I will send you monthly updates on my creative journey, inspirations, personal anecdotes, and reflections on life or current issues--with a smattering of memes, humor, and pet photos.
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Now that Thanksgiving is over, we are officially in the holiday season. I must admit: I love seeing the lights up on houses. Walking around the neighborhood at night with a warm cup of hot chocolate or cider? Awesome. And daydreaming about resting over the holiday break? Even more awesome sauce.
But then the inevitable question arises:
“What do you want for Christmas?”
You may be wondering why this question isn’t so awesome. Frankly, it gives me anxiety, and up to this point, I wasn’t totally sure why. But today, lucky readers, I’d like to explore the reasons a bit more, if I may.
Reason #1: I don’t need anything, really.
Well, that’s not totally true. I need a LOT of time. I need sleep. I need a strong, well-functioning democracy. I need humanity to stop being so selfish. I need someone to grade my students’ work (LOL). I don’t need clothes, shoes, or kitchen gadgets. I don’t need socks or even (GASP) books. I already feel like I have too much stuff, and I have been trying to clean out my house and donate items to goodwill, which is truly a Sisyphean task. Yet, we are inundated with messages urging us to rush around and buy stuff people don’t need to keep the wheels of the economy moving.
[Like me, Finn wants to hibernate over the holidays. But capitalism....]
Reason #2: Let’s consider the climate crisis, please.
We are in danger of damaging our planet beyond repair. I know I sound like a huge joykill, but the fact is that the act of manufacturing products does leave a carbon footprint. When I see my own kids opening up plastic toys, I can’t help but imagine how many of these toys end up in landfills each year (after breaking or collecting dust), and I cringe. We live in a society that values excess, and it is so wasteful. Am I the only crazy person seeing this and feeling such existential dread? I don’t think I’m alone. To clarify: I am not anti-gift giving, but I would love to see people being more mindful about the products they buy.
Simply put: planet Earth doesn’t vibe with this rush to buy stuff just to buy stuff.
Reason #3: I just want connection.
These past two years were super isolating, frightening, and frankly, very taxing on our collective mental health. It made me realize how vital it is to have meaningful connections with other people. How important it is to have people to talk to and share ideas with. I love the idea of hiking with family and friends, hosting game nights, or having a meal with loved ones, sharing jokes and laughs in the warmth of good company. Most of all, I want to feel seen and valued, to feel like someone out there is interested in what I have to say and really sees me, despite my many flaws. I’d venture to guess many others would benefit from this priceless gift of simple connection and acceptance.
For me, the holidays are bittersweet. They are a time to get some MUCH needed “rest,” and at the same time, it comes with many stressors and conflicting messages. Nevertheless, I will try my best to go back to the basics and practice what I preach with my own family, giving them gifts that are truly priceless: connection, quality time, and lifelong memories.
“Rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” -Lao Tzu
Speaking of changing our perspective, this quote is saved on my phone notes, and it reminds me of my angst about gifting. I feel that if we put more energy into focusing on being grateful for what we have instead of focusing on what we lack, we’d be a lot better off.
Current Read: The Stepping Off Place by Cameron Kelly Rosenblum
This book follows a high school senior’s life after she learns that her best friend died by suicide. Reid, the main character, takes us on her quest to find answers: which signs did she miss? What secrets did her best friend keep from her? This story pulled me in from the very first pages with the vivid emotions conveyed and compelling details, and it was so hard to put down. I laughed and cried along with Reid. I was haunted by the questions she raised about her friend. I walked with Reid through her process of grief, reflecting on my own journey and fears along the way.
In case any movie producers are reading this: I would LOVE to see this as a movie.
