Sunday, October 30, 2011

these are the verbs right now.

Applying for jobs and internships in Washington D.C. Blowing my nose because it's fall and that means my body hates me. Writing and researching for my thesis. Dressing up for Halloween because it's the best holiday ever. Organizing events for TAMU Model UN and Brazos Valley Social Media Club.  Researching for another paper I have due. Visiting pumpkin patches with my boyfriend. Writing and mailing graduation announcements to family and friends because apparently I graduate from college in less than two months. Exercising so I can scratch #25 off my list. Photographing friends for their graduation announcements.

If it seems like I'm busy, it's definitely because I am. Unfortunately, it also means that even though I have SO MUCH I want to blog about, it means that I can't because I just DON'T HAVE TIME. :c

This makes me sad, guys. 

I'm going to try to make time for my blog. Really. But if I can't, here's how you can keep up with me:

I'll be definitely be tweeting through this because if I said everything I had to to my boyfriend, his head would explode. You can follow me here (and incidentally if you want to see if his head DOES explode from dealing with the level of crazy I'll be for the next month, you can follow him here).

If you want to keep up with my photography stuff, you can do that here. Be sure to subscribe! :)

Should you want to contact me directly, that's best done through twitter, or by email: valorielovely {at} gmail {dot} com

Friday, October 28, 2011

fill in the _____ friday!

go link up with lauren over at the little things we do to see more answers!
1.   When I was a kid I wanted to be    a teacher, or maybe a museum curator, or maybe a writer, or maybe a dinosaur    when I grew up.   Really, I had no idea.

2.   As an adult, my dream job would be  a full-time photographer for National Geographic     .

3.  W hen I was younger I wanted to be just like Reese Witherspoon. This is still pretty true .

4. The childhood Halloween costume that I remember most was when I was    something blue. I don't remember what my costume was *supposed* to be, but I remember everyone saying I made such a cute smurf and being really sad because that wasn't what I had dressed up as. :(  .

5.  My favorite childhood toy was   dinosaurs! Yes, really.

6.  The time I got into the biggest amount of trouble when I was a kid was when I     almost wrecked my grandfather's golf cart (almost seriously injuring two of my cousins in the process... we were all fine, OKAY?).

7.  I get daily inspiration from    bloggers, Pinterest, people on the street, my friends  .
Also, I don't know if this is something I'll do ever again, but for today I wanted to post my favorite things from the internet this week so you could all enjoy them too. 
What were your favorite internet things this week? Share in the comments!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

An Average Day in the Life of an American Living in China

Apparently, I wrote this post sometime in late June and just never posted it. I figure that's silly, and that I should totally post it now even though it's been months since China because I haven't posted enough about China yet. And that really, is just silly.

I may have been feeling a little homesick and bitter when I wrote this, but really, this is pretty much what every day was like in China. Really. 

An Average Day in the Life of an American Living in China 
Wake up to something other than your alarm clock. Yesterday, chickens were involved, even though you live in the city. Today, it’ll probably be construction workers. Tomorrow, honking car horns on a road which wasn’t there three days ago.

Get online. Wonder why the internet is so obnoxiously slow in such an international city. 

Take a shower while you wait for gmail to load. 

Try reading CNN online. It was still banned yesterday but maybe today… Nope. Still banned. 

Look in the mirror. Consider doing your make up. Don’t because you know you’ll sweat it off in about ten minutes.  

Check gmail again. Wonder why you did this because it’ll take a year. Feel committed to checking it now because you feel the need to be able to respond to emails within moments of getting them. 

Eventually decide to go wherever you need to be – class, work, a tourist site, whatever. 

Get on the subway. Wonder what the people around you are talking about. 

Be stared at. Say hello to someone in Chinese. Get stared at harder. 

Get Starbucks, even though the price is 30% higher than it is in the states. Refuse to care because it’s the only place you can get coffee. 

Walk by a fake Apple store. Be amused by the disco balls/colored posters/pink lettering/whatever that would never exist in a real Apple store.  Wonder how long it’ll be until this Apple store is busted. Wish you’d thought to document all the fake Apple stores you knew about in China before that other person did and got wildly famous. 

Stop inside to check gmail again. Hope the internet will be faster in the “Apple” store. Nope. 

Try reading the Atlantic for news. Nope, it’s banned now. So is Google, for today at least. 

When you leave, walk by someone who takes a photo of you for no apparent reason. Remember that it really is because you’re white and some people have never seen a white person before. 

Feel self-conscious. 

