Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Get Better Soon

I read this thought provoking and convicting essay about "Virtue Signaling" today which dovetailed so nicely with what I've been struggling to work out in my own writing. Virtue signaling is the practice of talking, talking, talking about how much we care, which is often frowned upon (the whys are explained more in the article). The main point of the article, however, was that more than the annoyance of being bombarded by causes and gut-wrenching cries from the non-oppressed, we no longer trust that our friends or celebrities or the average person on the street actually does care about what they're talking about, writing their sentiment off as a means to make themselves look better.

[image credit]

In reality, most people do care. But for me, I experience this chasm between genuinely caring and having any sense that I'm actually involved in bettering anything that I care about. I've been dedicating a lot of thought about why this is, and how I might change it.

I feel disconnected from what's happening; Charlottesville, or the tension that exploded there but is certainly not new. Pick your social disturbance - it bothers me, but I'm disconnected as things stand now. Why is that? I don't know many black people (zero close friends), few of my close friends are LGBTQ, I know very few Mexicans considering that my city is 70% Hispanic, and I know very few Muslims. It's been bothering me for ages that my Church is one of the most racially diverse churches I've been to here, with 2 Hispanic families attending the service I go to.
Why is this? Well, I rarely come in contact with anyone who isn't like me.
Why is that? I live in a neighborhood with people like me, my kids go to school with people like me, and you can only be meaningfully integrated into our church at this point if you speak English.

A Jehovah's Witness lady has been visiting me for several years now and I'm always amazed by the range of age and ethnicity in the people she brings with her (surely to show me off as the one person who takes her pamphlets ;)). She's picked up on the fact that I'm curious about the diversity of her organization so she brings it up often. I truly am amazed and put to shame by the lengths that JWs go to spread their message. Here in Santa Maria, they have members learning Masteco (a very difficult indigenous language spoken by many of the Oaxacan Mexican migrant workers) and Tagalog at the least. They have a Masteco church (?) plant here! I deeply envy their commitment, even while I know that much of their preaching must be motivated out of the fear that comes from not resting in God's grace.

At any rate, she really got me pondering something extreme. Far be it from me to be out-missioned by a Jehovah's Witness. As I've been thinking about this and struggling through learning a language myself (very poorly) for my degree and in the wake of Charlottesville, I saw one of those little Instagram motivational things that read something like, "Your life will not change unless you change something that you do daily". Initially it made me feel guilty about my iPhone use, but it stuck in my mind and I'm trying to think bigger.

We - I - don't stretch ourselves because we don't need to. We already "have it all", so there is little motivation to change anything. We lay the burden of bridge building on those who are learning our language and trying to get into our schools and neighborhoods, and then maybe we'll end up being friends once they are more like us. These are my observations about my own life after contemplating for a long time why I don't have interactions with anyone that lead me to feel personally invested in the larger struggle going on in our nation, and frankly has been for a long, long time.

Do we really want things to change? I mean, think hard about it, be truly honest with yourself - do YOU want to change? I don't really. I'm pretty happy with what I have and where I am. What's happening "out there" hasn't changed my day to day life at all. But if for no other reason than selfish self preservation, I can see that if I don't take a serious interest in the Gospel - which is meant to be shared - and being loud about what I believe my country should be, then the life I've been resting on will not be available to my children. Some of the harm that is befalling our country is because we have wronged others. Not only do I need to stop wronging others, I need to actually start being proactive about reaching out to others.

For me, there is danger in making my civic duty a box that I can check - I cared (check), I wrote an essay (check), I made a statement (check), I gave some money (I'm not thattt committed), I called a senator (check), I attended a rally (also haven't gotten even this invested). But for me as a white woman who is not currently scrounging for pennies, those are all reactionary steps and they don't really change my perspective or my involvement in a lasting way. From personal experience, what changes me and what lasts in my life are relationships. So how can I build relationships that really make me "an ally", not simply a bystander with a megaphone?

The number one thing I'm trying to remember is that given my privileges, I can and should choose not to use them sometimes. For me personally, that means that I don't have to be the one talking just because I can talk without getting into too much trouble. I can talk less and listen a lot more, because whatever it is that is going on here is not something that I understand on a personal level. I shouldn't pretend that I've felt the pain that many are feeling right now. But I can listen. And then, I can get serious.

I can learn a language so I can go to them instead of waiting for them to come to me.
I can move to a neighborhood or a city where being forgotten by the government or having to put extra effort into educating my child becomes my problem too.
I can travel (which is certainly a luxury) so that I can remember that there is a lot more to the world than my version of it, and so that my children can grow up with an intense knowledge of the same.
I can send my children to public schools and hopefully a dual-immersion (English-Spanish) program so they grow up with slightly less of a barrier between the world they were born into and the world that many other Americans experience.

I'm not saying these steps aren't drastic or hard - I'm saying that anything less than drastic or difficult isn't really going to change our hearts. Is the Gospel worth that trouble to me? Because it is going to be troublesome, but I dare say we are not called to mediocrity.

In asking you to care more and care harder, I'm not trying to say that you don't care at all as things stand now. There are important things that I don't care about enough to do or say anything significant about - I believe in at least some version of climate change, but that's not a battle I've chosen to invest in. I believe that life begins at conception, but I will never picket Planned Parenthood and don't plan to write so much as an essay on my views on the matter at this point. Those are not the fights I'm choosing to pick. It's taken me a long time to realize that no amount of berating can make other people care as much about the things that I have chosen to care deeply about. In a spiritual context, God lays different things on different hearts, and it's really none of my business to judge you for not doing the things that I'm called to. I trust that there are things you care about that you're thinking about and trying to do something meaningful about. But, if you are like me and expend energy talking about how torn our social fabric is and are wanting to support people who are not as well off as you, may I suggest that we - I - need to step up our game and get better soon on a day-to-day basis. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dressing Boys in Style (on a Budget)

I enjoy finding clothes for my sons to wear much more than I expected to. I take pride in the fact that people notice how nice they look, even as my personal style has become largely characterized by granny sweats and bags under my eyes. It's also rewarding to see my boys take an interest in their appearance and express their personalities through what they wear. I'm not a very girly-girl in some ways, but I was really looking forward to dressing a girl at some point. When I had two sons, I thought that I was going to have to wait until my siblings or friends had daughters in order to play dress up, but Ishmael loves nothing better than when I buy him new clothes and he proudly picks out his own outfits too.

On the other hand, I did not expect Ishmael to take such an interest at such a young edge, expressing distaste for some of the clothes I would like him to wear. It's hard to know when I should let him do things his way, and when to put my foot down about my boys wearing certain items they don't want to wear "just because". For example, not wanting to wear vintage sweaters is understandable because they're often itchy (I can usually talk them into putting something on just for a picture), but if they can't tell me why they don't like something, especially if they were fine wearing it last week, I'm more likely to override their preference. This often ends in tears, which is frustrating for everyone, so we're still working on how to navigate some of these personal style vs. hygiene vs. practicality battles.

I don't want their appearance to be something that either I or they obsess over. I want them to be comfortable and able to actually live in their clothing, and I don't want to raise them thinking that people who don't enjoy putting a lot of effort into their outfits are "less cool" or lazy or whatever other labels I might be tempted to affix to the less clothes-loving population of parents and children. Style has everything to do with personal choice and personal taste. It's 100% valid to put your energies elsewhere.

From that, it follows that the most basic key to dressing boys in a stylish and interesting way is to actually take great interest in the task, and that's not a priority of everyone's. (Why can't cleaning the house be a passion of mine too?!) Although it's much easier than it used to be, I still think that dressing sons in a practical yet non-dorky way takes more effort than it does with girls. It's certainly doable, but I thought I'd share some of my tips and tricks for those who have commented on how much they like what my boys wear. Oh, and this should go without saying since we're the near-penniless children of missionaries and hippies, but I'm very much a budget-conscious stylist/shopper! I don't have an actual budget for clothes at this point, but almost never do I buy something at full price. I buy clothes for the boys as they need them or if I see a good deal or something especially cool. They do have a lot of clothes, but what Ishmael has gets passed to Ira, and what Ira grows out of we pass on or save for cousins or resell.

