The Monthly Challenge: A New Year's Resolution Alternative

Sweatshirt, Love Nail Tree ($50)

What does my newly-cropped hair have to do with new year's resolutions?

Quite a bit, actually.

Last December, I promised myself four things for 2014. I said I would:
  1. go to whichever college with a smile and my intense drive, regardless of whether it was where I had originally hoped
  2. finish high school with nothing below an A-
  3. complete an official half marathon in under two hours
  4. chop my hair off and donate it after graduation (length and charity TBD)
I checked off #2 and #3 before June, and think I did a decent job of #1. I hardly regret going to Amherst--I'm grateful that I chose liberal arts.

Number 4, however, was a real struggle.

Halfway through the year, I even dedicated a post to a progress check of my goals, where I attempted to justify my lack of attention to my fourth promise. I decided that my wording allowed a loophole--"after graduation" could mean one day, one week, one month, years. I even decided that donating blood to the Red Cross was an acceptable substitute for donating my hair to Locks of Love.

I failed to address the real issue:

I was scared.

Scared of looking like a man, scared of letting go of my hair, scared of being stereotyped. Scared of change. 

I'm not scared anymore. 

After my first semester of college, I was tired--tired of feeling inadequate, but doing nothing about it. Ir's one thing to daydream about improving, branching out. It's another thing to actually do it. 

Then, I stumbled upon my old diaries, where I realized that I had debated getting a pixie for 3.5 years.

It was beyond time. 

So, as of December 30th, I have officially completed my original 2014 goals. 

I'm not expecting a haircut to change my life. I am hoping, however, that tackling the uncomfortable, the scary, will become a habit of mine.

Enter the monthly challenge, inspired by my running buddy.

Last year, in lieu of creating new year's resolutions, she dedicated herself to achieving a new goal each month. For example, she gave up social media with me when I went on my fast for Lent, and then I joined her in going vegan for a couple weeks in July.

This year, I plan to follow suit, because that way, I can't put things off for the entire year--I only have one month. While one month doesn't lend itself to anything grandiose, like running a marathon, it does encourage small change over time more effectively than a yearly resolution does. And who says I can't throw in a couple larger goals on the side?

I don't have the entire year mapped out because my plans will inevitably change, but here's what I will strive to accomplish the first few months:

January: spend 20 minutes a day on internship and scholarship applications
February: memorize my violin piece, Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, first movement
March: blog once a week
April: meet someone new every day
Other ideas: give up social media again, go vegan for an entire month, go to bed every day by 11:30pm, ask for something I don't think I'll get every day, try a new activity like debate or community engagement

Here's to conquering the intimidating and always striving to maximize our potential.

As for fashion, I found this sweatshirt appropriate for this post because "bon courage" is French for best wishes. It's not your typical "good luck," though. "Bon courage" denotes a struggle where inner strength will determine the outcome (French Stack Exchange).

So bon courage to you as we enter the new year. May you tackle your challenges, strive to improve, and discover empowerment.

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Transitions: What I Learned from My First Semester of College

Amherst, MA, USA
Peacoat, Sears | Sweater, Kohl's | Scarf, China | Skirt, thrifted Express | Oxfords, Forever 21

I thought shooting an outfit would be a good way to de-stress after getting a midterm back...until I saw my obvious "I'm so done" expression in some of these photos.

Recently though, I've been smiling plenty--I've tackled finals, flown home, overcome a bout of winter viruses, visited my high school, started working at Nordstrom again, spent quality time with friends--it's begun to sink in that I've actually made it out of first semester alive.

So, here, a quasi-recap and some tidbits of wisdom I gained these past four months:

Perspective: Instagram Recap

Dressed in black to mourn our grades...and by chance, for an orchestra concert
Chasing the sun
Snack break
Nothing like hot tea and cozy sweaters
A fruit arrangement in honor of this no refined foods challenge
Festive sweaters make me happy
College: where riding in a car is a luxury
The best fruit

It's almost finals week, which means anxiety and the constant desire to cry, sleep, and eat dark chocolate have replaced my usual contemplative state. The philosophical thoughts will have to wait until next time. There are papers to write, exams to study for, stressors to conquer.

