert.
but anna! I hear you ask. just because your mum and sister were away, don’t you know anyone else in christchurch? well yes, i do, but easter is a time of going away/spending quality time with your family that i feel like it would be weird to try and arrange social activities during it – not to mention that my two days off were good friday and easter sunday, on which nearly everything closes. popsicle date at the petrol station, anyone?

so – what have i been up to? relishing my time! while typically i greatly dislike cooking for one, we had lamb shanks in the freezer, which i just love. I used a great annabel langbein recipe to make them and also whipped up baked apples with custard. i hadn’t made the latter before, but we had cooking apples and i was intrigued – and they turned out great! the skin of the apple gets crunchy and flaky, kind of like a baked potato, and the inside turns to pure tangy fluff. and i guess the custard doesn’t hurt either ;)

my mum, feeling guilty at abandoning me, also left me lots of other treats, so come monday i may have trouble fitting into my work clothes!

to accompany this supreme comfort food, i read a dear katie fforde book, who i can always rely on for a sweet heart warming read, watched nz bachelor (i’d saved two episodes expressly for the purpose), and discovered a new web series (to make up for the hole in my life after finishing the lizzie bennet diaries and emma approved).

……i would also like to point out that i did laundry, went for a few runs, cleaned my room and vacuumed the house for when my mum reads this post ;)

my alone time also doubled as learning time. it’s very easy to get by without knowing how to do maintenance things around the house when you live with a. parents or b. boys, and as I have spent my entire life with one or the other, i duly know very little about all this.

BUT! the gods evidently decided this weekend i would learn real life adult skills, when the gas (that powers our stove) ran out on me one day, and a fuse tripped the next. to youtube i turned initially, before admitting defeat and phoning my mum. however, next time these things occur, i will be equipped and ready – i’ll even volunteer to be the one to sort it out! i’m still a little hazy on the whole tire changing thing (despite observing it being done twice), but, as I’m still on my learners, I have no doubt the time will come the very first time I’m driving alone (when i finally get my restricted licence).

i also took the opportunity to give the fridge a going over. with my food bag, we use up the majority of our groceries at the end of each week, unless we have leftovers from the recipes or bought extra stuff. I found beetroot, broccoli and radishes in the fridge and decided a salad was in order. riffing on a couple of ripe recipes, and stuff i’d seen online, i made this creation for my lunches this week.

i really like it – i prepared the beetroot in both raw slim juliennes and soft roasted cubes, plus blanched broccoli and edamame, sliced radishes, toasted sesame seeds and a tangy dressing (pomegranate molasses is amazing). i initially planned to make quinoa to go in it, but then i came to my senses.
However, if you like quinoa (i just don’t), feel free to toss it in – i’ve seen quite a few recipes which include it.

now, i’m off to enjoy what’s left of my alone time before my family gets back – i’ve enjoyed my weekend off so much that it may be a blow to have company!

enjoy what’s left of the easter weekend friends – my love to you all.

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beautiful beetroot salad

five beetroot, peeled
4 radishes, finely sliced
1 head of broccoli, chopped into 1cm bits
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
350g edamame beans, defrosted
optional extras that would also be nice: mint, kale, spinach, dried cranberries

dressing:
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp olive oil

preheat the oven to 180C. take two of the beetroot and dice them. roast in the oven with a little olive oil for 30 mins or until caramelised and tender.
julienne the three remaining beetroot. i used a mandoline – if you don’t have one, it may be easier just to coarsely grate them – it’s up to you. know that you will end up with red stained hands no matter what, and gracefully accept this. definitely make at least one bad joke about getting caught red handed (if you are alone while making this, there will be no one to groan despairingly at your lame humour).
boil the kettle. put the chopped broccoli in a large heat proof bowl and cover with boiling water. put a plate or lid on top and let cook for 3 mins or so. get a piece of broccoli out and taste to test the done-ness. if tender drain the broccoli, and try to get it as dry as possible.
to make the dressing, just mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.

toss together beetroot, broccoli, radishes and edamame. pour over some of the dressing – you don’t want to drown it. you can always add more later on if the salad needs it. scatter over sesame seeds and toss again to combine.

enjoy! i think spinach or kale would be nice, if you feel you need more greenery in your life. i’d be happy either way.
good served for lunch by itself, or dinner accompanied by chicken, fish or tofu.

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