Friday, November 29, 2013

All I Want for Christmas is a Lesbian Cafe Bento Box

When I was 16, I socialized at a lesbian cafe. At the time, I was living in Urumqi, China, and my best Chinese friend was a girl I'll call Danielle. Danielle and I had gone to Chinese pre-school together when my family lived in Urumqi in the 90s, and she was bossy as all get out. That probably only bothered me because I was bossy too, and used to being the center of attention as the only non-Chinese in my class.

We lost touch after pre-school and then we moved away for 5 or 6 years to other parts of China and the U.S., but upon returning to Urumqi, my mom happened to run into Danielle's mom, who ran a small grocery store. As moms are apt to do, they had soon conspired to get us back together, and as it turned out, we totally hit it off. I can't remember how exactly we re-met, but I do remember appreciating being treated like a friend, rather than milked as an English tutor.

We didn't hang out at either of our houses very often, but instead ran around town window shopping, or bemoaning the shut-down of the best CD store. Sometimes she would bump into her friends, and we'd talk to them for a while or share a taxi on the way to our next destination. She first took me to the lesbian cafe for their great bento boxes. I can't remember what we talked about, but the food was good.

The next time we went to the cafe, we sat next to two girls, one of whom was Ugyhur and had clearly been crying. She was with a friend, and we started talking to them. Come to find out, her girlfriend had just broken up with her. She and her friend told me how they would take their punk, pants, and false eyelashes to school with them in bags and change there, then change back before going home. They were astonished that I was neither a smoker nor a lesbian, since they had heard that all Californians were both. I mentioned to my dad one time where I often hung out, and he said, "oh, the Lesbian bar?" Being a 16 year old missionary kid, that detail had totally escaped me, despite the fairly obvious markers. It's become one of the only even remotely edgy things I did in my entire teen career. That and the fact that my boyfriend was Catholic, which I also didn't know when we started dating.

The third time at the cafe, we met up with another friend of Danielle's, and Danielle brought her laptop to play this Korean drama about a gang of young and violent boys that was hard to follow, but she thought it was amazing and really wanted her other friend to like it. We all ended up talking over it for most of the time, but I could tell she was in love with it, the way you are with your favorite song, full of fear that your soul will shrivel if your loved ones reject it.

She sometimes wore her hair in the krimped-afro-mullet that was popular in China at the time, and I tried to make my hair do that too, but ended up giving myself a hack-job of a bob in the bathroom one night out of exasperation instead.

We would talk about our boyfriends. Mine, at the time, lived on the other side of the world, and her boyfriend was Ugyhur, which was a big deal to some people since she was Han and particularly in our city, those two groups were at each other's throats, but she didn't seem to think it was strange at all, and I was proud of her for that. She called me one night, very drunk, sobbing and telling me that she felt so empty in her life and didn't know what to do. I never felt like I was a missionary, but that night I wished I had had the words to give her some - any - kind of hope. I couldn't translate the few things I could think of to say. It was one of the most raw moments I've had in any friendship.

She spent the summer in a city in Southern China, and we video chatted once. She brought me back some limited edition Beanie Baby teddy bear, that I left when we moved back to the States for good, which I now kick myself for, like I have over so many other beloved objects that seemed not important enough in mayhem and emotional hibernation that is packing for an international move.

My friendship with Danielle shattered a lot of my misconceptions about China, even as someone who grew up there. She made me have hope for Chinese millennials. We would talk about why young Chinese men and women didn't care more or act more about the oppression of the government or their prospects for the rest of their lives, and neither of us had answers for it. I wish I been able to see how similar American millennials are.

My family found out pretty suddenly that we would be moving back to the States permanently, and we were gone within a month of knowing it. Danielle and I hung out a few last times. I took her to my dad's cafe where we I ordered spinach salad, which she thought was pretty strange. On one of the last nights before we moved away, she and I went out, and it was one of the times where we ended up picking up some random person she knew and were driving around with them. She kept asking me what I wanted to do before I left China, she wanted to me to do something I'd never done before. I felt very uncomfortable because I had a feeling she was talking about having have sex, going to a rave, doing drugs, getting drunk out of my mind, or all of those things together. I said no again and again, and finally she just dropped me off at home late at night with a sick and sad feeling in my stomach. That was the last time I ever saw her or heard from her, and now I kind of wish we'd at least had a beer.

