Virtual escape room

For our end of year team event this year, my team and I broke into two groups and did a “prison break” virtual escape room. As someone who has done a real-life escape room four years in Little Rock, I really had no idea what this experience would be like, but our host and informant from the company we worked with did a really great job in facilitating, planting clues, and making this a fun and enjoyable event for all of us. And, I’ll definitely say this escape room experience was NOT easy at all. My group was able to escape with about six minutes to spare (you get 60 minutes).

It’s amazing how nimble companies like escape rooms have been in evolving with changing times and the pandemic. I’d definitely recommend this experience for a team building event. I feel like our team was extremely open and communicative. It was definitely a good way to “build the team.”

Treats from Oz

Since the pandemic began, Chris has been getting antsy about a lot of things. He’s upset that he cannot do work or personal travel. He’s not happy he is unable to see theater and comedy. He’s not enthused at all that he’s not able to travel back to Australia for his annual summer Christmas. And with international travel basically being blocked, his parents were unable to visit us this spring, which meant that his usual Aussie treats delivery did not happen as per schedule. The treats they intended to bring him have been sitting in their garage and and second refrigerator, waiting to be eaten by someone at some time.

One package after another, he sadly saw his Aussie treats stash being depleted. Arnott’s biscuits like Tim Tams and Teddy Bears? One by one, they were gone. Arnott’s Shapes? Oh, those were gone long ago. The All-Naturals Fruit Confectionary fruit snacks, made with real fruit and sugar, NO high fructose corn syrup in sight? Those are his favorites, and he lamented not having easy access to them as he plowed through one bag after the next. So of course, being resourceful, Chris found a solution to all his maddening snacking problems: He discovered Treats from Oz, the company that ships all these glorious treats around the world… as long as you are willing to pay for the high shipping costs. Because, as well all know, homesickness has no real cost, right? This company lovingly and carefully packs Aussie treats and even accepts requests for specific items when you have them (and Chris definitely had these to offer!). We had a box arrive today that was over 36 pounds, filled with everything from special flavors of Tim Tams, chocolate scotch fingers, all naturals fruit snacks, to even plum pudding and Lamington desserts!

This should satiate my Australian baby… at least, for now.

Teddie peanut butter dash

This past week, I was reading an article that discussed the best rated peanut butter brands in the U.S. Comments following the article mentioned a certain New England brand that I loved when I was in Boston: Teddie Peanut Butter. A former boyfriend got me hooked on this, as it was a local Massachusetts brand that seems to only distribute in the New England area, as I have yet to see it anywhere outside of a Massachusetts grocery store. Teddie is famous for making all natural peanut butter — in other words, no added oil or sugar. The only addition that IS allowed — salt! And if you ask me, that’s the only addition that is needed or should ever be added. Mainstream brands like Skippy and Jif, while temporarily satisfying, have extra palm or vegetable oil added to make it easier to spread the peanut butter, and the extra sugar is really, really unnecessary and borderline too sweet. Peanuts have a natural sweetness that comes out especially after you roast them, so why is there a need to make this glorious nutty spread even sweeter?! All peanut butter needs is a little savory balance from some salt, and then, it becomes pure magic. And I don’t know what makes these specific peanuts so good that they use…. I’ve tried other all-natural brands from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s that are organic and have nothing else added to the peanuts other than salt, and for some reason, they just don’t compare to the special combination of Teddie peanuts and salt. This peanut butter has the perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness that just makes it peanut butter sent down from the peanut gods… if they exist.

I was telling my Boston-based colleague about how much I loved this peanut butter, and she so generously and graciously presented a brand new jar of Teddie organic all natural peanut butter (with salt) to me when she showed up at the office earlier this week. I was ecstatic — it was the biggest highlight of the entire week. And when we got notified we had to work from home beginning today due to COVID-19, the very first thing I thought about was... I left my Teddie’s in the office fridge.

So, naturally, I went to the office at midday today to retrieve it. I mean.. I had to, right? I hadn’t had this peanut butter since 2011! I told some colleagues that I did this… and they found the entire thing hysterical.

It certainly was not beyond me to do something like this, but hey… I travel for food. And what’s the worst that could seriously have happened, anyway?

A decade in personal review

As the 2010s decade comes to an end, many articles are being posted on a recap or reflection of the major events/milestones of the last ten years. On social media, influencers are posting summaries of their most popular posts or products they’ve advocated for, while Facebook and Instagram posts are about a highlight of each year of their life of this last decade, and what the biggest takeaways have been for them personally. 

