Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Outfit: Field Day Made in Oakland

The fact that these Field Day dresses are made from reclaimed fabrics and vintage sheets has so much nostalgia for me.  It makes me think of my mom and grandmother(s) where every item they own has multiple lives.  Once the item has outlived its usefulness in its first iteration, it was then repurposed and reinvented over and over again.  Contrast this to the way I throw out clothes that have barely gotten ten wears out of them.  Clothes are so cheap these days that they can be treated as disposable items.  The true cost is something that most of us do not see, like where the materials and labor come from, or where the clothes we throw away end up. 

But even before I knew the story behind Field Day, what initially drew me to this dress when I saw it on a rack in Dandelion Post was the soft, worn-in denim material and fitted silhouette.  As a shorter person, I always feel most confident in clothes that have a high and defined waist.  This A-line dress is so flattering and the elastic in the back allows some flexibility in the waist area making it super comfortable as well.  There are even two different necklines depending on how you button the dress.  I know this will be a favorite for seasons to come.




 Scarf - Dandelion Post  |  Oakland necklace (old) - Therapy  |  Dress - Field Day Oakland  |  Watch - Casio (bought in Hong Kong)  |  Shoes - Everlane

Monday, June 19, 2017

Recipe: Lavender Scones


June is here, along with lavender season.  Recently, we (as in me and Ellie) made these super simple and scrumptious lavender scones.  Each buttery bite has just the right hint of lavender, herbal and refreshing.  They pair perfectly with some sweet peach jam.  You probably already have all of the ingredients in your house and culinary lavender can be found in a well-stocked super market or online.  If you can't find specifically labeled culinary lavender, you can just use organic lavender (which is what I did).

Prep Time: 8 minutes Bake Time: 7 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cane sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon organic lavender flowers
1 egg (for wash)

Preheat oven to 450F.  Mix together dry ingredients.  Rub butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles bread crumbs.  Mix in milk and knead into soft dough.  Fold in lavender flowers.  Use a spoon or ice cream scooper to scoop out balls of dough onto wax paper in a baking tray.  Flatten each balls lightly and brush with egg wash.  Baking for 7 minutes at 450F until golden brown.

Recipe adapted from here.



Enjoy! xx

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Zero Waste: What's In My Bag?

No water, no life. No blue, no green. -Dr. Sylvia Earle

I recently read in a book that there are garbage patches the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. The book wasn't even about that, it was just a conversational tidbit in the novel, but I couldn't stop thinking about the garbage patches. I obsessively searched the internet for images, videos, and any information that I can find about the Pacific trash vortex, and the more I learned the more devastated I felt. I couldn't believe that the beautiful oceans that I loved to swim in were being trashed to this extent.

Waiting for policy changes to mitigate our environmental impact can be slow (but doesn't mean we should stop fighting for it!), but the change that starts with the individual can happen today. I found it surprisingly easy to make some swaps in my daily life that can reduce my plastic footprint. I'm not totally there yet in my zero waste journey, but for me this movement isn't about perfection, it's about progress.

One area that I've always felt guilty about is travel: the carbon footprint of flying is undeniable yet something I can't really give up if I want to cross the oceans in reasonable time. But something I can change is reducing my trail of litter when I travel. Here is what I packed in my small 10" by 15" backpack on my recent trip to New York.



1.  Light reusable shopping bags that can live in your backpack or purse.  I got the blue one as a souvenir on a recent trip to Mexico and I got the llama one in Japan over 14 years ago!


One million plastic bags are used every minute worldwide, with each bag having a "working life" of only 15 minutes on average.*

2.  Reusable bottles: mom and daughter edition.


 America's plastic bottle demand requires 17M barrels of oil a year, with a recycling rate of only 23%**

3.  Reusable utensils.  This comes in handy for food trucks and fast food restaurants that only have plastic utensils.

4.  Cotton napkins.

5.  Reusable hot beverage mug.  I drink an average of 2 coffees or teas a day and always on the go.  This mug is easily rinsed out in the bathroom in between drinks.

