Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday Morning Struggles

Below is a cronology of this last Tuesday morning in March. Welcome to the play-by-play mundane life of your typical (or not so) UM kiddo.

2:45 AM - Finish writing a paper for my Urban Planning class titled "The Greening of Ann Arbor". Ace Deuce is a relatively eco-friendly city, although still very, very far from being 'sustainable', as you could surmise. The positive policies and systems in place include utilizing solar energy on many city-owned structures such as the Kerrytown Farmer's Market, three local parks, and a handful of the downtown parking meters; over 30 miles of bike lanes in the downtown area - working towards a goal of 78 miles; and the vibrant local food culture. Ann Arbor is a foodie hub. It's wonderful to see the Farmers' Market coming back to life on bustling Saturday mornings after a slow and empty winter. Ann Arbor definitely has plenty of room for improvement in its sustainability, but it's off to a great start and is far ahead of the majority of American cities.

3:20 AM - Lay in bed exhausted and rack my brain as to why I didn't fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

8:00 AM - Alarm clock rings - snooze that shit impulsively.

8:10 AM - Alarm clock rings - snooze that shit again, obviously.

8:20 AM - Alarm clock rings - actually pull myself out of bed and shut it off. Get ready in a haze of residual sleep. Decide coffee is necessary. Due to using up most of what I ground over the weekend of my wonderful Lobster Butter Love RoosRoast, I begin to grind some more before realizing how loud a coffee grinder is. Receive a hefty sum of suite-mate karma, no complaining next time I get woken up by one of them, I suppose. Apologies to my poor suite-mates.

8:50 AM - Leave the dorm, coffee in hand and head out into the chilly Michigan Spring morning. Campus is still relatively empty and everyone I pass looks just as tired as I feel.

9:10 AM - Urban Planning starts and I hand in the paper I was working on through the night, relieved. Commence yet another terribly boring lecture by an uninspired professor reading roughly off the powerpoint. Sitting in the second row wasn't the best idea as I struggle to keep the heavy weights of my eyelids open. Almost fall asleep twice. Coffee is still too hot to drink.

10:00 AM - class ends and I rush out of the room and straight into the soft crevices of the Dana commons couches. The one in the corner, farthest away from the grad students actually doing work (ha). I start chugging the coffee and eat a piece of toast with coconut butter I managed to pack while the coffee was brewing. I relax a bit and check my email, and begin browsing blogs. Get inspired to write my own blog post, somehow this is not what I was going for, oops. Decide to not do a reading for my 11:30 class that I didn't have time for last night. After writing that paper, my academic motivation is hovering above E. Flip through a couple NPR stories and listen to NPR's "This American Life" until I realize that I'm not actually listening to it. Switch over to some Bobby Dyl music and procrastinate by writing this instead of reading.

11:40 AM - The Built Environment - my second class of the day will start. There is a high probability I will fall asleep and drool on a desk. Or not, the coffee is starting to kick in. Either way, Tuesday is off to a slow start. Here's to hoping it will pick up.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

The People of Espresso Royale

     A convenient study spot of UMich students, the Espresso Royale café on State Street likes to boast and take seemingly immense satisfaction in their alternative, hipster-ish atmosphere. Unfortunately, their pride and annoying air of unconventionalism is wrongly assigned. Espresso is a franchise, concentrated in Midwestern locations. The eager students who innocently frequent here assume it's an Ann Arbor institution. Nope, not the case. Yet even with all my criticisms, you will still find me here semi-frequently. Crack it up to the convenient location - across the street from campus and two blocks from my dorm. And the fact that it's neither Starbucks or the UgLi, the other more popular and viable study options. Starbucks is sometimes fine, however usually I don't feel up to sitting in and among such pretension that is the chain and the ridiculously long and specific drink dessert names ordered by your typical high-pitched sorority girls, hauty looking business men, or just plain obnoxious bros. The UgLi (Sharpiro Undergraduate Library) is this with an added obnoxious factor of at least 100, the suffocating academic atmosphere, and the subtraction of comfortable seating. It's a rarity that I willingly study or choose to spend time there.
This picture doesn't accurately display the UgLi's ugliness.

