Monthly Archives: October 2013

Oct
28
  • Bridge School Bust

    When I bought our tickets a few months ago for the Bridge School Concert this month, I should have noticed the signs. First, I just didn’t feel all that jazzed about the lineup. Yeah, maybe it was because I hardly knew any of the people (e.g. Elvis Costello, Cosby, Stills. Nash & Young, Jenny Lewis, Diana Krall, etc.). I know, maybe I should actually know these artists, but I don’t. Remember: my excuse for such cultural illiteracies is that my parents are immigrants. And yes, I know G, your parents are immigrants too, but you were also a music (/physics/bio…) major. :P

    Anyway, after my whole Ticketmaster debacle, I should have just gotten the refund and ended the transaction right there. Nope, this would continue to be a very painful process. The day before the concert, John called his sister to confirm our plans. She and her beau were supposed to join us. Well, she ended up getting stuck in Pennsylvania for work. Then, we scrambled around last minute trying to fill our two spots. In the end, John’s office friend A joined, and we sold the fourth ticket at the event. Fine. Then, we headed out to the amphitheater early, thinking we’ll try to get good lawn seats. Nope, the lawn was super packed by the time we arrived, so we were very far back. We had a jumbotron in our direct line of sight, but far away. Incidentally, the brand-new folding chairs we bought that morning from REI? They were supposed to kick our lawn seats up a notch. Well, they weren’t allowed. We had to check that shit at the gate. Seriously, it was one thing after another. Thankfully, we packed a shitload of snacks, and they sold wines by the bottle. Haha. But man, that music was so blah. I mean, yeah, sitting far away definitely killed the live music experience, but the other issue was the schedule/song lineup. There was just no energy. I dunno if people were tired or in a drugged out stupor already or what. Totally dead. We left early. Yeah, it was that disappointing. You KNOW how cheap I am. If I buy a 3-month Groupon for $25, I will use it the entire three months even if I HATE the workouts (e.g. kickboxing). But man, for Bridge this year, we just had to cut our losses. We jetted after Jack Johnson (Banana Pancakes was probably the most pumped up song of the night!). Man, what a disappointment. The first year John went, he saw DMB, Beck, Modest Mouse, Beck, Pearl Jam… Last year, we had Foster the People, Sarah McLachlan, Ray Montangue, Kd Lang, Eddie Vedder… This year? Total bust. John says we’ll just watch the webcast from home next year. Haha, honestly, I think this is just one other indication that we are turning into old geezers: we’d rather watch a concert on tv. So stinking geriatric and lame, but heck, I can’t even deny it.

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Oct
22
  • Chasin’ Them Cowgirl Dreams

    Last week, I reunited with the ladies from the book club/career coaching class I’d taken at the end of August. Over a period of six weeks, the four of us had met weekly to discuss Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and to share our insights and personal experiences. The class talked a lot about dreams and what we envision for our futures. As with my earlier “Uncover your Calling” class, I struggled a lot with the concept of starting with a big, standalone dream and not having ANY of the details on how to build towards it. I remember feeling frustrated when the class wrapped in September: I didn’t seem to have any more clarity than before. I grew discouraged and impatient: I was reading all these books, doing all these exercises, taking all these classes, and when? When was the answer going to appear? I started to wonder if maybe I was just being unrealistic, impractical, immature, naive. Maybe I needed to just go back to job hunting: tech project management, social media, web editing, whatever.

