Lupita Nyong’o on beauty

“Your skin is beautiful.  How do you get it so white?” my Japanese students asked.  Some of the bolder girls came up to the front of the classroom before the lesson and tried to touch my arm, as if expecting powder to fall off.  This happened enough that I felt like a monkey being groomed.  Did I mention it was an all girls’ school?  They would notice my lipgloss, eyeliner.  . .and when I didn’t wear makeup.

I didn’t get why they couldn’t see how beautiful they were.  One weekend I went to the beach with my friend Kazu and forgot sunscreen.  We were at the beach all day (he taught me how to juggle!), and the resulting sunburn was so bad that I ran a fever and had blisters.  When I came back on Monday, looking like a cross between E.T. and a crab, I pointed to my blistered shoulders and said in Japanese, “Do you still want my skin?  This is what happens to it in the sun,” and then I taught them the aphorism “The grass is always greener on the other side,” and they taught me: “Tonari no shibafu wa aoi.”  After that they didn’t treat me like some exotic, rare bird.

Lupita Nyong’o’s speech is one to keep in your heart and pass down to your daughters.

look-back

I get retrospective and weepy around moving time. Suddenly the New York City subway no longer smells like urine and trash—it is merely “earthy” or what I like to call “post-apocalyptic modern,” which is a cross between Mad Max wasteland and the Matrix after Neo takes the pill.

All this nostalgia and everything coming up roses made me think of last July—and how quickly everything can change in a year! Michael’s birthday was on Wednesday, and thus this week in July is always easy for me to remember. This little look-back makes me proud of all our homes and everything we’ve accomplished.

One year ago this week: We were vacationing in Maine. I was 4 months pregnant with Lucy and nannying for Ella & Addy. On our trip I was hired back as a personal assistant because my old boss realized her full-time personal assistant got less done than when I worked part-time. Michael had two job offers on the table—one in South Carolina and one in NYC. We decided on NYC on his birthday. We were about to go completely public with news about Lucy. For his birthday I made breakfast, then we drove from the farm we were staying at up the coast. Book-shopping, coffee date, farmer’s market, and dinner at a perfect little inn.

Two years ago: I was planning Vacation Bible school at our church in Tokyo, and Michael was working on his dissertation and packing to move back to the States before me. I was on in vitro treatments and injections. I made Michael friend chicken and mac and cheese for his birthday and we watched Manhattan.

Three years ago: I left a $70,000/yr teaching gig after four months at a private school in Chiba, Japan. Choosing sanity over money is a good choice every time. We were doing fertility treatments. I was hired as the Children’s ministry director at our church. Michael was researching like crazy.  I don’t remember what we did for this birthday!

Four years ago: I started my second year teaching at a private girls’ school in Tokyo. We were packing to move to Tokyo from Yokohama but were spending the summer house-sitting for some friends in the middle of Tokyo. I made Michael a fancy breakfast that made him sick because he wasn’t used to eating meat, and we had a big group of friends over for a party that night.

Five years ago: We were living in Dallas and had just come back from our honeymoon. We went record-shopping and then went to Cuba Libre for dinner, which is now obsolete but was awesome. We were getting ready to move to Japan in just a couple weeks. We drove to Houston to do a belated bday celebration with his family.

Happy birthday week, babe!  The next couple weeks are gonna be crazy as the house fills with boxes, but I can’t wait to have more adventures ;)

passion

There’s one way to get out. You need to get over your fear that by you pursuing the life you want, that will NOT leave you alone, it will not make you unimportant, and it will not make you unlovable. When you believe that, you wont be afraid to shed the weight, and follow the path you want. If there’s something you are passionate about, you need to do it.”

