Monday, December 23, 2019

Merry feliz joyeux

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sunday afternoon walk

East Broadway as seen from the Manhattan Bridge. God, I love this city.

History of the Manhattan Bridge.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Today is the Big Day (#SHSAT)

My kid is taking the New York City high school entrance exam as I write this. He's probably answering the last five or six questions on the math section. His favorite part.

For those of you living in the city with middle school-age kids, you understand why my cortisol levels have been off the chart this morning (I'm sure yours have been, too). I keep checking the time, wondering how he's doing, if he's calm or freaking out. If he thinks the test is less difficult than he thought, or if he's like, "F*ck, this is hard!" 

I have mixed feelings about the Specialized High School Admissions Test (also known as the SHSAT, or "Sshh-Zat!" - said with emphasis on the "Z," like my 13-year-old pronounces it). Ever since we started this journey it has been a source of great expectation and great anxiety. I had a good cry this morning, after Caden left for school. The day started off as any other - got the kids up, made them breakfast (ham and over-easy egg on an English muffin). Izzy usually eats first, then walks to school with daddy. Caden has breakfast after little sister leaves. He was in good spirits. His usual unaffected teenage self, checking his text messages and watching TikTok videos while munching on his egg muffin. He left the last bite untouched, said he was finished and put on his backpack. I gave him a huge bear hug and my baby was out the door. I said goodbye and watched him descend the stairs to the apartment's foyer and out the building. I shut the door and had a good cry.

I wasn't expecting to engage in a full on ugly cry. The tears and snot just flowed. I guess it was release? Releasing him to the world and releasing all the anxiety, hope, expectation and preparation that has gone into this journey - all culminating in this one single day?

This year more than 27,000 New York City eighth graders will take the high-stakes and controversial SHSAT. How you perform on this exam is the sole criteria for admission to one of the city's eight selective public high schools - Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and five others. Caden's top choice is Stuyvesant High School. Last year 22,338 students applied. 776 seats were offered. You do the math.

Many families here see the test as the golden ticket to a world-class, first-rate high school education. But with every potential opportunity comes its flip side: pinning hopes and dreams on ONE EXAM is a lot of pressure. Caden has told me about friends of his who have been prepping for the test since 4th grade. The fourth grade?! When we arrived in New York this summer, Caden pretty much jumped in at the deep end, submersing himself in everything SHSAT - going to tutoring twice a week, studying and taking half a dozen practice exams. That was four months of prep. Preparing for four years just sounds crazy. But this is New York. Everything is turned up to 15 around here.

If your kid's SHSAT results don't make the cut - or if your child opts out of the exam - there are some 700 high school programs to chose from throughout the five boroughs. Thumbing through the 2020 NYC High School Admissions Guide is like looking over the menu at Katz's Deli - so many, too many, options! We were standing in line at a high school open house last night and my first thought was, "This is so stupid!" The line was practically three blocks long, wrapped around 8th Avenue and 42nd Street. Nervous parents behind me were discussing the SHSAT and other high school options. "Are you looking into private schools, too?" one parent asked the other. "Yup. Gotta have back ups!" she said. Private high school is a feasible "back up" if you have the $24,000 a year for tuition

I think what gets me most about the way school is done here is the complete lack of diversity. Black and Latino students are grossly underrepresented at the specialized high schools. In fact, segregation has been the story of New York City's schools for 50 years. "It wasn't supposed to be this way in New York, one of the country's most diverse cities with more than 8 million people and 800 languages," producer Sweta Vohra writes in The New York Times. "And yet, it has one of the most segregated school systems in the nation." It's why the SHSAT is a controversial and anger-inducing and opinion-generating lightning rod. The mayor wants to get rid of it. Lobbying groups like the Education Equity Campaign want to keep it. White and Asian parents say dismantling the SHSAT would disproportionately hurt their kids. 

It's 1:14pm which means my son is done with the exam. He's probably eating lunch with his buddies, discussing which parts of the test were easy, hard, etc. Maybe they're not even talking about it. Moving on to more important topics: girls, Fortnite and Halloween plans.

Whatever happens now is out of my hands. That's the thing about life. You can control only so much. You have a goal, a dream, a vision. You make plans and prepare. You execute to the best of your ability. Then you wait, pray and release the rest. I told Caden last night before bed, "I'm proud of you. You're shooting for the stars, you committed to this and worked really hard. No matter what the result, you have already succeeded!"  

