1.07.2019

3 Favorite Books I Read in 2018

I read 35 books in 2018! That somehow feels like both a lot and barely any, especially when I look at how many books there are I have never read. There's probably some obscure word in Japanese for the anxiety of not being able to read all the books one wants to read. If not, there should be.

I may have read more than 35, but I rated 35 on Goodreads. Sometimes I forget to update, and I don't ever add the romance books I read unless they are unusual or unforgettable (the ones I read are usually neither, but I like them anyway).

Looking over the list, it's hard to pick favorites. None knocked me off my feet quite like Tell the Wolves I'm Home last year, but several really stuck with me. Like a good, solid meal.

1. Pachinko
This hit a few major boxes for me:
-Sweeping, multi-generational (four generations, multiple perspectives from each generation)
-A time and/or place I have never thought about (Japanese people of Korean descent through most of the 1900s??)
-Pulled off an omniscient narrator. This is impossible, but Min Jin Lee got you inside almost everyone's heads, sometimes even within the same paragraph, and still it felt personal

I couldn't tell you now what my takeaways from the book were, but I enjoyed it immensely.

2. Fates and Furies
Among the more literary and pretentious books I read a bunch of this year, Fates and Furies was fascinating. It was a microscope on a single relationship over the course of each person's life, the first half from his perspective, the second half from hers.

3. Year of Wonder or Caleb's Crossing, both by Geraldine Brooks
Year of Wonder is set in a small English town during the Plague. Caleb's Crossing follows the friendship between a white Puritan girl and Native American boy in Martha's Vineyard and Boston.

Both got me thinking about places and eras I never have before, both had strong, complex women as narrators. Both had me wishing I could have experienced life centuries ago (not that I'd want to be near the plague or the destruction of Native American civilization).

12.02.2018

Book Series: 3 Books on Growing up in Poverty

I recently inadvertently read three memoirs in a row that dealt were accounts of individuals who were raised in poverty by eccentric parents, who broke the cycle and ended up well-adjusted, successful adults.

1. Educated by Tara Westover
Tara grew up in SE Idaho in a survivalist family. They weren't so much poor as off the grid, paranoid about the government, and abusive.

The backdrop is beautiful, but what I thought Westover pulled off so well was her psychological journey. The innocence of her childhood, not questioning her crazy family and upbringing was clearly drawn as was the painful process of recognizing, then finally standing up for herself.

2. Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
Hillbilly Elegy follows JD through the hills of Appalachian Kentucky and Ohio. His dad was gone, his mom on drugs (like most of the people he knew), so he was raised by his tough as nails grandmother. He goes on become a Yale educated lawyer

Vance describes a culture in crisis: addiction, lack of opportunity, and a fierce competitiveness and loyalty to the culture circling the drain.

3. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Jeanette grew up with an entrepreneur turned unemployed turned drunk father, and quirky, enabling mother.

It was hearbreaking to read about the transition from Jeanette as a little girl in poverty who doesn't know any better to a young woman deeply disappointed in her parents, then flying the roost.

A few takeaways from the series:
-People really can screw up their kids, big time. It is terrible to see how profoundly the weaknesses of parents (addiction, mental illness, general selfishness) mess a kid up forever.
-On the other hand, kids really are resilient. At some point, each of these writers comes to grip with the fact that the failings of their parents are unrelated to them as kids. They each show a lot of grace and forgiveness, which makes me wonder if that is an element of their success or possibly a byproduct of writing a good story. (They say writing is therapy. You have to give parents full fair treatment)
-For each person, there were helpers along the way who gave Tara, JD, and Jeanette opportunities their parents otherwise kept from them. Teachers, religious and community leaders, extended family, siblings even.
-Each of the parents, for all their flaws, taught very fiercely the lesson: YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. I have to think that lesson, even without much other parental support, was received and internalized by the children, each of whom went on to be very successful.

