The Many Flavors of Love (a Valentines Day Love List)

I love the sound of rain drumming against the roof, splashing against the pavement, trickling down the windowpane while I watch, warm and cozy indoors.

I love the way a good book transports me far away from the world I know, inserting me, like a fly on the wall, into the lives of other characters, in other places and times.

I love my three teens, who are now 14, 17, and 19. I love spending time with them, sharing laughter, traveling to new places, enjoying meals. My middle daughter is getting ready to graduate from high school soon, and head off to university. Then I’ll have three years left before my nest is empty.

I love trying new foods, and incorporating recipes from around the globe into my daily repertoire. In our house, vegetarian curries and Asian soups are just as common as spaghetti.

I love my sister and her kids. We talk surprisingly little for sisters who actually get along (She doesn’t respond to texts or phone calls often). But on rare occasions we do manage to connect, it’s pretty positive. She began her family much later than I did, so she and her husband have three very young daughters. Two of them have finally reached an age of comfort with being away from their mom and dad, so now we are beginning to have Auntie outings. Since my own kids are nearly grown, it’s really nice to be able to hang out with my young nieces. The next best thing to being a Grandma.

Fun outing with my daughter (right) and two of my young nieces (center)

I love my ex-boyfriend, who I refer to as “Z.” (The last letter of the alphabet for the last man I will ever date or fall in love with). Yes, it’s been more than a year and a half since we were together. But that means nothing to my heart. I hate that he is gone from my life. I love remembering the wonderful, though brief, relationship we had, how kind he was, and how happy we both were together.

Z and me perfect date San Francisco Japanese tea garden
“Z” and me on a couple of unforgettable dates during a weekend together in my favorite city.

I love my career. I love what I get to wake up and do every day. I work in IT, designing and building software systems that revolutionize business for many people. It’s very fulfilling (and pays well, too).

I love that feeling of euphoria I get at the end of a really intense workout or a long weekend run. Runner’s high is not a myth! Now if only we could experience that in the middle of the run, instead of the burning lungs and aching muscles…

I love writing. I especially love to write stories for other people to enjoy. If you read my stories and find yourself transported into another time and place, like a fly on the wall in some character’s life, then my job was well done.

I love a perfect cup of coffee (Decaf dark roast with cream and Splenda), or a perfect cup of tea (earl gray or chai, splash of milk, plus Splenda). Especially with a good book. Long ago, when I had friends, then sharing a perfect cup of tea or coffee while spending time with a good friend was pretty much nirvana.

Hot cup of tea

I love that this list is actually far longer, filled with music, and flowers, and candles, and soccer, and great movies, like Amelie, or Pride & Prejudice (2005), or Shakespeare in Love. I also love how this list continues to grow throughout my life, as I travel more, try new activities, and grow. Ideally, much of this list would be people-based, since really, things and experiences, while worthy of loving and enjoying, can’t love you back. (But then, I have grown quite used to not being loved back. That has never before stopped me from loving).

Whoever, or whatever you love, may you love them fully today, and every day. What’s more, I wish for you what I have always lacked most in life — that you feel fully, completely, and unquestionably loved in return.

More Honest Names for College Classes 101 (aka: That Time I Let my Teens Write the Blog)

Because I’m apparently suffering from Blogger’s Block, I decided to let my 14 year-old son and my 17 year-old daughter write this blog post. They were sitting around sharing goofy titles they came up with to replace the boring titles of typical college courses. I’m sure that their imaginary university would be pretty interesting to attend!

  • How to Take Over the World (Political Science 101)
  • Destroy Anyone in an Argument by Insulting their Innate Human Tendencies (Psychology 101)
  • How to Design Buildings that Won’t Fall Down in the First 5 Minutes (Architecture 101)
  • Math, Except All the Numbers Are Replaced with Letters and Weird Symbols (Calculus)
  • How to Go to the Party Without Really Being There (Quantum Mechanics 101)
  • Mindfulness and Meditation (Mortuary Science 101)
  • How to Talk to People Because You Didn’t in High School so Now You’re Making Up for It (Communications 101)
  • How to Get One Step Closer to Ending the World (Robotics)
  • How to Be Totally Fake But Make Everyone Like You (Drama)
  • How to Have a Slim Chance of Striking it Rich but Probably go Bankrupt (Business 101)
  • How to Get Away With Blowing Up Entire Buildings (Chemistry 101)
  • How to Beat Someone in a Fight Without Violence (Dance 101)
  • Turn Your Parents’ Money into Art a 4 year-old Could Make (Art 101)
  • How to Make Everyone Mad at You (Gender Studies 101)
  • How to Relearn Your Own Language Because You Spent So Much Time Texting (English 101)

See the World! (aka: Living Vicariously)

“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum.” ~George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life)

George Bailey See the World

When I was a teenager, I often fantasized about traveling the world. I had a long list of places to go, languages to learn, foods to try. I begged my dad and stepmother to send me away to a boarding school in some faraway country (okay, this was partially because I hated living with them). They just laughed and mentioned this silly little thing called money.

Ugh. Money.