First of all, my ground rules are no white and no text. It truly boggles my brains why people bother even making children's clothes in white! Or is it only my children who stain everything they touch?! Putting boys (and I assume girls, too) in white clothing might as well being burning dollar bills, in my book. I also file this under "dressing practically" because it's sad for parents and children alike to have to say "please don't play in the dirt" or "lean over your plate!!!" (10,000x) just to try and save a white shirt. I did buy Ishmael one shirt that has blue crocodiles on a white background because I loved it so much (so does he) but I make him take it off at every mealtime. Clothing shouldn't restrict play or other daily activities, in my opinion. Some exceptions are made for special occasions, but then you have to be willing to see an item ruined on the first wear. I've more or less given up wearing white or pastels as a parent of toddlers either.

On the subject of clothing with text on it, it's very difficult to do this "right", in my opinion, so we just stay away from it altogether. Text on children's clothing is usually ridiculous ("TRUCK LOVER" or "Auntie's favorite red-headed wonder".... please! This is cute to no one but you) or inappropriate. There are certainly snarky or funny words on kid's clothing that I think is funny sometimes, but the fact is that it's not the child choosing to make this statement, it's the parents. Snarky or funny things on shirts almost always offend someone, so why make your child the object of that sort of attention when they don't really understand the message they're wearing across their chest anyway? To be honest, I generally extend this rule to myself too. I very rarely see someone else's shirt with text that I think is tasteful.

I think my only other advice, beside where to find good boy clothing, is not to confine shopping for boy's clothes to the boy's section of stores or websites. I "cross dress" my boys all the time, and no one knows, including my boys. Clothing made for girls is often slimmer and more colorful, which are both style choices, not really gender-related. Putting my boys in girls pants is a life-saver - both of my sons have long skinny legs and no rump to speak of, so their pants are often much too big in the waist but not long enough. Target sells pants that have that nifty elastic-and-button system inside the waistband so that you can adjust the waist, but if you have trouble finding the right proportions in other brands, definitely take a look in the girls section. I do double check to make sure that back pockets don't have floral stitching, rhinestones, buttons with overly feminine designs, or lining that is obviously for girls. Girls also have a much better selection of leggings, which is very helpful especially for younger kids (crawling stages) because regular pants and jeans tend to be bulkier and have strange proportions that make movement (and even getting dressed) more difficult for babies. To this day, Ira prefers the two pair of [girl] leggings he has, a black and white geometric print and a red plaid, to all his other pant options.

Now, I will share some "secrets" of where to shop for cool clothes for boys. I am not shy about asking people where they bought something that I see their kids wearing. I screenshot it on my phone if it's something I see on Instagram, and then I search for a gently used version online. Some accounts (like @fancytreehouse) have already tagged the brands they're wearing, so you can tap on the picture and find all the sources. Sometimes in order to get a cheaper price you have to wait a while to until the item is out of season of several collections old (like at Target or GAP for example, which have limited runs of each style), but I don't mind that.

I used to buy a lot of clothes for the boys on Instagram from other moms who love to thrift or who are selling off clothes their kiddos have outgrown. Since Instagram moved to the algorithm system about a year ago, buying and selling on Instagram is not as convenient, but many sellers have moved to other platforms where you can still find them, and there's not as many people trying to go after what is still available on Instagram. If you haven't bought on Instagram before, the basic rules are commenting on something you want with a comment like "sold" or "me please" and then the seller will send you an invoice via paypal (after you provide your email via direct message). I haven't utilized this very much, but if you know what you're looking for, you can search Instagram by hashtag, such as #minirodiniforsale.

I don't think I've ever bought clothes for the boys on Ebay, and maybe one item on Etsy, but that's an option. Etsy is expensive and Ebay is hard to navigate, in my opinion, and hard to find items on. I prefer the Kidizen app which is exclusively for children's items. You can enter the sizing and gender preferences of your children (or not - you don't have to set parameters) and search all kinds of kids clothing, mostly gently used. You can also search by keyword or hashtag if you know exactly what you want. Many sellers are willing to negotiate on prices or bundle (a discount for buying multiple items) if you ask (same on Instagram). Some, particularly on Instagram, are willing to trade as well. I use Kidizen to resell too, but I like being able to specify the size I want which you can't do on Instagram. There is SO much cute stuff in the 12 month to 2T range in vintage clothing and even regular clothing, but kids tend to be harder on their clothes in the 3T-5T range, so less vintage clothing from that size bracket has survived the past several decades, and less of it is in good enough shape to resell, even if it's a modern brand. Snatch up something you like if you see it in that size!

I do love to thrift shop, but I don't find many clothes (especially in the 3-5T range) that I like for my boys while thrifting. You have to sift through a lot of junk to land on anything good, and I don't usually have the time or energy. The last time I was in the Whittier Savers thrift shop, they had organized their clothing by gender and size and I actually found quite a few great pieces! But that is rare for me. Also rare, but sometimes you hit on a great pile of stuff (vintage, mostly) that has come in as one donation. If you find one thing you like, it's worth checking on the racks close by in case there are more items donated by the same person. The rarest of all, in my experience, is finding a good stash of vintage kids clothing at estate sales, but those are usually the best - in good condition and all in one spot! I like many vintage styles (often well made and not dorky), but vintage sizing is often considerably smaller than modern sizing. If you're buying vintage online, make sure to go by the actual measurements provided (almost all vintage sellers will offer them), not the vintage tags. Another cool thing about vintage is that not many people want it, so once you have a trained eye and/or dress your kids in vintage, people will start bringing it to you.

Consignment stores or events can be good too. I haven't utilized the stores around here very much (they are quite small), but especially when I was shopping for smaller sizes, the Moo La La Boutique that happens twice a year at the Santa Maria fairgrounds was amazing. There are a few sellers who have styles I really like, and the clothes are tagged with seller numbers, so you can kind of shop by style in that way. I find that foreign brands (Japanese and French, in particular) are often stylish and they are affordable on consignment, especially since most people don't want to buy something they don't recognize, so these really good pieces can be on the cheaper side! Having a non-mainstream style can be challenging, but as I mentioned above, you have less competition when you're trying to buy stuff and it's so exciting when you do find things you like!

I do find some things at GAP, HandM, Old Navy, and Target too. They all have good sales from time to time, so I stock up on basics like tshirts or solid colors or shoes to mix and match with the more unique things I find elsewhere. For some reason, I have a bit of a mental block against used pajamas, but luckily there are some pretty cute ones at GAP, for example.

If you pay attention when buying used clothing on consignment or online, you might start to notice some boutique or even designer brands that you lean toward as well. Again, I never buy these brand new, but if you hunt around, you can usually find affordable used ones. Some that I like are Harajuku Mini (was a line at Target), Tiny Whales, Prefresh, Tea Collection, Mini Rodini (pricey, even secondhand!), and Zara. I'm sure there are more I'm forgetting. My favorite Instagram shops sort of morph as my kids grow and our styles change, but we love @chalkmarks, @lovedthreads, @pipsqueaksinplaid, and @mini_fresh_hawaii to name a few. Both chalkmarks and minifreshhawaii are very popular, so you have to be very speedy (and turn on notifications for their shops on your phone) if you want to buy from them. I think I'm following about 1000 shops (not all for kids, but many are) on my Instagram shop account @retroriot, so if you're really committed, you can start there and see what catches your eye.

