Things to Keep You Sane in Grad School

If I look back at 2016, a lot happened. But the one thing that seemed to consume most of my time and definitely all of my free time, was grad school.

It was on the forefront of my mind most of the year and while in and of itself it would not have been too bad to handle, on top of working full-time and coaching, it was rough.

That being said there were a few things that made life a little easier! After comparing my list to some friends’ lists, here are the things that helped us through.

  1. Music.  Probably the number one thing everyone said was music.  Personally I have a Spotify subscription and absolutely love it.  I am someone who loves to study with classical music but also likes cheesy pop music every now and then and Spotify has it all.
  2. Headphones.  This goes along with number one but there is nothing more important than good sound.  Since I am doing my master’s through an online platform, I also need headphones for every class and group meeting.  Favorites? Beats in ear headphones.  Not bulky to carry around but provide great sound and a good amount of noise canceling.
  3. Notebooks.  A good old notebook to take notes and write down ideas (they must be pretty). Ideas can often come at the oddest times and having somewhere to write them down means you won’t forget.  Having a small notebook for each class is a great way to keep track of everything, whether class notes, questions or just random information.
  4. Tea, Coffee or your favorite comfort drink.  Personally I love my Special T machine from Nestle and you can always find me drinking rooibos or peppermint tea.  But really what is important is to have something that keeps you going.  I’m not a fan of coffee or energy drinks but whatever works for you. Just stock up, you’ll need it.
  5. Food.  You’re going to need fuel so keep a good stock of healthy and some naughty food! Late night study sessions may just require a snickers to make it through.  Refer to the next item on how to combat the unwanted weight.
  6. A distraction.  You can’t study 24/7 and sometimes you just need a little break to recharge.  Personal favorites are adult coloring books (also like the kids ones), Lego sets, knitting, or pretty much anything else that uses my hands. Sport is also a great way to get out of the study funk and to try and keep those inevitable pounds from piling on.
  7. A planner.  I’m old school when it comes to keeping track of everything I have to do.  For 2016, I tried the Erin Condren Life Planner and so far so good! There are different layouts and awesome stickers available to liven it up.
  8. The Cloud. Keep everything there.  It makes life so much easier when switching from a home computer to a laptop or to a work computer when travelling.  Knowing that you have access to everything at anytime is a great stress relief.  Only caveat is if you’re working with video files, then invest in a good quality external harddrive!

While that covers the material list of things, there are non-material things that are just as important for your sanity.

  1. Really good friends.  Those that get what you’re trying to achieve and won’t think any less of you for not making it dinners, birthdays, random get-togethers or just being horrible at communicating.  They know once you’re done with it all you’ll be back to your normal self.
  2. A shoulder to scream/cry/rant/say nothing/go crazy on.  It could be a few shoulders or just one but having someone that will be there for the late night “what’s the point of all this?” conversations and to pick you up when you’re feeling down.  Most importantly they will be the people that you celebrate with in the end!

Everyone’s list will look different and some of the answers I got included paper textbooks vs e-textbooks, alcohol, your reason for doing it, there is light at the end of the tunnel, time management, sleep, a sense of humor, a good laptop, and Netflix.  But the most important thing is to know what works for you and have those things ready!

What has helped you through a busy period? I’m ready for 2017 🙂

 

Hungarian Goulash: An Easy Recipe

Whether it is out of pure procrastination or actual interest, this past weekend I decided to make good use of that paprika I brought back from Budapest.  There is no better dish to use paprika for than goulash.

IMG_7910

Goulash is one of the national dishes of Hungary and dates back to the 9th century when Shepard’s would dry the meat using spices and store it in sheep’s stomachs.  Then the only thing that was needed to make it into a meal was water.  Was this the first prepackaged meal?

I am all about one pot wonders and that is exactly what this is! Really simple and such great flavors, although it might be better suited for winter, the temperamental weather in Switzerland right now called for some comfort food.  So let’s get going.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled (I admit I forgot this step but it was still delicious)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/4 sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 kg beef chuck, 1 inch cubes
  • 500g new potatoes, cubed
  • 2 medium carrots,  cut into chunks
  • 2 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped

Making it happen:

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and salt and pepper, cooking until fragrant. Lower the heat and stir in the paprika.
Sprinkle the beef on all sides with salt and pepper. Return the pot to medium-high heat, and add the beef cubes to the pot, turning to cover the beef with the paprika-onion mixture, and cook until browned, about 6 minutes. Add 2 cups cold water, cover with a lid, reduce the heat to medium and stew for 45 minutes.
Add the veggies, cover and stew until the beef is tender, stirring occasionally. This took about an hour for me.