3 Ways to Use Old Hard Rice

I used to hate rice. After coming home from Thailand I literally didn't eat it for a year. At some point, something changed and now I could eat jasmine rice by the spoonful, like ice cream. Leftover rice, though, is not so good. It's crunchy and dry, it never soaks up the good stuff (whatever it is that's ladled over it) like it should.

So here's what I like to do with my leftovers:

1. Fried rice
Every Asian country seems to do it differently. I never cared for fried rice from Chinese restaurants (or the Safeway Chinese counter), but homemade Chinese style fried rice can be excellent. First saute onions and garlic, then add hard veggies like carrots or broccoli, bell peppers or green beans, corn or peas. Add rice and stir it all up, then add sauce last. I've started experimenting with making my own stir fry sauces and like best ones with soy sauce, hoisin sauce, mirin, and ginger. When it's all combined garnish with green onions, cilantro, and lime

2. Rice pudding
Because it makes spoonfuls of jasmine rice even more like ice cream. There is no end to how you can customize it. I'm partial to simply cinnamon or banana flavor, but recently saw a recipe for rice pudding with raspberries and pistachios.
Add equal parts rice and milk, and heat until it's all creamy (20-30 minutes on a stove top, less in an instant pot, more in a slow cooker)

3. Congee/jok/rice porridge
Thai style is with mushroom and ginger, garnished with little bit of vinegar and cilantro or green onions. You can add chicken, pork, seafood, peanuts. Basically cover the rice and whatever you want to cook with it with stock and simmer until it all breaks down. Great for a cold, winter day.

3 Things I'm Proud of Today

I bought a meditation cushion this year. I laugh, a bit embarrassed, when I tell people. It's mostly orange (for courage) and has an Anasazi pattern on the seat. It's filled with hemp seeds and was sold to me by a guy who was wearing a tunic, greeted me with a namaste bow, and either has had work done or had the glow of someone who doesn't eat meat, sugar, or anything processed.

I got the cushion as a way of committing myself to a better meditation practice. I had visions of making a meditation corner, complete with vision board, my cushion, maybe some candles and diffused essential oils. I haven't made my corner yet, but my cushion is pulled out a lot, and not just as a stage for my son. Since my monkey brain still gets distracted if I sit in silence, I downloaded an app with a bunch of guided meditations (called Meditation Studio, if you're interested). Some help you calm for sleep, connect you with you senses, alleviate pain or stress. I listened to one today that was a pep talk. Among other things, the voice told me how awesome I am and how important it is to acknowledge the things we are proud of.

Three things I'm proud of, today:
1. I finished my book.

I technically finished it a year ago, but it keeps getting better. It could be crap, though, and I'd still be proud of the fact that I finished.

2. I thought of writing it in the first place

Funny thing to be proud of, maybe, but I am. Not everyone would think of it. Not everyone would care. I did, and I do.

3. I'm ready to publish it
Like I said, it keeps getting better. More than that, I've been working on the confidence to bring something important to me into the world. Some people don't have the hangups I do about making private things public, lucky them. But my hangups are shrinking. 

2019 is going to be a fun/scary/exciting/terrifying year 

:) :| :O

6.15.2018

3 Thoughts on STUFF

Last week I saw this video entitled A Cluttered Life: Middle Class Abundance. It's a super interesting 20 minutes and got me thinking, as I do frequently, about STUFF. The video talks about researchers who went into a number of middle class homes and documented every single item in the building, and then talked to the homeowners all about it. A few highlights:

