Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hitting an interesting milestone

 
Recently I realized I had hit an interesting milestone in my life. I've gone through the stage where it feels like everyone is getting married, and then having kids. And now, I've hit the time when my friends are starting to get divorced.

Both D and I come from divorced families so divorce and the effects of divorce are something I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about. I also recently read this article which points out something interesting: that all the studies on the effects of divorce are flawed because you can't take into account what would have happened if parents had stayed together. Divorce is complicated and there are so many factors and outcomes that it's almost impossible to compare one situation to another. So I think about my family. Would I have been better off if my parents had stayed together? How do I know? My parents divorce in my early teens was certainly traumatic for a number of reasons too personal to get into. But the reasons for the split were real. My parents weren't in a good relationship. If they had stayed together would I have ever known that? Would that have become my model for a relationship? And what are the consequences of living with parents who are unhappy?

Two of my dear friends have dealt with divorce this last year and both of course really struggled with the decision. One was a marriage with no kids and while still heart-breaking, it was a bit more straightforward and now that they are divorced, he's not a part of her life anymore. My other friend had at the time a 4 year old daughter to consider, and it made things so hard. In the end, while my friend worried a lot about the negative effects a divorce would have on her child, she saw more benefits. Divorce for her meant getting out of a bad relationship, reconnecting with herself, and living more in tune with her values. Weren't these all things she wanted to teach her daughter? And my friend and her now ex-husband have worked hard to be collaborative co-parents. In this way I think they continue to teach their child how to have good relationships, even if those relationships change over time.

Breaking a commitment is hard, and that's what marriage is: a huge commitment. Are there circumstances where it is ok to make that break? To leave something you love behind? To hurt someone else? I think so. Marriage takes two people and if the partnership is flawed, if one person isn't willing to work on things for example, then sometimes you need move on. And the effects of a decision like that will be both good and bad, hard and relieving. But sadly, always heart-breaking.

Anyone else have experience with divorce?


Image via

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The best baby shoes: moccasins!

My sister-in-law is having her second baby this summer and she reached out to me for recommendations on baby items. D and I tried to be very minimal with what we got for our little one so in general I don't have that many things to recommend. One of the items I suggest all the time is the ring sling you can see me using in yesterdays post (it's a Sakura Bloom and I love it - I started using the ling when the Pepper was only a few weeks old and am still using it now). But my other favorite thing for the little ones is moccasins. They are perfect footwear for tiny chubby feet. I didn't buy any booties or anything when The Pepper was born since it was summer and I didn't see any reason socks wouldn't work. But once she started wanting to stand-up and get on her feet I realized we needed something more substantial.

Her first pair of shoes were some grey moccasins and they were ideal. They fit her wide chubby feet and were soft and flexible so she could still move her toes and work on her balance. And people love them! We get so many compliments on them. She wore the grey pair until she grew out of them so I of course had to replace them but this time I went with the fun copper color (from Freshly Picked) you see in the above picture. They don't make that color anymore which is shame but I've already geared up for her next pair and went ahead and purchased her some fun purple ones.

I've bought her some other shoes along the way as it's nice to have variety. I've bought some sneakers and some sandals but I just don't like them as much. They don't seem to fit her feet as well because they are so stiff, and the harder soles and heavier materials means she doesn't walk as freely in them (and trips more!). I know she can't only wear moccasins forever but for now, they are my go-to.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mini-break!

This weekend D and I took The Pepper up to Ojai for one night. Ojai is just a little north of Los Angeles so it's a short 1.5 hour drive, but it's a totally different scene. It's an agricultural valley and it's all about horses and hiking and it's a wonderful change from our urban life. Even though it's just a weekend, it's recharging to leave our usual pace and do something different. I think changing scenery is good for the soul.

