Book Review: “The Colossus of New York” by Colson Whitehead.

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“No matter how long you have been here, you are a New Yorker the first time you say, That used to be Munsey’s, or That used used to be the Tic Toc Lounge. You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it.” – Colson Whitehead.¬†

Yesterday morning the probably friendliest postman in Norwalk brought our mail and I received this book sent by my husband. I would say a nice start of the day. I fished the book yesterday. Yes, I am reading quite a lot and I am usually up way too late because I take advantage of my son’s sleeping rhythm these days. Last evening I took my son to bed, put some comfortable clothes on, made myself a cup of tea and curled up on the couch. Is there anything better? Not much ūüôā Let’s dive into the book review while it is still so fresh on my mind.¬†

If you love New York and think that this crazy, hectic life mixed with a lot of dirt and smelly streets and the occasional homeless person this book is for you. I have never read anything by Colson Whitehead before but I love how strong his writing is and how this book is somewhat a love letter to New York City. Whitehead takes you from “City Limits” all the way to “JFK” with a total of 13 essays or short stories. You walk with him through “Central Park” after surviving the “Subway” ride when the “Rain” starts to pour down and washes the streets of New York clean. Not all of his stories are directly about New York – more about living (or surviving) in the Big Apple.¬†

“It stops.¬†From the river you can see the clouds haunch over¬†adjacent¬†boroughs. What transpired is a problem¬†of sewers now, out of sight and out of mind. Snapping the umbrella open and closed as if it will scare the water off.[…] They walk out of the movie¬†theater and say to¬†teacher other,¬†Did it rain, pointing at puddles. Yes, they are sure of it,¬†something happened and they missed it.”

Once experienced, you will always remember the umbrella-war walking through the streets of New York when it rains. It all does not matter because it makes me want to go back there and do it all over again by just reading the essay “Rain”. I think Whitehead writes in a real clever language that was at first a bit difficult for me to understand I have to admit. Sometimes his writing seems like a long poem of some sort. He has this great skill with language that makes you just want to read more and more by him to appreciate his sharp observations.¬†

The book is short and sweet (158 pages) and at points I felt like I just spent a weekend in New York walking around and taking it all in again. His style of writing is as fast-paced as New York is so get ready to read some sentences twice or three times. Simply a wonderful read that makes you want to go back to New York City. 

I am fortunate that this city of yellow cabs is just a short car or train ride away. ūüôā So my son and I will explore this city that never sleeps together while walking and walking and trying and see some of it through Colson Whitehead’s eyes for just a New York- minute or two.¬†

Enjoy! Let me know your thoughts if you pick up the book! 

How to: Homemade Pasta

Have you ever seen the movie: Eat Pray Love?¬† The scene when Julia Robert eats this awesome plate of pasta on her journey in Italy? The way she enjoys it? Wow! I love pasta, and so does my family. My son enjoys the pasta mostly plain – weird yes, but hey. I have been buying pasta forever, all types of it. Whole wheat, black pasta, spinach pasta, regular pasta, pasta with eggs and without, you name it. At some point I thought I am going to make my own pasta. Just to see if it tastes as close as the “fresh” pasta you can buy in the refrigerator section at the supermarket. Well, I must say that MY pasta was so much better and I knew 100% what was in it which also means no preservatives.

Here is my recipe in easy steps: 

 

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Pasta Maker Roller Machine           or       A simple rolling pin

So, let’s start:¬†

Ingredient for 4 people:

5 eggs

1.1 lbs flour (500g Mehl) 

pinch of salt

Yep! THIS is IT! 

You put the flour into a bowl. Put a hole in the middle of the flour (like a volcano) and put one egg after the other into it.

