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Fears and Self-Loathing in the Carolinas

“Run. You can’t cry if you’re running. Endorphin-chemical-things make you feel good, no matter how slowly you go, even if you hate to run. That will block the tear channels. And you already cried at church this morning, so you’re out of tears. Quota is filled. Go. Lace up and go,” I told myself.

“You tell me to ‘go’ as if I could get away from it all. It will all be here when I get back.”

“Maybe it will. But wouldn’t an hour away be nice?”

And so I found myself, mad, mad, MAD, and sad and lonely and all that makes your body feel heavy and useless when you are depressed. I laced up shoes I didn’t like, wearing pants and a t-shirt that felt too tight, with tears threatening to spill behind prescription sunglasses as I waved to my still-a-stranger roommate.

“I’m off for a run!” I cried with fake enthusiasm over the roar of the lawn mower. (If you don’t mow your lawn every Sunday in North Carolina, a secret committee votes to run you out of town, you see. So roomie had talked himself into mowing today. Literally. He talks to himself all. the. time.)

Then I did that weird old-lady-mall-walker walk – elbows swinging too high, determined look on face, until I was just out of sight and I could bend over at the waist, gasping at the unbidden tears. “I just want a hug! I just want a dog who will love me! I want ice cream!” I cried.

I sucked up, pressed onward, stubborn as always. Then my ipod came upon a song that made me rage unexpectedly (Katy Perry, if you must know), and I cursed, over and over, loud and “WHAT THE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR WHATING MECHA-WHATING-NISM?! I WHATING HATE THIS WHATING SONG!” when the dial stuck against my fingers and wouldn’t change to a new song.

I staggered to a stop, breathing deeply, willing myself to pull it together or I’ll –

“or you’ll what?!” I wondered to myself.

I walked around our neighborhood, waving to everyone, as you do in the South, in case you are related to them, I guess.

“Or what?” Or…I’ll do nothing, as I have for the last six weeks of feelings.

It’s all very complicated. All of it.

You see…..I am not feeling like me anymore. Because “me” is a happy, (somewhat) carefree, barefoot, sunset-chasing, junkfood eating, every last drop of life person. Or I was. But now I am different.

Now, I am profoundly miserable. Deeply, hauntingly, almost numb to it miserable.

I cannot get a job. I have applied to over 20 places. No job.

I have no friends here, because I have no job. We have no money, so we go nowhere to meet people.

I lash out at my boyfriend, I steal bread from my roommates, I think evil of everyone in front of me. I don’t answer the phone.

The crutches I have been leaning on – food, ice cream, wine, – all I have to show from this is eight extra pounds and lots of wine corks saved up for Pinterest projects I’ll never do.

I’ve put down The Bell Jar, turned off Adele, and (mostly) backed away from the pantry. I know what’s not good for me,


I wonder if sometimes we try to accelerate, to sprint to rock bottom, as if that would make the “afterwards, it will feel good!” part come more quickly.


I don’t know why I tell you this. I hesitate, fearing this looks like a cry for help, and I’d rather you help those more in need. While I have these weird, dark, twisty moments that harken back to worse points in my life, I don’t wish ill upon myself.

I think I write this because:

a. I have no friends here, and I need someone to “talk” to.

b. We all fall apart sometimes. But we seldom allow ourselves to put it to words.

c. I feel that people think, inside and outside of the Christian faith, that if you are a Christian, you aren’t allowed to be upset and hate everything sometimes. And that’s just not true. I love Jesus, He loves me, but I am upset. And I hate everything.

And I am mad at God. I can’t feel Him. My heart hurts and feels hard and distant.

But I made myself go to church this morning. The same charismatic, too loud, trying too hard place I went to a few weeks ago. I went alone and I was late, which I hate. But I walked in. The usher sat me in what felt like the “single ladies” section.

I willed my heart to be soft and still and responsive.

I cried for most of the service. And in the dark  worship space – without self-consciousness, when and because it felt right – my arms raised, I sang as loud as I could, and choked on tears, blood pounding in my ears and eyes squeezed tight.

The lyrics sang “You are not alone, you are not alone.” And I want to believe that, despite what I feel.

What I feel is: lost, insecure, useless, lazy, worthless, unnoticed, unloved. God and my family and friends say all of that is not true, but somehow we hear our own stupid voices louder than everyone else’s combined.

I guess this is where faith, hope, love, all those intangibles come in?

so come in, come in, come in. come in, come in, come in.

I beg you, I beg you. Come in.

Carolina Diaries: Moving and Settling In

Here I am!
Here I am!

It’s been two weeks since I dropped my mom off at the airport and we both pretended not to cry and not to care. I’ve slowly unpacked all the boxes, which has been kind of like Christmas. The clothes are hung or folded in hastily assembled Ikea dressers and plastic organizers. The cats have gotten used to me. And I’ve managed to drive all the way from boyfriend’s house to my own without using google maps, which is a HUGE accomplishment.

And so I work to make Durham my own. There are many things to do when you move that you didn’t think about, even with all the google searches for “how to move across the country” and “why live in Durham” or whatever you type into that space. I made endless lists and Pinterested the hell out of this adventure, and still feel like I’m drowning almost every day.

Things I didn’t think about when I moved:

  • I have to reprogram all my radio stations. This has taken hours. And I’m so anal about music that after I programmed them into my car, I then ranked and reprogrammed them in order of preference.
  • Where am I? Thank God for technology, or I might be stuck on the side of some road ditch, crying into a drive-thru order from Bojangles. Durham is a fake grid built on top of another grid, which means that streets change names without warning, and pretend to run east-west or north-south. Any signs they might have are blocked by aggressive foliage growth. I get lost every five minutes, even with my phone barking directions at me.
  • I was really used to my grocery stores. Grocery shopping in a new place is weird; I wander around wondering why I came in the first place. I had to register for a new discount card, there are different rules at check-out, and produce is shite outside of California. I can’t get a lot of the same brands or spices, especially hispanic stuff. We were so spoiled.
  • I miss this.
    I miss this.

    I miss the horizon. I didn’t know or think to know anything about Durham geography before we moved out here. But everything is a slowly rolling slant and so, so many trees. I haven’t seen the sunset since two weeks ago in Tennessee. I didn’t realize I looked at it everyday. It was from a crap driveway in Concord, but a big, open, palm-tree and telephone line-dotted skyline that allowed me to see the sun sink out of view.

  • People drive different. The speed limits on the “freeways” are like 50, but everyone goes 70. And they can’t merge, because they’re too polite.
  • Time zones are crazy. Its been two weeks, and it still boggles my mind to think that when I am going to (pretending to go to) bed at midnight, everyone on the West Coast is just starting to watch TV. We can talk on the phone! Or text. Who are we kidding. We might text.
  • The water is different. The town was built atop a swamp or a marsh, so it’s all well water that stinks of calcium and sulfur, makes your hair fall and face change, and you have to cut the tap water with ice tea flavoring to drink it.
  • My first hike in Durham!
    My first hike in Durham!

    The air is different. There is no such thing as true silence in North Carolina. The air hums, it vibrates with cicadas and wasps and bees bigger than your thumb. They sing a chorus that rises and falls for no reason. The air is thick on your skin with humidity – a blanket you wear outdoors, and dry out in the air-con in every car and building. The change is so drastic that your glasses fog up when you exit and enter. The heat makes men mad.

I’m not mad, yet. I’m working up to loving it here. I miss my family. I miss feeling comfortable. But we never grow without an adventure, and I am keen for the outcome of this adventure, so I must embark a bit more whole-heartedly! :) I hike, I write, I nap, I shop, I cook, I drink, I meet. More and more until I feel home. Until I feel at home.

Carolina Diaries: Finding a New Home

Totes lived with a girl like this in college.  (Photo credit: naraekim0801)

Anyone who has ever used Craigslist to find a new roommate or a new place to live knows that it’s a crapshoot. Once someone came to our interview saying she was really glad I had laundry machines, because “I just hate having to go to laundromats, because then all your clothes smell like a Mexican.”


With trepidation, I began pouring over the ads here in North Carolina. And people are indeed CRAZY. One place was covered in filth, including a dead cockroach on the floor, and laundry all over the living room. One girl was verrrry mellow….I think her recent ACL surgery and all the meds that come with it made for a pretty lowkey girl. She was kind – texted me before I came that she hadn’t showered in a week, so don’t judge – but the area was just a little sketch. There were also a few places my mom refused to get out of the car for, so…there was that. :)

my new place!!! <3
my new place!!! <3

But I found a delightful little spot in kinda-far-from-everything Durham (and sadly twenty minute drive from boyfriend)….the kind of place straight out of “The Notebook.” Kids get off the bus and run home, everyone waves at you from the car, wraparound decks, sweet tea and porch swings, and fireflies at night (for which I have specially purchased the ubiquitous mason jar, all the better to collect you with!).

My roommates are a 29 year old female nurse who seems bright and friendly, and an older man of indiscriminate age; a lawyer slash actor (my Gma said “isn’t that the same thing?”) who won me over with his enthusiasm for Shakespeare and composting.

My other two roommates are cats. Here is a video demonstrating Me and my ineptitude with the cats.

I believe the Lord sent me to this house to prove to me that I don’t like cats. There’s your wet food, the scratching at my window screens at night to let you in, the sneaking up on me with your silent paws. There’s the hair I find in the coffee grounds in the AM or in my wine at night. There’s worrying about you at night when you don’t come home, wondering what you’re thinking, and why you only want to be petted while I’m peeing.