Happy hunting! 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

6 Week Night Meals I Love

Several months ago, my mom instituted a new house rule in which every adult (and teenager) in our multi-generational household cooks 1-2 nights a week. She and I both have two nights a week, and my dad, my husband, and my little sister each have one night a week. It is amazing. It takes the stress of the unknown away (our nights of the week are set), it lightens the load that was mainly on my mom and me before, it gives other members of the family an opportunity to practice and branch out in their cooking (good and fun for them too, if I may be so bold), and it makes the nights that I do cook easy to turn into something more fancy or exciting or complicated than get-something-on-the-table-before-bed-time. I highly recommend some version of this system if at all possible in your household.

I have a giant collection of Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart, Food and Wine, etc. magazines and at the beginning of each month, I take out all the June issues, for example, and pick out some things that look good. Jonas and I are starting to think of saving for a down payment on a house or apartment or trailer and even though it's a really small step, we're trying to have our 3 meals for the week planned in advance so I can shop for everything we need in one trip. This ends up saving us at least a small chunk of money because I'm the more seasoned shopper, plus the less often we walk into a store, the less we buy.

Keeping a list of things that sound good, whether it's from a magazine, website, or just a craving, makes meal-prep less stressful. When everyone is hungry, it seems to hinder my ability to come up with food that's quick and good, but when I'm looking forward to something that sounds good, I'm more likely to plan ahead (and be able to incorporate what we already have at home). We've also been trying to host more often and not worry about making some extravagant 5 course meal, but instead sticking with the hits that we already know and love. I love to make new things, but it's really nice to cook recipes I'm comfortable with or can prep ahead of time so that I'm not exhausted by the time our guests arrive.

Anyway, those are some ways in which we've been focusing on eating well lately, but I still love a good one-pot, weeknight go-to recipe. Here are a few that I come back to over and over again.

Poke Bowls
My family LOVES poke bowls (click here for recipe), and they're not hard. We buy frozen tuna from Grocery Outlet, and I prefer to cut it when it's only barely thawed because otherwise it's kinda gooey and hard to handle. You'll have to let it marinate a bit longer so it can fully thaw though. You can get furiyake (a seasoning of small bits of nori, sesame seeds, and other things) at well-stocked Asian markets or even at Daiso (Japanese dollar store in major cities) or just cut up seaweed chips and toss with sesame seeds. We use white rice instead of the black rice this recipe calls for, and we customize the toppings to our liking. I usually add a fried egg for those who want it, and make a quick pickle or add kimchi. The marinating of the tuna doesn't take that long, but all the prep (especially if you have more rather than fewer toppings) can get a bit time consuming. You can do prep ahead of time or buy pre-cut veggies and toppings to save time if you want. I also like to take paper menus from poke restaurants to get more ideas of new toppings or combos. We like to add sriracha mayo on top!

Caesar Salad
Maybe this is boring to everyone else, but I have always loved Caesar salad. I buy croutons, but since this is a 2-ingredient salad, I indulge in a home-made dressing. This recipe is my go-to. To make this into a full meal, you can add shrimp or grilled chicken. If there's leftover dressing, I'll often use it in place of mayonnaise on sandwiches the next day.

Sausage Basil Mustard Pasta
Recipe here. I first started making this when a mom in an online group I'm part of said it was her go-to weeknight meal. It gets a bit spicy for my boys if I use spicy sausage and add the red pepper it calls for, but I love it. Ishmael really likes this pasta too, which is always a good reason to put something on heavier rotation. It does call for white wine and heavy cream which I don't always have on hand, but I often substitute heavy cream for half and half, and as long as I've bought a cheap bottle of wine in the past few months, there's usually some left over.

Tater Tot Chicken Pop Pie
I'm embarrassed that I rely on tater tots so much, but they're delicious and the thought of making pie crust is never a joyous one for me. I guess I could buy them, but then I feel guilty knowing I could actually make them fairly easily, plus my mother has probably never bought a pie crust in her life, and so I guess we just don't do that in our family. I do love a good store-bought puff pastry, but it's too expensive to buy for a weeknight. I don't stick to the original tater tot pot pie recipe exactly, I just dice whatever veggies we have (or use a bag of frozen), chop up chicken (cook before putting it in the oven), and throw those into a bechamel sauce with grated cheese (not in the original recipe). Then dump a bag of tater tots on top and bake until golden (30min?). If you're not in the habit of making bechamel sauces, it's actually way less snobby than it sounds. You can find easy recipes on Google, but basically you melt some butter in a pan (like several tablespoons), slowly whisk in a slightly lesser amount of flour (in small increments, so that it stays smooth and well blended) and then quickly whisk in milk until you reach the desired consistency. You will have to keep adding milk if you keep the sauce on the stove because it thickens as it continues to cook. Don't forget to season with salt and pepper and maybe garlic salt if you forgot to add garlic and sauteed onion to the veggie portion, like I always do...

White Lady Green Sauce Enchiladas
These are so far from Mexican food that I'm not even worried about cultural appropriation (though to be honest, culturally appropriating food seems like nonsense to me). This is my own "recipe", morphed from something my mom made growing up. I make a bechamel cheese sauce (described above) and then dump in a big can of green enchilada sauce. My family prefers flour tortillas, but of course you can do corn if you want. To assemble, put some cooked rice (we use white, but you get fancy with Mexican rice or brown rice), cooked chicken, and a small ladle full of sauce, fold the tortilla closed, and repeat until the pan is full. Add the rest of the sauce on top, top with grated cheese, and bake for 30-45 minutes. These are actually pretty mild, verging on bland at times, especially if the ratio of cheesy bechamel to green sauce goes too heavily on the bechamel side. We put hot sauce and salsa on the table and let everyone season to their liking. You can put olives on top or sour cream or whatever else you like to jazz it up.

Several years ago, I visited a friend in Chicago, and stopped at a little Indian market. I got a packet of MTR Pulao Masala and it is the best. It's a mix, just like you would buy taco seasoning, but you end up with a nice and not-boring rice dish with nuts and veggies, and garnished with lemon juice. My boys especially like squeezing the lemon slices. You can get the packet on Amazon, or if you live in Santa Maria, FoodMaxx actually has a surprisingly good Indian section. I don't think it has this packet, but you could make a masala (spice mix) from scratch using what they have and then have enough for several recipes for future use. The first link to the product from the maker's website actually includes the recipe that's on the back of the package, so you can rip off the rest of the recipe even if you use your own mix. It has a handy ingredient list so you can make your mix as close as possible, too! It evens suggests you serve with raita (yogurt, cucumbers, mint) and naan (Trader Joe's has good options). All together, it's a very satisfying meatless meal.

Bonus: 5 more weeknight recipes from round 1!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ice Cream for Artillery Shells, Lipstick for Snipers

I used up all of my fear and worry and sorrow over fearful, worrisome, tragic things months ago, and I don't have any left. I don't feel anything when I hear the news anymore, and this has been as distressing as it can be for someone who isn't feeling. Do you remember that Jack Johnson song, "a billion people died on the news tonight, but not so many cried at the terrible sight"? I stopped crying, and it feels weird.

I'm so unable to appropriately cope with public tragedy any more that I find myself disdaining the general way in which others express grief. The same laments, over and over, combined with the certainty that it will happen again renders the hashtags and the Facebook posts hollow, at best. The most I could muster in response to the most recent mass-murder was, "Wow, that's a bummer." I have some idea of why I react this way now, but I haven't been able to escape it without leaping to the opposite emotional extreme.

As twisted as this may be, I feel a level of responsibility and desire to carry part of the pain experienced by those who are enduring far greater than I am, but I have found this to be a crushing and fruitless burden. More tears on my part doesn't equal less pain on their part. In light and in spite of this, I had a small realization yesterday that helped me.

