Revolutionary Women of American History

A couple weeks ago (in what now feels like a different universe), some friends and I went on a “Revolutionary Women” themed walking tour in Boston. As opposed to the walking tours that focus on more well-known parts of American history, this tour focused on the (largely invisible) women of the American Revolution and their fight for equality. I found this tour and the women that it featured to be overwhelmingly inspiring. In a time when we could all use some inspiration, I thought I’d share a bit of background on some of the inspirational revolutionary women of American history.

Statue of Mary Dyer at the Massachusetts State House

Mary Dyer (1611-1660) was a colonial American and a Quaker minister. Even in the 1600’s, Quakers allowed women to be ministers, and Dyer wanted to spread her progressive Quaker beliefs to Puritans in Boston. This was seen as heresy at the time, and Dyer was exiled from Boston on more than one occasion (she also returned more than once, undeterred in her mission). Ultimately, Dyer was hung as a witch on the “Great Hanging Elm” in what is now part of Boston Common. (Read more here)

Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) was also a colonial American who advocated for reform in the Puritan community (but unlike Dyer, she practiced as a Puritan). She was also a practicing midwife. Hutchinson’s calls for reform garnered some support from the local community, but was met with opposition from the leading Puritan clergyman. Hutchinson and her family were eventually exiled from Boston and the Puritan community. First they moved to Rhode Island, and then to New Netherland. Unfortunately, due to mounting tensions between Colonists and Native Americans, the Hutchinson family was not considered welcome in New Netherland: the entire family (save for one of Hutchinson’s children) was massacred. Back in Massachusetts, Puritan clergyman openly celebrated Hutchinson’s death. (Read more here)

Dorothy Quincy (1747-1830) was the wife of founding father John Hancock. She is known for witnessing the Battle of Lexington, voluntarily taking on secretarial duties for her husband, and most importantly, not taking bullshit from men. When John Hancock forbade Quincy (his fiancĂ©e at the time) from visiting her father in Boston after the Battle of Lexington, she famously responded: Recollect Mr. Hancock, that I am not under your control yet. I shall go to my father tomorrow. She also gave her first child the middle name “George Washington,” which was most likely an intentional slight to her husband who was constantly overshadowed by the achievements of George Washington. (Read more here or here)

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895) was the first black woman in the United States to receive a medical degree and become a physician. Crumpler used her medical training to treat women and children in Boston, but later moved to Virginia because she believed her training would be of even more service to women and children who were impacted by the Civil War in the South. Unfortunately, she experienced so much racism in the South that she was unable to effectively practice medicine, and eventually returned to Boston where she continued to treat women and children. (Read more here or here)

Lucy Stone (1818-1893) was an abolitionist and suffragist who was passionate about securing equal voting rights for women. You have probably heard of Stone’s colleague, Susan B. Anthony. However, Stone broke from Anthony by supporting voting rights for black men before women were granted the right to vote. An abolitionist, Stone believed in voting rights for all, and she believed that if women supported suffrage for black men, then the black community would return the support for women’s suffrage. Despite her passionate advocacy, Stone lived her entire life without voting. She registered to vote in one local election (women could vote in some local elections in Massachusetts), but was denied at the polls for refusing to vote under her husband’s surname. (Read more here or here)

These are just a few important women from the walking tour whose stories I found to be particularly inspiring. Sometimes I find myself feeling powerless in my day-to-day life, so learning about these women who advocated for themselves and their beliefs in a time when women were given so much less authority really moved me. The work that the revolutionary women started isn’t complete, but their actions helped get us to where we are today.

Who do you find inspirational? Are there other revolutionary women from history (not just American history) that you would include in a history tour or a post like this?

2019 reading review & 2020 goals

Now is the time of year when everybody is posting their 2019 reading stats, and goals for 2020. So I am going to hop on that bandwagon and do the same! I’m keeping things simple, and combining my 2019 review and 2020 goals into a single post.

Booking and blogging in 2019:

I read 34 books in 2019. Compared to many of the book-bloggers that I follow, this number is laughably low. But 2019 was my first year of reading as a hobby; prior to 2019 I never read consistently throughout any calendar year. So while the number is low compared to others’, this is definitely a personal success for me.

I baked things for 30 of the 34 books I read this year. If you follow my blog, you probably know that it started off as a dual baking/reading project, where I baked something inspired by every book that I read. Toward the end of the year, I was unable to keep up with my goal to bake something for every book. Still, 30 bakes is a lot! I became a much better baker this year; and also strengthened connections with coworkers, neighbors, and friends by regularly sharing baked goods with them.

