The Year So Far

In my previous post, I shared my New Year’s resolutions for 2016. Items 1-3 on my list are all underway and progress is moving along nicely.

I’ve gotten past the point of coffee tasting like burnt garbage and even kinda crave it in the mornings. It feeds into my love of a good morning routine. Also, I have so many favorite mugs which I love to put to good use. This bullet point can be marked off as a success.

The sonicare toothbrush makes my teeth feel shiny and clean. I got past the rookie mistakes of 1). accidentally gagging myself, or 2). removing the brush from my mouth while still it was still on, causing a flurry of toothpaste to hit the bathroom mirror like slush flying from a semi on the interstate. I can safely chalk this item off the list.

My hip hop dance classes are super fun. I’ve also been trying to regularly attend Cheerobix, a dance fitness class (with pom poms!). Both are good workouts, and I leave class feeling invigorated and happy. I’ve always loved dancing though I never formally trained besides a handful of ballet lessons in early grade school. I’m not especially talented at it; I’ve been told I dance like a white sorority girl, and I am Asian. But I don’t care as long as I’m enjoying myself. My love of dancing began during my childhood of watching old MGM musicals with my mom and sisters. I was probably the only 5th grader in my class who’d seen every edition of That’s Entertainment. Today, I get excited for new Step Up movies. I once found out that my co-worker was dating a ballerina and it took all of my strength to refrain from bombarding her with questions at the office holiday party and tell her how many times I’ve watched Center Stage.

I’m so glad that my 2016 so far is filled with choreography. I may never become a professional ballerina, but I’m pretty sure I can hold my own in a drunk dance-off.

 

 

Happy New Year

2015 was a weird year. After the ridiculous spree of happiness and excitement that was 2014 (got married, honeymooned, bought a house), this year was a bumpier road. Loved ones had some hard times. I went through some job changes. The world often felt like it was falling apart. On social media, everyone seemed to be in a fight with each other, slinging angry memes and sparring with links.

But there were great moments too. My sister got married and her wedding weekend was incredibly fun. I saw Half Dome and El Capitan for the first time. We camped in a blizzard and it was the greatest. Scrolling through my pictures from the last year, there’s tons of shots of fun times with people I love.  In other words, it was a Year, full of highs and lows just like any other, with good times and hardships ebbing and flowing like the tide.

So far, 2016 is off to a good start. We spent New Years Eve at home with a few of our closest friends, playing board games, drinking champagne, and keeping things relaxed. It was nice, and I especially enjoyed waking up on the first day of a new year not feeling like I was run over by a semi. Last New Years Day, I barely crawled out of bed and spent all day on the couch, trying to keep down an omelet and letting Netflix run through an entire season of a Canadian travel show. Today, I watched some football, took a nap, did some writing, and got in a cardio workout.

My resolutions for 2016:

  • take hip hop dance lessons (they start Monday!), prepare myself for random dance-off challenges, start a crew (or krew).
  • purchase a Sonicare toothbrush. I did this today, using my Christmas gift cards for something I actually need (instead of, say, Star Wars t-shirts) like a responsible adult. My journey towards healthier teeth and gums begins.
  • train myself to like coffee. This is mostly an attempt to break my terrible Diet Coke habit, which is my current method of caffeinating.  So far, I can tolerate coffee with  flavored cream, but I’d like to acquire the taste to order it Agent Dale Cooper-style, black as midnight on a moonless night.
  • In 2014, I had my big writing goal of finishing a novel. This year, I’m taking it easier and giving myself to challenge of creating a Twitter parody account. Sadly, tweeting as Laura Ingalls Wilder has already been taken.

This should keep me busy until 2017. Happy New Years, all!

Winter Adventurers

“You know what’s happening this weekend, right? You’ve seen the weather forecast?” the park ranger asked the first of our friends to arrive at the campgrounds early on Friday afternoon.

“We know,” they replied.

“Are you here for the start of hunting season?”

“No, just here to camp.”

The ranger shook his head in disbelief. A winter storm was rolling into the area, expected to drop up to 10 inches on much of the Midwest. And we were driving up north, headed the opposite direction of the geese flying south for the winter overhead, to spend the weekend outdoors.
IMG_6684Winter camping is one of my favorites. Though the days are short and our beer freezes overnight, there’s something about the quiet stillness that makes the forest otherworldly. The world hibernates around us, but in our small circle around the campfire, we stay warm and pass the whiskey. Overhead, stark branches criss-cross against the silver sky. The snow falls steadily, piling up on our tents, our boxes of beer (no need for a cooler), our fur-trimmed hoods pulled up over our heads. Beyond the circle, whiteness obliterates the landscape; we could be in Wisconsin or Westeros. Coyotes yip in the night. Or direwolves.

