Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Year In Review

It's that time again - my 2014 in the books I read.  This year was significantly different in many ways though and I think my reading choices and my reading favorites from the year will show that.  As a result, I'm doing this book year in review a little differently.

The Book that Changed My Life in 2014: Court Duel by Sherwood Smith
Genre: Fantasy
One-sentence blurb: The politics of overthrowing an evil ruler and replacing him with someone who is good has never been an easy road to tread.
My life: For the last year and a half of graduate school, I had a great patron of the arts who handed over book after book for me to read and I eagerly consumed just about everything that came my way.  In fact, I have been so spoiled by her recommendations and our book discussions that I almost feel at a loss here in Boston despite having three library cards.  I must confess I started this book slowly until it gripped me and I finished it so quickly that I woke up the next day, excited to keep reading it and realized that the story was already at its end.  So I read parts of it again and again and again.  And then broke down and read it all over again.  And then I still continued reading parts of it.  It's like I couldn't get enough of Shevraeth but neither could I figure him out.  He confused me and inspired me, a puzzle that I couldn't solve but I wasn't really sure why I had to solve it anyway.  I haven't figured him out even now but somehow along the way, Shevraeth became a good friend and is now a permanent part of my reading fall-backs.  Some friends are made in the difficult times of our lives and those friends are the ones worth keeping.

Authors that Have Left a Permanent Impression:

Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult and Adult Contemporary (yep, I looked it up)
My life: Although I had a friend who told me about this author, it wasn't until I heard an interview she did on NPR that I started asking questions.  I sprinted through Attachments, Fangirl and then Landline.  I recommend them all but Landline will leave you breathless in a good way.  She explained in the interview that not a lot of books focus on the romance of life after marriage and her book focuses on it in a way that inspired me even though I've never been married and know little about romance in general.  Rowell's books remind you that love is about caring deeply and being loyal and how people are worth the sacrifices we make for them and they also leave a strong message that someone somewhere someday will love you for who you are, warts and all.  Given the difficulty of my living situation, these books were a message I craved to hear.

Keigo Higashino -
Genre: Mystery
My life: Confession: I've never really been into mysteries.  Murder mysteries?  I pretty much avoid them as much as possible.  I can't really say what possessed me to pick up one of his books from the library or why I continued reading past the first chapter when it was clearly a murder mystery.  But keep keep reading I did, and soon enough, I was laughing.  Out right and out loud.  I wasn't sure if it was a bad translation or just a misunderstanding of Japanese culture but when the wry sense of humor I sensed in one of the characters appeared again and again, I had to believe it was on purpose.  I finished the book and spent an entire year looking for ways to get my hands on more.  I've now finished three of his books and still clamoring for more.  I learned something new about myself: I can enjoy a good mystery.

Miyuki Miyabe
Genres: Fantasy and Mystery
My life:  Armed with a list of my Japanese friend's favorite authors, I went looking for this author.  Then, imagine my surprise when I was in the youth section of the library and found a large 800 page book by her.  Miyuki created worlds that always had me scratching my head but also left me inspired and thinking about long after the book was closed and the story finished.  It was tempting to live in her worlds but the interesting thing is that her worlds always, always asserted that life is better than any fantasy.  Live in the present.  Your good efforts will not be enough to change the world but somehow they will be enough to change you.  Good words to remember as I start to carve out a new life.

Summary of my 2014:

I spent eight and a half months of this year sleeping on the bedroom floor of a friend and six weeks sleeping on the bedroom floor of my sister.  I was unemployed for six months and looking for a job for ten.  I moved twice.  These first twelve months post PhD have been hard, harder than I anticipated.  And somehow the wounds from my graduate school are still so gaping and obvious that I bite my tongue to keep back the bitter words and the bitter tears.

In many ways, I am glad that 2014 is behind me.  But in some ways, I am shocked to find myself loathe to leave it.

With the stress and uncertainty of 2014, I also found that the loved ones around me are true and faithful and won't let me fall or give up or starve.  For that lesson alone, it was all worth it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Living Courageously

They say to live your life without regrets.

For me, regret is simply a by product of living.

Because I am not perfect, there are times I say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, or choose something different than the best thing.

It's not then about living without regrets but living with them.

Knowing that I may say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing and choose the wrong thing and giving myself the courage to say and do and choose anyway

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Dear Erin,

We here at Google have noticed lately that you've been spending a lot of time in the past three days on Facebook and rereading old posts of your blog.  If you will kindly refer to the quote of the day that we posted on your email, James Joyce once said, "The actions of men are the best interpreters of thoughts."  Your every Internet action allows us the best interpretation of how you currently feel about your life.

Our big data analysis shows us that people who similarly spend large amounts of time as you have are usually contemplating their lives and are waiting for direction on how to improve them.  Our personalized ads, which we like to think of more as "life improvement promotionals" (LIP) are here to help you adjust to your new life in the Boston area.  Not only that, we place them along the sidebar and also interspersed on your Facebook newsfeed for helpful access to creating a better You.

Some of the LIP we provide you are as follows:

(1) Find a new place to live!
(2) 10 ways that you're scaring off men
(3) Helpful hints for dressing your husband more professionally
(4) Take time with your husband away from your newborn.

