Pushing Through

Today was one of those days where I woke up feeling down. I think it has to do with a number of recent activities, like having to coordinate the upcoming Mother’s Day activities, which sometimes dredges up unexpected childhood memories or family dynamics, and thinking about the illness of a close family member. My own frustration with Project X doesn’t help either; neither does an email from a placement agency requesting a list of references, another reminder that I am someone without a career at the moment (even though it’s by choice, it is still at times a difficult adjustment).

What I have learned from past experiences is that the best way to combat a downhill spiral is to make a plan (and to reach out, which I did by texting Ms. Sunshine, who as usual was full of reassuring words). Sometimes, I find it easier to have a simple to-do list. This is what I scribbled onto a piece of paper:

  1. Tape up closet doors. (Prep closet doors with painter’s tape for spray painting later.)
  2. Email W re essay. (Review application essay and provide feedback)
  3. Fold laundry.
  4. Wash dishes. (Was too tired to wash last night.)
  5. Roast kohlrabi. (Unexpected find at local produce store; been meaning to make it.)
  6. Email references.
  7. Run.

The reason that these lists/plans work for me is that they give my brain something to focus on. It worked, but only progressively. By the time 5 p.m. rolled around, I was at least able to lace up for a run at Sawyer Camp (having completed many of the tasks on my list). The run was exhilarating but tough – several times I felt crushed by sadness thinking about the sick family member, and I just wanted to sit down on the trail and cry. But each time I pushed through, telling myself, “just a little farther.” In the end, I finished my 2 miles without stopping more than once or twice. It’s not far, especially compared to my marathon training days, but it felt really good to push myself again, both physically and mentally.

When I got home, AK was doing his own workout on our elliptical machine. He said I inspired him to get on! By then I was back to being in a good mood (those endorphins always kick in). It’s a reminder to me that it is always important to push through, no matter how dark my mood, and to reach out to the trusted inner circle for encouragement.

Oh, and here’s a picture of the roasted kohlrabi sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, which we paired with the Mexican chicken AK made over the weekend (coincidentally, on Cinco de Mayo!). Both were very tasty!

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A Night with Anthony Bourdain (featuring Eric Ripert)



A couple of weeks ago, E and I spent a perfectly good Saturday night in San Jose to hear a proverbial fireside chat between Anthony Bourdain (of Kitchen Confidential and No Reservations fame) and Eric Ripert (chef owner, Le Bernadin in NYC). In addition to the usual witty banter and good-natured ribbing (laced with profanity from time to time, of course), the dynamic duo also discussed such au courant topics as the meaning of farm-to-table, global food cultures, the role of farmer’s markets, restaurant trends, etc. What I really appreciated from Tony Bourdain is his contention that many people in the U.S. over-romanticize farms, especially those located in developing countries. In this much ballyhooed “back to the earth” type of mentality, somehow being forced to live off the land, as in the case of subsistence farming, is a way of living far superior to our modern ways. A corresponding attitude is the “holier than thou” judgment that rains down on anyone who chooses not to buy organic, not to compost or to drink water out of (gasp!) plastic bottles. In other words, we need to return to a simpler time, before the proliferation of plastics, before the abundance/waste of food and before everything got processed to death.

When I encounter people espousing these views (not without regularity in the Bay Area), I often think about the life of my grandfather and his humble beginning as a small-time fruit farmer. As someone who had actually tilled the land and survived both World Wars (including being conscripted by the Japanese during WWII), his belief system relating to food is not driven by any lofty ideology. Instead, it grew out of a genuine respect for the earth and a perpetual survival mentality. As kids, we were never allowed to waste anything – no banana was beyond salvaging (“see, you just cut out the brown part”) and, with occasional exceptions, no food was too old to toss. Eggshells with residual egg whites were used to fertilize potted plants, and reusable bags were used for groceries. My grandfather’s generation didn’t know the first thing about environmentalism or the organic/local food movement back then, but they lived a lifestyle consistent with many of the core tenets of these philosophies. Despite this, did my grandfather appreciate the advent of supermarkets? Of course he did! How can you beat the convenience of supermarkets and, especially in the summer, the air-conditioning? (This latter part may be my own projection, seeing how he was very averse to turning on A/C even during the hottest summer months in Taiwan.) The year-around availability of all kinds of produce was great too. But modern conveniences complemented, rather than replaced, the traditional markets, and my grandfather and other shoppers continued to go to them for freshly butchered meat and seasonal produce.  (As an aside, when I was younger, those places were not the European-style farmer’s markets marked by an excessive concentration of yuppies – they were more like busy markets with harried housewives and puddles of dirty water on the ground.)