My favorite three books that I read this year were:

2020 goals:

Read at least 45 books. Last year I read 34 books (average: ~3 per month). I would love to read even more this year! With one of my New Year’s resolutions being to limit to weeknight TV time, I think I can accomplish 45.

Read every book longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. By following amazing book-bloggers on wordpress, I learned about the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and read 6 of the 16 longlisted books. Some of these books I probably wouldn’t have read had it not been for the Women’s Prize, but I really enjoyed them: four of those books were 5-star reads for me, and one of them (Lost Children Archive) ended up being my favorite book of the year. So this year I’d like to broaden my horizons even more, and read more excellent woman-authored fiction!

Read at least two classics. In 2019, all the books I read were contemporary, with the “oldest” one being published in 2008. This makes sense, because there is always so much great new material being published. But this year I would like to at least slightly diversify by reading a couple of excellent older books.

Changes to the blog in 2020:

I will no longer be doing a bake for every book that I read. As I mentioned above, it has become too hard to keep up with this project. My bakes (and therefore my blog posts) are now over a month behind my reading, and this gap will likely continue to widen. Instead, I will post standalone book reviews, participate in blogging events, and pursue a different cooking/baking project…

I am starting a project for 2020 called “Year of Yeh.” This project is essentially Julie & Julia, but using Molly Yeh’s cookbook Molly on the Range. I recently received several cookbooks as gifts, and I want to start using them! So this year, I plan to cook and bake my way through Molly on the Range. I specifically chose this cookbook for two reasons. First, I have baked a few things from Yeh’s online blog and I really enjoy her recipes (including tahini milkshakes, coffee-cardamom cake, and fresh mint cake). And second, her cookbook contains a nice mix of main dishes, side dishes, and desserts – so I will get to try and learn many new things.

Revisiting my Autumn 2019 bucket list

At the beginning of October, I posted a list of 8 fun things that I wanted to do this Autumn. With today being the first official day of Winter, I wanted to reflect and see how I did on my “autumn bucket list.” These were items on the list:

Go apple-picking.

This is a classic autumnal New England activity, best done in September or early October (that’s when most apples are in season here). Unfortunately, I was too stressed and busy in September and early October to make the journey to an apple orchard (most of them are a 1+ hour drive from where I live), so it didn’t happen this year. Hopefully it works out better in 2020!

See “Love is Calling” at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

This exhibit by Yayoi Kusama opened in Autumn, and it sounded really neat! Unfortunately, this item on the bucket list never materialized either. Fortunately, the exhibit is going to be at ICA until February, so there’s still some time to do this!

See “The Nutcracker.”

Yes! My husband and I went out on a Nutcracker date two weekends ago! The dancing, costumes, and music are all captivating and impressive individually…but the way that they all come together is what makes The Nutcracker a truly magical experience. And as a testament to how much this show stuck with me, I have been listening to the soundtrack A LOT since seeing the show.

Try a maple latte.

I sort of did this one. None of the cafes that I frequent served maple lattes on their menu this autumn…but just three days ago I found this draft maple latte at Whole Foods! It was really tasty (surprisingly not too sweet), and packed a nice caffeine punch for such a small drink. That being said, I am still on the search for a maple latte at an actual coffee shop.

Go on a hike through Fall foliage.

Yup, did this one too! Early in the Fall, I went on a walk with some friends through the local arboretum. Then, a couple weeks after that, my husband and I went on a run through a cemetery in our neighborhood (it sounds creepy, but it’s actually a really beautiful space that feels more like a park than a graveyard). And even just walking around my neighborhood, I saw lots of beautiful autumn colors (so much more vibrant in person than what my phone’s camera can capture).

Do something for Halloween.

This is another “sort-of-accomplished” bucket list item. My husband and I had a couple board-games nights with friends the week before Halloween, and we played a spooky cooperative board game (Betrayal at House on the Hill – SUCH a fun game) at those game nights. But neither of those nights were really Halloween celebrations – they were more like board games nights that happened to take place near Halloween. They were fun, though!

Do a “progressive” Autumn-themed dinner with my neighbors.

We did this! The night started with appetizers (risotto, Caprese salad, and floral cocktails) in one apartment, progressed into dinner (pasta, chili, and wine) in the next apartment, and finished with dessert (cranberry curd pie) in my apartment! This night was an absolute blast – the company, the food, and the drinks were all so nice – and I hope that this becomes a tradition among us.

Have tea-based cocktails at the library bar.

I did this one, too! My husband and I went on a date in October, where we got a tapas-style lunch downtown followed by cocktails and dessert at the library’s tea lounge. This was a cool place to experience – and the cocktails and treats were good – but I probably wouldn’t come back here (it is fancy and pricey and feels a bit touristy), except maybe to show it to somebody else who was interested.

