Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Last First Day

A little over a year ago this idea that we'd be moving back to Hong Kong began to percolate. And then it actually took shape. And then we did, and here we are.

The thing that made me dizzy with glee was the unexpected symmetry. The closing of a loop. Here's the thing... my oldest son began Kindergarten here in Hong Kong, the first time we lived here. In the most perfect bookend ever, my oldest son just started his last year of compulsory education, also here in Hong Kong. Maybe that doesn't seem like a big deal, but in between the first time and this time there were three elementary schools in America, an online academy in Macau, a local Chinese boarding school in Shanghai, and the first year of A Levels last year in Hong Kong. A mind-boggling eight houses in four countries.

It's strange and satisfying and beautiful, the very winding road that led us away from here and then back again, and mostly I'm just in awe of how it all worked out.

Photo on the left is my firstborn pressing the button to the lift to the lobby to the school bus that drove him away from me for the very first time. Photo on the right is the same now-grown up man pressing the button to the lift to the lobby to the ten minute walk down the hill to his school. I accompanied him on the walk, even though he didn't want me to. It's not often you realize you are experiencing the last of something, and I wanted to be there as witness. I want to tell this story to him when he has his own baby starting Kindergarten or finishing high school, that I was there, I remember.

We left Hong Kong the first time in the middle of the school year, an awkward time for families to move. We had to make a nearly impossible decision of what grade to put this child of ours in for his first year of school in America, with their different set of dates as Kindergarten criteria. That decision kept me up nights because all I could think about was this exact moment of time I'm living in now... did we want him to be 17 or 18 years old when he graduated from high school?

I remember so clearly the frustration on my husband's face when I'd bring up yet another reason we should either hold him back in Kinder in America or let him go into 1st grade. Because of his November birthday, days from California's cut off date between grades, we had to decide if he'd be the oldest kid in his class or the youngest. We went with the former. And in the early years it was very exasperating for his teachers, trying to keep the attention of the kid who was already reading chapter books while the rest of the class was still learning the alphabet. But he turns 18 in a couple of months and that extra year was the best thing we could have given him. It's only in looking back that I can see we clearly made the right decision. Thumbs up to the sleep-deprived me of thirteen years ago!

And thumbs up to all the mamas sending their babies to Kindergarten for the first time this week. Enjoy the wild and beautiful ride you've just buckled into. The rest of us will be waiting here at the exit, lost in memories and trying to figure out exactly how they mysteriously grew up right in front of us, even though we never took our eyes off them for a second.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Getting it done.

I recently read an introduction to The Man in the High Castle about the author, Philip K. Dick (the book is low-key creepy, I highly recommend it). He was a prolific writer, author of 44 published books and 121 short stories in just thirty years. From his work we get movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. He only lived to age 53. I was impressed with his body of work, and the dedication it must have taken to get all that done. Talk about discipline!

When I posted about him on Instagram, several people (mostly fellow artists and writers) commented with questions, such as: but did he have to raise a family, what did his wife think, and sure but at what price? 

Yes, there was definitely a darker side to his life: he was married and divorced five times, and had three children with three different women. He abused amphetamines to keep his energy up. He struggled with paranoia and attempted suicide. And what ended his life so early? A stroke. So despite the great library of his work we get to enjoy today, his was a difficult life. But there is still something to learn from him, his single minded approach to getting the work done. He made it his priority before anything else. 

Believe it or not, I'm not a very goal oriented person. I can pick a word for the year and then try to align my life to that word, but sitting down and making focused goals has never (yet) worked for me. Nothing about my life has forced me to set and accomplish big goals. We move a lot (18 times between five countries in 21 years). Our plans are destroyed a lot (thinking we'll be somewhere for five years and then finding out we have less than a month to move internationally after just a year). Things change quickly, so I have to stay light on my feet, ready to pivot quickly when required. I'm good at that. Picking something and sticking with it an entire year, no matter what obstacles come my way? Not easy. I'm sure at the end of this year I'll be writing a long, introspective piece about how I did it and what I learned. But as we end of the first half of 2018, let me tell you what has worked so far (and no, it doesn't involve amphetamines). 

1. Writing comes first. 

I have a reasonable daily word count I need to hit Monday through Thursday, and then I take Friday (plus any time that pops up on the weekend) to edit. Life has a way of quickly pulling my focus if I let it. So I don't let it. In the number one most shocking turn of events in my marriage, I've become the early to bed, early to rise member of our partnership. I set my alarm, I get up, I drink coffee and maybe eat something, and then I go straight into my office and write. Generally while still in my pajamas. Sometimes I'm in there writing before my husband has even left for work. I never thought mornings would be my most productive time. I'm a lifelong night owl and insomniac. I've never been a morning person. But when I was leaving that daily word count to the very end of the day once everyone else was in bed, it was way too easy to come up with excuses. And good ones! Some days are rotten and awful and I have a major headache by 7:00 p.m. Or I have a lot on my mind and can't focus. Or some important exam comes up for the kids and I need to drill them on test concepts. Or, or, or... When I make writing the very first thing I do each day, there's no time for any of that to happen. And when I have an appointment on my calendar for the day? I get up even earlier and get it done before I leave. And even if nothing else in my day goes right, starting it off having completed my daily goal makes everything else feel like something I can handle. I don't want to be the master of good excuses, I want to be the master of my time. At least until I get that daily word count out of the way. After that, if I want to be a lazy bum and just curl up on the couch with the dog and read, I can do it guilt free! But funny story about that... an unintended consequence of getting my writing done first thing has made me less prone to lazy days reading on the couch. I'm already up and productive, so why not get other stuff done while I'm at it? Some days I hit a magical workflow where my fingers are on fire and the words won't stop. So I don't stop, even if I hit that word count. I don't think it's a coincidence how that magical workflow visits me quite a bit more frequently now. 

