Make your world alive

I have those days where I think, why do I still write this blog? Does random olio connect, inspire, or impact any of my readers? Maybe, or maybe not. It is sometimes hard to know, and often I feel I am in this vacuum, diligent to a pact I made for myself to write everyday. Whether or not my writing is stellar or not, when I started this blog almost 3 years ago, I never thought I would go this far or write this long. I will be driving, in a store, or in a meeting at work and an idea will pop into my head and when I finally have a moment to put my fingers on the keyboard the words just flow out, 90% of the time effortlessly.

Now, that does not mean I do not struggle with whether to actually publish a post, or even if it is worthy of the Publish button, but when I started I did it for the discipline, the community, and now I continue to do it because it keeps me sharp, aware, and always listening. When I came across this quote from Chris Guillebeau, I thought “so well said.”

“That’s the promise: you will live more curiously if you write. You will become a scientist, if not of the natural world than of whatever world you care about. More of that world will pop alive. You will see more when you look at it.

Writing needn’t be a formal enterprise to have this effect. You don’t have to write well. You don’t even have to “write,” exactly—you can just talk onto the page.”

Guillebeau is an author and avid traveler with three books out, one of which I have read “The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World” and another which I am waiting for my turn at the library: “The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life.”

Often I feel that I “just talk onto the page” — it depends on my life that day, where my head is at, and my inspiration. Regardless, it has kept me curious, hungry to read voracious amounts (books + articles), to explore other blogs, and other writing styles of all the things important to me. My world is definitely alive and full, and I see so much more. This does not mean that everyone has to write a blog, but I think writing in general often breaks out what is within, we learn more about ourselves, and often resolve things in our heart.

No fairy tales for me!

I have always been a fan of children’s books that accurately portray women and girls. Of course I grew up with Disney, Barbie, and all other crap that told me to look at my body, that boys were smarter and stronger, and that women were not equal. As a kid, I really had no ideal role models about women. At least not until college. I had a mini childhood retroactive while in college during a children’s literature course and a women’s writing course where I had the opportunity to look at what messages we are sending children from an early age.

When Chris met me I already had a small collection of children’s books (think quick picture books, not children’s novels). Most of my accrued stack of books were more specific to a child feeling loved and good about themselves. Hmm, maybe a trend that I did not feel as a kid. However, one of my all time favorites was “The Paper Bag Princess” where a princess is to marry the prince when a dragon attacks the castle and kidnaps the prince. The princess finds the dragon, is smarter than he is (ah yes a book that shows little girls and boys that girls can be badasses). Yes, she rescues the prince. I mean, why not? Think about how many books and Disney movies have a princess or some “beautiful” distraught girl who is saved or rescued by their dashing prince (or maybe a beast). Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, oh I could go on, but you all know how the story goes.

When I read this New York Times article “Turn Your Princess Obsessed Toddler Into a Feminist in Eight Easy Steps” a huge smile appeared on my face. I will copy the first two steps to give you a gist of why you should take a moment to read it:

“1. Read the Brothers Grimm version of Snow White in which Snow White is asked to clean, cook, make beds, wash and sew for the dwarfs in exchange for shelter from the evil queen. Ask your toddler to imagine what might have been different if the dwarfs had been female instead of male, and instead of a tiny cottage in the Wood, if Snow White had stumbled upon Wellesley College.

2. Wonder aloud, what with Cinderella’s history as a cleaner, if she and Prince Charming are likely to share the division of labor in their home. Remark that, if the immaculate state of his white gloves is anything to go by, it’s difficult to imagine that he ever takes out the garbage.”

Somehow I am in a marriage where Chris’ white gloves would never be clean and the division of labor ebbs and flows, and if anything it flows fuller to his plate, depending on what is happening in our life. As my tiny baby niece grows up I hope she is surrounded by positive influences that allow her to decide that her brain and creativity are just as important as the boys around her, that she is not here to serve a man, and that her voice matters. I know whenever we have kid(s) of our own, I will be a strong proponent to let them play out whatever gender roles they decide are comfortable to them while also encouraging respect and understanding for the other gender.

A Different Kind of Care

Yesterday a friend/co-worker shared with me a sweet story about a 24-year old college student, Marissa Plank, who lives in a retirement community. In exchange for free rent she gives monthly performances to the residents. She is a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and if you read this article about her you will find that she states she benefits more from it than she feels she gives. What poise and self-knowledge she already has in her life.

It reminds me so much of my grandma and how often I would hear her mutter: “Maybe I will be next.” I know it is a morbid comment, but at 93 most of her family and friends were gone, only a son and grandkids left. She got bored. A bit of a loaner, she was not one to join in with other individuals her own age. She lived alone for almost 50 years and did not want to change the way she lived. I can only imagine how she spent her days. Of course she saw others, different individuals would come and check in on her, but the interaction, play, and conversation (let alone music!) that someone her age would have experienced in a retirement community could have been perfect. Except that she was a bit of a loaner.

Which leads me to think back to almost 14 years ago when a good family friend started an adult day care center in Indianapolis, IN. The concept of an adult day care center was new to me, but over time I have continued to learn more and more about it. I am in awe of what Joy’s House does, and hope that communities all over the country follow suit and take care of their adults (as they are not always elderly). Joy’s House is a place that families can bring their adult family members for care during the day whether it be due to age, a certain diagnosis, or because they need a break in caring for them. Especially when they live with them at home. What a way to share a varied environment of activities in similar ways to a child day care center. I only wish I would have ever been able to encourage my Granny Smith to join. I would have lost that battle.