6.  Small towel to dry hands in the restroom.

7.  Snacks in a cotton bags.  Cotton bags are more eco-friendly, but if you have plastic zip-locks you can always keep them and re-use.  We still have old zip-locks at home, and I always wash and reuse them (a family tradition thanks to my mom).

Not pictured: stainless steel straws.



That's it!  It required almost no effort to make these small changes while I was exploring the city.  Some of these items "live" in my backpack now so I can continue reducing my waste at home.


*Pacific Institute and Fishman, Charles. “Message in a Bottle.” Fast Company Magazine July 2007: 110.
**plasticoceans.org

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Month in Books: May


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki



A Hello Kitty lunch box washes up on the beach of a sleepy little town in British Colombia and is picked up by a woman named Ruth.  Inside she finds the diary of a 16 year old Japanese girl named Nao who writes about her intention to commit suicide.  As her story unravels, Ruth is sucked into trying to solve the mystery of who this girl is (or was), and whether or not she is still alive.  The book switches back and forth between the narrative of the young girl through her diary and Ruth.  The Nao parts of the book are mainly what kept me interested.  For someone who is about to commit suicide, her writing is surprisingly cheerful.  Her words are at once full of naivety and wisdom as only a young high school girl is capable of possessing.  From her pages, we discover a side of Japanese society that is both cruel and ugly, but just when things get too grim to bear, she discovers a love like no other.  Sprinkled with Zen Buddhist riddles and mind-twisting Schrodinger theories of parallel universes, this book is one big trip for your mind.  It's one of those books that will keep you thinking and bears re-reading.

Positive Discipline: The First Three Years by Jane Nelsen


I love and appreciate my parents, but I know that the way I was raised is not necessarily the way I want to raise Ellie, so where do I even start as a new parent?  I am so glad I found this gem of a parenting book that is built around principles of kindness and empathy and backed by scientific studies.  As I've shared in the previous post about toddler tantrums, I have already put some of the tips I've learned into practice and it has improved my relationship with my daughter.  The biggest change was in myself.  It changed my attitude towards discipline and how to turn it into a positive learning experience.  This book comprehensively covers everything from building autonomy and confidence in your toddler, to eating, sleeping, screen time, and even special needs.  It's a really great starting point for a first time mom like myself and it helped me understand my toddler from a developmental point of view.  I highly recommend it.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett



Every once in a while I come upon an author whose words are so beautiful, poetic, and spell-binding that I find myself no longer rushing to get to the end of the plot but taking my time over every sentence, each one perfectly constructed to shoot straight to the heart.  Reading Anthony Doerr's All the Lights We Cannot See made me feel that way and now so does Ann Patchett.  In this case, the plot is based loosely on the real 1996 Peru hostage crisis.  Patchett's words somehow turned this gruesome situation into a achingly beautiful and romantic story.  There is no black and white, right and wrong, just that liminal gray space that we all occupy burdened by our own life stories.  I can't wait to pick up Ann Patchett's Commonwealth next because I am not ready to come down from this cloud created by her words.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Positive Discipline: How to Deal With Tantrums


Positive discipline really comes down to being firm but kind at the same time.  As parents we all feel the pressure to make sure our children don't grow up to be "spoiled brats", so we tend to punish them in the name of love.  But there are ways to teach our kids in an atmosphere of love without being punitive, so that we can continue to nurture a closer relationship with them.  

A child will do better when they feel better.  The concept of positive time out totally changed the way I deal with Ellie's tantrums.  Young children have all the same feelings adults do--they feel sad, excited, frustrated but they lack the words and skills to cope with them.  Think of how hard it is for you to control your feelings sometimes, now put yourself in your frustrated toddlers shoes who has 1/1000th of your vocabulary.  Positive time out helps both you and your child cool down--it may mean lying down together and reading a book or listening to music, or just a good hug.  Contrast this with the time outs I used to dole out in anger, hoping that making Ellie feel bad will inspire her to be good (it doesn't).  The purpose of positive time-out is to help children feel better so that they can do better.


