The Elusive Aimee Ault

I put my array down, flip it, and reverse it.

Your Pull Request Sucks (or does it?)

One of the things that slows me down the most as a developer is getting roadblocked on a pull request. I can spend a frivolous amount of time, say 15 minutes, actually producing and testing my changes and then on rare occasion be stuck waiting hours or days for it to be reviewed.

There’s only so much you can do to alter another person’s availability to review your code, but what hit me over time is that other developers are like me: they switch contexts just as much as they switch git branches. People need context! Unfortunately, reading a diff is not a fantastic way to establish context and can take just as much time as it takes to review the PR itself. And not having context can cause people to procrastinate or simply forget to review your pull request until you bug them to do so.

I  have alway written pull requests like any other developer might. I explained what the changes were, relative to nothing else. The title of the pull request would be well-written and explain the ultimate goal of the changes made and because of that, I assumed that the changes would be implicitly understood by the reviewer.

Alas, other developers do not necessarily work on the same area of the application as I do. Or have not recently worked on it. Or may misunderstand the human factor of what the changes are trying to achieve.  As someone who has been looking at the code for maybe days, I want to say, “That’s so obvious, do I really need to explain it?”

The answer to that is: “Maybe not, but what does it hurt to do so?” Who knows, maybe in 2 weeks, you’ll need to revisit this pull request. Maybe in 2 months a bug will be discovered that is the result of your changes and other people will get involved. Either way, there is no harm in transparency.

I’ll use examples of pull requests I have done to break down some ideas on what makes for bad, okay, and good pull requests. I feel no shame in this because I’ve learned from it! I work with several people who have produced awesome pull requests that were constructed in ways I found impressive, but putting other people’s work on display is weird and not cool, so this is sticking strictly to stuff I’ve done to highlight things.

What a Crappy Pull Request Looks Like

This is a pull request I did within my first month of working for Treehouse:

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Here’s why it sucks:

  1. What is “the right thing”?
  2. There’s mention of BugSnag, but no link to the actual error in BugSnag.
  3. “Make bugsnag stop crying” is very, very colloquial language. This is more of a nitpick on myself than anything, but if another developer were to look at this and speak English as a second language or not speak the same dialect of English as me, they might be ever-so-slightly confused by that description.
  4. No explanation of what I changed.
  5. Or why I changed it (other than to stop an error from occurring)

This pull request was almost certainly an emergency hotfix. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was me hotfixing someone else‘s code. Which, for all practical purposes, is the ideal situation for writing a very well-formed pull request (and tagging the responsible party!). It was a one-line change that adds a presence check to a variable. But a year and a half later, I don’t have any context for what this change was related to, which previous commit caused the issue I was fixing, or if there was even a GitHb issue logged for it. The pull request was reviewed and merged and probably was okay, but the title and description for it are horrid!

Reviewing a pull request should not make someone feel like they are solving a dramatic mystery.


What an OK Pull Request Looks Like

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Here’s why it’s okay (but not necessarily good):

  • It references an issue (which is not always going to be available if you are building a feature or handling tech debt, but in this case, it’s applicable)
  • It humanely explains how a model works prior to the changes to give the reviewer a comparative understanding of what changes they are about to review. After all, not every developer intimately knows all the logical constraints of every class in the application they work on.
  • It explains why there is a problem with that model’s behavior both in terms of application logic and actual use case.
  • It proposes a solution in response to the problem explained.
  • It explains additional requirements related to the pull request (needing to run a job to fix data)
  • It acknowledges room for future improvements that might be outside of the scope of the pull request, in case those do come up in the discussion.

Here’s why it’s not good:

  • It doesn’t provide information on how it should be tested.
  • It doesn’t cover any concerns or additional implications that might be related to the changeset (in this pull request, I don’t really think there were any, but I think with a larger pull request that touches more classes, this might be a problem).
  • The language used in the title is okay, but it’s not completely clear. “point award” is referencing a model called “PointAward” and yet “vote” is actually referencing a model called “ForumVote.” For anyone that regularly looks at this code, they will likely immediately know what I’m talking about, but if someone new to the application were to look at this pull request, they might not know what a “point award” is (or if it’s a model even) or maybe they will go looking for a model called Vote and be absolutely confused when they don’t see anything named that.

A pull request should direct people to the appropriate parts of the application that are touched without confusion or having to ask for more information.


What a Good Pull Request Looks Like

This is where things start to get more subjective. I’m using an example of a very large pull request I worked on a few months ago for this, in which I was maybe overly cautious about, but I think some the ideas surrounding it can be applicable to smaller pull requests as well. Is this pull request the best pull request in the history of the world? No, of course not. In fact, a few small-ish bugs emerged from it despite having a fair amount of clarity. The point is that it minimizes confusion about the intent of the pull request.

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Here’s why it’s good:

  • Its title expresses an objective and explains what mechanisms will be used to achieve it without being overly technical.
  • The description is well-formatted using Markdown so that it is readable to the reviewer. Obvious? Yeah, but when you’re conveying a lot of information, what looks reasonably readable to you can so easily look like a wall of text to an outsider.
  • It explains what the benefits of the changes are in a way that makes sense both from a technical and business perspective.
  • It breaks the changes down into a changelog.
  • It explains/defines jargon that may or may not be familiar to the reviewer.
  • It raises concerns in a way that prompts for feedback rather than dictating the direction the conversation contained within the pull request will go.
  • It appropriately tags people whose work is greatly affected by these changes or who may want to weigh in on the conversation.
  • It addresses issues that are possibly not within the scope of the pull request but have been observed while working on related library code.
  • It comprehensively covers all known [edge] cases for testing the changes.

Ways it could be better:

  • There is a lot of acronym usage in the description of the pull request. Sometimes that’s okay when it’s a concept that is more commonly communicated as an acronym than not (API) but turning something into an acronym that is not normally communicated that way out of laziness is potentially confusing (e.g. Active Merchant as “AM”).
  • Doesn’t really dig too deep into what underlying problem is being solved (“fraud” is mentioned, but certainly could have exposed more about how that was occurring historically)
  • Although it explains potential test cases, it doesn’t explain how to test those. Testing billing changes in a non-production environment is not always obvious to everyone because a payment processor’s development sandbox is behaviorally different and typically has its own test credit card numbers that you can use for producing successful transactions and declined transactions.
  • It could have explained the technicalities of the code being changed better, but in my case, this was intentional because I knew the person reviewing it was very, very familiar with the code changed.

One other thing that I like to do inside of pull requests is to spearhead conversations by making my own inline notes on code before the reviewer has the chance to do so, pointing out any areas that I am uncertain about that I am looking for suggestions on, adding additional clarity on why a particular line was changed if I think there may be even the slightest bit of confusion. That way the conversation in the pull request is bi-directional.

I like to think of writing pull requests like hosting an out-of-town guest. We have things in common, we speak the same language, we both have the same understanding of how human life works (we both know to breathe air and walk and other human things), but they don’t know all the intricacies of my town even if it might encompass some of the same things they’re familiar with from their own town or travels elsewhere. I talk like I assume they know some things but I’m not going to just jump in and say, “How about that Timbers game last week?” because I know they’ll have no idea of what I’m talking about–they are foreign to my town and they are potentially foreign to this code as well!

It’s common as a developer to think about learning from other developers from a strictly technical perspective: “Bob has more experience with this system than I do and can share information with me about it” or “Lisa is really good with CoffeeScript and might know of something that works better here…” but on a daily basis, every time you are interacting with other developers, you are subconsciously learning something about communication by trial and error. Any time you walk into a dead end with someone through miscommunication or find that something is useful to another person, that’s noteworthy and should impact how you verbalize things in the future! Don’t make people’s brains explode.


I’d love to hear other developers’ thoughts, stories, and musings on how they set up pull requests and ways they’ve found room for improvement. Do you hate my principles? Do you love them? Do you have your own different standards? Comment below.


Disabling Superhero Mode at Night (or: How to Properly Turn off Work Notifications after Work)

Many developers suffer from Imposter Syndrome. I wrote an article about it. In fact, writing about Imposter Syndrome is, like, really trendy right now.

One of the common outcomes of Imposter Syndrome, however, which often goes undocumented, is the concept of “Superhero Mode.” This is a blanket term that I just made up to describe when a developer, often afflicted by Imposter Syndrome, over-exerts his or herself as a way of proving self-worth to others. Superhero Mode is kind of a misnomer because it implies arrogance, but the people suffering from it are often anything but arrogant–they’re often very humble, quiet, and soft-spoken.

And it’s not completely confined to people who suffer from IS, but the two often go hand in hand. A developer feels that if they work extra hard, harder than they’re used to, they will stand out and not be seen as a novice to a system that they are maybe fairly new to. It is sacrificing energy from one area of your life to create a gigantic pool of stamina to burn through on work-related tasks. This behavior starts early and becomes habit-forming, meaning that as you make adjustments in your career, you’ll continue down this road until you painfully burn out.

Unfortunately, the older that you get and the more responsibility you take on (both professional and personal), the sooner you will realize that Superhero Mode is not a scalable solution to professional credibility. First of all, you will become tired by it. Secondly, it will become part of your identity and an expectation others have of you, rather than a pleasant surprise when you exceed normal expectations. This isn’t anyone else’s fault. It is the most important thing you do for yourself: setting a standard of what you’re capable of doing and standing behind it. Maybe this will change as you grow wiser and more experienced, but whatever the case, it is something you have to create an answer for.

That said, if all employees are an instance of the Employee class, then Superhero Mode must be a privately scoped method on that class, never publicly accessible. And by that, I mean it has to be something you turn on yourself, not something others should be allowed to enable on you.

When Superhero Mode Beats The Crap Out of You

I recently spread myself too thin. I was getting angry a lot, but I didn’t really have anyone in particular to blame for it. I was getting migraines and my shoulders were thickly knotted all the time. I never felt relaxed. And I noticed I wasn’t getting enough exercise. And then I realized that it was because I never fully ended my work day. And it wasn’t helping me perform any better. In fact, I think it was making me more scatter-brained than ever.

I work remotely for Treehouse. We use HipChat to communicate. I start my work day sometime between 8 and 9 in the morning EST. And I end my work day between 5 and 6 in the evening EST. It started subtly. I was working through lunch. Then I wouldn’t close HipChat in the evening. I would leave it open. As long as I stayed on the computer, which I often use for personal reasons in the evening, I’d continue to get notifications any time someone messaged me or mentioned my name. Even if it was 10PM my time. I’d get sucked in and involved in whatever was going on and find myself working weird hours in addition to working a full day already.

I also would continue to get Github e-mail notifications in the evening or during my lunch. While walking to dinner with my boyfriend at 7PM one night, I felt my phone buzz and saw I had an e-mail related to a Github PR. I excused myself and then looked at it. Which is kind of rude. And I then got really annoyed. Of course, it could wait until the next morning, but when it’s thrusted at you, it’s really hard to ignore it. And because of that, the PR was in the back of my mind all evening and I couldn’t give my full attention to anything else.

