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Snapshots: Thinking, Reading, Doing, Snapping and Eating (August)

August 25, 2014

Thanks for all your positive comments about my debut “Snapshots” post. Here’s the latest roundup-esque post with a glimpse of things I’ve been doing, thinking, writing, reading, photographing, and eating during the last week.

Thinking …
I’ve certainly been doing my share of thinking. But I’m not going to write a lot at this moment. I woke up Saturday morning having pulled a muscle in my neck and it’s been so painful all weekend. I suspect typing until all-hours on this computer won’t help. So I’ll catch you up with my thoughts in future posts.

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Reading …
I’m continuing my summer binge-reading with some great books. I already told you about Good Chinese Wife, which was a wonderful read. I went on to read The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard. This book was sitting on my “to read” pile for months and I finally picked it up, and proceeded to finish it within a few days. I love it when you find a hidden gem of a book waiting for you all along.

This is a great story about a Midwestern family that is torn apart after the girlfriend of one of the son goes missing. It was beautifully written, heartbreaking, yet not depressing either. It was a really great reminder how something like what this family went through could really happen to any one of us. And the cover’s beautiful image of fireflies in a jar is just gorgeous too.

I just started Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen. This story takes place under the backdrop of India’s transformation and follows a woman who must confront her past in order to fight for her future. I just started this one, so I’m not ready to give it a full review. But it’s definitely help my interest so far.

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Eating …
The best thing I ate (and baked) in the last few weeks was a Finnish marble cake from the Apples for Jam cookbook. This book is gorgeous, chocked full of colorful photos, family stories, and simple recipes that are organized by color (love this idea). This cake was absolutely mouth-watering and so simple. The recipe is below. Make it today! You’re welcome!

2 1/4 sticks softened butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

4 eggs

2 1/4 cups plain flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 1/2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9 1/2″ spring-form cake pan. I used a 9″ cake pan.
  • Beat the butter and sugar until pale. Gradually add the eggs. Sieve in the flour and the baking powder. If the mixtures looks curd-ly before, add some flour. Beat well, then beat in the cream.
  • Divide the batter into two bowls, adding more batter to one bowl. In the bigger batter add the vanilla extract, and mix well. Sieve the cocoa into the second bowl, whisking in completely.
  • Dollop most of the vanilla mixture in the pan. Then add spoonfuls of the chocolate mixture, here and there. Then add the remainder of the vanilla mixture. Use a skewer or a tsp to make a few swirls. Do not blend in the two batters.
  • Bake 50 – 60 minutes until skewer comes out clean. Cool in the pan before serving. I added a dollop of fresh whipped cream and fresh raspberries to mine.

Snapping …
This month, Sophie enjoyed her first baseball game. Go San Diego Padres!

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We’ve been spending time in our backyard watching the sunflowers. sunflowers

Sophie’s been keeping busy coloring her cardboard castle.castle

Tess and Casey are hanging around.Tess

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And we only have one more week of peaceful sleeping in and leisurely days until school starts next week! sleeping sophie
So how was your August? What are you reading, eating, cooking and doing? 

A Beautiful Spirit

August 15, 2014

I’m not a big believer in the supernatural. But occasionally something happens that you just cannot explain. And sometimes you have no idea what it means at the time, and other times it may be clear as day. I had an experience a few months ago after my little Bippy cat died that I now believe was more than a random act.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Bipp lately. There’s still not a day that goes by where I don’t shed a tear as I think about him. I miss that little guy so much.

The week Bipp disappeared (and also died) was a strange, eerie time in San Diego. It was the hottest week we had in a long time. The Santa Ana brought a stifling dry heat, and the winds were causing tree branches and yard furniture to crash around the backyard. A fire ended up breaking out not far from us. The air was so thick with smoke and heat that Sophie’s school closed for two days that week. There’s a term called pathetic fallacy, which is a way writer’s use to depict human emotion through nature and weather. I can see why it’s such a powerful literally tool as the weather and conditions that week mirrored the chaos, uncertainty and sadness we felt.