1. We have rituals built into our lives to acquire things, but not to get rid of them.
Birthdays, Christmas, Mother's/Fathers Day, new school year, new seasons, new interests... All bring things into our lives, but aside from a vague notion of Spring Cleaning or if you happen to be moving, we don't impose decluttering in any sort of regular way. I almost always have a bin in my home - a purge pile of sorts. My preference is that I wait until it is overflowing (a month or so) and then put it into the trunk of my car, where it can sit for another couple months and I can change my mind about the things I thought I wanted to get rid of (Purgatory, you may call it). Finally, it can go to a donation center. Porter, for better or worse, sees any open bin and it is out in his car and to the drop-off in a day. Sometimes he just takes things from the home he thinks are useless and I'll find them in his car just in the nick of time. Who knows how many things I haven't caught in time!
RESOLUTION: Get rid of stuff. Regularly. Some people have a 'One thing in, One thing out' rule, which I'm up for, at least in theory

2. Most STUFF belongs to kids
It's no surprise. Toys, clothes and supplies have a gravitational pull. It's easy enough to get rid of stuff that is broken or worn out, but if I'm not sentimental about it, my kid is, and if no one is I think 'maybe the next baby will want/use this' so we end up with bins of items that aren't being used and really we don't know if/how they will be used in the future, so they just sit. There's certainly a financial aspect to it. I've read a number of criticisms of the minimalist movement that point out how economic privilege is so often a factor in going minimal. I save old crap so I don't have to buy it again. But then again, if you're minimal in all ways, you're likely saving enough money that you could buy it again later if you need to.

3. My current stuff mantra: Own it if you love it, only if you love it
It's a mantra I often use when shopping. I'm a sucker for a deal and am prone to buying things because they are on sale or for perceived value. When traveling something seems so cool in the context of travels but is a dust collector at home. At thrift/consignment/antique/craigslist sales, something seems one of a kind and priced so much less than they would had it been new that I get duped into buying it. On the other hand, I'm a tightwad and hate spending money in general. So I have to remind myself that it's okay to buy something if I'm crazy about it, but if I'm not crazy about it, it's probably not worth it. So it should go for decluttering. If I love it, I should keep it, even if no one else gets it. If I don't (or someone in my family, I guess they should get a say too), then it should go.

This should be simple...right?

3 Tips for International Travel with a Newborn

Traveling internationally with an infant is possible!  My best friend got married two months after Beau was born. IN CHINA. I, of course, am not one to pass up a life moment of a love one NOR an opportunity to board a jumbo jet, so I promised her immediately upon her announcing her engagement that, assuming we were all of sound health mentally and physically, I would be there.

This is how:

1. Plan ahead for necessary documentation
Birth certificate
Birth certificates take a weird amount of time to get processed. While pregnant, I called both the hospital where I'd be giving birth and the County Recorder to get an idea of timeline. While no one could give me anything concrete about how many days it actually would take to get processed, I was able to get a general idea of '10 days to 3 weeks' and that it would be fast if I picked up the birth certificate at the county in the Live Records office. After the baby was born, I called the hospital again to ask (some may say remind) about my birth certificate. After a week I called the county and got confirmation I could pick it up from the office. In total, 9 days after my birth, 8 days after we discharged (that's when they file the paperwork)

Passport
Photo: In the week that I was waiting for the birth certificate, I got a viable passport photo. Rules are: White background, eyes open, facing forward, ears visible, chin upright. Because none of these things are very easy to count on for a newborn, I laid out a white sheet on a crib mattress on the floor and tried a few times throughout the week when baby was more alert. There is speculation that passport issuers go easy on enforcing rules on babies since they, you know, don't have their eyes open often and have no neck control, but given our timeline I didn't want to risk it. Pro tip: hold baby's head up by balancing him on your forearm, head in palm (fingers hidden from camera as much as possible), legs down by your elbow. Have another person stand and take the photo from above without blocking light. Print two copies at any photo center (We used Walgreens, Costco is cheaper, there are photo apps that would undoubtedly do the right cropping for you but it was worth $15 to me to make sure the photos were cropped right). 

Application: We printed and filled out the DS-11 Passport Application for Minor Child before baby was born so we only had to add his name and birth date to submit. Fortunately for us, our local library was having a passport fair the day after we got the birth certificate, so we were able to file it immediately. Note: BOTH PARENTS HAVE TO BE PRESENT.