2. Accountability. 

This one is rough. In Shanghai I had a lovely little 'accountability group chat' where each day a few fellow creatives and I would chime in with our goals for the day and then cheer each other on. When we met our goals, we'd comment back in the group chat. It was awesome because even though we were all doing different things in different mediums with different goals, we still had someone out there who knew what we were doing. When you run a race with someone much faster than you, you may end up with your best time. Knowing someone else was creating along side me kept me on task and motivated, even though they were across town. I don't have anything like that here in Hong Kong. Yet. And the members of my little group have all moved off to different time zones around the world, so it doesn't serve the same function. So right now I'm doing a couple of things. First, I write down what I accomplish each day. It's nice to see the days and weeks and months accumulating thousands of words. That's how books are written, one word at a time. Second, I tell my husband. Generally I send him a text when I've completed my writing for the day, and he always sends me back a high five or thumbs up emoji plus some cheerful words of affirmation. I had a daily download of Shanghai Disneyland's construction progress from him for the four years leading up to the Grand Opening, so I don't feel bad for burdening him with a quick text. And third, for one week I posted my daily word count in my Instagram stories. This ended up being wildly popular with the people who saw it, and really great for positive feedback for me (especially on the day it took over five hours to get to my minimum word count and I shared how hard it was). I'm hoping still to find some sort of accountability group/partner, but I'm not allowing it to be a barrier for getting the work done (again, I don't want to be the master of good excuses).

3. More than one project.

I have a good friend named David who has been a creative mentor for well over a decade. I've worked with him on a multitude of projects big and small in a couple of countries. His wife is an author of four books, one of which was a National Book Award finalist (in addition to being a working mom of three). They are an amazingly creative family. I think David has pushed me further and harder creatively than anyone else in my life, most of the time unintentionally. He also writes, and a few years ago I was trying to decide what to do with a book I'd been pouring hours and hours into writing for a couple of years. I was losing enthusiasm for it, but hated to just walk away from it. While I was figuring out what to do, to continue or to abandon it, I was completely frozen. I wasn't writing anything at all. For months. He gave me one of the most useful tips ever... to always have more than one project going at a time. I'm pretty much an all-or-nothing girl, pouring myself fully into one thing at a time, but what he said made so much sense. Especially because of my tendency to go ALL IN on something and then burn out on it. There are plenty of days when the task of writing my Really Big Project is stalling. Not exactly writer's block, more like there is so much to write about I can't focus or concentrate and so I sit there staring at the computer, unsure what to do. So I have two other projects I can work on as well. One is a fun passion project I have no specific plan in mind for. The other is this blog. Right now I don't have any major projects with deadlines, so I can just cruise between these three depending on how I'm feeling. I've never once missed getting my daily writing goal completed while using this tactic. I feel it's made me far more productive than my old style of just working on one project until it's done before moving on to another, especially because working on something else makes me look forward to getting back to my Really Big Project, like meeting up with a good friend I haven't seen in awhile.

4. The Why

Remember, my focus for this entire year is Discipline. What I want that to look like is being so well conditioned to write every single day, no matter the obstacles, that churning out 1,500 words in one sitting becomes something I can do as a warm up instead of a cross-the-finish-line, gasping-for-air goal. Next year my focus will change and I'll have more audacious things to focus on (i.e. what to do with all the words I'm churning out). But the definition of a writer is quite simple: one who writes. Spending my time daydreaming about new publishing contracts, talking about the process, or reading about other people's writing process doesn't make me a writer any more than reading cookbooks, following foodie blogs, and wandering the grocery store makes me a chef. I do of course want the publishing contracts and the income streams and the opportunity to talk about my process, but I don't want those to be the sole focus. I gotta do the work and get to a point where I can successfully do both. And with my all-or-nothing, ALL IN tendencies, I'm not ready to do both just yet. But soon I will be. This year is a gift, and I will squeeze every bit of experience, learning, and best practices I can from it before adding in more. I would love to be like Philip K. Dick and leave a legacy of 44 published books and a hundred stories that have so many great films made from them. But I also love experiencing this amazing life all over the globe, raising both of my boys to adulthood, and staying married to the same guy for 22 years this week. I don't know that I can have it all. I don't know that anyone really can. But I can take the essence of Mr. Dick's single minded productivity and choose to spend the same 24 hours we all get focused on what is most important to me. Without much effort at all, I've seen the other unimportant stuff I used to waste time on quietly slipping out of my life. Pardon me for not throwing it all a farewell party... I've got to get back to writing, so I'm ready to give my focus to my youngest son when he comes home from school to tell me about the Business exam he's currently sitting while we make dinner together.

What about you? Do you have any tried and true ways to accomplish what you most want to do? I definitely want to hear about them! And if not, what is stopping you from going after it today?

Monday, June 11, 2018

Moana: A Homecoming Celebration at Hong Kong Disneyland

While this isn't specifically a Disney blog, Disney is our life. And I don't just mean we're really big fans (though we are, especially me). I mean for over half my life, Disney has paid our bills and given us this wild, wandering life around the world, which in turn provides the fodder for this blog and several other projects. 

From my earliest childhood, all I wanted to do was travel the world. A wildly imaginative and precocious kid, my poor frustrated parents would frequently throw their hands up in the air and say, "What are we going to do with you, Heather?" My answer was always some variation of sending me to Germany, or other faraway location (fun fact: the first country I traveled to outside America was indeed Germany). I didn't know actually living around the world was a possibility, or else that would have been my childhood desire I'm sure. But here we are, having lived in five different countries (two of them more than once) as a direct or indirect result of a career with the Walt Disney Company. So yes, I'm a big fan, in a really unique niche of fans who might say they owe a lot of their fulfillment and quality of life to the Mouse. 

Right now we're back in Hong Kong where my husband is part of the team bringing new and exciting changes to Hong Kong Disneyland. We'll be here for several years (I keep saying four-to-forever years) and it's such a thrill to see the magic unfolding each time I visit. There's a lot in the pipeline over the next five years for this gem of a Disney Park, and the first brand new attraction in their multi-year expansion plan opened just two weeks ago. 

