I am thirty years old today! At least in Hong Kong time. And I’ve been thinking about how my twenties have meant being loved and supported by smart, secure women who have helped me figure out how to be myself. Here are some nice things they’ve done for me in the last ten years.

  1. One friend who cooks like Ina Garten and gives advice like Dear Abby gave me the highest compliment of my food life: She served something I made for her at another party, and gave me credit for the inspiration!
  2. When we told my mom we were moving to another continent, instead of telling us about her own sadness she told me she was proud to have raised a daughter who wanted to try something big. (That’s when I realized what we were doing was sort of…serious.)
  3. My boss at my first real job noticed how openly I beat myself up about mistakes I made in my work, and she sat me down and said, “Nobody else likes to listen to bad self-talk, whether it’s about your body or your grammar or whatever. Plus it’s bad for you. What you are doing is bad self-talk, and you need to stop. You are learning how to do this job. Call it what it is: LEARNING LEARNING! Enough with the bad self talk.”
  4. When I cried and overshared more than a reasonable amount during RA training in college, my RD took me for a little walk and said, “Maybe you should try having some counseling.” I was completely mortified, and then I was completely a better human being for having listened to her…three years later.
  5. After a miscarriage, some really lovely friends brought me cooking magazines, chocolate, cards, and some wine. It was just right.
  6. A professor at SPU spent an hour with me (a lowly non-faculty staffer!) at a university focus group, and she took me aside after it was over and told me she thought I should be a professor someday. She told me I could spend my thirties doing the mom thing and the PhD thing in tandem, and then I should come back and be a professor. I’m kind of planning on it in the back of my mind, maybe mostly because I will follow any dream that began with flattery.
  7. Four women wore hideous neon green bridesmaid dresses and paid stupid J.Crew prices for them because I asked them to, because J.Crew bridal was brand new and it mattered to me.
  8. When I took a job that turned out to be full-time filing of receipts for lab rats, one woman helped me scheme a way to pay my rent through four other part-time jobs (building manager, geocaching-teambuilding thingie, nanny, preschool teacher), and I got to quit filing because of her.
  9. My college roommates kidnapped me and took me to Victoria, B.C., for my twenty-second birthday. They were completely stressed out in planning it but we had tea in Canada by noon, and it remains one of the best birthdays ever.
  10. Moms I nannied for (so many, many moms in my twenties) let me love their kids and feed them too many goldfish crackers and absolutely showed me how to share my own child with HIS babysitters (who have also kicked complete ass). I’m also grateful those moms never outed me for eating ice cream out of the cartons in their freezers. They must have known.
  11. A friend who gets to actually write books and teach people with them showed me her manuscript and agreed with me when I said her editor should NOT have cut my favorite part in her book. After the book was published her editor said they should have left it in. My heart grew three sizes.
  12. Both of my husband’s grandmas have sent me birthday cards every single year since I’ve known him. And usually with money and/or a Dairy Queen gift card inside!
  13. Once I stood up and told an embarrassing story in an all-staff meeting of 100 people because they needed a volunteer for “sharing” (that’s what happens when you work at a church, people expect you to have stories about feeling spiritually moved AT ALL TIMES), and then after the meeting I had an email from a new girl on staff and she said, “I think I like you, and I think we need to be friends.” And so we were, and now we always will be.
  14. Every single woman in the communications office at SPU cheered for me when I worked there. They genuinely wanted me to succeed as a co-worker and as a writer. They still do, and I can’t get over the value of having female colleagues root for you. It’s like free money.
  15. My RA told me I had a great little butt during my freshman year of college. I know women don’t really tell each other they have good butts, and it’s not like she went around commenting on everyone’s bodies. At all. But I remember that comment and it was straight up what I needed to hear (probably came after some bad self-talk, eh?). When you move in with 50 other women and share a bathroom, you need some positive encouragement about your body.
  16. One friend let us LIVE WITH HER (and her super nice husband!) when we couldn’t get a lease signed right away here in Hong Kong. Free rent is a pretty nice gift when you’ve known someone for two days. Another friend who is a lifer.
  17. My pastor told me it was okay to be confused about gender roles in marriage (and everywhere else), and that we could be on the path to figuring it out without totally having it figured out and God wouldn’t care. Applies to actually everything about God.
  18. In college I was obsessed with Grammar Girl, my podcasting idol, and she agreed to let me interview her via email for a paper I was writing. Later I got a call from a USA Today reporter (I’ll take what I can get), and she had referred me to them when they asked to talk to a fan. Another high I will not be able to match, ever.
  19. An older couple invited us to live in their basement after we sold our house but before we left for Hong Kong. The woman, who I’ve loved for years, didn’t get mad when my toddler trampled a good number of peonies playing toddler soccer. She invited us to dig around with her and then keep playing.
  20. An excellent cook in my life gave me a copper bowl because she knew I wanted to be a cook and she had an extra one. A most precious gift.

