Monthly Archives: August 2011

pre-birthday thoughts on 2011 + novel lessons


It’s the day before my birthday, and the house is quiet right now. It is quiet, because the nighttime was busy–a sick wiener dog had us waking up every hour to tend to him/take him outside, which here means walking down a flight of stairs, bundling up in a jacket (it is in the 40s Fahrenheit at night) and watching the wiener dog circle and circle and circle, while you alternate between two thoughts: Poor little thing…and Little bastard!

You’d think the setting was perfect for some introspection: sick dog, tired humans, quiet Sierra morning, birds tweeting, the beautiful environs, and you’re the only one awake in the house. But no.

Maybe it’s because the year’s been so busy, but I don’t have a lot of introspection going into my birthday this year. Maybe that’s for the best, because introspection for me usually involves lying in my bed with the covers over my head bemoaning my incompetence/so many things left to do/the road ahead/a rush of feelings I’ve suppressed for months until that moment.

Or maybe I should do a little bit of looking back, so I can look a little bit forward.

So I’ve pondered my 2011 To Do List; I conjured up the list as a framework of experiences I desired in 2011. I didn’t expect to achieve so many things on the list, but I have–and the funny thing about “to do lists” is that in the process of doing those things, you end up having enriching experiences that have nothing to do with the list, but at the same time would not have happened if not for the list. I hope that makes sense. But it’s really these unexpected, spontaneous happenings between the anticipated happenings that give me delight.

I go to Margot Restaurant for Dominican food. It’s the best. It’s the thing I crave when I’m away from NYC. So when I’m in NYC, I go. But the surprises were the company I kept during dinner. And the realization that of all the restaurants in Manhattan, Margot is the only restaurant that recognizes me as a regular; I always get a glimmer of recognition out of the staff, a heartier-than-usual hello, and a warm smile. Yah, so I’m probably easily recognizable as the only Korean chick there, but I’ll take it. I’ll take it!

the Spread

Then there’s another item on the list: a desire to see Central Park in wintertime. So beautiful. So treacherous. I love it so much. But there’s also no substitue for a crisp wintry day that has you holding your hunny’s hand as you step across black ice. Or listening to a musician braving the cold in the park. And then walking to Zabar’s for a knish.

Central Park

And yet, just a few months later, the Park looks like this in Spring! And that’s when you realize–you don’t have allergies in NYC!  And you take off your jacket for the first time in months and wonder when the last time was that you, the sun-avoider, welcomed the sun so much. And then you go shopping for Passover so you can sit down for your first Pesach Seder in NYC. You miss home, you miss all your old cooking implements, you miss your old Seder plate, but you cobble together a simple Seder anyway.

Spring in Central Park!

I love the MoMA. My hunny and I went and saw the kitchen exhibit. And then my parents came to town, insisting on the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So you take them there. They walk through it at warp speed, just like you do. Only they’re examining the picture frames. Seriously. They have decided to get some picture frames for some artwork in their house, and they have decided to gain some inspiration from the Met for this purpose.

My dad appreciates the Greek Art, loves it, even. But when we go to the MoMA, he scowls. “This isn’t very good,” he says. I try very hard not to roll my eyes as he says the thing that so many people say about modern art, “I could do this.”

So I reply as I always do to that comment, “Then why didn’t you?”

Usually, that comment makes people think. My dad ignores me and says, with all the authority he can muster (and it’s a lot), “I don’t like it.”

I can’t argue with that.


We drove to Montauk in early Spring, before the crowds, and after the snow melted. My parents needed to get out of the City, and my husband and I wanted to see Montauk (after all, it was on my LIST)!

Beautiful, isn’t it? We saw the carcasses of many sea creatures–crabs, and several gulf of Maine sting rays. There’s something about a wild beach that makes me fall in love.

Montauk lighthouse

My hunny and I visited our beloved London. We decided to rent a car one day and just drive and see what was out there. At the last minute, we decided to check out the Cotswolds, without agenda or schedule (and barely a map).

This day of spontaneity turned out to be one of the best days of our lives. We drove through several towns that involved the world “Chipping” (Chipping Norton, Chipping Campden…) and stopped at Chastleton House (as you see below) and Blenheim Palace, and savored the English countryside with its rolling green hills accessorized with fluffy white sheep.

Chastleton House

And if that wasn’t enough, and since we had some time left at the end of the day, we decided to head over to Bray…where we ate at Heston Blumenthal’s pub, Hind’s Head. Where I ate my first scotch egg! And an awesome oxtail and kidney pudding! And quaking pudding! The end!

Scotch egg

My hunny and I (yes, he and I spend a lot of time together) also headed over to Paris via the Eurostar this year. Again, with no plans but to get to Paris, which seemed a lot less clean than I remembered it to be. And perhaps it’s because smoking is banned in nearly every public place in the U.S. and London, but there sure seems to be a lot of cigarette smoking (and littering thereof) going on.