I was so stressed out that I went to my manager about it. “I’m having a hard time. I want to be helpful and go above and beyond but I’m having a really hard time when it feels like I’m constantly reacting to everything” And his first response was, “You need to close HipChat at night.”

Being a Superhero By Destroying the Superhero

I took a series of directional changes in my day-to-day schedule and am happy to say that, so far, it works. To speak like an annoying meme, you have to give yourself time every day to “do you.” You will–eventually–have a nervous breakdown if you don’t. I’m fortunate that I recognized these issues before I got destroyed by them.

The biggest of these changes took some customization. I couldn’t figure out a way to turn off Github notifications that wasn’t an outright inconvenience. Turning on “Do Not Disturb” mode (or as I call it: “Crescent Moon Mode”) in iPhone was annoying because I wanted to get notifications for personal e-mail, text messages, incoming phone calls, social media, and other things. And my Github account linked to Treehouse is also my personal Github account, so all e-mails sent to it were going to my personal g-mail account, also very annoying.

Here is what I ultimately ended up doing. Which I don’t think is completely obvious:

  1. Github allows you to set up custom routing for e-mail notifications (link requires you to be logged in to Github)

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 2.22.26 PM

With this, I still get e-mail notifications for personal Github projects to my personal gmail account. But any activity that takes place in a repository owned by Treehouse now gets sent to my Treehouse e-mail account instead. This is a feature that I was not aware of until a few days ago and I wouldn’t be surprised if others were not aware of it either. Basecamp recently offered a way to automatically disable notifications between certain hours and I long for that same behavior in Github but until it exists, this works fine.

2. IMG_8842

I use the official Google Mail app. In the settings for secondary e-mail accounts, you can disable push notifications for anything except for e-mails flagged as “important.” I then set up a filter in my e-mail to ensure that arbitrary Github notifications never fall into this category. I continue to have my e-mail open on my computer (except after hours) so that these rules don’t affect that, but when I am out on the go, I no longer get random buzz-assaulted by a slew of comments on a PR.

3.  I close HipChat/online work chat. I was skeptical about this. Surely, there’s no difference between being flagged as “Do Not Disturb” and being offline, right? There is though. I find that people treat “Do Not Disturb” as a way to facilitate asynchronous communication (“Message me when you’re not busy and we can talk about this…”) whereas people generally do not message you at all (unless it’s an absolute emergency) when you are offline. Obviously, culture varies from company to company, but this is my own observation.  I think this is because “Do Not Disturb” communicates “I am here and will eventually be free sometime soon” and being offline sends the message that there is a really strong chance you are nowhere near a computer and are unable to talk–which is an absolutely okay place to be at 8PM on a Friday night.

4. I end my day by thinking of the next day. What things will I do tomorrow (or Monday)? If something less than ideal happens, what can I do to make sure it goes more smoothly if it happens again? This one is a bit new to me. It sounds like new-age meditative type nonsense, but spending just 10 minutes mentally wrapping up my day (and writing it down) seems to make it a lot easier to walk into the next day than spend the same amount of time reactively trying to remember all the loose threads of the day before.

5. I close out all the various work-related applications I use. This includes any terminal windows, editors, any browser tabs pointing at my local dev environment or Github. It all goes and my laptop returns to its ordinary non-work mode in which I chat with friends, play games, write things, and browse non-work websites.


I saw a few different conversations emerge from this article that brought up interesting other related things. One is the idea of not using the same device for work as you do personal things.  I think this is increasingly less common though with remote work. I don’t have an office I go to every day where I keep my “work” computer. My office is just as much my couch as it is some coffee shop in Reykjavik, Iceland.

In my previous job, I had a company-issued laptop and a personal laptop. And I traveled a lot all over the world. And it was very frustrating carrying two laptops because I’m a pretty small lady!  First world problems? Yes. But I’d rather squabble over the mixing and mingling of business-related applications and personal things than suffer sore shoulders all the time.

The second thing that kept coming up was the idea of working during your personal time off. I don’t think I have ever officially Worked™ while taking time off work, but I’m guilty of checking e-mail and getting all strung out over “oh my god someone is touching my PR–why? what? what are they doing? why is this happening?” or “What happened during this meeting that I missed? Were important decisions made without me?” I don’t really think this behavior is in alignment with “Superhero Mode”. It’s more the result of a person having control issues (note I didn’t say developer, because it’s not strictly a developer problem). I think allowing yourself to stop being a helicopter mom to your own job gives you a sense of trust that you can walk away for a moment.

What things do you do to disconnect at the end of your day? What things do you do to help you reconnect the next day? Have you experienced Superhero Mode before and if so, were you also a victim of Imposter Syndrome? Comment below.

Saying Goodbye to Someone You Loved and Yet Never Met

Many people who know me personally know that I recently lost a twin pregnancy. I was pretty adamant about just sharing the experience because it’s kind of a shitty emotional experience to start and hiding it from the world only makes it feel worse, I think.

I found out I was pregnant at 5 weeks, and then found out they were twins at 7 weeks, just two days after my boyfriend of almost two years and I moved in together for the first time. They were little teeny, tiny twins with slow-paced heartbeats that seemed neither strong nor overly problematic.

I realize carrying naturally conceived unplanned twins is not something that most women will ever do,  so let me ameliorate your burning internal thought process: Yes, I was scared shitless and my reaction to seeing two embryos was to start irrationally sobbing.

Sobbing. Not out of sadness or happiness, but just shock. I have no twins in my family and I was statistically unlikely to conceive twins based on several factors. It didn’t help that at 7 weeks, one looked like an amoeba and the other like a cross of a tadpole and the little white guy from the game Fez. They didn’t look human so although internally, I felt their potential and love for them, what I expected to be a game-changing moment was anything but.

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It was exciting in some sense. Like hey, there’s two of them so they’ll have that linguistically interesting “twin talk” thing and they’ll have that close bond that only two people who share one womb can have–something I’ll never understand but surely they would. But, of course, also scary because I had no idea what it meant for my career as a software engineer. Or financially how I would afford the likely possibility that these babies would be born prematurely and spend time in NICU. Or how my naturally very petite body would manage to safely grow two little watermelons–since I was already experiencing some issues with my heart as a result. I was scared but in love with them, for sure.

But at a 9 week ultrasound, we found out they hadn’t been growing and had passed shortly after the first ultrasound. My body did not recognize that the pregnancy had ended. I was recommended to have a dilation and curettage surgery to remove them.

This was an emotionally painful process, even for an unplanned pregnancy, but I’m a fairly logical person so I look at this loss positively: because it illuminated an area of life I never really had put extensive consideration into.

I’m 30 years old, almost 31, and have always felt indifference to motherhood. I get impatient with other people’s children. I always assumed I had no maternal instinct. I had a pretty sad childhood in a deeply broken family and have always felt somewhat challenged by the idea of introducing a life into a world knowing there was potential for me to cause it as much pain as was allotted to me.

But, contrarily, knew there was a good chance I might be a kick-ass loving, compassionate mom who made sure her kid saw the world young, learned early, was well-cultured, well-mannered, had lots of friends, and was treated fairly and with respect. This is a tall order and takes a lot of effort, and I know it.

I write this from the unpopular side of someone who before pregnancy never yearned for a child. Who, upon finding out she was pregnant, immediately focused on the selfish aspects of what I felt was taken away from her: independence, financial freedom, fun, her ability to drink wine, craft beer, or cold brew coffee, take hot baths, do hardcore crossfit, ride a bike more than half a mile without needing to stop to dry heave, use ibuprofen and other common medicines, or eat goat cheese or unpasteurized soft cheeses.

It took time for me to look past these emotions and fully embrace what positivity also surrounded it–things that are supposedly natural to others but took deep introspection to extract out of my own heart. Once I found those emotions, I found a new part of myself who was a stranger laying in wait. And it was really eye-opening.

That person inside revealed to me that my pregnancy was something I owned and was in control of. That my children, although in many ways defined by nature, are shaped by the attitude I have when they’re inside of me and later outside of me.  They are a byproduct of me and another person and whatever relationship is fashioned between the four of us is not the same as any other person’s relationship with their children.

These children are gone today. Some day I might have another child or children. Those children will never replace these children. And that is what a miscarriage is like. It’s saying goodbye to someone who was with you for a while, who communicated to you through some weird telepathic force, who made you feel ways you never knew you could feel, who opened up a chapter of your life that you never would have been able to open on your own, who you loved deeply and unconditionally, and yet all the same…

You never got to meet, hug, thank, or even so much as say hello to them.


Imposter Syndrome is Like an STD

A long time ago I was in college.  I was in the computer science program at the University of South Carolina (go cocks) and I really hated it.

I’m not supposed to say that, though. I’m supposed to pretend I loved college and that I did well in it. But in truth, I was a fairly mediocre computer science student. I didn’t respond well to the blend of academia and technology and the setting made it really hard for me to understand practical use of a lot of the stuff I was supposed to be learning.

Even if I understood the concept of what was being taught, it didn’t really sink in–“We’re using ML, but what in the real world am I going to use ML for?” It’s not a rhetorical question–I really had no freaking idea.

I typically found that example material in lectures was too abstract for me and to some extent, alienated me. I felt apologetic for it without knowing why. Intro-level data structures classes explained how to implement a doubly linked list, but failed to explain why.  The intermediate level operating systems class explained what multithreading is but failed to give any contextual relevancy to when it is used in the real world.

Being a very hands-on learner, I expected this bewilderment to end in the classroom, but when I got my first job while still in college at 19, I was kind of blown away by how much was expected of me given I was writing PHP for $10 an hour. The 40-year-old team lead I worked with seethed vitriol and condescendence, asking me, “What do you mean you don’t know how to write a software requirements document?” I felt angry, but really not comfortable in my own skin enough to ask, “How can you possibly expect me to walk in the door of my first job knowing that without ever having had to write one before?” I felt angry. But I didn’t know who to feel angry with.

And although I really feel like I learned so much in that job, I constantly was wandering into a place where I was about to break down and give up. I worked with a friend who was very talented with PHP specifically, but I was more of a jack (jill?) of all trades and it seemed to work to my disadvantage.

Ten years later, the idea of giving up based on that one interaction sounds ridiculous to me, but I can time travel and remember the quivering feeling in my gut and the tears welling up in my eyes where I really didn’t know if I belonged and I felt no close comfort that things would work out. People expected the world of me but at the same time, no one expected anything of me. And that’s a horrible feeling to harness in your soul.

Imposter Syndrome is common in an age where you need “5 years of Swift experience” and so many companies hire entry-level positions as unpaid internships. But, the really shitty thing about Imposter Syndrome is that it’s like herpes. It never really goes away. And occasionally you’ll get flare-ups of it. And the most you can do is kind of rub ointment on it or whatever it is you do to deal with herpes (side note: I don’t have herpes so this is probably a terrible example).

What I mean is that once you’ve had the experience of knowing what it feels like to feel like you’re not good enough, you’ll always know what it feels like to feel that way. And when all the conditions around you are just right for it, you’ll feel that way again until you can soothe the ache and burn, or distract yourself enough to ignore the pain.

