Family dysfunction at the lunch table

Today, Chris and I met with my aunt, my cousin, his wife and their child for lunch. It was one of those predictable lunches where we’re not really having flowing, natural conversation, and it’s more fragmented with random questions and answers, the occasional interruption by the young child, and food or saliva flying in different directions. My cousin’s son, who will be turning 7 in about four months, is definitely maturing a bit, but he seems so much more infantile than I ever remember being at his age. When I was his age, I remember eating with regular sized forks, knives, and chopsticks, cleaning off my own plate, and never having any assistance with any food, with the exception of shellfish like lobster and crab. At that age, I was expected to eat chicken on the bone and get all the meat off them, too.

I looked at my cousin’s child, and I felt so sad observing him. I guess I feel sad in a lot of ways every time I see him because I remember being there when he was born, within the first year or two of his life seeing him regularly, and also noticing all the dysfunction around him. I can’t really spend as much time with him as I’d like because his parents are insane and helicopter-overing him. I used to always have these fun visions of taking him out on my own at around this age, bringing him out to the playground, treating him to ice cream. All those seemingly enjoyable images will never become a reality. This was never what I envisioned, but that’s the thing with family estrangement and dysfunction: you are rarely, if ever, always in control of how your relationships with your family go. If someone decides to be selfish, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to deal with it. Or, if someone randomly chooses to no longer respond to your texts, phone calls, and e-mails, there’s nothing you can really do to get them to care about you, is there? People do not think about this deeply when they judge others for not being close to family, particularly family who are nearby. Perhaps that’s just indicative of how shallow our society is. We want to imagine everyone has a happy functional family, and when we do not fit that expectation, we get blamed. But, to each their own stupidity.

Lavender syrup

After having so much delicious coffee in Colombia, and then traveling in Michigan and having notable coffee drinks such as my cafe miel and lavender latte, I decided I would make my own special coffee drinks by creating my own lavender syrup at home. Sugar syrups are super easy to make — all you really need is some water and sugar dissolved over high heat, and it keeps for weeks, if not months. And then if you want to flavor it with a herb like lavender, rosemary, etc., you just have to add a tablespoon or two during the simmering process.

Today, I made about half a cup of lavender syrup to add to our coffee drinks, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out in our Sunday morning lattes.

Relatives in town

So my aunt is in town for the next week or so, and she asked to meet Chris and me for a meal. I called my mom today after work and told her that we would be seeing her for lunch, likely on Sunday. I could tell she was not happy.

“Well, it’s up to you,” she said warily, clearly uncomfortable and not wanting to me to see her. “You can decide for yourself if you want to see her. Who else is going to come?”

That’s my mom’s passive aggressive way of saying she doesn’t want me to go, and that she thinks lots of other people are going to join.

I told her my cousin (my aunt’s son), his wife, and their young son would likely join. She seemed even more annoyed.

“Well, I’m just going to tell you one thing, and then you can do what you want,” she said. (that’s how I know this is going to be annoying… for me). “Things are not the same with those people (THOSE PEOPLE? You mean my aunt and cousins?!). Things have changed. There are going to be more people from their side coming, so you and Chris shouldn’t pay. Just let them pay. But make sure to bring something like flowers or cookies for your aunt.”

My aunt and cousins are “other” now to my mom. She gets angry with them all the time when she barely sees them. She gets mad at my aunt for reasons that no one can understand, but my aunt can read my mom like a book. She always knows when my mom is angry with her, even if it’s baseless. But on the flip side, she gets excited when my aunt comes back from her travels so she can see her again. It’s a really twisted, screwed up dynamic.

I went home and told Chris about this conversation today. Now, he insists that we pay the bill. That’s my Chris for you.

But, on the other hand… It’s just so stupid that this always has to be a topic of conversation. And it’s always because of my mom.

When your age becomes noticeable

Before my colleague’s going-away party tonight, I rushed in to see my hair stylist on Astor Place to get a quick hair cut. I was telling her that I just want to take off two inches of my fried ends and redo my side bangs as she combs through my hair and examines it when suddenly this look of horror swept over her face.

“Bella!” she exclaimed loudly. “What has happened to you? Your hair!”

I had no idea what she was referring to specifically. Yes, I know. I’m cheap; I haven’t redone my highlights since December. It’s June. That means six months have passed. I wasn’t even willing to come in to do a toner as she suggested. “What do you mean?” I responded, innocently.