There have been two bombings in Baghdad, Iraq in the last several days, claimed by ISIS. We are several days into the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims, a time of fasting and prayer. The first bomb went off at a popular ice cream shop, and I remembered that last year there was an attack in Mecca, Islam's holiest city, also during Ramadan. Last year, I remember thinking it was especially cruel to attack people during a holiday when people gather together with family. What is an ice cream shop if not a place of wonder and joy where families and friends come together to enjoy each other's company?

And yet, despite last year's attacks during Ramadan, or attacks on Churches in Egypt, people keep celebrating holidays. They keep leaving their houses, keep eating ice cream, keep going to church. Life goes on, and the best thing we can do is to keep living it with as much joy and normalcy as possible for ourselves and our children. I am trying to remember that within my own country and my own city too, when I feel helpless to prevent foolishness and pain.

It's difficult for me to find a good place to hang out in between debilitating sorrow and complete apathy. I am trying to mourn as best I can with people that I know, and speak up when I see injustice, but I can not run my feet ragged with protests nor cry my voice hoarse with slogans when those things become like slamming my body up against a wall. Exhausting but fruitless. More than that, I don't think it's the best response when the very people I'm worried for have more courage than I do. They keep getting ice cream as an act of defiance. It's not always an overt defiance, but more likely they continue to get ice cream simply because they want to put a smile on their child's face. Living as normally as possible can feel like ignoring the extraordinary going on all around us, but when the shocking becomes a daily ritual, it takes great strength and courage to stay calm, levelheaded, and put one foot in front of the other.

I heard an activist talking about her time abroad, and when she asked women in war zones what she could bring them, they asked for lipstick so they could keep on with their daily routines. It made them feel normal when everything around them was falling apart. One woman said, "I wear lipstick every day so that when that sniper guns me down, he will see that he has killed a beautiful woman." So I must be a bearer of lipstick and a maker of ice cream where I can not be a dismantler of bombs or shout loud enough to repair foreign policy.

"Activism" (in itself a term that has become hollow and coarse to me) isn't supposed to be self-flagellant, it's supposed to be humble and compassionate. Not "look how much pain I am in on your behalf", or "I want to suffer to make myself feel better about watching you suffer", but "how can I make your life as normal as possible for you"?

Keeping things normal does not mean being unaware of the struggle going on around me or being unaware of my privilege to have the option to live a pretty normal life. But I'm also learning not to punish myself emotionally and psychologically for having a measure of privilege, nor to assume that my privilege is the antidote to injustice (such that it's up to me to fix everything that's wrong in the world). As far as I've come to understand it, my privilege is an opportunity to listen. To listen to what someone else's need is, even if it's not as momentous as I think it should be. In short, even if it doesn't make me look glamorous or assuage my fears that I'm not helping enough. It's the chance to make someone else's worry my worry on the most normal level - I can't topple dictators, but I can buy lipstick.

If I'm waiting to be "of enough impact" I will never fill that hole, and I will continue to feel overwhelmed and ultimately deadened by my inability to fix everything. But if I can share ice cream and I can acknowledge the humanity and the courage in the mundane, I start to see, and feel, beyond the magnitude of sadness on the news tonight.

{image by Steve McCurry, taken from his Instagram}

Monday, May 29, 2017

Writing in Zero Gravity

I want to write, but I'm having a hard time.

I've been questioning why I write and should I write and how can I not write and sometimes what I should write. I start to write frequently, and then it's not good enough, and I throw it away and I try again.

I am a writer, but I'm not the best writer, and I hate this. I know that I will never be the very best, and that doesn't bother me so much as knowing I'm not as good as I could be and hopefully will be eventually. I know that between me and her, there is a lot of writing, but I hate that too.

I don't want to write fiction, I want to report and hypothesize and discuss and chastise and repent, and then repeat. But this is hard. Sometimes people don't like you or say things that hurt and make you question, and that is hard.

I want to write so well that no one can argue, but that will never happen. And that's probably a good thing. I want getting better to be enough and I want doing my best to be enough, but right now it's not. As soon as I make it half way through writing something, I hate it. Start over. Throw it out. Start over. Hate it. Start over. What am I doing. Start over. Who cares. Start over. It's pitiful. Start over. Trash. Start over.

What if I'm not brave enough to be a writer?

I read an article on writing by a renowned author recently who said, "writing is what you've done after you've thought." Which is lovely and ludicrous as a job description. Another writer wrote about how fundamentally, writing is a very selfish profession, always asking everyone to pay attention to your view of the world, to what you have to say, and why they should listen to you.

I wouldn't even bother writing if I didn't care deeply about what I have to say, and that's what makes it so hard to weather criticism - I put my guts on the line, and sometimes people hate it. It's difficult not to take it personally. Sometimes people mean it to be personal.

If writing is what you do after thinking, and my writing isn't always good or right, then perhaps my thinking is wrong. I'm sure that it is at times. In fact, more and more I question my thinking. I think I am changing and beginning to see that a lot of the ideas and beliefs I have are only a reaction to a previous set of ideas and beliefs I had which I decided weren't good enough. I imagine this happens continuously throughout anyone's life, but there is zero gravity in between. Who am I if I don't know what I think? And how can I write with confidence if I can not think with confidence?

I want to write, but I'm having a hard time.

{image source unknown}

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Instagrammies 05/04

Here are my latest favorites on Instagram, and why. What has made you stop scrolling in your tracks recently?

@nectarandstone Is it a flower? Is it a cupcake? It's hard to say on this account, and I'm okay with that.

@japanloverme As if I wasn't already enamored with everything Japanese. But seriously, this account is a feast for the eyes, and they also sell amazing jackets, all of which I want, but especially the Stay Weird one, of course!

@marine_edith_studio If you think the average person can't or doesn't want to buy fine art anymore, you'd be wrong. These small and incredible ocean paintings sell out in minutes and they're like $500 each! Don't they remind you of little portholes? I want one.

@meandering_mari I imagine that these kaleidoscope watercolors are so therapeutic to make. Not easy, but all that paper cutting and arranging must be satisfying when it comes together as a paper quilt in such pleasing structures and colors. This account has lots of beautiful paint swirls and dollops in addition to the finished products.

@findingpaola I love this woman's attitude. She calls herself a Haitian fairy, and employs women to help her with her line of headwraps. This particular photo is fierce (she is on the far right), captioned "for our Granddaughters" (which I think is fantastic), but Paola's stories are gregarious and hilarious. She was posing with a friend and giggling, "don't mess with us. We'll throw glitter in your eyeballs," which is my kind of threat. Her regular style is colorful and polished, and recently she's been sharing about these fantastic dress shirts that she's altered to have patterned bell sleeves. You guessed it - I want one.

@simplymoroco I think this account might be run by a travel agency, or perhaps even the tourism bureau of Morocco, but they're doing a damn fine job of making me want to go more than ever.

@asiyami_gold Style for dayyyyz. This girl takes so many incredible trips and looks fabulous doing it. Her hair is often a wig, which I didn't realize for a long time. I know that the topic of African/African-American hair can be pretty charged, so it's interesting to see what different women do or don't reveal about their hair.

@foodwithmichel All I want to do is to drive to LA and eat my way around. I can do that vicariously through Michel. Who knew there were so many over the top hand-held eats?! I don't see food very often that I *don't* want to eat, but still, Michel and I share brain waves about what sort of junk food looks mouthwatering.

@patmcgrathreal Pat McGrath is a famous name in the fashion world as a makeup artist, and she's recently come out with her own line of shimmery "stuff", for lack of a better word, with pretty amazing results. The videos in her stories are mesmerizing and I'm totally on board for galaxy eyes and glitter lips (as if I wasn't before, ha...).

@farwestchina This guy and his family live in the city of Urumqi, in far western China, where I used to live! It's wonderful to have a connection to that place (he travels throughout the province) now that I live so far away, and I appreciate the beauty with which he captures so many subjects close to my heart.