'Moana: A Homecoming Celebration' may only be a twenty minute live show, but it's a captivating and high energy experience for audiences of all ages. It takes place in the brand new Adventureland venue, Jungle Junction. It's a colorful outdoor stage, tucked into the green foliage of Hong Kong's natural landscape, reminiscent of island luaus, complete with the requisite island humidity and hot sunshine as a bonus feature!

The outdoor theater has three rows of benches, the front row reserved for the youngest guests who get to participate in some drumming, the second row for the little guests' guardians, and then the third row goes first come, first served. There's plenty of space to stand however, with decent views of the action. All my photos in this post were taken while standing behind the benches. 

The cast is small, just Moana, two live drummers in full islander regalia, plus six Voyagers who play a huge number of roles including Te Ka and Te Fiti, demigod Maui, chicken Hei Hei, Tamatoa the shiny crab, and all the Kakamora coconut pirates. Throughout the show, dozens of creative props and puppets add depth (and cuteness) to the story of Moana's adventures and her triumphant return to her village of Motunui.

In a theme park where guests speak a wide variety of languages, it's a challenge for a new show to get the story across in a meaningful way without redundantly repeating the same lines over and over in a trio of languages or dialects. While several of the entertainment venues at Hong Kong Disneyland utilize subtitles or characters within the show who only speak Mandarin or Cantonese, 'Moana: A Homecoming Celebration' moves the story along thanks to amazing choreography and talented dancers who use their bodies to create the sea, a wild fight on the high seas, and even the lava demon Te Ka. If there wasn't a single word in any language, we'd still effectively understand what was happening thanks to the beauty of very accessible visual storytelling. This, of course, is a big part of why I love Disney... the ability to create such an inclusive environment for its guests, with story at the heart of everything it does. 


I can't get enough of the rich color palette, the costumes full of movement, clever lighting design which adds so much even on a bright and sunny day, and the amazing texture of every part of the theater itself, which all add up to create a magical experience so much more than the sum of its parts. 

The rest of Hong Kong Disneyland is also joining in with the island vibe, publishing weekly Times Guides featuring Moana, new stickers available from various Cast Members, and even some new Polynesian-style meals, snacks, and beverages at the River View Cafe (Banana Beignets FTW!) in Adventureland.

There's so much more to come in the next five years at Hong Kong Disneyland, but if this sweet start is any indication, I can't wait to experience all the rest to come! Next up will be an all new attraction featuring Ant-Man and the Wasp, fighting off an army of Hydra swarm bots. I confess I'm just along for the ride with the Marvel Universe, hitched to the wagon driven by my husband and two teenage sons who are huge fans (unless we're talking Dr. Strange, and then I have no problem at all expressing the 3,642 reasons why he's my favorite Avenger). Even so, it will make a nice addition to the already Marvel-themed Iron Man Experience and Iron Man Tech Showcase in Tomorrowland.  

For now, you can catch me returning over and over again to Adventureland and Jungle Junction to visit the Voyagers and Moana to be charmed all over again. Let me know when you're going, we can meet up and pop over for some tropical drinks at the Disney Explorers Lodge to cool off later!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Theft hurts

Sad news today. My dear Shanghai Disney friends (let's face it, they're family) Adam and Jan Ostegard just lost a lifetime of irreplaceable original artwork along with almost everything else they own.

Adam is a Disney artist, who I hung out with frequently in Shanghai and text nearly on a daily basis now that he's in America. He's been in Los Angeles over the last year, and he and his wife were just getting ready to do a cross country move to Florida to start a new job there.

They'd finished packing up their U-Haul truck for the day with almost every single thing they owned and then went to bed, ready to get an early start after just putting a few more items in truck in the morning. That night, someone stole the whole truck from the street in front of their house. They live on a tiny, dead end street where two cars cannot pass at the same time, and there is zero through traffic, so the thieves knew what they were doing and specifically targeted their truck.

The truck was found abandoned by the police, the thieves had gone through each and every box and taken all Adam's 22 years of artwork for Disney, Universal, and others. They left behind a few family photos (thankfully) and even some high value non-art goods, which seems they had a specific goal in mind and knew what they were going to get when they took that truck. 

If you own anything at all from Shanghai Disneyland's Grand Opening, chances are Adam designed it. And if you collect Disney memorabilia and suddenly find a bunch of artwork or collectibles created by Adam Ostegard on the market, including the piece below, chances are it was stolen. Please reach out so we can do something about it. 

But in the meantime, can I ask for you to donate a small (or large) amount of money to help Adam and Jan? They lost nearly everything, not just the irreplaceable original art... I'm talking furniture and personal goods as well. 

I'm so angry about this. My husband and I were at Hong Kong Disneyland when we got the text from Adam saying what had happened. I shed some horrified tears and then looked around at the park we were standing in... everything around us had a Disney artist's fingerprints on it, in the DNA. Disney brings joy to thousands of people every day around the world. Let's bring some joy to a person who has been directly responsible for being part of that joy. Please share this, especially if you're part of any Disney groups. There are images of his stolen work in the Go Fund Me link. 

*Updated to add: If you come across any of Adam's suspected stolen art or collectibles for sale online or at a show, please send a link or other information directly to Adam at 

Thank you friends.

Sketching live for Shanghai Disneyland's first Pin Trading Fun Day.

Shanghai Disneyland's first Pin Trading Fun Day, where we all came out to support Adam who was creating art for the thousands of Disney guests who came to see him and his work.

Adam's last birthday, when my friends Jacob, Hollie, and I went to our closest Disney theme parks (Shanghai Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Hong Kong Disneyland) to take a photo with a character to send to Adam who was at the original Disneyland with his wife, Jan. Adam and Jan are wonderful people. Please share the Go Fund Me link!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Typhoon Season is here!