I'm always thinking about how to integrate travel into our lives. If you work in the US you are familiar with the usual 10 vacation-days most companies give. And if you don't live near your family, this really isn't a lot of time off. For us, it means that if D and I want to visit his family in Michigan it's hard to plan any other significant travel that same year. You throw in something like a wedding we need to travel for and any real vacation is out of the question. But getting away is so important! One thing we've therefore tried to do over the last year is take little mini-breaks. Sometimes it will mean I take a Friday off, but even if I don't just a weekend in a different location can give me a little energy surge. I think there is just the mental and emotional impact of experiencing something different, but there is also the escape from the trappings of the tediums of home life. It's nice to get away from the laundry or the house cleaning that sits over my head when I'm home. It's easier to be present on the moment if I'm taken out of my routines. While I hope we can take a longer trip this year, we're going to keep getting away whenever we can. Currently on my list of weekend trips: wine tasting in Santa Ynez.

Image from our weekend trip up to Ojai.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Favorites from around the web...

1) This is great advice, for kids and adults.

2) Had to admit that this was adorable.

3) I always appreciate good branding and design.

4) I have always wanted to visit these, now I want to even more.

5) Especially since breastfeeding is such a hot-button issue I'm curious to see this.

6) True, and something I try to remember every day.

7) Sadly true, though I appreciate Jon Stewart pointing it out!

8) I loved looking through these. Humans really don't change much :)

9) Excited to visit this soon!

10) A good reminder that we all had awkward years.

Image via.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

And suddenly I had lost an hour


Have you seen these True Facts about animals videos? I love trivia so I've become addicted to these. The narrator's dry, professorial voice and hilarious asides are so funny. Thanks to these videos I now know that frogs have transparent eyelids, for sexy winking (of course!).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Are you a Diva at work?

Have you read this article in the The Atlantic about the importance confidence has in career advancement, in particlue how it effects the way men and women advance? It was an eye-opening article. I don't tend to like generalizations, especially when it comes to gender. But this article has enough statistics and real-life anecdotes that it's something to think about. And it has me remembering a conversation I recently had with a good friend.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Pepper's current obsession

The Pepper loves books. Looking at her books, flipping the pages, being read to: these are all her favorite things. Maybe every kid is like this? Since she's our first I don't have anything to compare her behavior to. But I find her love of books fascinating, and wonderful! Hopefully I can find a way to keep her love of books alive as she gets older and the appeal of electronics gets stronger. But right now her favorite book is...

Friday, April 18, 2014

The changing face of downtown LA

I've been thinking a lot lately about our neighborhood here downtown and the place downtown Los Angeles has had in my life. As we look ahead and think about the best place for our family to grow it looks like downtown LA may not be the place for us. But thinking about moving makes me feel very nostalgic for this unexpected place I've come to call home.

The Wall Street Journal just dis a piece in their Homes section on how the area has changed from a gritty urban environment to a more gentrified destination spot. I first moved here almost 8 years ago when most people still considered the area dangerous and deserted. Especially as a young woman I had many people try to talk me out of it. I didn't know much about downtown at that time but what I did know is it had cheap housing and was something different. Some girlfriends of mine had found a huge loft space at the corner on 5th and Main and when they invited me to live with them I saw an opportunity for a new adventure. I didn't know then what a large part of my life those few block would become.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blackfish: A Powerful Documentary

Having heard so much about the film D and I have had Blackfish in our Netflix cue for months now. We just kept putting off watching it because we could tell it would be a very depressing movie, and on most nights we're tired or worn-out and are looking for something fun and easy to watch. Well, this last Saturday night we had a nice relaxing day and decided that we were actually up to tackle the film. And we were right, it was a disturbing film to watch. But very powerful. I am still haunted by it. My dad has been in the environmental movement for over 30 years, and he's focused his efforts on marine life. Therefore as a child even though I live just 2 hours away I never was taken to Sea World. I have to say I feel good about that after seeing this film. Thanks for that dad!