@fancytreehouse Rare are the occasions that I am up for watching IG stories of other people's kids or even looking at pictures of other peoples kids. Fancy Tree House?! MAJOR EXCEPTION. I think Coury (isn't that a cool name?), the mama, is a fashion blogger. I love her style and how she styles her minis. She seems like a really great mom and her kids are incredibly cute. I stare at them eating cereal, that's how cute they are.

@sacraluna I don't think of myself as very into mystical stuff, but let's face it - crystals are pretty. I'm especially into the "flower glass" this artist makes! There are some pieces she's done of flowers set in glass inside the cavities of sea shells! It will delight you.

@marillustrations Paper cutting takes great precision, and I'm in awe of the layering in the incredible miniature scenes that Mar makes. The color of the food tins that often house her artwork frame each piece like trim on a colorful house. I'm so in love.

@michelle_morin Watercolors have never grabbed me the way that more saturated and textured painting often does, but Michelle Morin's work is so colorful and full of life. I also love thistles, and her paintings look very much like the area in which I live, so they are that much more beautiful to me.

I love to think that there are things that the future holds that I will love, but haven't even dreamed of yet. Who knows what will be in my next batch of IG favorites? I already have a few more in mind, but I'm also looking forward to discovering BRAND NEW things that I love. Catch you next time! 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

4.5 Weddings I'm Crushing On

I have zero regrets that my wedding was simple, but I sure do love to look at weddings that are over the top. I love conceptualizing parties, but the logistics will always be a deterrent for me. I've only recently started to host people for dinner because I've always psyched myself out about how impressive everything should be (rather, how I want to it to be, because the planning is fun!) and then feel exhausted and disappointed when I try and create something on the scale of what I imagine and end up not enjoying (or simply never throwing) parties.

One of my favorite (and sometimes most embarrassing) things about this blog is being able to see how my style and opinions change over time. Way back in 2014, I did a roundup of my favorite weddings on the internet, and while that list was already reflecting my love of the unusual, my latest favorites go even further into the realm of the fantastical. You will probably notice some commonalities running throughout, not least of which is PINK!

This Pastel Kawaii wedding (part 1 and 2) is so fun. I would not choose it for my own wedding, but oh how I would love to be invited to a wedding like this! I'm less and less a believer in making major life moments look or feel "classic" or "timeless" because for one thing, that's almost impossible: even what we feel is timeless now will show its era 50 years from now. So why not let personality and quirks shine and take the opportunity to ultra-personalize events that are once-in-a-lifetime occasions?

This iridescent tablescape has been flitting about in my heart for weeks, which is saying something in terms of my attention span. It was part of an event, not a real wedding, but just imagine the wedding this might go with! It looks like it would fit right in with the Kawaii wedding, but it's a bit more polished.

Those of you fellow central-coasters will know all about the Madonna Inn. It's an ultra-kitschy hotel in San Luis Obispo, just north of where I live. In the last few years, it's become a mecca for bloggers (especially the vintage-loving variety) which gives me a bit of pride for this otherwise culture-less area, but also makes me laugh. I've only ever poked my head in at the inn, but even with my ability to see potential in the oddest places, it's a dark and dingy place. Which makes it all the more impressive that blogger's photos make it look so appealing. Teach me your filter ways! Even Grimes did a music video there! I should also mention that my husband's best friend's dad (Frank Bouget) is a legit French pastry chef (like, he's a French national) who invented the champagne cake that the Madonna Inn is known for. Some design goddesses around the internet literally order it for themselves from across the country. Lolz.

Anywayyy, it's become a bit of a destination spot for funky weddings. At this first Madonna Inn wedding, the bride wore Gucci! Then she changed into more Gucci for the reception. #Imdead. Max Wanger took the official photos which were featured in Domino Magazine, but you can see a bunch under #hellomiracle on Instagram. I love the marigolds, the glitter, the balloon drop (they were unleashed from the ceiling as the ceremony concluded), the kid's outfits, the custom bomber jackets, custom tees, neon signs, the guest's outfits... you name it, I was into it at this wedding. I happened to be driving by the hotel while this wedding was in progress, which is kind of like being at it, right?!

hello miracle intro


The second Madonna Inn wedding had a Super Pi Day theme. You should read the details on the original post and see more pictures to get the full awesomeness of the theme. I'm just here to show you pretty pictures.

Custom Bride By Design Wedding Dress

Pi math ceremony runner

Pi Punch

star earrings

This last Marie Antoinette inspired wedding was another inspiration shoot as opposed to a real wedding. There were parts of this one I would have done very differently, but I love the hair and the little eye veil!! Also the pink chandelier and the desserts.

Which is your favorite? What kind of over the top themed wedding do you dream of being invited to? 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

2017 trends

I feel a little silly talking about this stuff while my country is carelessly killing civilians left and right half way across the world (I don't think it's too harsh to put it in those terms), but I honestly don't know how to process every day being full of appalling news and yet living in a world where it doesn't directly affect me. I will let it rest for the moment, extremely grateful that I even have the option to drown out the horror of what's going on around me. 

I'm not sure that I'm any good at predicting or noticing trends, but it's fun to try. Here are some things I think might be associated with 2017 when we look back, in terms of the design world. 
I tried to pick fashion trends that weren't extremely obvious (like patches and pins on everything - as much as I love them!), but I started writing this list at the beginning of the year and a few of things already seem to have left "the scene", so maybe they weren't true trends after all? I also tried to pick trends (fashion and lifestyle both) that weren't already a big thing last year (or else I would have included the amazing and prolific use of tropical plants in the world of home decor).

Loose-fitting tailored pants for women seem to be in lots of street style looks and editorials, but unfortunately it's an expensive trend to emulate well. I was also noticing a lot of "robe jackets" - the one in the picture above is particularly night-robey, but in general, there seem to be trench-like jackets that are less structured than a classic trench and lighter weight. Slicked-back, wet looking hair was having a moment, and I'd like to try it out again because it's pretty easy and it looks very sleek. Ribbon-laced heels add a touch of interest in the shoe department, but I don't think I ever saw this style hit main-stream store shelves. Then again, I mostly shop second hand, so maybe I just missed them? Those early 2000s chunky-heeled wide-strap slip on heels are back, but I hate them, so I'm not going to include them on this list. I'm obsessed with all things holographic and it's a trend that is in stores like H&M so I can easily access it and incorporate some pieces without spending big bucks on something that will be out of style by next year. I pretty much wear what I want when I want anyway, but I appreciate the playfulness of iridescence. Finally, feather trim has exploded in the past few months. It's so diva-like, I love it. And I happened to find some vintage pieces at an estate sale recently that very much resemble some pieces from high fashion runways right now, so I was pretty excited about that!

Here are some non-fashion related things that are creating a buzz at the moment.

Oman and Canada have been mentioned a lot as travel destinations of late. Canada has been in the spotlight because of the burning-pile-of-poo that is American politics right now, but I think that recognition (and their hip Prime Minister!) has boosted interest in non-political tourism as well. Oman isn't mentioned a lot, actually, but trying to find obscure travel destinations definitely holds some status in the realm of people who like to travel, and Oman seems like a hidden gem. It's definitely on my list! // Ikebana floral arrangements are showing up more and more, and I am thrilled. It's a Japanese tradition, characterized by spidery and sparse shapes. It's a fantastic way to draw attention to a few particularly beautiful blooms, and it's also easy (at least in theory) for those of us who only have a handful of flowers to work with in the first place (as opposed to the buckets full that florists are working with). // The world of food definitely has trends, but they're hard for me to spot sometimes since I don't eat out a ton and there aren't a lot of progressive eateries in our area. However, I have noticed that vinegar seems to be popping up in many (and some unusual) places in cooking, and apple cider vinegar in particular is a big trend in the health-food world (dare I say, the new coconut oil?). Shishito peppers finalllly became available at some local groceries in our area, though I've been seeing them praised for a year or two now. When I looked up a recipe for how to cook them, Bon Appetit magazine actually said they were one of the 2016 trends they wouldn't miss, haha! But Jonas and I are obsessed with them, so I thought it was worth a share. You basically just blister them in a cast iron and salt them! We add a dash of sesame oil, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. // I didn't put this in my collage, but doesn't it seem like all of a sudden, all electronics work with voice command? It's still something I find super dorky and it's hard for me to imagine it being something that sticks around as the new normal, but who knows?!