I received some very helpful feedback on my current middle grade manuscript, In the Middle of the Sea, and I am working on revisions. First, I am adding more details in the early chapters so that readers would know what life was like for Malia (my main character) before her life fell apart. I also want to add more details about the setting, now that the characters are developed. Even though my experience as a writer is more limited, I have learned some valuable lessons about revisions: I can’t fix everything in one round. Rather, I have to focus on different elements during each stage. For instance, my very first draft just focused on plot and characters. The writing was rough, but I had to get the “beats” of the story down. Then on the second round of revisions, I focused on fleshing out the characters more, making them more vivid and complex with details and believable dialogue. Now, I am working on enriching the setting of the story (time and place). Realizing this takes a lot of pressure off and frees me to prioritize during each revision, keeping it from being too overwhelming. While I think many other writers would agree with this practice, it is most important for each writer to find their own best “fit” in terms of workflow and process.
Our persimmon tree gave us lots of fruit (yay!). Since these are the Hachiya variety (the astringent kind), we cannot eat them raw, like many other fruits that grow on trees. However, once they ripen and soften, these are great for baking. My son helped me bake persimmon bread this past week, and my husband also makes delicious persimmon cookies.
That's all for now, but stay tuned for more updates in January after some much needed hibernation.
In the meantime, feel free to reach out, share this with friends, and/or comment on this post. I love hearing from you all! :)
October is here, and the gross heat is finally breaking. People started stretching spider webs across their fences and yards, settling lopsided pumpkins in porches and walkways, and sticking silly, pun-filled tombstones around their yards. Seeing these decorations go up as I drive home has got me feeling like:
As much as I love the decorations, my absolute favorite activity this month is dressing up for Halloween. I cannot emphasize this enough: I LIVE for this.
When I was a teenager, I made a promise to myself: always dress up for Halloween. Even when I’m 95 years old and unable to walk, I still want to slap something on myself--even just a headband with bunny ears, if nothing else.
This promise wasn’t about winning a prize or gaining clout on social media (which didn’t exist when I was a teenager--thank goodness).
This promise was about having fun, first and foremost. And what better way to have fun than to put on a silly costume and pretend you’re some other character for one day?
And when I became a mom, I took this commitment to the next level: we upgraded to FAMILY costumes.
To my delight, we were all in during those early years. Well, actually, my kids were too little to say “no” or protest, but they seemed equally excited about the idea of dressing up as a family. We’d collaborate on costume ideas: sharing our favorite movies, shows, and characters, whittling ideas down to the most “do-able” options.
For instance, our kids discovered Star Wars, so we had a family Star Wars costume. And when we got into Adventure Time, we each chose our favorite alter-ego from that show.
For a long time, I felt like the “cool” mom, strolling around the neighborhood in our awesome, unified, homemade costumes.
But now that my kids are older, they want to assert their independence. Establish their own style and interests. Totally understandable, right?
But their first act of independence was swift and brutal: they wanted to shed the family costume.
I balked at first, more stung by the idea that they didn’t want to associate so closely with me, their parent. But I had to put my own ego aside and recognize that they were right: it was bound to happen, and it came sooner than I expected.
Another life lesson: the “cool mom” to “cringe mom” pipeline is real, folks.
Of course, I respected my kids’ wishes and let them choose their own costume, even if it was a mass produced “Scream” costume we bought at Target (no bitterness here, I swear!).
Regardless of my new “embarrassing” mom status, I will embrace my cringe-y ways and put on my beloved Minnie Mouse ears.
Time to go back to having fun this Halloween!
"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living”--Marcus Cicero
In addition to celebrating Halloween, we also celebrate Dia de los Muertos as a way to honor family members who have passed. This is a bittersweet event because we miss those who have died, and we always feel the pangs of grief that will never go away. This year, I will honor my dad on our altar. I never had the chance to say goodbye or to heal our broken relationship, which hurts me deeply. I'm still gutted by the shock of his death. Nevertheless, I am also grateful for the chance to reflect on the positive memories and wish him well in the spiritual realm. For all of our family members who have passed on: we remember you and keep you in our hearts.