Get stared at by every Chinese person you walk by. 

Feel wildly self-conscious. 

Wander around for a while trying to figure out what you're looking at. 

Be drenched in sweat an hour after you left your place because it is just that killing puppies hot. 

Take a few photos of something. Notice someone simultaneously taking photos of you. 

Wonder what everyone around you is talking about. Check to make sure that your pants aren’t unzipped/shirt isn’t ripped or stained/hair isn’t a mess. 

Feel seriously ridiculously wildly self-conscious. 

Run into another American/Westerner. This will go one of three ways:

1) You will both be thrilled to find someone who speaks English well and will end up chatting for an hour.
2) You will share a smug smile and a nod as if you’re saying, “I know, I can function on my own in China too. Just look at me without my map.”
3) The other American/Westerner will ignore you entirely because Americans/Westerners suffer from this weird need to be the only white person in a crowd and thus hate it when you infringe on this, Imeangodforbid.

This mostly goes the third way. Decide you hate Americans/Westerners a little more every time. 

Scratch that. We’re uppity but dammit you can’t wait to go home and have a burger. 

Go back to your apartment. Shower. 

Check gmail again. Think you should have opened it before you got in the shower. 

Consider doing your makeup again. Laugh at your reflection in the mirror instead. 

Meet up with a few friends. Try to ignore how much more people stare now that some Westerners are moving in a pack. 

Pose for a few photos taken by strangers. 

Eat Chinese food. Here, it’s not just food – it’s Shanghainese food, or Taiwanese food, or Hunan food, or omfgsospicywhatthehell food. Genuinely enjoy it. Seriously look forward to a good burger. 

Wonder what people around you are talking about. 

Get stared at while you eat. 

Wonder what the people staring at you are talking about. 

Feel the absolutely most wildly self-conscious you've ever felt in your whole entire life.  

Go home. Check gmail. 

Consider taking another shower. Don’t, because you’ll just get sweaty at night. 

Go to bed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

the new website, crazy excitement, and gratitude (!!!)

There's a little something I've been working on for the past few weeks.

Well really, there's a big something I've been working on.

I'm quite excited about it, and I hope you can get excited about it too.

I decided recently, as in the past few months, that I didn't think I could live my life without photos. I want to do other work still, stuff like nonprofit work, and maybe law eventually. But on the side, I always always want photography to be there.

And I want it to grow. I want to start doing wedding photography, and portrait photography, and hopefully even travel photography some day.

Maybe someday this will be the way I actually make a living. For now, it's not. But that's okay.

If you thought that was the announcement... well, it's part of it. Here's the real announcement.

This is a real website now, and that makes me wildly excited: valorieclarkphotography. Oh heck yes.

Please, check it out. Subscribe. Like me on facebook. Leave me a note about compliments or suggestions.

I love you guys.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Scenes from the Great Wall

Recently, I left my apartment in Beijing at about 11 am to pick up my ticket to Badaling, the closest train station to one of the Great Wall entrances (the closest to Beijing and therefore one of the most touristy). Since I had some extra time to kill, I had some lunch with my friend Rachel (best noodles ever, picked up from a little roadside noodlestand for less than a dollar for two bowls) before getting on the 2 pm train. I should add here that I did the whole trip alone, and that I'm also very glad I did.

The train ride to Badaling was nice, very beautiful- as soon as you leave the city, you're surrounded by mountains and greenery and its so calming, especially after weeks of city life. The first time I saw the wall was from the train, and, I immediately started smiling pretty wide - I just couldn't help it. I've heard about The Great Wall so often since I was a kid that it was pretty intense to finally be within its presence. It looked so beautiful - everything around it was so green and the way the sunlight struck it made it shine like gold.

Once I got to Badaling, I started the hike up to the Great Wall from the train station. Its high in the mountains, so the hike starts practically the second you get out of the train. The air is much cleaner up there, but of course its so thin its really not that different from breathing in Beijing. Unfortunately, it was about 4 by the time we got there and my train back to Beijing left at 6:30, so I didn't actually have that much time up there.

The place itself is amazing. It kind of sucks at first because there's just so many people, but once I hiked about twenty minutes the crowd really thinned out. Unfortunately, Badaling is a restored section of the wall (the last unrestored section was put under construction a few months ago), so it wasn't completely "authentic" but the restoration stuck pretty close to original specifications from what I can tell. At least, sections of the wall are so incredibly steep that I had to pause to rest as I scaled them. I climbed pretty far along and made it to the top of Hero's Peak, which is either the tallest point on the wall or just near Badaling, I'm not entirely sure. Judging by how rough the hike was though, I'd totally believe the first one.