People have paid me to be a developer for 11 years now. I know a lot of things I didn’t know 11 years ago. And occasionally people say nice things to me that imply that I have, to some degree, some inkling of talent in what I do.  Likewise, I’ve had people be really rude to me as well. But the older I get, the more I realize my own self-worth and can excuse the fact that people on occasion will hang you if you’re willing to give them the length of rope to do it.

And somewhere in-between, occasionally I see behind people’s eyes imaginary things, looks of doubt and hesitation.  It’s a mirror of all the things I think of myself and all the self-ridicule for the things I want to know but maybe never will and all the mistakes I make that I think people are super-aware of when they’re really not, and they’re really thinking the same of themselves.

What drove me to write this wasn’t my own experiences directly, but those of newer developers–both in terms of people who are just learning and people who are just starting off from what they have learned. Due to the line of work I’m involved in, I am constantly an observer to people taking their first metaphorical steps on the paved road leading to the rest of their years. For a long time, I didn’t really pay attention to it, but these days I do and it’s breathtaking in some way.

As developers, we’re often so focused on where we are in our own experience that we don’t really pay attention to the way we got there and what mighty triumphs we sieged glory in to get there. Do you remember the first line of code you wrote? The first time you compiled something? The first time you committed code to a repository? The first time you ever deployed something to a production environment? Do you remember what it felt like to not know something and feel dumb for it and now you can’t imagine not knowing those things?

Every time you interact with another developer is a moment in that person’s story and is something that will manifest within them for the rest of their lives. From this remember these things:

  • Your life as a developer is a continued learning experience that doesn’t ever end.
  • Every time someone else doesn’t know something you know is a huge opportunity for you to proliferate knowledge. And the way you choose to do that and your attitude towards it will determine how well structured that foundation is.
  • Imposter Syndrome is like herpes. Most of the time it lies dormant in us, but it uses negativity and bad attitudes as a conduit for spreading. Don’t be the jerk that passes it on to others.


Food Science: Maté (or Yerbamate)

When I was in Argentina, one of the most widespread cultural phenomena that I encountered was the maté. Maté is popular enough by now that it has reached the United States. You may have seen bottled beverages labeled as yerbamate–that’s maté, brewed into a cold beverage… usually mixed with some other ingredient for flavor, like mint or pomegranate.  The taste of maté on its own is a unique, acquired taste. I’ve never smoked a tobacco cigarette in my life, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it were similar in flavor.

Anyway. The way we do maté in the US is wildly different from how South America does it! In the US, we are grab-n-go Starbucks consumers by day and reserve social beverage imbibing for beer. In Argentina, however, it is commonplace to hang out with friends and share a maté. This means drinking from the same vessel and passing it around the group. If I had to compare it to something easily familiar to Americans, I’d say it’s like sharing a joint with your friends… except, you know, with less legal implications.

So here’s a walkthrough on what maté is all about!



These are the “basics” of a maté. The maté comes in loose leaf form, usually packed into paper sacks like you might purchase flour. There is a thing called “maté cocido,” which is “cooked maté” and that’s served in satchels, but I think that’s a huge cop-out and I wouldn’t recommend it.  The leaves here are very dry and shredded, kind of like a dusty oregano.

The wooden bit to the right is called a calabaza de maté or, simply, a gourd. You can get these gourds made from a lot of different materials. Some people prefer ceramic or silicone gourds because they are much easier to keep clean. Mine is  actually a gourd and the inside of it kind of looks like a hollowed out pumpkin. You’re supposed to keep these things dry or they grow mold on them very easily (which is why people prefer the ceramic and silicone variety!).

The two things on the bottom are bombillas (in Argentina this is pronounced bohm-beesh-uh, everywhere else bohm-bee-yuh). You only need one for a maté but I included two to show the different types you can use. These are used as a straw, except they don’t open on the bottom–they’re effectively filters, allowing the water to get through without you swallowing maté leaves. The one on the top is a bit more decorative than the bottom one, but both work great :)

You can get all of these supplies from Amazon, however, I did find a really cool international grocery store near me that sold all of these things as well, so they’re not hard to come by and are pretty cheap (everything above shouldn’t cost you more than $10 USD).

Making a maté is not at all like making a tea! You want to heat your water to about 80 degrees fahrenheit or 26 degrees celsius. If you heat it any higher than that, your maté will taste bitter and gross!

First, you fill your gourd with the maté. It should go almost to the top.



It can be kind of messy! And as I said before, dusty. The dust is fine, but you don’t want to drink that, so the next step helps eliminate that. If you’ve ever cooked rice in a pot, you’ve probably used your fingers to help clean the rice and filter out extra starch. This is similar. Place your hand flat on the opening of the gourd so that the opening is completely covered and flip it over a few times. This will sift a lot of the dust out and it’ll end up on your hand like so:




You can just wash this off. You don’t need it for anything! At this point it’s time to put your bombilla into the gourd. You push it down straight at first and then move it a little so the end of the bombilla is touching the other side. Your bombilla will basically look like it’s sitting diagonally. Explaining this makes it sound more complicated than it really is, so here’s a picture:



Pretty obvious, right? My gourd here doesn’t have enough maté in it in this picture, but this is how the bombilla should look. At this point, pour your water in. You want the water to go all the way to the top. Once you’ve filled it, it’s time to drink it! Use the top of the bombilla like a straw and drink until there’s nothing left to drink.

Refill the calabaza with water and pass it on to your friend. They’ll drink out of the same gourd and bombilla. Make sure you take lots of photos of their facial expressions as they react to it for the first time! Keep refilling until you’re done or out of water.

Maté doesn’t have caffeine in it, but it does have something called mateine, which is from the same family of psychoactive ingredients… it works essentially the same as caffeine. You can find a lot of material online from people arguing on both sides that it’s not the same. Some say mateine makes you more relaxed than caffeine or that you need more mateine to get the same effect as caffeine. Unless you plan on taking like 20 hits of the gourd or just flat out cannot have caffeine, I wouldn’t be concerned. It’s no different from drinking a cup of earl gray or a cup of slightly weak coffee (if you’re used to double-shots of espresso, this will do nothing for you, nor should it be your primary intent for drinking maté!)

Would I recommend maté? Sure. It’s a fun socializing activity if nothing else.


What It’s Like to Be Deported

I posted all over social media last night a harrowing, yet vague tale of how I was deported from Brazil and despite having spent the past month in Argentina, was really surprised that this one thing in particular was what people found most interesting. Lots of friends, people I hadn’t even talked to recently, were reaching out to me asking questions. And therein it hit me: The details behind a deportation are often vague and confusing, so I decided to share my story (with no pictures, because obviously when you are being deported you can’t take pictures of anything).

Last month, I booked a round trip flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. On both trips, the flight was routed through Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo, Brazil. Brazil is one of a handful of countries that requires Americans to have a tourist visa to enter. You can’t get that visa at entry. You have to apply for it in advance. The more interesting thing here is that Brazil only requires citizens of 3 countries to have these tourist visas: United States, Canada, and Australia. And the reasoning behind that is highly bureaucratic in nature–it’s in response to the fact that these countries require foreigners to have transit visas to even pass through their airports. This is why U.S. airports are not typically used for layovers between other countries… it’s a mess.

When I booked my flight, I assumed my lack of a Brazilian visa was a non-issue. I wasn’t leaving the airport, afterall, and the country doesn’t issue transit visas, so who cares?

But it’s so complicated.

On my first trip, I was a constant worrywort. In the U.S., all the airline employees for United were asking to see my visa and acted like it was impossible to transit through without one. Some people were claiming I’d need to pass through immigrations at GRU to retrieve my bag and check it back in (which would require a visa). It seemed like no one in the U.S. knew anything about how Brazilian visas worked and after looking things up on a computer, would suddenly be placated with what they found and pass me on to the next step.

Getting to Argentina via São Paulo proved to be a non-issue. In fact, it was a very clean and seamless process, with lots of signage pointing me where to go and what to do.

Returning was a different story.

First, on the flight from Ezeiza (Buenos Aires) to Guarulhos, a flight crew member announced that people with connecting flights would need to recheck their bags. As the flight landed, we were herded off the plane via plane stairs onto a shuttle bus that took us to a baggage claim area that, other than the sign denoting it was a baggage claim, had no other signage indicating where transit passengers needed to go. There was a lone woman in a security uniform who was able to communicate to me (with my fortunate ability to understand elementary-level Portuguese) that I needed to skip the baggage and take the elevator upstairs.

However, when I got upstairs, it was like a maze, with many different hallways ending at various security checkpoints that were not attended to by anyone. Somehow I was able to figure out where I needed to go to connect to the right terminal through trial and error.

I then spent the next 12 hours in GRU. I arrived at 9AM. My outgoing flight was scheduled for 9PM. This is where things start to get really weird. Although Brazil does not offer transit visas, they do have weird regulations on a case-by-case basis of how long a foreigner can remain in the airport.  I think the general understanding is that you can’t stay overnight, but if I had been at Rio, they might have said 12 hours was too long.

Around 8PM, I got my actual boarding pass, but I sensed something was amiss because the United staff at the counter seemed flustered, and about 20 minutes later, a gate attendant announced that the plane was still being maintenanced. No one really seemed concerned by this, however. Most of the other passengers at the gate were chatting and laughing still.  But then about 10 minutes before the flight was supposed to depart, the gate attendant announced that the captain had decided to cancel the flight, that everyone would be automatically rebooked to a new flight the next day at noon, and that everyone would be put up in a hotel for the night.

This was the first time while traveling that I’ve ever felt really scared and completely unsure of what my fate might be.  Sure, people might warn you about getting mugged in certain cities or getting dangerously ill, but there’s nothing really quite as frightening as the idea of being trapped somewhere. And the thing about GRU is, unlike many other airports, there seem to be very few employees anywhere to be found.

At first, I said to the gate attendant in a panic, “I can’t stay here overnight. I’m a US citizen.” It didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t really communicating what the problem was and that instead, I just sounded like some entitled bitch trying to get out of the country. The guy assured me that everything was fine and walked away. On second pass, I flagged him down again, “So do I need to just stay in the airport for the night then or what?” He replied, “Why would you do that?” And suddenly, the mic drop: “I don’t have a visa. I am a transit passenger.”

Suddenly, the attitude changed. My passport was quickly grabbed from my hand, my information was verified on a computer, and the United employee was commanding me to follow him, not telling me where we were going. First, he took me to another United gate for a flight to Newark, which had just departed. He was obviously trying to just switch me to another flight to avoid the drama. Because if I get stuck there, the airline gets heavily fined as part of my deportation for not preventing it.

As we continued walking, he angrily but calmly (perhaps compassionately because he could see it in my face how upset I was, I think a few tears had come out at this point) asked me why I didn’t mention from the start that I was without a visa. I explained, “I’m so sorry, I was panicking.” He replied, “It’s okay, but now, so am I!”