    John is someone who avoids all this contemplative, wishy washy, touchy feely stuff for himself, but oddly enough, he actually “gets” all of this (more than I do even!), and he has this uncanny, amazing way of zoning in to the the essence of everything. Seriously. When I told him about all these doubts creeping back, he reminded me that it’s normal to feel uneasy and uncertain, but he encouraged me to not give up. I’d left a comfortable, secure, and stable job for a reason, and we had planned for this opportunity. We had given up other things in order to create this freedom of choice for ourselves– this chance to take risks and to seek something different for our life together. And so I tried to let go of the guilt and of the feeling that I wasn’t worthy of this liberty and luxury. And then I took that 2-week travel sabbatical. ;)

    So when I met the ladies for lunch, I was still a little skeptical. The coach hosted us at her amazing beach home on the coastal bluffs, and she shared with us her dream board from four years ago. I won’t go into her personal details, but long story short, back when she created her dream board, the transition or path from her life four years ago to the life depicted in her dream board was nearly unfathomable. And yet, four years later, she and her husband achieved that dream. The lesson is this: when you envision a dream for yourself, no matter how off-the-wall or impossible or imaginary it seems, when you remind yourself about the dream, somehow– consciously or subconsciously– your mind works to figure out a way to get you there.

    Last week, I couldn’t see this process working for me, but I decided to just try to be more open. You see, one of my dreams is to live on a nice ranch with horses and dogs. I want to have a flexible work arrangement, where I work (often remotely) with people I respect, people who are also my dear friends, and we use technology to get shit done smartly and efficiently. On the side, I want to write and blog– like professionally. Oh and I want to be a rockstar– figuratively.

    So I had left that luncheon feeling open to new possibilities. Then, a few days later, I returned to the ranch for my horseback riding lessons. My instructor asked why I had been away for so long. I explained that I had left my job. And then, he said he wanted me to help him with marketing/web work to grow the business. Whaaa?? So it’s early yet. We are to discuss the details, but the point is, wow. This is an opportunity to integrate things I love to do: horseback riding, project management, communications, problem solving, and web. Is the universe responding to my positive thoughts and my new state of openness?? Kinda weird, right?

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Oct
20
  • Back in Action!

    Now that I’m all renewed and refreshed following my travel sabbatical, I’m getting back down to business. Right now, my plan is to formally apply for work by the end of November. In the meantime, I’m continuing with info interviews to narrow down my areas of interest and compile an employer target list. I’m kinda toying with a few ideas:

    * communications work for a foundation
    * project management for a start up
    * my own web consulting biz
    * communications/web work for ranches or horse-related businesses and orgs

    I had a really helpful meeting last week with a lady who does communications work at the Hewlett Foundation. The Foundation funds a ton of projects in the areas of environment, education, women’s health, and performing arts (all my big causes!) She really enjoys the work and loves the culture, so I’m going to explore this further by talking with some other peeps at other foundations in the area.

    In the personal growth arena, I’m trying to incorporate some new daily habits: I have been hot tubbing and  meditating every morning for the last 10 days. I’m hoping that one of these days the meditation will just click, and I’ll feel the magic. Also, I’ve been continuing with my cooking. That’s actually going surprisingly well. I’m even seeing a difference in my kitchen and seasoning skills, and my friends say my beef strogonaff is the best they’ve eaten!

    Oh, and I started a new course on Coursera: Intro to Marketing by some profs at UPenn. I am learning SO much. I cannot say enough about Coursera: after suffering years of learning burnout from school and formal education, learning is fun again.

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Oct
16
  • Moss Balls

    In case you don’t know me personally, let me tell you candidly:  I grew up really sheltered and super straight-arrow. Seriously. My parents were conservative Chinese parents who didn’t trust sleepovers and pretty much were paranoid about everything. Always, the safest option was to study and stay at home. Needless to say, as a middle schooler, while I was having nervous breakdowns about my grades being less than perfect (literally, anything less than 100% was a disappointment), my classmates were learning about flirting, evading rules, partying, experimenting, etc. Just to give you an idea of how oblivious I was, in the eighth grade, my friend asked if I knew what oral sex was. I said, “Yeah…  It’s talking about sex.” Yes, that was my answer. Obviously, I didn’t mean talking about it the way they do in health class or whatever… I meant more like phone sex or something, but still. My friend could not stop laughing in my face. Embarrassing!

