It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

I’ve been put in charge of decorating the house for Christmas this year. Not done yet, but I’m happy with what I’ve done so far.

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There is something lovely about filling the house with tiny twinkling lights. When I was little I would bring all my blankets downstairs to sleep by the tree, something about it always made me feel happy and peaceful. So last night I curled up by the tree with a snack (strawberries and a little bit lot of chocolate syrup) and a book (told you I was going to re-read it as soon as I got home).

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I also found these awesome socks in my drawer Monday night and they have been keeping my feet warm since. Definitely bringing these to Minnesota (I get cold just thinking about it).

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The past few years December has come around so quickly that it hasn’t always felt like Christmas. Everyone is always busy, stressed, and separated. It was also 80 degrees yesterday. Sometimes I’m sad that we don’t get white Christmases in Texas, but then I remember that I will get plenty of snow in a few weeks so I should enjoy running around in the 70+ degree weather while I can. So, in addition to playing outside all day, I’m taking the time to stop stressing about work, presents, etc. and instead sit by the tree, read a good book, and count down the days until my family is all together again.

PS: I’m also staying good to my goal to try all the Coffee-mate flavors. Last night I bought this one while grocery shopping and put it in my coffee this morning (and might have put a small splash in my cereal because it was so good). Image

“A land neglected, brutal, beautiful, flawed.”

On the plane from D.C. to Texas, I finally finished an e-book I started a long time ago called “Afghanistan By Donkey: One Year in a War Zone” by journalist Anna Badkhen. I bought it on Foreign Policy’s website several months ago and even though it does not take long to read and she is an amazing story-teller, I got distracted by life and school (mostly school). But I finally put away all other distractions and finished it. Her writing is as beautiful as the country she is writing about and at certain points she had me smelling the food, feeling the heat, and experiencing the heartache of the people she spoke too.

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I recommend this book to anyone—anyone who wants to learn about Afghanistan, who wants a different, first-hand point of view of American counter-terrorism policy, or who wants to read an incredible story about a timeless, war-torn land.

Often I jump back and forth between books, alternating chapters. Its not because I don’t like them each enough to read one all the way through, but usually because I’m so excited to read them both that I can’t read one at a time. While I was reading this e-book, I was also reading “Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda” (which I actually had to prioritize because I was reading it for work and had to turn in a chapter-by-chapter summary that my boss was going to use in his case to make the book a part of the school-wide curriculum….no pressure). It was incredible how quickly I became consumed in the book, unable to put it down because I had to know what happened next. I was so filled with patriotism, anger, conviction, and excitement. I wanted to ‘get the bad guys’.

Then I remembered the heartbreaking stories of families destroyed and young men turned toward extremism because of night raids and drone strikes. And then I read “Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia” by Ahmed Rashid and became so incredibly frustrated with U.S. policy that I just didn’t know what to do. And then I read “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid, watching how America turned on a young Pakistani-American after 9/11 and his journey towards fundamentalism.

So many competing views and so little time to fully understand all of their intricacies, shortcomings, and virtues.

I guess before I can figure out what to do, I need to learn as much as I can. I want to learn as much as I can, throw myself into situations where I will learn by observation. Maybe I should have been an anthropology major. I think that’s what I love about Anna Badkhen’s book so much. She retains a sense of self-awareness as a foreigner throughout the entire book, but throws herself so completely into this country that it becomes a part of her and she of it. The following quotes are only two examples of how beautiful her writing is:

 It was dusk. Dogs barked at the approaching night; boys whipped the last sheep through sheet-metal gates. Men pressed their palms to their chests in greeting and smiled. A swollen Venus hung over the distant silhouette of the Hindu Kush. At a village elder’s mud-walled guestroom crisscrossed with horizontal smears of smoke from bukhari and cigarettes, after dinner of lamb, rice, and fresh yogurt, I fell asleep to the men’s soft Farsi gossip, to the stars’ eternal lullabies. – Anna Badkhen

There were also times when, by what seemed like sheer force of our will, we carved out of a brutalized landscape moments of immeasurable, unadulterated joy. The evening in August when we went swimming in the satin eddies of the Balkh River to beat our Ramadan thirst. The morning in March when we set out before dawn to a Monday bazaar twenty-five miles away, the desert ringing underfoot like the earth’s belly, Amanullah on his donkey singing the sun out from behind the mountains. The day, last April, when Baba Nazar and I knelt on top of a gold-speckled san dune to eat the season’s first camel yogurt. It tasted like liquid moonlight. –Anna Badkhen