We know that moving to a big city as a single woman/married woman/married woman with children is difficult.   So, please take our suggestions seriously.  If you will note in all the pictures in the promotionals, we make people's lives better!


The Google Life Coaches

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


A few weeks ago, my roommate's friend from Idaho came to visit.  I went to pick her up at the airport via public transportation.  As we rode on the T, she looked around at everyone on their cell phones and asked innocently, "Doesn't anyone ever talk to each other?"

I looked around at all the strangers, quietly making their commutes together and shrugged.

The thing is, we do talk to each other.

When I was on the airport shuttle bus and saw people and their luggage piling on and cramming together, I wondered aloud how I was going to manage to get out of my seat and climb over the luggage to get off the bus when my stop came.  My seatmate looked at me, then at the crowds of people and turned back with a smile.  "Just cough REALLY loud."  I started laughing and he and I just grinned at the thought of convincing everyone that I had a communicable disease.

Last week, when our bus driver got the bus into a fender bender, despite the fact that we all had to wait for a new bus to come by to pick us up, when we climbed off the bus, every single passenger gave the bus driver encouragement and kind words.  She had admitted to us that she had never gotten in an accident before and the worry she felt for the situation was written all over her face.

Today, taking the T to Harvard Square, the driver called out in a sing-song voice, "We're at Harvard!"  and then said slightly more professionally, "Harvard Square."  I chuckled and looked up to find a girl across the aisle also chuckling at how happy the driver had sounded.  We smiled at each other for a second and then looked around to see if anyone else had also noticed.

There's the college-aged boys who rushed to get seats on the T and then looked up and saw me, standing beside them, in my skirt and heels.  Immediately, one of them jumped up and offered me his seat.  I tried to turn him down but he insisted and so I took his seat and then he stood our entire trip, without one word of complaint.  In fact, when we got to the same stop and alighted and parted ways, one of his friends noted I was going to the same bus stop and he smiled and nodded in my direction.

On the bus ride home today, a man and his adorable 3 or 4 year old daughter were riding together and carrying on a cute conversation in Spanish that included the girl giving her dad kisses and hugs.  When they got off the bus, the dad mentioned that they were leaving the bus to his daughter and picked her up.  The daughter turned towards all of us on the bus and called out, "Adios, amigos!"  And we all chuckled.  Some even called back out to her, "Adios."

We don't talk often but I'm finding I enjoy these moments, glimpses into the lives of people around me.  Glimpses into the friendliness we can show and share.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Good

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.  My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort to always cooperate with the good, that it may prevail."

~Helen Keller, Optimism (1903)

Hasebe - A commercial about learning to overcome discouragements and failures to achieve his lifelong goal of playing professional soccer.  Feeling lost since coming to Boston, this was a great reminder of the importance of not giving up on one's dreams.

I was looking for something silly to entertain me while I cleaned house last weekend and found myself crouching by my laptop on my floor to watch this and marvel.  People care about each other and deeply.

This song lately has been my favorite of this Christmas season.  It's a beautiful reminder of why I celebrate Christ's birth and life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Your Soul is Showing

Today, I talked with a guy at church about the Old Testament.  After sharing his personal thoughts, he said, "Wow, I'm baring more of my soul to you than you probably like."  I just smiled and admitted that I'd been doing a lot of that recently too.  He smiled, "Your soul is showing."

In full disclosure of baring my soul, here are things I've been up to lately:

I've been at work now for a month.  Turns out, most putts don't drop, most kids do end up being just people and most work is dull rather than otherwise.  (to quote Jenkins Lloyd Jones)  The honeymoon is over - now the real adjustment begins.

I got my library card from the Boston Public Library on Monday.  Rejoicing commence!  Also, I need book recommendations.  Please!

After a conversation with a coworker, I decided to pick up studying Japanese in earnest.  I promptly went to download an app for it and found Duolingo which is really cute and awesome and isn't available in Japanese  ...So, I'm learning German.

On Saturday, my roommate and I went on a quest to find Boston Cream Pie and we couldn't find any.

On Sunday, my roommate was giving a guy a ride to his car after a cookie exchange activity.  He yelled, "STOP!" when we got to his car.  My roommate slammed on the brakes and all the cookies in my lap (two plates full) went flying.

Yesterday, in English class (yep, I'm in ESL again), we discussed Wind Chill and Hypothermia.  I was freezing before I even walked out into the cold.  I think we should only study warm things in winter.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Who is the Secretary?

I work for the Office of the Secretary.  That's what it's called.  OST, for short.  The other day, THE Secretary sent an email.  It was a Happy Thanksgiving message and was very kind considering that I realized that it was from a Very Important Person.  

I kind of wished that there had been a name at the bottom of the email though because I wasn't entirely sure who THE Secretary was.  I mean, his name.  

I know he's THE secretary of Transportation.

His name is Anthony Foxx, in case you were wondering.  (I looked it up)  

This is his picture.  

Source: Wikipedia

Fun fact: He is the former mayor of Charlotte.  