Last night my husband and I went for groceries and were greeted with this sign, taped to our building's lobby windows:

So here we are, officially in Typhoon Season 2018 for Hong Kong! Granted, a T1 is nothing to be worked up over (it's kind of a standby signal), but less than a year ago when we had just moved into this flat, we got a T8 and a T10 (the highest rating) in the same week. Our home on the 16th floor flooded (windows don't like rain that blows horizontally for hours on end) repeatedly while my husband was on a business trip in America. It was frightening in a way this girl who grew up in earthquake-prone California has never been frightened! When I see the yellow sign with a number, any number, boxed in red, that week of very wet, scary hell comes rushing back to my mind and I just want to curl in a ball somewhere very dry and cool without any wind or shaking buildings. 

The current storm heading our way is expected to slow down and fade away rather than intensify, so we're good for now. But don't you love the way the storm kind of did a little twirl there? Maybe it was doing the Hokey Pokey and it turned itself about... The name of this storm is Ewiniar, which sounds like it would be right at home in a JRR Tolkien novel. It actually comes from the name of a storm god from the island state of Chuuk in Micronesia. While the storms in America go in alphabetical order and swap from traditionally boy to girl names, the storms in Asia go in alphabetical order of the countries who submitted them, and they aren't even all names... some are ideas or things, like flowers or trees. 

We have a great app called My Observatory that tracks the Hong Kong weather for us and sends us alerts for everything you can think of, including fire danger, cold warnings, heavy rain, and yes - typhoons. The alerts at this exact moment are many... The first line with the green symbols and arrow, with the blue waves below is a special announcement for flooding. We got three inches of rain in an hour, and its causing flash flooding in certain parts of the New Territories (the area of Hong Kong attached to Mainland China). The yellow Thunderstorm warning is important, as there are many lightning strikes in Hong Kong, and when this warning is in place, swimming pools are closed and outdoor activities are cancelled. The Amber Rain warning is indicating that we are getting a certain amount of rapid rainfall, which in turn can cause flooding. The T1 is the Typhoon warning level. The second row starts with the storm tracking map (see the photo above for what that looks like when you click on it). The triangle with the exclamation point is any current warning, which right now was an alert to be on the lookout for flash flooding. And finally the TV is a link to any current news stories featuring the storm. 

It also gives helpful info like the current temperature, the forecast high and low temps, the wind speed and direction, and the relative humidity (currently at 96%). If you have the notifications turned on, it will send alerts when anything changes. 

But you know what else this means? It's the start of the season when Lucy Rocket is perpetually terrified. While fireworks and firecrackers do not concern her at all, thunder makes her whimper and cry, running all over the house, panting and shaking. Two nights ago we had thunder and lightning all night long, from midnight until 7:30 a.m. She woke everyone in the house up to share in her great discomfort. Michael and I took shifts sleeping and caring for her, and I shockingly had the very first morning of 2018 where I slept in past 7:00 a.m. because I was so completely exhausted. It's like having a newborn baby all over again. But a very mobile one who will not be calmed until the thunder stops. 

This is her this afternoon, trying to climb inside of me while giant booming thunder crashes around us. Yeah, I'm wearing Christmas jammies in June at 2:00 p.m. I work from home which makes this quite the perk! Hilariously, when I finally took my shower a bit later, she clawed at the shower door until I let her in. And then she stood there, attached to my ankles, water and shampoo and soap cascading down on her (sorry, no pic of that). This is a dog who absolutely hates baths and water (she is unaware that Poodles are a water breed, that their very name means Puddle...), so that gives you an idea of how much the thunder frightens her. Oooh boy, it's gonna be a long summer with this precious scaredy cat of a dog! 

Hope wherever you are today is dry and warm, not blazing hot and humid. Unless that's your thing... and if it is, may I cordially invite you to Hong Kong for the summer? Maybe you can dog sit while we go somewhere cooler? 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Where My Mind Wandered (The Last Two Weeks)

Well that was a little bit of a break, wasn't it? Though I've actually been more busy than these industrious shoe shiners in an alley in Hong Kong during lunch hour. It's exam season for my sons, and there is so much we know now that we wish we'd known at the beginning of the school year. We're doing our best to get through it. Our oldest just completed his AS Level exams, and our youngest is studying like crazy for his GCSE's. More on this later (including what I wish we'd known and how you can be successful should you find yourself enrolling your kids in a British school) when I have a minute to untangle everything in my own mind! 

For now I just wanted to pop in with a few things that have been on my mind, in between drilling key terms from Psychology on flashcards for my firstborn...

1. Honestly, I just read this article today, thanks to my Shanghai friend Matt. I have several readers who live in Japan, and a few more getting ready to move there. Tokyo is my favorite place we've lived, and I think part of it is the chaos of a bustling city is managed in both obvious and hidden ways. Check this out, and then tell me if you've got any plans to visit Tokyo soon (we do!).

2. It's Mental Health Awareness month, and I've been looking up prolific artists who were or are known to have mental illness. One of my favorite versions of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is illustrated by Yayoi Kusama, one of Japan's leading contemporary artists. You may know her from her work with lots of dots. The dots were one way she has dealt with sometimes crippling mental illness. She has lived voluntarily in a mental hospital for nearly five decades, within walking distance of her art studio where she still makes art today at the age of 89. Read more about her art as therapy here

3. Did you watch the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? Sigh. I definitely did, helped by the fact that it was held at 6:00 p.m. Hong Kong time. As Mama to two boys, I openly wept big tears when William and Harry got out of the car, two motherless brothers, there to see the younger one get married. I love that the newly minted Duchess of Sussex got her own coat of arms, and that so much of it ties into her life in my home state of California. 

4. And one more thought about the Royal Wedding... the flowers! I'm named for three flowers (Heather, Queen Anne's Lace, and Roses) and am happy to say that flowers are definitely something I love. The fact that Harry picked some flowers from his mother's private garden to go into Meghan's wedding bouquet was so meaningful! Did you know that every flower has a meaning? Personally I only want to send ranunculus from now on, which mean, "I am dazzled by your charms." More on the language of flowers here. 