Parisians love to smoke

Okay, that’s not fair. Paris is more than cigarettes. It’s L’as Dus Fallafel in the Marais, and the best buckwheat galette/Breton crepes I’ve ever eaten. L’as Dus Fallafel was on our list of to-dos…and Breizh Cafe was not. Oh, these Breton crepes are tremendous! And it later turns out that there is usually quite the line at this restaurant. Only we were seated immediately. Kizmet. (Of course, now I want a Breton crepe, and alas, Ti Couz in San Francisco has closed. Where can one get a very good buckwheat crepe in the SF Bay Area now)?

We also had salted caramel ice cream from Berthillon, and that was just amazing–Berthillon was on our list of things to do, and the search for it was our only argument of the day! The funny thing, which dissolved our tension immediately was that it was under our noses the entire time. Like, straight in front of us. But anyway–the salted caramel ice cream is second to none, not even Bi-Rite in San Francisco.

buckwheat crepes!

And along the way, we also gathered quite a few questions.

Like, what is this? It’s this flippy metal thing on the Eurostar train trays. WHAT.IS.IT?

what is this thing?

The thing is–that life is the magic that happens between planned events. The detours and the questions and the emotions and the kizmet and the surprises and delights that occur on your way to or from pre-planned destinations.

It’s like that with novel-writing, too. I have an outline, and milestones–but then there is this magic that happens on the page on the way to/from these milestones. Those happy, magical detours (the ones that make for the best days of our lives) are what I pray for as I write.

Now I’ve got to get back to my novel. Because the best birthday present I can give myself is a few pages of which I can be proud.



Filed under Life, Novel, The Personal, Travel, Writing

Vida Giveaway: winner!

Ziggy the Wiener Dog reading Vida by Patricia Engel

There’s a winner of a signed copy of Vida by Patricia Engel!

Here’s the video of the drawing (sorry for the slight jostling; as usual, I was holding the camera up with my left hand and “self-taping”):

And if you don’t want to bother to watch the video and stare at me in front of my bookshelves recording myself as I pick the winner live…the winner is…



*drum roll please*


*drum roll*

*drum roll*

The commenter named sunny!
whose comment was:
“I want too! Ooh!! Cool giveaway! Immigrant story? You know, we all have LOTS of these?? Sadly? Anyway. I was super little.. 6 years old maybe? I just remember grown-ups being giants.. I came about to their waists. My mother was in a car accident, it was NOT her fault — someone rammed into HER — cops came and sided with the other person, a white woman, while my mother struggled to communicate what happened. Then my father was there, who speaks slightly better English, he kind of got into a spat with the officer, and the cop said, words I won’t ever forget, “I can’t understand her [my mother]! She’s speaking Asianese to me or whatever it is she’s speaking! Tell her to speak English for chrissakes, it’s America.” Ultimately we had to go to court for the whole incident and I recall the trouble my parents had communicating to their own lawyer. That was when I decided I wanted to become a lawyer someday, to be able to advocate for people like my mom and dad.”

*cymbal clash!*

Congratulations to Sunny–and thank you for supporting Patricia Engel’s book. I hope all of you who wanted a copy and didn’t win, still manage to find yourselves a copy soon.

I assigned each of you a number, in the order of comments, and used a random number generator to pick a number between 1 and 17, as there were 17 entries. The generated number was matched with the assigned number of the contest entrants.

The winning number was 7.


The wiener dogs reading Vida are Scarlet the Wiener Dog and Ziggy the Wiener Dog. I rescued both of them at separate times many years ago and they are now 18 and 14 years old, respectively. (And I wrote a blog post about them as part of my Alphabet History project).


Filed under Giveaway, Reading

V is for Value


V is for value.

*value |ˈvalyoō|


1 the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance or preciousness of something : your support is of great value.

I deactivated my Facebook account. I plan on returning to Facebook, but I’m not sure for how long I will be away; even though I initially planned on returning to Facebook by my birthday, I am enjoying the silence and peace and even the Leo in me wonders if it’s even worth it to return to Facebook for birthday wishes. (But let’s face it, the best thing about Facebook is all the birthday wishes on August 19 one’s birthday)!  

While I valued many of the interactions on Facebook, they are superficial interactions that left me dissatisfied, and worst of all, insecure; the frequency with which I bantered on Facebook walls never seemed to deepen friendships.

Now, I’m not devaluing the worth of friendships built on the internet. I met my husband online years ago on a UNIX chat server, where we messaged each other for hours on end, held long and written discourse on matters that delved into the deep, because sometimes writing does that–it allows us to go to the heart of the matter and quickly. But there is something about FB that distills interactions to small talk. And a relationship cannot be built on small talk. 