I often think that by being overly judgmental/militant/smug, rather than encouraging and inspirational, many environmental advocates and food activists miss out on opportunities to truly influence those around them. When I hear people say things like “we should eat simple diets or cook like the farmers/goatherders/hunters from Ghana/Indonesia/wherever,” I also think about how ridiculous that is and how many of those people would swap lives with us in a heartbeat. Of course everyone can do better and probably learn valuable lessons from other cultures. But no amount of harsh criticism will help the planet. Neither will a misguided sense of what lessons traditional societies can offer.

Anyway, just a bit of reflection after the event. It was so much fun to hear these guys, and the discussion was definitely thought-provoking.

Writing is a Craft

The only way to become a good writer is to write..and write…and write some more. Talent gives you a head start, but only so far (see story of The Tortoise and the Hare). Writing is a craft that needs to be continually honed — a process that, if one is truly honest, exposes vulnerabilities, challenges beliefs and exposes one’s innermost thoughts. Having been derelict in updating my blog, I know my writing skills have completely deteriorated (one can only hope not irreversibly). I can’t believe my last post was almost two years ago! Even more upsetting to me is that I never finished my travelogues for my trip to France. Somehow once I got to Paris, I ran out of steam. I can blame the iPad (the WordPress app was terrible), the lack of consistent WiFi, my training for a marathon, the constant distraction of amazing food, etc. At the end of the day, however, the real issue was that my high and perhaps unrealistic expectations turned out to be too daunting for myself. Between inserting hyperlinks, looking up restaurant locations and editing photos to make each post “perfect” and “sleek,” I lost sight of why I began to blog — to elevate the everyday, to document each experience, and to create an outlet for my writing.

So here I am, trying to get a fresh start. I have missed so many significant events and, if time permits, will try to go back and retroactively write them up. In the mean time, I am moving forward and letting go of those regrets from the past. I will write at least once a week and not care if every post is pretty.  To a new beginning!

Burnt Out!

The stress of preparing for two separate international trips — a two-week vacation in France, followed immediately by a week-long work trip in Taiwan — has finally taken its toll.  Add to this my attempt to juggle my marathon training schedule, busy workload and (moderately) active social schedule (by choice – I had resolved to be a more accessible friend this year), and you have the perfect formula for mental burnout.  I feel like my life has been reduced to scheduling (social, personal, work, running) and making to do lists. I even find myself mentally checking off “fun” events so they are considered “done.”

But the day has finally arrived!  I just finished packing for France an hour ago, around 11:30 p.m., and the taxi will be taking us to the airport at 3:50 a.m. I even pre-packed for Taiwan, since I’ll have fewer than 12 hours at home before heading out to the airport again.  Unfortunately, my last run was a short 2-mile job on the treadmill on Tuesday.  However, after some dizzy spells a few days ago, I have decided to actively cut back and get some sleep (maybe it’s not the end of the world if I don’t have time to go buy another bottle of my favorite sunscreen – I’m sure I can easily locate a French substitute).  Mentally, I am just fried and unable to motivate myself to do anymore.  I find myself even doubting whether I want to go on vacation!  (Of course I want to go on vacation – I am merely fighting off my fantasy of curling up in bed and not even have to set the alarm.)

I’m hoping that this will all change once I finally land in Charles de Gaulle airport and get some sleep.  Ready or not, Paris here I come!

A Stolen Water Bottle

My beloved water bottle...now gone!

Due to sheer exhaustion from my Ocean City trip last weekend, as well as a few social engagements (dinner with Ms. Escape at Vivace Ristorante on Friday and with Ms. Lin at Marnee Thai on Saturday), I had to push my long run one day out to Sunday this week.

Having run close to 13 miles last weekend on concrete in the East Coast heat and humidity, my body felt surprisingly strong on the 15-mile run at the Sawyer Camp Trail back at home.  Although the day was hot (mid-80s, and I didn’t get to the trail until close to 10 a.m.), a gentle breeze swept in for a cooling effect, the air was dry as usual, and the trail provided a soft landing for my feet.  I thought I had done everything right – ate a large bagel with natural peanut butter first thing in the morning, a packet of GU energy gel (with caffeine) at the beginning of the run and then every 45-50 minutes thereafter, carried two 10-oz. bottles of water on my Nathan 2-bottle hydration belt, and even planted a water bottle for my return trip (the trail is only 6 miles long, so I can leave water on the way out for my return trip fairly easily).