These are fun to get.
These are fun to get.

But I love my neighborhood, and I get my own sweet room, light grey with white trim…and tons of wall holes graciously left by previous tenant (along with clumps of her weave and, I kid you not, a TOENAIL.) I have a huge walk-in closet AND, the one thing any girl ever wants, my own bathroom. :) There is nothing like being able to do your makeup, read US Weekly on the toilet, or curl your hair in absolute peace. I have to go upstairs and share the shower space with the male….but its relatively clean, and whenever I think to be bothered, I remember all the times I showered with cockroaches or crabs in Belize, or with a bucket over the ocean Panama, or in a lake that also served as a community toilet in Guatemala, and I am grateful for the occasional hair and moldy shower mat. Things I can deal with.

What can I say. I like trees.
What can I say. I like trees.

I’ve started decorating my room…a bed, lovely sheets, hung up my tree and lit candles of sage and lemongrass. And I’m just nesting. I sleep in, take long walks to the lake, read books, send off job applications, and eat a lot. Ross is pretty busy with school, I haven’t done much to make friends, and I can’t leave the house without using Siri to tell me where to go. It’s terrifying and I’ve cried almost every day, but I know that I will get to the good part soon. Until then, everyone in Durham is so friendly and in awe of the long drive I took for love to get here and I get a lot of “Weeeellcommmme!!! Gawd BLESS Youuuuu!” (everything has more syllables in North Carolina) from every sweet lady I meet.

Thanks to all those who have been so encouraging with the texts and thoughts and prayers and things. It is felt with more emotion than I can admit.


Carolina Diaries: The Getting to of Here. Driving across the US of A.

rear view mirrorcontinental divideWe said “goodnight” at 12am and set alarms for 4am. She texted from the couch at 1:30 “I can’t sleep, lets just go for it.” But I had somehow fallen into a delirious panic nap and we did get up at 4am and struggle into my overloaded Toyota Corolla and somehow my mom and I drove over 900 miles that day; through deserts, through Barstow, past tractors, into drive-thrus.

weird things in the new mexico place.

We made it all the way to the surprisingly beautiful northern New Mexico, chased by a big rig through a lightening storm that threatened to send me careening across the indeterminable-depths of rain puddles, lace fingers of electricity going horizontal and vertical across the biggest sky I’d ever seen. The thunder shook the cartop carrier and through the scrapes in the doors left from the time my step-sister reversed against my car. We bagged mustard samples from gas stations and ate “sandwiches” in the car, fueled by espresso cans and the ultimate playlist and pure, pure adrenaline.

Day two was another aggressive 900 miles, stopping in Oklahoma, maybe? It all becomes a blur. I started to notice that people were just nicer. Conservative as hell, with some very scary billboards, but really wanted to make sure I was okay, as I entered their bathroom for the third time in five minutes, after testing that I was indeed lactose intolerant. Discovered through scientific testing. (I ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s). I wanted to buy every “Patriot” doo-rag I saw.

In Arkansas we stumbled upon a Love’s travel stop that had apparently experienced a locust outbreak. The ground was covered with exoskeletons of scary winged creatures and before I could predict the frogs and blood baths that would soon hit, we sped towards Nashville.

nashville with momma!
nashville with momma!

In Nashville we found barbecue, beers, boys in ripped jeans who pulled us from tables and made us dance. We also had a waitress who was from Benicia, who I went to college with at UCSB, and we majored in the same things and were basically soul mates who hadn’t met yet. We crawled late-night into the hotel and ate Cheetos.

here we are!

Day Four – seven hours to go. The Smokies. The flowers. The winding roads. The accents got thicker, the signs show cities I will need to know…Asheville, Raleigh, Cary, Durham!

2800 miles. $400 in gas, $350 in hotels. Only one time that we headed West towards the dark night instead of towards the sunrise, like we needed to.

Four days with mom, an iPod, a cooler.

But we made it here!

love it.

And I found a place. And I like this place. More to come.

In case you missed it…. here’s why I’m here!

In my Life, I’m going to Carolina…Moving for a Boy. A Series. Part 3.

first mission trip as a couple
first mission trip as a couple

If you asked us how BF and I met, we would each have different stories. Both stories are funny, but what matters is that almost a year ago today, we decided we wanted to be together. A year later, we’ve decided we don’t want to be apart.

That doesn’t mean a proposal or marriage or living together (things we agree we’re not ready for), it means that when my boyfriend moves to North Carolina at the end of this summer, I have decided I’m going with him.


I’m excited. I’m scared. I’m SO scared. But. I’m ready for a change. I feel like if I drive down the same road to work, pick the same food at the same Safeway, or park in the same spot and sit in the same seat at the same church service just ONE MORE TIME….I will go bananas.

I want to go to there.

I want out. Out out out. I want to get rid of everything that I own except what fits in a car and drive across the country. I want to roll down the windows and stop only when I need to sleep or pee or buy some Cheetos. Or when I see a sign for something I can’t pass up, like “World’s Largest Bottle of Ketchup.”

I want to see small towns and smaller towns and then live in one. I want the smell of corn fields and wheat fields and the complete lack of mountains to fill my senses and numb my senses and propel me into the unknown.

I’ve quit the best grown up job I’ve ever had, a job I love, to pursue something else, or nothing at all. I have no plan for North Carolina except to be near someone I can’t imagine being without. I might teach, but what I really want is to pursue writing and getting a book published, come hell or high water. Because writing makes me happy and I want to run full force towards it.

riddle me an adventure...
riddle me an adventure…

And I want to know a culture outside of California. I want to know what it feels like when the seasons change. And to hear a different accent, and different perspectives, and to make an adventure out of everything that has become so mundane to me – the restaurants, drugstores, bars, live music, fastest way to get to Target, where an ATM is, the parks, the libraries, the movie theater…

Having been here all my life, I feel like I explore less and less as time goes by. We go hiking somewhere new every Saturday, and I love a good road trip, but my life is one big routine of things I’ve been doing since I was a little girl. Same people, same places, same feeling.

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. I want it more than I can stand. :)

And so we will go. Well, he will go, and almost as crazy (for independent, strong-willed, stubborn, “I do what I want!” me) as moving across the country is, is the fact that I’m doing it to follow a boy. Which makes it only more perfect because it’s even more nuts for the likes of me. So. Here we go! Stay tuned. :)

Life in the Time of Corona

It’s already tomorrow in Hong Kong, so hello from the future. This is Week 10 of Coronalife. Yes – it’s been so long, we don’t count days anymore, my sweet summer child. But I’m finally on a very anti-climatic Spring Break! I was meant to be in Morocco today starting a two week tour. Instead of camping with Bedouins and wandering through markets in Marrakech, I’m doing my best to hold the couch down and trying to get everyone to watch “Tiger King” because I need to talk about it a LOT.

I miss watching movies over people’s shoulders on planes.

I’ve been blogging for ten years, but when I started, would never have thought so many people would one day be reading some personal nonsense about living through quarantine in HK (this got like 80k hits, which was a wow).

I would have never thought this for many reasons. One being that I never had any plans to come to Asia. Or to be a teacher. Or to be in a pandemic. Or to be 35, talk this much, look this okay and still be single and have time to fiddle around on the internet. Self-high-five!

a year ago’s spring break in England and Scotland!

In case you’re new to this hot mess of a blog, or high school/church camp/that one hostel in Central America where we met was so long ago you think you can’t just message me out of the blue** (which is NOT true and I love those messages), I’ll quickly reintroduce important facts:

  • Note: I use the word “important” loosely.
  • I grew up in California, have lived in Seattle, North Carolina, Rio de Janeiro, and now Hong Kong.
  • Travel quite a bit. Love to talk about that.
  • I don’t have a TV, and this has added years to my life. I highly recommend only reading news and not watching it.
  • My fav color is mustard yellow.
  • The thing I miss the most about normal life from BC – Before Corona – is hugs.
  • Have been teaching for 10 years now, which is a great job for me because I have a childlike enthusiasm for most things, including learning stuff, grammar, highlighters, and jokes (please tell me a joke).
  • I am definitely not a medical expert. However, my family has lots of nurses and doctors, so I think I have absorbed some medical sense. Not knowledge, mind you (although I have lately become somewhat of an infectious disease expert groupie). Family dinnertime conversations are mostly about things I don’t understand and I just wait for a mention of the dogs or the weather or something on my level. Personally, I hyperventilate into a faint if told I need to get a shot and have a pain threshold of -1, so. 
This is a HARD PASS for me.
  • My subpoint to this would be that I never learned how to properly blow my nose and am hypersensitive to all things hospitalesque, so the knowledge that the coronavirus test involves an invasive nasal cavity swipe makes my knees weak.
my park is closed now.
I love the signs in Hong Kong. Always so polite.