The film builds it's narrative around the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau at the hand of the orca Tilikum in 2010. The film goes back to the 1970's when companies started capturing killer whales (I prefer the term "orca") and traces the events and incidents that make a case for how mistreated these animals are, and therefore how dangerous they are to the humans working with them. The idea is that Tilikum's traumatic early years and the ongoing challenges of being a performing animal may have created a psychosis in him that is lethal.

One reason the movie is so powerful is that because these events took place in recent times, and because they took place in public tourist areas, there is actually a lot of real footage. It's hard to escape the realities of the situation when you can actually see it. For example, the footage of trainer Ken Peters battling with an orca that seems intent to drown him is terrifying, especially when you watch his frantic swim to eventual safety. But the beginning of the film really sets the stage by talking about how orcas live in family packs and the effects on the whales when their young were captured. The mother whales grieve and cry and won't leave their children and it's very upsetting to watch. As a mother, I just imagined some alien creatures coming, stealing my baby, and taking her someplace to torture her for the rest of her life. It's just such a horrible thought.

The film definitely has an option and a point of a view and it gets it across very well: the real footage of orca attacks, tracing the history of Tilikum from his capture to where he is now, interviews by ex-Sea World trainers, including info on the OSHA court case against Sea World, and eye-witness accounts of attacks when they didn't have footage. But, there are people that have come out and said the film is not accurate and that it's trying to be manipulative. Sea World themselves have put some effort into specifically addressing and discrediting the claims made in the film. Seeing as I haven't done any of my own research I can't speak to the accuracy of the film. But certain things make me think the film is on the right side of things. And it looks like other people think so too since music groups have started cancelling performances at the parks and schools have reportedly also cancelled field trips. I hope this trend continues.

The film was so distressing it;s hard to say that I recommend it, but I do think it's something everyone should see. Even if we are no longer capturing orca's in the wild and even if Sea World has changed their policies I feel it's important for us to see what misinformed things we were doing even a decade ago. Maybe it can help us look more clearly at some of the things we do today.

Did you guys see Blackfish? What did you think?

Favorites from around the web...

1) This is proof that love and drama often go together.

2) My girl-crush continues with this interview with working-mom Courtney Adamo.

3) Simple but valuable advice: "Stop trying to be perfect as possible, and start being as human as possible".

4) For years I've been trying to convince D to let me get a pig. Maybe these pictures will help convince him.

5) This is a fun collection of mind games to test your understanding of psychology.

6) I've been thinking about writing a post on these two great shows but these guys beat me to it.

7)We use cast-iron for cooking a lot of the time so this is good to know.

8) I really hope they make this!

9) I'm looking forward to seeing this movie, but maybe that's because the trailer song is one of my favorites.

10) This is another reason I'm happy to be a woman of modern times. It's amazing the lengths that are gone to for the sake of female modesty.

Image via.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vintage wedding dresses

Etsy just did a post on buying a vintage wedding dress and it made me remember my own wedding dress (picture above). We did our wedding on a budget and so for my dress I decided to see what I could find on one of my favorite shopping sites: eBay. But I also wanted something unusual so I searched for a vintage dress and was surprised to find a lot of great options at very reasonable prices. The dress I purchased didn't have a manufacturer tag in so one seamstress I saw said it may have been handmade. It was an off-white chiffon dress with a handkerchief-style hem. When I got it it had straps and lace details around the neck that I decided to remove. I also had the dress altered to fit me. I was thrilled with the end result, especially considering the whole thing cost me under $200! And it a dress unique to me, which felt really special.

I recently saw these two dresses on Etsy and thought they would make great wedding dresses. This one is subtle but has great details and I think the design would be really flattering.

And this one is just so pretty. Very flapper. And I like the idea of a heart pattern for a wedding :)
Anyone else out there go with a vintage wedding dress?

Image of our wedding by Stephen Zeigler. Other images via.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mom Wars: Leaning In?

