Converting to Audiobooks

For most of my childhood, I was a huge bookworm. You would find me in the back of the library for hours, with a book in my lap and at least 3 piled next to me, waiting to be taken home. The musty, old paper smell that they would waft over you as the spine cracked, the delicate and rough feel of the pages in between your fingertips, making that swish-crackle sound as you turned one to the next, I loved these little things about reading physical books.

At some point, I think during college, I got converted to ebooks because of how convenient it was to bring a single tablet. I didn’t have a car, so the only way to get around DC was by either walking, metroing, or taking the bus. However, if you do any of these three, you have to carry everything with you wherever you go, and if you ask me, carrying a 500+ page book everywhere doesn’t sound too appealing, for my shoulder’s sake. My kindle was perfect. It fit in my hand, it could carry a huge chunk of my to-read list, and it had a back-light. The back-light was so important since many times I had late night rides from working at a local restaurant. Thank goodness, I didn’t have to depend on street lamps as if I was back in elementary school, trying to catch some dim light so that I could see my pokemon game on my gameboy. For metro and bus, this worked out perfectly. I distinctly remember reading the Warcraft lore on that small screen, going over the times of dragons, before the coming of men. Such an easy escape from the humdrum of everyday life. If only I could go back.

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Once I graduated, I was locked into driving everywhere. I had moved far outside of the beltway, far enough that the metro couldn’t reach. This meant my wonderful city commute before that gave me time to sit and relax was gone, and so was my time with my kindle. Once I began driving everywhere, I barely had time to read, which meant my kindle began to collect dust, along with my other books I had collected over the years, thinking I would read them as soon as I had the chance. Nope. Like so many, I began searching for podcasts, things I could listen to in order to pass the time and make that 1 hour and 20 minutes go faster. Podcasts are fun to listen to, but I didn’t like that you either had to remember to download them beforehand if you didn’t want to stream it, or deal with paying for data usage while you streamed it on your phone. I never remembered, so it always ate up my data plan. Nevertheless, they were enjoyable, with the best ones making a long commute feel like 15 minutes. It took a while though for audiobooks to creep in.

It was only after seeing a friend of mine who had an equally horrendous commute did I consider audiobooks. I always thought audio books were something you listened to at home, while you cleaned or cooked, something to have in the background while you were busy doing other things. However, after listening to the beginning of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with her while doing a puzzle, and Stephen Fry masterfully reciting the first chapter, I was hooked. Signed up for audible, and now this is the main way I consume books. The younger me would be horrified.

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I never realized how important a good narrator was until I depended on them to paint the world I wanted to jump into, like the chalk drawings of Mary Poppins. If the voice didn’t match what I imagined a voice would sound like in my head, it kicked me out of that immersive experience quicker than a child running toward candy. A nonfiction autobiography sounding too off-putting because they chose too young of a reader for an older, more mature content? No thank you. A monotone voice for a children’s fantasy that felt like Charlie Brown’s teacher? Next. However, when you find an addicting story with a narrator that speaks as if they were really there, it’s magic. It feels like when I was a child and my mother was reading to me Anne of Green Gables or Little Women in that comforting yet fantastical style that only a mother could.

Thank goodness I still live close to libraries, where collections of audiobooks are growing, since more and more people are looking to find ways to cram reading in their lives without sitting down in an armchair and blocking off 20 minutes. I don’t know how they do that. Me? I can’t just read for 15 minutes. I must have at least a half an hour to delve into material and get something out of it, or else I won’t feel like I’ve truly read. Maybe this is from my childhood spending an afternoon speeding through a Harry Potter book in one night, or camping in the library reading the next book in the LOTR trilogy. Surprisingly, audiobooks help give me that satisfaction, even if its only for 20 minutes.

So for anyone who is on the fence about starting audiobooks, I highly recommend giving them a try. Perhaps a book you have already read, but could use a rehashing. Harry Potter is a wonderful way to dive in. Check your local library for any audiobooks, or give audible a try. They have a trial that is pretty nice. If you do, I highly recommend Stephen Fry’s rendition of Hitchhiker’s. Absolutely splendid.

For those who do listen to audiobooks, I am always looking for recommendations, so please send them my way. I’d love to hear how you got into them as well. Did they put you off beforehand as well? Let me know 🙂

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Thunderstorms

Midst a thunderstorm, I am most in awe of the world,

most powerless,

most insignificant.

Midst a thunderstorm, I am reminded of my humanity, my place, which is to say, no place at all.