It feels like a lot of life has been canceled (does anyone else think of that Portlandia skit OVER when they say this) due to this horrible virus but actually other inconvenient and bad things can continue to happen as you go through this time! Let’s example:

  • My dating life was way behind everyone else because of my lifestyle choices and NOW YOU WANT TO THROW ME THIS!? I will die alone. Time to start gathering cats. 
  • We still get periods during this?! And grow hair in places I normally pay to not have hair?! OUTRAGEOUS and UNFAIR.
  • I thought to take advantage of the “extra” time and went hard at the gym. Fractured my foot. I live on the 6th floor with no elevator. So that’s been fun.
restaurants are still mostly open, but you must sit every other table, and four people or less or you get a fine.
  • Flatmate was hospitalized for undiagnosable reasons for nearly a week. I had to accept that whatever she had, if it were contagious, I probably had it as well.
    • She tested negative for Covid-19 twice.
    • I was still scared out of my mind.
    • She had acute tonsillitis, which was super weird because she had had her tonsils removed, but that’s just how crazy life is in 2020 – you can grow your tonsils back.
  • I woke up a few days ago with a nasty stye in my eye, which I haven’t had since I was a child. Dr. Google told me it’s usually caused by makeup irritation, which is an insult to injury considering I haven’t worn makeup in nearly two months. But I am super irritated.
  • I made a terrible decision in weakness and went to the black market American store, buying like 500 dollars and 5 million calories of things I didn’t need. Now sometimes I just sit on the floor in the kitchen and spoon frosting directly from the Betty Crocker container into my mouth for temporary amnesia from self-induced sugar highs. (Rainbow Chip for life)
love these fun emails.
  • Hong Kong experienced a huge spike in positive cases, mostly because a lot of people traveled back to HK after being abroad in the US and the UK. Because of this, new social distancing measures have us in stricter lockdown, like parks, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, trails, etc., officially closing. We also aren’t allowed back on the school campus, where I was sneaking to use the fast internet for my online teaching.
  • The other teacher in my year group found out her brother had gone missing on a hunting expedition on a remote island in New Zealand. We feared the worst, given the temperatures and the terrain. They did three days of search and rescue before de-escalating to search and recover (a body, if possible). 
  • Due to my homemade bread habits and other things I won’t take responsibility for (food is good, okay?!) I have gained (conservatively) six pounds.
  • In all of this, my flatmate decided to move back to the States permanently. So now I am alone alone. 
photo shoot on our street for the mems!

I love my flattie, and this time has been so stressful that we have become even more important to each other. Her leaving was devastating. For both of us, it was the longest we’d lived with anyone who wasn’t a family member. We are really similar and get along so well that it was like losing a sister. 

I’ve never lived alone. I’ve never wanted to (because is the spider going to kill itself?! Lol no). Since I’m moving out in May when the lease ends, it’s not like I can decorate and try to make the space my own or anything like that. There’s nothing to enjoy about it or look forward to. 

All of this together added up and I got overwhelmed with a deep sad. The kind that makes your fingers too heavy to text back, where nothing makes sense and nothing matters and I stayed in my room, black-out curtains drawn, AC on high so I could wear a sweatshirt, ignoring everything except pasta. Pasta doesn’t ask questions. Pasta has cheese and I can usually add bonus cheese. Pasta understands.

April 5, 2020

When things get this bad I try to make myself repeat what I know is true and good. To stop the cycle in the too much that is my mind and my feelings.

And I have a few miracles to report.

  1. I am healthy. Frustrating foot thing aside, I am healthy.
  2. I am working, which keeps my mind mostly busy. I am getting paid for this work.
  3. I have a place to live and it’s comfy.
  4. The sun still rises every day even if I don’t see it clearly.
  5. I did fracture my foot. However, putting me securely into my living room to do nothing but get chubb(ier) and write, led me to scribble out a viral blog post and get re-invigorated about my writing dreams.
  6. This foot injury also kept me from the gym twice a day. Two weeks ago, I received an email that a gym member had tested positive. The times they listed for the visits matched the evening times I usually go. God saved me from that contact.
  7. My colleague’s brother, lost on that island in New Zealand, against all odds, was found in the bush. He had survived three days on the deer he had shot and some local plants. Absolute miracle. 
  8. When my flatmate was hospitalized, I was politely uninvited from a bachelorette party, which I was initially upset about, but understood. One of the main activities was a karaoke party. Hong Kong just saw an outbreak of cases at karaoke bars. All karaoke bars are now closed. God saved me from that (none of the girls got it, but it still gave me a grateful pause). 

I don’t yet know what else God is saving me from or preparing me for amidst all this madness in the world. I can hope that I’m ready. I can hope I approach it with a good attitude (ugh. Working on it) and a sense of humor (intact). While I wait, while you wait, while we do our part and stay inside and support the work being done, here are some new ideas for how to entertain yourself! 

Warning – I’m a bit weird.

just found this and I am THRILLED
  • Eat everything in your house before you grocery shop again. This will lead to some cool moments where you will try and balance the sodium content of your canned tuna with your Top Ramen until you remember that nothing matters in quarantine, just do it! I’ve also eaten a LOT of popcorn.
  • Now that you are home all the time, you might realize how freaking much you shed hair. Collect this hair and donate it to the birds outside your window, that have now become your dearest friends. 
  • Pick a word that defines your mood and search your music library for how many songs exist with that in the title. I had a go:
    • “California” – 10 songs
    • “Home” – 56 songs
    • “Lonely” – 20 songs
    • “Naptime” – none? What the heck. I need to write a song.
  • Place a bet each morning on how many dishes you will use in a day. Who knew so many?
  • Figure out how much toilet paper you have like this hilarious dad. (mild language) Realize we can all calm down about toilet paper.

I wonder when I can ever get home, and what it will be like, and when we might ever feel normal again, and how many things will have changed. It’s been ten weeks with no end in sight over here, so thank you to those who have been checking in. My extrovert is showing in this, and I really appreciate feeling not so alone in all the madness. 

Until next time – take care of yourself and each other.

Send selfies.

15 Ways to Survive the Holidays when You are Single – an update

me doing the most me in HK

There are seasons where I am happy beyond reason to be living and traveling through this life solo; making all my own plans and decisions, spending money on frivolous things with no one to argue with me, or being frugal at the hostel because it’s just me to fit into that tiny bed. I don’t have to defend eating McDonald’s instead of sketchy street food in xyz country, or my need to see the world’s largest fillintheblank in Random Place, Somewhere. 

I love swimming through seasons when the engaged couples leave early and skip the dinner because they’re saving for a wedding, when married couples fight and make things awkward, when the parents with fussy babies go home early. But me? I stay to dance all night, eat and drink what I want, flirt with whom I want, and see where things take me.

we stay up late

There are moments, long moments, sometimes stretching weeks or months where I am able to drown out everything society quietly and not-so-quietly tries to tell me, and am gentle with myself and my journey, and I can forget that the world strongly suggests my purpose is to find someone else to go through the life thing with. 

I can forget that the message is that if I’m not sharing life with someone that it’s not as real or important. That whatever it is I do is somehow not as real or as serious if I’m not splitting my time and worry on not only my own needs, but someone else’s, too.

I honestly forget I’m single and that’s somehow very important and everyone’s business and I shouldn’t want to be all the time. Because being single is really not an important descriptor when I think about what I know about me. I forget that being a good daughter, sister, roommate, friend, teacher, colleague isn’t enough to qualify for a full and meaningful life.

Then there is the age bit. 

I forget how old I am all the time. I don’t know if that’s because I’m kind of classically immature, or because I’m a teacher and always around kids, or if I’m in a clinical stage of denial. When I do take an Actual Moment and realize I am thirty freaking five and all that might mean to my biology, it does kinda freak me out. But then I get over it.

If you try to tell me I am too old to do this I will throw a chicken nugget at you

I’ve said this many times, but I genuinely had no plans beyond like, 22. I figured I’d be married and popping out really cute biracial, progressive, multilingual children by then. I assumed there would be no time for my own selfish plans about career or life goals or anything, so why make ‘em?

That attitude might have been a product of the family I grew up in with really young parents and not based on what my own intrinsic ambitions were (and looking back, not at all an Actual Good Idea), but those biological feelings still lurk somewhat dormant within my ovaries, springing forth and reaching out to every infant that crosses my path.

That magical, Taylor Swift-blessed year of 22 came and went, and I moved the goalpost back a few years. I’ve been an overachiever all my life. Maybe the growing up part was where I let other kids beat me without putting up too much of a fuss.

But growing up in church, let’s make that a capital C Church, there is an unspoken expectation that you will be married and having kids by a certain age. Preferably like, 25.

And if not by then, you might be accosted in the church bathroom, as I was one morning, in between leading worship for two services. A well-intentioned (at least, I am choosing to believe she was) woman came to me as I was washing my hands and said “I just want you to know I am praying for you, because I don’t understand why you’re not married, because you’re great, and you should be.”

I’m sure she thought she was complimenting or encouraging me with these unasked-for-prayers, but as I stood stock-still within her embrace, unable to return it, I could only think some very un-Christian thoughts.

For a long time, through many holidays and life moments, I was with someone. I thought we were getting married and I changed my whole life for him. And then we weren’t together anymore and then I changed my whole life to get over him (because a very rational and mature reaction to heartbreak is to move countries. Trust me, I’ve done it twice now) and I’m thankful.

Life goes on. Your friends get married, your little sister gets married, you go to baby showers and are the only single, childfree person there (which, by the way, those type of functions should have automatic freeflow options for single, childfree people). 

Life goes on. And it goes fast. I don’t think I really believed adults when they said “oh, in a blink of an eye” but now I blink and there’s grey hairs and chin hairs and hangovers and my back hurts and are we all just going to be always tired, forever, from here on out?