I'm going to stop there because I can't hear myself think. The flat beneath us has been under construction for nearly two months, and has a permit to continue to do so until July 15th. If you've never been treated to months of jackhammering, drilling, metal banging against metal, and other anxiety-producing sounds so loud that you cannot have a conversation for 6-10 hours a day, it probably means you don't live in Asia. I'm getting up earlier and earlier each morning to try and be productive before the cacophony starts at 9:00 a.m., but this is all such a drag. Looking forward to July 16th as if it were my birthday!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Club

Book Club spread!
Last year I read slightly more than 52 books in 52 weeks. We knew we'd be transitioning from one country to another, with little time to dedicate to writing. Reading is a great way to become a better writer, so I was happy to aim my focus on that. This year I'm still reading a lot, but with no direction or timeline or goals. Except for one...

When we first moved here nearly a year ago, I signed up for every event or group I could find in an effort to make friends and build community. I found a book club in our little beach town thanks to Facebook, and before I could talk myself out of it, I signed up. I'd never been part of a book club before, so I had no idea what to expect. The book club gave me my favorite book of the year, A Gentleman in Moscow, but it was a dead end as far as making friends. The group disbanded after my first attendance, before I'd even exchanged any contact info with potential buddies.

A few months later a local friend mentioned I should join his wife's book club, which has been going for a decade and also meets in the same little beach community where I live. It seemed unlikely that it would also break up after going strong for over ten years, so I downloaded the book to read on my Kindle and showed up, not knowing what to expect.

The first book club was a scholarly experience, where the facilitator had a list of questions and expertly moved the conversation along so that we ended exactly on time. For an introvert like myself, this can be somewhat ideal. Not a lot of time to quickly come up with small-talk, just dive right in to the book discussion.

The second book club is called Books and Bubbles and while there is always at least a small discussion about whatever the book of the month is, the focus is on the amazing food and drink the members bring to share (see photo above, actual pic from book club), and the conversations that spring up from a group which includes nearly a dozen nationalities and even more backgrounds. As an introvert, it's a little bit terrifying. As a collector of stories, it's exhilarating. It's the absolute best evening of each month, and I'm so grateful to somehow have become a part of it!

The books we've read have varied wildly, though when asked what my favorite book from my year of 52 Weeks, 52 Books was, this group also read A Gentleman in Moscow. I didn't even mind reading it a second time. It will likely go on to be a book I'll return to again in the future.

One thing about my year of reading was the conversations which sprung up over Instagram when I posted an image of a book I'd just finished. If you count the number of likes, they were my least popular posts, but the people who did like them, really liked them. I still get requests to continue. So I decided to add a little link here to the blog to show what I'm currently reading in case you want to read along as well.

Right now I'm halfway through The Book Thief by Alfred A. Knopf, which is definitely a great book to curl up with when you want to be cozy or if you're not feeling well and want to escape (though considering it's written from the perspective of Death, maybe you don't want to read it when you're not feeling well?). I'll update the link whenever I start a new book. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!

*Some links on this website may be affiliates, meaning at no cost to you, I might get a small bonus to be spent on more books. Thank you!

Monday, May 7, 2018


Guacamole by the beach with my beloved. Heavenly!
This year I’ve been pretty much laser-focused on my writing, to the point where I just unfollowed a bunch of sewing/crafty blogs so I’m not distracted from my goals with other fun stuff for this season of discipline. (Don't worry, I archived them in a place where I can re-follow them next year or when I want to make that my focus once again.)

On Saturday, my husband and I went to lunch by the beach for Cinco de Mayo, and over guacamole and fresh lime soda, I confessed that while I’m having no difficultly getting my daily word count goals met (it took awhile but I found a rhythm and strategy keeping me productive), where I am struggling, and struggling deeply, is with the raw vulnerability of spilling out part of myself and committing it to the page. 

I’m not even writing about anything all that intimate or raw or exposing. I'm not writing anything that I wouldn't share with someone (if they asked) over a first or second coffee date in real life. But it's still part of me, something that I nurtured and labored over and created.

It’s May, and this strange feeling hasn’t diminished over the last four months of dedicated writing, it’s only increased. Writing is such a solitary thing, with no collaboration to spread the success or failure among many people... it’s all on me. I'm the only one with skin in the game here, and to my great surprise, my skin isn't getting any thicker over time.

I saw this quote that in a slightly different form has been attributed to Aristotle: We become what we practice. What if, by opening myself up to being vulnerable, it's simply making me more of the same? And can vulnerability be a superpower, instead of something to wish away?

Brene Brown certainly thinks so. In her book, Rising Strong, she makes the point that vulnerability--the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome--is the only path to more love, belonging, creativity, and joy. I love that. It resonates deeply with me. Because I certainly want more love, belonging, creativity, and joy. Don't you? And if putting pieces of myself out there is the way to get there, then allow me to spill myself all over the page (or screen). 

At that Cinco de Mayo lunch, my husband was beyond supportive. I know what a huge help it is to have someone cheering loudly over even the minor successes. And sometimes that is hard to find. If you take a moment to google "why your friends don't want you to succeed" there are over 12 million hits. I definitely have had my share of friends who have loved me when I was miserable, but pulled away when things were going really well. They were only interested in watching me scratch at the wounds that had finally scabbed over instead letting them turn into fading scars. Or who questioned (and discouraged!) even a tiny step I made to improve my health through daily walking. With friends like these, who needs enemies, right? 

Yet to bring you back around to the point of this post... I'm grateful for the unexpected lessons I'm learning through my disciplined focus on writing this year. I am absolutely certain that without this focus, 2018 would have been like 2017, or 2016, or every single year before that when I said, "This is hard. It's hurts. It's easier to walk away now by choice than to continue not knowing if I'll even succeed. I'm tired of justifying myself to everyone, I'll just do something else creative instead." Just continuing to write at all (in my own private journal, for this blog, for my book, or for other websites I work with) is perhaps the most vulnerable position I've ever willingly placed myself in. 

It's exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. And it's also made me the biggest cheerleader of other people on a similar journey of putting themselves out there in big or small ways. I will not be the person who tries to convince someone that their goals are too hard or too lofty. Life does enough of that without my help!

