European Countries

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My Nat Geo map marked with the places top on my "To Travel" list

I have found a new hobby!

And it’s delightfully delightful, and I can’t get enough of it.

First off, who knew the CIA had such an amazing resource!? World Factbook, you are the very best thing on the inter webs at the moment. What is it? Well, I’ll let them explain it ya:

The World Factbook, produced for US policymakers and coordinated throughout the US Intelligence Community, presents the basic realities about the world in which we live. We share these facts with the people of all nations in the belief that knowledge of the truth underpins the functioning of free societies.

-The CIA World Factbook, ‘Did you Know?’

So, my favorite pastime for the past week or so has been to fill a small note card for each country/region with facts about it from the World Factbook, such as the capital, currency, form of government, date of independence, current transnational issues, official languages, economic status, geography description, and popular religion. Then, after studying for a bit, I make tests for myself, eight countries at a time. I know it’s nerdy, but I can’t help think how useful all this information will be.

I’ve already learned so much. A sampling of perhaps obvious facts/issues I didn’t know about?

  • Andorra, the teensy country between France and Spain, actually has no military and relies upon France and Spain to defend it.
  • The capital of Albania is Tirana.
  • In Austria, sixteen-year-olds can vote!
  • Bulgaria was formerly communist.
  • Bosnia & Herzogovina is highly vulnerable to money laundering, due to a cash-based and unregulated economy, weak law enforcement, and corruption.
  • When Cyprus declared independence in 1960, the UK retained ownership of two regions, Akrotiri and Dhekelia. The currency of the two regions is the euro, though, and not the pound.
  • Belarus is a republic in name but in reality has more similarities to a dictatorship.
  • Finland successfully held off the Soviets in the 40s, with little loss of territory. (Go Finland!)
  • The Czech Republic has a very controversial Soviet-style nuclear plant in Temelin, a city that borders Austria.
  • On Cyprus, the Greeks and Turks don’t universally get along too well. The Turks have actually declared a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but it is only recognized by Turkey.
  • France was founded around 486.
  • Germany has Europe’s largest economy.

So, because I’ve had so much fun studying and researching all this, here’s the tests I’ve made for the first sixteen European countries I’ve studied.  I figured someone might enjoy to test their European knowledge! I’ll try to make a key in the next few days. But for now:

Countries Test PDF

Enjoy!

Listening to: Camille-Påle Septembre

Reading: Burn Before Reading by Stansfield Turner: nonfiction about how the relationship between the DCI and the President affects foreign policy. Interesting!

Learning: Well, that’s what this whole post was about, wasn’t it? 🙂

Martha

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Mug Cakes

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I have an obsession. A hidden love. A passion.

And who, pray tell, is it, you may be asking?

Mug Cakes.

That’s right. Mug cakes. Chocolate cakes that can be made in under five minutes in the microwave. Completely customizable, completely homemade. I’ve been making these darlings for a while now, so it’s kind of become an art for me. I have the recipe completely memorized and I’ve tweaked it so much and made so many variations that I think I can claim it as my own.

So without further ado, I present The Mug Cake:

  • 4 tbsp flour (any variation would work I’m sure; I use spelt)
  • 4 tbsp sugar or honey
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp milk (regular, coconut, rice, soy, or almond will all work)
  • 1 egg (or if you don’t have any, a couple tbsps of cornstarch and another 2 tbsp of liquid will suffice just fine!)
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • Shake or two of salt
  • Sliver of butter
  • Splash of vanilla extract (or peppermint, orange, lemon, or any other if you want to experiment)

1. Combine all ingredients in a very large mug.

2. Stir VERY well using a narrow rubber spatula.

3. Microwave for ~2:30 minutes

4. Using an oven mitt, remove.

5. Enjoy the scrumptions!

Variations:

Peppermint: replace the cocoa powder with peppermint cocoa mix. Cut down the sugar by about 1 or 2 tbsps. Replace vanilla extract with peppermint extract. Garnish with crushed peppermints.

Peanut Butter: replace the butter with as much peanut butter as you want. Delicious!

Oreo: add some mashed oreos to the batter.

Butterscotch: add butterscotch chips to the batter. really creative, right? 🙂

White Chocolate: add white chocolate chips to the batter.