I don't know why she liked me or why she opened up, especially since our language barrier was apparent when true friendship took shape, but she was patient with me, and I miss her. I don't have any photos of us.

After I'd been back in the States for about a year, the first Urumqi riot broke out, resulting in many deaths, and later a complete shut-off of the internet that persists today as far as access to most international social media. My biggest regret in life, as dramatic as that sounds, is losing touch with her and my other Chinese friends. I try to email them whenever I come across some snippet of contact info buried in my computer or email history, but they always bounce back 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gift Guide 2013: Good Things Comes in Package After Package

One of the reasons I love magazines is because I get a shiny new one every month. I check the mail almost every day and if nothing is there, sometimes I sing that kid's song, "nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I think I'll eat some worms...". I really, really like getting stuff in the mail.

Enter, gift subscriptions. Although I have yet to sign up for one or gift one, I think I might have to soon. There are many reasons why I think these beauties make perfect Christmas gifts, and they come in a wide enough range of prices and themes to satisfy even the most difficult person on your gift list.

In short, gift box subscriptions are packages curated by someone else (takes some difficult choices out of your hands!) that arrive at your door or the door of someone you love once a month (or sometimes quarterly). You can even subscribe for smaller amounts of time (like 3 months) or one month at a time.

While I, for one, love to go out and shop, box subscriptions can be perfect for people who don't want to go out themselves and try and put a package together, especially if you don't know your gift recipient very well. I also tend not to like surprises, so if you're in that camp with me, some subscriptions allow more control over what you're getting than others.

I've put together a list of the ones I've heard about that I like the most. Some of the boxes could fit in multiple categories, so if you don't see something you like in a particular category, check out the others or just Google what you're looking for - there are SO many options. I hope you find something here that will fill a hole on your gift list, and if you do, tell me what you think of it!

Extra Tips: Most subscriptions have free shipping, but make sure to calculate that into the cost if you're interested in one that doesn't. AND Make sure to do a quick Google search for coupons or discounts for the subscription of your choice - there are some out there!

Little Passports ($10.95/month, ~ ages 5-12) One of my favorites! Packages with themes of different countries. Here's an example of the Japan package. It looks like a similar package (TravelBox) is being developed for adults, and I can hardly wait!

Citrus Lane ($21/month, nb and up) A collection of the best products on the market, this one seems very professional and is one of the most widely cited subscriptions of any kind. Here's a picture of a back to school August 2013 box. 

Kiwi Crate ($16.95/month, ~5-10) Each box contains a themed craft, such as creating a dinosaur fossil or starting a mini garden. For an extra fee, you can have extra supplies added to your box if your box is covering more than one kid. (Compare with SurpriseRide for a different set of themes).

Bluum ($20.99/month, moms & babies) Bluum sends you product samples for moms and babies, and they have an online community where you can share which products you loved and would consider adding to your permanent mom-repertoire. 

Little Pnuts ($240/year, nb-5) Little Pnuts specializes in catering to specific stages of development, so if your child is in his or her first year, the 3rd quarter box (months 6-9) will be filled with toys to help your baby learn language development and sitting up, among other skills. They offer special occasion and "just because" add-ons (additional packages) as well. I'm not sure what the standard in the subscription world is, but Little Pnuts specifically mentions that they ship internationally.

Wittlebee (~$40/outfit, sizes 2-12) First, you take a little quiz about your child to determine his/her style. Then each month, you're presented (online) with a 3 piece outfit the service thinks will fit your child's style, and interests. If you like the outfit, you purchase it. I'm loving this little outfit they put together for Ishmael because Jonas wore this EXACT thing the other day. The first outfit you purchase is only $20, to lure you in of course. 

