Year Six: Our Story

Today, February 14th, is our six-year anniversary. Yes. Six years, seventy-two months, 312 weeks, 2,190 days.

People have been asking me about us a lot lately. I’m not sure why. How we met. How we’re still dating. How we survive being so far apart these days. So I tell them.

We met in the eighth grade, 2012. We had the same English class. Your best friend had a crush on my best friend, my best friend liked you. Somehow you and I concocted the same idea to wingman for our besties at a school dance. You were trying to help your best friend out and I mine. As that night grew on, your focus shifted to me for some reason. I’ll never really know why. I was skinny, had pink hair, and wore braces. I even had another boyfriend at the time. But you didn’t mind. You sat with me while I played a dumb game on my phone. We sang, we danced, we had a great time. Three days later, my best friend didn’t like you as much. Don’t worry, I checked.

I remember that you’d come up with excuses to come talk to me before class. You’d stand there, looking over my shoulder, and I would hold my breath. Plenty of other, prettier girls would flirt with you. I was sure I never had a chance. Our little flirtationship developed until I was head over heels.

I was on the dance team in middle school, you know that. You were in the TSA. Somehow, we both stayed after school one day. The dance team had to change into our practice clothes before practice. I was walking down the hall having just done so. You were in a classroom and saw me. You ran out of the classroom and called me name. You walked with me for as long as you could and concluded that walk with our first hug. I don’t know if you remember this, but it’s one of my favorite memories.

You waited months to ask me out. I had almost lost hope. On Valentine’s Day, you found me before class. You gave me a pink rose and asked me to be your girlfriend. There was a crowd around us. I’m sure I turned more pink than the rose. It’s been my favorite flower ever since.

We dated through high school, making you my high school sweetheart. You supported me through SO many things. Getting bangs, doing makeup, joining the dance team, quitting the dance team, starting ballet and pointe. You even let me arrange our class schedules so we had nearly every class together. You supported my choice in colleges somehow. You told everyone how I was the valedictorian.

In fact, we’re still dating. 2019. Your support has been unrelenting. We’ve been through some crap. And this distance hasn’t done us any favors. There was even a few rough months last year when I thought I had lost you. I love you more than I ever have.

People ask me if I want to marry you. I do. I’d love to bake breads and desserts for you every day. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve already been inviting people to our wedding. You would be proud of how many friends I’ve made here.

Don’t get me wrong. You can work my nerves. You can get under my skin worse than any other person on the planet. And I know I push your buttons, too. But in the same breath, you know how to fix all of my problems. You are home, you’re safe. You know exactly what to say and when I need to hear it. In a way, I’m grateful for those few terrible months that we had last year. If I hadn’t come so close to losing you, I probably wouldn’t be able to appreciate you the way I do now.

And I think that’s the secret. It would be so easy to take you for granted, especially considering how long you’ve been in my life. But I don’t want to take you for granted. I treasure every second we get together, every text from you, every phone call. I love every interest we share and don’t share. I love that when I started this blog, you made an account called “bakersrighthand” so you can read everything I type. I love learning new things about you. I love that you don’t hate me for putting this distance between us. I love that you encourage me to better myself. I love that you embrace my hobbies, especially the baking. I love that you can be so thoughtful. I love that you know my flaws and accept them. I love that you call me beautiful every day and that you tell me how much you love me. You have a seemingly unlimited amount of faith in me. You keep me grounded and on cloud nine at the same time.

I can’t thank you enough for sticking around. I love you. Happy anniversary.

Macarons

I finally made macarons!! They have been an obsession of mine for months now. A large part of getting my KitchenAid stand mixer was having the ability to make macarons. Amidst the studying and stressing, I purchased half a dozen macarons from a bakery in town. I ate them right away and was greatly disappointed.

Like I said, macarons have become an interest of mine, so naturally, I’ve been doing my research. Macarons are supposed to be delicate, chewy, sweet, and overall AMAZING. The half dozen I consumed that day where anything but. The shells were hollow and crumbled. They were also baked too much.