Add-Eggs

Now take a fork and mix the eggs slowly into the flour. Then kneel the dough with your hand on a floured surface.¬†This is important, otherwise your dough will stick to the table. It has to be a soft, tender dough so you have to kneel it for some time. Now divide the dough in 3-4 parts. If you have the feeling that the dough is too dry and won’t stick together¬†nicely, add one tablespoon of water. Then kneel again. If necessary add another one¬†obviously. If the dough¬†appears to be too soft add one tablespoon of flour. Now let dough rest for at¬†lest 15 minutes by putting it in a bowl and cover it with a dish towel. This step is necessary¬†because it allows the moisture from the eggs (and water if you added some) to distribute nicely¬†throughout the dough. This makes it easier for you to work with afterwards. Your dough should look somewhat like this:¬†

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Now¬†divide the dough into six even portions. You work with one piece of dough at a time so you might keep the other ones covered with the dish towel so they won’t dry out. Take the piece of dough you are working with and put some flour on it so it is not sticky. My mom has the Original Italian Pasta Maker at home but for this recipe I used my rolling pin. You have to roll over the dough several times until desired thinness is reached. (The thinner dough is, the faster it will be cooked!) Whenever your dough becomes too long to roll out, simply cut in half and keep on rolling. If too sticky, add some more flour. Roll out all your dough portions. It should look somewhat like this:¬†

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Now start cutting your dough. You can be all creative here, however you want your pasta to look. You can even form ravioli and stuff them with spinach, cheese whatever you like. I just cut mine into long thicker strips which is very easy. 

pasta cut

I let the cut pasta dry a bit on a clean dish towels until I cut the remaining dough. This is it. Now bring a pot of water to a boil, add one tablespoon of salt and put as much pasta in as you like. You can put the rest in the fridge if you use it in the next couple of days again or you dry it and store it in a bag. 

Enjoy! 

My take on this: Denis Diderot.

“We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.” – ¬†Denis Diderot

Have you ever heard of or read anything by Denis Diderot? I studied him in college in one of the philosophy classes I took. Just a little inside on him first. Denis Diderot (1713-1784) was a French philosopher, writer, playwright, novelist and art critic. He was also the editor of the Encyclopédia and questioned the authority of the Catholic Church. If you like the Enlightenment you will enjoy his writings. Diderot was a prominent figure throughout that time. Read all about him here.

I am interested in psychology and philosophy (anything that concerns my body or mind actually) and like to think about the reason why we seek the things we buy or own. ¬†Again, society plays a big role in all this; however,¬†there must be some sort of inner motivation that drives us into purchasing more and more. Diderot wrote about this motivation for overconsumption (Diderot Effect) in the 18th Century. In a nutshell: We purchase something and this items makes us buy another one. Another explanation would be let’s say you go to IKEA because you need to purchase a new couch. For some reason we don’t stop right there. We go on and buy a living room table because the old one does not fit to the new couch anymore but the old one is still fine. And then we buy a new lampshade because the old one does not …. you get the point. So the new item (the couch) creates this desire inside of you to purchase more things.¬†

There are a plethora of examples on the Diderot Effect. Just watch your behavior if you go shopping for clothing. You purchase a new pair of pants but need new shoes that go with it. Or a new shirt that makes the look complete. You have a kitchen table but this one is not big enough anymore. Then you purchase six new chairs just because they have to match the new table. I could go on and on. If you really look at it you know you have enough jeans, shirts and shoes no? So why as soon as something new gets introduced in our lives we are somewhat drawn to it and the consumption? Read one of Diderot’s essays which made me inspire writing about him. What is the purpose of our clothing? If I have this talk with my husband he always tells me that his clothes are functional for work which is true. Most often in life the clothing you purchase are not functional in any way. (“Always the wrong pair of shoes!”) In most cases it is all about self-expression and it already starts with children in school. I remember my mom used to make our clothes and they were cool. She sew or knitted things and we did not have any designer clothes whatsover. But guess what? We survived and we had the best childhood ever. Today at the playground I saw a family who dressed both of their children (about 5 and 8 years old) from head to toe in Burberry. To the playground no less. I think there are more important things in life than how your kids are dressed. I am not talking about letting them run around like bums. Enough said!¬†

I think as soon as I understood how the principle works I was able to break this cycle that I was in for many years myself. How can you overcome the Diderot Effect and prevent this cycle of consumerism? Here I share what I have been trying. Maybe you want to try some of it as well. ūüôā¬†

