Vale at 4 Months

Vale at 4 months is all smiles, and no longer is as serious as she used to be. She drools a lot and enjoys being with her friends at daycare. She still does not have much hair; though she has some serious eyebrows. She smiles at everyone and is not afraid of strangers. She likes to chew on things, suck her thumb, and do sit-ups. She can sit and stand assisted, and recently started rolling over. Her thumping kicks at night are harder and louder than ever and she is quickly outgrowing her bassinet.

We read her stories from her Madeline treasury, and I recite Tang dynasty poems to her. We also watch Youtube food travel shows with her. She seems to enjoy them. Incidentally, she is becoming curious about solid foods and took a keen interest in our homemade Saag recently. She excitedly reached for the bowl, and cried bitterly when we wouldn’t give her any. It was all eaten anyway, but I don’t blame you, kid. Saag is good stuff.

She is also becoming curious about beer (that’s a modern times tropical IPA pictured below, by the way. Delicious stuff). In a similar fashion as with the Saag, she fussed when we tried to take the pint glass away. Indian food and beer. In case there was any doubt that she is indeed our offspring.

 

Vietnamese Coffee

Even as the more vivid details of our Vietnam vacation recede into the ever more distant past, something as simple as Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk can bring it all back on occasion. This past weekend, I took just a sip and was reminded of the days at our resort in Phu Quoc, when we developed a brief ritual of taking a seat by the window in the restaurant level of our resort, and starting the day with a small cup and saucer of Vietnamese coffee.

We followed our coffee with a combination of breakfast treats, including a pho bar and bahn mi. Aside from the smorgasboard of Vietnamese delights, there was a large selection of western morning foods as well, though we avoided the boring fare, like cereal. We concluded the daily decadence with an assortment of tropical fruits, my favorite being passion fruit, though the juicy dragon fruit and mango were equally memorable. The juices from these fruits trickled down the back of my hands, dried there, and interacted with the island sun, causing a strange dark patch to appear. I discovered that what I initially thought was a sunspot (expanding at a freakish rate) was actually a temporary tropical fruit scar when I casually consulted with a physician friend via Gmail.

While on the island of Phu Quoc, every morning, we ate and drank slowly in this way, enjoying the contrast between the smoky, dark coffee, and the pellucid, bright island atmosphere, treating ourselves to the ocean view and sea breeze floating in through the gigantic windows like a quiet new dream.

Tijuana

So if it hadn’t been for a friend’s baby shower and a close call with mastitis #4, we were seriously considering going to Tijuana for new years with Vale. Add on top the fact she has been eating every hour and a half, and we decided against it, because I didn’t know what kind of TJ activities we could even do with her incessant need to feed.

However, I haven’t given up completely on a TJ trip in the near future, so I Googled “Tijuana with a baby” and was met with the following encouraging headlines:

  • Baby Found Dead in Tijuana, Left By Mom and Boyfriend
  • Mexico’s Bargain Babies
  • US-born Baby Found Dead at Empty Lot in Tijuana

You get the point. These aren’t the most encouraging links when planning a short trip down to TJ. I get it. TJ probably has a sketchy reputation for a good reason, but I still feel there’s a significant element of paranoia when it comes to Mexico. The odds of something terrible happening on a weekend in TJ is probably extremely low. There are plenty of crime-ridden cities in the United States, but fewer people seem to bring up murder as the first point of discussion when mentioning Chicago or Detroit.

As for us, our primary concern with traveling to TJ with a baby is a matter of logistics. Driving back on the way home is always hellish at the border crossing, which turns a 1 hour drive into a 5 hour nightmare. This is because the War on Drugs keeps border patrol employed and well-paid, cracking down on non-violent violations of the law, and because American immigration policy is full of shit. The border crossing located right on the edge of Mexico is the worst, but let’s not forget that there are border checkpoints all over southern California, as far as one hundred fucking miles north of the border.

Anyway, the government’s barbaric insistence on violating human rights is such that walking, rather than driving, across the border is the transportation method of choice. However, we have yet to figure out what baby items are absolutely necessary over the course of a weekend, and whether it’s possible to minimize our stuff to the point where we can carry these things and walk across the border.

Daydreaming In Bed

Mom went back to work last week and we ended Friday on a good note. I gave in to my hunger and drank quite a bit at grandpa and grandma’s house. This put Mom in good spirits.

I still hadn’t eaten as much as I wanted so Mom fed me as soon as we got home. Her new thing is to feed me lying down while reading travel and food magazines and eating Life cereal. She was duped into buying year-long subscriptions to Bon Appetit and Conde Nast Traveler after seeing some $5 deal on Instagram and has been collecting idle magazines for the last 4 months. She finally found some use for them – reading while breastfeeding.