You an of course add some noodles to make it a thicker or serve with bread.  The sauce is by far the best part.

Bon Appetit.

Ice Cream & French Fries

When I first moved to the States, my new friends were only too happy to introduce me to the weirdest American foods, traditions, and fashion they could possibly think of.  While some of them have stuck with me, sweet potatoes and marshmallows for example, others will remain in the memory bank.

One that stuck with me is mixing ice cream and french fries.  Now when I first had it, it was all about dipping your fries into your milkshake and that is still my preferred method.  Disgusting thought at first but I was sold the minute I tried it.  I am sure the fact that french fries and ice cream are two of my favorite foods helped a little.

Last Friday, a group of colleagues and I decided ice cream was a much needed after work treat.  Who knows how it came up but after years I remembered this little combination and proceeded to order my ice cream and an order of fries.  Despite the waitresses raised eyebrows and confirmation that I wanted both at the same time she willingly obliged.

Needless to say it was a hit around the table and before long most had a portion of fries sitting beside their ice cream. All I can say is sorry about the extra calories but I love these little traditions that can bring a group together!

Next time you’re out, give it a try or if you’re embarrassed do it at home, you won’t be disappointed 🙂

IMG_7820

 

Maastricht and Its Charm

Most people will name a big city when you ask them the best place they’ve ever visited. For me, its Maastricht.  I have visited this tiny Dutch town twice and each time it feels like coming home.  Maastricht is on the southern tip of the Netherlands and is known as a University town.  Normally that wouldn’t attract me all that much but its medieval architecture, friendly people, and tiny shopping streets have won me over.

The city is divided into the new town and old town separated by a river.  The old town is characterized by its cobbled streets, lively cafes and the Romanesque Basilica of St. Servatius. The New Town reflects today’s obsession with straight roads and glass buildings but still maintains the cities charm with markets and cafes.  I could wonder around all day just exploring the little streets and stores.

IMG_3124

It is the home of Andre Rieu, the violinist known for his grand spectacles that he puts on in Vrijthof each year but also how I came to know about the city.  I was lucky enough to be at one of the concerts last summer and it was a truly wonderful experience.  If you get the chance and enjoy classical music, its a favourite.

Here’s a little trailer 🙂

11201186_10206393937719055_2018882439214213371_n

As we flew into Dusseldorf, we picked up a car and after a pleasant drive we arrived in the new part of town where our hotel was.  Check out the Designhotel is you’re looking for something quirky.  After probably my greatest parallel park to date with our giant SUV, we settled into the hotel and I was ready to go see the town that puts a smile on my face.

Must see places when in Maastricht:

  • Vrijthof – the town square where its always busy in summer time.  Lined with cafes, people take a break from their day to enjoy their coffee and a little snack.
  • Basilica of St. Servatius – The first stone churches in Maastricht were built after the arrival of Saint Servatius in the fourth century AD. After his death, Maastricht became a popular destination for pilgrims. According to the legend, Saint Servatius was the first bishop of Maastricht and a small chapel was build on the spot where he was buried. In the centuries that followed, this chapel grew into the St. Servatius Church.
  • The vineyards – now I still haven’t got to do this one but its on the list for next time. These vineyards apparently date back to the Roman times and have the finest wine Holland has to offer.  Not sure about the quality overall but the views are worth a visit.
  • Violin Museum – When I was there, the Museum an der Vrijthof had a great exhibition on Andre Rieu and violin making.  I don’t believe it’s on anymore but the building is a great mix of old and new so if you’re a museum go-er, put it on your list.
  • Stokstraat – this cute little street is full of shops (all prices) and restaurants.  Its not very big but the history makes it an interesting stop.

In terms of restaurants, you can’t really go wrong.  There is a large French influence so French cuisine is abundant.  If you want something lighter there are also plenty of cafe’s with small snacks and for when its super hot in the summer a McDonald’s sundae goes down very well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Two of my favorites from this last trip:

  • Brasserie Flo – It was located right next to our hotel and perfect for a nice dinner before we headed to the concert.  French cuisine, the portions are great and we weren’t disappointed with anything we ordered. From the snails to the lamb it was all delicious.  The staff was great as well!
  • Piece of Cake – Just how I imagine a cupcake store with a little cafe.  Pastel colours and cute little decorations everywhere, they have a choice of seating.  If you want there are table and chairs, couches, and even an outside courtyard for when the weather behaves. The cupcakes are not too sweet so you leave satisfied and not on a sugar overload. A great place for an afternoon stop.