So here’s me, 35, single, childless, awesome. Financially stable, educated, well-traveled, physically fit, capable of entertaining 27 nine year olds for eight hours a day at a time while only peeing twice. Sometimes I wake up feeling like I just might run for President. Great hair. Killer guacamole recipe.

Single, childless, awesome.

…and part mermaid

And I’m fine. I’m great. I’m so good about it right now, compared to the countless other seasons in my life I was positively beside myself with agony and despair over being single, that I’m almost worried I’m too good. Because then I start to overanalyze that and think “If this is it, and I’m okay right now, will this then become my always? What if I’m not always okay with what this is?”

Or I start to wonder what other people are thinking of me being this age and still single. Or I wonder “maybe God’s looking at me, and He’s like, ‘she seems alright, I’m gonna let her go wander and help everyone else get married and start families.’ So maybe I need to act more worried so He knows it is important to me?!”

Six years ago I wrote what was then and is even more now a funny blog post called 15 Ways to Survive the Holidays When You’re Newly Single. Having just broken up with my ex and too embarrassed to fly home for Christmas, I was stuck in North Carolina for the holidays.

almost heaven. a rare happy moment in those troubled times in the Carolinas.

There I was -waiting tables and bartending at a barbecue joint, living in a large and possibly haunted house with a man of unknown age or sexual orientation named Brook who had a demonic cat. Brook was a lawyer but thought he was an actor, which meant he directed a play about lizards who fell in love (I kid you not) and spent many hours in our living room practicing terrible English accents. One time I walked into my bathroom and his dad was pooping in it so we had some differences.

I had spent that post-breakup Thanksgiving with my Dad, but was my first Christmas alone alone. I bought tater tots, frozen pizza, a lot of wine, and watched the entire season one of Scandal in bed. I didn’t talk to anyone except via text message, pretending the time difference made it too hard (oh, how I laugh at just three hours difference now!). It was a hard, hard time for me, and getting through the emotions of a massive breakup and the holidays alone did feel like survival.

But here I am alone in my apartment in Hong Kong, eating a 7-11 Thanksgiving of instant mashed potatoes and my favorite 5 dollar wine from college. I’ve baked three cornbread dishes in round one of food prep and have decorated the house. I’m currently crafting turkeys out of toilet paper rolls and some feathers for a game I’m inventing for my Friendsgiving on Saturday, when I’ll be joined by friends from Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Canada, and England for a ton of food and organized fun. And two weeks after that I’ll be home for Christmas holidays and you know what? It doesn’t feel like a game of survival anymore to be single in this time of celebrating and joy. Maybe parts of it are still hard, yeah. I did almost cry at work today. But that’s mostly my job.

There are situations and relationships that are a lot harder than being alone, and as I’ve gotten older, I see my friends and family go through those tough times, and feel grateful I don’t have to know them personally. My tough decisions at the moment are things like “do I absolutely need to wash my hair today?” and “is this worth getting angry about?” and “watch something new on Netflix or comfort watch a childhood cartoon?” and I am okay with that.

So I’m updating my list on how to “survive” being single at the holidays. Because you are not going to die if you are. You might feel a little lonely, you might field some awkward questions, you might eat too much or drink too much or roll your eyes right back into your head at some of the tasteless questions people ask but. I’m fine. And You’re fine. And we will be fine.

How to Survive Get Through Stumble Make it Persist Through Enjoy the Holidays When You’re Single

  1. Decide if you’re going to ignore or embrace the holiday. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend nothing is happening, it’s just another day, and get on with it. Sometimes it’s easier to throw yourself into festivities. Listen to your heart and do what you want. And you can change your mind! One year I was TOTALLY AGAINST IT and then last minute brought in a large branch from the backyard and decorated it, so. Do you.
  2. Turn on your Tinder and update your location. That goes for all dating apps you’re on. I have found my matchability increases in certain geographical locations, and it’s fun and an ego boost and can be as harmless as you want it to be. 
  3. Do not call your ex. Do not text your ex. Do not stalk your ex on social media. There is a reason and probably LOTS of reasons why you are not together on normal days and those reasons are somehow forgotten on holidays but DO NOT LET THEM BE FORGOTTEN.
  4. Do a conscious thing to relieve the stress of the holidays. Some years I decide not to buy any presents, and I just donate money somewhere. Some years I get everyone the exact same thing. Some years I book a trip to another country and skip it. You decide.
  5. Do buy yourself a present. Whatever is too embarassing to put on a list for anyone who might ask, get yourself. For me, it’s usually laser hair removal. Last year was the Harry Potter movie collection. Bless yourself. 
  6. Adopt the other holiday orphans. There will always be people around you who can’t get home for the holidays. I invited them to my house for some spaghetti and card games. Now I have things to do and people to be with!
  7. Clean things. Work out. Organize your socks. Make a list and tackle that ish. Productivity feels great and keeps you busy and keeps you from calling/texting/online stalking your ex.
  8. Get an accountability partner to make sure that you do not call your ex. Honestly. The holidays have this “does he still think of me?” tint to it and it is dangerous. 
  9. Accept the love of strangers and friends and family. People will be worried about you. Whenever I’m away for Christmas, friends reach out and invite me over, and all older women ask how my momma is handling it. I’ve been invited to different churches, to people’s homes, to the traditional Jewish Christmas of Chinese food and movies. I’ve had my hand held by old gay men who wanted to take me drinking, and offered recipes for “a really good roast. You need good food, dear.” I’ve been surprised with packages from family, friends, and even a relative stranger from church! Love is good. Allow yourself to be loved.
  10.  Get to church. Sing the songs, pray the prayers, feel the feels. I always leave church happier than when I came.
  11. Do good. That’s what the holidays should be about. Volunteer somewhere. Bake goodies to drive around to your favorite homeless people. Write random Facebook messages to friends you haven’t talked to in a while. Sprinkle love via text messages. Let your mom know you’re okay. Take silly pictures of yourself to send to your siblings.
  12. If you are alone, Enjoy being alone. A few years ago, I would have been swimming in my own tears just thinking about being alone on Christmas, but now I’m like, “hey, my roomie is gone, I can take a bubble bath for hours, mimosas all to myself, set my laptop up next to the bath and watch chick flicks until my toes turn to raisins.” I won’t have to wear a bra for three days, my dishes will go unwashed, and I will get to sleep-in uninterrupted. I can control the heating system, play music at all hours, cry when I need to and dance when I want to.
  13. Get into Nature. Everything feels better outside. And your problems feel smaller in the best way when you look at the wonder and beauty of Earth in a big way.
  14. Indulge. Having lived in four distinct cultures now, I can say with authority that American culture is not one that respects rest. It is vital for mental, emotional, and spiritual health to have times where you are deep into what gives you peace. 
  15. Remember, this is just another day, and you’re no less of a person if you’re single today than you were when you were single yesterday, or when you’re still single tomorrow. Maybe it looks like everyone in your Facebook feed is winning at life with the rate of proposals, marriages, babies, promotions, marathons, traveling, etc. that everyone but you seems to be doing. But you’re on your own path. March on, soldier. March on.

With as much wine and chocolate and Netflix and Youtubes of puppies and late night chats as is necessary.

Coming Home-ish

home is sitting in the backseat while my dog helps my grandma drive.

I’ve lived abroad for five years (six if you count the flash year I lived in North Carolina (much of the South could qualify as another country, to be sure)). So when I come “home-ish,” which is where my mom cooks and the dogs are, it is a capital B Big Deal for me.

There is preparation involved: I make a playlist for the plane ride, crowdsource via Instagram for books to load on my Kindle and probably not read, strategize over when to take a sleeping pill to minimize jet lag. I plan a facebook status update, incessantly check weather and turbulence reports, and prioritize food to eat while Stateside.

It’s work, people. 

In the end, despite all good intentions and years of practice, I usually have some wine, stare at the suitcases for an hour, hope a packing fairy sneaks into my apartment and does it all for me, and then throw things in a bag, knowing that as long as I have the essentials (glasses, mouthguard, comfy shoes) I will be okay. Because in beautiful, sweet, blessed America, there is Target. If I need to buy underwear and hair dye in the same hour I pick up a gallon of milk and redecorate my home, I could get it done. It’s what America is all about. It’s what the pilgrims came here for. Like, for sure.

home is a Giants game and a local IPA.

As organized as I think I am, every year I also discover boxes of clothes I stashed away in a relative’s closet from last time. Or the time or time before. Which makes for a mini-Christmas as I open each box and say “I had forgotten about this dress!” Then it becomes slightly depressing because “ah…. thanks, my thirties and Hong Kong – that dress no longer fits!” But I donate now, instead of holding on to them and pretending I’m about to spontaneously lose twenty pounds. The spirit of Marie Kondo’s Netflix special hovering over me, I thank them for the joy we shared together, and then donate them to those that need a floral or mustard yellow anything (it’s my spirit color).

my cinders…an actual angel on earth

I come home to the States most summers with big plans and ideas, and enthusiastically accomplish all the ones that have to do with food. My goals are always to spend time with my dogs and my family, and see friends if possible. Moving away and coming back sporadically speeds up the natural shakedown of friendships that occurs from your late twenties into your thirties. Instead of feeling like I need to see everyone I ever knew, I now just follow up on the people who reach out to me and can accommodate when I say “so, driving kind of scares me now. And I’m on a no-makeup, yoga pants every day kind of vibe for the next five weeks, and never want to leave my dogs. How does that work for you?” and see if they text back after that.