    When I was a senior in high school, I overheard a classmate talking about having sex at a party and being walked in on by other partygoers. I was completely incredulous. Huh?? For real? Surely, she was just telling a tall tale, right? Ok, so you get the picture. I was a dumb dumb when it came to basic adolescent cultural literacy.

    Unfortunately, my lack of awareness has also carried into my adult life. Geez, the shock when I discovered that people I knew– working, responsible adults– smoked weed!  Huh? REALLY?? So that’s my baseline. By now, I’ve witnessed pot-smoking in public. Wooey, right? Yeah, the joint thing, the bong thing… Standard San Francisco behavior.

    So someone I know is a person of science. One day, I hopped onto her desktop computer to I dunno Google shit, whatever. Next to the keyboard, I saw a ziploc bag containing three quarter-sized, moss green clumps. Since she is a scientist, I figured that these were samples that she had brought home from work to study/analyze further at home. You know, like taking work home to write a report or draft some analysis. The next day, I asked if she worked from home a lot. No, never. Hmm, that’s weird, why would she have samples at home then? A few days later, I see a bong next to the ziploc bag. Aaahhh, ok. I get it now. Duh!! See how slow I am with this shit?? I’m telling you, sometimes I really am an alien. In my defense, what else can I say: I am the daughter of goody-goody Chinese immigrants. I can’t be expected to have full cultural literacy.

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Oct
14
  • Random

    Now that I’m home, I’m back to doing what I do best: relationship cultivation/management. Haha, I know, it’s an odd term, but seriously, I think it’s one of my best strengths. As I’ve been going through this “life crisis” for the past year, trying to figure out what the hell I should do with my life, I often joke to John that I wish I could just be a professional friend. I just love connecting with my peeps. And I think I’m pretty good about staying up on all their business: like I know when they travel, what appointments they have, what life milestones are coming up, what important work events are on the horizon… really, I have a whole separate Google calendar just to keep up with what’s happening in their lives. I’m a tracking maniac, but in a helpful way, I hope. ;)

    Anyhow, I made a new friend this past year at work. He’s kinda someone I would never really expect to be friends with (due to age, politics, background), except that he’s a cowboy. And I’m not throwing that word around to describe my own Mickey Mouse wannabe cowgirl antics. No, this dude comes from generations of ranchers in California, and he has enough champion rodeo belt buckles to bedazzle my house. Naturally, as my cowgirl obsession has intensified over the last few years, I somehow managed to weasel my way into his circle of acquaintances. It’s been a lot of work, I tell ya. In fact, I think it’s been probably 6 months now, with me trying to get him to 1) teach me lassoing, 2) give me some rodeo bling, and 3) take me out for a ride at the family ranch.

    So as I was saying, it’s my first week back in town, and I decided to do some relationship cultivation, aka chipping away at this dude. I dropped him an email– to what I thought was a new personal email address– but I got this reply instead. Completely unexpected, but I have to say, a pleasant surprise. Maybe I just really like when people say I’m fun. Haha. It’s nice when random incidents in life just make me smile.


    My email:

    Hey cowboy,

    Haha, you thought I was finally outta your hair, right? Wrong!! I just gave you a 2-week respite while I frolicked around North Carolina and Italy. Yup, this life of leisure is damn hard work!John and I had a great time in Italy except for the part where I got sick on the journey home. Cold/flu or something. I hope to be back in action 100% tomorrow. I didn’t think this was possible, but I overdosed on pasta. For realz.So now that I’m back from all my adventures, I’m ready for an adventure on the ranch. Hook me up, bro. ;) Haha. I told you I’m persistent. Btw, how’s your consulting company shaping up? I might need to pick your brain on starting up a consulting biz. Show me the ropes!!

    So hey, some of us from work are going to the Grand National Rodeo on Friday at the Cow Palace. Are you competing this year? If so, hopefully you’re competing Friday, and we’ll be able to cheer you on.

