Thursday, July 12, 2012

First China Post: Leavin' on a Jet Plane

OK so this is almost a year and a half old - but I figure I should just post them. Better late than never?

Thursday, March 17
Of course I leave packing for the last possible minute, but we were in session that week and life was obviously crazy. I also had to be stealth about packing - the dogs go insane when they see us packing suitcases. I also left packing until the night before because I decided it wasn't worth going to bed the night before. And did I mention I still, somehow, managed to fall behind and had to rush to finish packing?

Friday, March 18
3:30 AM - Super Shuttle picks me up. I'm running late and dude says he's gonna leave in a minute if I don't get down there.
3:45 AM - Arrive at DCA and counter doesn't open until 4. I'm sleepy.
5:30 AM - Board my flight to JFK, which leaves at 6. I sleep the whole way.
10:15 AM - Cathay Pacific flight to HK! 16 hours. I watch 15 episodes of Friends, 5 episodes of Glee, and read a little. Am so overtired from not sleeping the night before but can't really fall asleep because, well, it's Coach Class. All I think is next time, medicate me please.

Also, I have mixed feelings at the flight attendant who wakes me early in the flight to offer breakfast. I ate already and wasn't hungry and really really really wanted to sleep. But, I bet if I were hungry I would have appreciated it.

My facebook status update before I left? "Teams are now traveling more than 8,000 miles to the city of Hong Kong." Only the cool kids will know what that is a reference to.

Airplane food was surprisingly satisfying. Was neat to fly over the Arctic Circle. Was just a long, long, long time on a flight. Not sure I could do it again any time soon unless someone wants to buy me a business class seat.

To be continued!

Friday, May 4, 2012

It Takes Two, Baby

I had an interesting conversation in the comments of my last article, one that I didn't think of - the difference, or possibly lack thereof, between the experiences of men and women when it comes to balancing the various aspects of our lives.

I guess we've been programmed to think that women have it harder when it comes to juggling life's flaming pins. But what if that's all in our heads?

For the last couple of years, I've been comfortable holding off having a child not only because I wanted to wait until I was in a job with more flexibility and a higher salary, but also for a more selfish reason: because I wanted to be the "#1" parent. I wanted to be the parent to whom the baby always goes, the parent physically there for every scrape and every milestone.

But I'm realizing that's not possible. And probably doesn't exist. 

As Mahwish said in a comment on the last article, "Some weeks you're going to focus more on your career than on your family and other weeks it will be the reverse." I agree, because I do want a successful career, and I think it will make me a more fulfilled person and a better parent.

And having two fully engaged, well-rounded parents--who bring unique strengths and methods--will raise a stronger child.

Which means BOTH the Secret Asian Man and I will be making decisions on how we spend our time, decisions we'll make jointly and some we'll make on our own. And there's a lot of recent polling that shows parents in households that will look like mine are splitting the work pretty evenly. Both parents are feeling pressure on how best to balance everything.

What does this come down to, then? I think part of it is the pressure women put on themselves to be the "#1" parent. It's the game many of us have played since college, a battle of who is the busiest and most stressed. It's a destructive game for our mental health. It's also a way to feel in control--if you're the lead parent, it also means you're making more of the decisions, which I think we can all admit has an attraction.

I don't like to overgeneralize--but from personal anecdotes, it seems as though men live more "in the moment." If they're at work, they're focused on their work. If they're reading to their child, they're enjoying reading to their child. It's not that men aren't concerned about the time they're spending at work vs. at home, or about the fact that the house is messy, but they decide when to sit and think about those issues. And many of them still have a particular worry that pings around their head for much of the day, even if they don't show it.

I think women's brains--again, overgeneralizing--run a mile a minute trying to "figure everything out" in their heads. YES there's not enough time in the day. YES the house isn't clean enough, and maybe you could pitch in with that more if you know your husband does more of that (welcome to the Nguyen household). But because to some extent you're choosing to worry about those things while reading to your child, it doesn't make you more burdened than your husband/partner, if in fact both parents are splitting the work evenly.

