Always

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“But this is touching, Severus,” said Dumbledore seriously. “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”

“For him?” shouted Snape. Expecto Patronum!”

From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: She landed on the office floors, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.

“After all this time?”

“Always,” said Snape.

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I got my very first tattoo on Friday.

Between the crazy My Little Pony hair and my new tattoo, it must seem like I’m entering my rebellious phase a little on the late side, doesn’t it? Truth be told, I do kinda feel like I’ve got some sort of emotional Benjamin Button thing going on here — when I was in college, you’d probably find me sitting at home, watching TV, reading, and learning how to knit (true story.) But now that I’m 26 and I’m supposed to be this adult (stifle your laughter, please), I’m finally doing all the things that I feel like should have happened back then.

Actually, I did very nearly got this tattoo when I was in college. I mustered all my courage, waltzed into a tattoo shop, and made an appointment. I even put down a deposit! But that didn’t stop me from chickening out. So, flash forward another five, six years, and here we are. I figured that the fact that I still desperately wanted this tattoo meant that I probably wouldn’t end up regretting it — at least not for a long, long time, haha.

And so, on Friday, I walked into Jinx Proof Tattoos in Georgetown with my blessedly patient friend Lara, and I took the plunge.

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I’m sure that any of you already sporting some ink probably think it’s absolutely ridiculous that I made such a big deal out of getting a tiny little word on my wrist, but you have to remember that I’m a crazy person, and my mental capacity for imagining worst-possible-case scenarios is truly something to behold.

Soooo, though I was wracked with nerves from imagining that the pain would be akin to having my skin slowly sliced open, I managed to hide my neuroses long enough to talk to the girl at the front about what I was looking for. I knew I wanted the word “Always” with the three stars from every page of the Harry Potter books worked in somehow.

I already had a font picked out, so my tattoo artist, Tim, simply drew up the word in that style with the stars bookending the “S” at the end, and when I saw it, I knew it was perfect. Simple, clean, subtle, whimsical, and, most importantly, meaningful.

Funnily enough, even though this was the exact tattoo I had planned on getting for years and years, when I finally made the decision to definitely get a tattoo (I decided before I went to Cabo), I started getting a little bit, er, grand, with my vision. I mean, really, it’s Pinterest’s fault for having so many awesome examples of killer Harry Potter tattoos out there. I mean, snitches, house crests, stags, does, quotes galore, even one absolutely bitchin’ scene from the Tale of the Three Brothers… oh man, so cool.

Ultimately, though, I’m definitely glad I stuck with my original choice. After all, if I ever end up getting another tattoo, that’s when I can go a little wilder, right? ;)

Anyway, off I went, back to Tim’s station, where he cleaned my wrist, shaved my hair a smidge, and then applied the tattoo appliqué so we could see exactly where it was going to go. After I signed off on its placement, he had me lay down on the table, wrist up, and went to work.

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Tim was awesome. He talked me through exactly what he was going to do at the beginning, giving me one test stroke to get acclimated to the feel of the needle. And, of course, since I had been imagining excruciating pain the entire time I was sitting out in the waiting room, it was like, nothing. Compared to what I had been fearing, the pain was so, so manageable. Obviously I’m not going to say that it didn’t hurt at all, but there were honestly only one or two spots where I actively reacted to the pain with an intake of breath or a facial wince.

I’d tried asking numerous friends with tattoos what it feels like, and I can now understand why it always seemed difficult for them to describe — because it IS difficult to describe! My friend Chrystalle likens it to that feeling when your skin touches the hot outside of a car, which I’d say is pretty accurate. It feels somewhere between a burn (but not like, a super painful, run your finger under the water, it’s gonna blister up burn) and a scratch.

Tim worked in small strokes so even when it did hurt, I always got a second to wind down from the pain, and it was honestly over in a flash. I mean, I know my tattoo is very small, but it seriously flew by. Before I knew it, he was cleaning it off, rubbing a little ointment on it, and indulging me by taking a photo on my phone of it before bandaging it up!

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I’ve been taking my aftercare pretty seriously, since I’m paranoid that I’m still somehow going to mess it up and ruin it forever, but as of right now, it seems to be healing up really nicely and I couldn’t be happier.