I was then led to another man, who I was handed off to. This guy led me to a dark room, its purpose I’m not exactly sure of. A detaining room, I’d guess. A lot of Portuguese was being passed around, no English. I speak just enough Portuguese to know that they were talking about all the specifics of deporting me.

Fortunately, within 30 minutes, it was explained to me that I would be removed from the airport on another US-bound flight, which fortunately was leaving in the next hour, supposedly if I had stayed past midnight, I really would have been in huge trouble, because they count the rollover of the clock as an additional day. Either way, I was not legally allowed to be in GRU and I was being deported.

They placed me on an extremely full flight in which other people were battling to get onto. The man who was in charge of escorting me (who seemed to be like the equivalent of an airport security marshall) had to explain to all the angry passengers at the gate that I had priority over them because they were legally required to remove me from the country–this got me all sorts of negative attention, lots of angry gossiping, pointing at me, sneers… it was crazy… it kind of felt like 1/1000 of what it must have felt like to be Hitler.

As I walked on to the jet bridge, I was also selected for a full security search. I’m not sure if this was really random. It might have been just the weirdest coincidence ever, but my entire bag was looted through, hands and stomach swabbed, and I was firmly groped in a few choice places. This didn’t personally bother me, but I can easily understand why people get so upset over this.

Once on the plane, nothing was really any different from any other flight. I was just like any other passenger. I only “paid” for the flight in the sense that I had already paid for my first flight. They just transferred me to the new flight. If I hadn’t had the other flight, I would have had to pay for my own deportation at whatever the cost of the ticket was.

Yes, the irony is that they were deporting me to the United States as I was trying to leave to the United States. I’m honestly not sure if they would have deported me elsewhere if no other U.S. flight were available. I also don’t know yet what the legal ramifications are of my deportation. Because of enormous language barriers, very little was communicated to me. I felt like a lab rat being passed around. I’m pretty sure there are no long-term consequences. People are denied entry to countries due to visa issues all the time, but the deportation isn’t like a red flag. One time, when I was living in Portland and was on a flight to France, a woman at the airport threatened me with a “warning” on my passport. 27 countries later, and said mark has yet to affect any of my travels.

My checked luggage departed on a separate flight and supposedly will meet me at my final destination, making passing through customs at O’Hare sans bag a very awkward experience: “How can you declare wine without having wine?” “Well, it’s on this other flight…”

All in all, it’s an interesting story for its face value, but the intricacies of it are inanely boring  and wholly uninteresting, so I’m sorry for that.

I won’t outright say it’s dumb to book a layover in Brazil if you don’t have the visa, but you should probably not book a red-eye flight as your layover flight from Brazil if you’re in these circumstances, because any delay or cancellation will put you in this really horrible position.

Edit for people that don’t know how to read: You can transit through Brazil without a visa. I did not get deported because I was simply transiting without a visa. I got deported because you have to transit within a certain time period–something that usually isn’t a problem, otherwise airlines wouldn’t let you book flights through Brazil in the first place. 


Food Science: Garlic

Garlic is kind of a wonder-food, but it’s also a conversational one-trick pony. Mention it to someone, and you’ll doubtlessly be met with remarks about its odor and its proven ability to drive others away. I personally think this kind of response is kind of a vulnerable personality defense mechanism, because no one is that socially involved that they are constantly worried about garlic breath. But, looking past that, garlic is amazing and fairly misunderstood as a plant.

First off, garlic contains an enzyme called alliinase. It also contains a sulfoxide compound called alliin. When you chop fresh garlic, the alliinase turns the alliin into allicin, which is responsible for the distinct smell garlic has. These compounds are closely linked to syn-propanethial s-oxide, the compound found in fresh onion that makes you cry. However, its role within garlic doesn’t stop there. Allicin is a naturally occurring:

  • Antimicrobial/antibiotic
  • Antiviral
  • Antifungal

And that’s pretty crazy. In fact, allicin is so potent that if taken during the start of a cold or flu, it can be as effective as taking Tamiflu. That’s not to say you should skip the doctor when you’re sick, but garlic helps and unlike a lot of weird homeopathy remedies that don’t work, it has a lot of science to back its efficacy!

But I’m not going to lie, garlic is kind of gross to eat raw.  Even if you eat just a nibble of a clove, it can burn like crazy and who wants that? During the winter, I wanted to step up my garlic consumption without feeling its taste constantly on my palate, overwhelming the flavor of everything else I ate that day, so I started to experiment with it a lot more.

1. Mix With Honey and Tea

Mince a clove and mix it with a few tablespoons of raw honey (raw is crucial here, get the real stuff, it’s worth it). Let this mixture stand for about 10 minutes. Raw honey has a lot of cool stuff in it too (but that’s for another post) and the enzymes in it will help bring out the garlic’s oil, which contains the allicin, better. You can eat this with a spoon straight or mix it in with a cup of green tea if you want to look like a classy debutante from 1920s England.

What ends up happening here is you will end up with subtle notes of spice that are held together by the sweetness of the honey with a bit of your tea’s flavor as well. If you feel like a clove is too much (and that’s perfectly understandable), 1/4 or 1/2 of a clove is just as good.

Side note: Don’t feed raw honey to little babies. Honey has a bacteria in it that babies don’t have a developed immunity to.  However, this should be great for you to help you kick your cold (or other illness)’s butt.



2. Eat an Apple Afterwards

Eat a fresh apple after eating garlic to avoid garlic breath. Apples contain polyphenols, which break down any leftover allicin hanging around in your mouth and esophagus.

3. Cut It and Cook It Properly to Match Your Personal Tastes

Sadly, taking garlic supplements don’t give you quite the health punch as fresh garlic does. This is because allicin has a pretty short shelf life, so you may get some allicin out of a enteric-coated pill but it won’t be nearly as good for you as freshly peeled garlic.

When cooking with garlic, mincing your garlic is the best way to avoid pungent flavoring and garlic breath while getting the most of its oils. There’s a lot of different ways you can prepare garlic. A garlic press will cause your garlic to lack subtlety in both flavor and overall kick because it releases all of its oils in one crushing blow. That’s not to say there isn’t a time or a place for it, but if you don’t want your garlic to take the wheel in your food’s flavor profile, you might want to stick to mincing or at most, crushing with the flat blade of a chef’s knife. The finer your mincing, the more potent the garlic will be because you’ll start to release more of its oils.

4. Make Your Garlic Sweet

That’s crazy talk, right?  But no, black garlic is the jam if you want a milder, sweeter version of garlic. Black garlic’s been used for ages in Korea, so it’s not a new thing by any means.

Making black garlic can be a nightmare though, so if you’re not up for playing kitchen mad scientist, you can pick it up from Trader Joe’s or on Amazon (side note: Make sure you get it dry, not jarred in olive oil, which will drastically change its flavor profile).

If you do want to play kitchen scientist, you’ll need to place about 3-10 unpeeled garlic heads into a rice cooker or a slow cooker on low heat (140 degrees Fahrenheit, or in the 120-150 range) for 10 to 40 days. And no, that is not a typo, which is why you want to make huge batches of the stuff if you’re going to do it. It’s not fast!

This  process will turn your garlic pure black.I’ve had some conversations with friends about what exactly is happening in this process and the general feeling here is trepidation and uncertainty. So, let me offer reassurance… garlic is really hard to go bad if kept in the right environment. Because it has those magic ingredients, alliinase and alliin, which have anti-fungal properties, it has a lot of self-preservation working in its favor.

Unless your garlic dries out its enzymes, it’s almost impossible for it to grow mold or fungus. It may grow sprouts, but the garlic is still good provided you trim those sprouts before cooking it. One time, when I was young and living in South Carolina in an old house during my college years, I had a misplaced bulb of garlic start to ferment in the hot summer heat. The whole house smelled terrible while I spent days searching for it. Don’t let this happen to you!

Garlic has a magic temperature range from around 120 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit  where it “ferments” (it’s incorrect to say it ferments since it doesn’t but you’ll hear this word a lot when talking about black garlic). Any cooler and you’re just slowly drying it out, any hotter and you’re cooking it!

You don’t need to include any other ingredients for this to happen because garlic has its own sugar and amino acids that will produce an ingredient called  melanoidin, which a lot of people say is responsible for the garlic “caramelizing” itself, which is another word you’ll often hear the process of making black garlic referred to as, rather than fermentation.

You may, however, know  melanoidin from a completely different place. It’s commonly found in the world of brewing in Bavarian style chocolate or caramel wheat ales. Anyway, black garlic is basically super garlic. The fermentation brings out higher concentrations of a compound called s-allylcysteine, which helps your body absorb allicin, that antimicrobial compound we talked about earlier.

After staying in your rice cooker for a long time, you should split the heads into their individual cloves (but don’t peel the cloves) and allow them to dry for a few days. Depending on how they’re cooked, you’ll experience different levels of sweetness. Some that I tried from Amazon tasted more like figs. The black garlic I made myself tasted like black cherries.

There’s a lot of ways you can use black garlic in your cooking, but I personally know that black garlic works really well with acidity, so what I ended up doing was pureeing it and then creating a reduction with it using balsamic vinegar. I then used this reduction with roasted beets–this played up the flavor of the beets like you would never imagine. I’ve heard tale that you can also use this same type of reduction to make an incredible stir fry.

If you’re really far removed from the culinary world and don’t know much about reductions: If you’ve ever been in a fancy restaurant and saw an artistic drizzle on the plate for your savory entree, there’s a good chance that was a reduction. A reduction is a thickened, more flavorful version of something that starts off as a thinner liquid–artistic drizzles are often the easiest way to plate something like this without it looking like a mess :)

So yeah.

I love garlic. It’s spicy, unique, and when used correctly in your culinary adventures, extremely tasty. It doesn’t seem to be a commonplace staple in American cuisine, but branch out in any direction of ethnic cuisine and you’ll immediately find it, you’ll find it easily.  It’s also one of many plants recognized by the medical community as a superfood. Eat it now before you get sick.

Mexico City: Bedbugs, $60 Shoeshines, and Papal Demons

In fall 2013, I briefly lived in Mexico City for about a month and a half. I never got the chance to write about it, mostly because I was too busy and it felt like every moment I was about to have the opportunity to sit and write, some new, odd, and unusual thing was happening.


I was in New York City when I made the decision to go. Why Mexico, I’m not really sure. I had no home. No plans. And I had a matter of days to figure out where I was going next. Where I end up is often arbitrary and decided on a roulette of whim. Sometimes, it’s answering to the question of “where I will get the most of my money?”. Other times, it’s “where will I live most authentically and not constantly be engaging with and having my feet stepped on by other Americans?” Typically the answer to both of these questions are the same types of places.

So I simply figured Mexico, namely Mexico D.F., was worth a shot and found a guy who was in Amsterdam at the time, subletting his top floor apartment in a neighborhood (or colonia, as they are called there) called Roma Norte for a scandalously low price. Unlike other adventures I’ve embarked on, I was feeling jaded at the time. I was superficially excited, but I was in a dark place on the inside, feeling no more like a nomad… but more like a drifting vagrant on the run. I wasn’t without action or decisiveness, but I didn’t feel like anything I did mattered.