I tell this to people when they begin wedding planning: many brides-to-be who stress out about their fiances not helping enough with the wedding planning are full of it, if along with the work they also had to split the decisions. My Secret Asian Man was VERY involved in the wedding planning process, and it made me a better person for it. We each used our strengths to work on various tasks, decisions were made by both of us by compromising, and the final product was one that truly came from the both of us.

These future brides want an assistant, not a partner--and isn't a partnership what a marriage and a family are all about?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I am the Modern Woman & I'm Afraid to Let Her Down

OK peeps - I know this is the millionth time I've said "I'm back on the blog!" or "This time, I mean it!" etcetera etcetera etcetera.

But I mean it this time. Especially because I've redone the look and, more importantly, the focus. Before - there really wasn't a focus besides my yoga practice, some of my cooking, and my life in general. That is a sort of focus, but it didn't really resonate with me, at least enough to write more often.

So I took to thinking - what do I spend my days thinking about? Although I do think about my yoga, my cooking, I'm usually thinking more about how I can balance it all. Hence, the new focus.

I think "career women"--especially those in their 20s and even 30s--are often not allowed to talk about balance. We're career women - there's no need for balance. We glorify successful women, even though we mentally take note that they're 36, married to someone equally successful, without any children. All of those things are fine in and of themselves and there's no need to judge--but without knowing them personally, we don't see the full story. Does their marriage work well, that they're both busy and successful, or do they have trouble connecting? Do they desire children? Do they have difficulty balancing their jobs with the rest of their lives?

I also understand that such thoughts are not usually for public consumption--but even privately, in my own circles, I see and hear the tension. We're supposed to outwardly be ok with, even enjoy, working long and hard hours--why can't we admit that though we're willing to do it and though we enjoy our work, that it's not easy? It doesn't make us any less committed or dedicated to our work. It just states the obvious.

I was recently inspired by a story I read on HuffingtonPost, called "Wanting to Have a Baby in My Twenties." I was immediately drawn to this when it popped in my inbox. I'm 29 and have spent almost 9 years with my now-husband. We both know we want children. So it's on our radar. It doesn't mean we're trying at this moment--but it means I have to start thinking about how I will balance it all.

I don't identify with all of the sentiments written by Kate Fridkis in the article above, such as being scared of motherhood or feeling like she never wanted to be a mom. It's not that I always pined to be a mother--but I think I always assumed I would be at some point in my life. And, after many a day taking care of a neighbor's child who is practically a nephew now, I know I will enjoy and be good at motherhood.

But I was struck when she wrote:

I don't know why I think that having a baby means giving up on my career. I'm not sure why they are these two totally separate paths in my mind. But I do know that here, in this city, at this age, having a baby is not the thing to do. It is probably the last thing to do. When I got married, so young, I was already being weird. 
It is a problem because my generation is bursting with young women who are taking over cities, out-earning their male counterparts, flinging themselves at their highest goals. 
It is a problem because somehow motherhood and success are these distinct things, in a society that is always trying to pretend it values everything equally and at the same time has to keep publishing op-eds about whether or not the sexual revolution was a good idea.
It is a problem because I am the modern woman, but I am afraid of letting her down.

Unfortunately, I worry that this is becoming the definition of the modern woman. So join me on my journey. Join me in redefining the modern woman as one who not excels in just one aspect of her life, but is able to balance, as best she can, the different aspects of her life. Join me on my personal journey of working my hardest at my career, nurturing my marriage, tending to my soul, and preparing all these things for starting a family.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I Feel Like Chicken Tonight

So excited to have an opportunity to break in the beautiful new Staub pot given to me and Hieu by my "sister wives" and their families, J and T. So, so excited. Also excited to cook from my new Molly Stevens book, All About Braising. Tonight A came over so we could catch up on our Top Chef episodes, so I figured it would be a fun time to cook.