The gentle hills that were such a struggle a mere two weeks ago were conquered without too much pain. I was feeling great and actually thought I could maintain a sub-13-minute pace, which has been the baseline for my long runs (12:xx pace was considered good, 13:xx pace was considered on target, compared to 11- or 12-minutes for my shorter runs).  As I approached the mile 10 marker, I finished the last few drops of water in my small bottles.  Then I looked under the tree for my favorite pink water bottle for another 24 ounces for fresh, cold water (I had even filled half the bottle with ice cubes so it would stay cool).  For some reason, it was not there!  Initially, I was perplexed – did I leave it under a different tree?  After a minute or two of frantic, but ultimately futile, searching, it finally dawned on me.


It was in fact an unusually hot day, with the sun beating down on runners, joggers and walkers alike. I had finished all my water ahead of schedule, but thought nothing of it since I had prepared replenishment.  I probably experienced the typical progression of emotions when one becomes a victim of theft – first, confusion, then disbelief, followed by anger, then finally acceptance.  I guess I’ve been very lucky and can’t remember the last time something was stolen from me.  I mean, who steals a water bottle?!  It really calls into question my faith in human nature!  Feeling rather dejected and by this point severely dehydrated, I trudged through the remaining 5 miles, walking the final stretch to avoid any type of heat exhaustion.

The silver lining is that wo good things did come out of this.  First of all, after ranting about this incident on the Marine Corps Marathon First-Timer page on Facebook, I experienced first hand the incredible support of the community.  Not only did more than 15 people offer their sympathies within 24 hours, but many shared their own experiences and words of encouragement.  Secondly, with the endorsement of fellow runners on this board, I finally decided to buy the 4-bottle hydration belt (so I can carry all the water on my person). I had been contemplating this purchase this for a while, but thought it would be somewhat wasteful since I already have the 2-bottle version.  However, this incident really solidified my decision.

In the end, every bad run is a great learning experience.  Being forced to run 5 miles without water will just make my next properly hydrated run that much easier.  Looking forward to that!

A Fine Line

I have spent the first half of this year focusing on “facing my demons” (per my New Year’s resolution) and embarking on a path of self-discovery, which mostly involves facing my darker issues head-on.  Part of this process is coming to terms with the wrongs I may have inflicted on other people, the trite and the grave.  If the purpose of becoming healthier emotionally is to live a happier life, I would like to think that such improvements would not come with collateral damage to those around me. The problem is, although I have made great strides in reducing my proclivity to avoidance (apparently I’m very good at this – entire swaths of my childhood have disappeared from my memory), I have not been able to walk the fine line between providing honest feedback (the hallmark of a good friend, right?) and being overly harsh, or to tread lightly between being a good listener (another “good friend” trait) and enabling/prolonging self-indulgence.

I think I often fail to come to terms with the fact that people may not be interested in change at this exact juncture in his/her life — I certainly wasn’t before this year.  Too often, I end up trying too hard to change people’s mind or to give unsolicited advice, and in the process possibly damaging the friendship.  I often wonder – can true friendship survive in light of not seeing eye-to-eye on serious issues?

I would like to think that true friendship can and will endure.  The reality is that people will change when/if they want to change, and if they are not interested, it does not matter what you do.  You cannot “save” them from whatever it is, and even by thinking this perhaps you are already engaging in a level of arrogance that may chip away at the relationship.  Perhaps the role of a good friend is simply to be a constant source of support.  Easier said than done, of course.

This was a somewhat distressing realization – nothing like figuring out that you may not be as good of a person as you think you are.  So, to those I have inadvertently wounded, I hope to be forgiven.  Meanwhile, my goal is striving to be more gentle, more forgiving, more compassionate and more supportive.  In other words, to be a better friend.

My Two-Week Challenge of No Products

Imagine having a dermatologist tell you that for the next 2 weeks, you cannot use any products on your face – no sunscreen, no lotion, no foundation, no make-up, no nothing.  That is exactly what happened to me on Friday afternoon.

For the 4-5 days leading up to the appointment, my face had deteriorated into an itchy patchwork of severe peeling and irritation.  Theories among my friends and family ranged from latent eczema – triggered by the unseasonably warm weather – to allergies and an adverse reaction to the sun, given my increased frequency of running outside.  I tried more frequent washings, moisturizing face masks, anti-itch creams and aloe vera gels.  Nothing seemed to work, and my face even got a little swollen and ruddy, and not in a jolly kind of way.