That has always been the Big Obstacle. Every time I managed to begin stashing some away toward international travel goals, some monster would come along and eat it up. Monsters such as bills. My college expenses. Kids’ extracurricular activities. Home maintenance. Kids’ college expenses.

Those vivid dreams of walking through streets in London and Barcelona, touring Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, sipping coffee at a French cafe in Paris, climbing the ancient stones of  Macchu Picchu, became smaller and more distant as years passed, and life kept sending more monsters to get in the way. I learned to feed my hunger for travel in smaller, more attainable ways, like studying languages, eating foods from around the world, and watching House Hunters International. (Hey, that show can be pretty addictive!).

See the World travel

Recently, I sent my 16yo daughter off on her first big international journey. She traveled with a group of students to Beijing China, then stayed with a host family in Jinan. Each day, she sent me photos and stories about her adventures abroad, which I ate up with relish. Finally! Although I am still stuck here, working hard to provide a good life for my kids, at least my children can live out my dream, and I can share in them.

This week, our family has been hosting a student who traveled here from China. Just as my daughter’s host family showered her with kindness and introduced her to a wealth of Chinese culture, we are attempting to do the same. My kids are getting a chance to improve their Mandarin, while our student improves her English. And I get to practice being uber-organized, to fit everything into our schedule. (Luckily, I’m usually pretty Type-A, so it’s not too big of a jump to be Type A+).

Now my daughter has caught the travel bug, too. She’s already conspiring with friends to backpack Europe and stay in youth hostels after graduating high school next summer. Eek! I am excited about her ambitions, too. The next best thing to traveling and seeing the world is to travel and see the world through the eyes of someone you love.

 

 

Meanwhile, Somewhere in California… (aka: Bay to Breakers)

Last Sunday, my 16yo daughter and I went to a huge party. Well, actually, it was a party disguised as one of the world’s largest footraces. Bay to Breakers is held every spring in my favorite city, San Francisco. With tens of thousands of participants dressed in zany costumes and ready for fun, it is a race like no other. The goal? To run 8 miles, from San Francisco Bay, through the heart of the city, all the way to Ocean Beach.

My daughter and me Bay to Breakers

My daughter and I joined the throngs in our corral, as we have done in other races. Only this time, we were all decked out as the Sun and the Moon (or Night and Day, I still haven’t decided).  To have time for our costumes and makeup, then to commute to the city by car and by BART train, we had to wake up at 4:00am, and then do a little shivering until the real sun showed up to warm things up a little.

It was crazy how many people there were in the streets! We were surrounded by bananas, flamingos, superheroes of every kind, cowboys, pirates, and then some. We found Waldo again and again. We spotted a school of Salmon running upstream. There were too many furries to count. And, in true San Francisco fashion, there were also way too many naked runners to count. That made us giggle at the start of the race, but after a mile or two, we were like, “Eh. Just another costume.”

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Before the race began, we joined in the time-honored tradition of throwing tortillas in the air. Why? I have no idea! But it was super fun (except for that one my daughter accidentally threw at the back of someone’s head. Whoops). We also threw beach balls around the crowd, and cheered until our voices were hoarse. And then, it was Go time.

Bay to Breakers salmon swimming upstream

I was a little nervous at the start, because this was my first time ever running beside another person. I’m pretty used to running alone, with music in my ears, and didn’t think I could make it very far without that. I also didn’t think I could keep up with my daughter, who runs cross-country and has far better stamina. But she slowed down, or I sped up, and we managed to carry on conversations and laugh our heads off the whole way. We weaved in and out of a group of people dressed like In ‘N’ Out Burger staff. We chased a dozen giant doughnuts. We orbited around an Earth, ducked under a limbo stick, and sang along to music playing from my iPhone and the numerous speakers blasting around the city. And yes, that was us doing gran jetés and piqué turns through Golden Gate Park. We couldn’t help it. Blame the gymnast / dancer in both of us.

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What was just as much fun as running in Bay to Breakers dressed as the sun? Giving sunshine to the other runners. I was having so much fun, that I couldn’t help but reflect it back to those around me.

“Eh-oh!” I called out as I passed a Teletubby.

“Vive la France!” I called out to a runner wearing a beret and waving a French flag.

“The emperor has no clothes!” I called out to a naked guy wearing only a crown and short cape.

“Imposters!” I accused an entire running group dressed like suns.

We were having such a blast, that both my daughter and I were surprised when we reached the finish line at the beach. So soon? That felt more like a five or six mile run than eight miles. But lucky for us, that meant we still had energy to enjoy the huge finish line area extension of the party, with a live band, free swag, and all kinds of great free food. We even took home an entire case of vanilla flax milk (so yum).

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I am not much of a party person, but I would run Bay to Breakers again in a heartbeat. Next year, I may dress as a superhero. Or a flamenco dancer. Or a soccer mom. But no matter what I choose to wear, I will always bring the sunshine.

The LOOK (aka: Journeymom)

appreciation

2-4-6-8! Who do we appreciate?

Moms, that’s who!