    What else is cookin’? Fill me in on some dirt, would ya? Now that I’m unemployed, I got super slim pickins re: gossip. Help a gal out!
    V


    The reply:

    Well, partner, I reckon my rodeo days are all washed up. LOL, actually I never had any rodeo daze…

    Sorry, I suspect you sent this e-mail to me by accident? Do we know each other, and I’m being dense? (definitely a possibility)

    Curiously, I was in Italy last week myself. We probably passed each other in the Cinque Terre or Umbria/Tuscany. In any event, you sound like a fun person and an entertaining soul. So, if we don’t know each other, entirely my own loss, I’m sure. If we’ve met in the Bay Area scene somewhere, though, please do remind me.

    Ciao.

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Oct
13
  • Italian Jaunt (with a Married Man!)

    Oooh, a scandalous title, right? So here’s the deal. Because this trip to Italy was kinda a last minute booking, John and I did very minimal trip planning. But what little research I DID do, Rick Steves fucking scared me straight. Pickpockets, pickpockets, pickpockets. Yes, so all of these warnings (also on the forums) made me paranoid, similar to when I did my solo language immersion trip to Spain in 2009. Back then as precautions, I ordered an ankle wallet, a door stop, and a rape whistle… I even prepped a fake wallet with expired credit cards. I know, I’m fucking crazy. So this time, I got worried all over again. I didn’t go as overboard as with Spain, but I did do the ankle wallet, and also, I left my wedding ring at home. Not that it’s some ridic, blinged out rock, but I dunno, the books said to be “low-key.” I know, those of you who know me would probably say that I’m always low-key, trying to be all in incognito or whatever. Point is, I just didn’t want to be inconvenienced with having to worry and deal with the consequences of petty theft. So, the ring stayed home.

    After we survived (barely) the 20 hours of traveling discomfort, Florence was totally fine. Yeah, lots of tourists but I never saw any pickpockets. I mean, I know they are all skilled and undercover, but I feel like even in Shanghai and Barcelona, I witnessed some sketch. None in Florence– none anywhere we went in Italy. Maybe they are just that good. Needless to say, my worries were for naught, as John told me several times. Yes, it was typical Vicky overkill. Shrug. Blame it on my OCD. So then, the fun idea was that… haha, here I am traveling in a romantic place sans wedding ring, but John is wearing his… Won’t people suspect some funny business? I mean, I might be perceived as the other woman, right?? Can you tell that being unemployed has totally killed my once abundant source for drama? Yeah, so now I have to go around creating drama. Well, don’t you worry. The Italians were about as intrigued as you are. Nothing. Why? Because no one fucking gives a damn. I mean, I just thought maybe it could be interesting/curious, but no. It became clear pretty fast that many Europeans have an unconventional take on marriage anyway… married/unmarried/child out of wedlock, who cares?! So, that was the end of that story line. Ah well, it was amusing (albeit short-lived) for me.

    Overall, Italy was a good time. I have to say: I can’t really articulate the expectations we had going into the trip, but coming out, the real Italy certainly wasn’t what I had envisioned. Maybe I thought it was going to be totally different from any other place I’d been (the way Wyoming was), but stepping into town, I easily saw glimpses of Spain, Taiwan, Shanghai even. And the food? I was wanting every meal to blow my socks off. The pasta indeed is very different (better), and while we had a few amazing, superb meals, we also had several bombs. That’s the trouble with expectations, right?

    In a week, we hit three cities: Florence, Bologna, and Venice– a pretty diverse slice. In Florence, we stayed four nights. The city was laid out pretty logically. We hit most of the major tourist sights. The weather was cloudy, sometimes drizzly and downright sopping wet, but we still covered a lot: we hit Boboli Gardens, did a sculpture museum, the Galileo museum, saw the David. We saw David the last morning we were there. Yeah, we weren’t able to get in the day before, so we got up super early to wait in line the next day. In my head, I was complaining about not sleeping in and blah, blah, this sculpture is so over-hyped. Boy was I dead wrong. Holy crap: David is a masterpiece! I must have stared at him for 15 whole minutes– totally unheard of for an uncultured rogue like me. I was in awe. Michelangelo is a genius for realz! Yeah, the art and architecture there is just so mind-blowing– even by modern day standards, what we saw was nothing short of amazing. And to know that people created/built that stuff in like the 14-16th centuries??? Speechless. Seriously, whaa???