Here’s to another decade of being well-loved!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t even begin to say how much fun a three-year-old boy brings to the table. It’s clearly a lot of fun to be him, and it’s a lot of fun to be his mom. I miss things about his baby self, but I’m so enjoying his preschool self, I don’t even mind that he’s growing and changing all the time. It is a total riot, even when it’s all I can do to keep a straight face.

Plus, yelling at (jkjk, emotion coaching!) your kids in another country is way more fun.

“Say thank you to the taxi driver, please. No, say thank you in Chinese. I am serious.”

“Please don’t wipe your sweat on me.”

“Why are you pushing the elevator button closed before I am in the elevator? NOT FUNNY.”

“Don’t drive your Transformer guy across that Porsche. Ever again. Ever.”

“That’s your last coconut. Not one more coconut. You’re going to get a rash.”

“We don’t kill bugs here in a Buddhist country. We should probably stop killing bugs always.”

“Don’t even think about throwing that ball off the balcony, young man.”

“I hope you can earn some stickers for some iPad time on our 15 hour flight next month.”

“We already went to the beach once today. Once is enough. I’m disappointed too. Stop begging. You have 800 square feet to enjoy here.”

“Just because the rice is sticky doesn’t mean it needs to be stuck all over your face.”

“Please don’t drop the taxi money out the window.”

“Next time you step in dog poop, please tell me before you come inside.”

“I don’t think that’s a very kind way to use your nunchucks.”

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I’ll try to be back more again soon! xoxo

I realize that little girls delight in Legos and treehouses as much as the boys, but I really love a good dolly. (And sure, I realize boys play with dolls too.) Which is why I am so enamored with this cute Aussie mum whose little project at home has reminded us what an innocent childhood can actually look like.

At my job in Seattle we had a big table in the office kitchen where people popped in to eat lunch. Sometimes it was loud and fun with ten around the table, sometimes it was just a couple of us. But I loved the separate space solely devoted to sitting down for a bite and having a glance at the actual paper newspaper.

The table also served as a community giveaway pile. Lots of used books landed there, plus household knick-knacks and leftover conciliatory scones from early meetings with disgruntled departments (just kidding, everyone is always SUPER nice to the people who enforce the branding rules…and grammar). But the best thing that ever ever ever landed on that table was a jar of Biscoff cookie spread. The note said, “Please eat this jar before I eat the whole thing myself.” I figured it was glorified peanut butter. I figured wrong.

So for two days, I came back to the kitchen on the hour, strategically avoiding my co-workers and planning ahead to bring a clean spoon each visit…and I ate that jar of Biscoff like it was my job, one blessed spoonful at a time. In fact, I probably could get charged with time theft, that’s how many times I went back to eat the Biscoff.

One year later, we have come full circle. Because today in my Hong Kong grocery store, I found (the Haagen Dazs knockoff version of) BISCOFF ICE CREAM. I’m not sure what there is to say except I am already worried about what will happen if this flavor is discontinued (i.e. my beloved, disturbingly sweet Grandma’s Birthday Cake by Tillamook).

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But for now, sly spoonfuls on the hour seem like the perfect way to nurse a Super Bowl heartbreak, and a case of the mildly-homesick, missing-my-job Mondays.

We raise our spoons to you, Seattle!

UPDATE: Our air was worse than Beijing’s today. See it to believe it. 

Today marks the first time in our Hong Kong life that our handy air quality index has been MAXED OUT by the pollution. It’s called the Air Quality Health Index, and it’s on a 0-10 scale, which is quite vague to begin with, if you ask me.

Today it’s a 10+, and it looks like this. (That would be a big fat #nofilter, but it still doesn’t even come close to the ugly in real life.)

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WE DO NOT WANT TO BREATHE LIKE THIS, AMERICA.

When the pollution hits a level 6, which is usually three days a week, I know my contact lenses will start to itch by lunchtime. Anything above that, a prickly little headache rears up. Lots of people cough. And schools cancel recess on days like today. All day long. The whole family generally feels like crap by bedtime, and we’re not imagining it.

The pollution in Hong Kong isn’t just from factories in China. Some of it is, that’s true. (But guys, they are making stuff that WE are also buying.) A lot is the fault of a painfully lax model of regulation for public transit. A lot comes from the cargo ships that race through the harbor, full of Gap t-shirts and Despicable Me stocking stuffers. A lot comes from burning coal. Ahem.

(Related: Did I ever tell you about how much of the bountiful seafood here is full of bad stuff, so we can’t really eat it in peace?)