The crack of thunder as Zeus’ rage splits the black above, I am on my knees.

Midst a thunderstorm, the creator’s work is at hand,

the dominoes culminating in a clash of hot and cold, black and white.

Midst a thunderstorm, I cower, in my home of straw and earth, my bed, my blanket, my arms,

waiting for the tempest to acknowledge the mark upon my door.

And yet, midst a thunderstorm I am the most alive;

Lay witness to the immense forces of the universe, incomprehensible power.

Following a thunderstorm, I am most calm,

most at peace,

most whole.

The storm comes to a close as all living things do, making way for the shimmering yellow brick roads to cascade from the golden gates, to welcome peace to the thirst filled masses below.

Following a thunderstorm, I am born again, rejuvenated and filled with a renewed love of life.

My breath held tight, my lungs brimming with anticipation for some ordained release, I sigh my fears away, relinquishing my worries to the abyss.

Following a thunderstorm, my world spins, my sun shines, my faith restored, my love,

my love for thunderstorms and the reminder of how truly small I am in the grand scheme of it all, it grows evermore.

WHY IS THE POTATO WRAPPED IN PLASTIC…

Early January, I had the opportunity to visit one of Waste Management’s offices and learn more about the energy consumption and life cycle of the waste we produce. This includes the empty pizza boxes, the take out utensils, hazardous waste like batteries and e-waste, and the multitude of food scraps. One of the biggest mind-blowing moment was how much plastic is produced and either sent to the landfill because of contamination; it can be sold to other countries which either burn it for energy (adding tons of GHG to the atmosphere), or it ends up in a huge outdoor dump, where is would sit forever. Plastic doesn’t decompose like regular organic materials like wood or produce. It just sits there and further broken down into microplastics, which pollute the soil, air, and waters all about us. I couldn’t help but feel angry at myself for contributing to it.

So, I had a good hard look at myself and my habits, contemplating how unnecessarily wasteful I’ve been. I went through my daily routine, and marked how much plastic I kept in my life, and how much of it I wouldn’t think twice about throwing away. Toothpaste, coffee cups, plastic boxes from take-out sushi… I felt disgusting.

Disclaimer: I’m not the “love mother earth” kind of person, I fully believe we need oil and gas to keep our economy running at this moment and we aren’t in any place to get rid of fossil fuels entirely. I shamefully would feel almost naked if my phone did not have any charge because of lack of electricity, and I enjoy driving a stick with an engine that revs. I have my vices, like we all do. However, the amount of waste that a single person produces, that I produce, is ridiculous, and that is something I can fix.

Since January, I’ve looked further into the zero waste movement, learning about living a waste-free life, and I’ll admit, some of y’all go 110%, and I totally support that. I am not at that level yet to dive so far deep in, but I’m making baby steps.

  1. I looked into composting, and spent a good many hours trying to find places around me that accepts food scraps (I can’t compost where I live right now). Luckily there is a MOMs Organic Market near me
  2. I don’t leave my house without a water bottle (I have a zojirushi bottle that I’ve had around the house; I didn’t go out and buy a new one) and a portable kleen kanteen carrier (I did invest in this because I needed one that wouldn’t spill in my bag; all the portables I have were not spill proof and I drink a LOT of coffee)
  3. I have an ever growing reusable bag collection for groceries (they are always one of the swag items at events)
  4. Most importantly of all, I look at what I have and don’t just see what it is right now; I’m seeing its end-of-life self and where the materials go once I deem it “unusable” and that is what reminds me to be mindful of what I consume

One of the multitudes of youtubers I follow was talking about her Zero Waste “journey” (I dislike that word so much, because it is so overused and means almost nothing now, but I digress), and the one idea I loved was using what you have before consuming more. I’ve heard many looking to join the Zero Waste Movement wanting to throw out all of the plastic in their life and buy new things for a specific purpose that could have been fulfilled by a previous, albeit plastic, option that could last a long time and one can get a lot of use out. I really appreciated this, because I felt weird thinking I should throw out all of these perfectly good products that aren’t eco-friendly, just to replace it with eco-friendly products. It didn’t sit right with me because they were perfectly good items that had a lot of use left, so to throw it out almost felt even more wasteful. I took this idea to heart and told myself it’s okay to use your current shampoo, it’s okay to finish your toothpaste in your plastic tube, and it’s okay to have plastic tupperware in your kitchen. Use all that you have to best of your abilities to make sure the plastic used was worth the years it will sit on this earth after you.