There is so much in the media these days about women in the workplace and whether you should lean-in or lean-out. I read this post a while back and I was sort of taken aback. I'm a working mom. I work full-time and am the primary bread-winner at the moment for our household. So it was sad to read that women who are "leaning-in" to their careers are reporting to be unhappy and feeling the toll on their families. But what really surprised me was the poll at the bottom. I selected the "Lean in" option and was shocked to see that only 9% of the poll-takers were with me. And then I was even more shocked to see that the majority chose the "Recline" option over the "Neither" option. I had thought that these days with the cost of living and the recent economy challenges that I was in the majority and that a lot of women were sharing my experience. I'm surprised to find out I may be in the minority on this one, and that's been further confirmed by the recent reports that more and more women are becoming stay-at-home moms.

When it comes to Leaning-in, for me I guess it just feels necessary. I have a career and my career is crucial to the health of my family. Making sure to make choices that will advance my career means my family is more financially stable. I have luckily been able to be at companies that are supportive of my home life. My current company for example is made up of many parents and my ability to work from home means that even when I work a lot I am at least around and I don't loose time commuting, and I know a lot of working women don't get that privilege. But I didn't take much time off for maternity leave, for example, because I needed to get back into the job and make sure I want adding value at the company. And while I would have loved more time off to be there when the Pepper was really little, I don't regret that decisions because it has paid off in other ways. And those other ways help our family because they allow us to live in a place we like or go to the better daycare or take that trip to visit D's family. It's a trade off. I often wish I had more time to spend taking care of the home and taking care of my child. But considering my life and the options I have, I feel good about my choices (most of the time).

Maybe one reason I feel ok leaning-in is that I have a great partner in my husband. I don't feel solely responsible for both our family income and taking care of the house. D and I both work, and D and I share responsibilities for cleaning, cooking, child care, even the Pepper's doctor's appointments. And D will offer to put the little one to bed if I have an invite to go have a late dinner with some girlfriends since he wants me to have that time to myself. Maybe I'd find leaning-in harder if I felt just as much pressure to do everything at home as I do to excel in my career. But luckily my partner helps me keep things balanced and I'm grateful for that every day.

As usual it's normally about trying to keep perspective. There is a lot of cultural pressure to be amazing at everything. Even if I choose to lean-in I try to remember that as long as I am being the mother I want to be to the Pepper that she and our family will be ok. As long as I am loving, and consistent, and that when I am with her I am totally present: that's the most important thing. It's important to stay reasonable, and this applies to leaning-in to work. I sometimes decline traveling for work if it's given to me as optional because I like to reduce the time I am away. But then I'll try to put some effort in elsewhere that fits with my family schedule better (maybe do some extra work on the weekend while the Pepper is napping).

One thing interesting to me is that most of the moms I know have a complicated relationship with their career status. The working moms, like me, have quilt about working and not being with their kids all day. As one of my friends said to me "you're a working-mom now, guilt is just part of it". But the stay-at-home moms also find it challenging. Many of them talk about feeling isolated and feeling like they are loosing themselves since they don't have time to do anything not related to their kids. One friend, an architect, worries that she will loose her skill-set by being out of the workforce for the next several years, and this is a skill-set she spent considerable time and money to build-up. Another friend told me about how now that shes not working, she really misses having her own money. I guess it's a case of the grass is always greener. Or it's just the result of needing to make decisions. Usually when you choose one thing there are other things you give up. It's ok to make sacrifices as long as you are doing it with reason and are keeping things in perspective. I'm a lean-in mom and I'm ok with that, but hopefully I'll have a chance to recline one day and see things from the other side.