What did you do this Autumn?! What are you looking forward to in the Winter?

Ten Things That Bring Me Joy

A few days ago, Tiana at The Book Raven posted an article by this same name. I have frequently felt drained of energy in the last week, but not sad or angry about anything in particular either. As such, I thought the idea of focusing my mind on things that I genuinely love would be a good way to find motivation and re-energize myself. So, I made my own list of 10 things that bring me joy (or fulfillment). And I (gently) challenge anybody reading this post to come up with their own list 🙂

10. Public transportation.

I recently moved to an actual CITY for the first time in my life, and I constantly find myself marveling at how much there is to do, and how accessible most places are by public transportation! Even when the trains have “technical difficulties” that result in “residual delays,” and even when the train is filled with more people than it should be able to hold, it is such a privilege to conveniently travel via mass transit.

9. Water related activities.

These include swimming, kayaking, and hanging out at the beach. There is something very calming about water to me, and I love interacting with bodies of water in different ways – even just taking a walk along a river, or reading by a pond.

8. Trees, plants, flowers, and fungi.

I love nature, and admiring the diversity of life that exists in the world. It is truly incredible that so many incredible flowers, plants, and fungi exist at all. I especially love brightly colored flowers and fungi, and plants with bold leaf patterns or surprising leaf shapes.

7. Being outside!

This includes being outside and taking in the great outdoors, but also being outside in a crowded city or even a mundane suburb. It can be enjoyable just to be outside regardless of context, breathing in fresh air and feeling the sun (or cold or rain). There is also something cathartic about being “out and about” – it makes me feel more connected to the world.

6. Reading.

This is a book blog – of course reading was going to be somewhere on this list! Reading is a hobby that sometimes brings me happiness, but more frequently brings me fulfillment. I love connecting to characters, learning how to empathize with people who are unlike myself (even when they are fictional), and reading content that forces me to think deeply about topics that normally wouldn’t cross my mind. Even though the books that I read don’t necessarily always make me happy, reading is very rewarding to me.

5. Coffee.

On a chemical level, coffee physically makes me happy, because the caffeine energizes and excites me. Coffee also makes me happy on a personal level, because I’ve grown to love the taste over the years too. I love exploring new coffee shops and trying new coffee-based drinks.

4. Food.

There is so much to love about food! First of all, trying new foods and flavor combinations is literally a new way of sensing the world and exploring life. Food is also a great way to connect with other people: making a meal or treat for someone is a way of expressing care; eating a meal with someone is a form of bonding; and talking about restaurants and favorite foods is a great way to break the ice with new acquaintances or coworkers. And, of course, food can be comforting and hold sentimental power.

3. Creative pursuits.

I don’t think of myself as a naturally creative person, but I love creative activities because they allow me to express myself in interesting ways. As a teenager, I loved dance as a means of creative expression. I still dance a little bit, but now I also see blogging, cooking, baking, and even fashion as meaningful forms of self-expression.

2. Exercise.

Exercise is very high on the list because it physically makes me happier. As Reese Witherspoon famously said in Legally Blonde, “exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” This is absolutely true! Even if I am doing a difficult workout that I don’t particularly enjoy, I always feel better afterwards. Most of the time, however, I do enjoy the actual process of exercising – especially yoga – not just the chemical benefits of it.

1. Spending time with people that I love and trust.

The number one thing that makes me happy is having positive and genuine interactions with others. This often takes the form of being goofy with me fiancĂ©, talking to my sisters on the phone, or hanging out with friends. But it can also instances of getting to know new people better, like having a wine night with my upstairs neighbors, or connecting and laughing with coworkers who are training me at my new job. I’m convinced that the positive effects of spending time with other people can even be physical (I have experienced this multiple times in just the past several months).

East coast road trip

The past 10 days have been a complete whirlwind. In these 10 days, I packed up my 1-bedroom apartment, loaded my belongings into my car and shipping boxes, drove 1000 miles from the southeastern to northeastern United States (with wonderful company), began unpacking, and had a job interview in my new location.

One thing that made this transition feel less chaotic was turning the 1000-mile drive into a mini-vacation. Time and money were both limiting factors, but my fiancé and I still managed to stop (even if just for a few hours) in the following places:

  • Durham, North Carolina
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • Alexandria, Virginia
  • Bergen County, New Jersey (not pictured)
  • New York, New York

All the stops provided much-welcome breaks from driving, and the opportunity to explore unfamiliar places. If anyone here is ever planning a large-scale move, I highly recommend driving it (with at least one other person – I don’t recommend driving large distances alone!) and exploring and adventuring along the way!