I can’t wait to return to Maastricht and explore more the restaurants and neighborhoods, perhaps even a bike tour, it is the Netherlands after all!  A place where I could call home one day.

Until next time

 

Mini Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Frosting

May is a great month! Why?  All the public holidays. It means that I have time to spend in the kitchen baking, which is like recharging my batteries. This time I decided to go with a recipe that it a little out of my norm.  How so? Its not at all sweet, made only with dark chocolate and not that much sugar and a somewhat bitter frosting.  I also decided to play around and make mini cupcakes.  I am not a fan of those monstrous ones you can get at most cupcake stores. I would much prefer to buy a few mini ones and taste different flavours.

IMG_7783

 

Here is the recipe:

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes (36 mini cupcakes)

  • 57g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 124g all-purpose flour
  • 38g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 220g granulated sugar
  • 56g butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 124g sour cream
  • 1/2 boiling water

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 175 degrees celsius. Line your cupcake tins.
  • Add enough hot water to the 57g of unsweetened cocoa powder and mix until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, remaining cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix together sugar and butter until combined (it wont come together completely but mix until lumps of butter are creamed).  Mix in the egg and egg yolk as well as the vanilla extract. Add the melted chocolate then the sour cream.
  • Add half the flour mixture.  Beat until combined then add the remaining mixture. Add the boiling water. (I landed up not adding it all as the mixture would have been too runny, use your judgement).
  • Mix for 1 minute to make sure it is all combined.
  • Divide the mixture into the cupcake tins, filling half full and bake until a toothpick comes out clean (12-15 min).

 

Raspberry Frosting

  • 1 heaping cup of fresh raspberries
  • 3/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2- 3/4-2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • raspberries for topping

Directions

  • Puree raspberries in a food processor until well pureed then force through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds.  You should have about 3-4 Tbsp. If you have more you can always boil the mixture to reduce. Make sure you cool completely before using.
  • In a mixer with a paddle attachment, whip butter until very pale and fluffy.  Mix in 1 cup of powdered sugar and then add the raspberry puree and vanilla.  Add the rest of the powdered sugar and mix until completely incorporated.
  • You can always add raspberry extract if the taste is not strong enough.
  • Pipe and add a raspberry to each cupcake. Enjoy 🙂

Adventure: Taipei

One of the greatest parts of my job as I am sure I have mentioned before is being able to travel to new places.  I had set myself a goal of visiting at least one new place every year.  At the start of each year I think to myself, my gosh what if nothing interesting happens this year and I don’t visit anywhere new? It seems like a rather spoiled thought but the last couple of years have been great in terms of travel and it is something that brings me a lot of joy.

Recently I got the chance to visit Taipei and speak to students a little about what I do and some of the special things when working with Olympic marketing.  For the first time I don’t think that I was nervous when I thought about getting on that plane for almost 13 hours and landing in a country I had no clue about nor did I speak one word of the language. It was going to be great and my hosts had already been absolutely wonderful in setting everything up.  Only thing left was to pack my bag and go!

As everyone settled in for the night flight, I went through my little rituals.  Getting changed into comfy sleeping clothes (I could write a whole post about travel attire), warm socks, making sure I have water, checking out the film selection and then it was time to go.  Also praying you’re not stuck next to the one guy that snores the entire flight is important!

I slept most of the way there but shout out to the KLM crew I had, they were really great!

Arrival and baggage claim couldn’t have been any smoother and I was out and on my way with my guide in a flash.  First stop was the hotel for a quick refresh and then dinner with the students.  While I couldn’t read anything, I felt surprisingly calm and ready to visit the city.

The first evenings dinner included me having to stand up and introduce myself, which seemed only appropriate.  That was followed by some crazy music and pleas for me to dance.  That was an epic fail…

26079858774_c5dab2574d_o (1)

Lights out early to begin the adventures the next day.

One of the main things I wanted to do was visit the mountains that surround the city.  So that is where we headed.  Along the way we picked up some sweet girls (unfortunately was not able to communicate with them) and explored the mountains.  It was calm and almost soothing to be up there.  Being a very tropical climate, my hair was doing its own thing but I wasn’t too worried about that.  Thank goodness for hair elastics.

IMG_7290

Another highlight of the trip for me was visiting a local temple and Taipei 101, the skyscraper shaped like bamboo.  I have always found places of worship fascinating and the different rituals that are performed. It was a great experience and one that I will remember for a long time to come.