The more you know...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tuesday in Photos

Charlestown Navy Yard (as seen from the bridge)

Charlestown Navy Yard - the day was as gorgeous as this picture make it look  

USS Constitution 

Cannon on the USS Constitution 

USS Constitution

USS Cassin Young - WWII battleship

USS Cassin Young was hit twice by kamikaze pilots 

This sign made me smile.  Do we really expect it to work another 80 years? 

Buy Safety Shoes - because even dogs shouldn't suffer

The dry dock at the Navy Yard - future home of the Constitution.  

I stopped to take a picture for Isa because it showed Daejeon

And saw a few official looking Korean men in suits.  I ended up attending a Korean war memorial service.  I was the only person in attendance not formally invited to the event.  

The ropewalk - I spent a bit of time looking for this. I really like ropewalks.  I want them to turn it into a ropemaking museum.  

Commandant's house - well, it originally was.  Not sure what it is now.  

The walls of the Navy Yard are beautiful and apparently quite famous - there was a plaque honoring its designer.  

Bunker Hill memorial. 

The view from the top - Breathtaking in more ways than just one.  (It was 294 steps to the top)

Bunker hill, trying to capture feeling of the redoubt

This man whose name I don't remember was the one who inspired the sleep deprived and sore patriots from giving up. He stood on top of the redoubt during the charges and was the man who uttered the famous "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes."  He died during the third charge.   

A walk through Paul Revere Park - they put up the names of men who had served in various wars from the North End.  Despite it's size, Boston feels small and intimate to me.  I love it.  

In Which I Spent Veteran's Day Remembering

On Tuesday, Veteran's Day, I did a lot of things that would help me remember the people who served for our country.  I went to the USS Constitution (War of 1812), I visited the USS Cassis Young (World War II), I visited a Korean war memorial and incidentally found myself in attendance at a memorial service, I even walked half of the Freedom Trail (Revolutionary War) and saw a memorial dedicated to those soldiers who lost their lives in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.  I will show pictures from those things in another post.

I want to focus this post on the site that helped bring the other sites into context and left what I hope is a permanent impression.  That site is Bunker Hill.

Perhaps it is no surprise to any of you if I were to tell you that I am a pacifist by nature.  I don't like war.  I ache when I think about the families on both sides that give up their loved ones and the men and women who give their service and time and even lives.  I long have felt that the politics of war are beyond the lay person's experience and motivation for fighting.  Was the Civil War about slavery?  Yes, ultimately, it came down to an issue about social and economic factors that centered around slavery.  But do I think that an 18 year old farmboy off to fight for his side did so because of his ideologies about slavery?  Some did, even many perhaps.  But I often think that the things those boys and men thought about on the front lines were their loved ones and the hope that fighting these battles and defending their side would protect those they were closest to.  This thinking could clearly be wrong - I'm no history expert.  Suffice it to say that while I think war can be necessary and I'm grateful to live in a country that values the freedoms of its citizens to choose for themselves their course for their life, I often wonder, was this the only way?

While at Bunker Hill, as I wandered the grounds and read that the colonists stayed up all night digging a redoubt on the hill and then fought all the next day, I couldn't help but imagine what that must of been like.  The western world's most powerful army was descending on Charlestown with their thousands.  If such a force were to come down upon me in my homeland, I'm sure I'd be besides them, digging for my life and for my family.  I'd be digging even when the exhaustion set in and my arms burned and my eyes stung and my back was thrown out.  I'd dig and dig and dig, wishing that the digging would make the fear lessen, would help ensure victory and with victory, safety.

Mesmerized, my eyes scanned that hill, wishing that I could see what that had really been like.  Instead, I could only read the accounts of it.  The untrained colonists panicked when the first casualty was a beheading by cannonball.  The Americans bravely fought off the British for two attacks but succumbed on the third from lack of ammunition, exhaustion and no bayonets.  The Americans in their very hasty retreat made a point to gather and carry with them all of their wounded.  The British lamented their losses.  It was a hill "too dearly bought" by the blood of 1000 British soldiers.

It was a decisive battle, pivotal in unifying the patriot cause.  Over a hundred years after this battle, women raised money to put up a monument to honor the men who defended and died here.  By this time, no one who had personally witnessed the battle was alive.  The people raising the funds and gathered for the dedication had heard about that battle perhaps through word of mouth, stories that passed down through generations.  These were their children's children wishing to pass on the stories and the memories to future generations.  Climbing that monument is not easy; I imagined the women in their skirts and petticoats climbing and climbing in the heat of the summer.  Climbing until they reached the top, where they paused and looked out on Boston, on the shores of the Mystic River and on the shores of the Charles.  Climbing back down, on now shaky legs, I put my head down.  War is hard for me.  But truly, truly I am grateful.  Grateful for those who have served, who, even if they knew little about the ideologies, thought their loved ones worth giving their lives for.  Grateful for those who knew much about the ideologies and felt that giving their lives was worth it to secure a life for their loved ones that they felt would benefit them.  Bunker Hill put everything else I saw on Tuesday into this perspective.

So, thank you, all of you who fought in wars and combats.  I am grateful for your service and your sacrifice.

Friday, November 14, 2014

When Even Going 500 mph Doesn't Make You Prompt

At 7:30 am this morning, I arrived at work and left promptly at 8 go on a field trip.