Also necessary: photocopy of both parents' ID. The guy who was filing my application wasn't sure what to do since Beau had not yet been issues a Social Security Number (these take a few months to arrive) so he had me sign an affadavit that my child had not yet received a SSN. This might not be necessary, but again, considering the timeline, I didn't want to risk it.

You can send everything in by mail, or if you live near a Passport Agency, you can make an appointment and everything goes way quicker. If you have proof of travel and can appear in person, you can get a passport as soon as 2 days. I chose to pay to have mine expedited.

Visa-
For US Citizens, most countries either don't require a visa or allow for visa on arrival. Some (China, India, Burma and Brazil that I'm aware of, require it in advance. In the case of China, the visa has to be secured from a regionally assigned embassy, in person. Mine was San Francisco and instead of going in person or sending it with someone I knew, I opted to use FreeChinaVisa.com . It was half the price of every other service I could find, they emailed me for additional information needed (color copy of both the photo and signed page of Porter's passport, even though he was not going to be traveling with us), and they offered online progress tracking. Processing at the embassy takes 4 days, I got the visa back in 8 days. Protip: the only photo service I could find that takes visa photos for China specifically was Costco. Again, there are apps that say they crop photos right, but there have been changes to the requirements lately and I didn't want to risk doing it wrong.


2. Pack light
Best thing about babies: they don't need anything! I brought mostly footie pajamas for him (newborn socks/shoes are a joke and I figured it was some semblance of germ control) plus a few cute outfits. I figured 5 diapers a day (I came home with extras), a brick of wipes in my suitcase and a ziploc bag of wipes for on the go (and a couple plastic grocery or pet waste bags for diaper disposal), and a pacifier. No food, no toys, no bathing supplies, no bedding supplies. I just had him in bed with me. Newborns don't roll! 

3. Practice nursing on the go
No joke, this is such a life-saver. The very best thing about traveling with small children is that they sleep, eat, poop and are awake for very short stretches. For the airport/plane, wedding festivities and generally just not being at homeness that is inherent to traveling, you can't always count on there being a discreet, comfortable place to nurse. So, nurse on the go! There are tons of tutorials online depending on what kind of carrier you have and what your body is like. I brought an Ergo 360 and have small boobs (even when full of milk); for me I buckled the waistband just a bit lower than normal, unbuttoned the button-down shirt or dress I was wearing (and packed exclusively for ease of access), and helped baby get latched. Sometimes I wore a scarf, some shirts provide more coverage on the sides, sometimes, miraculously, I didn't need anything and baby just kind of nestled in. Eat, sleep, poop. 

Lastly, there much that can be said for the mantra of 'I can do this. Baby can do this. Everything will be fine.' When baby blows out on the plane and you have to dab poop out of the carrier in a tiny bathroom, when literally the only time baby fusses is during your best friend's wedding vows, no biggie. Get out on the dance floor (I did, big time), go site-seeing, love wherever you are traveling.

Also, I got almost no photos. BOO! Can't win 'em all.
 





6.14.2018

3 half- formed thoughts on mommy brain

My baby is 20 weeks old now, or, in normal person speak, two and a half months. Talking about age in terms of weeks is ridiculous.  And when I am mom/queen/master of the Universe, I will require age by week reports to stop at 12 weeks (really before then every week is so so so different it really does make sense). Among the many cultural aspects of parenthood I'd like to change: not being able to leave sleeping children in a locked car, giving gifts at children's birthday parties, and blaming everything on mommy brain.

But actually though, mommy brain has been on my brain ever since I blamed something on it (likely stopping mid-sentence for the hundredth time), back-pedalled and just said I was tired and Porter said that actually:

1. Mommy Brain is a scientifically proven thing! I don't know if this makes me feel better for feeling like an idiot or just confirms that my brain power is depressingly diminished. According to studies, when you have a new baby, the neural pathways that used to be hardwired for being functional at other things, namely EMPATHY. This is necessary because you suddenly have in your care a little creature who doesn't know how to communicate with you and the sooner you can discern which coo, cry and wiggle means I'm hungry/tired/full of gas, the better.