Current Read: Honolulu, by Alan Brennert
This is a lush story with rich imagery that transported me to Honolulu during the early 20th century. It features a Korean woman named Jin, a former picture bride, who immigrated to Hawaii and must find her way through this foreign and exotic land. Brennert loaded his narrative with research about life in Korea, in addition to intertwining Jin’s journey with real Hawaiian history and cultural references. Honolulu’s immersive details kept me grounded in the story. Brennert also wrote Moloka’i, and I would LOVE to see one of his books adapted into a film.
Writing Update: I attended the SCBWI SoCal Chapter Fall Conference on Saturday, October 2, and learned so much about how to improve my writing craft. We listened to engaging presentations from agents, editors, and published authors, who all took the time to answer our questions afterwards. Moreover, I was able to follow along with live critiques of our talented fellow members’ first pages, learning a lot about what makes a first page grab a reader’s interest. If you have aspirations to write children’s books, I highly recommend joining SCBWI and attending events like these.
Garden Update: We planted this Asian pear tree years ago. Even though it never bore fruit, we’d water it in the hopes that we’d be fortunate enough to get homegrown pears some day. I’m excited to say that that time has finally come! I was watering this week, and discovered some little pears on our tree. Yay!
Phew! That's all for now, but stay tuned for more stories and updates. In the meantime, feel free to reach out, share this with friends, and/or comment on this post. I truly appreciate hearing from you! :)
Fun fact: I learned how to surf in Costa Rica. My husband and I stayed in a (literal) treehouse on a remote beach, and a local instructor offered surfing lessons. Of course, I took him up on his offer.
(One of the treehouses in Ojo Del Mar, an EcoLodge in Costa Rica)
I thought I was so cool. Gently pushed forward by the warm waters and calm, consistent waves, I stood on the longboard with pride and panache. It was like I was born to surf: a true natural. I even let myself pretend I looked like Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary Hawaiian surfer.
But then I returned home and attempted to surf at Newport Beach. If the waves could speak, they would have said, “Gurrrl, please. LOL.”
I was NO Duke Kahanamoku. First of all, the cold water (even in the summer) shocked my body and tightened my muscles. The waves barreled at me, one after the other, and kept knocking me off the board. Then, when I managed to stand, the shorebreak thrashed me against the sand. Humbled by the unforgiving California waves, I carried my foam board back to shore on my throbbing, moppy head, feeling defeated and foolish.
I have since recovered from that episode. However, that feeling of defeat--of wiping out--has recently crept up inside me, but in a different context. When I began teaching, I quickly learned as much as I could and fell in love with the profession, hitting my stride, getting positive feedback and results, and even mentoring several amazing student teachers. I challenged myself to keep learning and level up my skills. Maybe I’m good at this, I’d let myself believe.
Then 2020 hit. And then 2021. Now, the classroom climate feels very different. Teachers are exhausted, discouraged by so much constant bad news and division, and overwhelmed by so much thrown on our plates. For many of us, teaching nowadays feels more like trying to surf on the cold, rough California waves instead of the warm, welcoming waters of Costa Rica. The once familiar landscape of our classrooms and schools often seems more like a fun-house version of itself, which is jarring.
(Teaching in 2021)
Getting pummeled by waves--whether the ones in the ocean or the ones in our psyche--sucks. It’s painful. But it reminds me that learning is never a “one and done” deal. Even when we feel like we’ve mastered a skill and start to feel comfortable, we have to constantly evolve and adapt in order to keep growing and surfing through the ups and downs of life.
With that said, my arms may be tired, but it’s time to get back on that board.
"Smooth seas make poor sailors”--Nautical Proverb
Since I’m talking a lot about the ocean, surfing, etc., I thought this was a fitting quote. It reminds me to embrace reasonable challenges as a chance to learn about myself. Sweet little Amelie, on the other hand, doesn’t seem concerned about being a poor sailor (or taking over my writing chair).