Thursday, September 19, 2019

On challenging myself

I like marking big milestones with things that scare me. 

When I turned 40 I signed up for ballet. Nothing like squeezing into a way-too-tight leotard and having to look at your reflection in full-length studio mirrors for 90 minutes straight. It’s either self-image making or breaking, depending on your state of mind – or how many glasses of wine you’ve consumed. Turns out I loved it so much I took classes for two years. My legs thanked me and I was humbled by what my 40-year-old self was able to accomplish: deep pliés, dizzying turns, putting metaphorical "ribs on a shelf" (it took me six months to really understand what my teacher meant and what that finally felt like!).

I'm heading into year 45 in a few weeks. I've been feeling the itch. My soul feels restless. Which means it's time, once again, to challenge myself. In keeping with the Do Something That Scares You tradition, I've decided to enroll in a creative writing course. Ten weeks of Fiction at Gotham Writers Workshop, starting on Monday. 

The thought of walking into a classroom after 17 years is both exhilarating and jarring. Even more terrifying is the prospect of baring my soul to a group of strangers (Grace Paley said writing fiction is such a personal, empathetic act). But I'm also looking forward to how I will bloom. This anticipation far outweighs my apprehension.

If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you...

No one is impressed you're turning 45. (HuffPost)


Monday, September 16, 2019

Monday motivation on the R train

While I am totally unmotivated this morning, I'm hoping watching these guys will change that.

Try these get-off-your-butt quotes to get the week going. (Everyday Power) 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

First day of (a new) school

And all the parents in New York said, “Woot woot!!” 

But seriously, this is a big day and a big year for these two - brand new schools in a new city, making new friends, meeting new teachers, navigating a new campus and learning where and how they fit in in their school culture. 

It’s exciting and scary to start all over again. I’m so proud of my bear cubs!

Back-to-school tips for parents. (The Onion)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

We are now that country

Are you like me and mad as hell about the senseless deaths occurring all around us, every day, because of gun violence? Just days after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton left 32 dead and 51 injured, Amnesty International issued a news alert warning international travelers to steer clear of visiting the US. 

"Travelers to the United States should remain cautious that the country does not adequately protect people's right to be safe, regardless of who they might be," Ernest Coverson, campaign manager for the End Gun Violence Campaign at Amnesty International USA, said in a press release. "People in the United States cannot reasonably expect to be free from harm - a guarantee of not being shot is impossible. Once again, it is chillingly clear that the US government is unwilling to ensure protection against gun violence."

Our country's rampant gun violence amounts to a human rights crisis. Why will our elected officials do nothing about it? Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Power must go back to the people, and not within the powerful lobbying interests of the NRA

If you're like me and feel helpless, there are a number of things we can do right now:

Let's take our country back. 

Gun violence in 2019, so far. (Wikipedia)

Monday, July 22, 2019

On writer's block

I have so much to say and nothing great to write at the same time. Blame it on perfectionism or Pulitzer Syndrome or insecurity rearing its ugly self. So much to download as life has been quite eventful the past six weeks: 

  • Landed in New York City - an (im)possible dream fulfilled!
  • What moving a family of four to one of the busiest cities in the world looks like (hint: Have you ever driven a U-Haul into Lower Manhattan on a Saturday afternoon?)
  • Discovering delicious eats (like pea toast)
  • Race cars, the electric kind
  • Minds blown and expectations exceeded by the great Pierre Cardin at the Brooklyn Museum
  • Figuring out What's Next
  • Love for Willa Cather and Virginia Woolf rekindled 
  • My mid-life awakening

Well, at least I got the outline started. Now that I've thrown the bullet points out there, there's no excuse. Gleaning wisdom from one of my writing heroes, Malcolm Gladwell:

"I deal with writer's block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent - and when you don't, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise."

This week's challenge: Channel my inner tortoise.

Drawing Hands by MC Escher

Monday, June 24, 2019

Pea toast is the new avocado toast

Move over, avocado. Smashed peas is the new culinary "It Girl."

I was at Epistrophy last night and had this OMG-delicious pea mash on goat cheese + mascarpone spread topped with roasted pistachios, tender greens, mint and lemon zest on whole grain toast. Doesn't it look divine? 