What to Do During a Tantrum
  1. The first step is to calm down.  Research has shown that when we get super angry or frustrated, the prefrontal cortex "disconnects" and we lose our ability to think rationally or moderate our behavior.  And since all humans have mirror neurons, our anger is contagious to our kids and vice versa.  Make sure your child is safe, then take a moment to breathe and walk away if you need to.  Do what it takes for you to remain kind and firm.
  2. Provide safety and damage control.  Move your child to a safer location or a more private corner if you are in public.  Calmly move out of your child's reach any objects that may be thrown. 
  3. Don't give in to the tantrum or coax a child with rewards.  Remember that tantrums are normal, but giving in to them will only earn you more tantrums.  Remain kind, calm, and firm and wait for the storm to blow over.
  4. Shut your mouth and act.  But remember the attitude behind your actions: if you have to pick up your screaming child and carry her to the car, do it in a calm, kind, and firm manner (see step 1).  Avoid lectures during a tantrum because: 1. He can't "think" when his brain is flooded with emotions. 2. Words can often throw fuel on flames. 3. Silence may prevent another meltdown--yours.
  5. Allow emotions to settle and reconnect.  Once you have cooled off, help your child do the same, because it is just as hard if not harder for them to regulate their emotions.  Talk about what happened and reassure your child that even though his behavior was inappropriate, you still love him very much.  A wordless hug may be comforting to both of you.
  6. Move on and plan ahead.  Once the event has passed, don't dwell on it negatively or blame yourself or your child.  Tantrums are a normal part of learning how to cope with emotions.  A lot of times, a tantrum may be the result of missed naps or meals, unfamiliar surroundings or stressed out adults.  Planning ahead and learning about your child's needs and temperament may help prevent some tantrums from happening.

Remember your child's developmental stage and capabilities.  Toddlers see the world as a fascinating place and are wired to explore.  They also don't understand concepts like reasonable, practical, or delayed gratification.  It's unfair to punish a child for doing something developmentally appropriate even though it might not be situationally appropriate.  Supervision, distraction, and planning ahead will make it more likely your child will be able to behave appropriately.

Parenting is messy and imperfect, so don't get discouraged if you feel like what you're trying is not working.  Your child is never going to be 100% consistent day to day, so what worked with them today may not tomorrow.  Parenting requires a lot of problem-solving, but it's about using your heart along with your head.  Let's keep on trying our best.

All of these tips are from the book Positive Discipline: The First Three Years by Jane Nelsen, ED.D., Cheryl Erwin, M.A., and Roslyn Ann Duffy. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cuba: Havana



When I was younger, I hated old things.  My immigrant parents had to make every hard-earned dollar go far: our apartment was entirely furnished with yard sale finds or free castoffs found on the sidewalk, my clothes were mostly secondhand but of the non-stylish variety, I played with old toys, we drove old cars.  I wanted new things so badly, even cheaply-made and ugly new things that were sold in the mall.  Now that I'm older, I came around to seeing the value of old things.  Old things have stories, old things do have style, old things are the counter-culture movement against the hyper-speed consumerism of today's society.  And, I realized after I visited Havana, old things are a way of life.

To say that Havana is like a time capsule from the 1950's would be inaccurate because it did not feel as if time stood still--on the contrary, the passing of time was even more perceptible in the rusting cars and crumbling buildings.  But Havana is like a pair of Chucks, the more worn down with age it gets, the more stylish and beautiful it looks.  Some buildings and cars have new and bright paint jobs, helping to evoke the vibrant and rich city that Havana once was.  But most of the buildings are covered in faded and flaking paint and balconies are decorated with drying laundry.  It's hard to picture these fancy old mansions in their former glory; they are now filled with the clamor of kids and everyday life of average Cubans.  They remind me of an old house I once saw in Mexico where a tree was growing out through the door and when I peeked inside through the cracks I saw that nature has completely taken over and that there was nothing left of the house except for its walls and facade.  There is a bit of sadness in the sight, but the beauty of new life was breathtaking.  