I spent most of my time in the family room that week, hoping to see Bipp make his way to the back door with a meow to be let in. Sophie and I were laying on the sofa Wednesday afternoon, watching television with all the windows and the back sliding door shut. A loud thud crashed against the sliding glass door and I bolted up, thinking it must be Bipp. (Although Bipp died Tuesday morning, I wouldn’t find out until Friday that he was truly gone.) We went outside to see what the commotion was, and we found this little bird perched on the ground right in front of the glass slider.

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I had never seen such a beautiful little creature in my life. The wind must have caused the birdie to fly into our glass door. I was worried he was hurt or frightened because when we went near him, he didn’t even try to fly away.

I immediately thought of Bipp. He was a clumsy soul and would have also run head-on into a glass door. Oh, how he would have loved this bird! After all, birds were one of his favorite “gifts” to give us.

I couldn’t bear to see such a beautiful being hurt. So with a piece of cardboard, I gently picked up this little guy and placed him on our wooden fence; just a little closer to the sky. We watched him for a few minutes and told him to fly off and be okay. About 15 minutes passed and I went back outside to check on the bird. He was gone! Little birdie had survived the crash and flown away. It felt nice to help something flourish during a time I felt completely helpless.

Just like Bipp, I think a lot about this little bird since that day in May. I ask myself what his visit meant. The answer finally came to me recently and I finally understand. When Bipp was hit by the car, he was crossing the street, making his way back to our house. Is it a coincidence that just a day later – after Bipp didn’t make it home that day – this birdie showed up? I don’t think so.

I think Bipp was determined to come home to see us. And the only way he could was through this beautiful bird. He was coming back so we could say goodbye and let us know he would be okay. Then he was ready to flap his wings and fly away.

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“Good Chinese Wife”: A Fascinating Story of Love and China (Giveaway)

August 12, 2014

Congratulations Rivki Silver who won a copy of Good Chinese Wife!

Although I’m an avid reader, there are very few books that I can read within the time span of one weekend. Good Chinese Wife, however, was one of those books. I started Susan Blumberg-Kason’s memoir on a Friday afternoon and did not stop reading until I finished Sunday evening.

good chinese wifeHere’s the gist of the story: Susan, a shy Midwesterner in love with Chinese culture, started graduate school in Hong Kong and quickly fell for Cai, the Chinese man of her dreams. As they exchanged vows, Susan thought she’d stumbled into an exotic fairy tale, until she realized Cai—and his culture—where not what she thought. Susan recounts her struggle to be the perfect traditional “Chinese” wife to her increasingly controlling and abusive husband.

With keen insight and heart-wrenching candor, she confronts the hopes and hazards of intercultural marriage, including dismissing her own values and needs to save her relationship and protect her newborn son, Jake. But when Cai threatens to take Jake back to China for good, Susan must find the courage to stand up for herself, her son, and her future.

Susan’s story was fascinating! And while many of us may not have the same experience of navigating multi-cultural relationships, I’m sure most of us can relate to Susan’s struggles with trying to make a relationship work and the feelings of hope versus reality.

I am very excited to welcome Susan to the blog for a few questions about Good Chinese Wife.

1. You grew up in Chicago, but always dreamed of going to Hong Kong. What about China fascinated you so much? Why did you want to be a part of Chinese culture?

I had several exposures to Chinese culture at a young age. My grandparents—thanks to my uncle’s airline employee discount—traveled to Hong Kong eight times in two decades. I was the delighted recipient of silk padded jackets, satin dragon slippers, and faux-ivory jewelry boxes. Who wouldn’t be intrigued? My mother’s dear friend also brought me goodies from her year in Shanghai at the start of the 1980s, a time when very few Americans traveled there.

But the most important influences were my father’s chemistry students in the mid-1980s who came from Shanghai and Beijing to study in Chicago. These students were women married to men who left everything behind in China (which admittedly wasn’t much back then). They and their families would come to my house for Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, and were like the older sisters I never had. I went to China in college and stayed with their families in Shanghai and Beijing. They would joke around and say that I should find a nice Chinese boyfriend.