So there you have it, my very first tattoo story. I’m sure there are some of you out there who think it’s absolutely crazy for me to get something related to Harry Potter tattooed on my body for all eternity (cough*mom*cough), and that’s fine. Not everyone grew up with Harry Potter, year for year, the way that I did. Not everyone had their childhood shaped by the stories and characters in these books. Not everyone learned lessons about right and wrong, friendship, heroism, justice, and sacrifice from them.

But I did.

And so the word “Always” is not just a tribute to Snape’s undying love for Lily Potter, to his sacrifice to keep her legacy and progeny alive, but is also the embodiment of the significance that Harry Potter has, and will always have, in my own life.

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Plus, if nothing else, it’s sure to get me some serious street cred when I return to Harry Potter World and hit up Diagon Alley in the fall, eh?

My Little Pony: Hair Dye is Magic

First things first, let’s all remind ourselves that I’m actually a small child inside. Which means that not only should you not judge me for the alarming number of stuffed animals that still reside on my bed, it should also come as absolutely NO surprise to you that I have watched every episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on Netflix. Now, not only is this show adorable and home to the catchiest damn songs on the entire planet, I maintain that it’s also totally legitimate viewing material for adults because of all the Easter Eggs they slip in on a regular basis that kids could not possibly be meant to get.

I mean, HELLO, there is a DOCTOR WHO PONY. I rest my case.

Anywho(oves), I bring this up because yesterday I went to see the ultimate master of all things hair color, Linh at Be Scene Studios, and he transformed my formerly faded mermaid-hair into something about 20% cooler

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Just call me Unicorn Gretchen.

Now, I know I already walked you through what it’s like dyeing my own hair, but I thought it might also be interesting for those of you who are less inclined to play with fire bleach to see what it’s like for a professional to get his hands on my hair (literally!). I actually had planned on just taking some progress pics throughout the dyeing process to show you, but as luck would have it, Linh had a photographer visiting the salon yesterday, so I convinced him to snap a few shots!

I think you all know how this story begins. BRING ON THE BLEACH!

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Linh started by bleaching my roots, as those had a good 1/4-inch or so of dark regrowth, and then sat me under a dryer to torture me help the bleach process faster.

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After a while (I’m not sure how long it was exactly), I emerged from underneath the dryer and Linh’s beautiful fairy assistant Ara gave me a “silk bath” (I *think* that’s what they called it?) to help take out the rest of the green color in my hair. Basically, she mixed some bleach with clarifying shampoo to help remove my color in a much more gentler way than straight-up bleaching over it… because that part of my hair is already super bleached. Unfortunately, as it turns out, green is a damn hard color to remove, so all I really ended up with was white-blonde roots and mint green lengths.

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I was pretty paranoid about not damaging my ends any more than we had to, so we went just went with it, drying my hair to an almost-dry-but-not-quite level of dampness. Then we crossed our fingers and hoped that the colors Linh chose for my new ‘do would be bold enough and bright enough to be unaffected by the green…

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… and off he went!

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Linh crafted a colorful cocktail of purple, blue, turquoise, magenta, and pink, painting each color onto different pieces of my hair, using foil to keep colors from bleeding onto one another.

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And I waited for a liiiiitle while longer until, at last, after one final rinse, some conditioner (oh, blessed conditioner!), and Ara’s awesome styling, I was reborn with beautiful rainbow hair:

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Ta-da! I feel like a beautiful unicorn and I am so, so happy with deciding to go for multiple colors this time around. Of course, this being my very first time with multicolored hair, I have absolutely no idea what subsequent washes might do to the color distribution and how it fades, and my trick of making my color last by putting some hair dye into my conditioner won’t really work since, well, you know. But, given how pretty the colors all look together right now, I have no doubt that they’ll continue to look pretty even if they mix and match and fade together even more.

Another successful adventure in hairdom, I’d say! And my new rainbow hair will hopefully go pretty perfectly with another new something that I’m planning on getting today… So stay tuned for that, have an awesome weekend, and see you on the flipside!

The Liberation of Not Trying to Losing Weight

Last night, I hosted an event for Yelp, as I do upon occasion since, y’know, it’s part of my job. This particular event was at Ruth’s Chris, and, as you can imagine, it was thusly VERY awesome. We were treated to an amazing three-course dinner with cocktail pairings from Absolut, and it was just an all-around rockin’ good time.

I definitely enjoyed myself, as I always do whenever food, drinks, and good company is involved, but somewhere between finishing off yet another forkful of garlic mashed potatoes and being served the cutest, most adorable individualized honey-cinnamon cheesecake, I had to pause. And kind of laugh. Because I remembered that once upon a time, I blogged almost exclusively about weight loss.