The night of my trip, my first flight was delayed and I ended up arriving at LAX 2 hours after my flight departed, at 2AM, rescheduling my flight into Benito Juarez on a 7AM flight. I waived the opportunity to get a free hotel room and slept on the floor using my backpack as a makeshift pillow. A cleaning lady continuously bumped my backpack with a vacuum cleaner. This made me feel exceptionally homeless.

I was working for DeviantART at the time. And I was notoriously known for 30,000 feet deploys and commits from weird IP addresses in other countries, but I didn’t say anything at the time to anyone. I wanted to disappear. I was tired of the identity I had created for myself by negation. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t own things. I’m the kind of person who never wants for anything. I’m the kind of person who always bucks tradition. And, you know, when you are all of these things, or none of them rather, people lose all ability to relate to you except through the lens of voyeurism and vicariousness. Maybe not all who wander are lost, but sometimes those who wander are misguided gypsies.

When I first arrived into Mexico City, it was mid-afternoon and the taxi driver dumped me off at the corner of Calle Chihuahua and Avenida Frontera (as a side-note, I never did figure out what Frontera, which translates to “border”, was actually supposed to be a border to, because the eastern border of the Roma neighborhood was actually one street over on Cuauhtémoc). Given that Teseo, the guy who owned the apartment, was out of the country, I needed to call the building’s super to get in. This was an old lady named Nati, who spoke no English and was perhaps the sweetest little old lady I have ever met. For perspective, Nati lived in the building’s garage and spent her days parking cars and mopping the stairwell with turpentine and flannel sheets. Despite her meager living, every morning when I ran down the stairs, she was there to greet me with a polite smile and a calm “buenas.”

My first meeting with Nati was one of confusion and near-panic and within moments, turned all of the gloom and funk hanging over me into a surreal awareness that… well, when shit goes all wrong, sometimes it’s pretty fucking funny. And that’s what my life in Mexico was. Things were constantly going haywire in the worst way possible, but even as I was living it, man it was a riot.

And so, I will share, now, all these horrible stories.


My penthouse was great. From the front door of the building to the inside of my apartment, there were 5 separate locks with 5 individual keys. There was an initial door that entered into a very tiny atrium leading to a second door which led to my terrace. Far inside the terrace was the glass door entrance to the apartment’s interior. The penthouse was, inside, fairly averaged sized (maybe 400-500sqft?), but its terrace was 800sqft and had an impressive view of the central historic district with both sunset and sunrise views.


Inside, although decorated quite fascinatingly, there was something left to be desired. It was dirty and despite frequent attempts to resolve this with Nati, the water heater was broken. Fortunately my gym down the street, which I went to daily, had hot water.

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The weather was hot, and I often slept with the front door to the terrace open. About a week in, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night to bites. I wasn’t sure what was causing the bites. They were too small to be mosquito bites, I was sure. Ant bites? Maybe. Stinging flies? Possibly. Maybe it was the open door. I closed it one night, but still, there I was once more waking to weird track marks down my arms and legs. Parts of my body that were buried under the sheets also victim. I wasn’t sure what to say, but all signs were pointing at bedbugs.


I had already invited my boyfriend, Joel, who I had just recently started dating less than a month before, to come visit… and was horrified of the thought of him being exposed. For me, it wouldn’t have been a huge deal. I had no home. But he did. I wasn’t sure what to say to him. We had only just had the “is this a relationship” talk and I didn’t know what the protocol was for having the “do you want to share my insect infestation” talk.

I also didn’t want to say anything to Nati or Teseo without knowing for sure. A cleaning lady, Vicki, came by once a week, but I found communicating with her difficult. We never seemed to be in the apartment at the same time. And she often left notes for me asking if she could take the leftover bread and any uneaten food I had in my fridge. Her letters were filled with spelling errors that are relatively confusing for someone who doesn’t speak the language natively.


Ah yes, te llebaste. I sort of appreciated this, though. As a non-native speaker, these aren’t the same types of spelling mistakes I make. When your ear is trained differently, the way you fail is different too.

So yeah. I moved the bed from the wall and decided to flip the mattress to inspect for bugs. But I didn’t see any bugs, per se. It was just that special kind of dirty that causes immediate gagging. I’m pretty sure there were blood stains. The stains were probably millimeters wide but in my head, they’ve been exaggerated to several feet in diameter. And at that point, I really didn’t know who to turn to, lest I let the guy subletting his apartment to me know that I was privy to his undercover murder house.

I ended up booking a separate place to stay for a couple of weeks in a hotel in the historic district, put all of my clothes in a tightly sealed plastic bag and bought new clothes at the mall–which is a huge testament to how cheap it is to live in Mexico. I took the bed sheets to the corner tintoria (full-service laundromat), hoping for the best. It’s really hard to explain just how dirty and tainted I felt. No matter how clean my clothes were or how many showers I took, every time a stray hair tickled my arm, I reactively flinched.

When I went to collect the sheets from the tintoria, the lady handed me back someone else’s bed spread. Alarmed, I pointed at it, letting her know, “Este no es mi cobertor…” (this isn’t my cover) We had a back and forth in which we discussed various colors and I misremembered what color my different blankets were, but it ultimately was uncovered that my blankets had ended up on a delivery truck out to someone’s house and I, feeling more guilty than ever, eeked out, “podria haber estado chinches…” (“there may have been bedbugs…”)

Several phone calls were made and after waiting 20 minutes at the counter, getting the stink eye from the tintoria owner and her daughter, the plastic-wrapped bed spread was thrown in my arms and I turned and walked out never to return.

As it turns out, I learned after a week, I did not have bed bugs. I just had a very dirty apartment with random biting bugs. Which kind of bugs, I may never known.

$60 Shoeshine

Remember me saying that living in Mexico is cheap? That’s when you’re not getting accosted by weird men on the street after dark. One night I was walking back to the historic district from the Reforma colonia, a bit north of Roma Norte and a bit west of Centro Historico, with Joel after eating dinner. Walking in D.F. is not particularly dangerous, no more than walking in a large American city is. In fact, it’s sort of charming at night. Different street vendors walk around with carts selling tamales or trying to buy your used junk. Like an ice cream truck, you can hear these from blocks away, playing recordings. The recordings are often a monotonous voice chanting things like, “Hay ricos tamales oaxaquenos calientitos” (guy selling fresh tamales made in the style of the Oaxaca region of Mexico) and “Se compran colchones, tambores, refrigeradores, estufas, microondas, o algo de fierra viejo que vendaaaaaaann” (guy buying your old mattresses and household appliances). Sometimes the cart has a sharp whistling sound. This might be a steamed yam guy. But it might also be the knife sharpener.

I was sick and my leather boots were speckled in many layers of dirt from D.F.’s dusty streets. When the old man in his dingy grandpa denim slacks and red suspenders kneeled down before me on the street, offering to touch up my shoes for 120MXN, I thought, “Yeah I need it. And that’s not a horrible price, why not.” We talked as he quickly buffed my left shoe, he moved on to the right. And suddenly, he was asking for 240MXN. I quickly said, “No, you said 120…” to which he replied, “That was per shoe,” and before I knew it, he was doubling the price again in some other shifty manner. It was confusing and suddenly I realized, we were in a darkly lit street and no one was around and he was grabbing the last bit of cash…. 1000MXN, roughly $60-65 USD at the time. It sounds ridiculous and there’s really no explaining how it all went down–the guy was a grifter. I’ve tried to recount the whole experience with Joel, but between the two of us, we’ve never been able to really rehedge the whole thing in a logical fashion. It was all very crafty slight of hand, robbery.

For days, I was somewhat angry about it. I could have walked away, but I’d be putting myself at risk if he had a concealed weapon. The guy didn’t look particularly noteworthy and I knew reporting it to the police was worthless. But… here’s the kicker, he did do an excellent job shining my shoes. They looked brand new. And he gave me tips on how to keep the shine looking good. So he definitely knew what he was doing. And because of that, it was suddenly comical. $60 wasn’t a lot of money to me. It didn’t ruin my week. So I learned to let it go.

It was the most expensive shoe shine I have ever received.


72 Hours of Non-Stop Fireworks and Gunfire

Everyone knows about Dia de los Muertes. It’s the day after Halloween (Noche de Brujas [Witches' Night]) on November 1st. However, Mexico celebrates a few holidays before these days, including a very important holiday called Dia de San Judas Tadeo. San Judas Tadeo is the Patron Saint of Bottle Rockets. Actually, it’s Saint Jude the Apostle, but you’d never know that based on a visit to Mexico. It started off with a fairly lovely celebration involving some folk dancing and street celebration (link to video) .

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As I’ve mentioned a few times now, I was sick for a couple of weeks. I won’t go into excruciating detail, but it felt like my upper abdomen was being stabbed with a knife repeatedly, I didn’t have any antibiotics with me, and it wasn’t available over the counter in the pharmacies. As a result of my illness, I had very little awareness for a few days of anything occurring around me unless its impact somehow managed to outdo the sensation of being stabbed.

Sometime on the 27th of October, it began. It sounded like distant gunshots in the middle of the afternoon. I was walking up the street along Parque Alameda on a beautiful Sunday afternoon trying to find a pharmacy willing to sell me under-the-table Cipro, when I heard a lone blast from several blocks away. “Que extraña,” I remarked to the cashier but she seemed disinterested and unfazed by the noise. As I walked back to the hotel empty-handed, the shots started to increase in frequency, but everyone on the streets seemed about as unmoved as the pharmacy cashier. I tried to reason an explanation internally, deciding quite judgmentally that crime must be so crazy in Mexico that people don’t even notice gunshots anymore (side note: crime in Mexico City proper is about as bad as any similar sized city in the United States). In hindsight, this was a really stupid observation because I’d been in Mexico for a month at this point and had never heard any gunshots before then.

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The streets outside Parque Alameda are crazy on weekends, filled with all sorts of people (link to video). It’s like being in Times Square except without all the highrises and advertisements for Broadway shows. No one is really going anywhere in particular. There’s just a lot of strolling and enjoying being with your friends and family. A lot of street performers. But as undertones to all the music and laughter, distant gunshots continued to erupt from some neighborhoods southeast of the area.

“What is that??” I thought, but I was just too sick to even want to go investigate. When the pharmacist couldn’t even hook me up with “acetaminofeno,” I was about to lose my mind, wondering how a pharmacy couldn’t have something as simple as Tylenol, only to have a woman interrupt the conversation–I guess she had traveled to the US before and explained to me that outside of the US, everyone knows it as paracetamol, all the while gunfire continued to ring in my ears. After thanking the random woman, I commented how loud the guns were, but she just shrugged as if it were nothing to her.