I finally overcame my skepticism of the efficacy of doctor visits and booked a last-minute appointment with a dermatologist referred by a good friend.  As soon as the doctor saw me, she identified my symptoms as “contact dermatitis” – or in layman’s terms, an allergic reaction to something smeared on my face.  Because of the heightened sensitivity caused by the original unidentified irritant, my face is extremely sensitive to all chemicals at this point, leading her to issue the strict ban for all products for two weeks (after which products are added back one at a time to identify the irritant).  Only 2 items are currently allowed – the cortisone cream she prescribed, and original formula Vaseline for dryness.  THAT’S IT.

Now, I do not consider myself a vain person, but the thought of having to face the world bare-faced was somewhat terrifying (it’s a girl thing…guys may have a hard time understanding).  Would I be viewed as unprofessional at work?  Are people on the street going to peg me as an unkempt housewife?  How will I be able to run outside???

Alas, I met up with co-worker and his wife (for the first time!) last night without make-up, and after the initial period of being hyper self-conscious, it actually felt fine.  Somehow though, I know it’s going to be a long two weeks.

Happy New (Rabbit) Year!

New year’s resolutions for 2011:

(1) Face my demons

(2) Forgive

(3) Get healthier

(4) De-clutter the house and have more parties!

(5) Buy less, donate more

The new year is full of hope for me – perhaps it’s time to pick up the metaphorical pen again.  It has been a long hiatus.

College Draw Group

(Palm Drive leading into campus…ah, good times)

Although AK and I have been sick since the start of the new year, we did have one bright spot this weekend other than sleeping–we dragged ourselves out of bed for the annual draw group holiday dinner on Saturday night.  The draw group, in case you are unfamilar with the term, is just a group of friends at Stanford who enter the housing lottery (the “draw”) together.  As it turns out, 5 of the 6 members of our original draw group ended up settling in the Bay Area, and even the lone outpost in Taiwan (Mr. $) has graced us with his presence a couple of times.  We really are quite lucky to be able to get together as much as we want, though we could probably do better with planning (yes, inertia really is a powerful force).

A sure sign of the onset of aging is nostalgia (wait, have I said that before?  I really am getting old).  It is sometimes hard to believe that college was more than 10 years ago.  These days, our gatherings are usually filled with the sound of kids (laughter, crying, shrieking…you know, the joys of parenthood), discussions of the financial crisis, and sometimes debates about politics.  Sure, of course it’s still fun.  But life, it seems, is now always rushed, and there is an ever-growing to-do list:  groceries, bills, housecleaning, and even social events (and I don’t even have kids!).   Once upon a time, life was much simpler.  Days seemed endless, and conversations idle.  Hypothetical questions abound, and the biggest source of stress, aside from finals, came from events like the draw.  How did we find time to stay up all night for no reason?  The late night Taco Bell runs, doing “fingering” (I know it sounds dirty, but it’s not) or “whois” on the computers, club activities, all various ways of whiling away the time.  I don’t ever wish to return to my college days (many were dark for other reasons), nor do I feel unhappy about my current life (quite the contrary).  But once in a while, just for a day or two, I feel a twinge of jealousy.  And I envy the younger version of me.  We were so free, so gleefully irresponsible, so blissfully unaware of what is to come.   And we had oodles of time to waste. 

Youth is wasted on the young.  I could not have said it better myself.

2009: New Year’s Resolutions

Wow, 2009.  Can’t believe it’s finally here.  I know it’s cliché to have New Year’s resolutions, but it’s kinda fun to take the opportunity to really think about what you want the next year to be.  My goals are simple:

(1) Get Organized.  6+ years of working law firm hours has really disintegrated the order in my life.  This resolution is actually multi-faceted:  I hope to have a clean house (where anyone can drop by at any time with short notice. . . my model is Ms. Escape – that’s you ESC – whose place appears to be the cover of a Pottery Barn catalog at all times), pristine files (I used to be able to locate a phone bill from 3 years ago within minutes!) and send out more thank-you cards.  This also includes having a more active social calendar to see my friends and family.  Of course, better time management should also mean that I have more time to write for this little pet project.

(2) Get Fit/Lose Weight.  Talk about overused – this is probably top on many people’s list.  I was able to lose about 10 pounds in the last 4-6 months through a combo of exercise (started boot camp right before our Peru trip) and diet (thanks Hui for the inspiration and the food journal idea).  Although this is nowhere near the amount of weight I had gained since graduating from law school, I am happy to have gotten back on the right path.  Hope to continue in 2009 (holiday pounds, be gone!).

(3) Get Involved.  I think I did way more community service and charity work when I was in high school.  This has got to change.  I have some ideas, including volunteering to feed Koko the gorilla (did you know that Koko lives in the Bay Area?!).  Let me know if you have any good suggestions.

Here is a little poll about resolutions – let me know where you stand!