    Food-wise: Our first night in Florence, I had an incredible ravioli truffle dish; John had spaghetti carbonara. Both totally hit the spot after an annoyingly long and anti-optimized journey (Never again, CDG!!). Yeah, the pasta was so savory: my mouth is watering thinking of it now (even though I’m supposedly “overdosed” on pasta). A few nights later, we had the famous bistecca Florentina (a monster slab of t-bone, incredibly seasoned and then seared on all sides and rare inside). That was a really memorable meal, and we definitely paid a price for it the next morning.

    Bologna was the least touristy of the cities. It’s a university town, so there was a nice youthful vibe and energy. We stayed at an AirBnb joint there. We found an incredible gelato shop and also indulged in a ridiculous quantity of salami and prosciutto. John insists he was on the English system rather than the metric system when he told the meat monger 1/2 a kilo. (And that was just the salami!)

    Venice was easily the most beautiful of the three cities. There is just something so unique and picturesque about the canals and all the bridges and boats. The city was very difficult to navigate (we got lost a lot) and the narrow walkways were even more packed with tourists than elsewhere, but we had a good time exploring. We found an expensive chocolate shop and got an enormous bar of nougat. Sadly, it didn’t even last all the way back to the States. I was not good about rationing.

    The image tiles below are limited to the first 30 pics. The full photo set is on Flickr.

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Oct
4
  • Honoring our Histories

    My trip to Wilmington really reminded me of something my friend G once shared: You can’t make new old friends. How true. My week-long reunion with N really highlighted how with old friends, you can lose touch and become separated by distance, but when you meet again, it’s just like old times.

    I think for most of us, our childhood and adolescent years are such formative periods in shaping who we become as adults… N was there when I had my nervous breakdowns in middle school, she was there when I was bullied, when I had daily shouting matches/cry fests/confrontations with my parents over their strict style of parenting, when my relationship with my brother was great and then shitty then estranged. She taught me about tampons, she introduced me to theater (Miss Saigon at the Kennedy Center), she helped shave my head (inverted bob) before my second date with John in downtown Frederick… and she learned to read me so well– to clue in on cues without me even saying a word. When she picked me up this last time at the airport, she pulled up to the curb with the music blasting per her usual method of enjoying the tunes, but as soon as I got in, she turned that shit waaay down. She remembered that my volume threshold is super low.

    And even as we have made different choices as adults, I see that she still pays real attention and observes my (and other people’s) reactions. As a 30-something, I have grown much more flexible about pushing my boundaries and stepping outside of my comfort zone, but even though I have the capacity to do that, N recognizes these actions as conscious adjustments, and she considerately doesn’t let my discomfort sit for too long. Another example: She knows that, even though I am currently unemployed by choice, it’s a difficult situation for me to not feel productive or purposed or useful. She seemed to know just what to say to lend that bit of reassurance. These are the gestures, the spoken and unspoken words, the considerations that come largely with time, with really seeing and understanding another person. I am reminded that old friendships and relationships are truly treasures to cultivate, cherish, and honor. I am thankful.

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Oct
2
  • Wilmington Whirlings

    At the end of September, I visited my old bud N in Wilmington, NC. N and I have been friends since the 7th grade, so we go waaay back, kicking it old school. Both of us went to college in NC, but I hadn’t been to her coastal college town in well over ten years. After her father passed away several years ago, her mom sold the house in MD and also moved south, about 20 minutes away from N.