Have you noticed anything that's a craze recently? Things you like? Things you can't wait to see disappear (revival of the the worst parts of 90s fashion, anyone?!)? 

Monday, March 20, 2017


Time passes quickly when I'm at home, but seems to take on otherworldly qualities when I travel.
I just got home from my first trip abroad in 10 years, and my first trip abroad as an adult. It's strange to realize that, considering how often I think about traveling and consider myself "well-traveled."

In many ways, I've become fully American. When I fly over Los Angeles, it feels like coming home. I quickly sink back into routines and old frames of mind, but there are fragments of me that got to step out of my time and my world for a little bit while traveling. Coming home feels like viewing the world from underwater - being conscious that I'm reentering a bubble, and everything feeling muted and warped for a few days while I re-calibrate and absorb new experiences into the old ones.

How odd to have to remind myself of the things that I care so much about here at home, and try and avoid the cycles of frustration and burnout that I'm generally stuck in. How odd that my world is largely a construct of my own perspective, and when taken out of my regular environment, I am floating and detached from all those things that have felt like solid identity.

How remarkable to be a US passport holder - no questions asked, yet no interest expressed by others. In airports I was aware of how easily I moved, and how exceptional that I can just pick up and travel for fun, wherever I want. At the same time, I felt the burden of that little blue book, my American passport, and all the assumptions and figurative baggage that goes with it. Are people disgusted by me? Do they think I'm clueless and careless? Do they think about it at all?

How typical, really, for me to have been surprised to realize that the United States is not as important as I thought. No one was talking about American politics, no one was waiting with baited breath or heavy sighs to see what was going to happen. Are all the things I care about and pore over only weighty in my own micro-climate? How can I be so easily distracted from what I find most important when I'm at home? How refreshing to take a break, but how laughable that I get to choose whether it even affects me.

I think of travel as something that "everyone but me" gets to do regularly. Again, what a narrow lens I generally view the world from. I was struck by how unusual it is that most of the people closest to me prioritize international travel above most other experiences, and how unusual to travel for leisure without our children. Guilt and pleasure mingled in that decision, and it made me think hard about where to go from here in terms of raising our children with a global perspective. I often consider Asia to be in their blood because it is in mine, but the truth is that experiences are not hereditary and they have zero connection to it. All of those things that come with growing up abroad are things that are being projected on them by me, rather than them taking part in it. How do I change that without moving abroad with them? Should I change that?

I knew that Asia today would not be the same Asia I left. What I didn't realize is that traveling for leisure in a 3rd world country is grueling, and lonely. So much of the hardship of traveling in Asia was absorbed by my parents and shielded from me last time I was traveling there. This time, many people were not friendly, and we couldn't even speak the same language as other tourists. Before now, I have only ever traveled in groups or to visit people I know, so this was a new dimension of alienation. Frankly, it seemed like a ludicrous scenario, at times. I have never been interested in traveling around Europe or in hopping from hotel to hotel, taking guided tours. That is not experiencing the real world (the latter, that is). And yet, even backpacking tourism seems like such an American thing to do. To willingly subject myself to discomfort, inconvenience, and alienation in the name of "experience". I don't regret it, but it is a rather strange concept.

I want to blend in and belong in Asia seamlessly, but I don't. Chinese and Thai people don't think of me as belonging there, nor is it easy for me to be there. I am an American now.

Monday, February 13, 2017

On Being Political

I've been in a major funk the past week or two, which is why all has been quiet on the political opinions front. ;) There's no shortage of things to talk about, but it's also incredibly overwhelming to try and process the current political scene. Ever since reading that February is the month in which the most people commit suicide each year, my mild depression has been almost a self-fulfilling prophesy. No small part of this funk is due to politics. But still, one of the things that's been gnawing at me the most is the prevalent attitude on Facebook that anyone talking about politics is a thorn in the side of everyone else. It's so smug, and I hate it.

Image: me feeling smug about other people being smug. Meta, baby. 

I'm often afraid that I'm losing readers between the ending of one paragraph and the beginning of the next. As always, I'm sort of working through my own thoughts as I write, but hear me out if you can.

I know that this prevalent dismissal of political rhetoric comes from a place that is well-meaning. Plenty of people can't talk about politics on social media without becoming despicable and plenty of lies are perpetuated with a simple "share". There's a completely valid option to just say nothing at all relating to politics on social media, and I've definitely taken that option more than usual lately. But saying "let's not be political" or "I'm so tired of all the politics" isn't really necessary if what you really want is to not engage in anything political. If you're "tired of all this talk", take a leave from Facebook quietly. We need not announce how exhausted we are by other people's lives crumbling, because that's more often than not what's at the heart of politics.

I know that some people are willing to have political discussions in person or with people they have safe and respectful relationships with, and just avoid those topics online. Even so, there's this rule I hear voiced all the time in in-person situations to "not talk about politics". Indeed, preserving relationships is more important than debating opinions, and I respect that, but I have two main reasons that I think the call to be silent on politics is *thumbs down* (can't think of quite the right word). First, there's an oft-cited myth that sharing your opinion never changes anyone's mind. Personally, I change my mind all the time. There is nothing more valuable to me than a well argued, well substantiated point of view that differs from mine. It's nice to have friends that post stuff I agree with, but it's even better when I come to understand that other people see the world differently than I do.

I recently heard that 25% of people on social media are set in their opinions to the point that arguing with them is pointless and a waste of energy. These are the ones that are the loudest and that we naturally want to argue with, no matter what "side" they are on or we are on. Perhaps they are also the ones who post the most obnoxious and polarizing political opinions. I think it's perfectly fine not to engage with that group if you're looking to free yourself from exhausting and fruitless political banter. Another 25% already agree with you. The middle 50% are the quietest. They may be considering changing their minds or becoming active about what they believe in, but they need encouragement to get into action. That 50% may find real value in your political or spiritual views, but we must approach this opportunity with gentleness, not disdain.

The second beef I have with the "no politics" attitude is that being "above politics" (even if you don't label yourself that in so many words) is a luxury that basically only middle-class white people have. Most people in this world and even in this country don't have the option of not being political, and so for us to refuse to be political is to ignore the things that fundamentally alter other people's lives. I'm not saying that God isn't above politics, but I think you will notice that when anything we hold dear is threatened by those around us or those in power, we quickly become political (whether or not that's on Facebook).

So what does it mean to be political? I've loved Rufus Wainwright since basically forever, but I love him for this all the more:

When I looked it up, the definition was: 
Politics (from Greek: Politik√°: Politika, definition "affairs of the cities") is the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance — organized control over a human community, particularly a state.
Can you imagine if we made love and truth political in this sense? An affair of our cities? Concepts that informed our decisions that apply to all members of each group? That is, in essence, the Great Commission. 

If your family is divided by borders, you become political. If you can't save your child's life because you can't access healthcare, you become political. If police kill your baby under dubious circumstances and face no consequences, you become political. If your wife is a police officer and can't do her most basic duties without fearing for her life, you become political. If the government is trying to strip you of your last ounce of dignity on the last plot of land that you can call your own, you become political. If you can't feed your family without a job pumping oil, you become political.
If I may dare to say it, if you are brave, you become political. If you want to take the words of Jesus and put them into practice in a world full of humans, you probably have to become political in some sense. The words and example of Jesus demand that we care for people cast aside, and it's almost impossible to do that without being political in a world that operates under the authority of governments.

