Saturday, December 29, 2012

Year of the Dragon

This is my personal review of 2012, the year of the Dragon. I try and do this every year (though the categories and questions seem a bit different each time) though I skipped it last year because it was days away from our wedding and things were too cray-cray. If you're interested in seeing previous years' year-in-review posts, you can search through the archives (most likely the last posts of December or the first of January) on the right hand side of the page.  

1. Major or noteworthy events in 2012. 

  • I married my bff(and ever and ever) on January 14th. (photo by P&E Kappen)

  • Traveled to San Francisco for our honeymoon, also in January (notably staying in a treehouse and attending the Edwardian Ball). 
  • I moved in with Jonas to 415 S. Broadway Apt. A at the end of January, on returning from our honeymoon. 
  • We found out we were pregnant on February 22nd, 2 days after Jonas turned 22. 
  • I switched majors from Costume Design to Middle Eastern Studies and was accepted into the American Public University.
  • One of my best pals, Michelle, got married on August 4th and I got to be her maid of honor! (photo by Chelsea Steller)

  • My Grandpa Ron Welch passed away on August 16th, at age 77. 
  • I turned 21 on August 25th and did not drink any alcohol. 
  • Jonas and I moved to 415 S. Broadway Apt. C in the first week of October. 
  • Our son, Ishmael Azure Rajan, was born on October 29th. 

  • I voted for the first time in my life on November 6th. 
  • Our first family Christmas (and first married Christmas!). Best one yet. 
As in the past 2 years, a ton of people I know got married and engaged this year (I'm most excited that my friend Angie Selden got engaged!!!), but I think it's safe to say a bunch of people I know have moved on to having babies. Here are some of their sweet little names: Josephine Lynn, Ruby Grace, Kaelyn Susannah, Darla Dolores, Luke Peter, Amaela Claire, Jaina Carol, Ellianna Grace Sela, Cole Brennan, Elsie Love, Noah Ryan, Jayla Angelique, Tadgh Everett Charles, and Malcom James.

One of the questions I answered in previous years was, "what new person in your life are you most thankful to have met"? and I just have to say that Jonas and I are so thankful for our church family, especially our Gospel Community families, the Youngbloods, Graefs and Degraffenreeds. 

2. Best sound bites of 2012. Most of this came out in 2012, but in some cases the song is older and I just discovered it or listened to it a lot this year. The best overall albums of the year for me were probably MTMTMK by The Very Best and An Awesome Wave by Alt-J. My favorite discovered artists were King Charles, Matthew Perryman Jones, and Alt-J. Most listened to and loved songs were Rufus Wainwright's "The Consort," Jimmy Hendrix's "Foxey Lady", "Lighthouse" by Patrick Watson, "Lies" by Marina & The Diamonds, "Miriam" by Norah Jones, "Tomorrow's Fool" by King Charles, "Cancion de la Noche" by Matthew Perryman Jones, Alicia Keys' "That's When I Knew", and Frank Ocean's "Thinkin' 'Bout You". Two great songs which aren't on Spotify and therefore can't go in my playlist are Rhye's "Open" and "That Girl" by the Noisettes. But, song of the year, overall, goes to "You Are All I See" by Active Child, as the song I walked down the aisle to and apparently what Jonas listened to on the way to work after he found out he was going to be a dad. 