So… my hair routine hasn’t changed. My clothes are still the same and made with synthetic material. I still have plenty of non-vegan non-sustainable make-up to use up and I will use them all. I still drive my non-electric car with the windows down. On the flip side, now I won’t throw away the onion root just because I’m not eating it. I won’t put the pizza box in the recycling because it has grease on it, but I’ll compost it. When I run out of shampoo, I’ll put much more thought on the ingredients going into my next shampoo and what package (if any) it comes in. I carry a portable chopstick set wherever I go, as well as a recycled bag that folds into a pouch for emergencies (already had a few). I bring my own cotton produce bags to the grocery store (guilty of buying these on amazon). Last but not least, I will definitely not buy the potato wrapped in plastic.

I’ll do some more updates later on as I move towards slowly phasing out the plastic in my life, but better late to the party than to not show up. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Playing it safe isn’t a bad thing

For most of my life, I’ve tried to follow the standard path to “success” whatever that is. Study hard. Get into a good college. Make loyal and honest friends. Accept a well-paying job. Work on your career. Find a smart partner with numerous job prospects. As of now, these are the milestones I’ve been focusing on and is what is keeping me going. However, lately I’ve been wondering why hitting these milestones are even necessary, and why we put so much emphasis on them.

I’ve been a planner since I was little. What I mean by “planner” is someone who decides on what she wants and creates game plans on how to get it. This meant internalizing all the things a perfect first child should do to make their parents proud. As well, this meant that when things didn’t go to plan, I predictably had a slight melt-down and would once again modify the plan to accommodate the set-back. Then, continue on the same path.

Lately I’ve been living with someone who takes a more laisse-faire attitude towards life. Her perspective towards success both fascinates and irks me. This person doesn’t subscribe to the typical milestones that I set as life goals, so she lives in a very free and whimsical way, untied to any traditional idea of “a successful life”. This difference in definitions threw me off, because it made me further question my own idea of what makes someone successful. Is my idea of “success” a valid and personal one? Do I truly believe in it, or is it because my parents and society tells me that this is what you should want for a “good” life, the way to be “successful”. What do I want? Should I want these things? What are the pros and cons of each of these milestones? Why do we subscribe to them?

After many hours of mulling over these questions, I came to this conclusion (this might sound cliché, but perhaps every generation goes through these questions and comes to a similar conclusion).

I am in control of my own life. My happiness is purely in my own hands. My success is built on my own idea of success, which may or may not include a long career, a rich partner, or children, but if it does, it will be of my own accord. If I want any of these things, it’ll be because I deem them part of my happiness, not because of any parental or societal pressure. In the end, if I want something, I will go and get it myself. I am not patient enough to see if life gives me what I so desire. So, I shall create plans in order to achieve my success. Most importantly, I am happy on my journey. However, there are other forms of success, and it is in my best interest to accept and appreciate the other views of success, so I may continue to re-evaluate my own.

This semester has been a series of personal successes, gaining two research positions and doing well in my work. Hopefully my next mini meltdown doesn’t come until after the semester ends, but who knows. I hope to keep up the hard work, so wish me luck, as I pursue my own “success”.

In Pursuit of Nuclear

Today’s energy consumers have gradually moved towards cleaner energy sources in response to climate change and environmental pollution. Demand for clean energy like natural gas and renewables has continued to grow, especially in developing markets like China and India. However, in the Middle East, a different source has gained traction. Demand for nuclear powered electricity has grown significantly, as generation capacity is expected to increase from 3.5 GW in 2018 to 14.5 GW by 2028 in UAE alone, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Oil-dependent gulf countries, faced with their dependence on oil for economic continuity, are working to diversify their energy portfolios to gradually move their economies off of fossil fuels. One such method is through investment in nuclear facilities. The United Arab Emirates had led the race for nuclear, constructing four new nuclear reactors with help from Korea Electric Power Corp. The first of the four, Unit 1 of the Barakah complex, is expected to come online in 2021, once it meets all regulatory requirements.

Despite multiple countries utilizing nuclear energy for electricity generation, many countries that wish for this source of energy will find it difficult getting the okay for a new facility if it’s from the United States. To build a new reactor, the United States government must deem your country trustworthy, meaning the country can be trusted to not contribute to nuclear proliferation. As well, the US requires the receiving country to agree to the 123 Agreement, which involves the US’ production, processing, and handling of nuclear fuel.

