Gingberbread House Competition

Yes, yes, you are at the right blog. Although I’ve never given you dear reader, nor my real life friends, any reason to believe I would be “craftsy” or “homemaker-y,” I nonetheless hosted my first annual Gingerbread House Competition this last Sunday. After all, if you run races, you’re probably competitive, even if it does involve an activity one never does. Bring it!

After dropping all pretense that this event was a festive holiday party, I invited some likely participants and gave them the rules: Everyone starts with the same store bought kit. Using multiple kits is allowed, but apart from the cardboard base, EVERYTHING MUST BE EDIBLE and for the most part created on-site during the competition (e.g., you can bring candy canes but if you’re transforming them, it must be done on-site). The competition – I mean, “party” – would last a total of six hours, after which we would choose a winner.

Four warriors showed up for battle at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, each ready to be crowned champion. Three of us had done internet research and were sure we had the winning design. Further, in the spirit of competition, one friend showed up with a decorating kit containing 40 or so frosting tips, while another had ordered special candy canes from England. Shit was about to get real.

The housing structures were assembled the night before since they took three hours to set, so we set out right away to decorate. One friend was so focused that she hardly spoke, ate nothing, and did not even take a smoke break. We finally tapped out at 2:30 p.m. Seriously, this was physically and mentally draining. We had originally thought we’d pitch in $10-20, have a blind vote (you couldn’t vote for yourself), and the winner would take the pot. But truthfully, three of us had already spent a small fortune decorating these $15 gingerbread houses.

Below are the four contestants with descriptions. I love how different each of them were. The winner is revealed at the end.

  1.  Gingerbread House. This house stayed with tradition and shines in execution, color, and technique. Subtle additions like the outlines elevate the structure and the colors give it a real 60s-70s hippy vibe. This is a happy house.
  2. White Christmas. Since this house was sans color, it focuses on textures and detailed additions, such as the chimney, firewood, tree, fence, and stone path. A most elegant house…made of really disgusting sugar items.
  3. Peppermint Palace. Painstaking sugar cube brick placement. The candy cane path is comprised of special candy canes flown in from the UK. My husband said that men would like this the most – I did have one guy friend confirm, but otherwise, no further data.
  4. Cabin in the Woods. I mean, come on. Look at the frosting detail on this house! From the scalloped roof to the log cabin effect, all the result of careful and tedious wrist work. My friend even dyed the frosting at my house. Her mastery of sugar and liquid is well-represented.

Ginger1AGinger1BGinger1CGinger2AGinger2BGinger2C

Ginger3AGinger3BGinger3CGinger4AGinger4BGinger4C

Results:

Well, among the four of us, it was a tie: White Christmas and Cabin in the Woods. I later posted it on Facebook and let others chime in. In that poll, what I like to call the People’s Choice Awards, White Christmas ran away with the race. We have already started planning and plotting for next year. It was intense and a blast — my favorite kind of social activity.

What about you? Let me know your favorite!

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Note: We are not necessarily seated behind our houses.

Book Review: What I Learned From Ronda Rousey’s “My Fight/Your Fight”

At not yet 29 years old, and among her many accomplishments, Ronda Rousey has a New York Times bestselling autobiography out, and this fan set out to read it in the hopes of getting some tips. You know, just in case I need to debilitate someone with an armbar in a confined octagonal-shaped space.

Disclaimer: Rousey’s voice shines through in this book. Meaning, it’s filled with a lot of hyperbolic, aggro, alpha-dog language. So while I cringed at some of the sentences and “lessons,” it was comforting to know that this really is Ronda telling her story.

The chapters on her childhood, as well as her ongoing relationship with her mother, are informative in explaining where Rousey gets her aggression and drive, and it should be noted that not only is Ronda’s mother quite accomplished, but the book is co-authored by her sister Maria Ortiz, a journalist who contributes for various publications, including ESPN. So while not the prettiest of reads, as a weekend warrior athlete, I rabidly consumed this in the hopes of finding something that could inspire me as I battle back from injury, and I did indeed find some educational nuggets.

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1.  “If you’re an athlete and want to win, something always hurts. You are always dealing with bruises and injuries. You’re testing how far you can push the human body, and whoever pushes it the furthest wins”
(p. 44).