If you've never found yourself that forces you to become political (I haven't!), than consider yourself extremely blessed and be aware that most people aren't as blessed in that way. The reason that we are exasperated by politics is because we are not threatened in our areas of identity.

This slide from a conference I was at recently stuck out to me.

Being political isn't just about having debates on Facebook or re-posting memes. You don't have to engage in political conversations, but important conversations often have political roots and ramifications. Doing much of anything of consequence will often arouse the ire of at least a handful of people, but that shouldn't be condemned. Sometimes it's entirely necessary. Taking a stance means that you're drawing a divide between you and something or someone else. We're not meant to be neutral in all situations. The good Samaritan's actions had political meaning. The Underground Railroad was political. Corrie Ten Boom was defying her government by harboring Jews, which was political. In light of this, we should not shush people from being political, even if it's on Facebook. Talking the talk is a good stop on the way to walking the walk. I suspect that life is going to get a *lot* more political before our work is done.

Again, I completely get it that a lot of people who post political things on Facebook aren't there to have a meaningful conversation, they're there to feel right-er than everyone else. Brush it off. Let that stuff roll off you like water. Unfollow if you must. But don't demonize politicism, because politics are part of real life, and Facebook is an avenue by which many people share their real lives. Instead of saying what you're against ("being political"), find something that you're "for" and get involved.

To my Christian friends, I understand that the Kingdom of God is not of this world. But that doesn't mean that we sit back and ignore the practical calls to action that Jesus gave to be enacted in this world. Jesus did not come to Earth to overthrow the Romans who were oppressing the Jews during his lifetime. He did, however, send his disciples to witness and love Samaritans, and that was a hugely political issue at the time. Preston Yancey said, "If you don't see Jesus as decidedly political in the Gospels, put some blame on your Sunday school teachers for not being equipped with the historical context necessary to see them in that light. " 

I take comfort in knowing that my God is bigger than politics, bigger than the refugee crisis, bigger than President Trump. AMEN. But my hope in my God should never remove me from struggling for goodness and justice on Earth, even as I am fully aware that man can never redeem himself and that we will never be able to fix this world.

If our faith is genuine, it must drive us to action. If our brothers and sisters both in the US and abroad, both Christian and Muslim, conservative and liberal - if they are suffering and can not avoid being political, we must rush to be political along side them. This means treating "rednecks" with dignity, because they feel deprived of it. This means advocating for Christians who are being massacred by ISIS. This means advocating for Muslims who are being massacred by ISIS. This means praying for our brothers and sisters who are members of ISIS, because they too are created in the image of God. We live in a political world, and to refuse to take part in any political actions means to refuse to stand by those who are suffering and do not have the luxury of avoiding political situations.

A note about marches - I have yet to participate in one, but on the day of the Women's March, I could not shake my regret at not taking part. I think peaceful protest is very important. Even if it has no affect on our president, it speaks to the marginalized, whether that is women or immigrants or other groups. Seeing hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom you undoubtedly know, pouring out into the streets sends a message that many of us are not okay with the actions our government is taking, and we are so not-okay with them that we're willing to say so in public (even beyond Facebook!). That is worth something. It also helps us to see with our own eyes who are our allies and who we may serve. I'm not saying that the people who didn't march or who opposed the march are my enemies, but it seems incredibly empowering to stand with so many people on a physical street instead of liking a post on Facebook (which I did a heck of a lot of during the women's march). It's empowering to see that even as we feel frustrated and helpless, we won't give up on one another. People are donating their time and money and talent to causes on both sides of the aisle in numbers seldom seen before and it feels like the very most American thing.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a racist. I really try and avoid calling anyone a racist anymore, because being accused of racism shuts the accused down immediately. Furthermore, I have come to see myself as a racist. Furtherfurthermore, as the ever quotable MLK said, "for evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men [and women] to do nothing." Our complacency - our unwillingness to be political, our unwillingness to get our hands dirty, our unwillingness to be disliked - does nothing to stem racism, and therefore allows it to thrive. What is that, if not racism? Racism is refusing to see someone else's suffering as your problem too.

I'm learning that my politics are worthless without love. I have a lot of [what I feel is] righteous anger over what's going down in this country right now, but as I advocate out of righteous anger, I must also practice radical love. That's not something I made up, that's Biblical. Love does indeed trump hate, and that includes hatred for those who have stood in the way as I've sought to do what God is calling me to do. The specifics of what I'm feeling called to is a separate conversation, but it is communal so I welcome private messages from anyone who wants to know more or get involved.

It's a struggle, a daily struggle, to balance righteous anger with overflowing love. People think I'm too young and naive to talk about the things I do or act on the convictions that I have. It stings, but it's really none of my concern. The more we are resisted, the fiercer we will love. Not everyone who loves Jesus is called to serve in the same ways, but please do not thwart me in what my God has called me to do. Please do not ask me not to talk about these things in public, either.

Sometimes I get people warning me that I'm on the brink of "falling away", or something. I try and listen critically so I can be open to knowing what my faults are, but overall, on the contrary to falling away, I am leaning in. I am putting my money where my mouth is. I am putting my foot into the Red Sea, which God did not part for His people until their toes touched the water. Quite honestly, I do not care what most people think of my politics, I care what Jesus thinks of my actions.

If you thought I was political before, buckle up my friend. I am coming out of my shell. Maybe talking less, but striving to DO more. So with moderate respect, I request that you get behind me, ye mansplainers, ye who take it upon yourselves to tell me that I've misinterpreted God's calling on my life, and yes, ye politicians who care nothing for Truth.

Rarely, if ever, have I felt more patriotic, and I'm also in awe of how relevant the Bible is to a political life. It's driving me to cast aside political labels and consider fewer people my adversaries, even as I grow stronger in my convictions. There are innumerable opportunities presenting themselves in which we can be ambassadors for Christ's name, regardless of religion or politics or documentation status. Jesus never asked those questions of people.

What a wonderful thing to see shaky pillars of our government bring lovers of good, lovers of kindness, lovers of truth out of the woodwork. I know many great men and women who have shifted from talking on Facebook to reaching out to their neighbors in tangible ways. But let me add, I still see a place for sharing politics on Facebook. I see it like this - Step 1: saying it on Facebook (it's somewhat safer than IRL and involves a lot less commitment), Step 2: taking your Facebook opinions to the street (or more IRL conversations), testing out how much you really believe in them, Step 3: committing to working with and for real people for the long haul in your home community, Step 4: inviting people to join you, perhaps via Facebook ;). For pushing me to take steps 2 and 3, I thank you, Mr. President!

As a follow-up to the implications of getting political on behalf of those who are suffering, I was struck by reading one journalist's observation that "marching is a seductive substitute for action." In this country, marching hasn't cost us very much yet. I think it is good to march in some cases, but what's even better is to incorporate your convictions into your daily life. Seek out ways to help in your own neighborhood. Tutor immigrants to help them in school. Invite Muslims to your home to share a meal with you. Invite your neighbors with the Trump sign still in their yard to your home to share a meal with you. Ask your church leadership how your place of worship can incorporate the Latino community in your midst. Listen to the stories of war veterans. And if your school or your church or some other group can not act quickly, just start it yourself. The concept of Church (as in the body of Christ) does not cost money, does not wait for permission, does not have to get a degree first. Jesus has already commissioned us, so GO!

Here I am, Lord. Send me. Make me political for your glory. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

My President Was a TCK

I don't think I've ever been as conflicted as I am about President Obama as I have been this past week, researching this post and reading everyone else's "summing up" articles. It's difficult to even remember what all has happened in the past 8 years, and of course there are mixed feelings, as well as a mixed record. All the same, I've done what I can to understand and then tried to work through some thoughts.