We’ve camped in snow before. We’ve camped in 1-degree temperatures before. But this was our first time camping in a legitimate winter storm, one big enough to get a name: Bella. We were undaunted by this news; we are not the type to be scared off, especially by a storm named after a damn Twilight character. We may be crazy, but we’re tough, and this wasn’t our first rodeo. There’s a Norwegian saying that goes “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.” We were prepared with insulated sleeping pads, bags rated for 15 degrees, waterproof layers, a coat and Musher’s Secret for our dog.

IMG_6714We arrived, car by car, at our large group site. As Friday slipped into Saturday, the snow fell. It melted onto our coats, warmed by the fire. It piled onto our tents, causing rainflies to droop under its wintry weight. It buried bottles left out on picnic tables, turning them into ambiguous white blobs. It blanketed us from the rest of the world, silencing the sounds of civilization, leaving only our laughter, our breath as we blew into our mittens, the crackle of the fire.

On Saturday morning, the snow still fell. We stayed in our warm sleeping bags, our tents transformed into igloos. Finally lured out by the promises of coffee, campfire, and Bloody Marys, we emerged from our brief hibernation. Before we could eat or drink, we had to shovel inches of snow off the tables. The dogs frolicked in the fresh powder, losing tennis balls and frisbees. We posted photos to social media with Winter Storm Bella hashtags, declaring ourselves Team Jacob. Our friends back home called us crazy.

The snow eventually stopped; blue sky peeked out through the bare tree branches. We began to cook our Thanksgiving meal. Potatoes boiled over the campfire. Vegetarian curry stewed on a camp stove. A turducken dripped savory juices in the smoker. Just before sunset, we set up our spread over the picnic table, salivating before our feast.

“I wish the ranger would come by and see this,” my friend said. We ate our meal together, friends bonded by our breaking of bread under the most snowy extreme circumstances. Call us crazy; we don’t mind. We’re adventurers.

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Summertime

I blinked and June  and July were gone. How is August almost over too?? I swear that summer just started. In a midwestern city where summer flies by so fast, we feel the need to be outside every single moment so as not to miss a precious drop of sunshine.

Remember when you were a kid and summer was the greatest time ever? Long days at the swimming pool, cruising town on bikes with friends, sprawling out in the backyard to look up at the moon while cicadas chirped a soundtrack to your most secret sleepover conversations–summer meant pure freedom. No school. No responsibilities. Even when I eventually had summer jobs as a teen, they were easy, carefree times. I’d scoop ice cream for a 4-hour shift before my friends came to pick me up from work so we could drive around, playing Alanis Morisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” on repeat and riding past boys’ houses.

As an adult with a full-time job and a mortgage, it’s hard to capture that delicious taste of summer freedom again. How do you fit in long, lazy weeks of bicycle-riding, dock jumping, keg beer drinking, and s’mores burning amidst the work week, the paying of bills, the doing of laundry, the running of errands that never go away? I used to have a co-worker who, every time I’d run into her and ask how it’s going, would reply “Same shit, different day.” That phrase perfectly describes the grind that is adulthood.

How do you make summer magical again? It’s all about catching the little moments when you can, as often as you can. You head out after work to the local street fest near your house to listen to a band and eat meat on a stick. You drive up to Wisconsin to spend 36 hours at a cabin to ride on a pontoon boat while drinking New Glarus before jumping out into the deep dark water in the middle of the lake, floating on a pool noodle and letting the sunshine beam down on your face. You go to a  giant music festival and sweat through the summer heat until the sun goes down, the night air soothing your sunburnt skin, and you share a spontaneous moment with tens of thousands of people when the headliner plays their biggest, most classic song, and you all sing along and feel the communal thrill of happiness over being present for this moment of time. You go canoeing with a few dozen friends, lazily floating down the river while drinking light summer beers and laughing at what everyone says, because everyone is hysterical when you have known each other for so many years and have a rich history of shared, hilarious stories. You let yourself float along the edge of the bank of the river, feeling the current tugging at your feet while a sun shower breaks out overhead, dappling the water all around you while warm raindrops bounce back up onto your face. You stand on the back porch of the house you bought and listen to the cicadas, the soundtrack to every summer of your Midwestern life, and remember the times you heard their chirps while riding around in your best friends’ Geo Metro listening to “Jagged Little Pill” so many years ago.