Spotlight On: The Laughing Cow

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Easy to spread, easy to cook with, and it even looks like fun. I’ve been experimenting with these low calorie cheese triangles lately. They instantly liven up a sandwich or toast (like strawberry cream cheese with apple pie spice) and a week ago I stuck a wedge of sun-dried tomato basil mozzarella inside of a chicken breast before cooking it and it worked really well. Super tasty and a really easy way to make grilled chicken more interesting. They have a ton of flavors and recipe ideas.

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In Review: D.C.

I’ve had a lot of coffee outings the past several days and it made me think of all the coffee places I’ve visited in D.C. This small list pales in comparison to how many coffee places there are in D.C., but I feel like I’ve covered a fair amount of ground.

1) Kramer Books and Afterwords (Dupont)

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This place was cool and different (a bookstore attached to the cafe), but more of a restaurant than a place to just sit and get a cup of coffee (limited seating and no outlets). My cappuccino was really good though and their system crashed right when I was about to pay so they said it was free. Awesome.

2) Ebenezers (Union Station/Capitol Hill)

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I’ve been to this place a few times since it is right down the street from David’s apartment. Each time the cappuccinos were really good. They play nice music and there is a lot of seating, indoors and outdoors.

3) Bourbon Coffee (Foggy Bottom)

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I’ve hung out and done work here a few times since its right by David’s office. They have a lot of coffee options as well as some non-traditional baked goods. The rugelach I had was really tasty as was the coffee. A really nice place to do work, even though the internet is a little spotty.

4) Firehook (Dupont)

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I’ve been here a few times and each time something went wrong with my coffee order (wrong drink and a really burnt cappuccino). But the pastries have always been really good. Good for coffee and snacks on the go.

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5) Peregrine Espresso (Eastern Market)

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David and I went here this morning after walking around the Eastern Market farmers/flea market. I got a cappuccino and an almond croissant and David got a macchiato and a scone, it was all really good.

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6) Tryst Coffeehouse-Bar-Lounge (Adams Morgan)

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We stumbled upon this place last night while we were wandering around Adams Morgan. I loved it as soon as we walked in. It was comfortable and unique without being hipster-ish (I really don’t like ‘hipster’ places). I would definitely go back there to hang out at night again or to do work. I had a mulled apple cider and a cappuccino and David had a beer and a Hot Toddy (bourbon and tea).

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Cookies to dip in your drink are an automatic win in my book.

7) Tynan Coffee and Tea (Union Station/Capitol Hill)

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This place is super close to David’s apartment so we went to check it out one morning. The quiche was fine (a little greasy), the cappuccino was good (super creamy), the space was clean and comfortable with tables, a counter-top, and couches by some TVs, but the music was strange…they were playing Ke$ha at like 9 in the morning, which seems weird to me. Maybe they just wanted to wake us all up. We went back a second time and they played dance music again, so not a great place to relax or do work.

8) Sidamo Coffee and Tea (H Street)

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I came here in the summer with David and his parents and I really liked it. My iced latte was really creamy and delicious, but David said his coffee was incredibly acidic. I haven’t been back since then or tried anything else. Nice place; small, cultural music, good place to do some work.

9) Yola (Dupont)

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I went to Yola in the spring. It was a cool, quiet place to get some coffee and do some work. It is also a yogurt bar.

10) Bagels and Baguettes (Capitol Hill)

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David and I have been here several times. We stumbled upon it look for breakfast one morning and keep coming back because the food and coffee are good and its really affordable.  Its pretty small, but there is a nice amount of indoor and outdoor seating. Its also really fast so its good for to-go meals. Definitely one of D.C.’s hidden gems.

Of course I’ve also been to numerous Starbucks around the city, but they don’t need any reviews. Although, the one in Dupont was recently re-done and now has two stories with a ton of extra seating. It was pretty cool. Exploring different coffee places has definitely been fun, but I’m excited to get back to good old Hideaway for a creme de menthe latte and biscotti.