Current Read: Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
My husband read this graphic novel (which was originally a popular webcomic) and loved it, so I thought I’d check it out. Don’t let the child-like drawings fool you: Solutions and Other Problems is a GN for mature audiences. With a series of short, illustrated stories, Brosh tells readers about her childhood and struggles in witty and, often hilarious, honesty. And when I least expected it, Brosh dove into some heavy stuff revolving around mental health, gut-punching me with emotions I didn’t expect to experience. I appreciated that, actually, and felt the ups and downs gave this story so much complexity.
I worked on revisions for the middle grade story I mentioned last month. The working title is In The Middle of the Sea, and it is set mostly in Maui. However, the time setting is not in 2020/2021. Based on the hint below, can you guess approximately when this story takes place?
Now that apple season is here, our Gala apple tree has sprouted a bunch of little apples. It took years to get this tree to bear fruit, but ever since we established our beehive, our fruit trees have become much more productive. Thanks for all of your help, bees!
That's all for today, but stay tuned for next month's updates. In the meantime, feel free to reach out, share this with friends, and/or comment on this post. I love hearing from you all! :)
We hoped that this summer would bear some semblance of the summer of 2019, but--alas--science had to flex HARD on us naive humans.
I don’t want to go down that black hole of despair, so I’ll promise to keep this upbeat. :)
Even though we had to still be cautious with unvaccinated children, we were determined to make some happy family memories. So we stayed in a cottage on a farm in Carmel Valley for a few days. It was so remote that we had to drive hours up a windy road--a road not even wide enough for two cars--on the side of a mountain. Totally relaxing, right? Nevertheless, we pushed our loaded car slowly up that mountain for the sake of adventure.
With so much going on in the world that makes us feel powerless, like we have no control, I’ve realized that it’s even more important to fight for moments of peace amidst chaos. But in order to reclaim our sense of agency, we had to distance ourselves from the source of that powerlessness: the news, the screens, the doomscrolling. Moreover, we have to open up to new experiences. My husband and I are both adventurous and, lucky for us, our kids were game to join us for the ride.
The kids tried their first afternoon tea, and they loved feeling sophisticated and grown up (that only lasted for about five minutes until the situation devolved into a nuggie fight). We tried hiking new trails after waking up at 4am to the roosters’ proud crows. We tried riding bikes along Monterey Bay and eating new foods. We tried all we could to fill our cups and heal our hearts--just a little.
It’s not like one short getaway will automatically change lives, but venturing outside our comfort zone was a nice change and built up some of that inner muscle that seemed to atrophy in all of us. When my kids tried something new (even if it was a flop), the mere fact that they did it boosted their confidence. More importantly, I realized that we don’t need getaways to achieve this; we’re surrounded by opportunities for new experiences. We can try a new bike or walking path around our neighborhood or strike up a conversation with a new neighbor. We can try reading a new genre of books or cook a new recipe. Here’s one I made recently: vegan spring rolls with peanut sauce.
As comforting as predictability can be for us, it’s also great to move away from the routine--at least for a little bit--to help us remember how courageous and capable we really are.
Inspirational Quote and Writing Update: Isak Dinesen once said, “All sorrows can be borne if you can put them into a story.” I heard this quote on a podcast (Throughline on NPR), and I felt it deeply.
As far as telling “a story” about our sorrows in order to bear them, I am working on a middle grade story about a girl’s quest to reconnect with her broken family. I was scared at first about the idea of channeling the confusion, anger, and loss I’ve experienced in my own family. This story, however, offers the characters a sense of hope amid loss and a chance for redemption. Although there was no redemption in my “real” life, I feel that this story will help me with some much-needed healing.
This story also incorporates one of my favorite hobbies. Here's a clue:
Also, I am glad to have sweet Finn in my writing critique group. He'll surely help me get through this.
Current Read: Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
I recently read Ghost World, and let me tell you: this book doesn’t hold back! I’ll admit that the story felt a bit dreary at first. However, the thinly-veiled vulnerability of the two friends (Enid and Rebecca) pulled me in the more I read. I also appreciated the Daria vibes I got from Enid as well as the brutal honesty that Clowes’ flawed and complex characters brought to the page. It also felt reminiscent of the way my friends and I would interact. If you are looking for a real and bittersweet coming of age story between two close friends, you’ll enjoy this!