Before I got to Hero's Peak, I met two people here, a guy who moved here 19 years ago after falling in love with China during a study abroad trip, and his uncle who teaches at Purdue. They were the first people on this trip that recognized my Texas Aggie tshirt (other than my friend Dan, who has a longhorn father).

After I got to the top of Hero's Peak, I turned off my camera and sat down in some shade, trying to meditate on the fact that I was there, that I was at *The Great Wall.* I tried to memorize the way the breeze felt and the cool, solid stones behind my back; I wanted to focus on the living part of it. Especially now that I'm so focused on making it as a photographer, I so often feel like I get stuck behind the camera, seeing everything but not really witnessing it, and I wanted to be a witness to that moment. It was one of the rare ones where there was no one within sight or hearing distance and I almost felt like I had the wall all to myself. I leaned back and stared at the sky, the first time I'd seen it truly blue in over a month, and with my eyes I followed the snaking progression the wall made in either direction from the point where I sat, the tan stone battlements and watch towers one with the mountains and nature they curled through.

The whole scene had a pure earthly quality about it. I almost wrote "otherwordly," but that's entirely false -it was perfectly earthly. The whole place seemed like it belonged, like it had sprung up straight from nature, like it had always been there and always would be. The place was stoic - it had seen attacks waged, battles won. It had been forgotten, allowed to fall apart, and rediscovered, rebuilt. Over and over again it has been rebuilt by men, and still it is something beyond man, something ancient, wise, that can never be reckoned with. It will watch the sun set tonight, the sun rise tomorrow, and the same will go on beyond us, beyond our children, and beyond their children.

Of course, the moment there couldn't last forever. More hikers arrived, and I realized I had reached the time when I needed to turn back in order to make the last train back to Beijing.

I found my way off the wall and hiked in the actual woods to the side of the wall on my way back down, which I definitely recommend trying if/when you make it out there. There are sections of the wall, especially in Badaling, where people are allowedto sell things, but if you hike in the woods you can escape them. That walk gave me views of the wall I would have never seen otherwise, and it was very peaceful (not to mention cool in the shade). The hike down was also a little easier, which my body seriously appreciated.

After such a nice time hiking (though I'll admit it was insanely hot, and it definitely showed me that I'm not in the best shape of my life), I was reluctant to return to the city. In fact, when I noticed I could actually see the brown cloud of pollution hanging over the city from pretty far out, I momentarily wanted to turn back. But I knew a bed and a job and friends awaited me, so I didn't.

On the train ride back I was already thinking I'd like to go back to the Great Wall someday. If its ever done being under construction and the Chinese government allows it, I think it would be cool to hike the whole length of it, and to sleep on it at night. Apparently you can get special dispensations to camp there overnight now, so I assume it wouldn't be terribly hard to wrangle a week or two long hike (I have no idea how long a hike of that length would take).

[This text was originally posted back in July, here. The photos are all new additions and, frankly, mine. Stealing is rude.]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Simply, Valorie Way to Make Banana Banana Bread

A lot of people (read: women who cook) post recipes to their blogs. I always kind of figured that I'm a little too broke-ridiculous-college-student-y and not nearly grown-ass-woman-housewife-cook-y to do that, but then a few days ago I had an experience that made me realize that, nope, I am not too ridiculous to talk about something I cooked because, let's face it, no one all calmly and pretentiously thinks 'oh, yes, let me just boil this salt now, mmm...' while cooking.

Instead, this is what we all really think while trying a new recipe: eff eff eff, am I doing this right?

And so here is a realistic recipe that will help you make a delicious early fall treat the way you actually think about making one:

How to make Banana Banana Bread the Simply, Valorie way:

You will need:
4 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup of butter, softened
3/4 cup of brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups of flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
A lot of panic
A lot more sass

Wake up in the morning - realize that those bananas you bought and told yourself you were going to eat for breakfast every morning to be healthy haven't been eaten yet. Instead, the skin is starting to turn almost black. The more it turns black, the less you want to eat them. Wonder what the hell to do.

See the recipe for banana banana bread pop up on pinterest. Think 'oh hell yes.'

Run to the grocery story. Get epically lost trying to find cinnamon. Maybe wonder if it's a bad sign that you're getting lost in a grocery store where there are signs EVERYWHERE. Start wondering if maybe this is a metaphor for your life, but then stop because -- Do you really want to pull at that thread?