As the day grew long into the night, the gunshots turned into bottle rockets–and so many of them. They were being set off from the roofs of adjacent industrial supply stores and were spaced apart by only a matter of seconds. Even more confused, I turned to Twitter but it felt like the combination of gunfire and fireworks were just one big inside joke amongst everyone. My favorite tweet was from a guy who said, “Escuchar fuegos pirotécnicos mientras estás cagando… El df lo tiene todo” (“Hearing fireworks while you’re shitting, D.F. has it all.”).

The fireworks continued all night long and were still going strong the next morning. You couldn’t see them though. They were commercial grade only in volume but cheap with no visual effect. About as disappointing as you can get. This went on for 3 full days. I’m not really sure the exact time they finally stopped, but it was at some point in the middle of the night the day before Dia de Muertos… when things grew more crazy. The streets then were flooded with all sorts of costumed figures, including video game characters, oversized gorillas, and a demonic version of the Pope? *shrug*

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Because of my very non-Hispanic facial features, the face painter did a very weird job painting my face to the extent that I made a small child cry and overheard a young girl asking her mother, “What’s wrong with her face??” I thought my face looked pretty cool, but I guess it was too weird for some people :)

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A Plate of Paella Bigger Than Your Head

While both of us were simultaneously sick, Joel and I headed over to a part of town that is only frequented by locals and ended up in an upstairs traditional restaurant, Casa Rosalía. The waitress was a very portly grandma-type figure with a very assertive discipline in the way she spoke. The restaurant was fairly busy and even though it was nearly 6PM, still relied on fading sunlight as its only lighting. A group of musicians were set up in the center of the ballroom-sized room playing an accordion duet. A somewhat irritated-looking old man in a baggy sweat and salt and pepper hair sat at a neighboring table, occasionally throwing shade at us with his side eye and sipping the tiniest cup of coffee (link to video). He didn’t seem to enjoy the music.

I had read Foursquare reviews of this restaurant. Foursquare is fairly popular with Mexicans and so all the reviews are by locals, but you’ll be hard pressed to find decently rated restaurants outside of Condesa (one of the richest, popular neighborhoods), everything else seems to fall around a 5-7. Everyone recommended the paella at this restaurant. “Q rico” they all said. And “OK” I said. Naturally we should be eating seafood when we both have stomach illnesses. It’s logical, right?

The waitress gave us a mild look of approval as we both ordered it, the only positive expression we’d see from her. When she returned, she came bearing two plates of paella, each one certainly, and with no exaggerations, bigger than my own head. I ate about 1/6 of it. It was delicious. I wouldn’t say it was as good as a Spanish paella but it had its own unique charms in terms of freshness and flavor. But it was just way too much.

The old lady finally returned and seemed confused, asking if we didn’t enjoy our food. I reassured her that it couldn’t be better, but that we were both sick and that it was difficult to eat so much. In some restaurants, the waiter would take this as a cue to take the food away. But she stood and stared. When I asked for “la cuenta, porfa” (the bill), she shook her head no, and told us that we had to eat more.

It must have been here aggressive head-of-the-family nature, but we obliged and continued to peck at our paellas. She would return every now and then, still not pleased with the amount of food left on the plate. After half an hour, I started doing things I haven’t done since I was maybe 5, like trying to rearrange food on the plate so that it looked like I’d eaten more than I had and even reaching across to Joel’s plate trying to advise him on how he could do the same with his (“Look if you scoop the rice to the sides, you can see the bottom of the plate…”)

The waitress returned a fourth time and finally I started to beg for the bill, telling her that it was delicious but we feel very sick and don’t have anywhere to keep the food in order to take it in a box to go. She finally gave us the bill, but not without a stern lecture on wasting food and several grumpy looks from the old man nearby.

“Women don’t do that around here.”

I lift weights. These days, I do Crossfit and do more olympic-style lifting, but back in these days, I was more into powerlifting, like back squats and deadlifts. I didn’t want to give that up when I was in Mexico, so I got a membership at a gym near my apartment in Roma Norte. It wasn’t a huge gym, but it had a respectable amount of equipment encompassing two floors of the building and having a dance studio. Going to non-Crossfit gyms, I was used to there not being many women in the free weights area and getting all sorts of odd looks, but it was a very different vibe at this gym and I got a weird peak into gender cultures one day after finishing up a fairly low-weight set of back squats.

I passed by the locker room attendant and started taking off my shoes. I was kind of on edge because there’s a lot of etiquette and rules that vary in other countries when it comes to gyms (for instance, the concept of having to shower naked in front of other people in Iceland before using the pools) and I really had no idea what was normal here. The locker room mirrors were plastered with some sort of fake notice about how it will cost you like, 50 pesos to wash your hands at the sink if you don’t stop wasting water (as an outsider, it was hard to not take this at face value and was kind of weird until I realized it wasn’t for real). And occasional reminders from other women in the locker room that you shouldn’t leave anything, even stuff that is worth nothing, in the locker room while you work out because it’ll get stolen.

People were usually helpful in letting me in on these little things without me really asking for it. So when a group of four women suddenly accosted me one afternoon in the locker room after my workout as I was putting my street shoes back on… I just assumed they were going to clue me in on some other thing I didn’t know. We don’t do that around here, one of them said. I was lost. I thought maybe she meant change clothes in the locker room and I looked around and didn’t see anyone else changing. “Oh…” I said, not really sure how to react and feeling kind of put on the spot, maybe even embarrassed a bit for committing whatever faux pas. But it was a short-lived feeling of embarrassment because my naivette caught up with me and I realized after the fact that they were being kind of rude. So I picked up my bag and started to walk out.

Suddenly, in English, I heard the words, “You’re gonna get ugly.” I turned around, the locker room attendant suddenly to my side, my face a crinkled sack of bewilderment, and stymied out the words, “Excuse me?” I felt like I was in some teen movie from the 80s. I didn’t realize bullying like this actually took place in real life, especially amongst adults. I think these were adult women at least. Maybe they were just super-developed teenagers who confused me for a teen. I don’t know.

“You keep doing those exercises, you gonna get big and you gonna get ugly.”

The words just kind of hung there in the air and I wasn’t sure what to do. “Ummm.” My face was getting red. Other people outside of the locker room could hear my side of things and were starting to stare. I continued to hem and haw. “I…. ”

The women started to laugh and I didn’t know what to do, so I just turned around and left, not really feeling like playing into their drama. I later found out they were dance students taking some sort of combo Rumba/Hip-Hop fusion class and after each session they would stare out into the adjacent free weights area to ogle the guys who lifted weights.

It’s a really negative story and I would never make the idiotic claim that women there were “bitches” or anything so assuming like that, since that’s really not true at all… I met so many genuinely nice people in D.F., but it gave me that crude insight into gender roles–the things that go unspoken. Far less women do serious weight lifting (Mexico historically has not had much presence in the weightlifting category of the Olympics from female competitors).

But it hung over me. And I suddenly became more aware of how much of an outsider I was in the gym. And how devastating it must be to be a woman who lives here permanently and feel like you can lift so much but yet you can’t lift off the oppressive weight of everyone’s disapproving stares.

Scarring My Hand on a Pyramid

Before leaving D.F., I took a trip out to the Aztec pyramids. This involved taking the metro to a kind of far-out bus station that ran out to the pyramids. However, it was not a tour bus, but a normal bus route that just happened to have an hour-long route that led out to these semi-rural pyramids. To be as creepy as possible, the bus company takes photos of every single passenger on the bus before the bus departs the station in case the bus gets hijacked and all the passengers kidnapped or held hostage. Halfway into the bus ride out, a traditional Mariachi player in full costume boards the bus at the outskirts of a random neighborhood and serenades us all with music. The music is actually pretty fucking good, despite being about as campy as possible.


Finally, we are dropped off at the pyramids. It was a semi-touristy place, I admit, filled with these horrid souvenir shops. The guy selling admission warns us about the sunlight, which is very, very fierce out in this area, even at ground-level. None of the shops had sunblock, so I ended up buying the largest and gaudiest sombrero I could find to shield me from the light. The sombrero was about twice as wide as my body and had a weight to it that made it impossible for me to turn my head.


From every direction, you could hear the sound of coyote whistles being sold from random men.

And then there were the actual pyramids. The largest one, Pyramid of the Sun, is one of the largest pyramids in Mesoamerica, very, very steep with short steps. The steps, for both directions, have a shared wire rope. Many people scale these pyramids, many of them very, very old women with no lower body strength. They would hold on to the wires and pull themselves up using just their arms.


Even with the hat on, the sun was making me somewhat dizzy and so I grabbed on to wire near the very top… where most people tend to let go… and the wires suddenly tend to fray. The wires hit the outside of my hand in such a way that gently ripped open my skin, forcing me to have to sit down and apply pressure at such a high altitude to get it to stop bleeding.

I don’t really have any scars. My skin has always managed to be pretty resistant to scarring somehow. But even still today… I have a scar from the time I climbed a pyramid. And that’s pretty cool.


But it was all pretty fucking good.

All of these are pretty negatively based stories, but you know, I kind of had a blast in Mexico. There’s gorgeous art everywhere you look. History. Some of the nicest people you could meet. Dia de Muertos has the most beautiful flower arrangements. Conchas and Pan de Muerto are like the best breakfast breads ever. Mezcal tastes like a soft velvety dream. And, in general, there’s very few places I’ve been that felt quite as alive as D.F. did at night.

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TQM, Mexico D.F.!

Iceland, ho!

I arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland on Friday morning. Given that I didn’t travelogue my life and journeys in Mexico, South Africa, or anywhere else I’ve been recently, I figured I should give it a shot this time around.


I have a very bad habit of opening Hipmunk, entering a random city and looking for cheap plane tickets. I’m not sure what provokes this in me, but I do it rather relentlessly. However, Reykjavik was not cheap, at least not 3 weeks in advance. The cheapest ticket from where I was in the US was asking for over $4,000 per round-trip ticket. Somehow, booking separate flights knocked the cost down by thousands of dollars–but was a terrifying gamble given the possibility of the first flight being significantly delayed or cancelled. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and I ended up getting a painless and cheap trip to the land of vikings.