She still dreams of travel but makes fun of Traveler magazine even as she leafs through the publication wistfully. She finds the whole idea of “high-end boho”  – a term used by an author to describe one particular Marrakech establishment – ludicrous. She is also opposed to another writer’s recommendation to stay at the Park Hyatt Bangkok. We live just two miles away from a Park Hyatt, and mom and dad have attended rowdy holiday parties that end in the hotel’s lobby bar the last 2 or 3 years in a row, so she doesn’t see why she would go all the way to Bangkok and camp out somewhere so familiar. To be fair, the last time Mom and Dad were in Bangkok, mom was a recent law school grad with a ton of loans, so it’s not like she could have afforded to stay there anyway. Could it be sour grapes?

 

She sneered at a one-paragraph mention of Taiwan, which rambled on only about tea and featured an elderly Asian woman wearing a rice hat in a tea field. Of all the ways to represent Taiwan! However, she got a little nostalgic at the unexpected mention of one Greenbrier resort in West Virginia on the list of top resorts in the United States. She was suddenly brought back to her childhood, at the age of 7, on family vacation. Her dad (my grandpa) rented bikes and in the front of the Greenbrier lobby is where she first felt the freedom of riding a bike.

 

She considers most of the recipes in Bon Appetit rather unimaginative (read: it’s not Indian, Thai, Korean, Chinese, or insanely spicy) and definitely rolled her eyes at a picture of pasta plated in a bite-size serving on a 4-inch dish. She did dog ear some pictures of the Italian countryside and a hotel in Chile for Dad though.

I eat and eat and meanwhile, she drops Life cereal crumbs on my head and on the sheets. Later at night, while in bed, she will complain that she is being stabbed by crumbled pieces of Life. Dad will ask her if that is meant literally or metaphorically, while I dream noisily in my basinet.

When He’s Away

Earlier today, Husband left on a work trip to New York City for a few days, and it’s the first time he’ll be away overnight since Little V was born. We will both miss him.

When my husband is gone, there’s no one to make sure all the balcony sliding doors are closed and all the “rape doors” are locked.

The house is quiet and I notice sounds I don’t pay attention to when he’s here, like the sudden, unfamiliar hum of the neighbor’s air conditioning unit.

There’s no one to share a small bowl of cereal with before going to sleep, the bed feels too big, and the air seems cooler than usual.

I almost want to close the french doors in our bedroom because the lovely breeze that creeps in at night when he’s here feels like a lonely breath when he is gone.

We miss him already.

Puke

In February of 2012, I took a 72 hour trip to Taipei (including the approximately 26 hours of flying) to attend my cousin’s funeral after her unexpected death. Of the dozen or so times I’d been to Taipei, this was the first time I was going in the wintertime. Coincidentally, Little V’s name constitutes the first four letters of my cousin’s name; I did not realize this until she was born and an old friend pointed it out to me. That’s what childhood friends are for; they remember details, facts, and stories about yourself, your family, your friends, and are able to have insights and see connections where others may not.

Surprisingly, EVA tickets were cheaper than China Airlines, and I took a window spot on a forest-green colored seat next to a three-year-old child and her mother. Throughout the flight, the three-year-old girl was quiet, pleasant, and drank from a bottle. About 5 hours into the flight, she projectile vomited all the milk in an impressive spray, all over the seats (fortunately missing me), and her mother literally tried to catch her puke in her cupped hands as she frantically called for assistance from a flight attendant.

Of course, the EVA attendant was gracious and helpful; she brought towels and changed out the puke seats (it had not occurred to me that airlines keep extra seat cushions around for such occasions). My feeling at the time was simultaneously of horror and humor. I horrified because it was gross and I felt terrible for the mother, but part of me also wanted to laugh (a little) at the unfortunate occurrence.

Five and a half years later, now that I am a mother myself, and am pretty much constantly wiping and cleaning spit-up and puke, and frequently getting spit-up all over my body, my clothes, my sheets, and my furniture, the EVA air experience in retrospect seems a little less funny, and also a little less gross.

???

As I near the end of pregnancy, I feel the old doubts of having children surfacing. I’ve spent the last several months treating this entire experience like an important project, with plans, research, classes, books, etc., so I thought I’d resolved such anxieties, but I suppose that is not the case after all. One would think the last 7 months of preparation would have served as a gradual transition, but it seems the impending due date only highlights the severity and certainty of this decision.

I used to be utterly freaked out by the idea of giving birth; that’s still somewhat the case but infinitely overshadowed by the fear that I won’t enjoy being a mother. I’ve had to make many lifestyle changes and compromises since December 23, 2016 but of course none of it can compare to what lies ahead. It seems like having to rebuild an entire life from scratch (mine).