Something always hurts. Now I get it — I’m not in a sport where there’s physical contact, but I am a 48-year old marathoner (I hope!). I was pretty much injury free until my mid-40s, and that includes when I got my black belt at the age of 41. In that sport, I was sparring, kicking, and breaking things, but I managed to stay healthy. Unfortunately, when I turned 45 and upped my running mileage, the injuries increased as well. And while I’m going to try to get as healthy as possible — and believe me, I’m doing all the rolling, stretching, icing, therapy I can — at some point, if I want to run marathons at my age, something will probably be achy. So I can kind of accept that I’ll be a little tight and achy if I’m going to push my body this hard, or I can run shorter distances. So far I’m going with option A.

2.  “If you can’t dream big, ridiculous dreams, what’s the point in dreaming at all?” (p. 128)

This spoke to Rousey’s dream to be an MMA champion and fighting on TV when there had never been a female fighter in the UFC. Sometimes I think it’s crazy for me as I get older and achier to keep dreaming about getting a sub-4:00 marathon. In fact, I had one friend tell me flat out that I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s a bit crazy, but I guess until something puts an end to my marathoning career permanently, I’ll keep aiming for it. Besides, striving for something perpetually out of reach seems a good enough way to spend my time.

3.  “The joint snapped back into place.” (p. 134)

So Rousey was fighting this German who purposely dislocated her elbow for a second time, only this time the referee didn’t catch her (she was disqualified in the previous fight). Rousey had never forfeited a match, and was not going to do so now. Ronda tensed her arm, took a deep breath and pushed as hard she could, popped that thing back into place, and kept fighting. So basically, Ronda is one bad-ass motherfucker. But we knew that, right? I just super enjoyed this part of the book.

4.  There’s No Secret to Why Rousey is Successful. (Basically the entire book.)

Rousey works hard. Really really hard. The book is primarily chapters detailing what she endured training-wise and lifestyle-wise to get where she is. It’s no surprise why she is so dominant or why she is so confident. She has been focused – singularly focused — on being a judo champion and then an MMA fighter for, well, about 300 pages. It is impressive and inspiring.

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If you’re into Ronda or women who go after it, then this is a fun fast read. Perhaps I can best illustrate the flavor and tone of this book by giving you its last sentence, which is in the acknowledgements (“Thank You”) chapter. After listing her parents, trainers, coaches, publisher, etc., she closes with this.

“And to every asshole who motivates me to succeed out of spite.”

I’m so down for that.

Book Review: The Raft Is Not the Shore by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan

It’s true. The same person whose last two book reviews were on Crazy Rich Asians and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, now presents you with her thoughts on … a conversation about political activism in the context of Buddhist-Christian awareness?!?

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Did I mistakenly pick up this book thinking it would give me tips on adventure/survival skills? Nope. An ongoing conflict for me has been reconciling my political activism – specifically my rage against social injustice – with a spiritual practice. While I agree with the viewpoint that anger is an emotion that should be avoided due to its corrosive nature, I also strongly oppose the idea of being indifferent to the suffering of others. I hoped these conversations between two spiritual teachers would help me find an answer to this conundrum.

A note about the format. The book is comprised of the transcripts of recorded conversations between Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, and Daniel Berrigan, an American Jesuit priest that took place in 1974, around the end of the Vietnam war. The former was exiled for his actions against the war, while the other was imprisoned for the same. Usually I’m not fond of this format; however, the back-and-forth style conveys a sense of intimacy between these two, and is an excellent model for reasonable dialogue. Neither is lecturing, both are curious, and the respect is evident. The reasonableness in the tone of these two in discussing the very things you are not supposed to bring up at a dinner party – religion and politics – is an excellent example of how to hold valuable discourse.

In some areas the discussions got a little too out there and hippy-dippy for me. The first chapter is entitled “Memory, Eucharist, Death.” So yeah, once they start presenting thoughts on what Jesus really meant by “This is My flesh,” and what we are really ingesting, I tend to zone out. I’m a cultural Catholic, because…Filipino, but I just see it as a ritual. Like putting up a Christmas tree. The only satisfactory explanation I’ve heard for what the body of Christ “really” meant was in the book/movie Alive about the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes, and they resorted to cannibalism to survive. One of the survivors basically said “Hey, Jesus gave His body so we could have eternal life, and our friends who died in the crash gave us their bodies so we could live. [We should totally eat them.]” That seemed practical to me.