     But Espresso can be surprisingly unique, most notably with the customers. I've had a questionably high amount of awkward run-ins and/or struck up conversations from the people around me. Every time I enter, there's always a potential to add another to the list. The majority of the customers are average students or 'normal' people, the minority of odd people present an unexpectedly large influence on the place. Right now as I survey the café there's a dude full on asleep in a lounge chair to my right. A surely genius professor with gray hair is working away with a bright fuschia laptop case. There's a group of guys aged in the mid-thirties standing around a table talking.
     Today, a moderately good-looking dude walks past my comfy chair, deliberately turns around while staring at me and proceeds to sit at the empty table beside me, in the seat nearest me. Five minutes later he tries his hand at a conversation/pick-up by commenting on the new (and by new, I mean at least since January) furniture arrangement and how he likes it because I'm here. I'm working (after a long weekend of procrastination) and so is everyone else around. I smile and nod uncomfortably and turn away back to my computer hoping to send him a hint. He does and then offers up "As long as I have a plug, I'm happy". An hour and a half later, he still hasn't plugged in his laptop. Even the normal looking people here can surprise ya. Update: now a girl has come up to him and they are conversing. She asks if he's David and tells him that he talked to her 'over there' yesterday about Jazz. He says "Right, uh, tell me your name again?" ... 
     In previous Espresso encounters, the infamous T. Kacey Brennan, one of the Ann Arbor staple hobos, has sat right next to me and my friend and gets right into telling us multiple times "I'm a famous comic book writer, Google me, you'll see", holding up a newspaper clipping. After unsuccessful attempts to brush him off with nervous nods and quick smiles with eyes glued to our laptops, my friend offers up a "Cool, I'll have to do that sometime..." as he obviously waits for us to google him that very instant and be impressed. We left soon after.
     One time an old guy with a temple sat by me and proceeded to hold a heated phone conversation about Iraq and government conspiracies and what he's doing about it. Many a glare was shot his way by the rest of the café customers, due to his pompous self-righteous air and extremely loud and graceless voice. I remember opening the photobooth app on my computer to record his amazing and hysterical conversation.
     I am cursed and/or blessed with an indescribable, alluring air that attracts weird guys to sit near me in coffee shops. It happens just too often to be coincidence. Nevertheless, if you delight in observing awkward exchanges or odd people, Espresso Royale on State is your place. It may not be as alternative or awesome as the trust-fund college student, eager to jump on the 'hipster-trend' thinks of it; the drinks may not be anything special; and it's not an original institution opposing the starbucks-on-every-corner mentality that the company would like you to believe. But man, there are some jems of experience you can find there if you're lucky.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Zen and the Art of Weekending

There's no need to glorify the weekends, I'm sure no one will dispute their delights and simple pleasures. Are you in the weekending mood? What mood is this you may ask. Well friends this is when the weekday stress gets lost somewhere between your pillow and your coffee mug. There is work you could be doing, but you've gained this wonderful sense of time. It's the opposite of haste. You take time to enjoy being alive. Perhaps you take deeper, longer, more filling breaths. You appreciate everything you don't seem to have the time to notice during the week. The soothing sound of the coffee maker, the pacifying drizzle of muted spring rain, the way the daffodils shot up and unfolded themselves before anyone even knew they were growing. The weekend mood allows you to devote yourself to a Bob Dylan album. All the way through. Twice. (Play the video for a soundtrack similar to my morning)

 During the weekends, if you practice the Zen and Art of Weekending, you'll revel in the freedom, the happiness, the lightness. You'll let yourself sleep in. You'll prepare a sweet and satisfying breakfast (which is an Art in and of itself, no doubt) to enjoy in back in bed. You'll grind up some coffee and bust out the French Press. Why? Because it's the weekend.