The next time you go to a store – any store – simply observe. See what’s going on in there. They play nice music that gets you in a good mood. The rooms are comfortably lit and the personnel is oh so helpful. They even arrange for you to have your own dressing room with your name written on it. All you want is a pair of pants okay! ¬†See what happens. Observe! See how they make you buy more stuff (buy 3 get 1 for free, purchase this purse with it and get the shirt 20% off). Just ask yourself if you REALLY need this item that is in your hand when you are in the store. Of course, there are times when you do need to buy certain things. I am not talking about those times.¬†

Always keep in mind that possessions do not define who you are. Your possessions also do not define your success ¬†and usually make you happy only for a short while. You go to a store, buy something that you wanted for ¬†a long time and then after a while it is just normal, nothing special anymore and you want something else and new. ¬†Do not trust salesperson too much. I mean, all they really want is sell you things – as much as possible. ¬†They are not your friends. Keep this in mind. Maybe take a friend with you while clothes shopping who tells you the truth how you look in those pants. ūüôā Salesperson: “These pants look great on you. I have the same ones. They fit really well.” – while you look like a stuffed sausage.¬†

Try to notice the Diderot Effect all around you on a daily basis. Realizing it might save you quite some money. 

Does this still impress you?

“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires but in his integrity and his ability to affect those mourned him positively.” – Bob Marley¬†

Throughout my journey of owning less the view I have of myself and others has changed immensely. How does society define success? The people who spend and make the money and keep all these resources to themselves are the ones called “the successful ones.”¬†Some of the real successful people are simply richer because they have decided to focus on having less material things. So I guess they are not successful in worldly terms but who cares. In this capitalistic world people want more and more. Better, faster, higher and always the latest gadgets. I think it is important to focus on other than just materialistic things. I want to share a little list of things that just do not matter to me anymore. Maybe you get inspired.¬†

The fancy house. I believe that a house provides a base, stability, shelter and safety. This does not mean necessarily a lot of square footage. I have moved many times in my life already and I like creating a nice home for my family. There is just a certain pride in all this to provide a nice environment for everyone. I am just not really impressed by these mansions people have. “Good for them,”¬†I think. I am happy with what I have and where I am in life.¬†

Clothing and accessories. I am a woman and I do love nice jewelry and clothing. I do have two nice rings. The one my husband gave me for the engagement and the other one for the wedding. But does it matter how expensive these rings were? Do I really put myself in debt for a wedding ring and make sacrifices every day do pay of said debt? I do not even want to go into a big wedding party and all that. The most important thing is the vowels we made to each other – to simply trust each other and love each other. The ring is not that important. When it comes to¬†clothing I¬†have to say that it is not important what brand name is written in or on my clothing. Where it is manufactured is¬†important. Have you ever looked¬†where your $200 Burberry jeans is¬†made? Yep, China. With clothing it is¬†definitely quality over quantity for me. Do you want to become a walking billboard? I don’t think so. I am not really impressed by the watch you wear, the shirt or any of that stuff. I love it¬†however if you wear¬†something timeless and you wear it with confidence. You want to make an impression by WHO you are – not what you wear.¬†

Retirement.¬†Is it important to count down the days or hours until retirement to wait for the big trip that you are going to do? To retire seems like the ultimate goal for people. You ask anybody and they tell you: “I have several [….] years left to retirement.” Many people dream of all these nice things that they will do once they retire. You live HERE and NOW. Try to make it work HERE and NOW somehow. Don’t wait until retirement! Who knows if you really reach it! I got towed today because my car got stuck on the highway and the tow tow truck guy told me that he works TWO jobs to get his family by. (His wife has to work too now just to make ends meet). I asked him about his retirement. He said that he does not know when this will be. Probably when he is 75 because then all his mortgage will be paid of along with his student loans. Sad! The American Dream I guess.¬†