“You’re going grey!” she whispered loudly. “Did you see this? There are several grey hair strands!”

I had seen one or two a couple weeks ago, some really short ones that were growing in, and I did the in-denial thing and pulled them out. But… I didn’t realize that it had friends in the back of my head.

“Yeah… I saw I had a couple,” I admitted, “but I didn’t realize there were more in the back!” She angled the second mirror so I could see the single strands in the back. I was not happy. I started sulking.

“Bella! What has happened?!” she continued to exclaim, looking disappointed. “Three months ago, you came in for a cut, and I know we didn’t see any greys at all! What is it — work?”

“Maybe… or maybe I’m just getting old,” I said to her, sadly, while staring at her in the mirror.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m just a year younger than you, and I have SO many more greys than you! You just can’t see it because I always bleach my hair!” she said gleefully. “It’s okay. I will take care of you; that’s my job! When I get back from Palermo and you get back from your vacation, I will touch up your roots and redo your highlights. We’ll strategically place all the highlights where the greys are, and it’ll be good as new! But… it will take some regular maintenance… I’m just letting you know now.”

Only someone as sunny and bright as my Sicilian hair stylist could get all giddy about grey hair. This really stinks — just another thing to throw money at.

Meeting in Queens for dinner (?!)

A friend of mine, who temporarily relocated back from Amsterdam to New York City, where she is from, has been in town the last couple of months before she, her husband, and their 1-year-old daughter move to Hong Kong for work. She lives out in Jamaica, which is pretty much in outer queens close to where JFK airport is, and that’s also where she grew up. When we’ve met up for dinner when she’s either been visiting from Amsterdam or back in town this last month, it’s always been in Queens… not necessarily because she insisted upon it (she really did not), but more because I thought, hey, this would be a great excuse to go to Queens since pretty much no one else wants to go there with me to eat (other than Chris when dragged and especially for dosa, and my male “travel for food” friends). While all of New York City is a foodie mecca, my heart will always be in Queens for the variety of cuisines. And given she has been away for so long, it’s also an excuse for her to eat the food of her own borough which has been sorely neglected. She had an endlessly long list of restaurants specifically in Rego Park and Forest Hills that she wanted to try, so we chose a Georgian restaurant from it (that I’d actually already eaten at, but loved).

“You’re the best! I don’t know anyone else who wants to come to Queens to eat the way you do!” she enthused.

Yeah, for the most part, her commute would be shorter than mine, but I don’t even think of it that way. I just want to go there, eat, explore, and also catch up with her, of course. So this isn’t hard at all for me.

I was telling my colleague this before I left the office, and she groaned at the idea of going to Queens. She lives about 15 blocks from the office, walks to and from each day, and thinks that is too long of a commute. Her mom lives in Elmhurst, but she refuses to go there, so her mom always comes into Manhattan to see her. “That is soooo far,” she grumbled. “Why would you go out there just to eat? You should have asked her to meet you somewhere in Manhattan.”

“Um, do you remember anything about me?” I retorted back. “Plus, the food is so good in Queens!”

This colleague is not at all alone in this attitude, though, and it’s always driven me crazy about people in Manhattan. But then I realize… it’s not even a Manhattan thing. The people who live in Flatiron or Union Square don’t want to leave downtown. The people who live in Hoboken don’t want to go anywhere that’s over a 15-minute drive away. The colleagues I have in Willamsburg don’t want to leave Williamsburg or any neighboring areas of Brooklyn. The laziness is pervasive of pretty much anyone who has some level of privilege and doesn’t *need* to go to another neighborhood for things like food, groceries, work. And not everyone is lucky enough to have that ability.

New York City is a big place, and there are still so many parts of it I haven’t explore enough. And I don’t want to be that person who doesn’t know about the other neighborhoods of her own city. I think my mind (and stomach) would benefit from this exploration.

Vegan French cuisine

Endless restaurants are always opening up in New York City. With that also comes the endless variety, and one type of cuisine that is picking up in popularity as well as general ubiquity is vegan cuisine. Once upon a time, I wasn’t that open to these types of restaurants, but seeing how creative food has become for non-meat eaters has actually been a bit inspiring for me. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have been gaining crazy traction to the point where the Impossible Burger is actually experiencing a shortage in supply; restaurants’ demands for this are exceeding the supply, so many places (like Roast in Detroit last week) are actually on wait lists to get more of these, and had to temporarily take it off their bar menu). And as I’ve been trying more vegan “cheeses,” I am more and more impressed with how delicious they’ve become.