We left the building and rushed over to a bridge - don't ask me for its name - where we saw a line of people already lining up and looking down along the river bank, another hundred people scattered along the walkway.  People, rushing off to work, started asking questions.  What's the big event?

A flyby, we told them, of five F-15s.  In ten minutes!  Except it wasn't 10 minutes.  It was more like 45.  We waited and waited and waited.  While we waited, we talked airplanes and aviation.  We talked about the beautiful weather and jumped every time the subway train passed, thinking we had missed the big event.

We got antsy but the signs were pointing to good things.  The helicopters stopped moving around.  The boats stayed out of the waters.  The planes at Logan airport weren't putting any new planes into the sky.  And then, just when I thought it wasn't worth the wait, they showed up.  Flying by slowly.  We all stopped and looked up, including the traffic.

It was great but slightly disappointing.  "Where were the afterburners?" My coworker teased, but in that way where you really meant what you said.  As if they sensed our slight sadness, they flew by again, this time faster, with more thunder echoing off the buildings.

We cheered.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Harold Has Some Competition

I'm trying to investigate Boston with as much zeal as I wandered aimlessly around Sendai two years ago.  I confess, the cold makes that difficult.  But in our lesson yesterday we learned that Joseph Fielding Smith said that, "People die in bed.  And so does ambition."  I thought of how lovely my warm bed is and knew those words were meant for me.  This, then, is my wake up call (pun intended).  Off to explore, rain or shine!

Today's adventure was the Boston Public Library.  I can't get my library card there until I have some sort of proof of residency, which means I have to wait until my first pay stub.  This saddens me to no end but I thought the adventure would be worth the look-see anyway.  It was!

Note: This is a very brief preview.  I didn't have a lot of time to spend - only about an hour.  I anticipate many more trips in the future.

It was everything a library should be and more!  The first half of my trip, I wandered around the galleries with the murals and shadowboxes and marionette display.  It was a strange kind of museum as I wandered along with several other visitors, in complete silence (it was a library, after all), taking pictures.

After the inspiring quick jaunt around the artwork, I searched next in earnest for the books.  I looked for those authors that I can't find in a lot of libraries and found them!  Higashino, Miyabe, Kearsley.  And three shelves full of books in Chinese and a shelf full of books in Japanese.  The nonfiction section was extensive.  A kind of panic set over me when I realized that my time was so limited and there was so much reading to do!

A shadowbox showing a cute couple in the rain. 

The third floor.  Don't you just want to curl up with a book?  Or dream the hours away?  

In the courtyard.  Sorry, it's dark.  But so beautiful, right? 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Of a Saturday

This is what my Saturday would look like on facebook:
Mount Auburn Cemetery is gorgeous in the fall. - with roommate #nofilter

This is what my Saturday would look like on Twitter:
Boston Trivia Night.  Team 6.  I'm so glad the Boston natives decided to sit at my table.  #winning

Doesn't my Saturday look wonderful?  It was, really.  But also misleading.  It only accounts for about 3 hours of the day.  It doesn't include the six hours I spent cleaning and winterizing my apartment or the three hours it took to run errands.  Or even the fact that I woke up at 5:30 am (which is earlier than I get up during the week) and therefore was exhausted and asleep by 10 pm.

And that's what a blog is for - to dispel any misconceptions you might have about the grandeur of my life.  :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's Official?

I wasn't just nervous; I was terrified.  A million 'what-if's ran through my mind as the plane lifted off the ground as my stomach turned somersaults.  The ground was falling beneath us as I tried to even my breathing and focus my eyes on the airplane wing.  "During take-off, the wing lengthens to create a larger pressure differential to create more lift.  Once we are in level flight, the wings will contract to their normal length."  Aerospace engineering; I can do this, right?

Today, one of the more senior engineers in my group came out to greet me, "I've been hearing rumors about you."  I looked at him nervously, my mind racing about the stories I've been telling people since I got here, nervous little factoids that probably reveal too much.  "Rumors?  What kind of rumors?"  He smiles, to encourage me.  "Well, not rumors, I guess, so much as the fact that there are other people here talking about you.  Someone from another technical group asked me, 'You guys are hiring rocket scientists now?'"  Another engineer called me a rocket scientist.  Does that make me one?  I blurted out, "I wish."  

There is an airplane taking off from the airport that we can see from our office window everyday at noon, headed to Japan.  I asked my coworker who pointed it out, "How do you know?"  He responded, somewhat sheepishly, "I know my airplanes.  The only airline that utilizes that type of airplane is JAL.  I'm a nerd, I know."  I tell him I like that nerdiness; I wish I knew my planes.  "But you know space," he adds.  I'm not sure that I do but I'd like to.  I like watching that plane though.  It makes my world feel a little smaller.  

My roommates are wonderful and from the moment I've moved in, life with them feels like summer camp.  I never attended overnight summer camp but this is what I imagine it's like.  We talk about boys and laugh about life.  When I asked them if we could make s'mores, they both looked ready to oblige.  