There are local groups like the Clean Air Network, which are working hard to clean up the mess that we’re in. So we obviously love them. But it is a HUGE mess and will take years to clean up.

All of this pollution comes from a lack of foresight and probably mostly greed, as far as I can tell. Not just the fault of Hong Kong and China, but of shortcut lovers everywhere.

I hear Americans complaining about the government’s environmental regulations. How much work it is to bring along those shopping bags to the grocery store. Why we’d rather not be under anybody’s thumb when it comes to sorting the garbage. Why this is probably just a scheme between the NSA and Michelle Obama and some people in Berkley to ruin our lives.

American complainers, I know it’s a royal pain. It’s annoying and inconvenient and costly, and it’s also hard to remember it’s even a problem sometimes, because there’s not really any nasty brown sky in America (besides you, LA). It’s just out of sight, easy to believe there’s no harm done. Except…

We need to start thinking about HOW (and why) we will fill our lives with STUFF, and also HOW we create energy and use it. We Americans are going to live in a smogstorm that tastes like dirty tires. This is gross, man! And it’s not that far off.

I’m breathing from experience.

(Here are some ideas for how to get started doing the right thing.)

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Three-Year-Old Boy: Mom, I want you to shoot these guns [neon Tinkertoys] with me.

Me: I don’t really like to play guns. They aren’t my thing.

TYOB: Okay. POWPOWPOWPOWPOWPOW!

Me: Hmm. Remember how I said we definitely don’t shoot people?

TYOB: I just want you to shoot those books over there.

Me: POWPOWPOWPOW! I shot those books full of sparkles and candy.

TYOB: Mom, that is not how guns work.

We have entered a phase of parenting known as “Eat Your Words.”

When I first graduated from college, I had this idea to build a website that would cull and curate news items to twenty-somethings learning to be adults. Stuff that would help them not embarrass themselves at first job interviews and also be kinder and less obnoxious members of the Facebook generation. I needed that and still do.

I wanted to survey all my favorite professors and get their advice for where to read the news, who to read, etc. Do we really have to read The Atlantic cover to cover every issue to be taken seriously? Please don’t make me do that. Please just pick the good ones for me. I still think the idea of getting suggestions from people you respect is a good one…but I think about a million other people have already done it (see: Good Reads and my beloved NYTimes Now).

These days I subscribe to way too many podcasts and newsletters and don’t even get me started on the number of pages I like on Facebook. I have no discretion, basically, but the good news is that I end up with way too much to read, and nobody should ever think of that as a problem. What a gift to be sitting under a massive digital pile of stories.

Here are my favorite piles lately. It’s a glorified blog reel, and it’s so long, but so what. They are all beautiful and good, and they make me want to be beautiful and good when I read them.

Brain Pickings Weekly

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Formerly undiscovered art by Dr. Seuss and stories you never knew about Anne Frank. That’s the kind of meat that comes in Brain Pickings. It’s super dense, so I don’t get through the whole thing often, but I feel warmer even skimming. Of course my smart friend Julie found this one first. The only thing I don’t like is how I didn’t think of it and write it first.

Maryannimal

Everyone needs a friend who is not going to panic when her hair turns navy blue on accident. I mean…that is someone who has her priorities so damn straight. I love Maryann for her Yankee Candle videos and her unabashed love for her pets. One of the most creative people I know and love in real life, and also online.

Big Table: The E-Newsletter

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Spokane might not be a culinary wonderland, but it actually is. Because this nonprofit works so hard to find every last member of the food service community in the city/region, and seeks them out to give them a little boost. The challenges faced by many in this industry are so huge (health problems from physical labor, terrible hours=miserable relationships, wage theft), but reading this newsletter–the stories of people who got a bed for their kid, or a car to get to work safely, or an extra month’s rent, or a place at a beautiful dinner hosted just for them–restores my faith every time. It’s kind of holy. It’s how I want to be a Christian.

Project Adelaide on Instagram: @projectadelaide

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It’s kind of like a painter’s version of a dance-off. Except everyone wins because these two artist-friends post their work together, which is based on the same prompt. Every time I see it, I’m like, “I better get that framed. Ohhhh, no that one! Nope, that one.”

Native Appropriations

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I realize I might do well to learn a bit more about cultural challenges in the, ahem, FOREIGN COUNTRY WHERE I LIVE, but I think about this one a lot, far as it may be from me right now.  Indigenous people are constantly represented in ways that are unflattering, unfair, untrue, etc…and I’m learning to notice when and how I can be more supportive. This blogs helps. Dear friends are teaching and working on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota right now, and they have helped me see just how long and deep and complex these challenges are.