This photo was actually taken right after Sean stole a bite of my sandwich (THE NERVE!) but I thought it aptly conveyed the right emotion here.

Now, I obviously love my job — it’s pretty much a perfect fit for me. But as you can probably tell, there is not a small amount of socialization, eating, and drinking that comes along with it. Don’t get me wrong, I am most definitely NOT complaining. But it does seem somewhat humorous that, as someone who was, at one point, measuring and tabulating every calorie she consumed, it’s now basically part of my job to eat, drink, and be merry.

 
 

How boss is this set of photos that Ben and Taylor took at last night’s event, btw?! Anyway, I digress.

I just can’t imagine getting the same amount of joy from this position if I was still obsessed with calorie-counting and weighing myself, if I had to force myself to “be good” and sample only one of the cocktails, or if I continually felt bad for eating dessert. I try to place 2012-Gretchen in the shoes of current-Gretchen, and I can still tell that instead of fully enjoying the company of those around me, instead of really getting to taste the food I was eating, I’d be thinking about the impact that the dinner was going to have on my weigh-in.

I’m not saying that the process of weight loss is like that for everyone. But for someone like me, someone who has had a lifelong struggle with her weight and her body, it really is an all-consuming thing. Which is why being in the place that I am now, not overthinking what I eat, not letting my food choices impact my daily self-esteem, feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin, is so, so liberating.

It’s liberating to not be trying to lose weight.

It’s freeing to feel comfortable ordering a sandwich instead of a salad if that’s what I really want.

It’s nice to be able to live my life without religiously plugging things into an app. Without going to bed with a grumbly tummy because I’ve already used up all my calories for the day. Without using language like “Tomorrow I’ll do better,” or “Everybody slips up.”

And remember, just because I’m not actively on a weight loss track doesn’t mean I’m backsliding into binge eating Baconators in secret. It doesn’t mean that my diet is suddenly 90% potatoes (though I would probably be okay with it if it was). It doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly let myself go, that I don’t care about my health or how I look or how I feel.

It just means that I’ve stopped putting so much pressure on myself to “be good.” Because what the hell does that really mean, anyway? Would I be a better person if I were another 20 pounds lighter? Does it make the world a better place every time I ask for dressing on the side? Am I being a change for good because I’m skipping dessert?

If anything, I’m sure I’m making the world a worse place by not having dessert, because I’m still just me. But I’m me without cheesecake. And that never bodes well for anyone.

I just feel like I am in such a good place in my life right now. I am so happy some days I nauseate even myself. Apart from the whole happy relationship/awesome family/cuddly dogs part of the equation, I’m not doing too bad a job of taking care of myself either. On the days when I’m not being treated to an epic steakhouse smorgasbord, I actually eat pretty well.

I still like vegetables (Brussels sprouts for life!), I still enjoy having variety in my diet, I still like experimenting with new recipes that are fulfilling flavor-wise as well as nutritionally. Granted, I still have to work on continuing to be active, but fitness has ALWAYS been a struggle for me, even when I was dropping pounds like hot cakes.

I’m not saying that I’m never going to be motivated to lose weight again in the future. I mean, I think we all know that if/when a certain piece of jewelry appears in my life, this blog will probably take a rapid redirection yet again, hahaha. And, as you already know, I already went through a couple of attempted re-vamps, and (happily!) I did take down a few of those extra libbies that had creeped back on last year, which I am definitely happy about. I don’t want anyone to mistake my current perspective as an excuse for me to just eat whatever I want and be fat and lazy with abandon. Of course it’s not about that.

I’ve talked a little bit before about how I think the main reason why I lost my zeal for weight loss is because it no longer became something that I wanted to do, but something that I felt I had to do. After all, I built a name for myself blogging about weight loss! It was what I did! It was who I was! And I didn’t want to let anybody down by admitting that I didn’t want to do or be any longer.

I’ve never been particularly good at doing things I don’t want to do — chalk it up to the rebellious youngest child aspect of my upbringing (read: I’m a total brat) — and I honestly feel that if I hadn’t put so much pressure on myself to continue being the Honey, I Shrunk the Gretchen-Gretchen to the world, I might not have put as much weight back on as I did. Because I do know that the very worst thing I can do when it comes to my health is try to hide.