Garden Update: Each year, the Orange County Fair hosts competitions, where participants can enter vegetables, breads, wines, animals, cookies, photography, honey, and even table settings for judges to rank. Following the desire to try new experiences, we entered the honey we harvested from our beehive for the first time ever. There were over 25 beekeepers in the contest for our category (Amber Honey). To our surprise, our honey won SECOND place!!
So what are some new endeavors--big or small-that you’ve tried lately?
Stay tuned for next month's updates. In the meantime, feel free to reach out, share this with friends, and let me know about your latest adventures. :)
2021 has been hard. Like, really hard.
I was hoping it would be better than 2020, but it hasn’t been for so many reasons.
As a teacher, I was burnt out from the most exhausting year of my career. As a mother, I struggled to support my kids through a year of remote learning (!!) and then hybrid learning, in addition to meeting their growing mental health needs. As a daughter, I’ve been processing the messy, complicated grief from the sudden, horrible death of my estranged father. And as a human being, I’ve wrestled with some hardcore isolation.
Many days have felt like lumbering through the fog, with me wandering aimlessly in my own head until something (or someone) snaps me out of it. Some days, I am lucky enough to have some clarity and motivation, and I try to harness that before it slips through my fingers and the fog settles around me again.
But no matter what, each day I’ve pushed myself to get out of bed and do something. Walk with my family. Run alone. Read (if I can focus). Cook. Pull weeds. Cuddle with my sweet cats:
It is no substitute for therapy (which I 100% support), but these small actions do help. My kids--as much as they can be exhausting--have also given me a reason to get up, access hope, and find joy in the small moments. I am thankful for them, my supportive husband, and those who have patiently taken the time to listen to (and read about) my experiences.
“Healing” is a verb, an ongoing act, and it will be a long process. However, I am embracing all I can do to emerge as a stronger version of myself on the other side of this current fog. I remember once, when I was at hula practice over 15 years ago, one of the Aunties noticed I was sad. She gave me a hug and reminded me of the Hawaiian phrase, “Imua,” which means “straight ahead.”
To this day, I remember Aunty Tina’s words of encouragement. I can stop to feel the sadness. I can pause to take a much needed breather. But I must keep my toes pointed forward and keep moving straight ahead, standing as tall as my 5’2” self can in order to take on whatever craziness 2021 still has in store.
Current Read: Kerry and the Knight of the Forest by Andi Watson
I recently discovered Andi’s work, and I was immediately drawn in by the textures in his illustrations. His fantasy story is about a boy on a quest to get medicine to his sick parents back at home, but he must first make it through a dangerous forest, full of spirits and mysterious and magical creatures. I appreciated the quiet moments, the expressive nature of his characters, and the important lessons on trust. Also, my sons enjoyed his book, so that's a big plus!
Writing Update: I am still plugging away on Three Bee Honey (Graphic Novel Project) and working on other project ideas as well. I will keep you posted on this!
Garden Update: Our red flame seedless table grapes are starting to ripen, and they are so crisp and sweet! My kids grab a handful to snack on as they walk by when playing outside.
Inspirational Quote: “Embrace and endure.” I read this quote once many years ago, and it stuck with me. It is simple, but it has become a mantra during the hardest days. It reminds me that these tough feelings are inevitable. I can’t run away from them; rather, I’ve got to embrace them as part of my story.
As you can probably tell, I am a fan of inspirational quotes and great books. Do you have any great books or quotes you'd like to share?
Opening up like this was pretty nerve-wracking, I must admit. But I am glad to be able to share my experiences. I will be in touch again next month. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you! Please reach out if you have any comments on this issue (I am open to suggestions on making it better) or if you have any questions. :)
Some updates, musings, and sharing of inspirations and news.