Your cellphone and the photos you share.¬†The other day I waited for the UPS delivery because my husband told me I have to sign for the package that is going to arrive. The package arrived and in it was a brand new iPhone 6. Say whaaaat? Yes! I used his old iPhone 4 for the longest time now and I was fine with it. He simply got an upgrade for his phone so he sent me this new iPhone 6. People look what kind of phone you have and judge. On the playground, when you take pictures, it is just the weirdest thing. Like who the hell cares! Many always want the latest technology and the latest gadgets. Not me. I was fine with what I had but then came the new phone. It still takes me a while to get adjusted and I like it. The key is though that I did not need it and I would not have gotten it for myself. Recently I heard about this app you can download on your iPhone – YouCamPerfect!¬†There you have the option to change your selfie into the “perfect” you. Change your appearance, your hair, the shape of your face blablabla… how about showing your face the way it is? The way you really look? Who are you hiding from? Yourself?¬†

Overall I would say that the dollars in a bank account are by far not the greatest measurement of success. I think it is more important to accomplish an amount of good in our little lives while we are allowed to play around on this planet earth. We should not try to impress others with all these things we own and maybe start to inspire them instead by the way we really should live our life. 

The Book Review: “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki” by Haruki Murakami

“Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language” – Haruki Murakami.¬†

Murakami – I have read three books by him so far (this, this and that) and I must say I am impressed with “Colorless Tsukuro Tazaki” because it is simply so different from everything else I have read by him. It is just written under a complete different light; however, it possesses most of Murakami’s essentials. If you are a Murakami fan you know what I mean: the sexual fantasies, consciousness and subconsciousness of the characters, real symbolic dreams and of course a lot of classical music and jazz.¬†

The story: Tsukuru Tasaki is part of a group of five friends who all represent a color [their Japanese names], a talent or a quality. Except for Tsukuru [who is just ‘the builder’] – or this is how he feels almost throughout the book. An event happens and none of his friends want to see or talk to him again without explaining to him why. He is very affected by this, depressed and suicidal and decides to leave to Tokyo where he starts school to become an engineer to build train stations which is his true passion.

“Because I have no sense of self. I have no personality, no brilliant color. I have nothing to offer. That’s always been my problem. I feel like an empty vessel. I have a shape, I guess, as a container, but there’s nothing inside….”¬†

It seems throughout the book that he did not only lose his four friends but that he is also unable to make new friendships simply because he is afraid of rejection. So he lives his days by going to work and back home, following a somewhat steady routine. So far it made me think if there was a time in my own life when I struggled to fit in. When I had this feeling of not belonging or this feeling that I am not good enough for this group of “friends” I was part of. It reminded me of a particular time in high school so I could relate to Tsukuru and his struggles. ¬†When I started the book I was shocked how simple the story and language are; there was just nothing complex in it at all. But I think that it is not so much about the plot or said language. It is more about making the reader feel how Tsukuru suffered. How lonely and desperate he felt up to the point of wanting to killing himself. When you read the book you do not have to overanalyze or try to find explanations for everything. Reading the book makes you go with the flow of this relaxing soft melody that continues throughout the book and lets you experience Tsukuru’s misery, feelings, thoughts and love.¬†

I mentioned jazz and classical music before which are so significant for Murakami work. Throughout the book he mentions this classical piece by Franz Liszt called “Years of Pilgrimage – Le mal du pays”.¬†¬†Usually when I read a book and the author mentions a song I google it and let it play in the background while I read this certain passage. I did the same with this book. It is magical. This is how the author felt when he wrote this part of the book or this is how the person described in the book feels right here and now I believe.¬†

One thing I want to mention without giving too much of the story away is that besides depression and loneliness Tsukuru met Sara, who becomes a really good friend, guide and someone who makes him realize that he can love and trust again and open his hearts to something new even though he has been hurt so badly. Sara helped him to confront his fears which was a wonderful thing to read. What was also beautiful is how he describes Finland Рyes, he travels there but you have to find out for yourself why. (It definitely makes me want to fly there and discover this awesome country where it is still bright outside at 10pm). 