:: Jillian Michaels ::

get in the sandbox

photo 3sI could have written “The Nanny Diaries.”  It’s one of those books I read mournfully, knowing I could have gotten $$$ from my experiences as a nanny in NYC and Texas.  In the past year especially, I’ve seen a lot of deadbeat nannies (people always talk about those), but also “good” parents.  They don’t abuse their kids; they feed them, give them tutors and good schools, toys, clothing, etc.  They take them out on activities and surround them with friends.  And yet. . .a couple “good” parents made my heart break at the playground today.  I took Lucy to try out the swings, which she is a BIG fan of now.  A nanny was pushing her kiddos nearby and smiled at me as I cooed over Lucy, bringing my hands towards her like airplanes every time she was on the “upswing.”  I noticed a couple mom friends sitting on a bench while their kids played in the sandbox.  They were completely oblivious to the kids, which didn’t surprise me.  I knew the type.  They looked worn out, annoyed to be there, but drawn on by routine.  I bet if I go to the park tomorrow, they will be on the same bench, satellites slowly orbiting their children from far away. Now having taken care of kids a LOT, especially kids in the 3 year-old “Why?” phase, I totally understand checking out now and then.  These moms checked out for 5, 10, then 15 minutes.  I took videos of Lucy to send to my siblings-in-law, and pictures of her hair to prove that it’s turning red like Michael’s.  Finally we went over the sandbox where the moms’ kids were playing.  The little boy immediately came up to me, brandishing his Hot Wheels car.

Boy:  Look at this!  Is it yours?
Me:  Wow, cool car!  No, it’s not mine.
Boy:  Whose do you think it is?
Me:  I don’t know.  Somebody probably left it here, so you can play with it.

He grinned at me like he’d found gold, and then “Vroom vrooomed” the car around the sandbox, looking up at me now and then to make sure I was still watching.  I put sand on top of Lucy’s hands and feet so she could get used to the texture.  She is pretty far from zooming cars around, but that day will come.  Right now she’s just discovered she HAS feet.  The little girl came over to me and showed me her car too: “Look what I found!  Vrroom vroom!” and I doted on her a little bit and talked about how awesome the car was.  The girl looked at Lucy with her nose upturned, like she wasn’t sure Lucy would appreciate this whole car thing.  And indeed, Lucy just sat next to me in the sandbox like a fat caterpillar that’s been put on its end.  This went on for a few minutes, but I’m used to it.  You know the saying—dogs and kids can tell who likes them, and I LOVE kids.  The more the merrier.

The little boy went over to his mom on the bench.  “Mom, look what I found!  A car!  Somebody left it here, so I can play with it.”  (Notice the quick incorporation of what I’d told him.)  The mom snorted and turned to her friend: “Wow, it’s a miracle,” she said sarcastically.  Her friend laughed.  I didn’t see the boy’s face, but my heart dropped in my stomach.  The boy continued to vroom vroom his car around his mom, trying to get her to notice.  Meanwhile, I played with Lucy while daydreaming of taking handfuls of sand and throwing them on the manicured, coifed, beautiful women sitting on the bench, completely ignoring their children.  This boy was so full of excitement and wonder.  And kids learn QUICKLY.  What his mom had just taught him was that he shouldn’t be amazed at finding a cool thing, and she was annoyed with him.  Michael always tells me, “You can’t adopt every child,” but it’s tempting, isn’t it?  From the looks of the moms and kids, this child seems well taken care of.  He’s probably (considering the area of Brooklyn we were in) enrolled in lots of activities, has ample care, and has a bright future ahead of him.  But what about his heart?  What about his inquisitiveness, joy, wonder?  Will these things be crushed?