The commute is short in the morning and long in the evenings.  It feels surreal.  This is my life?  Surely, I'm just subbing in for someone right now, a warm body to take up space like a placeholder.  I try to tell myself, "This is your life now."  But it still feels unreal.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

In Which We Went to the Mountains without STORES

or Baby's Day as Related By Her Aunt (In Supposed Baby's Own Words) (authors note: Quoting as much from our conversation today as possible)

I woke up exhausted, you know, like bored.  My dreams were about some princess that got married to some guy but I didn't know her name and since I was with my daddy and I couldn't ask her,  I woke up because then I could go play.  But Mommy told me it was too early so I went downstairs and turned on the lights and turned on the fan and then went back upstairs with my dolls to play with Grandma.  Then she got tired so I woke up Mommy and Erin and then we skyped with Aunt Lanie from N-O-R-W-A-Y.

Mommy dressed me in my Ever After Dress and I ate pumpkin bread for breakfast and then we left to go to the mountains.  It took forever to get there!  We were gone so long that I got homesick for home and wanted to go back.  It must have been the longest day ever though because it was still light when we got to the mountains and they told me that we couldn't go back for a long time.

We stopped to eat lunch and I absolutely insisted we go to the Public House.  In the restaurant, I played with Raven and her new friends, the talking fork and the Malt vinegar bottle named Eric.  Then I tried to give Raven curly hair and it got all twisted and Erin said I had made a really big knot and that we'd have to cut her hair!  NO!  So I apologized and Mommy and Erin worked on fixing it.  Erin said a miracle happened because Raven's hair is perfect now.

After lunch, we drove up to a mountain.  It was really bright and sunny and there was this really boring rock that Mommy and Erin insisted we take pictures at.  They suggested we go on a short hike but that was boring.  Where were the stores? Wasn't there a Target anywhere?  Mommy told me that we were in the mountains to enjoy nature and God's creations.  We went on a hike and I was the best hiker.  We hiked the trail two times!  At the end of the second hike, we saw a real wedding!  A man and a woman were getting married on the mountain!  I stopped and watched the whole thing.  They even kissed!

We went back to the town and saw a man walking his dog on the street!  On the street!  He should have carried his dog across the street.  Mommy and Erin told me to stop talking so loudly about the man walking his dog and that dogs are allowed to walk on the street.  We stopped for ice cream and I had pumpkin and chocolate chips.  Then I got full and ate some of Mommy's chocolate ice cream.

I fell asleep when we drove back and when I woke up it was dark and we were back close to home.

Baby watching the wedding - so intent and yet so respectful

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Walk Collegiate, Talk Collegiate

I reread Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell today.  When I read that book, I can't help but imagine my freshman dorm room, a small little rectangle that barely fit two beds and two desks.  When Cath's roommate asks if they want a couch in their room, I'm nodding my head in complete agreement when they agree that it won't work; is the couch going to take up the narrow walkway between the beds?

Freshman year was an awkward affair.  I found myself staying up later than my social roommate, very non-socially working on homework, while girls ran up and down the hall, giggling or whatever it is people who had friends and lives did in halls, late at night.

Then I joined a rugby team, my own sisterhood.  I made a friend with a boy who made me laugh and never studied and stumbled into a friendship with the girl next door who gave me courage.  And life got better.

Reading Fangirl took me back there, to that awkwardness, to that loneliness, but also to the thrill of learning and studying and making friends and spending evenings doing silly, harmless things that made college worth remembering.... and I missed it.  I really miss it.

I ache to realize those days are gone.  Even if I were to re-enroll in college courses, I won't be going to the dorms or eating every meal in a cafeteria, although I'm really ok with that.  Really.  

Ach, it's hard growing up.  It's hard realizing that you don't get to do it over again.  It's done.

I think I'm mostly pausing because I'm facing a new start, a new step and, frankly, it's freaking me out.  My first real job where I have to do real engineering and NOT mess up.  I have to focus on making a career and eking out a living.  I have to dress professionally and commute to work and be an adult who...I don't even know.  What do adults do?  I have to make friends and find ways to make my life meaningful and memorable...when I really just feel like that freshman girl who wandered around campus feeling lost, and small, and insignificant, and alone.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Captions Included

The middle of Virginia, as seen from the train

Gwiyomi all ready to go; where to go is the question
 (please note that her bag is coordinated with her outfit)

What can I say?  17 makes everything better - 
even the amazing soda machine at Noodles and Co.

The sweatshirt makers clearly didn't anticipate actually using the hood; 
the shoulders are inches above her actual shoulders..and we couldn't stop giggling

Photo of me, taken by Baby. 
Apparently, I'm sitting on her teddy.  Oops.

Look at this face?  So innocent, right?
I have to say, I love the oreo crumbs and Baby's headband that looks like flowery skiing goggles.  They add a certain touch of je ne sais quoi.

Just wait until I strap her in.  (She demands that you do, actually)
Picture taken by Baby.

With her carseat facing backwards, she's never actually seen anyone drive a car before.  
But somehow she acts like she knows exactly what she's doing.  Sneaky, sneaky.
Also taken by Baby.  

Baby clearly doesn't want my advice..or me taking a picture of her.

This was my view of yesterday, while I lazily checked average temps for Boston in Nov.
I'm in for a climate shock, I just know it. 

Baby's pig spider.  I love it!  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Rant

I just read a novel in Chinese.