A lower calorie alternative to its more full-figured cousin Avocado, Ms. Pea is just as flavorful and satisfying. Sweet, salty, sour, creamy, crunchy, light, aromatic. One would think pea toast would be cheaper, given peas are less per pound than avocados (0.99/lb vs. $2.33/lb if you wanna get technical). Unfortunately, Green Peas Toast on the Epistrophy menu will put you back $12, same as the 7 Grain Avocado Toast.

It's no wonder we're all going broke over smashed green things on bread. Hmmm... What will be next? Asparagus mash on toast? 

Why are will still talking about avocado toast? (Bon Appetit)

Monday, May 6, 2019

One sweater, three ways

I found this adorable Valentine cardigan in the sale room (!!) at Anthropologie last week and I'm in love.

Here it is, worn three different ways: dressed down with my favorite high-waisted jeans; dressed up with a silk camisole and graphic print tea-length skirt; and mixed and matched with a tee and bird-print wide legs trousers. 

Which look do you like best?

Find the sweater here!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

My 9-step bedtime beauty routine

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Why conflict is good

I was sitting at the kitchen table with Izzy recently. It was one of those calm, contemplative afternoons. All was quiet in the house. We simply enjoyed each other's company. She ate her after school snack while I dotingly watched her like the mama bear I am.

While chomping on her cheesy quesadilla, Izzy's eyes traveled to a book she had recently checked out from the library. "How's the book?" I asked.

"Hmmm... it's kind of boring," she replied.

"Really? The cover makes it look good," I observed. "A cute cat who makes really cute crafts? Seems fun!"

Izzy paused.

"Yeah, but there's nothing interesting going on in the cat's life. Everything goes her way. There's no conflict. It's boring."

Wow. From the mouth of babes.

Just when you think you have all this wisdom to pass along, wisdom from life experience and from being a grown-up, you're reminded - Nope! - often kids are our teachers.

You know what, Izzy? You're absolutely right! Challenges are what make life interesting. Conflict in a storyline makes characters come to life. Conflict is relevant. Who doesn't love a juicy bad guy? Who doesn't jump for joy when the protagonist triumphs despite adversity? How we handle conflict reveals our character. Just like resistance in a good workout makes our muscles grow, conflicts are opportunities for soul growth.

"The hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life."

Needless to say, Izzy returned that cat book to the library and is now reading about the adventures of a young girl who must try to rescue her kidnapped mother with the assistance of a mysterious amulet.  

The powerful bond between mother and daughter.

Monday, April 22, 2019

All-natural zit zapper

Do you have problem skin, like I do? 

I've probably spent most of my adult "beauty life" thinking about my complexion - specifically how to keep the zits at bay. In my teens I chalked it up to puberty. In my 20s, I tried everything I could get my hands on from dermatologist-prescribed pills and topical medications to drugstore finds and painful chemical peels. The 30s arrived and I experienced the best skin of my life during pregnancy and some of the worst thanks to what the doctor called "hormonal acne."

Eventually, my face got sick of it. The poking, the prodding, the scrubbing and fussing. The pharmaceuticals sitting on top of my skin and coursing through my veins. Enough. 

Now that I'm in my 40s, something has shifted in my skincare and I've recently started transitioning to clean, non-toxic, earth-friendly beauty products.

I swear by this nourishing face oil. I double wash, starting with this amazing rosehip cleansing oil. I love this vitamin E eye cream and this gorgeous-smelling and super emollient night creamAnd my latest discovery for sure-fire zit zapping is this all-natural and super effective serum with zinc and copaiba. It's a bit pricey at $78 a bottle. But if you use a pea-size amount nightly, I predict it'll last a pretty long time.

What zit zappers have been effective for you?

(p.s. This is not a sponsored post. Just a good old-fashioned recommend from one beauty seeker to another.)  

Another great zit zapper

Sunday, April 14, 2019

It's time for an Asian president

Ronny Chieng on why we need more Asians in America: Asians could successfully mediate racial tensions; there would be no government shutdown if Asians were in charge; and how we would benefit with an Asian president in the White House. 

"Get that Asian president in the White House, we will fix this place in a week," he argues. "Give us a solid eight days, you will see results!"