Until then, enjoy some of my favorite instagram posts, in reverse chronological order. If you'd like to keep up some of my artsy endeavors and life happenings, you can find me here: @imperfectidealist. Also, I've been regularly updating lookbook and chictopia, so if you're looking for outfit posts, head on over there.

Talk to you all soon, and best of luck on any exams or projects.

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Columbus, OH, USA
Sweater, Forever 21 | Button-down, thrifted Ralph Lauren | Necklace, Maxnina | Skirt, thrifted Hollister | Tights, Kohl's | Shoes, DSW
Photos by my brother

A pair of sweatpants. Ninety-five percent cotton, five percent spandex. Kids Large. Flared bottoms. Dusty blue. A big ol' hole on the butt.

I loved those sweatpants. They weren't exactly stylish, but they were comfy--so comfy that I proudly sported them many days a week as a grade schooler, and continued to wear them as pajama pants until sophomore year of high school.

I refused to retire them, even when a very conspicuous hole developed in a very conspicuous place. I begged my mom to patch them, and she complied. But not even careful mending could compensate for the basic laws of repeated wear. Eventually, I surrendered, beginning the search for a replacement pair.

Flash forward to Thanksgiving break, freshman year of college. I'm having trouble letting go again, but this time not of sweatpants--I'm having trouble letting go of the past.

It was just as I had feared: coming home for the first time was not the completely carefree, comforting, warm experience for which I had hoped. I had idealized my return, forgetting that there will be problems whatever we do, wherever we go--just different ones. 

Instead of frantically typing papers, I found myself struggling to understand my new role in old friendships. Instead of grinding out problem sets, I found myself feeling selfishly disheartened by how life had continued just fine without me. Was I that replaceable? I had temporarily escaped the the tumultuous waves of school only to be tossed into the fierce winds of my now-alien hometown. 

Don't get me wrong--it was a blessing to spend time with family, catch up with friends, devour all the bok choy in sight, sleep in my own bed, confirm that my driving skills hadn't deteriorated. I was touched by my enthusiastic welcome and grateful to be home. But coming back was undeniably unnerving: it seemed as if both nothing and everything had changed.

Home is still home, but it's no longer the same place I left three months ago. As with my old pair of sweatpants, time has passed, and the hole has grown. 

It's time to let go. It's time to accept the change, adapt accordingly, and keep living. It's time for a new pair of sweatpants. 
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Duality // GlassesShop Review

Cardigan, thrifted Target | T-shirt, Old Navy | Skirt, JCPenney | Belt, Forever 21 | Scarf, gift (Gap) | Boots, Tommy Hilfiger | Glasses, GlassesShop (20% off with code LilyX20)
The glasses in this post were sponsored by GlassesShop. All opinions are my own.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, my resident counselor fashioned a colorful construction paper turkey on my floor's bulletin board. Beneath the turkey, he pinned a note: write something you're thankful for on my feathers!

Some of the responses were sincere, others off-color. One in particular, however, caught my eye:

The relative bad that makes good good.

I wish I knew who wrote it. I wish I could thank whoever it was for the insightful reminder of the intrinsic, beautiful duality in the world. But at the same time, not knowing contributes to the intrigue, the serendipity of it all.

School is not easy. It's easy to become hopelessly and helplessly entangled in the self-imposed pressure of high expectations. I want to earn A's in as many classes as possible. I want to master my music for orchestra and lessons. I want to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and sleep well. I want to make meaningful connections. I want to explore new activities. I want to attend social events. I want to feel like I'm making something of myself.

Sometimes, this pressure is suffocating. A couple times, I've cracked, my usual cheerful demeanor and composure crumbling into panic, or tear-stained cheeks and uncontrollable sobs.