I thought that I would note this accomplishment in a somewhat official capacity.

It was lazy reading - I didn't look up every character I didn't know.  The advantage of this is that I was able to read without interrupting the flow of the story.  The disadvantages were such that I never actually knew anyone's names, and it took me a longer time than normal to figure out basic details in the story, such as the fact that you take a boat to the airport when you are in VENICE and that you spend significant time talking about clothes and making clothes because you are a CLOTHING DESIGNER.

I consider these disadvantages minor, but perhaps knowing more of the details of the story would have helped create better empathy with the story and its characters because, by the end of it, I was thoroughly frustrated with everyone.  Although I kind of doubt that.  Seriously!  I didn't understand all of the details of that rubbish story about how roses are red because nightingales bled on them but it certainly would not convince me that I wanted to date anyone, much less that itinerant clothing designer mentor that the main character dated twice, TWICE!

As you can tell, missing the details didn't prevent me from forming strong opinions about the story.

I can't comment on the literary merit of the book - I didn't get the details after all - nor can I even really place this book in any kind of context, it being the first book at the library that I pulled off that had traditional characters.  So, instead of a book review, I'm doing a book rant.  Here are some issues I have with the story:

(1) Fate - It's a popular topic in Chinese media.  I only own like two Chinese movies and one of them is so iconically about fate and two people living parallel lives and just missing each other that by the end of the movie, when the guy puts his head down and prays to the heavens to just give him a miracle, you're crying along with him.  "Put us out of this misery, PLEASE."  As fate would have it, they end up together through an earthquake.  This book doesn't beat you over the head in the same way as that movie but it lays it on pretty thick.  For instance, the guy the main character has liked for years but for whom the timing has never worked out, is looking through some of her stuff and finds a picture of her as a child in the park with her parents with him in the background!  The main character knows things will work out eventually - it's fated to be!  The thing I dislike about these scenarios is the lack of choice.  In both of these, love feels like something out of our hands.  In one case, it would send me into fits of despair - why can't we ever find each other?!  - and in the other case would make me brazenly hopeful - who cares that he has a girlfriend?  he was mine first!  Yes, I do realize that love doesn't always come when we choose and in the way we choose but we do choose to love and denying that, I think, is a mistake.  In the book, there were significant times that I felt characters didn't communicate or act because I felt that they decided to just let fate handle it.  In most of my experience, fate is quite ok just never handing you certain opportunities ever again.  In my life, "letting fate handle it" is just a way of saying, "I'm going to be ok if this is the end."

(3) Careers vs Relationships - In almost every circumstance in this book, the characters put their careers ahead of their relationships.  Move to Germany for three years without actually involving my husband in that decision?  Been there.  Move to New York for a year without actually communicating it with that guy I was about to start a relationship with?  Yep, done that.  Move away permanently from Hong Kong without considering with your boyfriend what that means for the future of 'us'?  Old hat.  The thing I don't get about it, is why on earth are we subscribing to this philosophy?  Careers are important, yes, and sometimes it does require being separated but should that be our go to?  And why can't we at least talk about it, make sacrifices and figure out something together?  Life is messy -  I get that.  We're all trying to achieve some balance and find happiness and fulfillment in many different aspects of our lives.  Maybe I'm too much of a romantic but am I the only one out there who thinks that, in the prioritization of life, people matter more than my job?  At least those people that I intend to have a lasting relationship with.  Then again, maybe those international moves are just a really passive way to giving someone the brush off.  Which, just, ugh!  There was just one, ONE!  time when the girl is in Paris and exploring her options for expanding her branch to Paris and everyone tells her that it will require her to live for an extended period of time in Paris and she realizes that it comes down to choosing to prioritize her career or her relationship and she chooses her relationship.  I actually cheered then.  But then her boyfriend got all self-conscious about her making a sacrifice for him and eventually they break up anyway, which leads me to my third (and take heart, final) rant.

(2) Men and women as equal contributing partners - This is less a commentary on the book and more a commentary on society in general but it made me very sad.  The main character is in her fated relationship with her guy and is also a successful clothing designer, even expanding her Hong Kong business overseas while her partner is a TV new reporter.  When they realize their apartment is just not big enough to hold their stuff, the girl offers to get a bigger apartment but the guy refuses because his salary can't afford a bigger apartment, even though hers clearly can.  She doesn't see why they can't use her income for housing but he refuses to touch her money.  Also, as outline above, when the girl turns down expansion to Paris, he tells her he's holding her back, eventually leading to their breakup.  You could argue this is just a personality thing but the guy makes several comments about flak he's getting from colleagues and friends about not being a good provider, and in some moments, he admits he is afraid she will leave him because (at least financially) she doesn't need him, which makes me think it's not just about him being stubbornly independent.  Which brings me to the question: why are men expected to be more successful than their female counterparts?   Why do we put that pressure on men?  And put that pressure on women?  That somehow achieving their potential in some way diminishes the potential of her partner?

Take heart, the rant is over.  Next time, I'm going to be more careful in choosing a book in  Chinese to read.  But at least I know now I can read a book in Chinese.  Success!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Erin, Do You Know Where You're Going?