Sing out loud and to yourself. Refuse to notice that you're not even wearing headphones and the song you're singing is not the one being played over the speakers in HEB.

Go home and clean your kitchen because you want it to 'nice and sparkly' before you mess it up by spilling flour an hour later.

Look for a big bowl. Realize none are clean and you have to do the dishes.

Finally, 12 hours after you decided that the bananas were a problem, mix together the butter and sugar in aforementioned big bowl until 'creamy'. Realize that 'softened' butter is not butter that has been sitting in the original packaging on the counter for five minutes. Microwave it. Burn it. Eff, eff, eff. Try again. Get it right this time.

Add everything else except the flour and mix well. Think that maybe since the recipe described the bananas as 'mashed' it would have been easier if you mashed them first. Get crap all over you trying to simultaneously mash the bananas and stir everything else together.

Once that's done, stare at the mixture. Wonder why it looks so runny. Remember that you forgot the flour. Reach for it, and somehow spill most of it on the flour. Stare at it for a second, feeling defeated.

Salvage two cups of flour from what's left in the bag. Stir that in. Pour it in a greased loaf pan, and stick in an oven heated to 350. The recipe calls for 55-60 minutes, but notice that yours is definitely done 30 minutes later. Be confused by huge misrepresentation of how long it takes to cook. Be rull glad you checked on it.

Leave on a wire rack and let cool. Except don't because you're an effing college student and don't know what a wire rack is, much less own one. Think that it sounds painful somehow though.


Or don't, because as you mentioned on pinterest, you don't even like banana bread, you're just making this for your boyfriend who does. And he's not even going to clean your kitchen for you. Rude.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Girl Effect: Donations

Last Thursday, I wrote about The Girl Effect and my story. It's a deeply personal story about my family, and if you haven't read it yet, you should read that before reading this.

This is important to me guys. The Girl Effect is related to what I'm writing my senior thesis about, it's what I want a career in after I graduate, and it's the life I'm living. I don't want to be one of those people who talks about causes and but doesn't actually support them, so here's what I'm doing:

I've already donated money to the Girl Effect. I donated some time and a blog post, along with hundreds of other bloggers. Now, I want to do one more thing. I want to get you guys involved.

For every person that leaves a comment here saying they donated any amount of money, I'll donate $1 to the Girl Effect.

(I know that's not *a lot*. I'm a barely-employed college student, guys.)

For every person that tweets about this blog post (and lets me know in a comment that they did), I'll donate another dollar. (A good tweet might read like: "Help me help @SimplyValorie and @girleffect end poverty one girl at a time." But, you know, be creative.)

If you need more convincing, watch these videos. Frankly, I dare you to watch them and NOT be inspired.

If you don't have money to spare, that's cool. But help me get the word out. Tell your friends about it. Tweet about it. Maybe blog about it yourself - hundreds of bloggers are between October 4-11. Here are all the details. The blogging community is strong and I've seen us pull off some pretty kickass things. Let's pull off one more. Let's help out our girls around the world.

Friday, October 7, 2011

fill in the _____ friday

1.   Something popular that I can't stand/just don't "get" is     Glee. I can't stand this show. I'm sorry, internet.

2.   Something unpopular that I secretly love is   ice skating. I know I'm not seven years old anymore, nor am I Michelle Kwan (sp?) but I don't care. Ice skating is AWESOME. 

3.  When I've had a bad day I  take a nap or I clean. Everything seems nicer with a clean house.

4. I'd prefer   brunch    to    lunch    any day.

5.  Something that makes me nervous is    graduation. Stop it, calendar. Stop getting closer to December.

6.  Something worth fighting for is    yourself. Don't let other people tell you who to be or how to feel. Period, end of story.

7.  When people think of me, I hope they think   "she's a little crazy, but she's a sweet girl and is always real."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Who runs the world? GIRLS.

Today, I want to tell you a very personal story, one I haven't shared with many but that I've told myself a lot before falling asleep at night. It's not a story just about me - it's about me, my mother, and her mother before her, and a million other women like them.

I grew up the daughter of a poor mother. Well, she wasn't poor by the time I was born. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My mom was born in El Salvador, the youngest child of a sometimes-single mother. Her father was in an out of the picture, sometimes a wonderful and supportive man, and sometimes a man who took the money they had for food and spent it on alcohol. Sometimes, they didn't eat at night. Or all day.

But, they had a house to live in, and clothes to wear. Her mother, my grandmother, insisted that her daughters get an education, a good one, even though she herself had never made it past middle school. Their life was hard, but they worked hard to make up for it.