National Geographic on Instagram: @natgeo

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I can forgive the horrific lack of copyediting on this account because the photography comes in real-time and makes me feel like I’m swimming with polar bears or climbing some mountain in the Andes. It is stunning and so so so much fun to see in my feed. It’s also a little helping hand for the “save the earth” part of my brain that hates to wash and recycle things like peanut butter jars. That kind of beauty does NOT need to be gunked up by my nasty peanut butter jar, so I better get rinsing.

Whatever by Meg Duerksen

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I have been reading the mommy blogs since 2006, people. This is the one that I still read religiously. She’s a Kansas mom with five kids. I love her photography. I love the way she writes. I love the way she talks about being a parent and a person who is working on stuff in her own heart and brain. She’s Midwest wonderful.

Justin Timberlake on Instagram

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Songs by JT? My virtual nightcap/lullaby/all of it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

BRACE YOURSELVES! We’ve dipped below 50 degrees. The weather service issued a cold warning on the day it hit 45.

This is all of Hong Kong right now:

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Here’s how my fellow Hong Kongers recommend facing the blustery temps:

1. Wear neon, elbow-length cashmere gloves.

2. Dress your children in at least four layers (long johns, polo shirt, cable knit RL sweater, coat).

3. Send enough hand warmers in your child’s backpack to keep the entire class warm at recess.

4. Teach your kids how to build a “fire” on the beach. (Actually, stay inside. Forget the beach exists until May when we’re back in the high 90s.)

5. Bust out the chinchilla-goat fur. This one. Side note: It’s possible I sat behind someone wearing a coat like this one at a Christmas concert last weekend, and it’s possible I “dropped my chapstick” so I could touch this coat as I “picked it up.” I totally don’t understand why people look at me and can tell I’m American. I am SO CLASSY!

But really. I am giving myself way too much credit for not thinking it’s cold yet, but I really don’t! And I think it’s mostly funny how cold everyone else feels. People are freaking out, and I promise you we are still getting tons of sunny days where I leave the house in long sleeves alone. I’m thinking it’s all my American, ahem, insulation. I knew there would be an upside to that eventually.

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My mom is coming to visit in three weeks, which means I suddenly have the urge to 1) hang pictures on the currently bare concrete walls, 2) buy ingredients for every family recipe of all time evereverever, and 3) pin quilts…because every time I start to actually sew a new quilt, it’s like a mess that can’t go away for about six months. (Hi Leigh! Yes, it’s been almost two years since I started your quilt. I promise it’s coming.) Anyway, now that we live in 800 square feet, there’s nowhere to hide the mess.

Pinning=winning.

Here’s what I want to curl up with, when it eventually drops below 80 degrees.

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Image: Potomac Fiber Arts

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Image: BGelhausen

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Image: Berlin Quilter

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Image: Jenna Brand

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Image: Cloud9 Fabrics

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Image: Connie Carrington

Let’s hope Mom takes this very public hint and brings me a Pinterest-worthy item in her suitcase! Can I get an amen?

 

 

I have tried not to pretend that adjusting to life in Hong Kong has been easy for me. Because I just don’t feel like I need to pretend. I don’t think culture shock means you can’t appreciate and respect a culture. I think it’s okay to admit that maybe we don’t understand it completely, and that’s frustrating, and working on understanding it a little at a time is the name of the game.

Plus, for all the million cool opportunities we’re having — and the consistent encouragement we’re receiving from new friends here and old friends back home — there are also a million headaches and OMG PLEASE PICK UP YOUR DOG POOP moments. Moving abroad, even to “the easiest place to be an expat in the world” is not as sexy as it sounds most days. For me.

But I do think that I’m getting better at being grateful for life here, and this week was full of the good stuff that is making it all feel like the right thing. There is a lot to love, and a lot I wouldn’t change at all.

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This dad, who doesn’t think a night with his own kid is babysitting. He calls it being a dad. He was good at it in America, and he is GREAT in Hong Kong.

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Meeting fellow SPUer Brent Cunningham at a Hong Kong Young Life dinner this week — almost two years after I interviewed him for Response! Running into people I know in places I don’t expect is the BEST. This might be in my top five best run-ins.

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The relief that comes with knowing no one will ever call my kid boring. How’s that for shallow parenting? I am not ashamed. I wanted an interesting kid and I got one.

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Braised Hawaiian beef and pineapple in my new red dutch oven. Man, eating this makes me feel like myself.

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A world where every kid can find himself in the box of colored pencils. (A world where we market the crap out of that? Errr, maybe not as much. One thing at a time.)

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The obscene number of Christmas lights on every building in Hong Kong, and it’s only the day after Thanksgiving. The holiday spirit doesn’t mess around here. Thank you, last wafts of the British empire!

So…Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. And enjoy all the stuff my neighborhood is shipping to America for you to buy this holiday season. Every time a cargo ship passes our kitchen window, it brings a tear to my eye.