2. I don't remember being this brain dead last time.
Maybe because I just had one. Maybe because I went back to work 10 hours a week by month 4 so I was taking back some of those neural pathways. Maybe I just don't remember. All I can say is I feel dumb. I've always been someone who can make conversation with most anyone and chitty chat about garbage. Not at the moment. Errrything is rill slow.

3. My brain is still there
Every once in a while I'll get wrapped up in a conversation or passionate about a subject and I'll feel it. There will be a day when I'm back to normal (or at least close...right?)


5.02.2018

3 Months with my Beau

Here's a belated publishing of a recap of the fourth trimester with my newest little one, in no particular order:
  • It is unreal how quickly and how strongly Jamie has an affinity for his brother. He is most certainly mimicking my baby voice and some wording ("Don't worry, Beau, I'll keep you company!") but he loves his brother without instruction. I remember reading about how President Obama met some half-sibling for the first time in like his thirties and had an immediate affection for him (or her?). 
  • I sleep so much better with a baby in bed with me than in a crib. It is amazing. I totally understand how people get preachy about bed-sharing. It was a game-changer for Jamie when I finally gave up getting him to sleep on his back in his crib. 
  • Related: If I could bottle up one heart-melty parent moment I think it would be curling my body around this little tiny body curled up by me. 

(photo credit, my main J Kirk Richards, whose art never ceases to move me)
  • Beau is currently in the in-between land of being over laying on his back but not being coordinated enough to hold his head totally upright or sit without falling over. 
  • New baby poop is so much less stinky than 3-year old poop, but such a gross consistency.
  • Also, Jamie, one week after his third birthday decided he's over diapers. Hallelujah
  • And, newborn and size one diapers are laughably tiny. Their bodies are laughably tiny. 
  • I feel a lot more tethered breastfeeding this time than last. Maybe because Jamie took a bottle so easily so I wasn't so so tethered. We're still working on getting Beau to take one.
  • Baby sounds are almost painfully cute. Beau has started babbling and I can't even.
  • Porter is just starting to get to know Beau. Between finishing our garage/ADU construction and taking care of Jamie, parenting is currently in a 'divine and conquer' state of being. My conquering here being, of course, resting, healing, and cuddling with this tiny human. I'll take it.
  • I've watched so much TV. It's so great. 
  • Related: I think I'm dumber than I used to be. 
  • I keep telling people how different Beau felt from Jamie from his very first moments. As Beau's cheeks are filling in, he's starting to look more like his brother. This makes me both very happy and a little sad. 
  • Tiny babies are so easy to cart around, it's crazy. I totally understand how people get preachy about baby wearing and the ease of carriers. They make life so much easier. See: Beau came to China with me at 2 months old and rocked it.
  • I'm emerging from my hunkering down, slowly but surely. I am leaving my house, having thoughts I'd like to fully form into blog posts and other forms of writing, and ... (I literally finished this post without finishing this sentence and now going back I'd like to just leave it that way. Brain not totally back on, clearly)
  • I have been cooking a ton. Eating so much. I'm starving.
  • This time around body healing has been easily 250% better. Woot feels like an odd interjection here but it is truly how I feel.
  • I am so grateful for a healthy, full-term baby with quick labor, who eats and sleeps relatively normal. I spend a probably unhealthy amount of time feeling guilty that it is so often not the case.
  • I am so tremendously grateful for the village that made my first month especially, so easy. We had meals for almost an entire month; Porter took Jamie to the gym in the morning then straight to my mother in law's until afternoon so I could just have slow time with baby; my parents came, my sister came, my husband is such a dreamboat he just made life easy for me. Again, I think often how many people go through this phase alone, physically and/or emotionally and it sucks. Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude.
Photo dump:

























1.29.2018

3 Things That Cause Disproportionate PAIN

I'm preparing for childbirth again and I'm uncomfortable well, most of the time. The pain of childbirth is talked about all the time, but it's gotten me thinking about things that are teeny tiny that cause unexpected amounts of pain or annoyance.