It always delights me to see who is in fact, able to work with my weird. Former drama teachers/babysitters/small group leaders/students/childhood soccer teammates cool enough to say “yeah, that’s fine. Let’s catch up.”

love these women and the example they are for me

Because people are generally lovely.

One of my most treasured annual home-ish traditions is to go camping. This year, my sister Jenna and I went to Donner Lake, one of my favorite spots. If you don’t know, the Donner party were CANNIBALS! They got stuck in snow crossing a sketchy mountain pass and basically all ate each other. There’s a museum and all this history we learn as young Californians and I have always had a morbid fascination with the tale. So I like to camp on those spooky grounds.

There’s a lake and meadows and normal camp stuff, too. FYI. But CANNIBALS.

We had a magical campsite with hardly any children around and nothing behind us except a meadow. We’d brought an eight person tent, which gave the two of us just enough room to not kill each other over four days. It’s important to plan for a little space and grace in camping, because I usually bring round tablecloths for a square table, or grab folding tables instead of the right amount of chairs.

There are so many things I love about camping. I love getting out to nature and seeing how dirty I can get before I gross myself out and pay for a shower. Dirt collects around my feet until I look like a hobbit and I’m almost ready to fish through the seat cushions of my mom’s car for quarters for a shower but then we head to the lake. And going in a lake counts as a shower. Science. 

I love that the only appropriate music while camping is country or classic rock. One must eat bacon every morning. And the perfume that is citronella and sunscreen and campfire. I love that it feels absolutely necessary to have certain snacks while camping that we never have in normal life, like onion dip and salami sandwiches. That everyone becomes a ruthless Vegas cardshark while camping.

these little buttholes . . .

I make a massive, detailed Pinterest board for every camping trip I take, full of creative “hacks” and ideas. And then we just de the same thing my family’s been doing for 40 odd years of camping – premade spaghetti and taco salad for dinner, overpack the snacks, and rely on gas stations for the essentials we forget. 

The rebel in me and the teacher in me loves being challenged by the absence of rules or real sense of time and proper behavior when camping.  We just set up the tent, so, beer? Yes. It’s 9am, so, s’mores on that fire we just made for coffee? OF COURSE. We caught nothing at fishing today, and that looks like a restaurant, should we stop? VAMONOS!

lake day!

We buy things from REI that we probably don’t need that never fit back into their tiny packages and eat Cheezits and read a book a day and stare at flames for six to seven hours every night. And call it a massive win. Camping was beautiful this year, as it always is. Thanks, sister.

Another favorite summer ritual is hanging out with my bestie Traci, dancing to songs from college, eating everything in my parents’ pantry, snuggling into bed to watch terrible reality TV and staying up all night like we’re 19 and invincible again.

this chicken nugget is getting MAWWIED

In all the catching up with friends over this summer, one person I have particularly missed is my baby sister, Sophie, who has moved to Tennessee and is getting married in a few weeks! I am so happy for her, even if I was so sad this summer to miss all the normal time we spent getting dressed in workout clothes to drive to frozen yogurt shops, and then laying in bed all day watching movies we knew all the words to. Day drinking by the pool and telling the dogs we’d throw ourselves in front of trains for them. Plotting to marry Channing Tatum or Mr. Darcy. 

people let me tell you bout my be-est friend.

I’ve spent all of my thirties abroad. I turned 30 in Puerto Rico and have hopped around the world since then. Ten, fifteen years ago, had you asked me, I would have said my thirties would be spent raising kids and coaching their various sports teams and driving a minivan and finding french fries in the center console. I would have pictured a somewhat beat up house in Pleasant Hill, close to where my parents raised me, bikes on the front lawn, dogs peering over the fence and paperwhite flowers under the windows, smelling like a little bit of heaven, just like I had growing up. My sisters and best friends would live on the same cul-de-sac, and we’d raise tribes of well-educated, kind, feminist, multi-lingual cool as kids together. Enough for our own soccer teams. There’d be Fourth of July Pancakes at the Senior Citizens Center, chaperoning field trips to Rodgers Ranch to learn about goats and churning butter, and walking on the Contra Costa Canal to feed the ducks, casually embarrassing my kids by pointing out the bench I got my first kiss on.

My other life plans included starring on Saturday Night Live and then flawlessly transitioning to an Oscar and record deals. Alas.

My current and ever-evolving life is so far from that, God has to be laughing at my plans. I picture this almighty being cry-laughing, wiping away tears, looking at me fondly from the Heavens, chuckling with my guardian angels, saying “ah, Rachel. You do amuse me.”

this little creature from our hotel in Nashville . . . prob not a guardian angel. but like LOOK AT HIM.

Meanwhile my guardian angels (I’m assuming I get at least two, due to travel and personality demands) are begging “please, Lord, a different assignment. She is so troublesome. We’d really like a win. This one feels much more like a general public warning.”

If I am a general public warning, then that means I have some regrets to speak to and let you all learn from my wisdom. Let me dig deep here for a moment and see if I have any truly important lessons to depart that I’ve learned from these last few weeks at home. 

In no particular order:

  1. Tell your truth. Maybe not with everyone. But with those who have earned the right to hear it.
  2. Wear sunscreen and drink water and do crossword puzzles.
  3. Show up. In a text, in a meme, in a call, in a letter, on the front step. Show up.
  4. Eat when you’re hungry. Sleep when you’re tired. Laugh if it’s funny.
  5. It’s lovely to be bored.
  6. Love and live with no expectation of return on investment. 
  7. Because lists should be in sevens . . . if it’s not great, add Ranch dressing.

Until next time, California!

birthdays, how to friend, first dates, ritz crackers. days

Feb 21 – Day Eleven – Happy birthday, Jenna!

“isn’t she perdy” – said in grandma great voice

It’s my sister’s birthday today! She’s celebrating in Seattle with our aunts and cousins. Family birthdays are something I always miss about living abroad. Everyone in the living room, discussing the dogs, eating Los Panchos or Zacharys (the only two food establishments my family truly needs), talking loudly over each other, Gma Jackie hitting the harmony at the tail end of “Happy Birthday.” And then eating Mom’s yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting. And then reminiscing about all the cake disasters we’ve had over the years. Good times.

I haven’t been home for Jenna’s birthday in probably five or six years, since living abroad. But she was really there for me for the 30th birthday. I had just broken up with my boyfriend, who I had moved across the country for, and just driven back home, across the entire dang country (shout out to Seghs!) in a kind of depressed, shame-ridden, unemployed funk.

The only point of joy in my life was my mom’s dog, Kismet Oreo, who was the ball of fluff I needed to have a reason to get out of bed every day.

And I was about to turn 30.

Oh, joy.

your birthday . . . santa maria . . . 2008!? I dont know! but we liked it!

I had thought, like most girls who spend the tail end of their twenties in a serious relationship, I’d be spending my thirtieth year, for some reason a huge number year, planning a wedding in a rustic barn in North Carolina, finding a perfect teaching job so I could quit the bartending I had taken up on the side, thinking about raising kids barefoot on a goat rescue farm.

Instead, I had moved back in with my parents and was trying to convince the dog that she liked going on walks. Because walking was the only thing I could do where my body wouldn’t let me cry at the same time. And I carved a footpath in the Iron Horse Trail those few months, walking and walking until the big part of me that was in pain figured out how to be smaller.

I sometimes get really depressed and weird around my birthday, and it was especially so around this birthday, and Jenna decided that instead of sitting around waiting for 30 to happen to me, we could take a trip.

must. go. back.

So we went to Puerto Rico. Jenna found an amazing AirBnb, we rented a car, we explored, we tanned, we ate. On my birthday, she let me sit in the kiddie pool on the roof and kept bringing me margaritas all day and let me be a tiny bit of a wreck because she cares and I’ll never forget that trip. I think she let me watch like five episodes of “The X-Files” that day. MULDER! I LOVE YOU!

Love you Jen! Happy bday. Thanks for always being there.

Feb 22 – Day Twelve – How to friend

I joined this group called Girl Gone International when I first moved to HK, and it’s been a total Godsend to be in a community (and several very active Whatsapp groups) with like-minded women who have moved abroad, are away from family and the familiar, and are trying to make Hongkers home. We do happy hours, brunches, birthdays, and give and take great advice. It’s sweet. This week I went to a different kind of event – girl power embroidery and champagne free flow.


i’ve already tried learning how to knit. but. knitting is for morons, anyway.

We started with introductions, and I ended up having mutual friends with three of them, and quite a few were teachers. Then we got to sewing instruction. I felt the spirit of my Gma Susi smiling on me as I learned how to cross stitch super simple patterns. I felt like a rockstar. The bubbles were adding to the confidence, but as the night wore on, definitely not to my concentration. My piece still sits unfinished in a ziploc bag in my living room, but I’m excited about picking it up again soon.

is….is this penguin my friend?

During the introductions, although we were hailing from South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, California (I don’t say I’m from the States anymore), and Chile, the common denominator at our table was a sense of being slightly overwhelmed in Hong Kong, but wanting to make friends, and glad we’d found the GGI group to help.

Making new friends in your thirties is just about as hard as dating. Where do you find new people? What do you talk about? How do you sustain the friendship when we work and travel as much as we do? How do you get people to answer text messages and commit to activities at a rate that makes you feel like you do have a genuine friendship?

