Monday, February 5, 2018

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Steph Reads: Zlata's Diary By Zlata Filipovic

Eleven year old Zlata was just an ordinary girl living in Sarajevo. She loved hanging out with her friends, watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and going skiing in Jahorina. That was all until April 6th, 1992 the beginning of the Bosnian War. I will not pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I will try to give some background of the war. The war was a result of the break up of Yugoslavia. After Croatia and Slovenia seceded in 1991, Bosnia passed a referendum in February, 1992 to secede as well. However, Bosnia's unique demographic make up caused political unrest. Bosnia was around 40% Bosnian Muslim, 30% Orthodox Serbian and 20% Croat Catholic. Though the referendum was recognized internationally it was rejected by representatives of the Bosnian Serbs. Serb forces mobilized in Sarajevo to secure ethnic Serbian territory. This conflict would eventually turn into war that would claim over 100,000 lives. (See here for more information)

The story starts a few months before the war so you can get a feel for what life was like before the war. Zlata writes about her day to day life in her diary which she calls Mimi. There is a shift in her writing from her normal activities when violence in Dubrovnik (the capitol of Croatia) erupts. Her father is sent to the police reserves in October 1991 and goes back on and off for several months. She initially stays positive and is hopeful all the violence will stop soon. It is truly heart breaking to witness her realization that her life is about to change for the worse as the violence moves over to Bosnia.

The transition from peace to war time is very powerful and written with an innocent child like demeanor. That is one of the details that makes this story so powerful. Zlata, although a very smart child does not fully understand why these events are unfolding and how serious it all is. She documents her parents arguing about leaving or staying and doesn't understand why they would even consider leaving. Eventually the war forces her to grow up faster than anyone ever should. 

Despite the horrors of the war, Zlata and her family still try to find normalcy and joy in their day to day lives. They still try to celebrate birthdays and holidays to the best of their abilities. Everyone really holds onto happy and positive experiences. An example of this is when Zlata's mother is able to make a loaf of bread despite never doing so before and the electricity being cut off. These experiences give Zlata reason to hope that things will eventually get better and leave the reader enthusiastic to keep on reading.

This book serves as a testimony of the most violent time period in modern Europe. A time that is rarely mentioned anymore and most of the world has forgot about. As I stated earlier I confess I did not have much knowledge of the war before reading this book. I was a very young child when it occurred in the early to mid 90s and only remember hearing about on the news every now and again. The story makes you reflect on your own life and how you would have handled the situation. It humanizes people who are often reduced to statistics or political agendas.

I generally do not like to give perfect scores, but I give this book a perfect 10 out of 10? Why? Well the story may not be perfect, but it accomplishes its goal of educating the reader while keeping them emotionally engaged in the story. I feel after almost 23 years after the Bosnian War has ended this book is just as relevant as it was back then.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review! Have you read this book before? What was your take on it? Please feel free to ask me any questions or book suggestions below!

" Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." George Santayana

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Steph Travels: Should I live abroad? My Semester Abroad in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Oh man...
I just found my old blog from when I studied in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 2012! Honestly it was not as cringe inducing as I would have assumed. Sure my pictures aren't focused, I clearly missed a few keys while typing and my hair was really....... dry. But the effort behind it is clearly there. I'm surprised I forgot so much of this trip as it was a life changing experience for me.

To say I was a quiet kid would be an understatement, when I was in high school I would only talk when asked a question by a teacher or by another student. I really didn't have many friends so I often felt like an unwanted presence. It got a little better in college, but I was nowhere close to being a social butterfly. Looking through the blog its almost hard to believe it is the same trip I had. One of the main things I remember was having a lot of anxiety while I was there which is not showcased in the blog. In retrospect, I assume that is because this blog was only ever released to my family and friends on Facebook so I wanted to show them how much was fun I was having.

So, should you study/live abroad? Even without knowing anything about you, in almost all situations I say you should. It was not always easy that's for sure, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. While it wasn't easy filling out a form with my shaky Russian to retrieve a care package my first week there, it really gave me confidence that I could get through this experience. I saw a lot of beautiful places and met some really great people there as well. Some of which I still talk to today. 

I really cannot stress though that it wasn't always fun. There were times when I was really stressed out my studies or with my roommate who got mad if I was in the room when she skyped her boyfriend at 11 at night 😒. Yet those aren't the only experiences that you take with you. If I had to summarize my experience in one sentence it would be " Sometimes it was fun sometimes it was hard, but I did it anyway". Even if you are shy like me and have difficulty making friends I really suggest you go for it. Even if the whole experience is awful and you hate the whole thing at least you can say at the end of the day you got through it and you will be stronger for it.

So I guess that is all I have to say, if you want to see my pictures and laugh at my hair and typos the link to my old blog is right here. I know this wasn't a super ultra positive outlook on living abroad, so I hope I didn't discourage you.  Still, I think that's part of the problem with a lot of testimonies people give. Not everyone is an extreme extrovert who makes friends easily. If you have any further questions please don't hesitate to reach out to me! I would love to hear your testimonies as well; where did you go and how was it for you?