Perhaps no one takes greater pride in their old things than Cubans, especially in their cars.  It's still amazing to me that they are able to make those cars run on 60 year old parts.  It's almost more amazing after riding in one, like riding inside a rusted out steel cage with the foam poking out of the seat cushions, cringing as I hear the gears grind as they shift, and then miraculously, we were rolling forward in a cloud of exhaust fumes.  All of these old cars are tricked out in new radios with surprisingly powerful stereos that blast reggaeton music all over town.  Riding in these cars forever cemented my impression of Cuba as a nation of resourceful, fun, music-loving, and friendly hustlers.

Yes, hustlers.  But hustler is not a bad word.  When we were walking around Havana we were constantly approached by friendly Cubans who wanted to know where we're from, but eventually the chit-chat will end with them offering us a taxi ride or trying to get us to go to a restaurant.  But a few were just genuinely interested in getting to know us.  It did bother me a little at first, but then I decided that a country full of hustlers is a good thing, because people are motivated to earn more money and do better.  There is difference between poverty and misery.  Misery is something that is horrible to see, where people are so beaten down that they've lost all hope.  Cubans are poor, but they have spirit and happiness and a lot of pride in what they do have.  And that is heartening to see.  So, keep hustlin' compatriotas, keep hustlin'.








































Cuba Travel Tips

Visas

As of 2017, going to Cuba doesn't require much paperwork and is relatively hassle-free.  When purchasing your plane ticket, you fill out a form and check a box indicating your reason for visiting Cuba.  There are 12 government-approved reasons like "Educational Activities" or "Support for the Cuban People".  The other thing that is required is a Cuban Tourist Visa which is purchased at the airport before you board the plane.  We paid something around $120 per person for the visa, but it varies by airline (we heard Southwest is the cheapest).

Money

The major currency in Cuba is the CUC (pronounced kook) or Cuban Convertible Peso.  You can exchange US Dollars when you arrive in Cuba at the airport.  The exchange rate is technically 1:1 but the USD is penalized with a 10% subcharge in additional to the 3% transaction fee, so the real exchange rate is $100 = 87 CUC.  USD is the only foreign currency with the 10% subcharge, so if you want to get the best rate you can try exchange your dollars into Canadian dollars before you go to Cuba.

The other currency that is used in Cuba is the Cuban Peso or CUP.  It can be useful in paying for really cheap items like street food or taxis.  However, we've exchanged some CUP but almost never used it and it was a hassle to try to spend it up before our trip was over.  One thing we were told to be careful about is to make sure when you receive change back you don't receive CUP in place of CUC because the CUP is worth significantly less (unless they've properly exchanged the CUP and gave you the equivalent amount).

Wifi

We decided not to get a SIM card in Cuba because Cuban SIM cards have no data.  What most of the locals do to get online is go to the local parks or town squares where there are wireless hot spots.  It's pretty easy to guess where the hot spots are when we see a bunch of locals all holding glowing screens in front of their faces.  Someone will come up to you and offer you the password for a negotiable price.  The internet speed is predictably slow, but we still managed to FaceTime Ellie who was staying with my parents in LA.

Where to Stay

You have the option of staying in a state-run hotel or a private family home called "casas particulares".  Casa particular listings are really easy to find on Airbnb.  Since we were there for educational purposes, we decided that the best way to get to know the Cuban people is to stay in a casa particular. 

For location, I recommend considering the neighborhood of Vedado instead of Old Havana.  Vedado is a mostly residential neighborhood that has a rich history and a surprisingly rich modern day art and music scene.  Vedado, meaning "Forbidden" in Spanish, used to be a closed-off military defense zone used by the Spanish colonizers.  Later the area was developed by rich sugar cane plantation owners who built the stunning mansions that are characteristic of this neighborhood.  We loved our stay in a beautiful old mansion that was owned and lived in by a young Cuban couple.  
Rooftop patio of a neighborhood "paladar" or family restaurant

Vedado is also home to "La Fabrica", which our hosts highly recommended as the best all-in-one spot for food, art, and music.  It is only open Thursdays through Sundays, so unfortunately we weren't able to see it during our stay.  Our Airbnb was walking distance to the famous Plaza de la Revolucion and a short taxi ride to Old Havana.