When we were younger, we met people all the time with school and sports, family friends, activities, summer camps, etc. Now it requires much more of an effort.

I’m glad I’ve found others also willing to make it.

Feb 23 – Day 13 – First date jitters

Awhile back, I said I was done with the online dating. I had a pretty terrible experience, blogged about it, it ended up getting worse. A week after I had said no thank you to seeing more of him, there were some nasty text messages and it got a bit scary, so I took the blog down to try and end it. Being a female is hard.

I had started talking to another guy on Tinder. He was older, too, because the older ones are usually more likely to strike up a convo and keep it going to the point where you actually meet up. Younger guys (and my age guys) are there for hookups and the dopamine hit of being “liked” back, I think. The conversations rarely go further than “hey.”

But this guy and I had been chatting nonstop. He was sarcastic, had a lot to say, also in education, handsome, etc. This went on for two weeks and I had to be the one who said we should move it to Whatsapp. And then I had to ask if he was ever going to ask me out on a date. He eventually did, and we decided to meet up and go see a light installation I’ve been wanting to see, and I asked him to figure out the bar. He named a place, and when I told everyone I know that I finally had another first date and the place we were going, I was promptly informed that said bar had closed. Perhaps it was a bad omen I should have paid more attention to at the time. Alas.

so quotable.

So he found another place, a British pub, and we agreed to meet up on Friday.

For SIX DAYS I had the absolute nerviest of nerves. Because what if it’s amazing? What if this is the first date that ends all other first dates? Based on what I know about him, I have already plotted out the rest of our lives together.

What if this first actual meeting is a story we end up telling over and over for forever?

I actually googled “things to do on a first date” and “things to talk about on a first date” and “things NOT to talk about on a first date.” As if I have ever met a stranger or ever had problems talking to someone in my life. But when we play this whole dating game, especially in our thirties and living abroad and online so much, the point is, at least for me, to find THE ONE that will be there for the rest of this life. So I get nervous. I pace in front of my closet in a towel, texting my friends, trying to invent last minute excuses for canceling on a date. I can’t word. I giggle and sweat. I swear too much and say things I shouldn’t, share things I shouldn’t on a first date. Or any date.

The flipside of “Because what if it’s amazing?!” is “But what if it sucks?”

What if after texting nonstop for two weeks, we come to find out that there is no IRL (in real life) connection? No genuine spark?

What if, because we feel disappointed by that, and upset by that, but feel like we have to be nice about it all, we pretend that there is? And just go along with things for a while, perhaps too long, to the point where we realize that this is leading someone on, but by now it is too late?

What then?

What could happen that would be okay then, that doesn’t leave you feeling a bit sad, and upset with yourself, and the system and the world and the patriarchy and anything else handy to blame this on . . . and missing the texting conversations you’d had, while knowing it would be unkind to keep dating someone when you’re sure there is no future.

First dates are too hard. I can’t do this much longer. I just one want more. Please and thank you.

Feb 24 – Day 14 – happy bday month, gma susi

happy birthday month, gma susi. been thinking about you a lot lately. wish i could share these teaching adventures with you. you’d get such a kick out of the places i get to go and the people i get to meet. but, rest assured, kids are the same anywhere and everywhere. i give and get lots of hugs.

You died before i moved to north carolina. You died thinking i was running off to marry that boy at that time. We’d gotten to talk a little bit about my first four years of teaching, but nothing since. You dont know that i lived in brazil for three years! That i saw the most beautiful beaches and capybaras and antartica and monkeys crashed church service. You dont know about Carnaval, and wine country in Argentina, and salt cathedrals in Colombia, and that I can speak Portuguese now.

You dont know I moved to hong kong, and have been tramping all over asia now, and seen so many things. That im considered tall here, and delightfully fat to the point im pointed out of stores, and that i make constant blunders with asian culture.

I’ve seen japan, thailand, cambodia, vietnam, malaysia, the philippines, indonesia, korea, macau. Youd love it. I teach all English language learners! How much we’d have to talk about.

Sometimes when i think about you, when something like Ritz crackers, or the Oregon trail, or caffeine free diet coke, or sewing, or teaching first grade comes up, i can hear you talking, looking over the rim of your glasses at me, your big bottom lip sticking out, your painted nails clicking the pen as you worked on the crossword puzzle at the back of a “People” magazine, head shaking just slightly, hair thinning and curly on the top of your head.

“Now, Rachel . . . “ you’d always say to me. All your sentences started with “Now, Rachel . . . “

I’ve spent more time with primary teachers now, and I understand you better. How it’s not something you can turn off so much. I want to ask you questions, like: How to deal with crazy parents, and how to deal with administration that just doesn’t get it. I want to ask you how you celebrated the 100th day of school, how you found the energy to drive to Antioch and teach every day for so long, how you differentiated your learning, how you did it all without a learning assistant or computers or the internet.

you would love that i wear this to work every year.

How on the weekends you still puff-painted shirts for us and made jumpers and flower girl dresses and later sewed my prom dresses and costumes for “West Side Story” and “Grease.” My God. You were a wonder woman and I didn’t know it enough at the time and I’m sorry but I will say it now.

You are amazing. You’re still with me. As long as a “MRS/MS/MISS WEIGHT!!!!” still rings out in excitement every school day morning, you’re still with me.

i will never forget seeing that for the first time. nearly ten years ago.

r2hk: rio roomie reunion (wrapping up the first year in HK with a bang)

light show goodness!

Not a day goes by where I don’t wonder at where I live. Out my window, I see apartment buildings higher than anything I’ve been in in California, and the earthquake-ometer all Bay Area natives have installed at birth goes off.

The buildings are lit up and look lovely. I’ve been on some of those high floors and felt the dizzying pull of the wind in my hair at the edge of the balcony and stepped back, afraid of what I might do out there, just to see what it felt like.

IMG_7512 2
she’s beautiful, isn’t she

Hong Kong – international, finance center, travel base – a sexy, free, crazy place to live. You’re not wrong.

It does and yet doesn’t feel like it’s been a year since I moved. Only a million things have happened, I’ve learned a LOT about the world around me and about myself. I’ve made incredible friends and visited parts of the world I never dreamed of.

It’s been heckin hard some days, especially the early days, when cockroaches would jump onto my boobs in early mornings as I made coffee, or when I had to move apartments by myself, uphill both ways, during a typhoon. Or when everything with my rent/visa/bank/phone/job went wrong at all times. But I wouldn’t trade it.

I’m just about used to living in HK. And something about friends coming to visit you and getting to feel like an expert makes a place feel more like home. And not just any kind of friend – former roomies and colleagues, friends-who-have-done-major-life-with-you friends.

cheers to you and the way we love and support each other through all the things

Nine years ago, my first year of teaching, I overheard Leana and our friend Jill talking about “Twilight” in the staff room and casually mentioned I liked it, too (I refuse to be embarrassed about this, as my passion at the time for the book/movie series landed me on the front page of the Huffington Post with a very popular and somewhat controversial article, and more importantly, scored me some friends). We ended up seeing it together, traveling together, living together.

When I was quietly losing my mind and ending a big relationship in North Carolina four years later, Leana came to visit and convinced me to teach abroad with her in Brazil. Which is where we shared an apartment with Anysia, from Texas. The three of us went through a lot of beach days, karaoke singalongs, youtube marathons, caipirinhas, boy drama and work drama that sealed our friendship forever. Last year, we reunioned in Boise, Idaho, where Leana had resettled. And a year later, the girls flew out to meet me in my new home – Hong Kong.


It takes a lot of effort to coordinate a trip from around the world, and ours started off with some plane delay hiccups, during which I introduced Anysia to the wonderful world of soup dumplings and airport wine. When the three of us were finally together, I just kept looking around and thinking “of course we’re together.” It was the most natural thing in the world and I’m so lucky to have friends like that. We settled back at my house (after the casual six flights of stairs with heavy luggage . . . heh heh) and just chatted and snacked away until I forced myself to bed. I still had two days of work to get through before it was my summer break.

The girls recovered some jetlag and explored my hipster haven neighborhood before meeting me at work for happy hour. I work with some of the funnest people on the planet, and we shared a round of drinks before we tripped happily through SoHo and Central to the Star Ferry to meet our friends for dinner.

anysia actually asleep at a bar.

When we taught in Rio, we met this Australian couple, Nathan and Esther, who have since re-relocated to Hong Kong and are basically the reason why I’m there now, so it was amazing for all of us to be together again, especially with their 3 year old daughter Elsie who defines ‘precocious.’ She took to her two new aunties right away, especially because she was wearing the dress Anysia had bought her when she was just an infant in Brazil. We ate Italian, watched the light show, and then met Nathan for a World Cup game at a neighborhood bar, where Anysia stretched out and fell asleep.

Friday was my last day at work; bittersweet, knowing I was saying goodbye to so many students and two of my favourite work friends. But it felt good to wrap up what had been a successful first year and be offered opportunities for leadership roles in the future.

my roommates and the unsung heroes and the best guys you will ever know.

Friday night was an adventure through Lan Kwai Fong, which is a somewhat gross but definitely entertaining corner in Hong Kong where adults go to act like they did in college, with a curious mix of kids in college, families, old business guys, and plucky refugees selling light-up Minnie Mouse ears and temporary balloons (I may or may not have bought both of these at some point).