But each time I've fallen apart, friends and family have graciously and gracefully helped me piece myself together. They've listened to my rants, enveloped me in warm hugs, patiently explained complex math problems, tediously reviewed early drafts of papers. They are encouraging, uplifting.

It's true--bad can indeed be good. As painful as it is sometimes, I am grateful for the opportunity to study in such a stimulating environment, particularly because it's allowed me to realize that I am far from alone as I tackle each challenge.

I, too, am thankful for the relative bad that makes good good.

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Similarly, that resonant observation also applies to my experience with this pair of glasses from GlassesShop. When I first tried them on, I was jarred by how disorienting and blurry they made my vision. I was convinced that they had gotten my prescription wrong, but after playing around with the frames, I realized that the lenses were perfectly fine if I looked straight ahead, only becoming distorted when I peer out the sides.

I still would not recommend this specific pair of glasses because of the distortion, but I am definitely pleased with this company's customer service. Since I thought my prescription was wrong, I emailed one of their representatives to describe the problem. Her reply was prompt and courteous, and she assured me that each pair is double-checked and then offered to send a new pair if I were able to verify problems with the prescription.

Again, I learned something good because of something bad. Rest assured they strive to get things just right the first time, and strive to make things better otherwise. They have a wide selection of trendy frames, and I especially liked their wayfarer options. I will warn you though, that because their prices are inexpensive, the case is not very protective--it's a basic plastic one won't do much if dropped. Other than that, do check em out if you're looking for some new frames, and don't forget to use the 20% discount in the outift details!

Have a beautiful weekend and safe travels for the holidays,
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One outfit, three locations:
Amherst College, MA
Hartford, CT; city outskirts
Hartford, CT; Connecticut State Capitol
Sweater, thrifted L.L. Bean ($3.90!!) | Skirt, thrifted Hollister | Boots, XOXO | Necklace, Macy's
First photo by Alura Chung-Mehdi, the rest by Dad

College: where seeing your parents, riding in a car, and eating quality food (aka Asian vegetables) are all luxuries.

I remember idealizing college. How it would be a break from the familiar, the abandonment of monotony, an adventure. And it is. But it's also a grueling challenge, an awkward separation, an uncomfortable transition. 

A couple weeks ago, my dad flew in to see me for family weekend, which was beyond a blessing. But his visit confirmed just what I had feared: that home is no longer familiar. I now have to ask about everyday life--I'm no longer part of it. Are you and mom still grocery shopping on Saturdays? Do you still order out every now and then? 

Technology makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and family, but staying in touch is inherently different from remaing a part of their immediate lives. Video calls cannot replace physical presence. There's only so much you can share and understand behind a computer screen--distance is a barrier to delving beyond the surface of our nuanced lives, beyond the everyday occurences. 

Interestingly enough though, I feel closer to my family. It's easy to take parents and siblings for granted when you live at home, when they're always there. To be completely honest, I didn't get along well with my ten-year-old brother--bickering, criticism, sass, and sarcasm dominated our relationship. But last week, he said he wanted to mail me some of his Halloween candy. It was touching, considering that I could barely finagle a kit kat out of him last year. And via old-fashioned email and the weekly video call, I probably tell my parents more about current happenings than I did in high school. 

It's a bit different with my friends--our worlds sometimes feel like separate spheres. It's unsettling. I miss having deep talks, adventuring, even experiencing the mundane with them. But the mark of true friendship is being able to walk different paths and still remain invested in one other. Letters, messages, and skype sessions may not be ideal, but they're nonetheless uplifting. 

And in less than two weeks, I'll be home again. I wonder sometimes if I'll enjoy returning as much as I envision. I feel like nomad, oscillating between two places that are now equally unfamiliar. Feeling uncomfortable and lost, however, are regular symptoms of growing pains. And college is a challenge I strongly believe will be well worth it in the end.

Here's to exploring, searching, wandering, and learning.