3. Best films I saw in 2012, and my attempt at succinctly describing what I most treasured in each. 

  • Fur (2006) - Otherworldly. Gently eerie, with lush colors and all the pleasure found in those things that are both closes to our hearts and very bizarre. 
  • Mary and Max (2009) - Sweet and devastating  and all the more enthralling that claymation could depict such a poignant and raw friendship. 
  • Alamar (2009) - A gorgeous portrait of a father's love for his son in an ocean paradise. I'm about to name our next kid after this movie. (photo via google)
  • Harold and Maude (1971) - A charming and quirky celebration of the beautiful moments in life. Also, I now want to drive a hearse. 
  • Waste Land (2010) - Lives transformed by large-scale mixed media art. Pretty much my favoritest thing. 
  • W.E. (2011) - Incredible music and costumes (surprisingly well done, Madonna) coupled with a story that holds your feet to the flames of some heartbreak in the female heart. 
  • The Flowers of War (2011) - Heartrending and beautifully filmed story set during the Japanese invasion of Nanking. I seriously cried for 85% of this movie. 
  • I Do (2006) - If movies were ice cream, this one would have the perfect blend of ripples of laughter and cut-to-the-core human-ness. A study in the importance of having someone in your life to adore. 
  • Romantics Anonymous (2010) - I'm pretty much a sucker for movies where unusual people fall in love over well crafted food. 
  • The Painted Veil (2006) - A period piece set in China that lets you in on the marriage of a badly matched couple as a friendship slowly blossoms between them. 
Oh, and honorable mention to the Avengers. In the same vein, some TV shows that I enjoyed this year, excluding shows I've watched in previous years and continue to watch, even though not all of these started in 2012: 666 Park Avenue, Prisoner of War, Borgia (very well done, but I can't in good conscious recommend it), Iron Chef America & The Next Iron Chef, and - wait for it - Downton Abbey! I bet you didn't see that one coming. 

4. Best reads of 2012. It's hard to remember when I read things since I didn't do a review last year, so these are more like highlights from 2011 and 2012, especially since I didn't read many books this year (though I did listen to a LOT of audio material). 

  • Blankets & Carnet de Voyage, both by Craig Thompson - Man, Craig Thompson makes me cry. His illustrations are incredible and the rawness of his storytelling is painful as it resonates with your own story. Here is an illustration from Blankets. Plus, how could you not love a book that recalls playing with your siblings that your bed is the only safe ship in a sea of sharks? (image)

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi - A really intersting look at the freedom found in good books as well as the changing political and social climate in Iran in the last several decades. 
  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton - One of my all time favorite authors, it's pretty hard to top this literary giant. I'd heard of this book before [listening] to it, but knew little enough about it that the plot was still a surprise. I won't give the story away to you, but I will say that I'd love to someday illustrate and perhaps even commission the 7 robes at the end of the story. 
  • Sisters on the Bridge of Fire by Debra Denker - Nonfiction tales of a female journalist's travels through Iran, Afghanistan and India in the 80s. She happened to be the companion of Steve McCurry (famed photographer of the National Geographic "green eyed girl") for some of her travels, and gives some interesting insight into his nature before anyone knew his name. This book will probably only interest you if you've visited Central Asia. 
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker - I am pretty much not a vampire fan at all, but this book is incredible and made me adore the original vampire. I even went through a phase this summer of desperately wanting to have Vlad the Impaler's castle that happened to be for sale in real life.  I'm not sure if this is the original work of vampire fiction, but it certainly sets the standard, in my mind, and none have yet measured up. 
  • Suitet Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky - A masterpiece of character sketches and a unique lens through which to view World War 2. 
  • Captain Blood & The Sea-Hawk, both by Rafael Sabatini - These can be described as nothing other than rollicking,  swashbuckling pirate stories. The main characters are a breed of hero that just doesn't appear in modern literature any more. Must reads to your kids if you aren't motivated to read them for your own pleasure.
My favorite podcasts were The Moth, This American Life, the Classic Tales Podcast, We're Alive, Radiolab, the Splendid Table, and the How Stuff Works franchise (particularly Pop Stuff & Stuff You Missed in History Class). I started looking through/reading Elle magazine in place of Vogue, which is probably only significant to me. 

5. Best e-destinations of 2012. I've considered making a list of my favorite pinners and favorite boards from Pinterest, but that would inevitably entail countless more hours of browsing as I revisited things that have already been confirmed as addictive. Maybe if I break both legs some time, that would be a good project. For now, I'll just highlight some favorite blogs and websites I discovered this year. 