That fiasco prompted me to do it myself. I’ll post the recipe I used. I have found that the two most difficult tasks involved with making macs is:

  1. WHIPPING THE EGG WHITES: It is far too easy to over-whip egg whites. Then you’re stuck with something you can’t use. You may as well start over. If you put it in your batter, the batter won’t have the consistency required in order to dry.
  2. GETTING THE AIR OUT: If you’re not familiar with macs, the batter is almond flour and confectioners’ sugar carefully folded into meringue. You want the batter to move around without it being too runny. It’s quite finicky. Then once you have the shells piped out, you have to slam the trays against a hard surface to release any excess air. An unsuccessful removal of the air will result in a less-than-appealing appearance, but they’ll still taste great!

With my macarons (pictured), I wasn’t able to get all of the air out. I was worried my neighbors would complain about noise. My friend pointed out that an easy solution would be to lay a towel down under the trays. I also tried to make them light blue, but I didn’t use enough dye. They turned out a little green.

My FIRST EVER macs

RECIPE

Macaron shells:

  • 3/4 cup of super fine almond flour
  • 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 egg whites (large eggs at room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

Filling:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp milk or heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

FOR THE SHELLS

  1. Sift the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar together into a bowl. Set this aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium until you see soft peaks. This should only take a couple minutes. It would be best if you monitored the progress.
  3. Add the granulated sugar to the egg whites. Mix on medium until the peaks are stiff and glossy. This should take a couple minutes.
  4. Add the vanilla and beat for thirty seconds on high.
  5. CAREFULLY fold the dry mix into the meringue you’ve just made. You want the batter to be runny, but not TOO runny. Think the consistency of lava. If you’re unfamiliar with that: you want to mix the batter until you can remove some, add it back, and the batter recombines on its own.
  6. If you want to add color, do it while you’re folding the batter. Add more than you think you’ll need.
  7. Put the batter into a bag. This can either be a piping bag with a 1/2 in tip OR a regular sandwich bag with the corner cut off. If you use the sandwich bag method, use a freeze bag. It’s stiffer and will give you more control.
  8. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe the batter onto the parchment paper. Hold the bag vertically and do not swirl as you pipe.
  9. Bang the pans against a counter to release the air bubbles.
  10. Let this sit for about half an hour. This is so that the macarons can form a film. At the end, you want to be able to run your finger across the top without disturbing the shell.
  11. Bake at 325°F for about 7-10 minutes. It doesn’t take long. You’ll want to rotate the pans halfway through.
  12. Let the macarons cool. When they’ve cooled, you should be able to lift them off the parchment paper easily.

FOR THE FILLING (Buttercream)

  1. Beat the butter with the paddle attachment on medium-high until it looks smooth, light and fluffy.
  2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk (or whipping cream), and vanilla.
  3. Beat some more.
  4. Don’t be afraid to taste test. You may need to add a pinch of salt if it’s too sweet.
  5. Pipe this onto a macaron, sandwiching it with another.

It will help to let the macarons rest in the fridge overnight inside an air-tight container. Consume with pleasure!

Studying and Staying Motivated

One of my downfalls in the past has been staying motivated. I’m talking motivated to study, to work, to cook, to clean, to wake up early, and just being productive in general.

I’m taking only 13 credit hours: organic chemistry, organic chemistry lab, genetics, ethics online, and a seminar.

I have learned that being busy does not equate to being productive. Doing busy work is not the same as committing several minutes to work on an assignment or two. I use downtime between classes to take notes or read the chapters or work on homework assignments. My major motivator these days is the fear of falling behind. That may not be the case for everyone, and that’s understandable. You have to find something worth working towards. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or drastic. For example, find a bakery with the most amazing cupcakes. Set some goals for yourself at the beginning of every week. Buy yourself a cupcake for every week you fulfill your weekly goals.

Motivation isn’t easy. I manipulated my course schedule to only have classes on Tuesday and Thursday, with the heaviest load being on Thursday. If I stumble, my assignments could pile up. I still go into work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I use the morning hours to sip some hot tea and read assigned chapters. At nights, I cook. It’s become an outlet for me. I put on a load of laundry meanwhile. When I can, I write for this blog, I read books, I bake bread. Multitasking is key.