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Chanson d'automne

Top, Target | Dress, thrifted F21 | Oxfords, F21
Photos by Jingwen Zhang
One week later:
Sweater, thrifted J. Crew | Scarf, China | Jeans, Macy's | Boots, Old Navy
Photos by Iris Zhang

I glance up. Expansive cerulean skies and wispy white clouds greet me. I inhale. Refreshing mountain air infused with sunshine and a hint of fall fill my lungs. I had been hesitant to go to school in a small town, but now I am grateful. 

Mind foggy with fatigue and burdened with stress, I feel a sudden urge to set it all aside. To forget my midterms, papers, grades. To simply drink in my beautiful surroundings. 

"Is it socially acceptable to lie in the grass by the campus center?" I ask my friends abruptly.

I decide for myself before they can answer. "Oh well, too bad if it isn't!"

Abandoning my hefty books and overflowing backpack on the outdoor cafe tables, I scurry over to find just the right spot on the verdant lawn. I plop down, stretch out, and close my eyes for a moment.

When I open them, I find that I have company. My two friends and I watch the meandering clouds in comfortable silence. Then, I hear a giggle. It soon becomes collective uncontrollable laughter. 

We pull ourselves together and visit office hours for our math professor. But after a session of multivariable functions, we find ourselves watching the sky yet again, this time on the campus gem: the impressive hill overlooking colorful forests stretching beyond the horizon. We talk--of our fears, our past, our hopes, our values. We resonate.

As the breeze tickles my skin and the sun warms my cheeks, I smile. I am content.

With four upcoming major assignments and midterms, I await more moments like these in the near future.

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Time Lapse

Boston, Massachusetts
August 2014
P.S. I made this skirt!

A month and a half before eagerly-awaited marathon, runner develops patellar tendonitis and cannot run more than twenty minutes without excruciating knee pain.

Welcome to episode two of my soap opera life.
(As a quick refresher, the premier episode was about getting into a car accident on prom night).

If all had gone as plan, I would've traveled to Hartford, Connecticut for my first marathon last weekend. But life had a mind of its own, and instead, I found myself in Boston, Massachusetts for a mini-vacation. 

It wasn't easy for me to defer my race entry. I vowed not to go down without a fight, but after a two weeks of vigorous cross-training and no improvement in my knee, it was clear that the marathon would have to wait. I wanted to be able to enjoy my workouts--the liberating long runs, the satisfying fartleks and tempos, the empowering tests of my mental and physical capacity. I didn't want to slave away in the gym to maintain the same fitness--hours in the pool, on the bike, or elliptical were mind-numbing, and I had had enough. 

To say that I'm disappointed would be an understatement. But I realize that things don't always work out the way we envision. I'm hoping for recovery, growth, and delayed gratification. My body is not invincible, and I must train accordingly. It's too early to make any grandiose plans of another marathon; I'd be completely content for the time being to simply ease back into running. Baby steps. And we'll take the rest from there. 

I have not surrendered.
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I made the most of things and traveled with a few friends to Boston over fall break. While I would've loved to be running, it was undoubtedly refreshing to see the city again. I had been there once with my family before college orientation, so the trip was deeply nostalgic, almost surreal. Had the past month and a half actually happened?

October 2014
One of my favorite parts of the trip was not the sights, the shopping, or the food (though all were incredible--especially the food), but seeing friends from home. Since I stayed with a friend at MIT, I was able to catch up with her and meet new people and experience another school culture. Then, serendipitously enough, another high school friend spotted us in Chinatown, so we met up to walk Seaport and Little Italy the next day.
I even got to fulfill #7 of my bucket list: meet a fellow fashion blogger in person! Since discovering Brittney's blog, Another Beautiful Thing, last year, I've never ceased to admire how well she balances fashion, personal life, and commentary on her blog. She was just as insightful, kind, and polished in person, and I'm so grateful to have had the chance to chat with her.

Wishing you all well--when I can again drop notes on your blogs is still up in the air, but it may not be until the end of this semester. For now, blogging will simply be a means of gathering my thoughts, but I hope to rejoin the community soon enough.

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