  • Cat Bounce - In which cats bounce and my life is made. 
  • Conflict Kitchen - Inspiring concept of the year award. Food + Social Justice. 
  • Days With My Father - Honest, I haven't explored this as much as I'd like, but it's beautiful none the less. Photos and notes from a man's last days with his ailing father. 
  • Afar - Website akin to the great publication, and will without fail get the wanderlust pumping in your veins. 
  • George&Ruby - Someday, maybe my life with kids will look this clean and stylish. Probably not, but that's why I have this blog to fall back and daydream on. 
  • The world's most annoying question - you'd think the answer would be obvious without this website, but just in case...
  • Luther Insults - Fabulous quotes from the famous reformer. 
  • Conondrum - She interviews Pinners, "curates" gift/want lists, shares food and photography. All good blog things, and in a nice clean cut format. 
  • Cool Hunting - Just what it sounds like; a random assortment of cool stuff from all over the interwebs. 
  • Hip Hip Gin Gin - I've always loved bloggers who are good at giving thanks, and this one make a "love list" for every month. 
  • My Cooking Diary - Love. Illustrating ones' food. 
  • Not Without Salt - Gorgeous food photography, recipes (I haven't tried any yet), and most beloved by me, what food has to do with being in love with her husband. And she has kids. 
  • NYC Taught Me - Ok, so I've crossed over into really appreciating mom blogs. This lady knows that a hotel with a pool is about the best vacation a kid could dream of. 
  • Offbeat Families - This really is offbeat, for me at least. A lot of good questions and thought provoking stories about modern and alternative families and parenting. 
  • Elizabeth Street - The ultimate (that I've found) website for stylish moms. I mean, they even give you a list of stroller friendly restaurants in NYC! 
  • Saipua - Just a florist, taking beautiful dark photos and musing on life. 
  • LA Weekly's Squid Ink - Everything you could possibly want to know about the food scene in LA. 
  • Pintrosity - Because we all know that only 1 in 10 things you try on Pinterest actually turns out well. 
  • Rage Against the Minivan - Now here's one that I really respect and feel like I can learn from on more than a style or lifestyle level. This mom is raw and honest and tackles big questions, but is so cool AND loves the Lord. I don't necessarily agree with everything she says, but sometimes she says what I don't know how to say and sometimes she says just what I needed to hear. I wish I knew her in real life. 
  • Red Carpet Fashion Awards - A lot of content to keep up with, but I do enjoy a regular dose of fashion and I especially look forward to being able to vote for the best look of the week! 
6. Best bites of 2012. I've never chronicled food in past years, but I thought I'd share some of my most successful recipes and some favorite eating-out spots this time. You can check out my Pinterest board, Tried & True, to see some of my favorite recipes in general, but I'd say my top picks for things I made this year and deemed worthy of making again are  the Butter Chicken, Chick-Fil-A copycat Chicken Nuggets, homemade Spicy Pickles, Mint Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookies, and Lychee Sherbert (Jonas's favorite). // In the realm of restaurants, you can see my reviews on Yelp, but in short, I loved the atmosphere and Chow Novo noodles at Novo in SLO, the buffet at Punjab Cuisine of India near Newport Beach, peach-lychee-limeaid from the Lime Truck around LA, and the yellow curry from Renu Nakorn near Biola. Speaking of Biola, their Caf is pretty much heaven for Jonas and I when we visit our various siblings down there. I mean, they have their own slurpee machine!!! I can't remember what we ordered at Raku in SLO, but it was inventive and delicious, if overpriced. Opal in Santa Barbara seems a little hit and miss, but they were amazing for our wedding reception and their philo tiger prawns with curry sauce is out of this world. Sizzling Gogi here in Santa Maria is a fun experience, at least once, good ol' pho at Noodle City in Goleta is hard to beat, watermelon "froyo" and mini gummi bears at Tutti Frutti in the LA area makes me HAPPY, and so did the taro froyo and lychee popping boba at MoYo's Froyo in San Francisco. Jonas and I have taken a deep liking to the Habit's mocha shakes, and my latest INO Burger is a double-double, animal style without spread, plus chopped chilies. DELISH. And though it's not food, I've loved everything from Teavana that I've had so far, despite not being much of a tea lover. I also just bought a bottle of Raspberry Chocovine that I'm looking forward to enjoying in my toasty living room with my lover this winter season.