Coffee: I’ve been trying to make a good mocha mug cake. So far they’ve all been too strong for me. But others have loved a splash of espresso grounds in theirs.

They are so many possibilities! Try them out and share your creations with me!

Oh, and a shout out to Carrie for being my mug cake wingman and helping me master the art 🙂

Listening to: so much good music! Crushin’ on Andrew Bird and his Heretics, loving Lana del Rey’s Video Games, obsessing over Florence and the Machine’s Howl and Cosmic Love, and once more, Andrew Bird in French

Reading: This is All, the Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn

Learning: just continuing to work on my Spanish!

Martha

Out of Focus

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First off, I’m deeply sorry and apologetic for not writing before now. I’m a cruel and lazy blogger, but I’m working on it.

On a cheerier note, I got a camera! A beautiful lovely Sony Cibershot DSC-HX9V, and y’all, I love it. It takes such marvelous macro photos, and it actually takes pictures of people! Would you like to see for yourself? Well, I’ll kindly oblige ya.

One of the first pictures I took with the dear. Oh, and you’d like another one? Well that can be arranged:

He has this nifty ability to take two pictures simultaneously, then join the crisp center focus of the first with the blur of the second, making it look like a DSLR photo. Pretty genius, eh?

Oh, everything’s so nice and wonderful here. The stockings are hung, the lights are draped about the windows and doors, and the oranges are crudely pricked with cloves. (It’s surprisingly hard to make a straight line with cloves on an orange, okay?)

But anyways, I’m happy. The golden glow of christmas lights. The shawl around my shoulders. The wreath on the door. The kitten curled up on my bed. The flickering candle. The jolly stuffed santa on the hearth. How I love this season! This is what I think magic is. Something mysterious in the air that changes the way we feel, act, and think.

The world’s beautiful tonight, isn’t it?

One last picture for you. The focus is terribly off, because I jerked my hand due to a nosy horse the moment I took the picture, but there’s still something magical about it to me.

Maybe it’s just me, in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s just me, but sometimes I think the out of focused ones are the most beautiful. The out of focused days, the out of focused books, the out of focused dreams, the out of focused laughs, the out of focused tears, and the out of focused lives. The ones that are entirely unpractical, unnecessary, unconventional, and unwarranted. They are the ones that shine. The ones that no one quite understands. The ones that don’t even understand themselves. The ones that write for the sake of writing, dream for the sake of dreams, laugh for the sake of laughter, cry for the sake of tears, and live for the sake of life.

Make ready the preparations! Bake those cookies, hang those stockings, wrap those presents, sing those carols, and smile those cooped up smiles!

May you have an out of focus Christmas season, my dear friends. May you forget all the stress and the conflict and the clutter and just celebrate. Celebrate for the sake of celebrating, because that’s what it’s all about.

Listening to: Christmas music of course! Check out the Christmas genre station on Pandora; their music’s really nice.

Reading: the First Ladies. I finally finally finished Robinson Crusoe!

Learning: the provinces of Canada.

Martha

Dusken Sensibility

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Sometimes on long walks I write poems in my head. When I get home, I try to scribble them down madly before I lose them again. For many reasons, I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I’m an absolute nut, but probably the fact that on certain days I walk down the street in complete revery, forming out loud stanzas, really cements it.

This is walk-born poem, simple in verse but heartfelt in message:

Footstep after footstep, crunching after crunching, I walk.

Down the front steps, through the winding driveway, and out onto the street.

It’s dusk. That velvety time when the sky’s a watercolor of brilliant light and yet the ground and trees grow ever darker.

I slip off my sandals, because I can never really feel a moment with my shoes on.

The pavement’s cold. The acorns prick. But that’s part of it, and so I welcome it.

I glance through windows as I pass, catching snippets of others’ life.

There’s a son embracing his mother over the kitchen sink, and she’s smiling deep.

There’s a family holding hands around the table, with eyes closed.

There’s a couple sitting out on the front step, silently looking up at the sky, as he slowly puts his arm around her.

I’m sure they fight, I’m sure they hurt each other, and I’m sure they’re imperfect.

But on evenings like these, how can anyone help but become sensible again?

Because, you know, joy’s the only sensible feeling.

All else it just a perversion of thought.

I reach the end of the street. There’s the pasture, lined with fading crate and myrtles.

Leaning on the cracking wooden fence, I call quietly.