My hope: more Marissa Plank’s have opportunities to bless and bring life to older adults, whether that be with programs that offer the right individuals room and board in exchange for interaction with or through more adult day care centers like Joy’s House.

Toilet Paper, Toilets, and Flushing

Over the past few days, after Chris has done his business in the bathroom he says: “Ah, how I missed nice toilet paper.” Oh how I know what he means. In China no matter where you were: a hotel, business, restaurant the toilet paper was tissue paper-thin. Actually thinner than tissue paper. Which baffles me because then you just need to use more of it. Most of the time it was one-ply instead of two-ply. So is two-ply toilet paper more of an American thing?

We saw a commercial this weekend for Scott toilet paper. Their Natural Tube-Free toilet paper. What a concept. The ad says that every year the US throws away enough toilet paper tubes to fill the Empire State building — twice. You then see an Empire State building made of toilet paper rolls. A good ploy for those that are environmentally savvy enough to care about the tube leftover. I am not saying I do not care, but I have to say this house is more picky about the paper on the roll!

So back to bathrooms in China. They varied. Chris warned me before my trip to always have kleenex with me and hand sanitizer. He was right. On one of the first days we were there, we were on a street that was stationary + pen store after another. My idea of bliss. The problem? No bathrooms, and well when I got to go, I got go. We found an old bookstore (one that had been around awhile, although the book titles were current.) I figured out that the bathroom was up this strange staircase and up I went. I get into the stall and found the toilet was in the floor and start to do my business as quickly as possible, only to look around and realize there was no toilet paper. Crap, I was screwed. There was only one thing I could do. Finish, go downstairs and ask Chris for the kleenex and hand sanitizer. (It also had no sink.)

Let me just say that when there was toilet paper it was thin, but my bathroom experiences were vastly different. My bookstore experience was probably the most primitive. Most other bathrooms where more mainstream. My hotel lobby bathroom was well in another era.

When I first saw this contraption in the bathroom stall I at first thought it was more bidet-like, and realized these were just the flushing options for the toilet. Pulsating, front cleansing, rear cleansing, drying (click the photo to see it larger). Quite the experience. This was for lobby guests only, they did not give hotel guests the option to test out the features in our room. Although I did have a telephone. Not sure these days who would use a telephone in the bathroom, I mean we have iPhones for that.

IMG_1605The last interesting bathroom adventure while in China was in a restaurant bathroom. Each stall had a “water flow sound sensor.” I was especially intrigued by this due to the nature of our conversations at work about bathroom etiquette. When you pushed the button, it made the loudest flushing sounds and would do it again if you pressed the button again. It took me a bit to figure out that the sounds were meant to cover whatever noises you were going to make while using the commode. What is not to like?

The world works in mysterious ways especially pertaining to toilet paper, toilets, and flushing.

I heart SH: Food nostalgia

You never know if you are going to fall in love with the food in a new city, or if you eat and are always disappointed. During my two-week visit in Shanghai I tried to always eat as local as possible. I only had a few western meals, and other than trekking all over the city to find a good green smoothie (actually just a real green smoothie), I stuck to trying new things.

I have not been a fan of Chinese food in Portland. Most of the places we have tried have been too Americanized and are mostly bland options. For the most part Thai or Chinese food for us has been the quick “too tired, or too busy to cook” option. You do not really crave that kind of Chinese food, it is more of a convenience. So not really sure what to expect and knowing that I have definitely not really ever experienced “good” Chinese food, I jumped in head first. I thought I would share a few of my favorites.

photo 5Xiao long bao is a kind of steamed dumpling (or bun) that is made in bamboo steamer baskets, and filled with a tiny amount of broth. Xiaolongbao - Yum!They are usually served with slices of ginger, soy, and vinegar to dip in before popping in your mouth. I became addicted to the pork filled versions, although I also had some that had hairy crab inside. They have a thin, light exterior, and it is best to tear a corner and check the temperature of the soup, or just go for it and down it all in one bite, hoping not to burn your mouth in the process. They are little morsels of intense flavor and just so so so good.

Favorite location: Din Tai Fung (for those of you in the US, there is a location in Seattle). Roadtrip soon, Chris?

Sheng Jian BaoTheir cousins or siblings are Sheng Jian Bao (fried soup dumplings) and take a close second for me. My first Sheng jian baoThey are a breakfast speciality in Shanghai. Twice the size of the Xia long bao, also filled with pork and broth, but fried on the bottom. They also have a thicker exterior.

Favorite location: Yang’s Dumplings

I tried other local Shanghainese food, with differing opinions. Some dishes were bland, some just not the flavor I would crave. Junk food, street food, fine dining. More items with beans then I can imagine. By far my favorite were these two versions of dumplings. I have already started the hunt of where I can find something even close as to as good in Portland.

Dessert in Shanghai was few and far between. We usually were too full to care, but not in that ‘your pants are bursting’ kind of way. In more of a ‘that was amazing and I do not want to do anything to the flavors happening in my mouth’. However, we happened across a bakery selling a Cronut (croissant + doughnut), we could not resist.

CronutEver since we had heard about all the hubbub in New York City at the Dominique Ansel Bakery, we have always wanted to try one. While I appreciate that the fad has not blown up and been cloned all over the US, when you have never had one, and you see it in Shanghai, why not try it? They know that they are stealing the idea from New York City, but rather than completely steal the idea, we saw it marketed as “Cronut = Crack + Doughnut.” Whatever way they want to justify it, we found two bakeries that sold them. Worth it? Yes.

I enjoyed trying so many unique and local dishes and will miss Xiao Long Bao, but the adventurer in me will see if I can find them locally. Or, maybe Chris will play in the kitchen and see how hard they are to make right at home.