I've finally started buying groceries at farmer's markets in Santa Maria and SLO and I'm loving it! I've had fun with Buddha's hand, blood oranges (above), jalepenoes, and cheap artichokes. I also found fresh pecans and am looking forward to the guava sales person actually being there next time I try and buy his or her wares! I've really enjoyed cooking with leeks this year and am on the hunt for a fresh passionfruit. I've messed up taro root both times that I bought it, but one of these days I'll find the perfect recipe. My favorite grocery product discovery this year is probably El Mexicana's drinkable yogurts (especially at the discount price at Grocery Outlet). We guzzle that stuff. I'm thankful to God for taste buds. // And finally, as a nod to my being pregnant for the greater part of this year, I have an undying love for ice cream now.

7. Introspection. In previous years, I've sometimes answered "how have you grown spiritually this year?" Sometimes I've avoided it too, because I feel guilty or don't know how to answer. I am ever more grateful for our church family, but have recently been re-convicted that a personal relationship with Christ can not be a passive past time. This coming year I aim to really seek and grow, especially now that I have a son to teach. I battled jealousy a lot in 2012 and though I didn't always win, I think that being married to Jonas - as well as the excellent teaching at Element - has moved me closer to being able to roll with the punches in life without punching others. On a different note, something that stuck out to me from watching documentaries about 2 men who have been wildly successful at their separate trades for decades - Vidal Sassoon and Jiro, the famous sushi chef - was how they both pushed themselves to never cease improving their techniques, even when they were already the best at what they did. Laziness is another constant battle for me it's a good reminder that I can never reach my full potential if I persist in laziness.

In the coming year, some more quantifiable goals:
  • I want to start cooking on the grill regularly.
  • I want complete at least one class.
  • I want to finish one painting.
In general, I want to focus on being generous; to open our home, help those in need, and not be selfish with my time. I'd also like to get to the point in my home where everything has a place and I've actually hung art on the walls. // We have tentative plans to visit Oregon this year, and possibly Nebraska. That probably means we won't make it to Thailand this year, but that would be bomb too. I'm looking forward to my first anniversary with Jonas, Ishmael's 100 day party and later his first birthday, and perhaps celebrating some other Chinese holidays as well. 

In the next 5 years :
  • I want to be able to stay at home with my (3?) kid[s].
  • Be conversational in Arabic.
  • Have traveled to Thailand. 
  • Completed my BA. 
In 10 years: 
  • See Jonas in his dream job. 
  • Settle in a city/community/home.
  • Have traveled through China and Iceland.
2012 was an incredible year for me, with a lot of milestones. Although some regrets are probably unavoidable and there is sometimes apprehension about the future, the following photo sums it up. Peace be with you in 2013. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Comic Scents

Get it? Sounds like "common sense"? I thought of that at like 5 in the morning while I was feeding Ishmael and was so proud of myself, so that's why it's not very funny. Basically, this is kind of like a holiday gift guide post, but more just reviews of stuff that I like, and in the specific categories of comic books and perfume. Because they totally go together in my world.

Only recently have I really gotten excited about comics and graphic novels. I think that I'd just never really seen one that had art that I liked in it until recently. I'd bought 3 at a used book store several years back, strictly for the art work, but I don't think I even read the stories. Then, I read a review of Craig Thompson's "Habibi" and bought it for Jonas for Christmas. I read it first, when it came in the mail, and it was instantly one of my favorite books, both for the story and the art work, which, though only black and white, is intricate and expressive. The story explores the lengths we go to for love and is masterfully woven with history and culture from the Middle East, so I basically adore it. Thompson's book "Blankets" and his illustrated travel journal "Carnet de Voyage" (kind of a companion to "Habibi") are also in my growing and beloved collection.