Let me know what you're up to right now... we can have a virtual dance party to celebrate! And then maybe some guacamole? That photo up there from lunch with my husband is making me hungry... 

Friday, May 4, 2018

May The Fourth (Be With You)

I'm not going to lie, when the whole May the Fourth/Star Wars Day sprung up a few years back, I thought it was cute the first year and then annoying all the subsequent years. Until two years ago, when my friends gave our dog Lucy Rocket a Chewbacca Tsum Tsum from Hong Kong Disneyland. Then all I could think about was how she perfectly resembles Chewy. So last year I took her photo with the Tsum Tsum and posted it. And then this year I decided to do it again, with some of my husband's Star Wars toys and propaganda-style Star Wars artwork we picked up in Shanghai a few years ago. I guess this is who I am now, someone who looks forward to dressing up her dog for a made up holiday. Good thing she completely loves having her photo taken! 

Happy Star Wars Day and may the Force be with you!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Where My Mind Wandered (this week)

Welcome to a new edition of stuff I couldn't stop thinking about this week!

1. Every time I scroll Facebook and come across a photo of someone wearing their shoes on their bed or curled up on the couch, I have an actual negative physical reaction. We got in the habit of not wearing shoes in the house nearly 20 years ago, which made the transition of living in Asia (where no one wears shoes in the house) quite comfortable. In Shanghai, we regularly saw humans using the sidewalks as toilets, so there was no chance I'd wear my shoes (or let anyone else wear theirs) in my home. I got into a lively conversation about this while in America last month, so I wanted to share two links with you. The first brings you some science about why wearing shoes in the house actually isn't healthy. And the second is a wonderfully written piece about the non-shoe-wearing customs in several Asian countries. We have quite a collection of slippers for guests to wear when they enter our home, but unlike in China, most guests here in Hong Kong tend to just go barefoot. Maybe because we have amazing floors that feel good on your feet (see above photo)? What about you? Are you a shoes off or on family?

2. Have you seen the CBC comedy Schitt's Creek, starring Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy (along with Eugene's son Daniel)? It's about the wealthy Rose family, whose accountant neglected to pay their taxes, who end up living in the only asset they still have, the unfortunately named town of Schitt's Creek (which was purchased as a joke for their son's 16th birthday and then promptly forgotten about). I love this show so much, mostly because I love anything with Catherine O'Hara in it. A few years ago when we screened Beetlejuice for the boys, I shockingly realized I'd patterned a lifetime of sartorial and beauty choices after her character, Delia Deetz (mostly black clothes, bold red lip, bright ginger hair, heaps of confidence, check). The costumes in Schitt's Creek do not disappoint either. I went down the rabbit hole of sourcing one piece I saw on the show, and found this article about how they find the amazing high-end wardrobe pieces with a minuscule costume budget for the down on their luck Rose family. 

3. And here's something else you can watch... my brilliant niece-of-the-heart Maddy Caddell recently started a new YouTube Channel (she and her sisters make up the smartly funny and beautiful Three Ginger Sisters). While visiting her in Los Angeles, we spoke a bit about a new vlog she did on Generation Z. I hear so many complaints about how "young people these days always have their phones in their faces." Maddy makes some great points about why that is, and why it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Take 8 minutes and watch her talk about Generation Z and why they matter! And then definitely subscribe to her channel for more smart info on all sorts of great topics!

4. And for more conversation about experiencing life with a phone in your face, I couldn't stop thinking about this piece... Are museums purposely making themselves Instagram ready? A quote from the article, “In the pre-digital photography era, the message was: This is what I’m seeing. I have seen. Today, the message was: I was there. I came, I saw, and I selfied.” Another quote, “These manufactured entertainments aren't significant art exhibitions any more than a Chuck E. Cheese arcade or the Block of Fame at Legoland,” says Christopher Knight, an art critic for the Los Angeles Times. “They're just snobbier.” Read it and tell me what you think! 

5. And because fashion is a top Instagram topic (two of my friends just started new accounts just to post their outfits of the day), I've also been thinking about the upcoming Met Gala, where celebrities wear over the top garments relating to the year's theme. This year's theme? Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. With Cultural Appropriation a hot topic on my Facebook feed, it made me wonder what you should wear if you aren't Catholic? And then my favorite Jewish blog echoed my thoughts with their slightly cheeky post on What are Jewish Celebs supposed to wear to the Catholicism-themed Met Gala

That's it for the links. I had a blissful overnight getaway with my husband because of Hong Kong's Labour Day public holiday on Tuesday, but somehow am still having to cram in a full week's worth of work in the remaining days of the week. Here's a thought: Do we ever really get a break? Is taking a break worth it if it means we have to redouble our efforts to get the same amount of stuff done in less time? I guess that's what I'll be mulling over as I'm sorting the never-ending pile of laundry that grew while I had my back turned just for a moment... 

Have a great remainder of your week, Friends! 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Communication Failure

Bank of China Tower,
designed by I.M. Pei
Yesterday I went to listen to an internationally-known speaker and author talk about leadership at a local church in Hong Kong. He spoke in English, but in an accent different from mine. He'd done a presentation the day before, which my youngest son and husband attended, and they came home singing his praises. I was looking forward to hearing what he had to say. But what he had to say, and I what I heard, were two different things.

During the hour-long talk, he kept saying a word which sounded very much like the F-word. He might have been saying "back up," "buck up," or perhaps "muck up," but the F-word, as I understand the definition, would not have been out of place contextually. He was talking about messing up, making mistakes. But considering the location where the event was being held, a place of worship, it would not have been appropriate.

Instead of learning about how to be a better leader, I spent the whole time blushing and distracted and wondering what word he was actually using. I even interrupted my husband's note taking to ask him if he was hearing the same thing. He came to the same conclusion, that it sounded like the F-word but was probably one of the other words above.

I guess I don't really need to tell you that my takeaway from the experience was different from what the speaker was hoping his point would be. What I learned was that although I can speak (or write) what I think are clear, succinct (or more typically- long-winded), easy to understand concepts or directions or ideas, the thing which matters is less what comes out of my mouth, and more what is processed in someone else's brain. Communication is complicated.