Sproutkin ($24.99/month, 0-6) Sproutkin's boxes are full of books - 2 to 4 books for babies, 10 books for preschoolers, and each box is themed. I'm curious to know exact titles they send, because I'm very picky about children's books. This subscription is a RENTAL - you can buy the books they send you for 10% off retail price, otherwise, you send them back when you're doing using them for the month. I wonder how well this works, knowing how destructive kids can be with books. 

BabbaCo ($29.99/per box, ~3-6) Rather than a subscription, these are just individual fun boxes with themes like Awesome Artists and Gratitude. They seems a little bit more substantial education wise than the purely crafty subscriptions. 

Mouth ($170-$280/3m) This is another one of my favorites, but definitely on the pricier side. These packages are monthly gourmet food collections in a variety of themes. Personally, the jerky and pickle bundles sound good, but I imagine the chocolate one would be a big hit with most people. They also have a delectable selection of one-time-purchase packages like fancy pasta, honey products (for my brother-in-law!), bi-partisan treats, to name just a few. My my coveted item may be the passion fruit candies, but please don't make me decide. Here are some (pretty, pretty) pictures of the monthly subscriptions.

Gourmet Spotting ($29.99/month) Each box contains four to six gourmet products, like Tagliatelle pasta with white truffle, organic dried oregano from Sicily, or artisan hot sauces (whatever that means). For every box you purchase, a meal is donated to charity.

Kona Kases ($15/month) are full of snacks for hikers, cyclists, and otherwise crazy health conscious and active people. Eww.

Taste Guru ($25/month) is full of gluten-free treats, which can be hard to find, especially for people who only recently discovered they are gluten intolerant and don't have years of experience shopping for their specialized diets. I know several people who would really benefit from this!

Mantry ($75/box) is a super creative and well designed "pantry for modern men." Love their website, love the actual box the subscriptions come in, and love their themes (like Georgia on My Mind, products from Georgia curated by a James Beard award winning chef)! My brothers could probably eat the whole box in one sitting, but when they move out of my parents' place next year, they might appreciate something like this. They even have some yummy man-recipes on their website.

Murray's Cheese of the Month Club ($275/year) delivers 3 cheeses (totally 1.5lbs) to your door every month. There are many cheese subscriptions out there, so if this interests you, you could definitely scout out different cheese types and price ranges.

The Pig Next Door ($346/year) provides you with "between 12 and 16 ounces of premium bacon selected by our professional bacon connoisseurs" and includes "tasting notes and recipes included in each shipment". My sister Annelise's boyfriend Andrew would love this. Oink oink! 

Homegrown Collective (~$50/month after shipping) focuses on seasonally appropriate boxes, such as a hard cider making kit during the holidays. Each box is themed (one was all manner of salts, one was all manner of coconut products), and they're not all edible. This past September's box was a "Sustainable Laundry 101" kit. This subscription seems very in tune with our cultural zeitgeist.

ALSO, check out some fair trade and charitable food subscriptions: ConsciousBox ($19.95/m for a LOT of stuff) is full of fair trade, organic, vegan, gluten free, and handmade products, PaleoPax ($49 for starter kit) is pretty much just what it sounds like, and the purchase of a LoveWithFood ($10/month) box, full of organic all-natural snacks and ingredients (more conventional than some other boxes), provides a free meal for a hungry belly somewhere else in the world.

Steepster ($24.95/month) gives you 2 servings each of 5 different teas and expert brewing instructions for unique flavors from around the globe. Affordable and crowd pleasing.

Craft Coffee ($19.99/month) is 3 packets (4 oz. each) of different artisan coffees, complete with tasting notes and brewing tips.

Teavana Tea of the Month Club ($275/year) Though I've never subscribed to this club, I do buy Teavana tea (especially at their incredible after Christmas sale!!!) and their teas are some of the very, very, few that I will consent to drink. The subscription brings you 2 different packets (2 oz. each) of tea each month. There are three available year-long taste profiles.