I think my husband and I have built a special life together. I don’t mean “special” in the sense that we’re particularly unique, interesting, or superior compared to others, but 12 years together necessarily results in something irreplaceable and I could easily live another 12 years like this, or the rest of my life.

We met on a rainy night in February painted by the haze of alcohol. The friend who introduced us accidentally set something on fire at a party, after which we quickly made our departure, and I was so drunk I spelled my own name wrong when I entered it into my husband’s cell phone. We didn’t start dating until a year and a half later, because only Fools Rush In.

When I first moved in with him, the living arrangements could best be described as a small fraternity house nestled in the heart of suburbia, inhabited by gamblers and students who drank too much, joined by unruly dogs, and then our equally recalcitrant cat.

During my first year of law school, my husband quit his engineering job and became a professional poker player, so the summer after my first year, we leased our room in the house, and left the country for two and a half months. We rented an apartment in the suburbs of Barcelona, and he funded our trip with poker while I promised to undertake some domestic tasks while he worked. The “tasks” were an adventure in and of themselves, as I enjoyed every moment of Barcelona, including regularly walking 25 minutes to the grocery store (we did not have a car), where I could buy unfamiliar foods and practice Spanish. We fell in love with the city, but moved on to Prague, Milan, Rome, Tuscany, and Yellowstone National Park the rest of the summer.

For the duration of law school, I packed all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I could have 4-day weekends every weekend, and there were many trips to Vegas with free hotels, compliments of my husband’s card-counting days. When I unexpectedly was notified I was the recipient of a $32,000 merit scholarship I hadn’t applied for, we took tequila shots all night at a bar in Cardiff-by-the-Sea that now longer exists, and I jumped into the ocean with all my clothes on.

Eventually, we moved into a two-bedroom apartment by ourselves, in a neighborhood characterized by beach bums, dirty hippies, quirky stores, and drug use. Our complex was built in the 1970’s, and rumor has it the communal hot tub was built of an epic size because the complex used to be a swinger’s colony. The neighborhood has since gentrified and I miss some of its formerly bummy, disheveled, and unpretentious elements.

After I took the bar exam, we celebrated with an Asia trip to Taiwan and Thailand. We scootered through the canyons of Taroko Gorge and indulged in decadence on Thai beaches. In the first couple of years after I started working, we traveled to Kauai and hiked Mt. Whitney with his family, and I started paying down substantial amounts of law school debt.

We got married in 2013, 2 weeks after our 8-year anniversary in a ceremony officiated by a dear friend. We wrote our own vows and exchanged them in the glow of the southern Californian sun, and at the reception, through a series of small mishaps, many guests got unbelievably drunk. Two weeks later, we honeymooned in Bali, Macau, and Taiwan.

In 2014, we went to Colombia, where we ate ceviche on Cartagena beaches, hiked a beautiful national park, and walked the romantic alleys of Santa Marta at dusk. I took a picture outside the former residence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and constantly had a Colombian beer in hand to counter the Caribbean heat. We spent one night in some of the worst accommodations I have ever experienced, and when I was awoken at 4 a.m. to roosters, cats, and dogs brawling in the streets amid human yells, 90 degree heat/90 percent humidity with a broken fan, and a broken bed, there was nothing to do but laugh at the outrageousness of the situation.

In 2016, we picked Vietnam over Greece and had a dream vacation at beach side resorts, daily all-you-can-eat buffets of Vietnamese breakfasts, luxurious city hotels, lush jungle retreats, and scooter rides in Saigon, Hue, Hanoi, and the Vietnamese countrysides. We took the longest cable car ride to the highest peak in Indochina and enjoyed the view as lone passengers in a car designed for 30 people with a 360-degree view of the valleys, rice terraces, and mountains of Sapa.

We drink, cook, hike, exercise, and laugh together. We’ve taken painting classes, dance classes, and played on a soccer team. We own a house and a condo together, refurbish old furniture sometimes, save for early retirement, and spoil our cats. We are very different in some ways and have been at each other’s throats yet are fundamentally so well-suited for each other that if I weren’t an atheist I’d chalk this up to fate.

Our years together have not been extraordinary in and of themselves (plenty of people hike, drink, and travel), but for me, the last 12 years has been characterized by little pieces of magic here and there, and everywhere.

When I was little, I was prone to impractical daydreaming. I would daydream of being a rock star or sprouting wings and flying, for instance. On the other hand I rarely contemplated much in detail about the specifics of my future life. My eleven-year-old self didn’t care to think about what kind of career, husband, house, kids she’d have, or vacations she’d take, beyond assuming that there would eventually be a job, a dude, and an abode in the mix on an abstract level, because that’s what adults do.

So what I mean by “special” is, it’s special to me, and if my eleven-year-old self was given a glimpse into this future, she’d be pretty damn smug and content, implausible fantasies of growing wings and flying across oceans aside.