 

 

 

City Kid with an Outdoor Heart

I constantly feel conflicted about living in a big city.  Throughout every downtown office cubicle job I’ve had, I would find moments to slip away and gaze out a window. I needed to see the outside for whatever brief little moments I could find. My husband and I have traveled to the Badlands, Black Hills, Yellowstone, and Glacier. We’ve kayaked and camped along the Wisconsin River nearly every summer we’ve been together. We used every last frequent flier mile we had to travel to Alaska, where we drove an RV around for 10 days of exploring . When I’m outdoors, it feels like my soul can finally breathe. I love it.

But I also love living in the city–the third largest U.S. city, to be precise (stand down, Houston). In Chicago, I have regular access to art, culture, and whatever kind of food I’m craving, be it Indian, Mexican, Ethiopian, Filipino, or Korean. In the city, I meet people from all walks of life, who grew up in other countries or have interesting backgrounds, who spent a year backpacking across Australia or studying the circus arts. On any given evening, I can go attend a live literary reading or open mic, see a band I’ve never heard of or one I grew up listening to, or go to a bar to cheer on one of our many local professional sports teams and high-five strangers.

In the outdoors, I’ve seen a mountain lion cross the road in front of us, its eyes fixed upon us, long tail slowly swishing, looking like something majestic and wild and otherworldly, before it leapt up the hillside in three fluid strides.

In the city, I’ve seen both obscure arthouse films and major movie premieres on the big screen with the director present for a live Q&A.

In the outdoors, I’ve had a bison huff angrily at the tent where my husband and I slept, threatening to charge us for being on his home turf.

In the city, I’ve participated in a flash mob during the halftime of a roller derby bout while dressed as a ninja.

In the outdoors, I’ve heard the howls of coyotes, the hoots of owls, and the soft patter of rain on the roof of my tent as I drifted to sleep.

In the city, I’ve seen priceless works of art at our local, internationally renowned museums.

In the outdoors, I’ve waited out a rainstorm with my husband in a 3-man tent on a narrow sandbar in the middle of a river, drinking boxed wine from our camping cups and reading the third Game of Thrones book by the light of my headlamp as rain pelted our fly and lightning crackled over our heads.

In the city, I’ve danced in the rain during a street festival with a beer in one hand and a taco in the other, surrounded by friends and live music.

I love my hometown while simultaneously feeling frustrated by it. I get disheartened by crime and the disrespect people can have for their surroundings, others’ property, and human life. This city will always inspire me, excite me, act as a muse, and break my heart over and over. And when things become to stressful, bleak, or maddening, the mountains start calling my name.

A Big Year

I turn 36 today. Here’s some of the things I did during my 35th year:

  • got married!
  • bought a house!
  • visited three new states: South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana
  • got into yoga
  • started forcing myself to eat kale, like, all the time, mostly because:
  • got addicted to Oreos
  • got hit by a car while crossing the street
  • coordinated an office build-out and move
  • started performing again (storytelling)
  • left a job at a famous tech company to try out the small business world
  • saw both Katy Perry and Britney Spears in concert
  • rode a mechanical bull in Las Vegas
  • Margaret Cho started following me on Twitter for some reason
  • saw three Broadway plays in one weekend
  • got my ninth tattoo
  • I decided that my favorite Christmas movie is Batman Returns
  • lost the Halloween costume contest at a dog park
  • finished a novel-length manuscript
  • took singing classes at Old Town School of Folk Music
  • started a karaoke club
  • found way more gray hair than ever before
  • used the phrase “YOLO” ironically so often that it stopped being ironic
  • cried over the Star Wars trailer
  • experimented with growing my eyebrows in thicker. Turned out less Cara Delavingne and more Peter Falk.

That Sliding Doors Moment

I just got hit by a car. I was crossing the street by my house to go to the nearby taco place to pick up dinner. Suddenly, a car went for a fast left turn and collided with me in the crosswalk. I didn’t realize what was happening until I suddenly rolled up onto the hood of a car, then tumbled down onto the pavement after it slammed on the breaks. I could hear people me around shouting while I laid on the pavement in shock. The car began to move as if ready to drive away, but I heard a woman say “Oh hell no!” and block it with her car. Two more people (one guy in the southbound lane, and a pedestrian) also stopped and made sure I was OK, which gives me faith in the goodness of humanity. In outdated Lost fanatic terminology, I’m feeling pretty Team Jacob.

After I assured everyone that I was alright and could walk home and didn’t need medical assistance, they dispersed (I know, I know, I should’ve filed a police report. But I was alone and felt OK and just wanted to go home and the driver felt terrible and I knew that he’d learn from this experience).

That moment, though.