2. Do you think it was the cultural differences or the relationship/man you married that made it so difficult to be a “good Chinese wife?” Why?

I’m sure it mostly had to do with a personality clash. Although I went along with most of Cai’s behavior for the duration of our marriage, I realized pretty early on that it was going to be difficult for me to have an equal relationship. But because I was non-confrontational, I thought it would be easier to keep the peace than to start an argument. That obviously didn’t work. But had it just been about the culture, I probably could have dealt with that. As long as two people are willing to compromise, they can have a successful marriage.

3. Tell us about your writing process. You are a freelance writer for various publications. But this is your first book. How long did it take you to write your memoir? How did you decide to write your story? Was it a difficult decision to write the book and reveal so much about your life, and the lives of your ex-husband and son?

Writing a book is so different from writing and editing feature-length articles. And I had no idea how to start writing this book when I first started embarking on this project. Because of this huge learning curve, it took me four years to write a legible manuscript and find an agent, and another year to sign with a publisher. The idea to write this book hit me when my divorce attorney asked me to write down everything that went wrong in the marriage in case we went to trial (we didn’t). When I proofread this 67-page document, I thought it would make a good book! But for a long time I never thought the book would ever be published.

I started writing it in 2008, just as the economy tanked. The publishing industry was also going through big changes with e-publications. As for the people I write about in this book, my son was much younger when I started writing it and was all for it, not knowing all of the content. Now that he’s a teenager, it’s a lot more awkward, but he’s so laid back and mature for his age that I’m not too worried. My ex-husband knows about the book because I was interviewed in the Wall Street Journal last month and the reporter asked to get his side of the story. Cai graciously declined to go into details and gave the journalist a generic quote about how all relationships take two.

4. How has being a mother affected you as a writer?

Well, it affects my schedule, but I’m not complaining. I write when the kids are asleep and in school. My youngest is still in school only half days, so I don’t have much time to myself during the day. Luckily my little ones go to sleep very early, so I have large chunks of time to write at night. I also feel like I’m more cautious about what I write because I know someday my kids might read it. Although Good Chinese Wife is raw and gritty at times, it’s nothing I am ashamed about and wouldn’t want them to read about when they’re older. I also think it could be a good lesson for them when they’re making big decisions like dating and becoming engaged.

5. What advice do you have for a writer who wants to write a very personal story?

I would say it’s essential to develop a thick skin. I started doing that early on when I was querying agents. After four years of rejections, I no longer viewed them as personal affronts. I could look at my story more objectively and not as something that was a direct reflection on the person I am today. If I hadn’t gone through those rejections, I’m not so sure I’d be able to talk about the book so openly today.

GIVEAWAY: I have one copy of Good Chinese Wife to give to one lucky reader. To be entered to win, leave a comment telling me what country you’d love to visit one day, or what you’re currently reading. Or tell me both! (Don’t worry — only answering one question won’t affect your chances of winning.) The giveaway closes Friday, August 15 at 5 pm Pacific time. 

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Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Good Chinese Wife to review for this blog post.  All opinions are my own and I only endorse books that I am proud to recommend to others.

Through the Eyes of a 6-Year-Old

August 8, 2014

One thing I love to do is strap a leash on Casey and take her and Sophie for a walk. We live in a nice residential neighborhood that’s within walking distance to Sophie’s school and two parks. While Sophie loves the park, she’s not always wild about the idea of walking to it. So I try to find ways to make our walks a bit more exciting, like this color walk we did a while back.

After reading this blog post, I gave Sophie my digital camera and told her we were going on an adventure to the park and it was up to her to capture what she saw. She was SO EXCITED about getting to photograph our journey!

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It’s fascinating what catches the eye of a kid. I loved seeing what she captured! What follows are Sophie’s photographs. These are all original pictures; I did not edit or crop any of them.

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After the walk – the artist’s selfies …

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So if you want to get your kid outside for a fun activity, give them a camera and see what they capture!