Here are some pictures from my East coast road trip adventure:

The end of two eras: life after grad school and the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Tomorrow, April 5th, at 9:00 AM EST, I will attempt to defend my Master’s thesis to my graduate advisor and committee members. With 112 pages spanning a comprehensive literature review, two scientific manuscripts, and way too many tables and figures, this thesis represents the entirety of my grad student career. If I successfully defend my thesis – if my committee members agree that the work I completed is sufficient to earn me the title of Master of Science – I will be done with this figurative chapter of my life, and move on to the next. I will move to Massachusetts, find a job, and get married to my fiancĂ© of 1.5 years – most likely in that order. The end of an era – my life as a graduate student – is scheduled for tomorrow, April 5th. Incidentally, the season finale of my favorite television program of all time, the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, is also scheduled for tomorrow.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend tells the story of Rebecca Bunch (played by the insanely talented Rachel Bloom), a successful and seemingly put-together young lawyer who moves from New York City to West Covina, California in the hopes of reconnecting with a former summer fling. As she starts her young-adult life on the opposite side of the country, Rebecca finds meaningful new friendships and embarks on a quest toward true happiness.

Rebecca falls in love with West Covina in the series’ pilot episode.

From its brilliant original musical numbers to its surprisingly feminist messages, there is a lot to love about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Despite the seemingly sexist title of the show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend actually deconstructs numerous tropes including sexist stereotypes. In many ways, especially at the beginning of the series, Rebecca does embody characteristics of the stereotypical, obsessive, crazy ex-girlfriend. As more of Rebecca’s backstory is revealed, however, we realize that the situation is a lot more nuanced that: behind Rebecca’s unhealthy and obsessive behavior is an unstable mental health which likely resulted from unresolved childhood traumas. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend candidly and responsibly explores these mental health issues throughout the series, showing that Rebecca is so much more than just a “crazy” overly attached girlfriend.

As the series progresses, other problematic cliches – including the female rivalry between Rebecca and Valencia (the girlfriend of Rebecca’s love interest, played by Gabrielle Ruiz) – are completely flipped on their heads. This isn’t to say that characters who initially seemed unlikable are revealed to be wholly amazing. In fact, most of the characters in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are often unlikeable: even at her best, Rebecca is usually self-centered; Paula (Rebecca’s best friend in West Covina, played by Donna Lynn Champlin), from her scheming nature to her reputation as the “office bitch”, is controlling; and Josh (Rebecca’s first love interest, played by Vincent Rodriguez III) is irritatingly oblivious. These blatant flaws make the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend frustrating, but also relatable and honest, and remind us viewers that people are nuanced. Instead of forcing characters into boxes or reducing them to caricatures, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend demonstrates that people are complex, and often fall into “gray areas” rather than discrete “black or white” categories.

Josh’s obliviousness is perfectly highlighted in this musical number aptly named “I’ve Got My Head In the Clouds.”

In addition to flipping the script on sexist tropes and typical TV-drama cliches, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend also de-stigmatizes taboo topics ranging from abortion to antidepressants. As I mentioned earlier, mental health becomes a major focus of the show. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the first television show I know of that so candidly portrays the experience of trying to overcome mental health issues. In season 4, episode 12, for example, after a year of attending individual and group therapy sessions, and so much personal growth, Rebecca backslides into certain unhealthy relationship patterns and reaches one of her all-time lows. She is able to recognize her mistakes and become more grounded, but it takes a lot of work. By exploring Rebecca’s mental health issues and healing process in depth, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sheds light on the often overlooked subject of psychological health, while also portraying those who suffer from mental illness in a realistic and sympathetic manner. Other “taboo” topics that are brought to the forefront of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend include: society’s impossible expectations of female beauty, bisexuality, and periods. (warning: the third video might make some people uncomfortable).

This brings me to my next praise of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: its original music is amazing. Like Rebecca herself, the songs of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are nuanced: I still catch new nuggets of gold every time I re-listen to my Crazy Ex-Girlfriend playlist (yes, I made a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend playlist). A great example of this is the song “Dream Ghost,” which takes place when Rebecca falls asleep on a cross-country plane ride and dreams she is having a poignant conversation with her therapist Dr. Akopian (played by Michael Hyatt). In just two and a half minutes, “Dream Ghost” teases the trope of characters in predicaments having life-changing revelations in their dreams, respectfully parodies Dream Girls, and also becomes a commentary on sexism in the work place! And on top of that it is well-sung and catchy!