I was thinking of cooking brisket or short ribs, but it seems like a lot of  Stevens' recipes prefer marinating and other time in advance of braising and I didn't get my act together in time for that. I decided to cook "Soy-Braised Chicken Thighs with Star Anise and Orange Peel."

First I preheated the oven and mixed the braising liquid, which was soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, brown sugar, and chicken stock.

Next, I browned the chicken thighs in two batches. I was thinking of buying a splash guard, which Stevens recommends for another recipe, but didn't. I should have, because I dried my chicken after rinsing very well and it still spit a LOT. The Staub gave the chicken a good sear, though, which was awesome.

Stevens has a simple way of breaking up the recipe. She lists it as "browning," "the aromatics," "the braise," and "the finish." The intro to her book was great, as well. I thought I was a smart cookie, but she taught me tons about braising and why it makes food so yummy.

Anyway, next were the aromatics. After all the chicken was seared, I dumped the chicken fat and added a little bit of new oil. I added the white and light green part of the scallions, minced garlic, grated ginger, and a dried chile pepper. I stirred and then added the above braising liquid as well as 3 strips of orange zest and one whole star anise.

My fingers still smell like ginger right now, which is awesome. I think I like the smell of ginger more than the taste, though - and vice versa when it comes to garlic (love the taste more than the smell on my fingers). Neither Whole Foods nor Harris Teeter had the chile I needed - so we had to get it from the Hispanic market at the corner, which sold them in a bag of like 40. The picture there is not the actual bag I bought, but has about the same number of chiles. And it was only $2!

The chicken was then ready to braise. I double-checked the temperature in my oven to ensure it wasn't too hot. (I checked along the way, and since my oven runs hot, I keep an oven thermometer in there so I can adjust.) I put the chicken back in the Staub, including the juices they released in the platter on which they were resting.

In addition, I added the extra step for braising that Stevens recommends - putting a piece of parchment paper between the chicken and the lid. Stevens' point is that the closer the "lid" is to the chicken, the more exchanging of yummy juices there will be. By putting the parchment paper as close to the chicken as possible and then putting the actual lid on, you're setting yourself up for braise success. I did that and then put it into the oven. After 15 minutes I checked to make sure it had enough liquid and wasn't bubbling too hard, and all was good so I let it stay in the oven for another 30-35 minutes.

While that was braising, I prepared the side dishes, basmati rice and sauteed spinach, both of which were recommended by Stevens as great accompaniments in her book to this dish. While looking to the Almighty Bittman for a good spinach recipe, I found one for Spinach with Chiles - and it called for dried chiles! Score! (Interestingly, though, the recipe in the book was slightly different from the recipe in the app - I'm going to ask him about that and will let you know what he says).

When the chicken was done, I took the thighs out of the pot (and also removed the chile and the star anise). I brought the liquid in a pot back to a simmer and added the green parts of the scallions. Next I made a slurry - whipping corn starch with some water or broth and then putting that into the sauce to thicken it. Stevens was right when she wrote "the liquid will immediately thicken to a glossy sauce with the consistency of maple syrup." I then poured this yummy sauce over the chicken thighs and all was served family style.

As recommended by Stevens (well, recommended by Tim Gaiser, who is a Master Sommelier and who created wine pairings for all the dishes), I paired the dish with Polka Dot Medium Dry Riesling from the Pfalz region of Germany, and it was quite yummy with the food.

This meal was definitely a hit - can you go wrong with chicken thighs? I suppose you can - though the braising and the sauce were really quite good. This recipe is a keeper :)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

We are all dependent on one another

We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.  ~G.B. Shaw, Pygmalion, 1912

Happy New Year!

I started off the year right by getting a Mysore practice in at AYC on January 1 and 2. K has given me kurmasana, which is scary because I'm only just getting back into the practice, and T at LRY has only just given me bhujapidasana, which I'm still working on balancing in, not yet getting my head/chin to the ground. And for giggles, K put me into supta k which was kind of fun, actually. Hopefully I will use this as motivation to have the discipline of a daily practice. I did not practice today, however, as moving my arms and legs is an interesting feat at the moment.