I've loved Obama from the very beginning, without always knowing why. I do not claim to understand or even be aware of all or even most of the politics that surround the Obama presidency and I am not writing to defend this or that thing that he did or said. I know he is merely a man, and I know that he made mistakes. I know that many people feel that he helped to ruin something they loved. I'm not writing to persuade you or to mock your feelings, I am writing because this is a significant goodbye for me, and I want to honor it.

"He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again".
- Hamlet

I am a woman intoxicated by words, and Obama was a master with them. As the prophet Muhammad was believed to have said, "verily eloquence includes sorcery." I know that we should choose our leaders based on a multitude of factors, least of which should be campaign promises or excellent speeches, but I do not know (nor do I believe it fully possible) how to know what can truly be known about another human being except their character, and for that reason, I often go by "my feeling" about politicians. My feelings are not infallible or unchangeable, but I never stopped admiring Obama and simply liking what I know of him as a person.

I believe he did what he thought was right as a leader and as a man, and I felt safe within that.

I'll miss his calm, steady voice on the radio. He is a man who showed compassion and emotion, yet rarely (if ever?) lost his cool when ridiculed or demeaned with the most base and false accusations. He never spoke thoughtlessly, hurtfully, or hatefully. He so often looks happy in spite of the gravity of his position, but he also cried in response to national tragedies and hugged those who were in pain.

He was cool. He was fun-loving. He was gentle. He felt accessible to me. He was free of personal scandals. His wife was the epitome of grace, yet real and warm; his daughters were respectful, yet fierce.

To me, Barack Obama has been worthy of respect and has played a substantial role in a formative decade in my life - my first decade in this country, my first decade of being old enough to vote, my first decade of awareness of politics.

One of the first things I heard about him after he became president in 2009 was that he was employing TCKs (Third Culture Kids) in places of prominence around him. This caught my attention, not only because I am a TCK, but because few people in the US even know what a TCK is, despite the fact that plenty of Americans are TCKs, even if they don't know it. To be a TCK is to be first-generation multicultural - it does not necessarily mean mixed-race, it just means you have multiple cultural backgrounds as a result of growing up on more than one continent. (Here's another article on Obama's TCKness.)

I recently watched the movie Barry on Netflix, about a year or so in Obama's life as a college student at Columbia. It wasn't remarkable as a movie, but it definitely drove home his struggle with defining himself as a young man who wasn't from any one place. Hawaii, Jakarta, Kenya, California, New York - he had long explanations any time someone asked where he was from, and I'm not sure that even he knew. That is the classic dilemma of a TCK. At the end of the movie, he had started to say, "I live here, now", which is in some ways the ultimate response of someone who has come to terms with their identity as a child of multiple cultures and places, belonging with no one race and to no single city. The best part of the movie was when he was launching into the whole explanation of his background to a mixed-race couple, who simply said, "well, that makes you American." That's part of what I admire about the Obamas, and part of what crushes me about Trump. I feel like Obama knows who I am and what makes our country truly great (strength and richness through diversity), and I don't think that Trump does. I realize that this sounds like "I like Obama because I am like him, and I don't like Trump because I am not like him", and I'm not ashamed of there being some truth in that.

Some people said Obama only got elected because he was black. I don't think that's true, but I also don't see why that should be a smear. I am proud of diversity in the public eye, and I'm proud that we had a black president. Although it shouldn't feel momentous, it did. The first post on this blog was about Obama having won the nomination in 2008, and it felt like I was standing in the middle of a glorious piece of American history.

Obama's blackness doesn't make me ashamed to be white, it simply makes me proud to be an American, proud to be a TCK who chooses a path of resistance instead of blending in when blending in would be the easier choice. His presidency felt like riding a wave of powerful goodness as young people of color and diversity were emboldened to continue demanding justice and respect. I don't think that wave has crashed for good with the election of Trump, but I think things will get much uglier before they get better (if they ever get better, which I pray they do), and I'm walking into this new era with some trepidation, even as I try and be brave and willing to stand up, myself.

In Ta-Nehisi Coates' series of essays, "My President Was Black" (from which I hijacked the title for this post), Obama is presented as a black man who grew up in very unusual racial circumstances that allowed him to have faith in white people. That factor of his outlook enabled him, sometimes to his detriment, to believe in the goodness of all Americans, even though not all Americans are good.

I find it hard to fault him for that. Just as we tend to overlook the flaws of those we are romantically inclined toward, I find that some of Obama's flaws endear him to me even more. When I look at him, I feel warmth and acceptance, and what a privilege to feel that way about my President (without feeling like that comes at the cost of other people feeling that toward him). I believe he genuinely cares for the well-being of all Americans, even the ones who hate him.

When I think of the things that I know of that Obama did, the first things that come to mind are international, because that's often where my heart lies and we relate to all authority figures on the basis of what they do/who they are that concerns us, in my opinion.

  • He made provisions for children fleeing violence in Mexico. (The illegal immigration of children may have ended less happily...)
  • He repaired relations with both Cuba and Iran, and stood up to Israel when necessary (though perhaps not enough, in my opinion - I can't find the example from last year that I was most pleased with). 
  • He didn't close Guantanamo, but he relocated all but 45 of 242.   
  • He cut back on military spending, brought many deployed soldiers home, and decreased our nuclear weapons stockpile (though apparently not as much as several previous presidents).
  • He enacted the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (am I crazy, or was there some momentous thing about this being the first grassroots bill to be signed into law by a president?! I have some memory of that, but can't verify it), though it's implementation has been flawed
  • He engaged with Southeast Asia, which is often treated as not important (or simply left out) in global conversations. 

Things I was not cool with:

And to be categorized under silly:

  • Winning the Nobel Peace Prize (not his choice) after less than one year on the job for a "vision" of what his presidency could accomplish.
  • Awarding your BFF (Joe Biden) the highest civilian honor simply because....? I think this cheapens the award. 

There are more good, shady, and silly things leaping to mind as I compile this list, as well as things I'm just not sure about. As I mentioned at the top, I felt very conflicted over my views of Obama's legacy in light of some of the things he did that I really didn't like. The deportation numbers felt like a betrayal of some of the ideals that I equate with Obama and admire him for. The results of Obama's policies are a mixed bag. This article is the best I've found in terms of comparison and numbers. Strangely, the international category is the least successful looking, though it's hard to say how much of that is Obama's fault. At any rate, in many ways, Obama is leaving things in better condition than in which he inherited them, and for that I'm grateful.

As I said before, sometimes admiration aids us in looking past a person's faults. Despite Obama's faults, I still believe he did the best he could with what he had, and he did it believing he was doing the right things. That does not excuse everything, but if we were to agree that both of those things are true of his actions, I don't think we could ask more of him, or anyone else.

I don't say this with inconsolable sadness, but I think American has been and continues to be in decline in terms of world power. We live in volatile times indeed, and even if Obama couldn't completely turn this ship around, he made a valiant attempt.

I'm not sad that Hillary didn't win, I'm not even sad that a Democrat didn't win. I'm just sad to see a president I admire go. And sad to see one I don't trust take control. On second thought, I do not wish Obama could continue being the president - change is good, though change is hard. It is just hard to see someone I respect stepping down to give way to someone I do not respect and who I fear will undo the things that brought me comfort and hope in the past 8 years (and even beyond). I know the same could be said with the candidates reversed for some of my friends, and although I don't understand that, I try and respect it.

One thing that I actually appreciate about Trump is that more than any other president, he has helped me to see that anyone can be president! That may be a backhanded compliment, but it's probably healthy that I don't idolize the position so much that I think the "little guy" doesn't matter. I feel like the little guy matters more than ever under a president Trump.

I am determined to have a voice in my community and in this country. As Nelson Mandela said, "may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears".

To me, Barack Obama has embodied much of what I want to see in my country, and I will miss him greatly.

Mr. Obama, thank you for being my president.
Thank you for going grey for me; you have not gone unappreciated.

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3
Related Posts with Thumbnails