Panty By Post ($15/month) I think this idea is so fun, and a perfect gift for a close gal pal in your life. Who wouldn't want a new pair of fancy panties every month?

BirchBox ($10/month) is a lovely collection of mainly beauty product samples. It looks like each box contains at least one snack item as well. One thing I really like about the BirchBoxes is that they don't half-ass it with their brands. I mean, they have Stilla and Juicy Couture goodies, so I'm pretty much sold. I think this could be a great box for someone trying to figure out what good-quality make-up to use without buying full sized products before having the chance to really try them out. [image source; I think this is more than what comes in one box] Compare with GlossyBox ($15/month), which looks equally good.

UmbaBox ($25-$45/m +shipping) delivers hand made goodies such as Pumpkin Spice soap (I know half of you are foaming at the mouth in delight, at just the mention of such a thing), or an engraved cutting board. One subscriber said, "I bought my wife a subscription before I left for deployment, so she could have a beautiful handmade present every month I’m gone." How adorable and clever is that?!

MustHave ($39.95/month) boxes are full of the month's "must haves", as curated by the editors of Pop Sugar website (where they ridicule Miley's ridiculous wardrobe, what's not to love?!). Some product examples are a parrot wine bottle opener (I totally need one!) and the hilariously titled box of conversation-starting cards called "Questions I Ask When I Want to Talk About Myself."

GoScratchIt ($30/month) includes 3 nail wraps sets, tools and a surprise from each monthly designer to keep you on trend with the nail color/art craze. Compare with ColorMeMonthly ($7/month for 1 polish) and CultCosmetics ($20/month for 3 polishes and a nail tool).

There are several DIY craft boxes like DarbySmart, WhimseyBox. BritKit, For the Maker (my favorite of these options) and Chic Maker (strictly beaded jewelry) but honestly, I don't understand why you'd buy those and not just the supplies you want for a project of your choice at your local craft store. On second thought, some of these could be great for younger girls who don't have access to the mayhem of a craft closet or garage that some women do. The Chic Maker beading boxes would be perfect for one of my early-teen sisters in law.

TrunkClub (a lot of money, varies by box) is perfect for men with style (or perhaps men who badly need it). A real human will be your personal stylist, and every time you wish to shell out a load of mullah, he or she will send you a beautiful cardboard trunk with a really stylish man outfit in it.

Cigar of the Month Club ($29.95/month) gets you 5 hand-rolled cigars of different varieties (but not Cuban, they're illegal in the US) each month. Check out the crazy list of subscriptions on the left hand side of their page if you're looking for some really specific [mostly food] subscriptions.

Lootcrate ($11.67/month)I know that if I don't get this out of the way right away, there will be hell to pay: girls could like this box too! Ok, as I was saying, I will kill you if you even think about getting this for my husband, but if you have a person in your life who you'd like to see less of, get them a box of video games! To be fair, these boxes are actually full of nerdery and game-reminiscent stuff, like zombie survival guides and Dr. Who tshirts, to name just a few things that will half the half of you not ripping at your screen over pumpkin spice soap ripping at the screen now.

Turntable Kitchen ($25/month) I am just crazy about this idea. It's bordering on my favorite subscription, in fact. Turntable kitchen sends you an limited-edition 7in vinyl record with music they're loving, a custome downloadable mixtape of more music artists they're discovering, 1-2 "premium" dried ingredients that you'll need for the 3 seasonal, themed recipe cards they include. Along with suggested music and food pairings. I find this so genius and enticing. AND occasional extras like a letterpressed card or [what looks like, in the picture] a tablecloth.The one flaw I can imagine is not having the same taste in music, but I'd so be willing to give it a try. [image]

Just The Right Book (Pricing varies, ~$300/year) This service is customizable for all ages, which I love, but if your Amazon wishlist isn't enough motivation for you, let Just the Right Book take down your reading preferences and then select books for you! A great way to discover new things and maybe having books dropped on your doorstep will be incentive to actually pick up a book. If you get a book you don't like, you can have it replaced.