The book tackles a wide range of topics, and one of the more interesting ones was on self-immolation, something I knew little about other than to think “Dude, that’s intense.” But TNH throws out some ideas for the reader to mull over, which even if I didn’t completely buy, provided some information about the act and certainly added some nuance to my opinion. In the chapter entitled “Communities of Resistance,” Berrigan touches on a sense of Jesus being in constant movement and the concept of action, which is a message that resonates with me. I do spend time contemplating and reading about spiritual matters, but I prefer to keep my feet moving in spiritual action.

Ultimately, this book gave me much solace and confirmation that my passion for justice and my anger at certain political structures did not have to give way for spirituality; that neither necessarily excluded the other. As the Foreward states so well:

“At last I had a world where spirituality and politics could meet, where there was no separation. Indeed, in the world these two holy teachers described all efforts to end domination, to bring about peace and justice, are forms of spiritual practice.” — bell hooks

Earlier this year I attended a conference to learn effective strategies to address systemic racism. At times the work to be done seemed overwhelming, but many of us left hopeful as well. We were sent off with two words that best summed up the essence of this book and what a life in the pursuit of social justice feels like: Love and Struggle. I particularly like the idea of “And.” If you have a similar question or enjoy theological discussions or would like to know the payoff to the story that begins “A Vietnamese monk and a Jesuit priest meet in a Paris suburb…” then this is a must read.

The Grind

In a recent article for Glamour, Mindy Kaling proposed the following formula about confidence:

HARD WORK → ENTITLEMENT = CONFIDENCE

While most of us will never reach the heights of making out with Dr. Danny Castellano on TV, this is still useful advice. This formula also brought to mind the time when Kobe Bryant was asked what word best described him. He didn’t respond by saying “champion” or “gifted.” Nope, the five-time NBA champion, and arguably one of the top-five players of all time, used the word “grinder.”

I come from a long line of grinders. Not only is my extended family inherently prone to a taxing work ethic, my immediate family’s circumstances practically mandated it. We immigrated to the U.S. in 1969, and there were not a lot of Filipinos in the San Fernando Valley at that time. I attended schools that were almost entirely white and, much like Papa Pope’s famous “twice as good” speech to Olivia in Season 3 of Scandal, my father had a similar heart-to-heart with me when I was the seasoned age of six that went something like this: “Just remember: You will never be white.” Thus, it was instilled in me early on that I would have to work twice as hard as my schoolmates and peers.

Of course, hard work is not a panacea for all failings. My elementary school attempts at being a ballerina saw me with plenty of work ethic, but alas, hips that accomplished little turnout. After a week of classes, my mom pulled me out stating “You have no talent. We’re not wasting our money.” (That Tiger Mom shit is no joke, friends.) During my, ahem, lost high school and college years I suffered the converse of having some talent but little work ethic, and that, well, that got me a “good enough.” But it’s been when my wee bit of natural gift in a particular area combines with some sweat and perseverance that I can actually gain entry into that rarefied space that is usually reserved for the “A” students only.

Moreover, such a pedantic trait as industriousness has had the unexpected effect of making me somewhat adventurous. The confidence that Kaling speaks of, one borne from diligence, has given me the eagerness to take on risks and challenges, because I know from experience that with hard work I can get It — whatever It happens to be. OK, so maybe I will never be a ballerina,* but within reason, I have the fantastical belief that It is possible. I mean, what other reason can there be for a 48-year old hobbit who ran a 5:08 marathon six years ago to hold on to the ridiculous idea that she can run a sub-4:00 hour marathon as she stares down 50?

Let’s look at the record. This foolish belief in myself and the power of hard work has seen me through such daunting endeavors as teaching a fourth-grade class without ever having taken one course in education to oh yeah, breaking a brick for my black belt test even though I’d never even attempted to before. I had put in the time, kept up my enthusiasm, and just figured that I had put myself in a good position to accomplish my goals. As Kaling wrote “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.” A lifetime of grinding has proven that it’s a winning formula.