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I like this guy. He makes a lot of sense. ;)

Why Bill Gates wants to reinvent the toilet. (The Daily Show)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Better living at 432 Hz / love, -j. podcast S1E1

I experienced a sound bath for the first time when I attended the Dreamtopia workshop in LA last month. As I shared in an earlier post, it changed my life.

For the inaugural episode of the love, -j. podcast I'm thrilled to  bring you an interview with scientist and sound alchemist Shanila Sattar, the fearless woman who guided me through that first sound bath.   

Founder of AlwaysPlay, an LA-based meditation and wellness studio, Shanila applies powerful sound healing modalities, breath work and neurolinguistic programming to help us open our hearts, release our anxieties, and reconnect with our playful selves. It may sound a little weird at first, but believe the skeptic in me. Grounded in science and research, there is something truly special that happens in our bodies at 432 Hz.  

From metaphysical to mainstream. (The New York Times)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Dreamtopia: the best things that happened

I spent a magical two days at Cathy Heller's LA workshop, Dreamtopia 2019. Cathy and her friends didn't disappoint. I knew it would be inspired but I didn't expect an experience so affirming and life-changing. 

Something in me has been shifting as of late. Call it a light switch being flipped in the "on" position. Whatever it is, I think it's the beginning of an enlightened Second Act. 

I'd love to share my Dreamtopia experience with you. Here are the Ten Gifts I took home with me:

Finding kindred spirits - You know when you've found your tribe? Your fellow creative souls? Your sisters and brothers who just get you? They flew in from all over the world (the UK, Australia, Thailand); many braved the 101 and trekked from the Valley to Sunset Boulevard (gasp!); and one guy even drove all the way out to Los Angeles from Georgia. For two days, I felt the love and positive vibes radiating from these 200 perfect strangers (who, by the end of the conference felt like true community).

Don't give up. You're on the right path! - My partner and I have been chasing our own crazy big dreams for the past six years. There have been countless ups and downs. Heartbreaks and breakdowns. Breakthroughs and f*ck ups. Coming so close only to be so very far away the next day. The emotional strain of it all has been so great there were moments where our sanity (and marriage!) felt like it was on the verge of oblivion. But hearing the stories shared at Dreamtopia (animator Saul Blinkoff's incredible journey in fulfilling his childhood dream resonated so deeply with me) confirmed that we are never alone. "Don't give up! You are MILLIMETERS away from seeing your dreams become reality!"

Cathy Heller - She's the girlfriend who kicks your ass in the best possible way. There's a reason Cathy's podcast, Don't Keep Your Day Job, is at the top of the charts and boasts over 5 million downloads. It's because experiencing life with her is like taking big gulps from a fire hose. She is an inspirational POWERHOUSE and helps you plug in to the best version of you. I needed a serious nap after spending two days with her. Wow! (And someone please get this woman her own standup special. She's freaking hilarious!) 

Transformation - The first day was Fire. Synapses exploding in the brain. So many ideas. So many connections. Scribbling notes like mad (It's time to expand my audience! I need to seek partnerships! I want to finally write my book(s)! What about my podcast? Need to get going on that, too! And the event! The magazine! The creative collaborations! Let's build community! Aahhh!) The second day was Earth. It was the "Oh sh*t! Where do I go from here?" sobering reality that comes after your feet have landed on the ground.  

The sound bath - Have you ever heard of a sound bath? Me either. I knew nothing about it until I started doing homework before the conference. I found out that sound bath meditation is a calming yet powerful auditory experience for the mind and body via instruments like tuning forks, gongs and Himalayan singing bowls. Honestly it all sounded a bit mawkishly sentimental for me (raise your hand if you're naturally a skeptic like me). At the conference, our sound bath was led by scientist and sound alchemist Shanila Sattar. I'm telling you, I experienced something supernatural. I promise to tell you more in a later post, when I interview Shanila about my experience!

The maze is the key - Illustrator and Creative Pep Talk host Andy J. Pizza (how can you not love a guy with a name like "pizza") shared a powerful story about "the maze." After scoring big with The Indie Rock Coloring Book - an adult coloring book inspired by his final year at art school - Andy felt like he had bypassed the maze. Meaning, he had figured out the code, found the key, slayed the dragon and skipped to the "You Won!" part of the proverbial video game without going through all the levels. Early on in his career, Nickelodeon came knocking on Andy's door, wanting to collaborate. Ecstatic, he sent his sketches. They responded. "This is great for a first pass," they wrote. "Could you send us your finals?" Those were his finals. He didn't get the job. He felt like a failure. Andy had skipped the maze and the world found out. 