Tonight, my friend and I went to a small, quaint vegan French restaurant in the West Village. Honestly, when I hear “French cuisine,” all I can think about are a) butter, b) cheese, and c) all things flaky pastry, which inevitably mean butter, eggs, and sugar. Well, this place does serve vegan croissants and sugar, but definitely no genuine butter or cheese. The tastiest thing we shared was the vegan “brie” that was actually made out of macadamia nuts. I probably could have just snacked on that all night and been totally satisfied. With all the innovations coming out of the plant-based food movement, I’m eager to see what else I can taste that is delicious and better for our planet.

Coalition for the Homeless volunteering

Well, it’s that time of the year again when our company’s annual Impact Week happens, which is the one week of the year that all of our offices globally volunteer time with those less fortunate than us in our local communities. As our office’s ambassador, I organized three different events for our team this week, with the first one at a local church near Grand Central Station with the organization Coalition for the Homeless. This organization passes out pre-prepared food in containers and bags for those in need, so it’s almost like a “takeout for the homeless” setup.

The event was very straightforward – we prepped the food stations, served the different components of the meal to the people who came in. We were told by the volunteer coordinator that almost all were regulars, sadly, so he recognized many by both face and name, and always wished them well. The saddest thing about continually seeing them day after day, week after week, is that he knew their lives were not getting any better. And that made him really sad. Not only that, but they knew the schedule for each of the places that offered food, the types of dishes/fruit/drinks to expect, and what the food setup would be (e.g. here, it would be all takeout food, but the church two blocks down actually has table service). They all have their routine and route down pat.

As I walked home, I called my dad to see how he was doing, and he asked why I was getting out of work so late. I told him that we were actually ending a volunteer opportunity serving meals to the homeless. He then asked me if my pay raise was reflected in my last paycheck given my promotion, and I said yes. “That’s good,” he said. “Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter since most of your salary is going to Uncle Sam, anyway!” He loves to mention that pretty much every time anyone talks about any type of increase in pay.

I thought for a moment, thinking about what he said. “Well, that’s okay,” I said back to him, “Because I rather be the one serving these meals at the homeless center than on the receiving end, so I’m not going to complain about any of that. I know I have it really good.”

Dad agreed with me, and we moved onto the next topic.

Questionable things to prevent a cold

Since getting sick for the third time this year really made me feel angry, I decided to start researching some things I could do while traveling to prevent myself from catching yet another cold. I really don’t know what has happened to me this year; in 2018, I didn’t get even a single cold. In 2017, I had some sort of virus and then a resulting silent reflux diagnosis, and in 2015 was my ever-memorable year of getting pertussis. The general theme seems to be that I get sick usually after coming back from a long-haul flight. And that really, really needs to stop.

I read more about vitamin C intake; the jury is still out on it, but it never hurts to eat an orange or any other fruit or vegetable with a high level of vitamin C. I realized the reason that people take Emergen-C and vitamin C supplements over just relying on eating fruit and vegetables is because Emergen-C actually has 1,000 mg of vitamin C, or 1667% of your daily value of the vitamin, so it’s almost like you are inundating your body with vitamin C, vs. eating an orange, which is only about 60% of your daily value of it. I guess it can’t hurt to pack this while traveling on top of eating the loads of fruit I normally eat when we’re traveling.

The other thing I decided I’d start taking during and between flights is echinacea, which is a herb that is native to the U.S. It’s said to have active substances that are antimicrobial that can help with fending off diseases and colds. Echinacea has phenols, which are supposed to control the activity of a range of enzymes and cell receptors; It also contains alkylamides, which have an effect on the immune system. Since herbs like this aren’t regulated by the FDA, the only way I know I am eating the real thing is if I buy the organic version of this tea. Similar to vitamin C, the studies done on this are on the fence about whether there is truly a benefit, but I rather just be safe than sorry. And, since buying it this week, it actually tastes pretty good, especially with a little honey. It’s also caffeine free in the event that I want to have a tea that doesn’t give me any buzz.

I also got these homeopathic Sambucol black elderberry zinc tablets. Honestly, they taste like candy, but they get such good reviews and weren’t that expensive, so I figured… why not?