The incredible and hilarious “Dream Ghost” scene: part musical number, part parody, part social commentary.

Most of all, though, what I love about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is that it’s the first TV show in which I truly identified with a character being portrayed on-screen. While I’ve never uprooted my entire life to chase a love interest, or been in the center of a love triangle, I do see a lot of similarities between myself and Rebecca: we are both Jewish, we are both dorky and weird, we are both professionally successful (although that doesn’t necessarily make us happy), and we both try very hard to be balanced and happy despite struggling with mental health issues.

Seeing my own experiences reflected in the character of Rebecca Bunch has helped me come to terms with my past and present self. Although it’s hinted at from the show’s very beginning, it is eventually made explicitly clear that Rebecca’s obsession with romantic relationships stems from childhood trauma. Like Rebecca, I was relationship-crazy from an early age, almost always in a relationship or seeking one. Several of my past relationships have been unhealthy, and there is one relationship in particular that I cannot think about without feeling intense, spiraling shame…or that is, I couldn’t – past tense – until Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. When I first saw my own previous unhealthy relationship patterns portrayed on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I felt embarrassed for Rebecca, and often found her relationship drama painfully uncomfortable to watch. As I watched Rebecca grow throughout the series, however, I gained empathy and respect for her…and for myself. Realizing how much I used to have in common with season-1-Rebecca made me realize that, like Rebecca, I haven’t exactly been dealt an easy hand in terms of mental health; but also like Rebecca, I am capable of growth and change so long as I keep putting in the effort. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend guided me to the revelation that our pasts are a part of who we are, but they don’t define us.

In addition to guiding me out of unhelpful shame spirals, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has helped me by role-modeling healthy relationship patterns and mature decision-making. No character on the show is portrayed as perfectly reasonable, and we frequently watch characters struggle to do the mature thing. But, generally speaking, the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend do eventually do the mature thing. I mentioned previously that some episodes show Rebecca backsliding into unhealthy behaviors, demonstrating how difficult it can be for those with mental health issues to make healthy decisions. But after the backslides come the…frontslides? After each backslide, Rebecca picks herself up, with admirable determination and the support of her friends. After experiencing agoraphobia in season 4, episode 2, Rebecca acknowledges her feelings of shame, makes peace with them, and is ready to stop isolating herself. After the aforementioned backslide of season 4, episode 12, Rebecca realizes that she’s out of control, and initiates a beautifully candid conversation with her psychiatrist to get herself back on a path toward good mental health. Other characters – Paula, Valencia, and Nathaniel come to mind – don’t backslide per se, but they still struggle with healthy relationships (romantic, platonic, and professional), and we see them grow and mature alongside Rebecca throughout the series.

In Rebecca’s shame spiral of season 4, episode 2, she becomes obsessed with a woman who was murdered, and tries to communicate with the woman’s spirit. It is her empathy for this woman that eventually brings her out of her own shame spiral.

After four spectacular seasons of smashing hack stereotypes, de-stigmatizing mental illness, role modeling healthy behavior, and producing some of the most amazing original music numbers of all time, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend comes to an end tomorrow. Throughout the series we’ve watched Rebecca make impulsive decisions, behave selfishly, seek improvement, explore her passions, make meaningful friendships, and just…grow. I have no idea what the series finale has in store for Rebecca, but given the show’s theme of personal growth, I imagine Rebecca will follow whatever path is truly best for her (even if that path doesn’t involve choosing one of the three men pining after her). I would also guess that Rebecca’s ultimate decision will highlight the importance of self-acceptance and self-worth.

Unlike the fictional, four-season run of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, however, my very real three-ish-season run of graduate studies will not necessarily end on a poignant note. As I learned at my undergraduate commencement ceremony, and with some of the biggest accomplishments of my life (getting into graduate school, being recognized for academic achievements, and giving my last ever seminar as a grad student), hyped up life events are often underwhelming. I didn’t experience tremendous joy, relief, or revelation after giving my exit seminar earlier this week, and I don’t expect to experience them after my defense tomorrow, either (if my defense is successful, that is).

But even without any major revelations, and without new episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to guide me through an uncertain future, I can still strive to be the most sincere version of myself. I can take the example set by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and try my best to be aware, empathetic, realistic, and honest with others. I can make healthy and mature decisions, even if it sometimes takes a while to get there. I can continue putting in the work required to be fulfilled and mentally stable. And should I ever forget the lessons exemplified by the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I can always re-watch their inspiring personal growth journeys. And by that I mean that I will absolutely be re-watching this beautiful, heart-stopping, breathtaking, life-changing series.