Art In A Box ($50/month) After giving 3 adjectives to describe the kind of art you like and choosing which media you prefer, this subscription will send you original art by various designers each month. I love this idea because I want to be that person who collects original art, but there's always something stopping me (usually money). Art In A Box would take the pressure off (for me at least) to find the perfect piece for my home, and instead I'd just have a really cool collection that I could choose to display or not display as I chose. I think I could make a place for something like this piece by Elise Mahan.

Papirmasse ($69/year) is also an art-in-the-mail subscription in which you will receive a total of 12 prints. I think I prefer most of the art on their website to Art-in-a-Box, but it is stylistically more narrow. They have a seperate think called a folio with included prints and writings and comes as one package all at once, if I'm not mistaken (sometimes these websites can be a little vague).

ArtSnacks ($20/month) includes 4-5 full size premium art products, sourced from around the world, hand-selected after rigorous testing from real art professionals, and including information about each product and its best uses. I think it's a great way to discover new things, when I for one, can get really focused on just one or two tools that I love. Jonas would love this. They also have a really cute pretzel-pencil logo. 

Not Another Bill (18 pounds/month, ships to U.S. too) I definitely want this subscription - you answer some questions about your preferences and they send you an assortment of ... stuff.... from artists, designers, and brands. I like that they have such a wide variety of things, and what's extra amazing to me is that I like most of the stuff they show on their website. I was really having to BS my excitement about some (not all) of the boxes I suggested for ladies, ha. This box is definitely on the table for the one I would most like if I were to subscribe to one of these myself. Check it out to see what I mean. P.S. Isn't the name perfect? Even though I'm almost excited to see even a bill in my mailbox, having a box of nice stuff would provide that happiness rush even more.

Pijon ($25/month) is specially designed to suit the needs of college students. My sister Annelise would get so much joy from something like this when she has so little money that buying anything for herself becomes a major dilemma. The boxes include things like headphones, snacks, and products from Lush (yay!).

BarkBox (~$20/month) If you call your pet your "fur-baby" or some other such nonsense, a) we can no longer be friends and b) get this for your animal to fill the void that my friendship has left. They take into account the size of your puppy and the website has cute illustrations, which is always a plus for me.

Quarterly (~$50) is a pretty cool concept. You choose from a range of "influencers" - a person of influence in the community - who chooses stuff they love to send you. You can choose who will be packing your box so that it aligns with your taste, but I love the idea of a really personal care package, especially if the influencer is someone you're already a fan of. Some influencers you can choose from: Nina Garcia, Q-Tip, several quarterbacks I've never heard of, Bill Nye, Laughing Squid, and Cool Hunting. Impressive! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

The 7 Levels of Conversational Hell

Some of you may listen to This American Life on NPR, in which case you will have heard last week's show about the 7 most boring conversation topics. One of the producers' mother is french and has staunch ideas on what one should not bring up at a dinner party, including, 1) how you slept, 2) your dreams, 3) your general health, 4) your period, 5) routes (how you arrived at the place you are now), 6) your diet, and 7) money (not boring, but inappropriate), because, as she so delicately puts it, "nobody cares". 

I must say, I am in agreement with most of that.  Apparently these guidelines are somewhat standard in France. They even have a common habit of asking themselves before speaking, "will anyone else find this interesting?" The French have really figured some things out, I tell you. 

The premise of the TAL show was to disprove the producer's mother and find interesting stories on each of the aforementioned topics, but I still found the majority of their best efforts less than riveting, honestly! It got me thinking about frequent conversations in my own life. I think commiserating about one's period with other women for a few moments every once and a while can be somewhat bonding, but I did realize a while back that bringing it up - even with my husband - every month, just isn't that worthwhile. It's more about me wanting sympathy or having an excuse to be crabby than being something actually worth talking about. What is there to say, other than, "bummer..."? 

I love my husband, but he can really drag out a retelling of his dreams.  Being the incredible spouse that I am, I just nod and "mhm" and don't put a timer on it, but I can't help but zone out at regular intervals. I'm sure many of you can relate.