Saudi Arabia has wished for nuclear facilities to balance their energy portfolio for some time. The country has been in talks with the US government for a number of new reactors, stressing “whatever the Iranian’s build, we will build”. However, the country demands the ability to produce its own fuel. This would give Saudi Arabia the nuclear technology it needs, as well as the possibility to pursuit nuclear weapons, which would cause a huge international power shift. Prince Mohammed has previously stated that Saudi Arabia would pursue the development of armed nuclear capabilities in haste if Iran was found to possess weapons of mass destruction.

Because of this high probability of nuclear proliferation, the United States has continued to deny construction of nuclear facilities unless it agrees to import enriched fuel from elsewhere. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid Al-Falih has rebutted this, stating that it is only natural to develop its own uranium deposits, and would continue to pursuit its own production of atomic fuel.

Will Saudi Arabia be able to come to a deal with the current US administration? With the current political opinion in the US of Saudi Arabia, it is highly unlikely, especially after the PR fiasco involving the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We can only hope that Saudi Arabia does not turn to Russia or China to fulfill its goal of nuclear capability.

Good morning

6am: My faux sunrise lamp begins to emit its faint warm glow. I do not notice.

6:30am: The room is now filled with a comforting orange hue. Birds begin to chirp from this lamp, alerting me to the time. I still have not fully woken up.

6:45am: The birds are now much louder than they were at 6:30am. I press the lamp to turn off the birds. I am now awake, staring at the ceiling, stretching and pondering what is on my to-do list. Phone in hand, I go through my emails, check BBC’s app to see what news I missed during my sleep, swipe through instagram to see some inspirational posts (I follow a lot of self-love instagram accounts).

7:30am: I’m out of bed finally. Put water on the stove to make coffee. Grind the beans. Prep the french press. Cereal in the bowl, I open youtube and watch some educational video. The Defranco Show, Extra History, Bloomberg, and the Financial Diet are a few favorites. The water is boiled. Time to steep the coffee. Prep a quick salad for lunch. Coffee is done.

8am: Do a quick 15 minute yoga sesh. Shower. Get dressed. Listen to music.

8:30am: Brush teeth. Quick skin care. Get my bag together. Grab my lunch. Do the dishes quickly, then out the door!

8:45am: Off to class. Put on the news, or listen to a new podcast, or continue my audiobook (working through Hamilton’s biography at the moment). From then, it will be an hour and 15 minute drive to get to school.

This is my morning routine. I am very much a morning person, and if I don’t have my morning routine, I am a grumpy person for the rest of the day. However, I find myself lacking in enough time during the day to work on everything I want to work on. One of my goals for the year is the write and read more. I’m not much of an evening writer, as I’m much more awake in the morning. So, I hope starting tomorrow to begin waking up earlier to have an extra hour or so to practice writing, to get a further jump on my day.

To make this happen, I think an earlier bedtime would be helpful. Typically I go to bed around 10:30 pm, but perhaps a 9:30 pm bedtime would be better. That would allow for at least 8 hours of sleep. We shall see how this goes. Wish me luck!

In Another Life…

Have you ever had that moment when you watched a movie or seen in real life a character or person you wanted to be? Surely we’ve all found characters that sounded so fun to play or be.

For me, one of my other lives would be as the lone-wolf biker chick, the sexy, cool woman who travels on her own and doesn’t take shit from anyone. She doesn’t subscribe to social conventions and takes jobs here and there, but never gives up her freedom. She always seems so sure of herself in movies that have this character. When I walk down a street alone with my headphones in, that’s what I imagine myself like, as I strut to the Black Keys.

In another life, it would be a romantic to be a simple European housewife, whose job was to manage the home and cook to her heart’s content. Perhaps take in a book or two, and tend to the garden. A simple life, although entirely dependent on someone else’s salary. That I would not like. But having the time to enjoy the small things sounds lovely. It’s certainly a romantic fantasy.

And then, the powerful boss of a woman. She comes with the air of a commander, with a schedule filled with meetings, decisions to make, and business to be done. Her dress or suit is impeccably chosen, and she commands respect wherever she walks. Refusing to be unheard, she speaks with depth and grit behind every word, while still maintaining her femininity in the way she holds herself. Confident, sure of herself, she is a woman to be feared and revered.

Oh to be all three, if that was possible… Do any of these characters remind you of someone you know?

If I could sum up the qualities of these three women that I admire, it would be the freedom of spirit the first, the contentedness of the simple life of the second, and the self-confidence of the third. I hope this year to work on all three of them, to appreciate these different qualities in others as well as cultivate them in myself. One can be happy with who one is, while also striving to be a better you, the “you” you want to be.