I’ve managed to study every night and stay on top of things. I’m proud of myself. I can say that.

The most important thing to realize is that progress is relative. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others, only to your previous self. All you need to do is better than you did yesterday. You can do this. We’ve got this.

Casanova

I often like to reflect on my life and how amazing things really are. Days spent with Casanova remind me of how grateful I am to have stumbled upon him. I am in love with everything about him.

I embarked on my quest for a puppy in March of 2018. I had just moved into my apartment. It began innocently enough. It started by browsing through internet advertisements during my classes. Some of the advertised puppies had names, I’m guessing to add to the cuteness. One little puppy was named Casanova; I fell in love with the name. I added the name to my growing list of possible names. My idea was the name had to match my pup’s personality. The frontrunners were Casanova if I found a boy and Cecelia if I found a girl. Obviously, the name needed to be unique.

I spent months looking online and in pet shops and at animal shelters for my puppy, but none of them felt quite right. At the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted a boy or girl, I just knew it had to feel perfect. I had already purchased a dog bed, food bowls, and several toys.

I eventually had a dream about my puppy. In that dream, my puppy was fluffy, yellow, and loved me to pieces.

In July, my brother found an advertisement online posted by a family about an hour and half away. This family had three boy puppies: one black and white (which had already been sold), one brown, and one sandy blonde with dark hair around his mouth. I was told the mother of the puppies was a shih-tzu, the father was a maltipoo. The family sent me pictures of the sandy blonde one. I knew. That was my Casanova, the malshipoo.

I immediately arranged to pick him up. My brother went with me. On the way, we stopped to buy a little blue collar and an engraved name tag.

My sweet boy cuddled against me from the moment he was in my arms. He was eight weeks old, born on May 29th. He slept the entire way home. He didn’t understand his toys at first, but he caught on. He learned so quickly and would do anything for a piece of turkey.

I brought him a bear to play with on the ride home. He cuddled it instead.

It sounds cliché, but that day changed my life. Casanova has been a blessing. He is seven months old. The dark hair around his mouth has grown out. He cuddles with me when I’m sad. He plays with me when I need a distraction from the monotonous daily grind. He especially loves to be outside. He hates baths. He hates to be separated from me; he won’t even let me close the bathroom door. He usually sleeps with his head on a stuffed toy or a pillow. He gives me SO many kisses.

I truly adore him. My goal is giving him his best possible life. I sometimes wish he could speak so that I could explain what it means when I tell him I love him.

Considering Majors

I, like so many others that I know, have changed my major recently. I went from biomedical sciences to biology. I felt it was necessary and definitely not the end of the world. It’s a decision that is entirely up to you and your judgement, but I felt truly liberated. I went from a major that was demanding and specific to a major that was more open to interpretation and lenient.

I was super fortunate that I switched between sciences, meaning I was on track to graduate on time with either major.

It can be scary, no doubt. I’ve known people to completely switch tracks and refocus their priorities. I mean from business to biology. Changes like that do, unfortunately, mean more time in school. However, remember: time is relative. An extra year or two is nothing compared to a lifetime of happiness spent in your ideal career field.

Finding an Apartment

Hello! With the end of my lease approaching, I have been hunting for a new abode. Having nearly completed my first year of living independently, I thought I might share some of my newly gained (though still limited) knowledge. I’m no stranger to moving around. By my count, I’ve moved approximately seventeen or eighteen times in my life. I moved away from home, into a dorm, and then into my apartment.

Apartment Features

  1. The first thing to consider is what you’ll be doing with your space. Will you be cooking? If so, you may desire a fully equipped kitchen. Will you be using a communal laundry room or would you prefer to have your own machines? With many apartments, there are laundry rooms meant for the residents. However, if you prefer your own machines, you might have to insist on washer/dryer hook-ups. Also consider whether you want carpet or hardwood flooring.
  2. You will have neighbors. Try and be observant of the residents in the area as you tour the various complexes. It can be difficult, but try to notice the thickness of the walls and the proximity of the units. Take into consideration the age group that is predominant in the area. You may not want to live near people that are going out late and honking car horns at all hours, unless you too plan to do so.
  3. Keep in mind that you will be required to move the entirety of your belongings into this new space. If your apartment is an upstairs apartment, you (and your moving crew) will have to carry everything up those stairs. That means a couch or futon, a dining table, a coffee table, a bed. You get the picture. It CAN be worth it, but if you’re not up for it, try and get a ground-level apartment.