After some soul searching (and many nights spent face down on his living room floor - flattened like a piece of cold pizza), Andy picked himself up and found his mojo. He made his own maze: a 100-day challenge to create a new illustrated character every day. Some were awesome! Some, he said, were awful. But he did the work. Every single day. And you know what? Nickelodeon called again. And this time he was ready. "The maze is the key," Andy told us at the conference. "The journey is the point. You can't skip to the end of the game. Well, you can but you will only be cheating yourself."             
H.U.S.T.L.E. - I love fitness guru Jennifer Cohen's Keanu Reeves story. I had listened to it on Cathy's podcast, but to hear it from Jen herself at the conference was amazing. The story: It was 1995. Jen had heard the superstar was in town. Six months earlier, Keanu had rocketed to fame thanks to Speed and was now positioning himself as a "serious actor" - tackling Hamlet in Winnipeg, Canada of all places. Jen had her own dreams of becoming a veejay at Much Music, the Canadian version of MTV. So she hatched the perfect plan: interview Keanu and submit it to Much Music as her audition tape. Cut to opening night at the Manitoba Theatre with Jen waiting outside after the show. She fights her way through the crowd of hundreds and manages to reach Keanu. He thinks she wants an autograph, like everyone else there. "I don't want an autograph!" she yells to him over the mayhem. He seems confused as she explains her request. OK, give me your number and I'll call you, he tells her. She's dubious. "You're not going to call me!" Jen says as she hands him a gum wrapper with her phone number written on it. I will, Keanu tells her. And he does. Two days later Keanu F*cking Reeves is in Jen's living room. She videotapes the interview. Her mother makes them a snack between takes. In the end, Jen didn't get the gig (she was runner up!), but she learned a very important lesson: Find your killer instinct. Be relentless. Don't give up. "Why did you call her back?" Jen's mother asked Keanu that day. "Because there was a fire in her eyes," he replied. 

Naked on stage - I wasn't literally naked on stage in front of 200 people. But I came pretty close, thanks to Amber Rae. The Brooklyn-based artist and author of best-selling book Choose Wonder Over Worry talked to us about the concept of thoughts and feelings. How we are vessels for our thoughts and feelings but we are NOT our thoughts and feelings. "The Ancient Greeks believed our emotions are like visitors," she explained. "So what message does it have for you?"  

Our thoughts, feelings and emotions are like archetypes of ourselves. Amber asked us to join her in an exercise. "I want you to name your archetype, name this character," she said. "The one putting excuses in your head." Who do you think you are? It's too hard. It's impractical. It might never happen. But everyone is doing it already. Amber's archetype was called Grace. She was uptight and wore glasses and had a posh British accent. We all feverishly jotted notes in our journals. Giving voice and shape to our own "devil on your shoulder" characters. I named mine Nancy (maybe subconsciously I was doing some word association and "Negative Nancy" came to mind?). Nancy didn't look like anyone in particular. Rather, she was my shadow. Always with me. Always following me. She's quiet. Kind of an introvert. Very Type A. Always planning and plotting. Worrying. Driven by fear. But deep down, she wants the best for me. Amber called on three of us to share our archetypes. I just KNEW I had to go up there. I didn't want to expose myself, to be so vulnerable. I didn't want to do it, but the next thing I know I'm raising my hand and Amber is looking straight into my eyes. "Here we go!" I said under my breath as I got up from my folding seat and headed down the aisle toward the stage. I'm holding the microphone in my hand, looking out into a sea of faces and my heart is beating like a hummingbird's. Somehow I muster up the courage and introduce everyone to Nancy:

There was silence and a lot of nodding in the audience. Quiet affirmations and positive, loving vibes. "What would you say in response to Nancy?" Amber asked me. I paused for a moment. Then said, "I would tell her, 'I see you. And I thank you. For reminding me who I am and that I don't want to feel like this anymore. I thank you, but I need you to take a back seat now.'" It seems counterintuitive, but I became empowered in my vulnerability. Nancy forced me to come clean, to lay bare my brokenness and insecurities. And in that, I found my freedom. 