My life today is quite different than what it was like in 2010. Today, I have a very different job at a very different company. My perspectives have changed on people and travel; I travel very differently (and much more often) than I did then. I have a life partner now who complements me and pushes me to be better and do more, and a slightly different attitude on life and the future in general. But at my core, I’m still the same person: just trying to find as much meaning (and as many laughs) as possible wherever I can find it and attempting to learn as much as I possibly can about things I think are important to the world. 

If a theme exists to the last decade of my life, I’d likely say that each year, it’s been an attempt to go out of my comfort zone and do something “different” for me. I used to think that being “comfortable” was good enough. I wasn’t much of a risk taker at all and became way too comfortable and used to doing things the way I always did them without realizing how bored I could actually get; it was as though my life was passing me by and I wasn’t discovering anything new. I spent too much time with people who didn’t have very strong opinions and didn’t have much conviction about anything, not to mention people I didn’t really care about because I was so concerned with being “nice” and accommodating to everyone. You are what you surround yourself with; if you choose to spend time with people who aren’t ambitious, you will likely become lazy and accomplish less. If you are around people who lack strong stances, you will likely become indifferent yourself. 

I started this decade with an older brother; I ended it with a dead one and a new big brother by marriage. Losing Ed was the biggest tragedy I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was the worst pain I’d ever known and the most powerless period of my life. His death forced me to reconsider so much, everything from work and career to the way I interact with my parents and wider family, to how I prioritize my life and goals. Experiencing this major loss also gave me better insight into the people in my life who truly cared vs. those who did not; as such, my circle of friends has gotten smaller, not to mention the circle I actually confide in regarding the most personal topics. I’m at peace with that today, though it can still be a struggle. I was never going to be the person with dozens of friends and a packed social calendar, nor did I ever want to be because for decades I have found that empty, superficial, and downright exhausting. Since high school, I realized I rather have a few really close friends I truly trust and can talk to as opposed to dozens of friends who just want to discuss celebrity gossip and someone to do activities from their “bucket list” with.  

Getting out of one’s “comfort zone” obviously varies quite widely depending on the person; my list is never going to be like yours or your friend’s or your friends’ friends. 

In addition, I hate confrontation – this is one of the worst things for me and makes me so uncomfortable. I get sick (literally, in my stomach) thinking about, leading up to it, doing it. But in the last decade, I’ve probably done the most confrontation I’ve ever done in my life, ranging from colleagues, my parents, relatives, friends. It is never fun, but sometimes, things that need to be said are never said, and problems continue to linger and boil over, and that’s just not healthy or right. I unfortunately in many cases need to continue being the bigger person, but if I am the reason that conflict ends, then I’ll be satisfied and relieved. If you want to think I am an aggressive person, that’s totally fine, but realize that this likely says more about you than it does about me because I am NOT an inherently aggressive person AT ALL. I just don’t like lingering problems, plus I hate bullshit. 

Over the last decade, I’ve realized that perceptions mean a LOT. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you do or how you evolve, but people’s perceptions of you will continue to stick just because they don’t want you to change, their minds are stuck on a certain time they interacted with you in a certain place, or they want to judge you by a particular interaction that was completely dated and should have been forgotten. That’s not necessarily something you can control, and that’s okay. Again, that says more about other people than me. 

The Mark Manson article on “the subtle art of not giving a fuck” really resonated with me this decade. Periodically, I re-read it to remind myself to stop worrying about things that are inconsequential to me and my well-being. 

In the next decade, I hope to expand my creative outlet with my YouTube channel and video shooting and editing, continue my meditation and yoga journey, and make sure that I am having meaningful conversations and confrontations when needed. I also hope to surround myself with more creative, opinionated people who can help me expand my own views. A motto I picked up through my Aaptiv fitness app that I keep repeating to myself is something I am trying to live by: if it doesn’t challenge you, then it won’t change you. 

I’ve learned a lot over the last ten years, and I hope to learn even more in the next ten. More fun and excitement await. 

Our diverse and cultured Christmas tree

Since we’re away for the week of Thanksgiving, most of December, and the first week of January, our tradition has been to either take our our Christmas tree and decorate it the weekend we have our early Thanksgiving meal or the first weekend of November to maximize our ROI on it and get use out of it. I’ve collected an extensive collection of Christmas tree ornaments in my life, and it’s the one time of the year when I can pull them all out and get really excited about them.