Anything goes in LKF. You buy “cheap” beers at “Club 7-11” (the two most profitable 7-11s in the entire world are in this neighborhood) and stand on a curb and watch the chaos happen around you. We ended up at a dance club boogeying to a cover band and then getting some shawarma from Kebabs and Pizza, a cash-only joint run by some of the hardest working guys in Hong Kong.

The next day was a bit rough for us all, and also had a storm warning. (“We can’t possibly go out in this maybe rain!”)  So we flashbacked to rainy Rio days, snuggled up on the couch, ordered delivery, and used my roomie’s work projector to watch youtubes, ‘Twilight,’ and some other eye candy garbage I can’t remember. We never got dressed or brushed teeth. We giggled and napped. It was glorious.

Nathy and Esty!

Sunday we did what people in their 30s with expendable incomes do best – we brunched. Nathan recommended this amazing free-flow place with a mimosa brunch and oysters (which Anysia totally loved – please follow up with her on this) and a view that reminded you what made Hong Kong so unique. We sat at a table and the bubbles and brunchies kept coming, we made friends with the Portuguese and the Italian and the ladies in the bathroom, and belly-laughed until we were the last ones there and they were asking if we would leave. We took some iconic photos, picked our next drinking hole, and off we went.

Well, first, one of us picked the most inopportune time to need the bathroom for a very long time. And we missed ubers. And cabs. And got sweaty. And I won’t mention names. But I bring it up because I think the freedom to talk about poop is lifelong friend freedom. And I love it. So there.

IMG_7528Our next watering hole happened to be *the* highest up bar on God’s green earth. The lobby was inexplicably decorated with jars filled with Starburst, which we quickly poured into purses and munched on for the next several days. But going 100 something stories up, the elevator ride alone required me to be quite tipsy. Luckily, I was!

my babes

We had incredible views, Elsie joined us, we munched on popcorn, ordered caipirinhas, reminisced about our years together and caught up since the years since. A storm passed through and we stayed, parting at the last minute so we could go pack for Thailand.

The girls and I trudged back to my apartment, packed up for Thailand, and Leana and I watched some Carpool Karaoke for good measure (highly and shamelessly recommend Paul McCartney and One Direction!). The next day was Thailand for the three of us, and good sleep was required.

We didn’t get it. We were all too anxious slash excited. But we had good intentions, and that’s what matters sometimes. I’ll catch you up on Thailand in the next post. Until then – loveyoumissyouwishyouwerehere.


Rachel to Hong Kong: 7 days to go

Today marks the first day of my last week stateside before I move to Hong Kong. As I keep saying, at some point I should probably start getting ready for that. I put in a good college try today – spentIMG_0204 three hours wandering through Target, came home with an adapter, three items of clothing I never needed (but cuuuuuute), tampons, allergy meds, a storage tub, and PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE CREAMER. I am so pleased. I do not care how ‘basic’ you think I am for enjoying this – I am allowed to spend my own money on something possibly toxic for my body that tastes nothing like pumpkin and is not spicy and gives me pretty intense bowel movements afterwards (still learning to respect my lactose intolerance).

at some point i will have to decide between the packability of each piece of decor…

I’ve filled up two bags of Goodwill stuff and packed what I think is a solid amount of things. I can only have 50lbs per bag before I get charged an extra $200, and I was used to 70lbs for my trips to Brazil, so this is an adjustment. Plus I am sharing a 732 square foot apartment with 3 other women and two dogs…so…that’s 122 square foot per individual and I think my behind alone is like three square feet of goodness, so I am trying to be minimal. Pro tip – do not look up “minimal living” if you are trying to pack for that kind of life. You will spiral down a rabbit hole of Pinterest and websites and some BS from Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop nonsense pops up and no one has cares for that.


One of my friends asked me if I was feeling more excited or panicky. I think I’m oscillating between the two feelings every, oh, I don’t know, five minutes or so. Because the date of departure is so near, I’ve now entered a phase of irrational fears where I’m worried I’ll get a terminal illness between now and Saturday, or after Saturday in a foreign country. WebMD does a great job validating every minor pain I feel and turning it into certain death.

i heart you, iron horse trail. thanks for being a friend every day.

I’m worried about living in a city and not getting enough Vitamin D and devolving to the point where I start hissing in sunlight. I’m worried the time zone will make it really difficult to keep in touch, and try as I might I can’t get the dogs to figure out texting or Skype.


I’m trying to balance these fears with logic, and it helps to talk to people about why I’m going to Hong Kong and just a few facts about it. I’ve been all over the States, Europe, Central and South America, even Antartica! One of my majors in college was Latin American studies, so this will be a completely new experience for me in every way. So let’s look at some basics people have been asking me and I should probably know the answers to.

Where is Hong Kong? Here’s a map.

flight sfo to hk map

That’s my 15 hour non-stop flight from SFO to Hong Kong. Oddly enough, HK is at latitude 22 degrees north, and Rio de Janeiro, my last abroad situation, was at 22 degrees south.

It’s one of the three most expensive places to live in the world – San Francisco and New York being the other two. It has more skyscrapers than any other place in the world. It has one restaurant or cafe for every 600 people, and everyone I’ve talked to mentions the food as being the best part about Hong Kong. This is not something I need it do well – I’ll be trying to work off five months in the States!

The official languages are Cantonese and English, and the predominant religion is Buddhism. The weather is described as humid, tropical, with cyclones and storms and rain and such, but very air-conditioned whenever you’re inside, so you always need a sweater.

It’s a 3 hour flight to Bangkok, a 4-5 hour flight from Japan, and 8 hours to Australia. And turns out a lot of it is protected areas full of hills to hike and views to instagram and trees to shade me from even more sun-induced freckles (your thirties really are different, aren’t they?!). OH and you’re supposed to eat noodles on your birthday for good luck.

And that’s kind of all I know, besides some stuff about major holidays and cultural things I’m sure I’ll get more into when I move there in a freaking week. I’m getting picked up at the airport at 7am Hong Kong time by my live in helper, Ella, who will have a sign with my name on it. My work visa isn’t complete, so I will enter on a tourist visa and then make a day trip out of the country when my work visa comes in to make it valid. I start work August 3rd, hopefully.

IMG_0212The packing process is something else…I have to ask myself questions like “do I really need the banana costume AND the shark AND the penguin ANd the hotdog AND the Trex AND all my onesies??!” My instinct says yes, my physical living space and the tiny part of my brain that resides in reality says “NO YOU MORON NO.”

I’m used to humidity and walking everywhere from having lived in Brazil, but I need to be more choosey now because of weight and space limits. Luckily the food is more international in HK and I’ll be paid a living wage, so I’m trying to limit my “comfort” items to ranch dressing, taco seasoning, spaghetti, and packets of hot sauce my bestie absconded from a taco truck in Brooklyn.

IMG_0162 2While I’m still sad about what was happening at my last school that led me to quit my job and come home and spend nearly five months here, I can’t regret any of the time I’ve spent here.

This last week I got to hang out with my college best friends for the first time in two years all together. There is nothing in the world like carrying on the never-ending conversation you’ve been having since you were 18 with the people who know you and love you best in the world.

I keep saying to myself “you are not scared – you are brave and you are not scared.” And I am hoping that if I say this often enough, I will start to believe it and live that as my truth. What’s cool is that whenever I start to get really freaked out, God throws something at me to keep me going.

IMG_0208I was cleaning up today and found this note from a package a woman at church I didn’t even know had sent me when I had moved to North Carolina as part of a long line of bad decisions I’ve made for boys I thought I loved. One of the passages I liked the most, and keep rereading to this day, because I pack this note with me wherever I go, says this:

“I learned to love time alone – only me to keep me company….I promise you that at the end of this experience you will be your own best friend. All the sh*t right now, I PROMISE you will be so worth it. You are BRAVE…Home will always be here. You are loved and missed, (but) these are the adventures you are going to look back on and realize that they all shaped you to be the fully whole and vibrantly alive woman you are becoming.”

When I think about this decision I threw to the wind to go to Hong Kong, I remember this letter. And I think about conversations I’ve had where people, women especially, expressed a regret about not having traveled and experienced more before getting married and starting a family. It in no way competed with the joy they felt in having what they did, but I have yet to talk with someone (besides my mom, maybe) who thinks I should stay put, work on my marriageable qualities, and get the baby-making machine fired up.

Sometimes its hard to be 33, single, no kids, no car or ownership of anything outside a few suitcases. No health insurance, retirement, plan of any kind. But.

As the predictable and comfortable and lovely days of living here in the Bay Area wind down, the days of shuffling the dogs around, walking the trail, soaking up the nature and the sun, swatting at june bugs that dive-bomb my wine spritzer wind down….the days of sprinting through my parents’ hospitality and generosity…as these days slip away, I know I’m lucky to be able to pick up and go see and do things I might not even be sure I am excited about yet. I know how lucky I am to have a family that (mostly) accepts what IMG_3710I’ve determined might be my life’s purpose – to travel the world in an American flag onesie promoting a message of love and peace and democrazy and probably a local beer and an inappropriate joke or two. Also how will I meet every dog in the world if I don’t go everywhere in the world?

With a favorite quote i leave you, until I land in Hong Kong. I’ll be at least 14 hours ahead, so I’ll tell you what tomorrow looks like.