One minute, you’re walking across a street you cross every day with tacos on your mind, and the next you’re on top of a car’s hood and the whole thing moves in a flash of a second and you think to yourself, what is happening I  might die now. Then you find yourself on the pavement, bruised and scraped up but otherwise fine and totally alive. A friend of mine recently referenced the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors as a good example of looking at the two very different paths life can take (he loves that movie). Quite honestly, I’ve ached just as bad after a wicked block in a roller derby game. But in that moment, with passersby freaking out over having witnessed you bounce on pavement, you think about how else that moment could’ve gone. My head didn’t come close to touching the road; I bore the brunt of the impact on my left calf (where I think the bumper initially struck me) and my right elbow and right hips and ribs, where I landed on the street. I scraped up my elbow pretty good but that was my only instance of road rash; otherwise, it’s just bruises. But lying there on the street, I was OK, when my other Gwyneth-self could be dead. All in a split second, all because of a mundane taco-run. YOLO, you guys.

 

Maps

Every line in a map is a new possibility. I love tracing the routes with my eyes, imagining the experiences that each detour might bring. Unfolding a map is unfurling a new adventure; I want to spread them out on the hardwood floor, studying the topography, noting the landmarks, exploring the options.

Looking at a road map brings back a rush to my senses: the roar of a motorcycle engine cutting through the light spring breeze, the overpowering smell of sulfur while driving through Yellowstone National Park, the Trampled By Turtles album that filled the car as we drove through the Smoky Mountains in a light rainstorm, the unsettling beauty of the Pacific Ocean just beyond the steep drop-off of PCH. It reminds me of how much of the world lays out there that I have yet to see, beyond the 23 inches of my computer monitor.

A Chicago city map is a different kind of map to me: it is a map of memories. I don’t need to look at the street names; I know them by heart. The phrase “know by heart” is in itself very sentimental. My heart knows these places because I lived in them, and they are a part of me. When I drive down California Ave past my old apartment, I always crane my neck to see if I can spot someone beyond the fence in the front yard. We used to stay out there all night, the patchy grass littered with beer cans, sitting in camping chairs and talking and laughing until the sun started to rise and the smell of baking bread wafted over from the nearby panaderia. Dodging traffic in Ravenswood reminds me of the sprint from work to home to roller derby practice, a routine that dominated most of my evenings for a portion of my life. 17 years, 2 dorm rooms and 7 different apartments in 6 different Chicago neighborhoods–that’s a lot of push pins on my heart map. Now, I live in a house with my husband–our first real house. Our street is lined with old, towering trees that create a green leafy canopy in the summer over the quiet, one-way street. There’s a hot dog stand on the corner, which brings back a bear-hug-embrace of nostalgia for the street where my grandparents live, not very far from this house. As kids, my siblings and cousins and I were allowed to bike up and down their block, and when we were lucky, one of our parents would take us to the hot dog stand on the corner. Being in my our own first home, with our own hot dog stand, feels like I’ve come full circle. I may not be very far on the map from where I started, but I’ve visited many places along the way.

 

 

On Being an Outdoor Cat

I easily get claustrophobic, but it goes beyond crowded elevators or airplanes. I get claustrophobic in office cubicles or conference rooms with no windows. For most of my adult life I’ve held an office job, but I yearn to be outdoors more often. If my desk sits somewhere in a building where I can’t see outside, I get a little stir crazy. I would take breaks to go and linger by a window to get a glimpse of sky.

This sort of claustrophobia can get particularly bad in the last long, dreary stretch of winter, much like what we’re experiencing right now in Chicago. I currently work from home, and my desk faces two large sets of windows, which makes my inner “outdoor cat” happy. I can see the backyard while I work and watch the squirrels run along the top of the fence.

This winter, Seasonal Affective Disorder has been lurking nearby in the shadows, threatening to capture me. I wish I could fly somewhere sunny and beautiful, but I can’t right now. Instead, I try to find little ways to make myself happy. If it’s nice out (in my very Chicagoan definition, sunny and above 17 degrees), I take my dog out for a walk during my lunch break. We’ll stroll through our neighborhood and admire the beautiful old houses, then visit the local park. Just seeing trees and expanses of sky immediately lifts my spirits and reinvigorates me for an afternoon of work.

When it’s too cold, icy, or rainy, I’ll spend lunch reading hiking blogs or checking out the Instagram accounts of national parks. I let myself daydream about visiting those places someday, or even dare to think about tackling the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, or Appalachian Trail myself. Granted, this would require saving up thousands of dollars and taking about 6 months off of work, so it’s more of a very, very longtime goal far off in my future.

I’m hoping for an early spring and that the worst of the cold and gray is behind us. Until then, like any other outdoor cat, I’ll curl up near a window in a nice warm sunbeam and daydream about leaving the house again soon.