Well, only since 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May to be a day to honor mothers. Before then, I guess mothers had to appreciate themselves. But now, we get to spend one dedicated day every year taking our mothers out for waffles and coffee, surprising them with bouquets of fresh flowers, and showing them how much we love and appreciate them.

Mother’s Day is not an easy day for everyone to celebrate. Many people no longer have their mothers in their lives. Some of us have tense, rocky relationships with our mothers, and finding things to appreciate about them is, well, a struggle. But even those of us who are lacking can use this holiday to be grateful for what positive lessons we once learned from our mothers, and to reflect on our own parenting choices.

As a mom to three teens, I kind of feel like I’ve reached the journeyman — er, journeymom phase of mothering. Instead of washing sticky handprints from the walls, or singing the Barney clean-up song to get them to put away their toys, I have mastered the LOOK. All moms know the LOOK. Just the right tilt of the head, just the right narrowing of the eyes, and those teenagers drop their cell phones and start scrubbing the house.

Okay fine, not really. But they’re supposed to.

Maybe I should go back to singing the Barney clean-up song. It would probably be more effective, since they hate the song so much and will do anything to get me to stop singing.

At this phase of mothering, I have to strike just the right balance between being my kids’ friend, one they’ll want to talk to and hang out with, and being the enforcer. The one who has to make sure they get their homework done, and stop tossing his dirty laundry on his brother’s bed, and finish all of the dishes, or else I’ll give them the LOOK. (Seriously, I need to come up with a better tool).

The other thing about this phase of parenting is this growing sensation that we are running out of time together. My baby birds have grown so big. They are testing their wings, finding their own worms. In four years, an alarm clock will ring, and my nest will be empty. I can only hope that they will return from time to time, to bring me flowers and take me out for waffles and coffee. I would really appreciate that.

Mothers Day Flowers

 

 

Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

This is NOT Only a Test (aka: College Admissions, pt. 1)

So my daughter, a junior in high school, just took the SAT exam last week, because she heard that some universities out there think it’s “important” that high schoolers have test scores to prove they’re “capable” of being successful students, or something. As if they couldn’t prove that by their Instagram feeds.

Anyways, she says it was pretty easy, for the most part. I hope that doesn’t mean she just randomly filled in a bunch of scantron bubbles. Because yeah, that’s pretty easy to do. I may or may not know this from experience. Lots of people have taken the SAT, but most of them don’t use the word easy to describe how it went. Those are probably the people who actually read the questions and did their best to answer them. Well, we will find out how my daughter did in another week or two. Hopefully well, because those exams aren’t free.

Standardized test scantron

Speaking of exams that aren’t free, in a couple of months, she will get to take even more exams. Only this time, they will be super-hard ones called International Baccalaureate exams. Which are a lot like Advanced Placement exams, but harder to spell. And possibly more expensive. IB exams cost about the same as buying a used car. A really bad used car that probably doesn’t run, but still. Not free.

student overwhelmed studying exams

I actually do get why colleges insist on SAT scores for the admissions process. With a nation full of overscheduled super-brains raised by a generation of Tiger Moms, the schools have to have some way to separate the chaff from the wheat, so I guess it might as well be by test result.

Tiger Moms

Well then, why don’t we take that a little further? I mean, lots of jobs (including mine) require potential candidates to pass an exam before they can be hired, right? Well, why don’t we apply this concept to other important things in life? Like, you should have to pass some sort of basic test just to get a gym membership. The questions might look something like:

You’ve just finished an intense, sweaty, 40-minute workout on one of the exercise bikes. Do you:

  1. Rub on the readout screen with your forearm to try and clean it up a little.
  2. Wipe down the equipment with anti-microbial solution, because ew, germs.
  3. Wipe down the equipment with anti-microbial solution and wash your hands, because ew, germs.
  4. Go home.

Or a test before you’re allowed to cook anything, ever:

You’ve just finished cooking a pot full of yummy spaghetti (Congrats!). Do you:

  1. Turn off the stove.
  2. Turn off the stove.
  3. Turn off the stove.
  4. Leave the stove on and walk away.

An exam for people trying to lose a few pounds:

Which of the following choices may assist you in your weight loss goals?

  1. Spending all of your free time Netflix bingeing and eating pizza.
  2. Drinking a 300 calorie smoothie in addition to your meals each day.
  3. Eating a low-calorie diet consisting mainly of plant sources.
  4. Adopting a Hobbit-style diet. (Second breakfast, anyone?)

Want to become a parent? Get a high score on this exam, first!

Your baby is crying. You:

  1. Pick her up and try to figure out what will soothe her.
  2. Put him in a bouncy seat and tell Alexa to entertain him with jokes.
  3. Ignore her and keep playing Overwatch/Roblox/The Sims.
  4. Give him away to the neighbors.

Of course, these exams wouldn’t be free. You’d have to pay the government to test you, so that we could use your money to come up with newer, shinier exams for more subjects. And the test-takers with high scores would flourish in the brave new world! And the lower classes would subsist of all the people who refused to study and failed the tests. And…what’s that? Oh, you’re wondering if these exams are part of my super-secret INTJ plan to take over the world? Nah. I was just testing you to see how you’d respond.