photo 2sI get it.  It’s hard to be present, especially with the repetition of child-rearing.  When I was nannying for Ella (3) and Addy (1), I worked 50 hours a week.  By the end of caring for them, I was 6 months pregnant.  Ella is the most inquisitive 3 year-old I’ve ever met.  Questions galore.  I’d get tired and sometimes snap at her.  I’m sure I was sarcastic on occasion, at least in my head.  One day I got so tired of answering questions that I decided to flip the game on her—I asked all the questions:  “Did you like breakfast?  What’s your favorite animal?  Do you like the color green?”  She NEVER tired of answering, but she did say, “Why you ask so many questions Heather?”  :)  The last question:  “What was your favorite thing that we did today?”  She looked up at me, squinting in contemplation.  That day, we saw the ocean, went to a park, played hide & seek, bought ice cream from the ice cream truck, colored and read library books.  Lots of lovely things to choose from.  Her answer:  “the flowers.”  “What?”  “The flowers. I like daffodils.”  I remembered then the 30 minutes it took to get to the park.  Ella loves flowers. She asked EVERY flower name, multiple times:  Lazy Susans, Roses, Tulips, Daffodils. . .she laughed every time I said “daffodil,” until I guess it stuck.  It IS a funny word if you think about it.  .  .feels like taffy on your tongue.

I try to remember that story when I’m changing Lucy’s diaper for the upteenth time, or she’s playing with the same rattle for 15 minutes.  For kids, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  I won’t remember a year from now that I missed a phone call from Michael while we were at the park, or that I was hungry.  I’ll probably even forget the little boy and girl who were so desperate for attention.  What I will remember is the feel of sand on my baby’s skin—how it got stuck in her fat rolls. How her hair glinted red in the sun, and how big she smiled when I made stupid little zooming sounds and pretended to tap her on the head when the swing came close.  I don’t believe parents should be doormats or endless reserves of attention for their kids.  You need your “me” time.  But get in the freaking sandbox now and then.  DON’T be sarcastic when something awesome happens.  Don’t miss a cool sandbox find.  Don’t miss the daffodils.

PS.  We are going to buy a ton of Hot Wheels for Lucy.  They are awesome.

PPS.  For “Lucy”. . .who am I kidding.  Michael and I will be building race tracks in the living room.

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around town: Momofuku ramen

Michael and I made an NYC bucket list for places to visit before we move.  It’s kinda pathetic, but when you live in New York, you rarely do the “touristy” things.  For example, the closest I’ve gotten to the Empire State building was when I took my GRE exam across the street.  One of the things on our list was a Lower East Side Day, and particularly, Momofuku Noodle Bar.

photo r21.  Empire State Building
2.  Ellis Island
3.  Natural History Museum
4.  Show on Broadway (we’ve seen a few but you can always have more!)
5.  Guggenheim (on the day we went they were renovating the staircase and the best part of the museum was closed)
6.  Revisit Coney Island
7.  Upper West Side day
8.  Lower East Side day (Momofuku!)

Momofuku Noodle Bar was started by David Chang, who launched his career cooking ramen in Tokyo.  I’d seen him on a few episodes of Top Chef, but then discovered his TV series The Mind of a Chef, in which he takes traditional foods and experiments with new recipes.  In one episode, he took ramen noodles and turned them into cacio e pepe.  I was hooked.  So for our anniversary weekend we decided to knock #8 off the list.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI’m a ramen snob, AKA hard to please.  My first ramen experience (besides the 25-cent “ramen” you buy as a poor college student) was in Sapporo, Japan.  Japan is a very long country, and Sapporo is on the northernmost island.  That area is known for its miso ramen, which is usually decked out with tons of veggies on top, and the rich broth is perfect for combatting Sapporo’s freezing temperatures. To give you an idea of how cold it gets there, you can take a pretty short ferry ride to RUSSIA.  I spent a couple years eating miso ramen, and then was in Tokyo for three years, where miso ramen is hard to come by (Tokyo is known for its tonkotsu ramen, which has a salty pork broth).  Michael and I decided to try the best of both worlds at Momofuku—I ordered spicy miso, and he ordered the tonkotsu. Ramen broth is made from shaved dried pork, and because of this, ramen is the ONE exception I make to not eating meat or meat products.  It is so worth it.

photo 1For an appetizer, we tried the $12 shrimp buns.  They are listed on the menu as “shrimp bun” so we were relieved to know there were two.  Not sure that these babies were worth $6 each (not sure our ramen was worth its $16-17 pricetag either) but I guess you pay a little for the infamy of Momofuku and the location.  The shrimp buns were probably the lightest steamed buns I’ve ever eaten, so the shrimp cake and veggies really shined through.  And the sauce was out of this world.  It tasted like thousand island dressing mixed with sriracha.  Hmmm. . .maybe I’ll have to try making that some time.