This is my nest
 The Art of Weekending is all about repose and relaxation. After a sweet morning of lounge and breakfast; a quick, cool bike ride in the pillowy mist outside brought me to yoga class. My body felt strong and powerful. My poses keep improving and I'm very proud of the stage I'm at now. My chaturangas are all upper arm whereas before I'd take the weight off by lowering my hips a bit too early. It was sweaty, it was strengthening, it was reviving. I left centered and blissful, returning home to take a long shower. Yes, singing in the shower is integral to weekending.

Peace, friends. Now go get back to practicing the Art!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Spring

Today, it is Spring.
The cold is out, despite never being in to start with. This winter was a pathetic attempt, producing no more than 4 inches of snow at a time, only to melt into the wet, brown ground within hours. There was no snowman making, there was no hat wearing.
And now it is Spring and it is 80˚.
My particularly rude welcoming stems from many things. It was a beautiful evening last night, the lowering sun flushed everything in warm gold. I decided to take a run/walk outside, to observe the goldness seep into the very molecules of the city and then to fade as the sun slowly set. If you know me, you know I don't really enjoy running. I find it pointless and boring. But my heart was eager to immerse myself in the outdoors and so I went. Forty minutes later I returned with a pounding heart and soon after I went to bed.
I awoke to my alarm clock with minimal strength to turn it off. I was so tired and exhausted, I needed to stay in bed. I missed my 9am class and woke at 11, struggling to pull myself out of bed and gather my stuff to head to class. My throat was sore, my glands were most definitely swollen, my eyes peaked, and my energy levels at zero.
Whether from this alarming weather, something I ate, or my body not used to running, I don't know, but something was way off.
I spend the majority of the rest of my day in bed napping, reading blogs, pining to farm, and eating citrus.
I am pretty disappointed that I couldn't celebrate Spring rightly. I had a whole day of activities planned, including taking a trip to the arb for some nature, going to not one, but two back-to-back yoga classes (couldn't even make it to one), and gardening with a student group on campus. I'm getting pretty bored laying here so I will bike to my brothers to make dinner, we'll see how that much will exhaust me.
The weather is supposed to peak tomorrow (86˚!) and then slowly go back down to the low 60s. Seeing as the days are only getting longer, I will have plenty more days to indulge in it.
M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i. Of no relevance to this post. None. 

Still, a wasted first day of Spring is never a good thing...

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Week Brief:
  • Scarily amazing high-60, low 70˚ weather, in March. I will admit it's gorgeous, and so enlivening having the warm air billow around your unjacketed skin. But when the historical average for this time of year is in the 40s, something is wrong. Without a true Winter, and now jumping to the back-end of Spring weather, the environmentalist in me is cringing and pining for Northern lands. (But then again, the dinner picnics and the outdoor yoga isn't the worst)

  • Fresh produce and quirky snacks to munch on this week. Radishes, mangoes, kiwis, oh my! And don't even get me started on blood oranges. Citrus season is heaven.
  • Studying and being incredibly productive was my main to-do. I've had a massively stressful week with late nights and long hours writing notes. It paid off, my exams went well, despite a fire alarm fiasco.
  • Nichols Arboretum, a short walk away from campus. It's a forest/prairie/grassland nature preserve that the Huron River ambles through. There's a variety of landscapes that you can easily find yourself peacefully relaxed within. I'm going to try to get there at least once a week before the semester ends.
  • le arb in September