She comes, nuzzling my hand, looking for a carrot or some sugar.

“I’m sorry darling, I didn’t bring anything today.”

I stroke her gently, solemnly.

She whinnies softly, letting me know this behavior’s just not acceptable.

Whispering, I tell her how beautiful the sky is.

How the leaves are changing color.

How the air is cold and chill.

How everyone’s happy and joyful.

How even, when the last couple days are as wretched as can be, my whole view of life can be changed by just one sunset.

She nuzzles my cheek and then trots away, carrying all my secrets with her.

I turn around and make my way down the street.

The sky’s dimming. The lampposts cast their golden puddles of light.

Smoke, wafting out of a chimney. Laughter, heard through cracked windows.

It makes me smile. All this sensibility. Where’d it come from?

How can small things, like the arrangement of clouds and the way light shines through, change the way we feel?

Harmony of head and heart is wondrous.

—-  —-  —-

How hard it is for me to say that joy’s the only sensible feeling! When I see the news, when I hear stories, and when I experience tragedy, all I want to do is say, “Oh, mourn! Cry! Get it all out! How could such a thing happen? How could it be allowed?” Mourning is warranted most times. Because, frankly, life sucks sometimes. A lot of times. But we can’t dwell on it. That’s where it gets unhealthy. That’s where it gets contagious. And that’s where it gets just plain insensible. So I hope that makes sense. I really don’t mean that mourning, sorrow, and anger have no place. They do! If we didn’t express them, we’d all be balloons, bobbing around tranquilly, but popping and vanishing the moment something sharp pierces us.

But when it comes down to it, we’ve been given a beautiful earth, beautiful people to share it with, and beautiful beings to experience it with. Joy follows naturally.

Listening to: Katie Herzig – Oh my Darlin’

Reading: Robinson Crusoe

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Quotes

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If you were to look around my room, you’d be amazed at the amount of words pasted, taped, propped, pinned, and hung up all around it. My bulletin board is covered in quotes, lines of poems, song lyrics, lists, and scripture verses. Anything that strikes my fancy goes up in my room, so that I can see it everyday and be inspired by it.

Last night, I found three quotes I had scribbled onto my Algebra 2 homework that I heard while doing my homework.

The first comes from a TV show, called Legend of the Seeker, kind of a Lord of the Rings-ish type of story. The show itself isn’t that great, but there are some wonderful lines and I love the fact that it’s an allegory for the story of Jesus. There is an old wizard named Zeddicus who is training a young man, Richard, in what it means to be a hero. In one episode, Richard is giving a little boy lessons on tracking animals, while Kahlan, their companion, teaches the boy history. The boy is learning rapidly and reciting everything they teach him. After a little while, though, Zeddicus interjects, saying, “Don’t give him too many lessons, Richard and Kahlan, because he might not have any time for learning.” I love that. It reminds me of Mark Twain’s words, “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.” and Albert Einstein’s “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” All of these quotes explain why I’ve taken a year off from high school. I’ve edited the quote a bit so that it’s in second person and reads smoother, but I want you to know it’s based off of Legend of the Seeker.

The next quote is inspired from an episode of Chuck. I’ve forgotten who said it, but I know it came from Chuck. “Can I give you a little piece of advice? Just remember to not confuse your job with your life.” This also struck me, but I changed it a bit so that it is more relevant to me: “And a little piece of advice: remember to not confuse your schooling with your life.” Maybe it’s just me, but ever since I’ve entered high school, I’ve felt like keeping my GPA up, scoring well on the SAT, participating in lots of extracurriculars, taking the right classes, and volunteering for community service hours is all that matters. “Preparing for college is what your teenage years are for,” books and articles tell me. Sure, I think it’s important to do all that, but that is not what our teenage years are for. I think we should spend time with our families, make friends, read good books, listen to good music, take walks, write, play sports, play instruments, draw, make things, travel, and cook. Yes, when we get to college, we’ll need to know good study skills, we’ll need to know the history of the United States, and we’ll need to know moderate mathematics, but we’ll also need to know what it means to be independent, deep, and creative human beings. Also, this quote can help me when I get a bad grade, get in trouble, or get hurt in someway at school. I constantly remind myself that I can become so much more than what classmates, teachers, or report cards think of me. It’s a comforting thought! 🙂

The final addition to my collection of quotes comes from a really fun documentary, 180˚ South, which shows the journey of a man whose dream is reaching and climbing patagonia with the founder of Patagonia outdoor apparel, Yvon Chouinard. The movie explores the themes of adventure, travel, and destination. Chouinard said this about adventure: “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts.” I have this hanging on my door so that when I feel like everything is going all wrong, I’ll be reminded that it could just be the start of a great adventure and later a good story. Again, I’ve paraphrased it:

Hope you’ve enjoyed these quotes!