Next reverb11 prompt!
Where have you discovered community in 2011? What are the defining characteristics and essential qualities of your tribe?
I love this question. The feeling of community is very important to me. I love the Ashtanga community, both in person and online. Simply seeing the same people every week at practice makes me feel like I'm a part of something. I don't necessarily equate community with friends and I don't need to be besties with everyone.

On the other hand, family is also important, and it means the world to me that my Arlington neighbors and friends have grown into my Arlington family. To be able to call them family and to feel completely at home with them is a feeling unlike any other. It is comfort, security, and love - and it is fun.

Looking forward to 2012, I know deepening my commitment to Ashtanga will deepen my feeling of being in that community, even if I don't see people more than I do now. Because again, for me, I'm realizing community is being a part of something. So the more I commit myself to the practice, the more I commit myself to the community. There was a debate about whether or not the online community is [sufficient, legitimate, adequate, etc.]. I think it functions similarly to the outside world - sometimes you're actually friends with people, sometimes you're acquaintances because of a mutual friend or a shared interest. And that's ok. Kate Bartolotta had an interesting comment on the link above, that sometimes online we can show only our best parts. Thats definitely easier to do online, but certainly possibly in person as well.

What are your thoughts on community? What does it look like for you?


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Discipline is not punishment

Discipline is remembering what you want. ~ David Campbell, founder, Saks Fifth Avenue

Another year, another go at the blog. I am grateful for reverb, which gives us an annual opportunity to reflect on the year behind us and set intentions for the year ahead. It is very unfortunate that the original blogger who started reverb10 decided to not host it this year, and only let the reverb community know as such at the very end of November. This has led to lots of people hosting their own reverb month, but it definitely breaks up the community that was there before.

Elephant Journal hosted a month of prompts and I am excited to participate. And true to Colleen's form, she's starting at the end of December!

The prompt from December 1 was:
Encapsulate your 2011 in one word. Why that word? What would you like your word to be for 2012? Why?
2011 was a year of change, and I think I will use that word. I just looked back when I did this prompt in 2010 and whaddayaknow, that was the word I chose for 2010 as well. So let me first reflect on the word I wanted for 2011 - balance. I wrote:
Professionally, I hope for a balance of striving for advancement and being content with where I'm at in the moment.
I think I'm getting a handle on this. I appreciate being in a job in which the goal can just be doing good work, and that results are directly proportionate to the amount of work you put in. So, check. Next I wrote:
In terms of my marriage, I hope for balancing quality and quantity of time spent with each other.
Now that H is done with his MBA (starting this past summer, for the first time in 4 years neither of us in grad school!), I think we've settled into a better rhythm. Both of us work long hours, but at least the weekends are filled with more quality time, which I appreciate. So, check! Finally, I wrote:
In terms of my mental health, I hope to balance instant gratification (mindless tv-watching, ice cream) with deeper care (yoga practice, sleep).
Yup. Here is where I faltered. So maybe my word for 2011 should be progress, since I've clearly been able to stabilize some areas of my life. I think I will make my 2012 word discipline, because I think that is what is missing in executing that last part. As an adult, we don't necessarily need someone to tell us that if we sleep more we'll feel better, that if we eat more fruits and veggies we'll feel better, and if we take care of ourselves spiritually and emotionally we'll feel better as well. Because we know all that. But I realize how easy it was when we were children and someone set a bedtime for us. Not fun, and I wouldn't go back to being a child if you paid me, but easier.