In fact, perhaps the correlation between hard work and confidence is best captured in this tweet by one of my favorite follows.

Thanks, dad!

Grinding helped a chubby dark-skinned woman become the romantic lead on a TV show. It transformed a B+ student into a 4.0 graduate. And hopefully – one day — it can lead to a 48-year-old asthmatic woman running a sub-4:00 marathon.

Back to it.

*I did attempt ballet lessons in my late 20s, and guess what – my mom was right – I had no talent. Smart move on her part to switch to piano.

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians

It’s not too late to add this to your summer reading list. My last two book reviews may have led you to believe that I am not a fan of chick lit, but let me assure you I went through a not insignificant Sophie Kinsella stage. Plus, is it not obvious that this is the blog Bridget Jones would have written if she was a Filipino marathoner? I definitely enjoy some light fare now and again, and Crazy Rich Asians is fun fun fun.

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Having said that, I totally didn’t get this book for a beach read. I don’t go to the beach in LA – it’s a haul to get there, a pain to find parking, and frankly the beaches here aren’t that nice. (Again, why the hell do I live in this stupid city?) I bought this book because of family ties. Turns out I’m related to author Kevin Kwan by marriage. Yes, friends, you are reading a review written by a crazy-rich-Asian-adjacent blogger. However, the more important connection is that my brother moved to Singapore about twenty years ago, married a Chinese-Singaporean woman, and is raising their two sons there. I’ve visited the wee island at least four times, and while I know a little bit about it’s meteoric rise from a city comprised of dirt roads and huts to economic powerhouse in just fifty short years, I still couldn’t grasp its societal structure and hierarchy. Like why was it so important for my nephew to get into ACS (Anglo Chinese School)? Well, think Gossip Girl and those types of fancy-pants schools. Of course my godson had to go to ACS — we’re not barbarians! For sure the book was informative in preparing me for my future trips.

Will you enjoy this book even if your brother married someone from your hometown and you’ve never stepped foot in Raffles Hotel? Absolutely! It has all the markings of a proper summer read: a pretty but not wealthy heroine in American-Chinese Rachel Chu, an uber rich and handsome leading man in Singaporean Nicky Young, the catty tony set of young women who grew up with Nick and are out to do away newcomer Rachel, and the old school parents who are meddling in their children’s affairs. Culture clash, class conflict, and romance in a setting of wealth beyond what you can imagine. Clothing, travel, and food excess — Asian styles.

Speaking of which, as an Asian, I will add that it was a treat to read something that depicted Asians as being just as frivolous as white people. Like Real Housewives of Orchard Road. We’re not all martial arts fierce Maggie Qs or super brainy studious types or submissive delicate dolls. Nope, some of us are just silly and average. The more diversity there is in the ways Asians are depicted in the media, the fuller a picture people can have of us. We certainly aren’t a monolith. In fact, white people, we are just like you! Ha. Anyway, there will be a movie coming out and the sequel China Rich Girlfriend is here!

Crazy Rich Asians is a super enjoyable read…only now I find myself craving kaya toast. Must have brother send care package.

View from Marina Sands Harbor, Singapore.
View from Marina Sands Harbor, Singapore.

Put Away the Black Marker

I voted for Bob Dole instead of Bill Clinton. Now a popular revolutionary slogan is tattooed on my shoulder.

I became a teacher to do something noble with my life. Found out I don’t like kids and went running back to work for fancy pants attorneys.

This was a long year for everyone.

I married a guy who wanted children, and we had names picked out for three of them. See previous paragraph.

Instead of kids, we decided to take naps and travel.

These are just three instances of when I changed my mind about ideas I felt strongly about at the time. A couple weeks ago, The Guardian published an article about popular feminist comic Amy Schumer, pointing out that at times she has had a blind spot about race, including a particularly troublesome joke about Hispanics. Schumer’s initial non-apology was met with some backlash, and she later replied to a tweet with this.

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Regardless of her motivation and sincerity (her movie opens tomorrow), or whether an apology was even warranted and the possible effect this has on the state of comedy (if I see one more g-d think piece on this…), at face value, and at its core, is a message that has increasingly resonated with me as I get on in years: Things change. I change. It’s OK to change.