Listening to: Love isn’t Made: Jon Foreman

Reading: Robinson Crusoe

Learning: the Presidents of the United States

Martha 

Fleeting Moments

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An excerpt from my journal:

Birdsong Nature Center: October 22nd, 2011: Autumn’s here. I listen to the wind in the palm leaves and smell the tea olive and feel the goosebumps. I’m in love with these tall pine trees, graceful yet mighty. I’m in love with the old barn, rotting its way to perfection. I’m in love with this small caterpillar, exploring all this mess with his passionate slowness.

Why do I forget all this when things go wrong? Why do I forget the puddles of sunlight and beams of shadow? The chickadee’s merry chirp? The lacy veils of Spanish moss adorning the oaks? The flutter of wings and the buzz of this bee and the crinkle of moss and the coldness of metal?

I wish I could bottle this moment. Open it in years to come and smell and see and think and feel and all that I’m smelling and seeing and thinking and feeling now. How can I possibly savor every moment enough?

My heart’s full and the sun’s setting slow. The moment’s fading. Reach back and grasp blindly for it once more? No. Reach ahead and drink the next moment, fully and joyfully.

Pictures from Birdsong:

Listening to: Selena Gomez: Who Says? I really love the message of this song. It’s a good reminder for me to question who determines whom I can be or am.

Reading: The First Ladies by Margaret Truman

Learning: about the Kennedy’s! I just finished an amazing miniseries on them (It’s on Netflix View Instant and I highly recommend it) so I know I’m doing some research. What a crazy family.

Martha

My Bookmark Bar

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Grüße all!

Why, it’s cold down here! Seriously, I’m currently wearing socks, a long sleeve shirt, leggings, pajama pants, and oh, a fleece jacket. Oh hush… yes, it’s only 67˚ F, but us Southerners take what we can get, right?

I have a request for all my fellow crocheters out there. Do you have any favorite patterns? I just finished a pair of ridiculous slippers and am itching for a new project. Any recommendations? Ideas? Thoughts?

Over the past couple weeks, so many people have asked me to do a post of my favorite blogs and websites. I wasn’t wild about the idea at first, just because I can’t imagine people being interested. However, I realized that some of these sites are real gems and deserve to be shared with the world. And thus I introduce, my bookmarks bar!

BBC News (home page): My primary news source. Everyone in my family is a strict New York Times reader, so when I started reading BBC News I felt a tiny bit rebellious. I love the more global approach that BBC News has; I feel like I can get a more geographically unbiased selection of news. Not to say I don’t like the New York Times, I just like BBC News for my everyday news.

Grooveshark: There are so many websites like this today!  The concept it is a website that can play music for free and legally. Grooveshark’s one step up from Pandora, because you can actually select the music you’d like, but both have their merits and downfalls.

Facebook: Need I say more?

Geography Games: a great website with a bunch of games for learning geography! What can get better?

Netflix: For watching movies in bed when I can’t sleep. 🙂

Pinterest: The picture form of delicious! Still don’t know what I’m taking about? It’s a place to bookmark images you happen upon around the web. Way too much fun!

Sparklife: Hilarity embodied in website form. I’m kind of addicted. Just slightly. Ever so slightly. Okay, a lot slightly.

Sundrops and Rainshine: Hehe… you already know about this one!

Giogo Girls: Ever wonder what fashion experts say about the recent trends? Like feathers and stiletto nails? Look no further! These two lovely ladies tell you what’s in and what’s out.

Beauty Department: Useful tips for DIY accessories, vintage hair styles, and magazine make-up looks. Gorgeous photos, not to mention.

Tidbits from the Tremaynes: Just read it. Inspirational and laugh-inducing at the same time!

Got any websites I need to add to the bar? Let me know, and I’ll check them out!