Having a kid is supposed to be the “next” step, a higher level or deeper stage, but sometimes it feels more like we’re tearing parts of a great creation down and rebuilding it to be something completely different and unfamiliar.

So, what will the next 12 years be like? Stay tuned…

 

Drinking Adventures in Denver

We were in Colorado for a family reunion last month, and flew in and out of Denver to get to Glenwood Springs. On our way back, we took the opportunity to enjoy some drinks in Denver. Denver is known for great beers, and I was excited to go to Great Divide. I’ve had the “I Believe” yeti sticker on our beer fridge for years now. We took an Uber from our hotel, which was obviously less memorable than the beer, since I can’t even give you the name of it at this point. (Hyatt? Hilton?)

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We had two rounds of tasters, including the Yeti Imperial Stout, of course!

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I hit up Yelp and based on a combination of proximity and good reviews, we walked to Jagged Mountain Brewing next.

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The beers here were also excellent, most notably a Belgian/IPA mix that was well-suited for both lovers of Belgians and IPA’s. Thereafter, we decided to try something a little different. We walked into Mile High Spirits, a distillery that specializes in flavored hard liquor. I was planning on consuming lots of Denver beers, but this ended up being a pretty fun experience. They had about 20 different flavors of liquors, with fairly normal ones like pineapple vodka and honey bourbon, and then some really weird ones like pickle, garlic, pepperoncini, and black pepper.

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Strangely, it was the weird ones that we enjoyed most. I particularly enjoyed the garlic and pepperoncini vodkas. The venue was also really cool because there was a large patio area with cornhole and other fun lawn games.

Illegal Drinking

The United States has some of the harshest drinking laws in the world, though it claims to be a bastion of “freedom.” When I was in Barcelona, we regularly would pay 5 Euros for a bottle of wine and drink it at a little snack shack in the sand. In the thick humidity of Taipei, it was always nice to cool off at a well-air-conditioned 7-11, buy a Sapporo, and drink it on the street, or drink a Taiwan beer while hanging out in night markets.

In Thailand and Bali, one of the greatest joys was to sip on a cold lager while ocean-gazing. In Prague, we bought some beers at a sidewalk cafe, asked to take them to go, and inquired as to whether it was legal to drink in the streets. The guy laughed at us and said, “Of course. This isn’t the United States!”

Where I live in the U.S., you can’t legally drink in parks or beaches, because the U.S. is a fucking police state. Of course, not being able to drink beer where you want in public is one of the least problematic aspects of police states, but still.

Fuck it. You should still do it. Hide homemade white sangria in your beach bag and drink it on the sand on Memorial Day Weekend, as the cops patrol up and down every hour eyeing people for law-breaking behavior. Bring a flask with you to parks just in case you get bored. Find an area of low visibility in a nearby park and bring wine in your picnic basket. Pack beers into your Camelpak while hiking and reward yourself at the summit. Sneak Stone Cali-Belgique into a playground at midnight with your friends and drink it on the picnic benches. Be sure to bring glasses too, because it is undignified to drink such good beer straight out of the bottle.

Cheers for beers, because life is more fun this way.

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Colombian Beer

Just got back from Colombia. It was often 90+ degrees, with high humidity, so we ended up drinking a lot of lagers/light/yellow beers. The two most popular there are Club Colombia and Aguila. Aguila is comparable to Bud Light. Basically, undrinkable (in my humble opinion). Club Colombia is similar to a Modelo, and I rather grew to like it. Both these beers were cheap as hell. Street vendors were selling Club Colombia for around $3,000 COP (around $1.50). Aguila tended to be cheaper. It was around the equivalent of $1.50 at bars, while the Club would go for around $2.00 or $2.50 (definitely worth the extra $.50 to get the Club).

However, we did come across a couple of craft beer companies, including Apostol and Bogota Beer Company (BBC). Apostol, in my opinion, had the better brews. The Dubbel (below, left), got the Belgian flavors right. The Bock (below, right), was a black-lager type beer. It was good for the weather – dark and flavorful enough, but not too heavy. It still had a nice, light texture.

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Bogota Beer Company had the better marketing. Their beers have cute labels, featuring a vintage woodie car, and their beers have a trendy feel, if that makes any sense. We popped by the BBC restaurant/bar in Cartagena and had a couple of beers. Their style (the decor, labels, packaging, not the beer itself) is reminiscent of Karl Strauss. The beers there were a bit bland for me. I had the Monserrate Roja, a red beer, which was really on the light side of reds. The Chapinero Porter (see featured picture at the very top) was probably their best beer, but even that was really on the light or even watery side. Their menu featured some exciting-sounding seasonals, including an IPA, but they did not have them available when we visited.

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