Hiding is how I ended up at 246 pounds back in 2010, after all. Eating in secret. Never weighing myself. Only going shopping alone so I never had to tell anyone what size I wore. And it wasn’t until I stopped hiding — literally and figuratively — and announced my weight, size, and habits on the flippin’ interwebs, that things changed.

So it’s the same for me now. I’m not hiding the fact that I’m not interested in losing weight. I’m not shying away from the fact that I’m actually okay with my body and how I look right now, even if some people in the world would rather I still be trying to “fix” myself. I’m not going to love myself in secret.

And if or when I do decide that I’m ready to lose weight again or finally train for that half-marathon or do whatever, I’ll won’t be hiding that either. I’ll be right here, where I’ve always been, sharing my journey with you.

Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles

I am half-Chinese.

Some of you know this, but, understandably, some of you may be unaware of this fact. You know, even though I obnoxiously try to work the word “Whasian” into conversations and blog posts on an alarmingly frequent basis. I know, it’s a whole thing. I’m working on it. ANYWAY. It’s understandable, of course, due to the fact that at 5’9″ and 200 libbies, I am not exactly Lucy Liu-like in stature. Or, as it happens, in face…ness, either.

I woke up like this.
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Now, while this may have caused me untold emotional damage in high school (I tell ya, going to high school in Taiwan my genetically petite classmates wasn’t easy on the ol’ self-esteem), I’ve begun to make peace with my lack of outward Asian-ness. Because what I may lack in physical features, I certainly make up for when it comes to the interior stuff. And I have the Tiger Mom to prove it.

But I’m not here to talk about my cross-cultural upbringing, any of my weird Chinese traditions, or the like. Not today, at least. Today I’m here to talk about the single most important aspect of my Chinese heritage: the food.

Many folks can identify with eating spaghetti, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs for dinner when they were younger. I, on the other hand, grew up eating sweet and sour pork, handmade spring rolls, watercress soup, and bok choy. Of course, because the “norm” for me was eating all of that soulful Chinese goodness, on the days when we DID get to eat hot dogs or mac ‘n’ cheese for dinner (read: the days that Dad was cooking), were superduperextraspecial. It was like the rare occasion I got to to bring a Lunchables to school — it did not happen often, and it was AWESOME.

So, yeah, unfortunately, my attitude towards dinner was a little bit skewed as a kid. I was suuuper jealous of my friends that got pasta and hamburgers and meatloaf on a daily basis, completely oblivious to how good I had it. Of course, I now recognize, with the perspective that being an adult no longer getting free home-cooked meals on a daily basis provides, how lucky I was to grow up with my mom making all manner of delicious, authentic dishes for us. Because she really is an awesome cook.

And while I may not have inherited my mom’s height (she’s 5’2″) or many of her traditional sensibilities, I am proud to say that there are quite a few things she has passed down to me. Her love for karaoke, for one. Her flair for the dramatic (who, ME?!), perhaps. And, of course, her love of cooking.

Now, I might not be quite as accomplished as my mom is in preparing authentic Chinese cuisine (yet!), but I’m certainly working — and eating — my way there. And while I look forward to continuing to learn her traditional recipes from the master herself, I know how to put my own spin on things too.

So here, today, I’ve got some absolutely delicious, spicy, creamy, oh-so-awesome Peanut Sesame Noodles. They’re more Whasian than Asian, given my use of regular ol’ spaghetti noodles instead of something more, er, authentic, but hey, tasty is as tasty does. So read on for the reipe 不客气. (“You’re welcome.”)

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Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles

Makes 8 servings

This creamy, hearty noodle dish is the very best way East could possibly meet West. Add as much or as little chili sauce as you like for a slight kick or of a full-on wallop, and enjoy it hot or cold. I promise, it’ll be delicious either way!

Ingredients: 

  • 1 box thin spagetthi, soba noodles, or pasta of choice
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (low-sodium preferred)
  • 4 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp chili garlic sauce, or to taste (I used Huy Fong brand, the same company that makes sriracha. You can find it in any Asian grocery store.)
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder, or 1 fresh clove, minced very finely
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, as needed
  • 1 finely sliced green onion, for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Cook pasta according to the direction on the box. Make sure to salt the water to give your noodles flavor.
  2. Combine all other ingredients in a bowl or blender, and blend or whisk together until completely combined. It should have a runny consistency.
  3. Remove the noodles from the water and toss with the sauce in a large bowl. I like to put a little sauce on the bottom of the bowl and then dump the rest on top for easy distribution.
  4. Eat hot or chill in the fridge and enjoy cold. Top with sliced green onion and enjoy!