  • Coffee. Good coffee. Fresh, locally roasted coffee. (I'm lookin' at you, Lobster Butter Love!)
    Roos Roast - Ann Arbor roasted beanz!
  • The Farmers' Market seems to be coming alive with this summery weather, the stalls are once more branching out from just the main arterial path and you'll find that you can't walk more than about 10 feet without having to side-step a stroller or squeeze between customers buying vibrantly-colored produce.
  • Biking! I've taken my bike out for a spin a few times this week. Friday night, the brother and I couldn't resist the balmy night-time air, so we rode around town for some time. We went through the Old West Side, over to just South of the Huron River, and everywhere in between. I realized that Ann Arbor is strikingly similar to St. Paul, Minnesota in terms of the residences and the neighborhoods. The houses are old and intricate, lights strung around the porches, inviting fabric and out-door seating are very prominent. You're never a few blocks away from a local coffee shop, bakery/deli, or yoga studio. It was a great ride, despite my shitty bike.
    Izzy's Ice Cream Parlor in St. Paul, delicious, home-made, gourmet ice cream
  • Hillary and I went thrifting on Saturday at the ol' Savation Army. A sheer, printed flowy top called my name. According to Hil, it's a nice brand - for $3, yes please! She came away with many many steals. Can't go wrong with Gypsy pants or leopard print, no sir. Also, she just got a zip-car membership so we rolled through town in some new wheels, feeling particularly baller as we listened to a Detroit Hip-Hop radio station.
  •  Angelo's Breakfast - never a bad choice!
  • SELMA Café - perhaps the greatest place in Ann Arbor, and my personal favorite. Ann Arbor residents Lisa Gottlieb & Jeff McCabe host a community breakfast every Friday morning in teh cozy atmosphere of their own beautiful home on the Old West Side. They use locally sourced foods cooked by a different local chef each week. It is entirely volunteer and donation based. This Friday at 6 AM (totally worth it) was the third time I've volunteered and about the 7th time I've been in total. I'm sure I will be writing more about SELMA in the future. Just know it's the best foodie gathering I've ever been to. This weeks chef was Alex Young, head chef at the famous Zingerman's Roadhouse. I had a wonderful morning taking orders and bringing friendly people their delicious food and refilling their steamin' Roos Roast coffee. Come with your eyes still half shut, leave with a fully belly and a happy heart.
    Previous Selma mornin' in the chilly, happy morning
  • Saturday was St. Patty's Day, or otherwise known in the college world as "Get-shit-faced-at-6-am". I can appreciate having a good time and it's certainly great to see the campus so alive (albeit hammered), but with the gorgeous weather, all I wanted to do was lay in some sunny grass and read. And so I did and it was great. A home-cooked 'breakfast for dinner' and leisurely wine sipping on a (Frank's) front porch people-watching completed my festivities.
  • Hayley, Hillary, and I decided to be cultural and went to the 40th annual Dance for Mother Earth Pow-Wow this morning. It was neat and I'm glad I got the chance to see it. Unfortunately it didn't impress me too much. It seems very artificial, there was a long line of vendors selling Native American trinkets, dream-catchers, moccasins, jewelry, etc... It was very oriented around consumerism and marketed toward white people wanting souvenirs - it just didn't rub me the right way. It felt, to me, kind of like a big show produced for the money without any of the meaning, which is sad because I'm so interested in Native American culture and it seemed very misaligned with what I consider Native American cultural beliefs and values. But my, what an intriguing culture, before the white-man of course.

It's been a good week - hello Spring! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why is it that at the moments when I'm feeling most creative and most ready to delve into a realm of inspiration, be it writing, painting, photography, or crafting, there is not a moment to spare due to the more 'necessary' activities in life. Pondering this is in and of itself just another procrastination tool and since I can't do what I most want to (create) the very least I could do is to waste time thinking and dreaming about doing so, yes? This week is certainly busy. But oh how the drizzle and rain bleed the streetlights and the colors together. How sweet and fragrant the musty, warm air is. My freshly opened paints are perched enticingly on my dresser, right next to a piece of vintage jewelery that has been dying to gets its portrait painted. There's music to be listened to. There's friends to converse with. There's travel books to be flipped through. There's daydreaming to be done. Envisioning the future and manifesting my particular breed of reality doesn't just happen overnight. Don't my assignments know that? 
But forgoing a creative out pour will be made up by some good night's sleep and a passing grade. At least that's what I keep trying to remind myself. 