“The air felt purer here than in Helsinki, like it was freshly made. A gentle breeze rusted the leaves of the white birches, and the boat made an occasional clatter as it slapped again the pier. Birds cried out somewhere, with clear, concise calls”.¬†

Murakami is in my opinion a genius writing about all these emotions that make you suffer with Tsukuru. I don’t know what color I would represent in Murakami’s book but I do know that life is just this continuous search of experiences and dreams to make our life on this planet earth as colorful and awesome as possible.¬†

 

On managing time.

“The trouble is, you think you have time” – Buddha

This post was written because a reader wants to know how I manage my time and money. I need to tell you that I am no expert in either thing. I am just trying and testing things out and apply what works for me and my family. ¬†I made it my passion to write my blog but being a single parent these days it is quite tough. I walked by a daycare place the other day close to our house. They told me I can drop my son off just for a day if I need to get things done. This is great and very helpful. I would not really use it to write, but maybe if I have to drive to New York for appointments which is a hassle with a toddler for sure. When it comes to money management… well, definitely NOT an expert even though I am trying to live as minimalistic as possible. I have done it all, from debt to debt-free and I have learned along the way. Then again, there are certain things that I do buy for myself or my son at points that are not necessary but I know he or I will enjoy it. Sometimes there is no reason to be 100% this or that way. I try to find balance in life. More on money management soon.¬†

I would like to share a couple of tricks and tips that have worked for me so far managing time. Maybe you get a little inspiration for your life. 

Planning: I started making lists. For example on a Sunday I make a shopping list of what I have to cook the next week. Shopping, major shopping for something and meal plans for us. This made me save a lot of money because if I have an exact list of what I want to cook during the week and a shopping list of what I need. This way I don’t run around in the supermarket and buy way too much and don’t even use half of it. I keep my list on the fridge and look at it every time I open the fridge to just add things for the next week.

An example for a meal plan for the week:

Monday: Vegetable soup served with toasted bread

Tuesday: Pizzas with salad

Wednesday: Pasta with Pesto

Thursday: Rice, salmon and spinach

Friday: Homemade French fries, burgers and salad

Usually ingredients overlap so you save money here as well. Simple as that. When it comes to blogging I purchased this planner and I am in love with it. It organizes all my writings and keeps me informed what I have to add or work on next.

On my fridge I have a visual erasable planner board to put things down that need to get done during the week besides shopping. Doctor appointments, dentist, yoga practice, bills that are due, people I need to call etc. 

Me-time: I have found that is the most important to have “me-time”. Even when my husband was still here we used to all have dinner together and then everyone was off on his own for a couple of hours doing whatever we needed to get done. Usually for me it was bringing my son to bed and then start writing and working on my website. For him, surfing the internet and researching for our projects. I love this time for myself – just blogging or even reading in bed is great. After a long day these are the things that relax me. Usually at some point my husband and I find each other again on the couch and watch something before we go to bed. I think it is essential to make time for yourself to stay motivated in life, to relax, to just don’t hear and see anything else but what you love to do. Especially now that I am alone with my son.

Cleaning: There is nothing worse for me than a house all messy and things all over the place. I want it nice, clean and in order. (A German thing!) ¬†Every Friday I clean both bathrooms and if I have time left I clean the living room as well. During the week I vacuum my son’s room and our bedroom and the kitchen is being done well almost daily. I don’t clean the floor every day, but the counter and things I use obviously get cleaned after I am done cooking. So this keeps me in check of not living in a messy cluttered house.¬†

Overall it is just such a great feeling to know you are on top of things. Everything that needed to get paid is paid, grocery shopping for the week is done and you will realize how much time you have left to do what you really love. I was always pretty organized in life (Hi mom!) and I made a folder for every damn thing. You will get used to being organized and put together and it will soon become a habit that you enjoy. If you are a student it will make your life very easy to simply start out with a planner. To schedule time is key because guess what, it is not about having time, it is about making time. 

Five Things.

This week was all about running around getting thing done. We need vaccinations to visit my husband in Kinshasa/Congo which needs to be scheduled after a ton of paperwork has been filled out. Visa applications, phone calls to make, places to go and of course many playgrounds to check out. 

First I want to share a playground that my son and I visited which is really great. 