Perhaps in addition to my running journey this blog has been nothing if not a series of essays about old ideas being put to bed. I grew up in a rigid, fierce, and disciplined family, and one of those deeply engrained precepts is that changing your mind is weak. Draw the line in the sand and stand firm on your principles. Black marker, thick and heavy, through the names of people who have wronged you, whether real or perceived.

As with most of my attributes, this well-intentioned tenet has served me well in some ways. I’m super loyal and passionate about people, ideas, and food choices. I.Love.Hard. This quality has also made me unforgiving and stubborn as fuck. Somewhere in my thirties I came to see that holding my ground because I didn’t want to sound flip-floppy, or continuing to identify myself a certain way because I’d always identified that way no longer served me. I realized that it’s natural and mature to grow in one’s views as I got more information or changed.

I brought up Amy because my latest about-face was…well, it was about her. I enjoy and admire Schumer’s comedy, but as an immigrant WOC, I bristled at her “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual” joke — especially in light of Donald Trump’s recent statements about Mexico sending its rapists to the U.S. I was heated. That was not funny, and Amy was about to be relegated to the Dead-to-Me part of my ledger. But over the past week, and after ongoing discussions with two other POC, I came around and saw how I may have misinterpreted her, as well as my own pettiness and bias in my assessment. I also fully admit that there are going to be times when I just don’t want to hear a white person joking about brown and black people, regardless of their intent or my bias. In this case, though, I like Amy, so we’re good, Boo. Luckily I didn’t have to announce our reconciliation on Twitter.

Now look, if you find me wearing a Clippers jersey or catch my husband and I getting down at a swinger’s club, know that the end of days is nigh. Short of that, you may find me sprinkling raisins on my food, rocking some skinny jeans, or having lunch with the former receptionist at my office (Ha. Just kidding. Bitch.) I’m open to and interested in re-examining whatever it is that I think I’m so sure about now. With the acquisition of more information and the inevitability of evolution – mine, others or circumstances – everything is subject to revision if not complete erasure.

Trainwreck opens this Friday.

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Accessories: Running Daily & Reading

Runners know all about accessories. I mean, who can leave the house without the basics: Garmin, iPod, key/gel/everything holder.

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And while I’m not really an accessories person, meaning, I don’t switch them out by outfit or factor it into my aesthetic du jour, I never leave the house without my ring, watch, and necklace. The ring is obvious; it’s my platinum diamond etoile wedding band from Tiffany’s (NY location). The watch is a Tag Heur that I bought in Hong Kong in December 1996, the month before the wee territory went back to China. The necklace, well, that’s my other lover. Eight-one-eight is the area code for the San Fernando Valley, and even though I was born in the Philippines, I was raised and have lived in the Valley most of my life. I love the Valley. West side people talk shit about the Valley, but I’ll just say this: We have parking, mutha fuckas. 818 Represent!

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If you’ve read this blog before, you know I’m a bit of a book nerd, and so of course a proper bibliophile must have the suitable accoutrements. Voila! My most recent purchases and favorite book gift.

For Husband and I, second only next to the battle for the thermostat is the fight for device shutdown time. Meaning, what time do laptops, TV, and lights go off. I bought both of us reading lights, so whoever can’t sleep, or whoever wakes up in the middle of the night, can read without disturbing the other.

Great book with this advice runners will like:
Great book with this advice runners will like: “Eat more pasta!”

And what happens when one of my pet topics — the Six Wives of Henry VIII – and one of my favorite things – cats – collide? A bookmark set of Catherine of Aragon, et al. as cats! Yes! Jumpy claps.

Shout out to the winner in this game -- Anne of Cleves!
Shout out to the winner in this game — Anne of Cleves!

One of my top five gifts ever, not just a book gift, is this embosser that says “From the Hammond Library.” I mean, come ON. Thank you, work wife.

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While by definition an accessory is an addition or supplement to the basic, it’d be tough to run without my iPod, and I certainly won’t leave the house without my wedding ring. And let’s be honest, now that I know better I certainly can’t have a book on my shelf that isn’t embossed with my name. I mean, I’m not a barbarian, OK? So let’s re-name these “essentials” rather than accessories. They are fun and add a little joy into my favorite things, and joy and fun are essential after all.