My spicy miso ramen was decorated with green onion, spinach, sriracha, a poached egg, and roasted Korean seaweed.  I grew up eating roasted seaweed as a snack, because my parents’ friends were Korean and we’d have huge dinners at their place where the only things I ate were seaweed and sticky rice.  I’ve never seen seaweed sheets in Japanese ramen before, but I totally didn’t mind, and they softened up by the end.  Spinach is also not a traditional topping.  I was a little skeptical and thought it might take away from the fattiness of the broth (although I love spinach), but it soaked up the juices nicely.  The noodles are all freshly made at the restaurant and were absolutely perfect, as was the poached egg.  It was very obviously poached by a chef, not put into one of those poaching tools that drive me nuts and make the egg rubbery when it is cooked.  The level of spice was great—-not so spicy that your eyes watered, but it definitely made my throat tingle.  The broth itself was more subtle than ones I’ve had in Japan.  It could have had more miso in it, but I’ve read that Momofuku is known for it’s more subtle broths.  Even Michael’s tonkotsu broth (below) wasn’t in-your-face with the meat and umami flavors.  If you want a stronger broth, it’s probably best to check out one of the many Japanese-run ramen shops nearby.

photo 2rI can’t speak too much about Michael’s tonkotsu because I only tasted the broth, but it looked delicious.  Ramen is always more delicious with the actual pork belly in it, but alas. . .I have to kind of stick to this whole pescatarian thing ;)  One nice thing about Momofuku Noodle Bar is that they sell a few products from Momofuku’s Milk Bar (Chang’s dessert restaurant).  Christina Tosi is Chang’s pastry chef, and after watching her make desserts, I dreamed of going to the Milk Bar.  So if you want to get a two-for-one deal, just go to the Noodle Bar.  Michael and I shared a Ritz cookie, which is basically a buttery cookie on steroids.  I have no photos of this because we ate it too quickly.  Then we had the peanut ice cream with dehydrated strawberry jelly.  It reminded me of those chocolates you can buy in Japan with whole dehydrated strawberries in the center.  photo r4We ate the peanut ice cream (which has no peanuts in it but somehow is infused with their flavored), and then found the dehydrated jelly nestled inside.  Whenever the dehydrated jelly and strawberry chunks hit your tongue, they pop like pop rocks.  The combination of the peanut, strawberry jelly and milk took me back to childhood peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with a tall glass of milk.  The desserts were much more reasonably priced than the meal, and I felt like it was truly something I couldn’t recreate at home if I tried.  Michael’s favorite part of the restaurant was their massive picture of the Band.

photo r3All-in-all, this was a fabulous experience.  It exceeded my expectations in most areas, and only slightly disappointed in the miso broth department.  But then again, I’m a miso snob!  To complete our Lower East Side day, we went to Sunrise Mart, the best Japanese grocery store in NYC.  When you walk in the door, the tellers yell “Irasshaimase!”  We felt right at home, like we were back in Japan.  I picked up some supplies to cook ramen on our own, which will be my second installment of Japanese recipes, coming soon!  Then we picked up a red bean pastry from Panya next door, went to the Strand to buy books for each other.  If you are ever at the Strand, go across the street and sit outside the Bean with your coffee and books. It’s a great place to people watch and a lot of East Side, old school New Yorkers hang out on those benches.  It was good to rest our feet and I needed the coffee just to get home.  We did everything with Lucy in tow in our massive jogging stroller, which other New Yorkers put up with because she is so darn cute.  And we’re doing most of it again in about 9 hours because our friends are coming into town and want a Japanese-food filled evening.  I’m getting excited! :)

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