Funny is so much better than almost everything else - I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between comedian Wayne Federman (he's that guy you don't know but has been in like EVERY movie and tv show ever) and the hosts of the Self-Helpless podcast (Delanie Fischer, Kelsey Cook and Taylor Tomlinson). They shared how they hone their craft (write every day!), what makes a person successful (learn how to deal with rejection), and how painful moments can be used as a future anecdote that you will share when you are a super successful mogul. 

This gal - Consider yourself lucky if in your entire life, you can count your true friends on one hand. Those are the friends you need to cherish. This woman is the reason I even showed up to Dreamtopia in the first place. It's been a long, arduous road and I was feeling stuck, confused and lost. She knew exactly what I needed. Thank you, Ann.

Dear friends, my wish for you is all these things and more. You were made to create something. We are all makers at heart. You'll never be ready to do it - so you might as well get started now! And most of all: Believe in yourself. Because YOU ARE ENOUGH.


Stop Writing Alone host and fellow Dreamtopian Nicole Rivera shares her top takeaways from the conference. Yours truly sounds off at 46:00. (Stop Writing Alone)

Monday, March 25, 2019


Was that a dream? 🌴 

Thankfully, my trip to LA to attend Cathy Heller's Dreamtopia conference was not a dream.

More posts and a full recap to come. Caught some nasty germs on the flight back home. I've been sick for the past four days and finally starting to feel semi-human today.

Stay tuned...

Always believe.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Tuesday selfie

I'm headed to LA tomorrow to attend a conference with fellow big dreamers - entrepreneurs, designers, artists, writers, podcasters and small business owners, among others. For two days we'll be workshopping, networking and pitching our ideas - all with the goal of quitting our day jobs to pursue our passions full time.

The event is also an opportunity to put an outfit together (obviously!) and I'm happy to report that this whole ensemble cost less than a hundred and fifteen bucks.    

The outfit: Who What Wear 3/4-sleeve striped blouse and matching midi skirt from Target; Calvin Klein white pointy toe pumps from Nordstrom Rack (similar ones here).    

The occasion: Dreamtopia Workshop hosted by Don't Keep Your Day Job podcaster Cathy Heller and her friends. (My dear friend encouraged me to go with her and I said yes. Sometimes you need a good pal to give you a swift kick in the butt.) 

Why I like this look: It's bold, eye-catching and best of all, I feel really good in it. The blouse's fluttery 3/4-sleeves and high neckline are flattering. I'm also feeling the concept of the midi skirt - feminine and conservative yet not stuffy. When I tried this outfit on in the dressing room I was envisioning white pumps as the perfect contrast to the bold stripes. I got lucky and found a beautiful and comfortable pair, heavily discounted. To finish the look I'll wear a piece of statement jewelry, like this necklace but in pink.

A Monday, Wednesday and Friday selfie. :)

Friday, March 8, 2019

Happy International Women's Day

List via McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

Best tuna sandwich ever

Have you read Samin Nosrat's best-selling book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking or watched her new docu-series on Netflix? I'm obsessed with her! Samin, you're so charming, so approachable, so full of joy and curiosity and wonder. I want to eat with you. I want to travel with you. I want to be your best friend!

Beyond her sparkling personality and obvious passion for things that taste really damn good, Samin's story of how she got to where she is today is quite fascinating. After a life-changing meal at the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant (at the time she was an undergraduate studying English at UC Berkeley), Samin went back and begged for a job bussing tables. She worked her way up to the kitchen and eventually learned how to cook at Chez Panisse, in Italy and at (now defunct) Eccolo in Berkeley. "Since 2000, I've pursued my twin passions of food and words with equal vigor, aiming to create work that inspires, creates community, and raises cultural, social and environmental awareness," she writes on her website.     

And now she's showing us how to make the best tuna sandwich in the universe.

Thank you, Samin. 

Samin's beauty uniform. (A Cup of Jo)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Four great reads on the Internet

A wise person once said, "Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life." Reading is like time travel. Reading is like watching a movie in your head. Reading is an act of empathy.  