Next, we have "Building Stories" by Chris Ware. I haven't read it or even been able to look at it on Amazon or in a store, but it sounds like it's basically the story of a "protagonist wondering if she’ll ever move from the rented close quarters of lonely young adulthood to the mortgaged expanse of love and marriage." The more exciting thing about this book is that - according to another review - it's actually a series of 10 books (all included when you buy "Building Stories") which you can read in whichever order you want, which obviously changes how the story is told. What a brilliant idea! 

"A Kiss Before You Go" by Danny Gregory breaks my heart. Again, I haven't seen more than a few of its pages, but basically, it's an artist (see also his other intriguing titles) watercoloring and writing through a year after his wife dies, leaving behind a son. I'm in love with the title too; it alone practically makes me cry. 

What could be more awesome than a futuristic Los Angeles, "entirely dominated by food culture"? "Get Jiro!" by Anthony Bourdain has more traditional comic book art than the previous books in my little stack, but it illustrates a world in which the farm-to-table nuts battle the fusion-crazies, and both want Jiro on their side, a sushi chef "known to decapitate patrons who dare request a California Roll." I can't really imagine a more satisfying premise. 

I accidentally got really into futuristic fantasy when I picked up "Perdido Street Station" by China Mieville a few years back at Christmastime at Powell's in Portland. Well, "really into" is probably an exaggeration - it's really more of Jonas's thing, but when you're married, sometimes interests start to bleed together, and it's certainly growing on me. "Saga V.1" by Brian K. Vaughan sounds like it's set in the midst of a similar [to Perdido Street Station] epic battle between planets populated by various mutant life forms. Soldiers from opposite sides fall in love, have a baby, and struggle to survive in the fallout. I kind of have a soft spot for stories about raising kids now. (See also, "Underwater Welder" by Jeff Lemire.)

Last, but not least, we have "Kid Eternity" by Grant Morrison. I actually own one part of this 3-book series, though I couldn't tell you which installment it is. I think Jonas picked it up at our local $1 book store, and the art is incredible, though the story wouldn't have grabbed me on its own. It's actually pretty hard to find, unfortunately. Another more traditional comic, I believe it's a retelling of the story of Kid Eternity, a more obscure character from the DC Comic universe. 

Okay, now we move on to part 2 - Perfume.

I could talk all day about perfume. I would say perfume is hobby of mine, except that you basically have to be a genius molecular chemist. Learning about perfume is a more accurate description of my mini-obsession. I might write a separate post sometime with some of the crazy stuff I've learned, as well as some of the lesser known and intriguing brands out there, but for now, I'll just review my favorite scents that you can find in regular department stores, Amazon, or Sephora.

First, we have my all time favorite, Rockin' Rio by Escada. My Dad bought this for me from the Escada boutique in Hong Kong for my 14th birthday. Sometimes I feel less sophisticated for gravitating  toward fruity, bright colored scents, because they remind me of teenager-dom, but... they're my favorite! I would describe this scent as something of a smokey grapefruit (but more complex) on my skin, and "mango-y bouquet" is what came to mind when I just smelled it from the bottle. I especially love this perfume, because it seems exceptionally well made; it sort of revitalizes its punch when it comes in contact with heat, so getting into the shower or walking into a warm room give it a second life! Oh, and how I love to smell it again when I wear something that I'd worn before when wearing this scent. As confirmed by an online review I just read, you're left with an overall sensation of softness with this scent. Unfortunately, Escada tends to make their scents limited edition, so this one can be hard to come by, though this year they re-released several of their old scents, including this one, for the summer months. I'm in danger of losing my bottle to evaporation before I can ever bring myself to use it all. And for your viewing enjoyment, here I am in 2005, very reluctantly posing in front of the only boutique I've ever bought something from. I think I saved the paper bag they gave me for a few years.