I know my last post was meant for laughs, and for a specific audience of people who speak and read English, likely American English. And I love to laugh, more than anything. There are challenges to living in a country where I don't speak the language, and my tool box for survival definitely contains a good-sized sense of humor (sometimes if you don't laugh, you end up crying). I have a few stories from Shanghai I still can't write about (frankly I can barely speak about them) because I can't find the humor yet. And when writing about cultural differences, I always attempt to make myself the butt of any joke, rather than the people whose culture I am a guest in. If I can't do that, then what seems like a funny story can end up coming across as mocking or bullying. After seven years of living in Asia, my sense of what's funny has definitely changed.

The legendary I.M. Pei
(pronounced PAY)
Example: My favorite architect is I. M. Pei, who created several notable buildings including the glass pyramid at the opening of the Louvre in Paris, the Bank of China Tower here in Hong Kong, and the Macao Science Center in Macau. This week he turned 101 years old. Last year, when he turned 100, I posted about it on Facebook. A few people commented on his name, making jokes about it, assuming that Pei sounds like Pee rather than Pay. And as the mother of two boys, I've heard my share of bodily fluid jokes, so I get that "I am pee" is funny. But because I know how to pronounce Pei, the jokes about his name didn't make me laugh (plus I deeply respect the man, his life story, and his amazing eyeglasses). However, they likely would have given me the giggles before I moved to Asia and flunked out of language school, just after learning the rules of pronunciation but not getting to any actual vocabulary.

And just to position myself squarely as the butt of a language joke, I will tell you that in Mandarin, the word for sugar and the word for soup are both tang. And if you have an American accent and don't know Mandarin, you would likely pronounce that TAY-ng, like the orange drink astronauts used to sip in space, the TA sounding like Taylor. But it actually sounds more like tong, what you'd use to get an ice cube if you're fancy. And to further complicate things, sugar is táng (where the vowel sound sort of sweeps up) and soup is tāng (where the vowel sound stays flat), and regardless of how much I practice or try to say it exactly as my native Mandarin-speaking friends say it, no matter how many times I asked for sugar in a restaurant for my steaming hot coffee, I was consistently served a bowl of soup, many minutes later when my coffee was then lukewarm and sadly unsweetened.

Now that's some sugar!
And just like me, scratching my head yesterday over why a man would drop F-bombs in a church building (when my rational, intelligent brain surely knew he couldn't possibly actually be saying the F-word), I'm sure there are several waitresses in Shanghai who tell the story of the crazy red-haired laowai who asked for soup with her coffee (when surely their rational, intelligent brains knew that Western foreigners like sweet things and that I probably wanted sugar but because whatever came out of my mouth was received as soup, that's what they brought me).

My workaround for the sugar-in-my-coffee situation was to keep a photo of the word sugar in Chinese on my phone to flash the server so I could drink my caffeine sufficiently sweetened. But what's the workaround for a life spent communicating to other humans when the possibilities for being misunderstood are so great? We can drink coffee without sugar and survive (barely!), but can relationships survive when we unknowingly insult someone because we don't yet possess all the facts, or even the right words?

Let me be completely honest right now: there are times when I'm absolutely paralyzed by the idea that I may insult someone through my ignorance. There are times, even as recently as last week, where I have to force myself to interact with people while truly petrified that when I open my mouth, I could be offending someone. Or worse, legitimately hurting their feelings. I know it's happened before. One time I said something very stupid from a place of deep ignorance about a particular faith to someone I love. Though it happened nearly a decade ago, I still cringe at the hurt I caused (I've been forgiven by the person, but find it hard to forgive myself). But I take comfort, and guidance, from a quote by the great American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. She said, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."

And my experience tells me the only way I can know better, is to get out there and talk or write or simply interact with my fellow human beings, and to make huge mistakes and learn from them so I can indeed take that knowledge and do better.

We're in the countdown to our oldest child's last year with us before he'll head off to university (or who knows, he might live with us forever). It's the last year I'm willing to pay for 100% of his travel expenses when we visit other places as a family around the globe. We're making a list of destinations we want to travel with him, and to my great surprise, he has been putting up a big fight. He wants to just stay home. What's the point of travel? Can't we just stay in Hong Kong? Haven't we already seen enough stuff? Basic physics: objects - and boys - at rest, will stay at rest.

Last night I went round and round with my son. I pulled out the big guns... Travel is a masterclass in learning about other cultures, but also about ourselves! I never want to stay where I am today! I want to grow beyond this current me, even if I like this current me, because even though I don't know everything, I recognize there are things I don't yet know, and it's up to me to learn them! I want him to grow beyond his current him! To see that there is more to learn! To love learning what the great big classroom of this world has to teach!

The conversation ended with us not speaking at all... him in a huff, and me wondering where I've gone so wrong as a parent. But hours later, when I thought all hope was lost, he came back and said, "I see your point. Okay. We can talk about it some more."

Here's my hope: that despite the communication failures that will happen, we can still cover each other with love and grace. That I can even cover myself with that love and grace when I mess up.

In Chinese: Portal
In English: Stop Mouth
Comedy or wisdom?
Love and grace, and lots of laughter. So long as the joke is either on me or Google Translate.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Laughter For Better Living

"Dont sell me a dog
drugstore cowboy"
Courtesy of my friend Dara.
Living in Asia provides so many great lost-in-translation moments. Most of the time I find humor in them, but there's potential for mild horror as well.

Case in point: A few years ago in Macau, one of my sons was quite ill with gastroenteritis. The not-quite-fluent-in-English but very competent doctor asked us when the last time "he made a sheeting" was. I went round and round, echoing his words, trying to figure out what a sheeting was, and how exactly one went around making one. My poor son was moaning and clutching a bag to vomit in, and my mind was spinning trying to think if he'd thrown up anything that looked like a sheet. A sheet of paper? A bed sheet? "A SHEETING," he shouted, thinking that saying it louder would help me understand. And when I finally realized what he meant, I blushed twelve shades of purple and asked if he meant a bowel movement. "Yes," he said, frustrated at my dim ability to understand English. "Aren't you from America? Isn't that where you say make a sheet?" Ai ya!