And so Facebook started to decrease in value, and in fact took away from things that were more important to me: like my writing, my sense of wellbeing, my psychic safety. Thus, the break.

• the material or monetary worth of something : prints seldom rise in value | equipment is included up to a total value of $500.

The economy is teetering. Our country has had its credit rating lowered. The Dow has plummeted in response. What is the value of our money?

• the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it : at $12.50 the book is a good value.

I have gotten a bicycle here in California, the value of my health and the environment countering that of the convenience of my car. I want to be in excellent shape by 40. I want to be strong. I want to be fast. I want to be lean. I want to be more powerful at 40 than I was at 30. 

I live in Berkeley, and hills that were completely invisible to me as a car driver loom ahead of me on a bike. Too many times this week, I’ve said to myself, “I had no idea there was a hill there.”

But I like how it makes my body feel. I like the wind on my face. I like that it is good for my health. I like that it’s helping me shed weight (or at least, keep the weight that I lost walking around in NYC, off). I like that I’m giving the environment a break from my automobile. My bike is good value.

• the usefulness of something considered in respect of a particular purpose : some new drugs are of great value in treating cancer.

I edit and revise my novel. What is this word/scene/character’s value in the context of the novel? 

It’s hard to cut words, but I do. At this point, I’ve cut more words than are in the current version of my novel.  

• the relative rank, importance, or power of a playing card, chess piece, etc., according to the rules of the game.

I cleaned out my closet. Rummaged and evaluated the value of each item. What was its value to me? Would it be of more value to others?

Throwing away too-large clothes and telling myself that I will stay fit is a sign of hope. There is value in that, too. There is value in giving things away. There is value in editing down. There is value in making a promise to myself. 

I edit and revise my body–my body, I realized, is valuable. It failed me in the past, but it can be strong. It can be an asset. Taking care of my body gives me value. It gives my writing value. I’ve lost ten pounds this year, a goal I’ve had for awhile. I’m aiming for another ten pound loss, done in a healthy way. I started doing yoga. I got an activity monitor (a fitbit), which keeps me accountable. I don’t count calories (I counted them for a week, and it made me crazy, so I stopped). I just make sure to keep on moving, at least five miles a day. I have come to value my body.

2 ( values) a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life : they internalize their parents’ rules and values.

Compassion. Straightforwardness. Loyalty. Bravery. 

3 the numerical amount denoted by an algebraic term; a magnitude, quantity, or number : the mean value of x | an accurate value for the mass of Venus.

There is sometimes a missing piece–the kind that has had me waking up on a bright and perfect morning in an organized room with a restless anxiety. 

4 Music the relative duration of the sound signified by a note.

I cannot sing well. My voice has no value. But it does not mean my voice has no value.

5 Linguistics the meaning of a word or other linguistic unit.

• the quality or tone of a spoken sound; the sound represented by a letter.

Shall vs. Will. 

6 Art the relative degree of lightness or darkness of a particular color : the artist has used adjacent color values as the landscape recedes.

The value of my denim jeans diminishes over time.

ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French, feminine past participle of valoir ‘be worth,’ from Latin valere.


Joining Heather’s Abecedary and Fog City Writer in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.


Filed under Alphabet: A History, Memes

W is for Wiener Dogs

please don't eat us.  we're not REALLY hot dogs.

I had just gone through a rough patch, the kind that leaves you looking for a new place to live, the kind that finds you living at a friend’s house for a month sharing a bed with a cat, even though you’re completely utterly allergic to cats, the kind that causes you to lose fifteen pounds inside of a month, the kind that leaves you oblivious to the compliments on the weight loss, the kind where the arrival at work each day is fraught with victory because you didn’t ram the car into the freeway divider at sixty miles per hour after all, the kind that ends on a rainy day when you decide to weed whack your friend’s backyard even though they didn’t ask you to weed whack and even though they urge you to come back indoors but you don’t stop until the waist-high weeds are gone and you’re covered head to toe in grassy confetti like breaded fish. And then you eat. And you sleep. And you can finally laugh. Not a lot, but you can laugh.

And then you think about where you’re going to live. You look at apartments in the City, because maybe it’s time after all to move to San Francisco. Or maybe it’s time to buy a small cottage in Berkeley. You call your old boss, a real estate broker. In the interim, you think you’re strong enough to go back to your apartment, the one that overlooks the apartment-of-the-guy-who-just-broke-your-fucking-heart.

And you get a dog.

You don’t know what kind of dog you get before you get the dog. But there’s a little diner you frequent on weekend mornings, the kind of diner with just eight seats, where everyone moves over one seat if needed. The kind of diner where the dishes are named after regulars. The kind of diner with a killer jive sandwich, which is like hash browns plus a frito-corn-ship scramble with hot sauce and jalapeños that you eat with gusto in your twenties because you haven’t yet been told you have high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Continue reading


Filed under Alphabet: A History, Memes