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

If you haven’t heard it yet today, and you need to, you’re more than worth a trip to everywhere.

RinR: sunsets and dumpster fires

the view from our hotel did not suck.
the view from our hotel did not suck.

It took a few days and a few chopps, a few “tudo bem?!” and many kisses, but it was waking up in the middle of the night in my own sweat to violently scratch at multiple mosquito bites sprinkled across my right love handle like a message in braille that made me finally go “ah, yes. I am home again.”

We all have those indicators after travel – the first real solid bowel movement in the comfort of your own bathroom, the first shower with all your familiar products, the first deep night’s sleep in your own bed – that let us know we have returned. For me, in this deceptively cute Rio apartment, it’s the singular experience of swinging in the hammock on the balcony that I affectionately call “the office,” cursing the constant barking of the dog across the street, tucking an ice pack into the sports bra and underwear combo that constitutes my summer look, and drinking flavorless but ice cold Brazilian beer. And also going pee in the middle of the night without a light or my glasses and confronting a cockroach as big as my face crawling over my birkenstock.

That’s when I really know.

flying always got me like "Jesus don't let me go out like this I will eat so many vegetables and much less Cheetos"
flying always got me like “Jesus don’t let me go out like this I will eat so many vegetables and much less Cheetos”

Then I know “I am home.” Home in this place that has been ‘home’ for three years, that I finally got to share with family. Gma ended our month long sojourn here in Rio – my beloved, hot, crazy, slow, colorful Rio. We earned our time here – the flight from Buenos Aires to Galeão was super hectic, friend. We were seated apart, probably for Gma’s benefit, as I turned into a right mess during the insane storm that fell upon us. We were nearly on the ground when the landing was suddenly canceled and we went from a steep downward slope to a rapid climb back into the air and I not so quietly lost my shite.

Flying has never been easy for me, and after a few incidents in the air, and then after the crash of the Brazilian soccer team, I am antsy. And mentally navigating through the emergency announcements in two languages that aren’t your native, even if you speak them, can put one on edge. I was bargaining with God the whole way and still trying to stick to my mom’s advice afterwards to keep my promises because long story short, even though I totally freaked out the small children next to me, we eventually landed and made it to the hotel I’d booked, where we monopolized the last ten open minutes at the bar and then collapsed into post-travel oblivion.

I was so happy to feel the soggy heat of Rio on my skin, to speak Portuguese, to see recognizable landmarks out the window and know where I was . . . sometimes the best part of traveling is not only where you go, but in coming home again.

Copacabana beach from our hotel! This is right where they had the Olympic vball stadium.
Copacabana beach from our hotel! This is right where they had the Olympic vball stadium.

I feel this way when I move anywhere – to Santa Barbara, to Concord, to North Carolina – nowhere was ‘home’ until someone had visited me and I could show them what it meant to live there. Only Ry has visited me here in Rio yet, so I was super excited to show it to Gma.

I overestimated our enthusiasm for adventure after a long travel already, and the heat and humidity of Rio is something to be reckoned with. So we didn’t manage to tackle all of my ambitious itinerary, but I was so happy to introduce her to my favorite beachside happy hour, my best friends down here in Brazil, to climb up to big Jesus, to stroll through Hippie Faire, and watch a few memorable sunsets slide down through the heavy clouds of a Rio summer sky.

img_1921And I was so happy for her to drink a caipirinha, to stick a toothpick into a plate of sizzling meat and aipim, and to meet some of my cariocas. I can’t even . . . I’m trying to think it, to type it . . . but what it means to me that I sent out an invite and so many of them showed up to meet my grandma, on a traffic-heavy Friday night, during vacation, and to be so kind to us . . . my heart was and is full to burst at it. Brasilians are the kindest people I have ever met. They might be late, very late. They might flake out entirely. But my friends here are so, so good. In the midst of whatever madness our work might bring, it is so good to build these memories of the people we spend life with.

img_1958Despite the toll so much time together might have taken upon us (near the end of the trip, I asked my favorite Scottish couple “how do you marry someone? How do you commit to this?! You’re signing up to hear them sleep and eat and breathe and share a shower for the rest of your life?!”) we still both cried at our parting. Four weeks together and we still like each other. A remarkable feat for any relationship. It was hard to watch Gma scan through customs and then wave goodbye at the last visible point. I called out “fly, little bird, be free!” but no one understood me because it was in English and she was too far away to hear. So I was just yelling into the void. Naturally.

Now I am back on land and probably never getting on a boat AGAIN if I can help it. I am in swinging in the hammock, and grocery shopping, and binging on Netflix, and pretending life is normal. Oh, but it is not. The election results mean that it is not.

I don’t know what to say – if I said what I really feel, people from church and even my family wouldn’t talk to me again. And if I never say anything, I’ll disappoint people who know how I really feel. A lot of people are already saying stuff, so I could just chill and keep quiet. But I also think that if we don’t start making politics more personal, and if we don’t stop generalizing large and small groups of people, we will never be able to have a conversation with anyone who isn’t just like us ever again. And I don’t want to live in any kind of place that is like that.

So I sit here, dozen of job apps flying off my fingertips into the internebula, but I don’t know if I should keep applying to work abroad and try to help people understand that no, not all Americans think like Trump does (the 9 year old Colombian I tutored today (in English, in Brazil!) expressed fear because “well, Trump says mean things, so many mean things, and there will probly be a war soon, and that makes me feel scared and I’m worried I will never go to Disneyland again.”).

a620d99174a65aaa21d4d5ef6075476fOr should I go home and *really* join every effort at resistance that I believe in? Or should I just ‘do me’ as society often encourages, forget any moral obligation or Christian obligation to fight for the widow the orphan the foreigner in my land, and just go find a cool Asian island to teach and party on for the next few years and damn the consequences and try to get tickets to the next Olympics? Do I stay in education – the one place I think makes a real difference in the life of a child and a generation? Do I try something else?

10 years ago, protesting cuts to higher education and lobbying senators and generally screaming and giggling about everything. 22 me was very excitable but it's all different now.
10 years ago, protesting cuts to higher education and lobbying senators and generally screaming and giggling about everything. 22 me was very excitable but it’s all different now.

There has been a thing going around my friends on Facebook, this “10 year look back” to see how much you’ve changed. Ten years ago I was protesting everything from cuts to higher education to scabs to term limits from Berkeley to LA to DC to Sacramento and always yelling about something in Santa Barbara.

A few days ago I got fired up and I went to the small but heartfelt Women’s March here in Rio and I remember, and I feel so much and so deeply, and my spiritual gift is truly to yell enthusiastically for hours without end about something I feel passionate about and then I accidentally end up the loudest voice on the march.

2017-01-22-photo-00000377I remember how important things are to me, and the things I want to believe in that could truly make America the greatest – that we can march, that we can yell, question, ask for truth and transparency. That we can demand to be heard by the people in the offices we pay for.

We are a country made up of so many people that no official national language exists. That we honor all religions, races, and reasons we might be different from each other. That we offer home to all refugees and have the best food on the planet.

very important photo
very important photo. cheeks for days still in full effect.

I found a very old picture of my sisters and me. We’re young, dressed in matching clothes, and my hair is straight somehow. I can recall the rose bush that sprawls behind us, and the metal playground that was to my left in the photo that always burned your skin in the hot sun, and the weeping willow tree beyond.

I was at Strandwood Elementary, we swam on the Dolfins, played soccer for AYSO, had pancake breakfasts every Fourth of July served by senior citizens, watched fireworks at College Park, and cheered every Tuesday night for my dad’s softball team full of his high school buddies. We walked to Eastman video to rent movies, there was no downtown, and the tune of the ice cream man threw us into fits. We had family fiestas via Taco Bell. Ahhhh pintos n cheese. Still brings me back. Water from the hose and come in when the streetlights go out.

I don’t know when I will find someone smart and interesting enough to marry, and when we will have kids (this is my not so subtle dare to God to make this man show up because I am in need of a solid cuddle and someone to think I am cute and fun).

me on the mondayest of mondays
me on the mondayest of mondays

At this point in my life, I don’t even know what country I will be living in for the next few years where I might stumble upon said imaginary man (I also hope he has a beard, God? But whatever you think is best). But when I do have children, I hope it is in a world that was as lovely and kind and as full of opportunity as the one I grew up in.

img_2044Until then I will keep trying to help the ones you have assigned me to. It looks like they need it.

I live in cidade maravilhosa, on the beach, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, which is every single girl’s FAVORITE DAY (to eat sushi and watch/read feminist agenda-esque material) and then it’s Carnaval in Brasil. I love the people I live with, work with, and know what I do is important and has an impact, even if I never get to see it this side o’ heaven.

The white house administration and their decisions and the fallout is a dumpster fire. 2016-7 also took Carrie Fisher and Mary Tyler Moore from me, two women I have loved and adored.

16178384_888720940924_1908711533790448520_oThe very glaciers I sailed past are falling apart and the cycles of global warming are churning consequences.

But there is always beauty in the ashes – a kid screaming that he missed me over the Christmas break, a late night crying and laughing and smashing the patriarchy with good friends, karaoke with a four year old.

we live in a beautiful world. yeah we do, yeah we do. and oh how I want Jesus to come back but not yet. lets redeem this world just a bit while we can, shall we? I’m in if you’re in.

And if you haven’t heard it yet today and you need to – you are worth it.

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