While most of my time was spent in the “old” part of the city, Taipei 101 brought a completely different look and feel.  Modern and shiny, there were all the shops that one could imagine.  As true die hard tourists, we headed up the tower to see if we could grab a view of the city.  Hidden in the clouds we only managed a tiny glimpse.  More fascinating for me was the giant stabilisation system for the building in the event of an earthquake.  I’m not my dad’s child for nothing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For those that know me I love tea.  Well let me preface that, I love rooibos tea.  It was the first tea I was probably ever exposed to and has stayed with me since then.  I drink it when I am happy, when I am sad, cold, and any other feeling.  Luckily we came across a TWG Tea store in Taipei 101.  It was heaven in that store and of course I had to pick myself up all of the different rooibos flavours they had.  I could have spent all day there!

Of course amongst all the fun happenings, I experienced speaking to young motivated students for the first time.  It was wonderful to share something that I am passionate about with some of the future sports leaders.  They were a great bunch and I thank them for laughing at my jokes and all the effort they put into the exercise I gave them.

26400325870_585db2e7a0_o26673668745_e7c64d66a5_o

It was a whirlwind trip but there are some moments that I will cherish forever.

  1. The “wagon wheel” treats that I tried.  Warm dough filled with yummy custard.
  2. The real deal bubble tea!
  3. The contrast between the old and new cities.
  4. My lovely hosts (May and Claire)
  5. Dumplings 🙂

If there is one thing that was a little crazy, besides the rat running over my foot in the department store, the air conditioning.  Its not only a Taipei thing but people, some of us are cold all the time and you don’t need to blast me with cold air as I walk through every door!!! That is a pretty minor thing I would say.  It was a pleasure to be able to visit a new country and explore a new culture.

Budapest: Old World Charm

I recently had the chance to visit a new city, Budapest.  It was never on my must visit list but now I can say that it should have been.  With the World Synchronized Skating Championships being held there, it was the perfect opportunity to combine my favourite sport with some touristy things.

IMG_3092When we arrived, it was a quick walk to the terminal and luggage pick-up.  Then we headed out to find our driver to the hotel.  The driver was great and gave us a little history of the city and where to go and what to see. Once at the hotel, the staff was wonderful from the start, shout out to The Corinthia.  The room was great and looked over one of the huge atriums of the hotel, just to feed by love of people watching.  Since food is always on my mind it was a quick change and headed to dinner in the hotel.

The restaurant was a delight and I enjoyed a lovely mushroom soup followed by Paprika Chicken and decadent dessert.  My first taste of a real Hungarian dish.  I must say that overall I loved the food and the paprika in just about everything including the butter was delightful! I will be using paprika a lot more now.

As I felt like I was coming down with something I headed to bed pretty early that night in a half hearted attempt to fight the bug.

The next day held some adventures in and around the city.  Heading up to the Castle district, we explored the old streets and the Palace.  It of course wouldn’t be complete without a nice goulash for lunch.  Side note, make sure you eat quickly or he will remove that plate before you can soak up all the deliciousness with the bread.

The evening consisted of getting a little lost on the way to the ice rink but with a little help we made it almost on time.  For once the rink wasn’t freezing since it was in a convention center but no complaints here.  Below are a few shots from the short program.

Saturday brought lots of knee pain and croaky voice.  So all full of medicine I left the hotel to continue to explore, this time the Jewish quarter and a bit of the city center.  If you know what that means, it means shopping.  The streets are quaint and the little markets are very enticing. Again with an abundance of food!

Again time to head back to the rink for the long program.  There were some great programs and of course some upsets with Russia taking home the gold.

 

All that cheering meant some dinner was in order.  Es Bistro was yummy and the waiter even spoke French, a helpful point which meant less menu translating for the group. Running for the last metro we made it back to the hotel and I just about crashed, by now the effects of the Communications@Syracuse Immersion flu taking full hold of me and my knee swelling pretty nicely.

Sunday was our last morning so we took a stroll to the Basilica.  Just in time for mass, it was lovely to see a service in another country and in such an amazing place.

Just afterwards we ran into traditional Hungarian dancers out in the square. It was a real treat to have this little glimpse into their culture.  Their outfits are very intricate and colourful.  A quick run to the Hero’s square and some photo ops and it was time to head back to the hotel to say good-bye to Budapest.

The city was truly lovely and the service everywhere was great. And most surprised by the courteous gentlemen that wait for women to pass first, hold doors, and give up their seats on the metro! Thumbs up from me. Although some buildings were a little grubby with years and years of dirt and history, the charm and culture were amazing. There is a really interesting atmosphere.  There is still a lot to see in this lovely city and I hope that I can return in the future!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.