Baby: My teacher says I'm not supposed to say 'yeah'; I should say 'yes' instead.  Why?
Me: 'Yeah' is informal.  That's what you can say to your friends.  But you should use 'yes' with adults.
Baby: I can use 'yeah' with you then.  You're not a real adult.  

Baby: That's a good hiding place!  I want to hide there next.
Me: But you can't climb up there by yourself.
Baby: Then you can put me there.
Me: Then I'll know where you're hiding.
Baby: You can forget!
Me: In 30 seconds?

Baby: I like the five of us together.
Sister: Five of us?  Only four of us live here right now.
Baby: Oh, I'm counting Riley [the cat] as a person.

Baby: I'm not supposed to say this word at school but my friends like it when I whisper it.
Me: If you're not supposed to say it, then you shouldn't be whispering it either.  What's the word?
Baby: (softly) Belly button.

Baby: Erin, are you going to marry Hase[be]?
Me: No.
Baby: Why not?
Me: Uh, because he doesn't like me.
Baby: If he doesn't like us, then we don't want him!

Baby: Here is one of my mommy's books!
Me: It's a good book too - Little Women.
Baby: Read it to me.
<after two pages>
Me: Are you bored?
Baby: Yep.

 This is Baby's favorite song to listen to when I'm in the car with her:
Twinkle by TTS (SNSD)

And this is Baby with makeup like Merida, complete with freckles:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

God Speaks

I woke up this morning with a cold and my niece laughed in my face.  "You should have asked God to keep you from getting a cold."  I smiled at her indulgently.

She continued, "My mommy and I pray to God to not let us get colds.  That's why we don't have them and you do."  Baby ran out of the room, exultantly laughing at my congested state.  I glanced at her mother, not quite sure even how to put my thoughts together.

My sister smiled at me, "She makes it sound so simple, doesn't she?"

I nodded, chuckling.  My niece does make it sound so simple.  One night this week, over dinner, my niece had announced to me that God needed me to be a Savior.  I shook my head.  "That's what Jesus Christ is."  Baby was not convinced.  "But God does need you to save people."  And then leaned over to me conspiratorially, "God knows your number."  I looked at her with some confusion,debating a quip about how God is omniscient, of course he knows my number.  She threw an arm around me and whispered into my ear.  "I told God your number and so now he knows it."  I stuttered in surprise, as she calmly went back to eating.

Let's be clear on one thing; my niece doesn't spend all of our conversations talking about God.  In fact, out of all of the time we've spent together, the number of times she's mentioned God or Jesus Christ, I can count on one hand.  But when she does, she expresses a bold, straight-forward confidence in God.  This resurrect-er of beings, this granter of good health, this friend in confidence - He's someone I find myself marveling at, and wanting to believe in.

The faith of a child.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


"Nature can be both majestic and dangerous. We need to live with both faces.” - Fumie Tashiro regarding the recent explosion of Mount Ontake in Otaki Japan which killed 47+ people,
from In Japan, Fear and Panic as a Revered Peak Explodes, New York Times, Oct 1 2014 <source>

"It was a mistake. They dropped the ball." - Dr. Anthony Fauci, on belated reactions regarding the first Ebola case in the United States in which the man diagnosed told a nurse he was recently in Liberia and that information was not transmitted to other caregivers,
from U.S. Ebola Case: Searching for Contacts,, Oct 2 2014 <source>

"If I had the same face as Uchida, I would definitely get a few more headlines in the newspapers." - Shinji Okazaki on the cult status of Atsuto Uchida and Makoto Hasebe in Japan,
from Kagawa, Okazaki Head Up Japan's Bundesliga Boom, Associated Press, Oct 2 2014 <source>

"I think I speak for most students from the mainland when I say, 'Wow.'" - Tony Cong regarding the recent peaceful, political protests taking place in Hong Kong regarding changes in elections that Beijing is implementing,
from Mainland Chinese Tourists Get a Glimpse of Rebellion, New York Times, Oct 1 2014 <source>
I am absolutely fascinated though by all of the comments in this article because (1) something like this would never be allowed in the rest of China (2) a lot of these guarded responses show both loyalty to Beijing and a fear of censorship from Beijing and (3) I'm intensely curious how this protest will play out given the two system government of Hong Kong. For an explanation on the reasons for the protest, please read this article.

"We know what they can do but we are not afraid to die, we are not afraid to fight." - Botan, a YPG fighter on his feelings about resisting ISIS, 
from Could an ancient tomb's future decide whether Turkey will fight ISIS?,, Oct 2 2014 <source>

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Book of Heroes: Book Review

One-line blurb:
After discovering through a talking book that her missing brother has been possessed by the evil King in Yellow, Yuriko goes on a quest to capture the King and find her brother.  

One-line concluding message: 
The ends do not justify the means and there is a fine line between hero and villain.  

-- I read this book after reading and loving Miyabe's children's book Brave Story.  
-- The book opens with this fact: you know that Yuriko's brother brought a knife to school and stabbed two kids, killing one and leaving the other critically wounded, before disappearing.  This book maintains a delicate balance of approaching some serious subjects without being either grim or flippant.  