We took the tree out and decorated it today, and after finishing putting all the ornaments on, I looked at it and thought, wow, what a beauty. Chris said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I’m not quite sure how you could look at this tree and *not* think it was a beauty given how cultured, worldly, and diverse all of the ornaments are that are hanging from it. It’s got ornaments from places ranging from Seattle to New York, Prince Edward Island to Japan to Australia and China. It has Austrian glass blown round balls, Tibetan hand-stitched reindeer, and hand-painted wooden trains and Christmas markets from Germany. It even has ornaments on it that I’ve made with oddball seashells I’ve collected over the years, as well as ornaments my friends have made me dating back to my high school years. This tree is representative of everything I love about the world and life. It makes me really proud and happy every time I look at it.

AFSP 2019 Out of the Darkness Manhattan walk

This year, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Manhattan chapter had over 2,000 participants register to fundraise for our annual Out of the Darkness community walk. Each year I have participated since 2014, the walk fundraisers and crowds have only gotten bigger and bigger. Suicides in this country are only increasing as terrible as that sounds, and unless people start acknowledging it as an issue, the numbers will only increase. I was chatting with the director of the New York City walks this morning when I arrived at South Street Seaport for the opening ceremony, and she said that it was a bit of a mixed feeling for her every year: on the one hand, she’s so excited by the increased involvement and crowds we draw each year; at the same time, it makes her feel so distraught to think that more and more people are being affected by suicide, which is what is prompting them to show up and support. “It’s encouraging and depressing at the very same time,” she said to me with a half smile.

I don’t really know anyone who walks every year. I recognize the director and a few members of the board, but I don’t really talk to any of them other than the director. I’m not even sure what to say to them. It’s become a bit generic like most social gatherings. “Thanks for coming!” “Thanks for participating!” And although we are all there to support the same cause, as much as we say that people should be more open, a lot of these people are not open at all; they instead put generic fundraising messages on their fundraising pages to ask for donations. While it’s great that they are raising money with their canned messages, and while it’s amazing they are fundraising period, it doesn’t really inspire me. It doesn’t inspire people to be open and honest and real. So I don’t really have any desire to associate with them more.

I rather have real conversations with real people, even if it’s sad and painful, even if it brings up tortuous memories of suffering. We can bond over it. We can create solidarity. Because isn’t that what this walk, this desire to increase awareness, is all about?

I did meet one person who came alone this year. She lost her dad to suicide in this very city 17 years ago. This was her very first year participating and fundraising. I hope that given our conversations, she will come again and be open.

Not coming back

Most of the time when I go home and back to my parents’ house, I always get this vibe that Ed is still there in spirit, that he’s lurking somewhere around the corner and that eventually I will see him. I especially get it in the bedroom where he slept when I go in to dust his old dresser where we keep a large framed photo of him on top. This time, though, when I went up to the dresser, I didn’t feel the same. He didn’t feel the same. It was as though his being gone has been made more permanent now. He’s definitely never coming back, and perhaps he’s at peace with it. Or maybe I’m projecting, and it’s really that I am finally at peace with the fact that I know for sure he will never come back ever again to this house, to this life.

Still can’t believe it’s been over six years now.

Nobel Prize for literature

I’d been on the NYPL digital wait list to read Toni Morrison’s book Beloved for the last month or so, and have finally gotten off the waitlist. I’ve spent the last couple of days reading it on my Kindle and am so regretful that it took me this long to read any of her works. It is no wonder that she won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, as it was said that she is someone who “in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” I’m embarrassed to say that her books have been on my reading list since I was 14, but I haven’t gotten to them until now. I’m only 19 years behind, right? She is one of the most famous, well respected African American female writers in the world, and was even given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President Barack Obama in 2012.

When Morrison passed away this past August, Obama wrote a tribute to her on his social media, which included: “Time is no match for Toni Morrison. In her writing, she sometimes toyed with it, warping and creasing it, bending it to her masterful will. In her life’s story, too, she treated time nontraditionally.”

As I reflected on Toni Morrison and her legacy and thought about the pages I’ve read of Beloved, I thought about how I’ve always loved reading and used to dream about being a famous, respected fiction writer myself (that dream is dead now, though). And then I had this memory pop up from my college years. I once said in front of friends and their partners during college that having a Nobel Prize in Fiction would be such a great honor, to which a friend’s ignorant and narrow-minded partner once said, “A Nobel Prize in literature is the most useless Nobel Prize. Who cares about literature? It doesn’t do anything for the world.”