I recently came across these beautifully-written, soulful and brave articles (thank you, Internet!). Take a journey and contemplate your "pet faves" (as opposed to pet peeves), walk in someone else's shoes (in this case a 460-lb. man's), feel the stress of working an 80-hour week at two full-time jobs while barely making ends meet, and understand what it's like to shed who you're expected to be in order to discover true freedom.        

Below are some of my favorite excerpts. Happy reading!

Ordinary Things That Bring Me Extraordinary Joy 
by T. Wise (Man Repeller)

"As I sat on my balled up coat, negativity coursing through me, I considered my pet faves. When elderly women call me 'baby.' When the doors of the train I’m on open as the next train I need pulls up across the platform. When old couples walk down the street holding hands. Paying with exact change. When I am the only person with no one sitting next to me on the Chinatown bus. When I see a shirt I love, there is only one left on the rack, and it is my size. Falling asleep on a road trip right as I leave and waking up right before I arrive. Putting dry socks on dried feet after swimming. When someone I love hugs me and later that night I put on my coat and can smell them for one second. When I forget to turn my early alarm off, wake up, and realize I have two more hours to sleep. These are not life-changing moments, but that could be their true magic."

The Weight I Carry: What It's Like to Be Too Big in America 

by Tommy Tomlinson (The Atlantic)

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned: I lust after greasy double cheeseburgers and fried chicken legs and Ruffles straight out of the bag. I covet hot Krispy Kreme donuts that melt on my tongue. I worship bowls full of peanut M&M’s, first savoring them one by one, then stuffing my mouth with handfuls, then wetting my finger to pick up those last bits of chocolate dust and candy shell. My brain pings with pleasure; my taste buds groan with desire. This happens over and over, day after day, and that is how I got here, closer to the end of my life than the beginning, weighing almost a quarter of a ton."

Dollars on the Margin
by Matthew Desmond (The New York Times Magazine)

"A $15 minimum wage is an antidepressant. It is a sleep aid. A diet. A stress reliever. It is a contraceptive, preventing teenage pregnancy. It prevents premature death. It shields children from neglect. But why? Poverty can be unrelenting, shame-inducing and exhausting. When people live so close to the bone, a small setback can quickly spiral into a major trauma. Being a few days behind on the rent can trigger a hefty late fee, which can lead to an eviction and homelessness. An unpaid traffic ticket can lead to a suspended license, which can cause people to lose their only means of transportation to work. In the same way, modest wage increases have a profound impact on people’s well-being and happiness. Poverty will never be ameliorated on the cheap. But this truth should not prevent us from acknowledging how powerfully workers respond to relatively small income boosts."

How Marie Kondo Helped Me Sort Out My Gender
by Sandy Allen (them.)

"A month later, kneeling and sobbing before my Marie Kondo discard pile, it felt silly, sure, that this book is what had finally done it, but I also couldn’t unsee my actual preferences: so much of the feminine clothing I owned did not spark joy.
I donated it all. I hung and folded the items that remained: flannel shirts, baggy jeans, t-shirts. I had kept a few dresses and heels and feminine winter coats, ones that had seemed really special when I’d bought them. I knew Marie Kondo wouldn’t have approved of my choice to keep them. Each day I passed them and they stared right back at me.
During the months that followed, I steadily shed feminine things. One day, all my makeup: gone. Another day, all my earrings: gone. (My ears had been pierced when I was two!) I tried to do as Marie Kondo said and thanked these items for what they’d given me. I guiltily threw them out, and then felt wonderful.
One August day, I donated the last of my heels and dresses, the ones that had once been my absolute favorites. I happened to run into someone I knew in line at the thrift shop, and he offered to take my box of things to donate. I put them in his trunk and watched him drive away. I didn’t say to him, nor could I have articulated, that I was throwing out the last of me pretending to be a woman."

Opening illustration by Eric Comstock.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Is cultural appropriation always wrong?

When New York Times reporter Walter Thompson-Hernandez heard that Chicano subculture had spread to Japan, he had to see it for himself. "Who knew the culture I grew up with had a home so far from California?" Thompson-Hernandez mused. 

So he traveled 5,600 miles from Los Angeles to Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo to interview Junichi Shimodaira, one of the godfathers of the Japanese Lowrider scene; musician and recording artist MoNa a.k.a. Sad Girl; and artist Night tha Funksta, whose drawings focus on the positive aspects of Chicano culture.