  1. Playing around:¬†Cherry Lawn Park in Darien/Norwalk.¬†This park is for now definitely #1 on our list. You can find tennis courts, basketball courts, a big community garden and a wonderful playground area which my son loved. He is not even two years old and he did it all… slides,towers, climbing everything, playing in the sand and many toys that always remain at the playground. We spent two hours there and time flew by. He was so exhausted that all he needed was a light dinner, shower, two stories I had to read to him and he was out – perfect. ¬†Another great part about this park is that there are clean public restrooms, even with changing areas.¬†

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2. Reading:¬†This awesome book by Haruki Murakami: “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage.”¬†¬†Book Review will be out on Sunday. Also read this article if you like – ¬†Agatha Christie at The New Yorker: ¬†Agatha Christie – The Queen of Crime.¬†

3. Watching: This.  Because all you need is love. Period! And this. As a huge Michel Houellebecq lover this documentary is a must. It is in English with German subtitles. 

4. Enjoying: Watching my son plays with his latest toy. He is occupied with this toy for up to 45 minutes which is great. 

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Another add- on to the “enjoying-section”: SUSHI. Lots of sushi. I know the oceans are polluted, the fish is probably not as fresh as it is supposed to be and maybe it is not even healthy but sometimes I just love to have it so I do. Simple as that. The sushi at Oishi Sushi & Izakaya in Norwalk CT¬†was indeed very fresh and delicious. My son and I ate there during lunchtime and the restaurant was not packed but not empty either. Just comfortable. The staff was very friendly by being attentive but not overly on top and stopping by every five minutes to ask if we want anything else. The selection is plentiful. Check their menu before you go there.¬†For lunch I had: edamame salmon avocado roll, uni sashimi, tuna and salmon sashimi and a Dragon Roll. My son had: Butternut squash soup and a bowl of plain rice. I¬†highly recommend this restaurant.

5. Listening to: This song.¬†¬†So whenever I feel lonely or sad I listen to this song. My husband and I made this ‘our’ song. ūüôā Feel free to make it yours.¬†

Have a great weekend.

On how blogging has changed me.

‚ÄúThere is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.‚ÄĚ ‚Äē Ernest Hemingway

Six months ago I started this blog and to sit down every morning or evening to write has been a constant in my life ever since. I try to write an article every day if time permits it. I have a plethora of ideas but time management is something different these days. I spend my afternoons at the playground, at the aquarium or at the park these days which is okay. If you love writing so much you will find time or will make time somehow to make writing possible for you. Easy as that. Looking at my blog editorial planner I have planned a lot of fun stuff so far for my readers. I just enjoy what writing has meant to me on a personal level. It just makes me happy on a daily basis. Everything I basically do could be a possible article. All the books I read are going to be book reviews (unless they suck Рwell even then I will write about them so you might not consider buying them ha!). Things I buy, things I love, things we do together, things I cook Рthere is simply so much for me to share. 

Blogging has changed me and writing has forced some sort of discipline in my life. I know I do “have” to sit down and write something because people love to read my stuff and I want to share what I experienced and live. In the beginning I thought I can have a glass of wine while writing (or two) and have some music playing in the background. Well what it all boiled down to is that I have to sit quietly on my chair usually all alone with nobody to disturb me in front of a white page blog screen. This is where and how it all starts. I read this quote by Dawson Trotman once which said, “The greatest time wasted is the time getting started.” Well, I have to say he was right. I spend so much time trying to figure out how to articulate my opinions that I was literally wasting time. Now all I do is write down what comes to my mind – sometimes research it or change it if necessary. The key is to write things down as I observe them. I do it the old fashioned way and keep pencil and paper with me usually at all times. Hey, you never know. ūüėĬ†

I like how I personally grow through¬†writing and how I learn new things about it on a daily basis. I have “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk usually opened up right next to me while I write. This book has been recommended to me by my Literature professor in college and it was and still is very helpful to me. Looking back through all my posts I can see how my writing has already changed and more how I have changed. There is still so much room for improvement and so much more to accomplish that I keep looking forward to new writing adventures and challenges.¬†