The second bottle on my list is Juicy Couture by Juicy Couture. A brand I wouldn't exactly jump at the chance to be associated with (how snobbish), except for in the case of this scent. I first fell for it from sniffing magazine pages, so that gives you a sense of how fabulous it is. Macy's describes it as "passion fruit mingling with watermelon and tuberose blossoms at the heart....all drying down to vanilla creme brulée", which touches on 4 of my favorite scents and flavors of all time, no wonder. I think it kind of reminds me of night-blooming jasmine too, which is also a pretty lovely smell.  Another reason I love this perfume is that Jonas associates it with falling in love with me. 

The Beat (Women) by Burberry is not one that I actually own, but I spray it on every time I happen upon it in a store and get little sample vials from Sephora when I go (did you know you can get up to 3 free samples per visit?). This is another one that I first smelled in a magazine, and was drawn to because the campaign face for The Beat is Agyness Deyn, who is probably my favorite model (and incidentally the inspiration for my bridge piercing, although I think hers was fake. I think of this scent as more manly, somehow, than the others (certainly not tropical), and if I had to recall one note from it, I'd say vanilla. It's much quieter and perhaps more refined than the Escadas, for example. The internet describes it in scents of  "bergamot and mandarin, settling into summer florals, soft musk, and warm cedar... as well as pink pepper." Not quite as tropical (or vanilla-y??), but still "upbeat and youthful", apparently, so maybe I'll just never be very sophisticated. Fine by me. 

For my birthday this year, Jonas bought me Escada's Sexy Graffiti, which was one of the scents they'd brought back for this summer from a previous year. I haven't worn it enough to be able to pick out certain fragrance notes, but it's already special because it's the first perfume Jonas ever bought me. Here's what Macy's says: "Sexy Graffiti is a red fruity floral fragrance with top notes of Wild Strawberry and Raspberry brought to life with hints of Grapefruit. At its happy heart, Lily of the Valley, Red Peony and Violets and at the base, notes of Cashmere & Vanilla." Turns out Rockin' Rio was not grapefruity at all, but more like coconut, pineapple, tangerine, peach, and papaya. Maybe you can tell why I'm not the one making perfumes. Who knew that cashmere had a smell? And does red peony smell different than the other colors?

Next, yet another scent that grabbed me from the pages of Vogue. Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia from Estee Lauder was "originally created by Estée Lauder's granddaughter for herself and her closest friends." That's probably why it costs an arm and a leg and you have to go to a place like Nordstrom's to find it. I think I've been in Nordstrom's to a) use the restroom and b) try on a wedding dress once, strictly for ideas. Anyway, this scent is incredible and smells exactly like what is sounds like. Which is wonderous. For now, I'm happy with World Market's tuberose candle, which is worth its price because it smells like you have fresh tuberoses in the house all the time, even when the candle isn't lit. Jonas gave that to me in the hospital when I was having Ishmael. He's always on the look out for tuberoses for me. 

And finally, Light Blue (Men) by Dolce & Gabbana is Jonas' scent which will keep my head buried on his shoulder indefinitely. I think it's one of the more popular scents on earth, but with good reason. It's described as having notes of "Sicilian Mandarin, Frozen Grapefruit Peel, Bergamot, Juniper, Rosemary, Szechuan Pepper, Rosewood, Musk Wood, Incense, and Oak Moss" and it's style is "Mysterious. Confident. Sensual." Somehow, I manage to see it much more as, clean, warm, and clear. Or maybe that's just my darling. 

One I'd really like to try someday is Tom Ford's Black Orchid (Women). If I'm not mistaken, Tom Ford commissioned a custom black orchid flower to create the main part of that scent. 

I will now leave you in peace, since that's probably way more information about my personal fragrance preferences than you ever cared to know. Happy holidays, and may all your shopping ventures be successful. 
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