Until Next Time!


Steph Reads - IT By Stephen King (No Spoilers)

This book is hard to review because there are some things I really like and some things I really didn't. I will list the pros and cons below and then say who I would recommend this to and who I would not.

A very interesting premise - I think one of the reasons why this story still holds up is because of the story of a scary monster that preys on children and the idea of children being able to overcome their fears and defeat it.

The Losers Club - Very Interesting main characters which you get to know and care about. there was on e complaint which I will get into below.

IT -  The creature IT within its self is very interesting and to me was the highlight of this book as well as both movies

The ending - I wont get into spoilers, but if you are at least familiar with the 90s mini series you will know the ending was not that good. The book gives a more in depth finale which is more satisfying.


The dialogue - When I first saw the 90s mini series I thought that the goofy unfunny dialogue was just from the show, boy was I wrong. A lot of the dialogue is verbatim from the book and man it is cringey. It works a little when they are in the 50s, but it is unbearable when they are adults in the 80s.

Richie - I don't think he said a single funny thing in the whole story. Seth Green from the 90s mini series and Finn Wolfhard in the new movie were terrific, but in the book he is almost doing some annoying voice and it gets old fast.

 The origin of IT and the Space Turtle - I wont get into spoilers, but this came off as really bizarre and out of left field. It may just be a personal preference, but IT being a creature that settled into Derry hundred of years ago and feeds every 27 years would have sufficed.

I have other small pros and cons, but that pretty much sums up my overall synopsis. I would recommend this to people who really loved either or both movies and want to know the full story. I would also recommend it to Stephen King buffs who in particular are interested in dark characters who do very disturbing things. (Seriously some of things Henry and Patrick did were difficult to digest). I would not recommend it to people who have just a mild interest in the story or movies. this is a LONG book to read and King as usual does not skimp on detail.

I have read few of other of King's works, but I am in no way an expert on his work. Honestly I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. I enjoyed many aspects of it over all, but not nearly as 
much as I enjoyed as Misery or Thinner (which he published under his pseudonym Richard Bachman).

Overall Review
: 7 out of 10

Monday, January 22, 2018

Steph Eats - Ramen Review: Japan's best contribution to society?

There was a social study in Japan where they asked people what they think Japan's greatest achievement is; can you guess what most people said: Ramen! Honestly for me I'd have to agree (ok maybe Sailor Moon and Final Fantasy are up there too). There is just something about the mix of a salty savory broth mixed with long tender noodles that just melts the soul! I found this great place named Rayaki that makes the best vegetarian ramen around (not sponsored by the way 😜)!

Doesn't this just look perfect? Just looking at this makes my mouth water. I loved the spicy edamame as well. I didn't think edamame could be improved, but the chili and Cajun spice really bring the flavor to a whole new level.

Not to mention the facility was equipped with a Japanese toilet for the full experience..
... oh you don't care about that.... me neither its totally not cool (looks around nervously)
Overall, I give this place a solid 8 out 10. Its a relatively new facility so they do not have a ton of options available (especially if you follow a plant based diet). However, I have no doubt that Rayaki will continue to grow and expand their menu.
Thanks for reading todays blog post!

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Hello Everyone!

I am so happy to be starting this blog! It is something I have wanted to do for a long time now and I figured now was as good a time as any.  I guess since this post is called "introduction" I should Introduce myself, my name is Steph and thank you for stopping by :). I live just outside of Philadelphia now though I have lived in lots of other places. There are so many things I want to talk about like books, travel, exercise, language learning, food and much more. 

Its all a bit daunting and I am not exactly sure where to start. I decided to include this photo of me as there is a story behind and I think its a good icebreaker. I was in Vienna in this photo with my now fiancee. This trip was a life changing experience for me and its hard to explain why. This wasn't my first time traveling, but it was the first time I had not really wanted to go. I know, saying you don't want to go to Vienna is insane right? Well it had nothing to do with Vienna, but really where I was mentally. I was really unhappy at my job and all I could think of was all the work that waited for me when I got back. 

 A few days into the trip the wheels in my started to turn. I am not sure if it was the atmosphere, the food or the three lagers I had a dinner, but I started to think "I need to make some changes in my life". When I got home I started putting that thought into motion. I eventually got a new job, a new place to live and honestly a new grateful attitude. I didn't happen overnight (especially the job change!), but step by step I started to improve my life in small ways. I am still working on it, but I feel I am consistently going in the right direction.

Whew! Sorry I know that was kind of a long introduction and if you made it this far I am impressed! I hope to post on this blog as much as I am able to. Some posts may be long some may be short, I guess it all depends on the topic. Thank you again for reading my first post and hopefully you will check in with me every now and again ;).