Dreams happen to something that just about everyone is ready to chime in on when it comes up in a group. Another thing I noticed that seems widely relatable is teeth. Trust me, start telling a story about dental work you've had or some anomaly in your mouth, and a floodgate of stories will unleash itself upon you. Yet another observation I heard someone else make was about the topic of yoga - if you like it in any regard, you tend to LOVE it, and go on and on about it, should the opportunity present itself (guilty). 

What topics do you drown out when they come up in conversation?
What are your favorite topics to discuss?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

October In Review

The past week has felt more like winter than fall, and that makes me HAPPY. A few other things making me happy in October...

Music: The new collaboration between sisters Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar (both daughters of Ravi Shankar, is that not wild??). I wasn't blown away by Active Child's new EP, but there are 2 songs on it that I like. This single from James Vincent McMorrow is worth a listen too, but my favorite might be this little piano piece by Emahoy Guebrou.

Best Bites: No new recipes, but I just have to say how much I love the grocery store Vallarta here in Santa Maria every time I go. It is SO pretty inside and they have cheap, incredibly delicious coconuts. Don't buy them all before I get more, but definitely check it out if you haven't been there before. They have an insane meat selection too.

Best of the Web:

October Events:
This time of year is always jam packed for us...

  • I bought, sold, and volunteered at the Moo La La Boutique consignment event on the 3rd-6th. It's one of those almost-cheesy mom events that I really want to pretend I am too cool for, but I am so not too cool for cheap gently used clothing. I totally love this event. I unashamedly raided the girl's section for my friend Cara's soon-to-be baby girl, too (yah!). 
  • On the 7th, I finally started back to school to earn my bachelor's in Middle Eastern Studies. I've already learned so much, and I'm stoked to be moving, however slowly, again. 
  • My parents traveled to Texas for a week, and we house sat and cooked for the rest of my siblings for the week. It was challenging at times and I was really glad to go back to our own home at the end, but glad we were able to help and hang out with my brothers and youngest sister. 
  • We bought a vintage couch, one of many in my life time, I suspect. Love it, and will instagram a picture when my living room is presentable. I also put up a mini-installation of wall art which I'm proud of myself for seeing through. 
  • Ishmael and I went with my parents down to Biola for a day to watch my sister Annelise accept her official nursing coat, which is a great mile stone. We also celebrated my dad and brother Jonathan's birthdays. 
  • Of lesser importance, I changed my hair for the first time in well over a year (that has to be a record for me!) and got way more excited about a last minute halloween costume than I expected too. 

Ishmael's 11th Month:
My little guy turned 1 on the 29th. To those who ask if I can't believe it's been a year already, I say... I actually can, haha. It's feels like a long time ago that he was an enormous newborn. He is remarkably sweet, and a little sassy, and I'm proud to say that I even have those tell-tale soul encompassing moments of mommy-baby-love now that I know him. I don't feel like I had that at first. This month, he started blowing bubbles in the bath of his own accord, and he can now get up and down from bed and couch by himself which he does over and over and over. He is amazing at baby sign language and takes a few steps every day. He can feed himself with a spoon a little bit, and definitely doesn't want me to feed him by hand anymore. He smiles and chats so much and is always looking at us to make sure we're as excited and proud of him as he is of himself. His dad can still make him laugh more than anyone and he respects Jonas' word the most as well, and I'm proud of them both for that. He adores dogs, music, and being outside. We celebrated his birthday with many balloons and friends and family - he wasn't as excited about cake as I expected him to be, but he was WAY more excited about unwrapping presents and was so responsive and engaged with all his new toys, which was incredibly sweet to watch. On his actual birthday, we played with him all day and I made him spaghetti for the first time. Jonas and I bought him a train set, and I had to laugh at myself realizing that even as his parents, we were the only ones who bought him something that he couldn't quite grasp yet. Total newbs. I also dressed him up as a skunk for Halloween, but the costume was too small, and he was furious. I'm very much looking forward to our next year with Ishmael.

October Love List: Flannel sheets, planning holiday meals. 
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