Listening to: Andrew Bird – Imitosis

Reading: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig

Learning: ancient cities and the modern day equivalents for the Junior Classical League

Martha

Things to Smile About

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  1. old oaken desks with scratches and stains
  2. fun magazines coming in the mail
  3. the flickering of candlelight
  4. splashing through puddles barefoot
  5. a tree with leaves bedewed
  6. new experiences
  7. memories that flood at random
  8. dried flowers with scent that lingers, long after color has left
  9. airplane tickets, folded and creased
  10. being surrounded with things that have history
  11. ballet flats
  12. books that have been well loved
  13. a doorful of scarves, all with a story
  14. frighteningly enormous handmade slippers
  15. picking up forgotten hobbies again
  16. people that make me laugh deep
  17. a basket of yarn and needles
  18. mini jam jars brought from Ireland
  19. manchego cheese with butter snaps
  20. ‘ain’t’s, ‘bless your heart’s, and ‘y’all’s
  21. adorable babies who giggle and squawk
  22. a new member in our family
  23. college football games (go dawgs!)
  24. books to add to my ‘to read’ list
  25. a cat who wakes me up in the morning
What are you smiling about today, this rainy day in October? I challenge you to at least stop for a moment and think of just a few things that bring joy to your life, no matter how small. Cause somedays it can feel like you’ve an eternal to-do list, can’t it? And no matter what you finish more just keeps coming? Well, let’s slow. Because today everything that needs to be done will be done but not everything that needs to be enjoyed will wait before drifting into yesterday.
Listening to: Spotify’s pop radio
Reading: Robinson Crusoe (I know I’m reading really slowly!) and The Whistling Season
Learning: how to crochet again! 🙂 so much fun.
Martha

Some Pictures…

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A weekend of fun festivities results in lots of pictures!

This is my desk… where it all happens. I love the window, my grandmother’s lamp, the dried flowers, and of course the dear ol’ macbook air!

Love this quote of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s: The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books. This picture is of a bookmark I have and treasure!

I love getting letters from dear friends (who happen to have perfectly amazing handwriting!)

I made my first soup and it was delish!

I flew for the first time! It was so much fun and little surreal. Carrie and Andrea went with me in a little private plane above Tallahassee. (Photo courtesy of Carrie Campbell)

Apples baked in the oven and stuffed with granola and apple cider: yum yum!

Got the inspiration from Skinny Chef  and obviously tweaked it so it had no sugar and margarine and cooked in the oven. Try it!

My entire family was here this weekend and it was wonderful! Photo courtesy of Carrie Campbell.

Listening to: Feist – It’s Cool to Love Your Family

Reading: Robinson Crusoe

Learning: the major rivers of Europe using this quiz. (Select Rivers G) It’s much fun.

Martha 

Rosetta Stone: Spanish (Latin American)

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my most recent lesson

This year, I have the unique opportunity  to learn Spanish! It’s loads of fun. After much deliberation about which language learning course/software I would use, we finally settled on Rosetta Stone because of its amazing reputation. You’ve probably heard of it before; its ads are all over the internet and magazines like National Geographic and The Smithsonian.

The whole philosophy of the software is that it teaches you the language the way you learned your first language, without grammar rules, translation practices, and cheesy little jingles. And I’m kind of loving it. After eight+ years of taking Classical Latin at CCA, I’m kind of sick of all that craziness (ostmustisnt and sumesestsummusestissunt, anyone?) It was so refreshing to just learn what words mean by pictures and not have any annoying chants to memorize. I learn while I’m doing the exercises, there aren’t any lessons or homework or anything like that. Lazy, you ask? It’s actually pretty challenging, I say.

One of the features that makes it so challenging is that it wants you to master the language not just in reading and hearing, but also in pronunciation. It comes with a fancy little microphone headset and some of the exercises ask you to repeat words/phrases/sentences or label pictures with the correct sentence. It’s quite hard to do actually, but really rewarding when you get it right.

In short, I’m a huge fan. If you’re in any way contemplating Rosetta Stone for whatever language, do it! It’s totally worth it.

Listening to: Sia – Playground

Reading: Robinson Crusoe

Learning: the capitols of the USA. I figured if I’ve learned the capitols of Europe, I should probably know my own capitols, right? 🙂 I’m using this quiz. My highest score is 98% Can you beat me?

Martha