Anyway, here is my list of things they don’t tell you about Iceland before you go to Iceland, with photos which may or may not be relevant to the things being discussed:

  1. Flying to Iceland is eas[y](ier than flying to Paris, Frankfurt, Zagreb, or Barcelona). The flight from JFK to KEF is 5 hours–or 6 awkward naps while watching episodes of Modern Family.IMG_0218
  2. It may be 6:45AM at Keflevik Airport, but every damn person in the airport will have a minimum of 3 beers or 3 glasses of wine in front of them. These viking folk drink like they can’t get their freshman 15 to stick. [edit: I think this is more likely to be a result of the fact that alcohol is available tax-free in the airport unlike the government monopoly stores you will find all over Reykjavik]
  3. You will have a hard time finding vanilla extract in Reykjavik. This is because they keep it behind the counter at grocery stores to deter booze-hungry thieves. There also seems to be no baking soda. It’s kind of amazing of an experience to realize how much we rely on brand to recognize things, like say the orange box of Arm & Hammer baking soda. Icelandic packaging is kind of adorable though.IMG_4923
  4. Despite #3, there is practically no crime in Iceland. People will leave their bicycles unlocked anywhere. There are less than 200 prisoners in Iceland total.Messages Image(2021202931)
  5. When you eat the fermented shark, you are eating rotten shark that has been fermented in urine. People will say this tastes and smells disgusting. It didn’t taste wonderful to me, but it didn’t make me retch or anything either.  I chased mine with a shot of Brennivín, which Icelanders refer to as “Black Death.” It didn’t taste great either, but it also didn’t taste bad.SAMSUNG CSC
  6. Puffin breast? It tastes like liver. It tasted better to me than the kind of liver I ate for Menú in Perú (I’m not a gigantic liver aficionado), far less of the chalky aftertaste.SAMSUNG CSC
  7. 7. Despite the old saying that Greenland is ice and Iceland is green, I’m sad to report that Iceland does experience snow. It’s sort of a charming snow though. Basically, imagine Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole, and spread it out into an entire town and you will have Reykjavik.IMG_4891
  8. Icelanders have very unique Christmas folklore. Their Christmas season starts in early December and lasts through January 6th. Instead of a single Santa Claus, they witness what are called the 13 Yule Lads. The Yule Lads also have a mom named Gryla and a Yule Cat. Most of these characters are more malevolent than anything. For example, each of the Yule Lads makes an appearance every night for 13 nights, doing different things like licking pots and slamming doors. If you’re good, you get presents. If you’re bad, they put rotting potatoes in your shoes  (kids are supposed to leave their shoes in the window for this).IMG_4906If you don’t get new clothes for Christmas, the Yule Cat will come and eat all of the food in your house so you won’t have anything to eat for Christmas. If you’re really bad, Gryla will come and eat you.
  9. There’s like 4-5 hours of day light here in the winter. The sun rises between 10:30 and 11:30 and sets between 3:30 and 4.  You’d think this would be entirely depressing but Reykjavik has astounding night life and being able to see the sun rise and set every day is kind of awesome. It works kind of well with the Christmas-y feel of the city. The snow, the Advent candles in every window, a glowing fading sunlight that makes the streets twinkle a tiny bit.SAMSUNG CSC
  10. Iceland is part of the EU but it is still using its own currency, which is somewhat confusing due to its conversion rate. 1 USD is 124.5 ISK. Being told that your lunch is 1,800 Krona is always a tiny bit alarming. Reykjavik is entirely cashless from what I can tell. That is, you can get cash from an ATM but I can’t think of a single place you would need it. I did overhear someone saying you could barter with a few “herrings” which sounded cute.IMG_4904
  11. Eating out in Iceland is expensive!SAMSUNG CSC
  12. Fortunately, I’m Paleo so I am cooking quite a bit and food staples in Iceland are not quite as expensive… it’s about on par with what my groceries cost when I lived in Portland and Austin. The cool news is that things like coconut flour cost maybe $3/kg instead of $10. Vegetables are cheap and learning vocabulary from shopping at the grocery store is also rad. For example, the word for beet is the words red and earth. I also learned that the word for funeral literally translates to “earth journey.”IMG_4886
  13. We like to think it’s fish, but Icelanders are very proud of their hot dogs. They top them with a brown mustard called pylsusinnep, cronions (crunchy fried onions), and a remoulade. There is also a gigantic language debate amongst Icelanders about the correct word to use. Some people say it’s “pylsa” (which is what I have seen plastered all over the city) while others will argue that it’s “pulsa.” The people who argue the latter claim that by saying “pylsa,” you are saying “hot canine” instead of “hot dog.”SAMSUNG CSC
  14. Icelanders don’t really perceive Americans as foreigners in the same way they do other people. That is, they don’t see us as being “exotic” or far removed in the same way that many other countries often do. I mean, most other countries have huge exposure to American culture but often not quick and easy access to interact directly with Americans–Icelanders easily have that luxury every day. We have such a long, long history with the country. Everyone here… and I mean everyone… speaks English fluently. Even though we are an ocean apart, there are more Americans visiting and living here than from other European countries.
  15. Icelanders have some pretty tasty Christmas beers and quasi-alcoholic beverages. One of them is called Malt og Appelsín, which is a combination of two drinks: Maltextrakt (a low alcohol beer) and Appelsín, an orange-flavored carbonated beverage. The idea of it sounds horrible but the execution is actually quite nice. There are a lot of other Christmas beers that are popular, but so far this is the only one I’ve tried.IMG_4963
  16. The water here smells like sulphur. That’s because Iceland is all geothermal energy. I was expecting to get used to it, but I really haven’t. It smells weird. I haven’t washed my hair yet either and I’m kind of nervous about it because my hair is very thick and curly and I know sulpher is terrible for hair, but especially terrible for hair like mine.
  17. Hallgrímskirkja (the church) is huge! We’re staying in an apartment on the street just south of it and it towers over our street. It’s 220 feet tall, the 6th largest architectural structure in Iceland, and it took over 40 years to build. On top of all of that, it is visually stunning and is a major navigational landmark in the city. If we are ever lost (and oddly, I often am, which I normally am not in other places), all we have to do is look for the church and head in its direction.SAMSUNG CSC
  18. The Iceland Phallological Museum is a real treat if you’ve been wanting to see water-logged whale penises.

I haven’t gotten to explore a lot of the stuff I want to quite yet because of the weather, but in the coming week and likely the next few weekends, I’m hoping to explore some of the geothermal pools, do a glacier hike, visit the huge waterfall, whale-watch, and visit the lava caves.

’til next time!

No-fucking-up-november Over: Success!

Today is the end of my experiment called “No-fucking-up-vember.” And it was a success!

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving and sparing dessert, I stayed full paleo, enjoying turkey, ham, collard greens, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato casserole. I was really happy with how everything turned out–it was way better than Thanksgiving food I’ve had in the past.

I’m going to do a fairly lengthy breakdown in this article, explaining what my take-away was and covering some questions and things that might be helpful to you if you should want to try this experiment for yourself.

How I’m Feeling After a Month


I lost 5 pounds total, my body fat dropped from 19.4% to 18.1%. My skin feels a tiny bit softer. My skin’s appearance… it’s hard for me to say if it looks any different. I took a photo every day in the same light… some days it looked better than other days.

My immune system seems to be better than ever. While others around me are getting sick with colds and flu, I’ve been not even slightly ill or even on the verge of illness.

I feel happier and less stressed. My concentration is improved. On some days, I have more energy than I have had before. Every now and then, I still have days where I feel kind of sluggish, I won’t lie, but those days are a bit more spread out than they used to be.

I don’t have as much DOMS after intense Crossfit workouts as I used to.

I’m posting before and after photos but honestly, I don’t think I look much different… my body fluctuates a bit from day to day… and my body was in excellent shape before this experiment.

Before any CrossFit, April 2014 (a little over 1 month before I started CrossFit–weight around 123 pounds, not sure about body fat or muscle composition but if I had to eyeball it, probably BF 20-20.5% and muscle 32-33%):


Before experiment, During CrossFit, October 2014 (about 3 weeks before this experiment, weight 124 pounds, body fat between 19.2-19.6% and muscle 34.2%):



(I know people are probably wondering what kind of weird asshole I am standing around in hotel rooms taking muscle flexing mirror selfies… and the answer is: the most awesome asshole)

November 30th, after experiment (weight 119.5 pounds, BF 18.1%,  Muscle: 34.6%):


Sadly, I didn’t have any penguins to close out my “after” with.

Obviously, CrossFit is the biggest contributor to change, but the month of paleo and those other rules, I see more muscle definition on the whole (namely in my quads , a tiny bit in my abs).  In general, I find it unfathomable how people lose enough body fat to get those crazy “six pack” abs that you see on fitness magazine covers.

My thoughts on “diets”, Paleo, and health before this experiment

It wasn’t obvious to me when I started all of this just how bad my previous diet and lifestyle was. I might have thought, “Oh, I eat plenty of vegetables!” because I had broccoli with my lunch or diced tomatoes played a role in my dinner. It’s also easy to use relative comparison to think you’re doing okay. We all know someone whose diet is the worst, who eats junk and fast food all the time, and it’s easy to think, “My diet is so healthy in comparison to theirs.”

It also doesn’t help that our society stigmatizes the word diet and associates it with eating small salads and under-eating. To be concerned with your “diet,” people assume you must have a weight problem or are concerned with short term goals rather than caring about the big picture: your long-term health. I’ve been pretty skinny my whole life, severely underweight at times even, so no one has ever pressured me to care about my health as much, and so I had no idea just how bad I was.

Foods You’re Going to Want to Try

  • Sweet potato hash – I made this every Saturday morning, it was that good. It takes a bit of time so it’s not something you’d want to make on a weekday before work, but if you’re not feeding a whole family, you’ll probably have leftovers anyway (or you can double the recipe and definitely have leftovers!). The sausage can easily be subbed with chorizo, turkey sausage, or bacon. Made as is, it feeds 2 people hearty portions with about 2 servings of leftovers.Pro-tip: Skip the step to caramelize the onions to save yourself a lot of time. This recipe works just fine if you sauté them with the sausage.
  • Curried cauliflower soup - “I’m eating cauliflower? Really? REALLY?” This is a very filling, thick soup. It’s especially great if you have guests or children who are picky eaters because you can very easily play up the flavor with a bit more pepper or add some garlic.

  • Roasted red pepper and tomato soup - It tastes exactly what it sounds like. Not much effort either. You basically bake ingredients for 35 minutes… then puree them in a food processor and you’re done. As a leftover soup, it turned into a great cold gazpacho that even Barney Gumble wouldn’t tell you to go back to Russia over. Served hot, it kind of reminds me of eating tomato soup as a comfort food on a cold winter day.

  • Lemon zest poppyseed pancakes – I subbed chia seeds for poppy seeds because who the hell has poppyseeds laying around? Had a sweet lemon flavor to them, not that kind of savory eggy taste that pancakes often have. This also taught me to step up my pancake-making game by no longer committing all the grievous sins of pancake-making.

  • Baked mediterranean chicken – sundried tomatoes, olives, garlic, and onion? Yase. I don’t normally like eating baked chicken… the texture always seems a bit stringy and flavorless than I want, but this is packed with flavor.

  • Home-made cranberry sauce – I test ran this a few times, experimented with different ingredients, and turned my kitchen into a science lab to get it just right. Playing with food outside of the context of someone else’s recipe really taught me how to balance flavor. This will make you want to eat cranberries outside of Thanksgiving dinner.

  • Baked apple slices – So little effort. Slice, core, apply cinnamon, bake.

  • Home-made ketchup – Not much to say, it’s ketchup but it doesn’t have HFCS in it.

  • Rosemary and onion sweet potato tater tots – Goes really well with aforementioned ketchup.

  • Roasted butternut squash soup — The butternut squash and apple in this makes it feel like you’re eating a dessert but you’re actually eating a very healthy, filling, nutritious soup. This is seriously the best soup I’ve ever had.