1. Finger wounds (and stubbed toes)
A nick from extra sharp knives, slamming a knuckle in a door, a hammer on the nail bed, being smacked by something heavy that your two-year-old threw at you (angry face emoji), paper cuts (oh dreaded paper cuts). All such small injuries, all such infinite pain. And why do they take so freaking long to heal??

2. Voice activated customer service
Not physical pain, but I can't count how many times I've hung up on a robot (screaming AAARRRGHHHH and throwing my phone across the room). Usually it starts with a calm, collected request for "Customer Service" or "Operator." When repeated pleas are either not heard or receive a perky "I'm sorry, I'm still not understanding, did you want to talk to billing?" my voice gets louder, more terse, and more impatient. 

3. Cold/canker sores
I was teaching a lesson to my Young Women's class a while back and recounted this one month in college that I remember still so viscerally. I was working the early AM shift so I was getting no sleep, I didn't love my classes, I was probably going to break up with my boyfriend (not that we were fighting, turns out we just didn't like each other that much), and to top it off: I had a canker sore that just about made me want to die. Of all the awful things that could have happened to me in college, the pain I remember most strongly is that of the canker sore. It pushed me over the edge of misery.

I've never been prone to cold sores (thank heaven), but I've had plenty of canker sores. As it seems, they are just tiny little bumps inside your lip. But don't be fooled, they make life hell.

1.25.2018

Top Three Reads of 2017

I came across some excellent books this past year. Top three:

1. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joyce Fowler

This I picked at random from the Overdrive app through my library. It was available, I don't think I read the summary, and it ended up on my Kindle. I hate to give too much away because I enjoyed SO MUCH some surprising elements of the story that most summaries I've read give away.

Basically it's about a woman reflecting on her childhood (I thought it was a memoir until I read more about the novel afterward). She has a dysfunctional relationship with her family, two long-lost siblings she reunites with to different degrees. One review called her a "breathtakingly droll 22-year-old narrator" which I kind of love. As a narrator, Rosemary does an excellent job portraying the holes in our memories of childhood we piece together in adulthood, and how our personal identities and self-perception are shaped in families.

2. Gut: The Inside Story of our Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders

My digestive system has always basically sucked and, allergists/gastroenterologists/doctors be damned, no one seems to know why. SO I've taken to reading a lot of these public-accessible sciency books about the digestive system. Gut is my favorite so far. It's not trying too hard to be entertaining, is actually backed up by science, and is still accessible as a non-physician.

Favorite sections were on the Gut Brain (especially as it relates to emotions) and the world of probiotics (I am SOLD).

3. Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rivka Brunt

I picked this up from a Little Free Library in town (a favorite way to find random books). After reading the first page I said - out loud, to myself - "I am going to like this book." The voice is so strong and the setting so unique, I could tell immediately it would be enjoyable to read. I didn't expect to spend so much time thinking about the characters and their situation during and after reading it.

The story follows June, a teenaged misfit whose best friend in the whole world is her uncle Finn. When her uncle dies of AIDS (in the 80's, in New York), she is befriended by his partner Toby (whom she'd never known about when Finn was alive). June's character feels very real and, perhaps because I was an oblivious teenage girl (not quite as emo as June, but still very much in my own world), I identified with her coming to understand her uncle's life. I've heard plenty of stories of the AIDS epidemic in the 80's, especially from a public health perspective, but never anything as personal. Even though the AIDS crisis was in the background of most of the story, it felt very real.

2018 has so far left me in a reading rut (I've started at least 8 books and haven't gotten more than a chapter or two in any of them), but I'm hopeful excellent reads will show up.