I was absolutely fascinated by Thompson-Hernandez's report. How amazing for a culture so different from your own to resonate so deeply and personally. It also sparked a question for me: Is cultural appropriation always wrong?

OK, first let's examine its definition:

cul·tur·al ap·pro·pri·a·tion [Noun] The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.

When Nicki Minaj released her single, "Chun-Li" (off her 2018 album Queen), I had mixed feelings. On one hand, the song is catchy and I always appreciate a good beat. I also acknowledge the nod to legendary Street Fighter character Chun-Li (I get it - it's generally fun for artists to reference Asian culture because Asian culture is generally cool, duh). But I was annoyed that Nicki's hair buns, hair chopsticks, coolie hats and Asian massage parlor imagery (as seen in the video for "Chun-Li") does a pretty good job of reinforcing Asian stereotypes (especially Asian female stereotypes - ugh). 

"This is such outdated thinking!" I yelled out loud when I first watched the music video. "Why am I still watching this sh*t?" 

Rather than having conversations about appropriation, let's instead hear from the people who actually live the culture every single day. Since we're on the topic of female hip hop artists, why not give a platform to Asian and Asian American artists like Jessi, CL, Suboi, HanHan and Ruby Iberra? These are REAL Asian and Asian American women with firsthand accounts about immigration, stereotypes, misogyny, struggles as minorities, and female empowerment. We need these authentic voices. My daughter and son need to hear these stories. (But I digress...)

Times have certainly changed since Gwen Stefani donned a bindi on the Red Carpet and professed her love of harajuku girls. In 2012, No Doubt pulled their "Looking Hot" music video (with Gwen in full Native American regalia) and later apologized to the Native American community. I think most of us would agree: given the long and shameful history of Native American decimation in this country by the dominant white culture, it was totally tone deaf for Gwen to wear that headdress.

So when is appropriation OK and not OK? Is Chicano subculture in Japan acceptable? Should Madonna not have worn North African garb during her award presentation at last year's MTV VMAs? (Or referenced Hindu art 10 years prior in her 1998 MTV Video Music Award performance?) Was Rihanna's papal-inspired gown at the 2018 Met Gala offensive to Catholics? Is it not OK for Asians and Asian Americans to borrow from African American hip hop culture? 

Do we need to make a distinction between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation? Are we all just going a little bit crazy over this? 

What do you think? 

Three cheers for cultural appropriation. (The New York Times)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Monday motivation

The hardest part is getting started... 

Today I didn't feel like doing much of anything. It's cold and gray outside, I haven't got any new ideas swirling around in my head, I don't feel motivated to write, I have nothing in me to offer the world. Get over it, Jenn, my brain said to me. What was it that ancient Chinese philosopher said? The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step...

So I took a deep breath, sat my butt in my chair, looked that blank white screen in the face and started typing. 

Motivation hacks from the best of the best. (Entrepreneur)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Billy Porter won the Oscars red carpet

What was your favorite look from last night's Oscars red carpet? Mine was Billy Porter's. The Kinky Boots and Pose star stunned in a Christian Siriano tuxedo gown - buttery black velvet, gender fluid, business on top and party down below... Ladies, step aside. He stole the show.

Perhaps the best thing about Porter's look is the conversation around it. The questions go beyond, "Who are you wearing?" In fact, we're forced to dig deeper. What's the story behind Porter's fashion choice? What kind of statement is he making? What was his motivation? What is my own reaction? Do I like this? Do I hate it? Is it OK for a man to wear a dress? Why are we even discussing whether it's OK or not? What does that say about society?

I think there's powerful symbolism in his choice. Porter's gown rings of freedom, rebellion and empowerment. "I have something to say through clothes," he has said about his Red Carpet fashion choices. "My goal is to be a walking piece of political art. To challenge expectations."

I'm reminded of lyrics in Madonna's What It Feels Like For a Girl:

Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots 'cause it's okay to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading
But secretly you'd love to know what it's like wouldn't you
What it feels like for a girl

Bravo to Billy Porter for encouraging all of us to think carefully and critically - particularly as we experience major cultural shifts in art, fashion, media, sports, entertainment, business and beyond.

He won much more than the Red Carpet.  

Glenn Close's reaction to Billy Porter's tuxedo gown is EVERYTHING.