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Snapshots: Thinking, Reading, Doing, Snapping and Eating (July)

August 1, 2014

I’m starting a new post for Leah’s Thoughts, which is called — wait for it — “Snapshots: Thinking, Reading, Doing, Snapping and Eating.” My goal with this roundup-esque post is to give you a glimpse of things I’ve been doing, thinking, writing, reading, photographing and eating during the last week. My goal is to post this with some regularity. It’s not my typical post style. But I love reading these types of posts on other blogs so thought I’d try it here and share all the things I love with you.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Thinking …
After watching the entire season one and the first episode of season two, I’m officially done with Orange is the New Black. This statement will be met with either shock or awe, depending on your feelings about the show. I tried. I really did. Everyone loves it. But it’s just not for me. There are two reasons I’m giving up. First, the TV character of Piper and her personality. I wasn’t a fan of her from the beginning; but after that first episode of season two, I was just disgusted with her ethical and moral character (or lack thereof). I did like the backstories about the other characters though.

The second problem I have with OITNB is the disservice it’s doing to the book and what Piper Kerman was trying to achieve by writing her story. I have read several interviews and articles (this one in particular) where she has stated that the show is not like the book. She was not in prison with her ex. The book is not about a bunch of in-prison relationships. She was never actually put in solitary confinement. And there were not fights and brutality among the female inmates.

I understand that a television show needs to have drama. After all, I wrote my master’s thesis on the balance between education and entertainment in television programs (I interviewed the producer of ER!). But I feel like OITNB does not educate about the prison system the way Piper described it in her book and in interviews. Not that she’s complaining (she’s getting a pretty penny for the show). But it’s just disappointing and not for me. So therefore, I’m done and will now be spending my time re-watching The West Wing.

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Reading …
I love summer because I seem to have more time to read. I just started The Glass Kitchen: A Novel of Sisters by Linda Francis Lee. I’ll be honest with you; I only picked it because I thought the cover was beautiful. But the story is quite good too. It reminds me of Chocolat, and I love how it blends food, cooking, sisters and relationships. I’m thinking it should be a permanent fixture on my nightstand because it matches my decor perfectly!

The other book I just finished reading is The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High by Roseanne Cheng. Here’s the gist of the story: Lincoln Junior High is out of money. That means no sports, no music, and no fun for the main characters, Andrew and Hannah. The principal begins a corporate sponsorship program to take back the school.

I don’t typically read Young Adult books. But Roseanne (who is a reader of this blog) contacted me a while ago and asked if I’d consider reviewing her book. She is a high school English teacher who is also an avid reader and writer. So I made an exception for her. I was so impressed that she wrote this book that is designed not only entertain, but it’s a fantastic teaching tool too! She even includes sample questions and lesson ideas in the book. The book is well-written, entertaining, and the premise of the story is one that so many of us can relate to.

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Eating …
I have to tell you about Urban Accents, which are (queue Oprah voice) AH-MAZING grill seasonings, spices and rubs. I was so excited to receive a box filled with the varieties to sample and cook with. They are SO good! My favorite is the Chipotle parmesan seasoning for corn and the Chicago steak and chop seasoning for beef. If you look a the photo above, you can actually see the specks of seasoning on the corn and steak. I’m usually very picky about seasonings, but these are just the perfect blend of spices and taste.

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Snapping …
Here are some snaps of July, which include some 4th of July fun.July collage

Doing …
The big thing we did in July was go to Disneyland as part the Type A Parent Bootcamp I attended at the Disneyland Hotel. Sophie tagged along and went to her own conference, KidCon (part of the Type A group). We had an incredible time hanging out at Disneyland the first day and then staying overnight in the Disneyland Hotel (a first for both of us).

The next day we attended our conferences, finished the day at a Heroes and Villains party, had fun at California Adventure Park, and saw a viewing of the World of Color show. I’m sure this goes without saying when Disneyland is involved, but it was truly a magical weekend that we’ll never forget.disneyland2

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So how was your July? What’s your opinion of Orange is the New Black? What are you reading, eating, cooking and doing? 

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