Image via.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I must have been a dancer in my past life


As you may have noticed from past posts, I love dance. So I am a little obsessed right now with this A-Z of dance video (I give the people you edited this video together major props). I love the showcasing of the different version of dance and really of dancers themselves. You get the beauty of ballet, the raw power of krumping, the joy of Indian Bhangra, and the fun of Turn Fein or Jump Style. And there is even more than the video showed: Salsa! Tango! Tap dance! But even though it couldn't capture every dance or dance move it showcases how expressive dance can be and how accessible too. Anyone can dance! It makes me so jealous though of those who have devoted themselves to building the physicality needed to achieve some of the more impressive moves.

I've always felt that in an alternate life I was a dancer since I'm just so drawn to it. My dear friend is a dancer and I've enjoyed being able to live a little vicariously through her. I don't know if I loved musicals as a kid because of the dancing, or if all the musicals I watched created my love of dancing. Either way, one of the ways I use to indulge my interest is watching musicals, especially those that included a lot of great dancing. I recently took this quiz and I had watched 95 out of the 150 musicals they listed. When D and I were first getting to know each other one of our points of playful tension was our opposing opinions of that particular art form. At one point he dared me to name 30 musicals and I think he stopped me when I got to 35. To me, they are just really entertaining. And you can't deny they showcase some great dancing. Some of my favorites are West Side Story, the new Hairspray, Funny Girl (I get chills when she starts singing "Don't Rain on My Parade"), All That Jazz, and actually too many to list. But I will say I particularly love everything by Bob Fosse. I mean, how amazing is this dance number at the fancy club. To me, that's some genius choreography.

I love when I get to see things live in the theater too. The most recent show I saw that I couldn't recommend enough is Fela!. So so good. If you ever get a chance to see it don't pass it up. D even liked it, and that's saying something :)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Recipes: Current favorites

This post could also be called "Recipes to use up my CSA delivery". One of the reasons I love our CSA is that it challenges me to get out of my comfort zone. I will get vegetables I wouldn't buy myself if I were at the farmers market (such as fennel or cauliflower) and when certain items are in season and more prevalent, I need to get creative. Here are recent recipes I've made that helped me use up our recent deliveries, and they all came out deliciously! And you can see that two of the recipes are soups. Yes, my soup love continues.

Curried Carrot Soup: For when you get carrots. I've roasted carrots and done Moroccan carrot salads, but this is my families favorite way to enjoy carrots. Plus you can make it spicy (which is key in our household). The Pepper loves it.

Beet, Ginger, and Coconut Milk Soup: For when you get beets. I was really running out of ways to use beets so I was so happy to find this recipe. The coconut milk is a brilliant idea and compliments the beet flavor in a way I would never have guessed. And we love ginger so I increased the ginger to about 3 tablespoons.

Baked Kale Chips: For when you get Kale. Since I had recently made my go-to kale pesto recipe, this was a great alternative. I think everyone should have this recipe in their back-pocket because they come out really yummy. And you can tweak it to your liking. I used some Spanish rosemary salt for example and the bowl of chips was gone by the end of the day.

Image of the Beet soup.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What kind of marriage to you want?

Have you been watching House of Cards? I think it's a great show (and if you like it I highly recommend the original British version, also available on Netflix streaming). It has intrigue, great acting, and modern social commentary: everything you could want in a tv show. But one of my favorite things about the show is the portrayal of the marriage between the two main characters. This post captures something I've been thinking about for awhile: I kind of want a marriage like the Underwoods.

Now their marriage of course isn't perfect and I'm not saying I want to emulate in it's entirety. I don't want an open marriage for example. But it's the partnership between Frank and Claire that is enviable. They are aligned in their goals for their family. They work together and each individually sacrifice in order to get them both closer to their shared goals. They seem to know each other and accept each other for who they are. And for the most part they are very honest with each other. For me it's this honesty that creates an intimacy that I admire. And it creates an environment where they can both be themselves and don't feel the need to battle to be understood, or fight to be heard, or manipulate each other to get what they need. Because they are a total team.