Rent

I probably don’t have to say this, but don’t try to live beyond your means. The cost of living varies based on location. Larger cities and areas near popular nodes can stand to raise their rent. Know what you’re willing to pay for. Personally, I wouldn’t like paying an outrageous amount of money for a complex that has a tennis court, a golf course, and a mini bar. I simple wouldn’t partake in those luxuries, but I would still be paying them, ya feel? If your rent is inescapably high, make sure you have a contingency plan. Work hard, save money, and make good choices. It’s quite possible that getting away from the popular areas will lower the rent prices.

There is no shame in having your parents’ help, but don’t take that for granted. Not everyone is granted that luxury. If you can afford to help out, offer to pay some bills or a portion of the rent.

Pets

If you don’t have pets, you can pretty much skip this part. Since getting Casanova (the light of my life), I’ve started taking note of things I never had before. I now require clean, grassy areas where I can walk my boy without worrying about him. Try to consider the best things for your pet. You are their voice.

Nearby Amenities

What’s important to you? Being close to campus or being close to WalMart? Would you prefer to live walking distance from campus? Is it important that you pass a Starbucks on your way to class? Do you need to be near a shopping mall or a library? Location is everything and can inspire greatness.

In the end, be critical of the things that matter to you. Assuming that no one enjoys moving, pick the place you can see yourself being happy at for a few years.

Preparing for Spring

As a college student, my mind is constantly geared towards what I can do in order to prepare for my classes. I haven’t always done as well in my classes as I would like to, and that is hard to face. I graduated from high school as the valedictorian. I was the typical “I aced the exam and didn’t even have to study” student that annoys everyone. But if it’s any consolation, that has rocked my world. I had zero study skills in high school, and consequently, I brought exactly zero study skills with me to college. On top of that, life happens. Maybe you get a job (or in my case, two) to have spending money or pay your bills. Perhaps you get a puppy that needs attention, grooming appointments, vet appointments, and plenty of playtime. Then maybe you have a roommate you can’t agree with.

My point is that a lot can go wrong and I’ve learned the hard way. If you’re curious, I’m double majoring in biology and philosophy. Here are just a few things that I personally do that could potentially help you.

Give Yourself a Break

When registering for classes, it’s important to keep in mind that you need to eat and take breaks. Leave time to rest between classes. It is also important not to overload your schedule. It’s tempting to take a seventeen hours at once and graduate early, but it just isn’t feasible. I took seventeen hours the first semester of my freshman year. More classes means more assignments, exams, midterms, and finals. Come finals week, I was so exhausted that I could not manage to study for my very last final. Things turned out okay, but only because the professor decided to scale the grades.

Something critical to note is that a 3 credit course doesn’t evenly translate into a 3-hour class. The lecture might be three hours out of your week, but that does not include the time you’ll need to devote to studying, homework, assignments, or getting tutored.

See a Tutor

Tutors exist for a reason. They are so unbelievably helpful. Tutors are excellent at presenting the information to your from a student’s perspective. I would highly recommend that everyone see a tutor, even if only to reiterate the information learned in lecture.

Get a Planner

I know, I know. This one is listed in almost every article/blog post about being a better student and that is because it is essential. I started with an online planner. It was easy to put my entire class schedule into that calendar. I could block out any time I might need for a meeting or lunch or an appointment. It was also easy to keep up with in that I could pull it up on my phone.

I have recently switched over to planner from Plum Paper. If you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend ordering from this company. Everything about your planner can be customized, something I thoroughly enjoyed. Personally, I added boxes where I can note whether there’s an assignment or exam that day. It also helps me track my studying habits. They offer a student bundle that comes with a notebook, a notepad, and stickers for your planner.

My gorgeous custom planner from Plum Paper