The funniest moments are when we see a blend of Chinese and English, a made up dialect many call Chinglish. We often wonder if tee-shirt designers simply open a dictionary, point at seven random words, and toss them onto the screen printer, or if they just liked the particular aesthetic of those letters, in that order. 

Shanghai hosted the World Expo in 2010, and the heftily named Municipal Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision decided to crack down on the Chinglish, asking representatives from twelve different industries to do a better job with translations, so as not to create embarrassment while the world's spotlight was aimed at China. 
"Rules are made
Courtesy of my friend Dara.

I can gleefully report that even in 2018 there are plenty of examples of Chinglish in China to be had, we're in no risk of losing endless opportunities to giggle over inappropriate, random, or bad translations found everywhere from clothing to store names to food on a menu. But in Hong Kong... well, there's less of it. 

Hong Kong was a British Colony for 156 years, up until 1997. The current Basic Law here states both English and Chinese are official languages. (Fun fact: English was the only official language up until 1974.) But having English as an official language doesn't mean it's the most commonly used one. The 2011 Census found the Cantonese dialect of Chinese to be the primary spoken language in 87.5% of the homes in Hong Kong. With an influx of migrants coming from Mainland China and Taiwan, the use of the Mandarin dialect of Chinese is also increasing. (Side note: my sons speak Mandarin, and are very grateful that its use is increasing here so they can continue to study and speak it!). 

Despite the large use of Chinese, I think Hong Kong probably has better copywriters, making sure less troublesome translations get out in front of the public. But despite a dearth of Chinglish, I'm still finding fun things which make me giggle. I love to laugh more than anything, so I'm grateful for any opportunity for a good chuckle! Wanna laugh with me? Come along for a walk through Hong Kong this past week!

Are you hungry? How about some Bone-in Chicken Sausages! 

I found this at a quick service restaurant in the Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong Island. It's a port of entry/exit for people coming from Macau and across the border in Mainland China, so many of the things on offer are meant to appeal to a wide variety of guests. The second line of language in the image is Japanese, which makes me wonder where this particular delicacy comes from, or who they are trying to fool with a hot dog that's been stuffed with a burnt chicken bone... 

Surely after that great meal, you've worked up some thirst? Why not sample Starbucks' latest Spring offering, the Iced Butterfly Pea Lemonade Coffee! 

Honestly, I have no idea who the target market is for this. It's a blend of a type of iced tea made from the Butterfly Pea Plant, native to Thailand and Malaysia, plus lemonade and coffee. To me, it looks vaguely poisonous, not at all appealing. When I questioned my local barista, she said she hadn't yet sold any, and doesn't personally drink iced coffee of any flavor. This beverage is currently also available in Taiwan, and my friend there said he thought it was okay... a blend of sweet tea, tart lemon, and bitter coffee. Considering Starbucks in Hong Kong is more expensive than Starbucks in America, I saved my eight bucks to spend on my usual only-sweet, never tart or bitter, Caramel Frappucino. Yeah, boring I know. But if you want to hop a flight to Hong Kong this week, I will treat you to one if you promise to drink it all... 

Next stop after a meal and beverage is generally the bathroom. 

I confess the use of toilet in the sign above is less funny to me than the borrow part. The term for 'place where one goes to relieve oneself' varies widely around the world, but we've used the term 'toilet' for about seven years thanks to the influence of British English vs American English in this part of the world. If you ask where the bathroom or restroom is while in a fancy shopping mall, you may get a blank stare. However, when I'm in America and I ask where the toilet is, I generally get the cheeky answer of 'in the restroom, of course.' So I'm guessing the sign above means there is no public facility to use on the premises, that it's for staff or private use only. But when I snapped a photo and sent it to our extended (American) family group chat, we all had a pretty big laugh. I mean, I don't want to keep the toilet, just borrow it for a day or two...

This one I cannot explain. 

And it's not from some random clothing stand on the corner. This is from Hong Kong Disneyland. Power Pants? Power Shorts? Pow-Pants-Er? Power Bum? Even the Cast Member in the store could not assist me in providing a meaning behind the graphic... What do you think it means? And more importantly: would you wear it?

 Avengers: Infinity War opened on Wednesday in Hong Kong, and we're seeing crazy amounts of advertising all over town. And of course different elements and characters from the Avengers are appearing at Hong Kong Disneyland, including Cosmo, the telepathic Soviet Spacedog. He's behind glass and he moves and blinks and makes noise. I took this photo and then started laughing like crazy, which made the guests standing around me stare.

Let me show you another angle... Do you see the blue and green spiky balls by his side? Do you know what they are?

Did you guess Dryer Balls? They are meant to be used in a big American clothes dryer. Which is neither widely available, nor popular here (there's no space and they use a lot of energy!). Most people do not have machine dryers at all, preferring to hang everything to dry. I have a combination machine which first washes a (tiny) load of laundry, and then heats up and spins very rapidly to dry it, sucking out the water. One load of about 4-5 pieces of clothing can take five hours to wash and dry, and because it goes straight from washing into rapid spin drying, a Dryer Ball isn't at all useful. 

I do miss having a big, gentle, tumble dryer, which left our clothes feeling soft and fluffy instead of the heating, spinning machine which leaves everything stiff and wrinkled and in need of ironing. Dryer Balls were great at cutting down drying time and keeping our towels lofty. I wonder how these managed to find their way into Cosmo's cage? I'm sure they look fun and exotic to most everyone here who sees them, but I can't stop laughing about them!

That's it for right now. I'll leave you with this final photo of an awesome granny I saw strolling around Hong Kong Disneyland. It's not exactly funny (unless you think the big lips mean saying yes to kissing adventures), but it's a great reminder in this new season of life in Hong Kong! 

Say yes to new adventures!

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