Throughout the 1970s, a civil war was building in El Salvador. My mom has told me once that as tensions escalated her friends disappeared from school. There one day, gone the next, sometimes never heard from again. Often, she suspected they were being kidnapped and forced to fight in one of the various gangs that was trying to gain control of the country.

Her mother sensed that it wasn't safe for my mom and her sister to continue living there. They escaped to the United States just in time.

Here, they tried to establish a living. Fortunately, they had family that they could stay with, and so my mother and her sister continued going to high school in California, and they worked hard after school to make rent and to put food on the table. They worked hard to learn English and to fit in. They wanted to be part of America, not just in it. When they graduated, my mom considered just getting a job to support her family. But her mother insisted - she would go to college.

What a wonderful thing for my grandmother to force her to do.

It took a long time, but my mom put herself through UCLA. She was one of very few women in her engineering program. She faced adversity - women didn't major in engineering yet. She was supposed to get her "MRS degree", marry rich (it was LA), and have a few kids. She didn't - she worked her ass off to finish her engineering degree while still mastering English and graduated at the top of her class. She went on to work for a few well-known companies, spending 20+ years helping make one the company it is today. Now she's a leader at a multinational corporation.

Today, she doesn't have to worry about putting food on the table. She doesn't have to worry about whether or not she'll be able to send her only child to school. Instead, my mother has a savings account and knows that whatever the world throws at her, she will be okay. She is stable, she is safe, and so is her whole family.

Pretty far from some very humble and worrisome beginnings, huh?

My mother is an amazing woman. She stood up for what she believed in - that she deserved an education and a chance as much as the boys - and earned everything that she got. And this is all because another woman invested in her - her mother.

So, thank you Abuela for the life I have today.

Throughout my life, my mother taught me that I was so, so fortunate to grow up the way I did because all this, all that, could have not worked out - she could have been forced to leave school in order to work, or to get married young, and to perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty. Instead, she was lucky because my grandmother was a smart woman and she ended up living a wonderful, successful, and healthy life.

Sometimes, this story makes me want to tear my hair out because, well, how the hell do I live up to that? When my mother fought tooth and nail to survive in this world but I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, how do I earn myself a place? How will I ever make my mother half as proud of me as I am of her? And then one day I realized how.

My mom taught me one other thing: That as someone on this side of the poverty line, the lucky side, it was my job to help pull other people across in any way I could. Her story reminds me that it only takes one believer to do this.

So, learn about the Girl Effect.  Learn how you can help one life, one family, even one village by investing in just one girl. I know first hand that it works because I am the result.

Interested in spreading awareness of this problem? Join the Girl Effect blogging movement. Write your own post about this from October 4-11. Here are the details

[Want more statistics? Read these.]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs

   "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything, all external expectation, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure, these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked, there is no reason not to follow your heart."
-Steve Jobs

Sometimes, when someone famous passes away, people tend to regard that person too highly. This is not one of those times.

Tonight, I found out that Steve Jobs had passed away on my iPhone, I fact-checked that on my iPod, and now I'm watching his famous Stanford graduation commencement address on my MacBook Pro. I recommend everyone take the 15 minutes to watch this and realize what a brilliant man he was.

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs. Thank you for revolutionizing the way we communicate, and thank you for pouring yourself into our world. We will never forget you.

Sent from my MacBook Pro

Monday, October 3, 2011

I don't really like pumpkin spice lattes.


There, I said it. There is my blinding confession for all the world to see and judge.

I know, you guys are baffled by this. Who doesn't like pumpkin spice lattes?

I'm sorry. I wish I could change, but I can't. I've tried.

However, I do like the announcement of pumpkin spice lattes every year because they mean one thing and one thing only... Fall is finally here. :)

Fall, which means football, scarves and jeans, and not sweating the second you leave the house. I mean, that didn't happen today because the high here in south Texas was around 90 F, but that's not the point. THE POINT is that it's almost time for evening strolls in the park and drinking hot coffee and loving how beautiful the trees are.

And the best part? Later this month I'll be getting to spend some time in Washington D.C. for a conference - how gorgeous will that be? I'm so excited for that I could bounce right out of my chair.

But I won't. Because, let's face it, I'm clumsy and I'd break my leg and then not be able to go to D.C. And that would be unfortunate.

It's going to be a good fall, guys. Trips to D.C., graduation... Maybe I'll even learn to like pumpkin spice lattes. But I'm not holding my breath.