I'll leave you with some inspiration, maybe use up my unusable creativity for me?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Initial Thoughts and Reactions to Prague

  • Inspiration! I expect I will be walking around on cobblestone streets enchanted with the historic architecture relatively unharmed from WWII, the entire city in a warm and inviting color scheme. I feel like I already can't even stand how beautiful pictures are.
I'll be passin' castles on my strolls around town like it ain't no thang. (wow, apologies for my wangsterisms)
How is this much beauty even possible!?

  •  I'm 50% Czech. (Technically, 25% Slovakian, 25% Czech, but the two countries divided after my ancestors balled it up over there, so I don't count it). It's like my own sort of Birthright/homecoming of sorts.
  •  My wonderful Aunt Lin frequently travels and semi-resides in Praha when she isn't busy with her other travels, writing a book in SouthEast Asia or learning to ski in Minnesota (She's kind of my idol). Hopefully she can make it when I'm there as well, show me the city through her eyes.
circa 2010 please
  •  History. Once the capitol of the Holy Roman Empire, stories and memories of eras past have seeped into the core of the buildings, and permeates my conceptions of the city. Prague has endured WWII almost unscathed, and has lived to tell about the Cold War. It holds scripts from the rise and fall of Communism, the Prague Spring, the Velvet Revolution, and the peaceful split from Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics as recent as the early 1990s. It's a story of evolution. A delicate, ornate, and rich story that I'm betting still affects daily life.
    The Prague Spring - activists demanding democracy and an end to the socialist regime
  •  Excitement. Prague is a metropolitan, high-density, walkable city. Complementing its sobering history is the vivid street life. Prague is the 6th most visited European City, rightly so with many music halls, museums, theatres, galleries, and exhibits. I anticipate that there will always be a variety of options to keep busy with.
    The "Dancing House" (aka Drunk House)
  •  Real Beer. Real Cheap Beer. The Czech Republic is the number one beer-drinking nation in the world. Would you like a beer with your breakfast omelette? Yes please.
  • The Czech Republic is not in Western Europe, which I like. When choosing to study abroad, I didn't want your typical destinations. I toyed with the idea of going to Russia, but decided to save that for later and start with Prague. Far enough East that it isn't too overdone, Far enough West that my Grandma doesn't think I'll mysteriously disappear and never return to the states again. Where I am right now, the Czech Republic, along with Slovakia, Estonia, Austria, Lithuania, Russia, and Romania seem much more appealing than Italy, France, or Spain.
I am SO excited to begin my travels. I'll be doing two different program next academic year, both in Prague. I think I'm already in love. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

     Saturday morning are for getting up without an alarm clock. They're for lounging your time away. For drinking coffee out of a pretty teacup and delighting in the last of the home-made hazelnut butter. Saturday afternoons are for yoga. Calming yoga, peaceful yoga. Best flow I've ever done yoga (fer real). sweaty, vibing, revitalizing yoga. The kind that gets you high on endorphins, dampens your scalp, makes your muscles tremble and you leaves you floating home happier than a bee on a flower.

     Saturday afternoons are for Passion Pit in the shower. Getting cleansed and clean and wearing a frilly shirt. They're for loading up on gold-toned vintage jewelry just because it makes you happy to see them on your wrist and fingers. Saturday afternoons are for thinking about taking a lovely spring walk to the library, a coffee shop, or the arb but end up staying in because your just too excited about next year to not keep looking it up online and daydreaming. They are for calling your mom to share that excitement. They're for chomping on a big bowl of veggies and dried mangoes and a steaming bowl of soup. For catching up on your guilty pleasure tv shows on hulu (I'm looking at you, Happy Endings!) and traipsing through the blogosphere. They're for starting your own blog! Saturday afternoons are for allowing yourself to forget about homework and due dates despite how looming they are.

     Saturday evenings are for going to the theater with your brother (American Meat!). The classic, historic, beautifully preserved Michigan Theater. And this Saturday night is for enjoying your own company or maybe those of your closest friends. Lounging, cozying up, listening to The Avett Brothers. Saturday nights are for going to bed early and looking forward to the Zen temple in the morning (despite losing an hour of sleep!)

Saturdays are for you. Your life is yours, enjoy it!