To start, I'm afraid the one-line blurb doesn't quite do the book service.  It's not just a quest to find a brother - it's also a journey to find out why Yuriko's brother did what he did and if his actions were justifiable.  It's not just a battle against an evil king because the King in Yellow AKA the villain and the Hero AKA the hero are described as two sides of the same coin.

As with all questing books, Yuriko picks up a number of companion travelers.  One is a dictionary named Aju who Yuriko turns into a mouse, for easier traveling.  Of course!  (Books can be heavy and bulky)  One is a servant she names Sky who is devotedly loyal to her and who I can't help loving in spite of the fact that everyone in the book tells me not to.  One is a man named Ash who serves as an undertaker in his own world and as a 'wolf' who hunts down the King in Yellow to trap him in all the other worlds.  Ash is the voice of reason in the group and he's that kind of dark, broody character who actually has more emotionally invested in the outcome than you first realize, which means that yes, I loved him in spite of himself, too.  The companions don't quite fit together and in many instances don't get along but in that sense, there is realism - circumstances bring unlikely people together to accomplish what they need to.  Aside from knowing it's a quest that deals with the issues I've before mentioned, I stop the summary here to avoid spoilers.  ;)

Instead of giving you spoilers, I give instead two remarks about the ending.
(1) When all is said and done, the crime at the beginning of the book is still a crime at the end of the book.  I expected more of a happy ending regarding that event, confidently anticipating that an adult or circumstances or even time travel was going to swoop in and take away what Yuriko's brother did or make it better.  But that didn't happen.  I was shocked with myself to realize how much I was expecting it.  Here I stand, now re-analyzing my views of justice and mercy and morality.
(2) I once heard that Japanese authors give their readers all the pieces of the puzzle but expect them to put the pieces together themselves.  This is no exception, especially on an emotional level.  I needed some time to figure out how I felt about the story and the characters and the quest.  It's a cathartic process.

Here is the thought that remains with me: It's not heroic if you're pursuing a virtue through un-virtuous means.  What you do matters just as surely as how it turns out.  That's a powerful lesson.  One I hope I remember for a long while yet.  

Do I recommend this book?  Yes.  If you're looking for a book that is entertaining and keeps you analyzing the rules and structures of a different world while questioning the rules and structures of your own world, this is a good choice.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

She's a Natural?

Conversation with Baby:

Me: I'm going to play the piano.  Any requests?
Baby: Frozen!  Here's the book.  Play Let It Go.
Me: Ok.  Will you sing it?
Baby: No, I'm going to play it.
Sister: You don't know how to play piano.  Let Erin play it.
Baby: NO!  I'm going to play.  Erin can sing it.
<She plays something on the piano and I try to sing along without the words, mind you, because she insists on having the book open to the wrong page>

After we're done:
Baby: Mommy, did I play it nicely?
Sister: Yes, you did.
Baby: Did I play it correctly?
Sister: No.
Baby: That's just because you couldn't hear it.  Erin sang too loudly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Foolish Vanity

I had just finished giving Baby a bath and we were talking with her mother on the phone when we ran into this picture:
It's from a dance recital, taken by our grandfather.  I was always jealous of my sister's blue sailor's outfit.  It was so pretty and well, she was always so pretty.  Without thinking, I expressed this to Baby.  She kept insisting that her mother was beautiful too, which I agreed with.  "Between Sarah and I, though, she was always the prettier one."

Later, Baby pulled out her dolls to watch part of a movie with me.  Carefully, she pulled out her Anna and Elsa dolls and placed them beside us.  Stroking Anna's red hair, she said.  "Elsa is always, always the prettier one.  But today, Anna is the prettier one."

I smiled at Baby.  "Are you trying to make me feel better about not being the pretty sister when I was younger?"

Baby nodded.  And then she continued, "But, Erin, not everyone gets to be the prettiest.  Someone has to be prettier.  Why not let your sisters be prettier?"  (Almost as though she was telling me that I don't always get to play with the toys; I have to wait my turn)

Essentially, why not just be happy to have such wonderfully beautiful sisters?  Why not rejoice in their admirable qualities rather than fume that I don't possess those same qualities?  Why couldn't I have learned this lesson when I was younger?  Still working on learning this lesson today...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Temporary Leave

I'm at my sister's house, spending several hours each day sorting through my boxes of stuff, ruthlessly tossing out things that, only six months ago, I insisted on holding on to for sentimental reasons.

Besides, do I really need to have proof that I was on my ninth grade Geometry team or that I drew a picture with red objects on it in eight grade?

My niece only eats a few bites of anything I make for her and insists that she's full.  But then I buy three pounds of watermelon and I barely manage to save a piece for my sister while watching in awe as Baby inhales the rest of it.

Baby and I practice spelling words on the fridge.  We practice our tap shuffles in the entrance of the grocery store.  We practice our ballet positions next to her mother's bed before we call it a night.

Baby's angry when she's tired.  My mom has a sore on her leg that makes me worry.  And I'm pretty sure the cat (Riley) hates me but is willing to be bribed by food.  

This isn't really me facing a new future away from Cville.  It's me just checking in.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Weather is Gorgeous

Perfect swinging weather.  

One of the highlights of visiting the park: My sister and I were playing London Bridges with Baby and five other little girls randomly joined in the game.