I already didn’t like this person. He majored in computer science and was pre-med. He would start medical school the summer after graduating from undergrad, but since he had the summer free, he took on a full time job in computer science just to make money for the summer, and quit at the summer’s end without being transparent about his intentions. He just wanted the money, he said, and it was a lot of money to pass up, even with only three months’ time of work. Everything to him was about money; the idea of learning and growing and trying to do good for the world seemed stupid and naive to him, and he oftentimes said it. He would eventually graduate from medical school and go on to be a plastic or orthopedic surgeon, solely because he noted that these were some of the best paid medical professions to go into.

I look back and realize what a good decision it was to not only stop spending time with that friend, but by default, her chosen partner. If you cannot understand the importance of literature, of good writing, then you probably are a shallow and ignorant person, likely greedy and superficial and not a person of substance that I’d want to spend time with. Literature not only describes reality, but also adds to it, as so many notable writers have stated. Literature is both reality and art at the same time; it forces people to consider other states of being, other mindsets, other lives and situations that are so vastly different from their own. It encourages creativity and imagination, and what would life be without creativity and imagination? If you have been exposed to great literary works, then chances are also high that you have also been privileged to get far above average educational opportunities, as well. Literature is an opportunity for growth, for self-improvement, for viewing the world with a lens that is not like your own. And that is an invaluable thing that cannot necessary be quantified.

The crappy education of American schools

Since I was young, I was always an avid reader. It took me a while to read “classics,” but I eventually got there. Two of the books that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t read until the last month, which were always on my reading list, are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. They are both novels that touch upon the 20th century oppression of black people, and what is the worst part about reading both of these books in the year 2019 is that… not much has changed in the way that black people are oppressed today. It is simply masked in another way, whether it is the inordinate incarceration of black Americans, or the unarmed killing of black people by the police, the supposed protectors of our society.

Both of these books are oftentimes on reading lists for children in high schools across America. While reading up about both books after finishing each, I was disgusted to learn that both are still on a number of “banned books” list from American schools even today. To Kill a Mocking Bird is banned due to its “use of foul language,” because the N-word is used extremely often. Then, with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, this book has many warnings due to its very graphic depiction of Angelou’s own rape experience.

I have a lot of grievances with this entire attitude. The reason the N-word is used a lot in the first book is due to the fact that during that time, that was a word that was oftentimes used by white people to condescend and condemn black people. It is fitting for the time and era during which it was written. Therefore, it is only fitting to be true to that time and use that type of language. It is not a flagrant way of being disrespectful today, but rather a method to capture the time and hostility felt then. Context is everything. With the second book, the rape scene is depicted to show the level of personal atrocity that Angelou faced while a young child. How can you possibly expect young people to grow, mature, and learn from the past if we are constantly shielding them from all the brutality and the harsh history of our world? You cannot sugar coat slavery or segregation. You cannot make rape seem like it’s some quick event that just happens, passes, and is done. That is not reality. There is a lack of desire and even a resistance to be rooted in reality and face the painful facts and history of this country, and it has persisted for far too long.

Immigrants and the need to share our stories

Over the last two and a half years, open white supremacy, anti immigration sentiment, and anti women sentiment have been on the rise. With a president who is openly sexist, racist, and xenophobic, it all makes sense why the average American would think that this type of rhetoric would be okay. So it also makes sense that the number of hate crimes has steadily risen, and that mass shootings by white supremacists would also continue. But all the rants and the hate completely obliterate what really unites all of us to each other, and that is our humanity, our love for others and our love for the supposed rights that we think we have. 

Today, a friend shared this article entitled Swimming to America, a Love Story, in which the writer details her father’s treacherous path to coming to the United States during a Mao-ruled communist China, all via escaping the mainland and physically swimming across to Hong Kong. She highlights his struggles and ultimately, his love for this country. And she insists that every single one of us who can say our parents, grandparents, or great grandparents immigrated here — we’re all immigrants, too, and we have to not only remember that, but share that story to ultimately bring humanity into these cold, awful hate-filled conversations we see in the media, by ICE agents, by humanity-lacking right-wing politicians, and by our own president.

I wish we’d have this dialogue more openly, but my biggest fear is that the dialogue just cannot happen because we refuse to listen to each other anymore, and we selectively choose what “facts” and “statistics” to believe.