    Certainly, N and I have had our struggles in the 23 years of our friendship, but I have to say, this trip was so good for both of us. For the first time in probably a decade, she seemed happy, and wow, I could see just how much her life and attitude have changed after losing over 100 lbs. I’ve never really struggled with weight issues, but I imagine the paralysis she experienced before was similar to what I had felt when I had severe, disfiguring cystic acne: I never wanted to leave the house; I felt so ugly and undeserving of love and attention. When my skin cleared in my 30s, I felt so liberated: I wanted to try and do everything! N wanted to dress up; she wanted to go out; she wanted to live the life she had always wanted to live. I feel so happy seeing her like this: energetic, curious, optimistic, and open. It’s hard not to be in awe. John kinda explained it like this: so many times, we are told that people don’t change. We can spend our whole damn lives wishing and wanting those we love to improve their situations and circumstances. It is true– they have to be ready for the change, but goddamn, just when you’re ready to give up, to just let them be, to begrudgingly accept the choices they have made for themselves, they really can surprise you and blow your fucking socks off. I have witnessed so many examples of people pulling through for themselves. The human will is so amazingly resilient and fierce!! My friend M. Her mother smoked like two packs a day for decades. Then, she quit one day. Cold turkey. Just decided it was time. Another friend: she was severely depressed. For months, she couldn’t get out of bed. Then one day, she decided to get up and go outside. Maybe the transformation isn’t as black/white as I describe: maybe behind the scenes, there is a slow and gradual progression, but  geez, you just never really know when that one nugget will motivate someone to take the reins and change his/her life for the better. I feel freshly inspired by the incredible strength of people I know.

    In other respects, this trip to coastal Carolina was just so nice. We met up with some old acquaintances, visited our old stomping grounds (Bald Head Island), and I met some new faces. A few observations: I have to say, the contrast of being outside of the Silicon Valley bubble is quite noticeable. That flight from Atlanta to Wilmington? It had like no minorities on it. Interestingly, when I got off the plane and waited for N at the airport curbside, a redheaded cub came up to me and said, “Excuse me, but has anyone ever told you how pretty you are?” I know, wth right?? Totally unaccustomed to this kind of attention, I froze and was immediately unable to make eye contact. “Ummmm, uh no, but thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.” Jesus Christ, am I a robot or what? I mean, given the way I responded, you would have NO IDEA that his compliment made my day. :) Although, I’m pretty convinced he was just drawn to me, because I had my “exotic” Asian thing going. Haha. Oh well, I’ll take what I can get!

    Omg, my trip also reiterated how undeniably, I really am my father’s daughter. When my parents visited J and me in September, dad fixed everything possible in the house: the air conditioning insert, shelving, yard stuff, etc. Turns out, I had the same compulsions at N’s house. I fixed her broken shower head; I updated her computer and installed new software; I set up a wifi network; I re-mounted the broken alarm transmitter… what can I say, I like to be useful and get shit done.  Shrug.

    Other than all the running around and going out, we also spent a good bit of time just catching up. I gleaned some interesting veterinary scoop from N: how to express anal sacs, the location of feline gonads, the affinity some doggies have for pacifier nipples, the process of euthanasia. Yeah, I keep telling myself, I’ll be ready when it’s R&M’s time to go, but shiiit, listening to the wind down process? I’m going to lose my shit. For realz. It just is what it is. Why can’t my puppies live forever. Why??

    What else. Oh, N is buds with a bluegrass band in Wilmington. They weren’t playing the week I was in town, so the bassist invited a few of us to his house for their practice session. I haven’t listened much to bluegrass, but it’s a happy style of music, which can be a pleasant change from my usual depressing, melancholic alternative tunes. The musicians play mandolin, banjo, guitar, and bass. I chatted up the banjo player afterwards and peppered him with questions about his finger picks. He probably thought I was weird. Check out their band: Massive Grass. A nice group of guys.

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