Getting Around

Taxis are cheap and probably the easiest way to get around the city.  You can also buy an all-day bus pass for something like $1.50.  Always haggle the price for the taxi ride.  After asking our hosts how much a typical taxi ride would cost from Vedado to Old Havana, he told us never more than $5.  The taxi drivers all started off demanding $10 or more!  So safe to say, you can cut their asking price in half when you haggle, or at least try to.

Google maps doesn't work in Cuba, but the Tripadvisor map surprisingly does.  It won't give you directions without Internet, but it will indicate your current location on the map along with the surrounding restaurants or attractions which is super helpful.

Restaurants  

The best restaurants are the paladares or privately owned restaurants as opposed to the state-owned restaurants.  The national dish Ropa Vieja and national drinks Mojitos and Cuba Libres are on every restaurant menu and you probably shouldn't leave Cuba without trying them.  Some of the newer restaurants have more experimental menus. 
  • We especially loved O'Reilly 304 and Havana 61.  
  • The best ice cream joint in Havana is Helad'oro.  We had to go there two days in row just so I can try more flavors--the winner was the creamy guava in case you were wondering.  


Trying new flavors: mojito and mamey
  • We really wanted to try a lot more restaurants, but we found out the hard way that it was almost impossible to get a table at any of the popular restaurants in Old Havana.  The trick is to go there early in the day and make a reservation in person.  But even that didn't work with the #1 Tripadvisor restaurant: Restaurant Van Van.  Make reservations in person for the night. 
  • Expect to wait a really long time for your food.  The service is just next-level slow everywhere in Cuba.  There is no use complaining about it, just order a few more mojitos and try to enjoy the slow dining experience (we were just really glad we didn't have Ellie with us for this part).
  • Lobster is really cheap and delicious!

Museums
 
Museum of the Revolution
I saw this saying written on a wall in Old Havana: Todos los hechos tienen tres razones, la mia, la tuya y la verdadera.  It roughly translates to "All facts have three reasons, mine, yours, and the truth.  I think that basically describes all history as we know it.  I think somewhere in between what we've learned in US History class and what we read in this museum is an inkling of the truth. 

National Art Museum
Probably my favorite art museum ever.  I discovered the work of Manuel Mendive here.  His colorful, hypnotic, and playful style often depicts really dark periods of Cuban history such as the slave trade and colonialism.  I could have spent the entire day looking at his art alone.


Recurring motifs in Cuban art also include revolutionary leaders and Cubans most beloved poet: Jose Marti.  Che's face is definitely the most favored among Cuban artists, even more so than Fidel's.

Street art
Of course, the museum isn't the only place to see great Cuban art.  There are lots of alleys, streets, and even neighborhoods that have been taken over by local artists.  These are a few that we were able to check out.

Fusterlandia
This place was literally like stepping into the world the Dr Seuss.  Crazy spirals and staircases and platform make up this artists home.  Every surface is covered with tiles forming beautiful pictures themed around love and peace.  Many people said it reminds them of Gaudi's work in Barcelona, which I haven't seen yet.  It reminded me of Watt's Towers in LA, but at a much grander scale.  He also decorated all the houses in his neighborhood, including an epic wall mural that showcases every Latin American country.  We loved this place so much, we ended up buying an original Fuster piece to take home with us.  This place is a bit out of the way from Old Havana, but it is definitely worth the taxi ride to see it.




Callejon de Hamel
A colorful alley decorated with poems and murals by another local artist, Salvador Gonzales.  I loved the art installations made using recycled materials.  A friendly guy introduced himself as a tour guide to us and led us to the bar where we bought some over-priced drinks.  Just something to be aware of as some other tourists have had similar or worse experiences there.  Sunday afternoons are the best time to go if you want live music and dancing.