Things I Didn’t Like Too Much That Kept Popping Up

  • “Faux” anything — Faux rice from cauliflower. Zuccheti (spaghetti made from zucchini). Almost anything trying to imitate bread. The only exception here was a garlic stick recipe… but even that was slightly more crumbly than I’d like. Basically, recipes like these just make you feel like you’re on a diet by reminding you that the thing you’re eating really is a poor representation of what the actual thing tastes like. My suggestion: If you miss rice, bread, or spaghetti so much—eat them for your cheat meal. And yes, do give yourself cheat meals. Cheat meals, not cheat days.
  • Paleo thai red curry — It wasn’t outright disgusting, but it just had a subtle underflavor that made me feel like I was licking someone’s butthole. Which is not something I want to associate with food. You’d think it’d work well because … coconut… and Thai food… but… no.
  • Breakfast pizza — It had coconut flour for crust. Even with garlic powder mixed in, it was gross. If you fancy yourself a pizza connoisseur, I guarantee you will not like this. Pizza is so much about the crust and you just cannot imitate that with coconut flour.

Things You Will Need

You only need minimum basics for cooking BUT I found a few things made it much easier:

  • An immersion blender. — great for quick blending soups, batter, and mid-day snack shakes quickly with almost no clean-up involved.
  • A low-cost food processor. — your recipe calls for diced onion, peppers, carrots, and garlic? Agh. Slice it and pulse it and save yourself like… 15 minutes of dicing.SAMSUNG CSC
  • A couple of chef’s knives and a paring knife. — I mean, do I need to explain? You need to be able to cut things. The knives I got were impressively sharp for their cost. I already had a low-cost IKEA knife too, so you don’t need some fancy full set from Williams-Sonoma to chop up a butternut squash.SAMSUNG CSC
  • A vegetable peeler. — I really cannot imagine peeling a sweet potato without one of these anymore. SAMSUNG CSC
  • If you want to cook batches, a stock pot. — Mine is comically large and kind of a PITA to wash in my sink, but I use it pretty infrequently.

You shouldn’t really need much more than this, tool-wise. Each of those is a link to the exact thing I use, all of which are cheap and work well. These should be affordable even if you are on a budget. The immersion blender isn’t as much of a must as the others (you can technically use your food processor), but it’ll save you a ton of time.

I keep on-hand supplies of:

  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • Cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Madras curry
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes

These things play huge and heavy roles in a lot of dishes—save maybe one or two of those, you probably already have these things in your spice rack because they’re just cooking staples.  I bought a rosemary plant. Ordinarily I would have mint and basil plants around but the weather hasn’t been too kind on either in my house so I usually just buy those on demand. If anything, you absolutely need sea salt and black pepper. Your food will taste bland and uninspired without these (common sense to most people, I know).

You will also want to buy: coconut flour, almond flour, and coconut oil. These things will last you weeks despite how often you use them, I swear. There will be an initial sticker shock in price of food (your grocery bill for the first week might suddenly be $200) but understand that this is just a base cost (mine was eventually down to $50-70 a week and I buy all organic). The cool thing is… you will have a lot of control over your food budget suddenly once you start planning and having leftovers. If I really, really tried, I could probably get my all-organic food budget down to $30 a week, but it’s not a huge concern of mine so…

The best part is that your grocery cart will look crazy simplistic.



Would I recommend my rules to others?

This is a hard question! Mostly because all of my rules sort of tie together—that’s the reason I made them. I’ll go through the original list and explain:

1. Drink a gallon of water a day.

I don’t know that I would recommend a gallon of water a day to everyone. I know that sounds weird, like, “Aimee what could it hurt?” but I think drinking half your weight in ounces is fine enough. I found drinking that much water, all it did was make me pee a ton and often the pee was totally clear instead of faintly yellow (which means it’s not actually helping my body at all). Basically, you should drink enough water… and your body will tell you when you’re drinking enough because you’ll start peeing like crazy.

2. No beer or liquor. 1-2 glasses of wine a week max.

I’d recommend the no liquor thing easily, maybe extending it to “only on special occasions and I don’t mean ‘my dog graduated obedience school! shots time!’.” NPR recently had an article that explained that most people who think they are “moderate” drinkers are actually “excessive.” HOWEVER, I somehow messed up my understanding of my own rule so I was having more like 4 glasses of wine a week (1-2 with both cheat meals). This was fine, I think. I am, by technicality, a moderate drinker, and if I’m going to be drinking alcohol, you can’t go wrong with all the resveratrol and heart-healthy antioxidants found in red wine (which is where I tend to swing since I like Malbecs and Riojas).

3. 2 cheat meals a week

I definitely recommend cheat meals. Again, just 1-3 a week total, nothing huge. Don’t do “cheat days” because you’ll feel like shit. I do 2 meals a week. One of those usually falls on Friday night and I like to do it right after I’m done with CrossFit so I’m in a position to eat like crazy. I usually do this meal solo and it’s sort of a very peaceful experience for me because I get to relax by myself and enjoy my food.The other one I keep open for social gatherings with friends but if nothing pops up, I’ll just invite my boyfriend to join me. My cheat meals were never anything seriously bad for me. For example, I’m not getting delivery pizza or Chipotle.

4. Paleo

For most people, sure, I’d recommend paleo. I’m more likely to say “just eat clean,” but I mean… for a lot of people, they have no idea what that means exactly, so paleo is a good starting place. I call bullshit on the whole history and philosophy behind it and think certain aspects of it are crazy (no legumes), but… the point is, you should be eating less processed foods and more fresh fruits and vegetables.

I would not recommend paleo if you have cholesterol problems. You’ll eat a lot of eggs and meat. I didn’t get bloodwork before this experiment so I’m not sure what my cholesterol was (I imagine it wasn’t great). Anecdotally, my heart feels healthier than ever, but I don’t know what my cholesterol levels are so it’s kind of hard for me to recommend it without numeric data to back things up.

I also wouldn’t recommend it if you have nut allergies, because you’ll be eating a lot of nut-based flour (almond flour).

But… I think people who currently have excess weight that they’re looking to shed would generally see significant weight loss from eating this way. I read many stories of people who lost 10-25 pounds in a month going paleo.

If you’re more like me, you might enjoy paleo for more ethical, personal, and scientific reasons. If nothing else, I have learned a lot about sustainable agriculture,  the politics of GMOs, and have involved myself more in media regarding medical science. I’ve also gotten better at picking up on dietary-related propaganda from both sides of the table.

Common sense tips: Your first week of Paleo could potentially be stressful for you since you’re going to be detoxing from processed foods. Pick a week where you don’t have much going on to start it. Don’t pick like, the week you’re moving to a new state, starting a new job, getting married, going on vacation, or having a child–you might feel more tired than usual for a couple of days to start and you may have mood swings. If your diet has been just bad and you know it, ease in to Paleo, maybe go halfsies for a week or two. I don’t want to scare anyone off though so let me point out that very likely things will be totally fine and at worst, you might have an afternoon where you just feel kind of hungry–understand that you’re probably not actually hungry but are just craving things that are bad for you.

5. CrossFit.

So here’s the thing. I wouldn’t recommend CrossFit for just anyone. In fact, I’m more likely to say you shouldn’t do CrossFit than you should.  It’s super intense and super intense just isn’t for everyone.

You can very easily get in just as good shape doing free weights in a normal gym. You just have to have a lot of dedication, a lot of patience, and you have to be a giant bully to yourself, because that’s what CrossFit is good for… accountability and not being allowed to make excuses. The thing about CrossFit is that everyone’s story is different–but no matter where you come from, it will be a brutal start because you’ll be working out alongside people who have been doing it for years. You will be standing next to a girl who is 2 inches shorter than you who can deadlift 300 pounds more than you. You will be flummoxed. But you will change, rapidly.

I’m not as much of a CrossFit junky as others are. A lot of people do 5-6 days a week. I go 3 times a week because that’s just all I can fit into my schedule (I take studio art classes on Monday nights and Pilates on Wednesday nights, meaning I only have 3 days open), but I can tell you that the difference between going to 2 days a week and 3 days a week is huge.   So believe me, every little bit of effort you make? It counts.

I finished Barbara (for time, 5 rounds of 20 pull-ups, 30 push-ups, 40 sit-ups, and 50 air squats) on Friday in 27:42. I don’t think I would have finished it 6 months ago and if I did, it would have been significantly scaled.

I think everyone should be exercising and really busting their balls doing so, but I think you should do whatever makes you happiest. If that involves doing power cleans, awesome, but maybe you’d be just fine doing a 40-mile heavy breather on your bike instead. I’m not here to judge.

6. 8-9 hours of sleep a night.

YES. Not only that, but improve your sleep. Unwind before you go to sleep. Don’t go to bed stressed out. Find a way to organize your sleeping arrangements so you are most comfortable. Clean your bed sheets regularly. Get ear plugs if you need them. Sleep in a dark room. All these things. Getting enough sleep makes gigantic strides in your brain’s ability to perform throughout the day. I always thought my brain was just fine until doing this experiment and now I realize I was actually lost in a perpetual state of brain fog that just never quite cleared up until I actually got enough sleep. 8 hours is generally fine, but if you’re working out regularly, 9 is so much better.

7. Do pilates every week.

 Pilates is kind of funny. It’s such a “girly” activity, like yoga, but it’s so helpful and so not girly really. If you sit at an office desk all day, there’s no question that you probably have very tight hip flexors. Going to pilates will loosen you up a lot. It’ll also make you stronger in your core, which means you’ll probably have better posture as well. It means you’ll be able to perform better lifting weights. The trick to pilates is to ignore all the stupid new-age-y bullshit people try to say in pilates studios and just focus on you.

8. Daily fish oil and Vitamin D supplement.

I’m not really sure if I recommend this. In theory, if you’re eating well, you shouldn’t need either. But a lot of people are vitamin D deficient, new studies are showing that vitamin D blood tests are kind of ambiguous right now too. If you can afford it, at least supplement the bare minimum (400 IU).

9.  Ride 20+ miles per week on a bike.

I recommend you find something you love, something that makes you feel liberated and like there’s nothing but you and it… and do that. That’s all. Biking is that for me. I do it even when I’m sore. Even when I’m tired. Even when it’s cold. People say I’m crazy, but that’s the point. It’s something you love so much you don’t even care if you look crazy.

So I’m done… but am I? Nope! I’m planning on sticking to a mostly paleo diet. I don’t like to say my experiment is really “done” because it sounds like I am free from it… I am way too happy with the results to walk away from it. I may occasionally have a beer or something outside of the rules, but for a majority of my meals, I plan to stick to it and I plan to stay clean. I’m going to be in Iceland for a little bit this winter (leaving next weekend, yay!) where the fish flows free, the water is clean, and Crossfit is a commodity, so I know in the short-term, eating clean should not be a huge dilemma.

Anyway, tonight will be my first beer in over a month! I have no idea what it will be, but I’m stoked! Thanks to everyone who has followed me during this time, encouraged me, and supported my choices! If you are interested in trying out this experiment for yourself, let me know–I’m more than happy to give further advice, recommendations, and general support.

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