Nutritional info per serving: 380 calories, 17 g fat, 43 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 15 g protein

The Little Focus That Could

I’ve put a lot of miles on my little baby Buttercup this week. (Buttercup being, for the uninformed, my car. She is very, very yellow.)

I had kind of forgotten what my hair looked like in a shade of brown. Whoa.

Being the Northern Virginia-dwelling suburbanite that I am, it’s pretty safe to assume that I do a lot of driving. And while that may be true to a certain extent — I certainly find myself visiting all corners of this region more often in my current role with Yelp than I ever did previously — I actually don’t drive that much. Since I don’t have a regular commute anymore, I’m not putting a steady stream of miles on my car — it’s only when I have a meeting or drive out to an event or have a desperate, searing craving for Korean BBQ that I take my baby out. In fact, due to the endless supply of schnauzers at my house and the fact that you can buy gummy bears in 5 pound bags on Amazon, there are usually quite a few days a week when I don’t have to leave the house at all. (I prefer not to think of that as being sad and pathetic, by the way.)

My little Ford Focus, purchased new in August 2012, only has about 16,000 miles on it. I’m no expert on car mileage, but I hear that’s fairly low.

This week in particular, however, I have been racking up the miles. And the frustration. Because lately it seems that any time I have to drive anywhere, I have the joyous benefit of sitting in lots and lots and lots of traffic. Between last night’s taillight-laden trip to National Harbor to see Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna (such a fun show — you should absolutely go if you’re in the area!) and the weekend’s horrific trip to New Kent for my college roommate and super preggo bestie Bethany’s baby shower, I’ve definitely been making up for the aforementioned lack of mileage.

Speaking of Bethany’s baby shower, fun story. So, Sean and I are headed down to New Kent, VA for Bethany’s coed baby shower (with Sean giving me grief about how coed baby showers aren’t a thing the entire time, but I digress), and New Kent  is about 20-ish minutes or so outside of Richmond. So, figuring that it usually takes about 2 hours to get to Richmond, we leave at around 10 AM to get there.

We arrive at 2:30 PM.

Yep, it took us FOUR AND A HALF HOURS to go 120 miles. I-95 traffic is no joke, folks, especially on a weekend, especially in the summer. Although, it does make me wonder WHERE all these other people who are stuck in equally bad traffic are really going. I mean, even if they’re taking a day or two off from work, are they really taking 6 – 8 hours to get to the beach, only to have to turn around and come right back in one or two days? #notworthit

Anyway, by the time we finally got to Bethany’s sister’s house, the shower was pretty much over. Womp womp. Which really worked out for Sean, since he got to avoid all of the baby games, and admittedly it kind of worked out for me, too, because I basically just got to hang out with Bethany, her hubster, and her sisters for a couple hours on my own.

Perhaps that was really my plan all long! Bwahaha. No, I kid, I kid, I’m really bummed that I missed out on the whole shebang. At least I still got to decorate a onesie! I really should have taken a picture of it, it was a masterpiece. (Reality: it was not a masterpiece. It said, “Will Cry for Milk” and then “I love boobs.”)

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It did seem like a shame to have to turn around and head back on the highway after only a couple hours of visiting, but all was not lost. On our way back, which AMAZINGLY took less than three hours in total, we stopped in Fredericksburg and I got to experience a kickin’ restaurant there called Foode, AND we got Carl’s Ice Cream after that – STRAWBERRYYYYY! Carl’s is evidently a Fredericksburg institution. It reminded me of Kline’s in Harrisonburg, and it was delicious.

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So at least my car ride from hell ended on a sweet note. Unfortunately, the driving isn’t over yet, as today I’m headed out to Annapolis! Luckily, it’s for a great reason — lunch with the bestest best coworkers ever! And at least I’ve got my DC counterpart Kimberly ridin’ shotgun and keeping me company. We miiiiight be going to the beach afterwards. Just sayin’.

At least this time I’ve learned my lesson and am giving us ample time to get there. Since I’m sure that even at noon on a Thursday, there will undoubtedly be traffic. Wish us (and Buttercup) luck, and see you on the flip!