My intention for 2012, then, is to cultivate discipline in my life: to go to bed by a certain time; to get up to practice at a certain time; to eat well; to drink less. Discipline. Why? Because it works. Because it will make me a better person. Because it's important.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mental Health Blog Party: My Journey, Part 1

Mental Health Blog Party BadgeMay is Mental Health Month, and the American Psychological Association is celebrating today, May 18, as a Mental Health Blog Party to
educate the public about mental health, decrease stigma about mental illness, and discuss strategies for making lasting lifestyle and behavior changes that promote overall health and wellness.
I decided to write a little bit of my journey and what mental health means to me.

My Journey, Part 1
I was always an emotional, anxious person - my memories from elementary school are of a smart, pleasant girl who was trying to please everyone and be perfect all the time. Middle school was FUN, what with all those burgeoning hormones adding to it all (that's sarcasm, people). I remember in middle school always reaching out to teachers to talk to - my mom wasn't (and still isn't) the type to talk about feelings and such. I learned at an early age to get that aspect of mothering elsewhere, and I have a special place in my heart for the many teachers who filled that role in my life.

Then came high school. The time when I felt everything was the end of the world, and I don't mean this in a dismissive way - I think high school is insular, that we place a lot of pressure on high schoolers AS IF each activity, test, action were the end of the world if not done right. I put a lot of pressure on myself, though, without even knowing it - the pressure to do it all, to be the best, to stand out from the crowd.

My junior year, my best friend at the time got cancer - and it was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I had a "nervous breakdown." I cracked. I went through the motions, but I was miserable, not handling everything, and it showed. People were concerned about my well-being, and I cried all the time. That year is a blur.

My wonderful guidance counselor referred me to the school's social worker. He was awesome. Talking about things SUCKED. In a way, it was better when I was oblivious, because that was easier to deal with (or to be more specific, not deal with). Now, not only did I had to deal with school, my sick friend, normal relationship stuff, et al., but also deal with my mental health. And I wasn't taking care of myself in multiple ways, which doesn't help one deal with everything.

There was also a lot of stigma. There still is, and I'm nervous to write this blog post knowing that co-workers and anyone can read it. But we need to get rid of the stigma. While I was working with the social worker in high school, he thought it would be a good idea to see a professional outside of school, and I trusted him so I was for it. I couldn't talk to my mom about it (and my dad would normally go along with whatever my mom wanted) so he had my mom come up to the school to talk. All she heard was that I was miserable and that it was all her fault - it was partially, in the sense that I couldn't talk to her and she always minimized my feelings, but that was the whole point of me getting help elsewhere, right? As mental health issues have a genetic basis, she also has her own things to work through, which probably affected her reaction. That day when I got home, she said to me "you don't think you need to see someone, do you?" I understood. No, no I guess not.

Things got better - they always do, I guess - and as my friend got well I got through senior year. Looking back, I regret that I still wasn't at the place I could have been mental health-wise, but I did what I could with what I had. Freshman year of college came - and it was too much to handle. I realized I didn't have the study and writing skills many of the others had, I felt inferior, I procrastinated all the time, I holed myself up in my single room when I should have gone out with my friends. I saw a counselor on campus but we didn't connect. I saw one I liked better who worked in downtown Ithaca, but I think I got worn out by commuting to see her (it couldn't have been more than once a week, and probably closer to once every two. Co-pays were probably not ideal for a college student, even if they were only $10).

It got better, as it were. Met a wonderful group of friends sophomore year who were my co-RAs (friends I'm seeing this weekend!) and my support group kept me sane. Junior year I met my now-husband the Secret Asian Man, and all of those happy hormones kept me ok for awhile (only an occasional meltdown - though I'd be interested in hearing the S.A.M.'s take on that). I graduated from college, we moved to DC, I got a job, got married,and at some point Secret Asian Man said it was time to work on myself. That he worried about me. That our marriage would improve if I improved (not that our marriage was bad). So I finally started working with someone in a real way. I discovered medication, which I should have been on since high school.

And I'm still a work on progress - but one with insight, tools, and hope. More about those tools later today!

**Update - not really in the mood for posting a Part 2 this many months later. Moving forward!