The one thing I read about that I am absolutely not going to try is oscillococcinum, which is a homeopathic preparation made from an ingredient extracted from the heart and liver of a specific breed of duck. I read that some French physician discovered it in the early 1900s while doing some investigative work on the Spanish flu. But, just listen to how that sounds: a key ingredient that is “extracted from the heart and liver of a specific breed of duck.” Doesn’t that just sound… wrong? Why would something as random as that be able to prevent someone from catching a cold…? That’s just taking the term “homeopathic” to the next level, and a level that I do not want to go.

Aziz Ansari and his audience

After coming back from Detroit late yesterday afternoon, I had dinner at home with Chris and went down to Radio City Music Hall to see Aziz Ansari perform as part of his “Road to Nowhere” tour. The greatest thing about seeing comedians and other performing artists who are people of color is that they always acknowledge race, the always changing definition of “normal” or “politically correct,” and well, that is refreshing and something I can relate to a lot.

He touched upon a lot of very real, tangible topics in both a touching and a funny way, everything from his involvement in the #metoo movement with the woman who wrote the viral piece about her sexual encounter with him, where she perceived him to be completely un-attuned to her body language saying she was not interested in having sex, to liberals and their obsession with playing a Candy Crush version of a “how progressive can you prove yourself to be” competition, to even his grandmother and her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He even talked about the issue of birth control in our society now: why does it seem like the only options out there have to be so terrible: an IUD that results in, well, his penis getting stabbed, or birth control pills, which make his girlfriend into a moody, worser version of herself?

But while enjoying his standup, I noticed a woman, blonde and white, sitting not too far from us who clearly was not having a good time. Her friend (or whoever she was with) had gotten out of her seat and left, likely to either get a drink or use the bathroom, and that was when I noticed this person and how bored or un-engaged she looked. While Aziz was cracking jokes and the entire audience was roaring with laughter, this woman was looking off to the side, to my direction, expressionless, as though she was possibly counting down the minutes until this event would be over. Her facial expression and body language all screamed out that she was in extreme discomfort.

Did her friend ask her to accompany her tonight, or did she beg because she absolutely needed a plus-one because she didn’t want to come alone? Why would someone like this come to an Aziz Ansari show? You either like his material or you do not, and she clearly did not. I didn’t really feel bad for her, though. At the end of the day, it was her choice. And if Aziz’s material makes her feel uncomfortable, I wonder if she asks herself why it does that to her.

When your presumptuous assumptions were wrong

I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this trip to Michigan for these three days because I was planning to travel with a colleague I’d never met before. We’ve been working together since January, yet she’s been camera shy when doing video/voice calls while using Zoom, and I could hear her strong midwestern accent every single time we spoke. She’s a remote employee based in Columbus, and I really had no idea what kind of person she was at all. All I know is that Ohio is a swing state, and there was a 50/50 chance that she would be a Trump supporter. And the idea of not only traveling with her, but also being in a car ride that would last 2.5 hours from Grand Rapids to Detroit yesterday with her, would be absolutely agonizing if I found out she really was a Trump supporter.

Luckily for me, during our first morning meet up yesterday, she started complaining about President Dipshit and in general, the Republican Party, so I knew it would be safe to talk about politics with her without either of us murdering the other. We talked a lot about our personal lives, where we grew up and have lived (she spent over 15 years living in San Francisco and the Bay Area), and our general opinions about politics, culture, and travel. We even spent nearly three hours voluntarily at dinner together at Roast, a Michael Symon restaurant that was attached to hotel we stayed at last night in downtown Detroit. It was funny to sit at the bar of this restaurant eating with her, as I remembered the first time I visited Detroit with Chris back in June 2014, we ate at this same restaurant and loved it.

When the trip concluded today with our final customer meeting and her driving me to the Detroit airport, I hugged her, thanked her for driving me all over Michigan, and departed for my flight back to New York City. And honestly, I felt kind of bad about my potential hesitations of who she was as a person. I actually had a lot of fun talking to her and getting to know her, but then I questioned myself and wondered… if she WERE a Trump supporter, how exactly would I have navigated that? Could I have handled it appropriately, especially given we’re colleagues and thus in a professional relationship? Not everyone I meet and work with is going to agree with my view of the world. That’s just reality. But when that time comes at work, what am I going to do then?