Being a partner can be hard and doesn't come naturally to everyone. I know I've had to work on my partnership skills over the years and I appreciate that D has been willing to work with me. And as life gets more complicated it can get harder to not get caught up in my own day to day struggles. As working parents D and I are so often just thinking about getting through our daily check lists that thinking about our relationship as a whole can get lost.

Almost daily I try to remind myself about the findings captured in this infographic. I believe achieving the 5:1 ratio is especially important. This means that you have 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction. When dealing with little sleep and work stress and schedules and silly but important things like trying to get the Pepper to eat her veggies, it's surprisingly easy not to have many positive interactions. So I make a point to say something nice, or show enthusiasm for something he's been working on, or just reach out and rub his back for a moment. I don't do it as much as I would like, but I know we have many more years to keep improving our marriage and growing our partnership.

Anyone have any tips for how they maintain a strong marriage?

Image via.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Favorites from around the web...

1. I'm always looking for ways to change up my workout routine, and this looks fun.

2. Interesting. I want to try to remember how each sounds for when I next encounter someone from the UK.

3. Lovely. Another place I want to plan a whole trip around.

4. The feminist in me wanted to hate this story, but if it works for her I can't deny there may be benefits.

5. So funny and so true. I sent this to one of my co-workers who I know has felt put in that position many, many times.

6. Simple yet beautiful.

7. Since I've been musing so much on our city life it's nice to read articles that highlight our neighborhood.

8. And speaking of our neighborhood, I love this post from a previous neighbor who is having trouble leaving her urban perspective behind.

9. Very excited for this film. I love everyone involved in it.

10. I love shortbread cookies so I'm very intrigued by this recipe (I'm always looking for new ways to use the beets I get with our CSA).

Image via.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Singing your baby to sleep

Once we had the Pepper I realized how unprepared I was for singing lullabies. I loved holding my little girl and looking down at her and singing to her, but I'd get tripped up because I didn't know the words to any lullabies. I remember my mom singing me to sleep, but she sang an African lullaby in a tribal language and it's hard for me to replicate. And I remember my dad singing me a simple made-up song that was basically "daddy loves you" over and over again. I love that song and do sing a version of it to the Pepper, but that wasn't a lot of material to work with.

So, I went with songs that I knew the words to but that still seemed calming and loving. Right now the current songs in my "lullaby" repertoire are:
  • Somewhere Beyond the Sea: It's a little peppier than the others so I might start out with this one. It's a personal favorite so I knew all the worlds.
  • Oh What a World: A little different but I sing it slow and the words are easy to remember so it works.
  • Sweet Child of Mine: I love singing this one to my own sweet child. The words are actually perfect for a lullaby, and I sing it like Orleya so it's nice and slow and soothing.
  • Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes: Another personal favorite. I actually started using this one when we were breastfeeding but since it's a familiar song I'll sometimes use it now as a nighttime song.
  • Red River Valley: I was learning to play this on the banjo when I was pregnant so I knew the words and it actually has a great tempo to rock the baby too. This one we've been doing I lot lately.
  • Everything's Alright: My favorite lullaby. I also sing this one slower than the original version, but the words are lovely and have a great message.
What do you sing to your baby? Any other unconventional lullabies I should learn?

Image from unknown.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Are we over vampires yet?



Vampires have felt like such a ubiquitous thing in entertainment lately, possibly sparked by the Twilight mania. I never read the books and only saw the first movie so I never got into it. But I love myth and fables; even as a kid I went through a phase when I was obsessed with Greek mythology. So it's hard for me to resist a good vampire story.

I once heard that when it comes to monsters Frankenstein is about our fear of technology, Werewolves are about fear of our animal nature, and Vampires are about our fear of (or complex feelings about) sex. This makes sense to me. Vampires are inherently sexual. They are about body fluids and penetration and mouths and satiation. This may be one reason I personally prefer my vampires more R-rated than those in the Twilight saga, the grown-up versions seem more consistent to me. But I also understand why vampires are perfect for tweens. Adolescents are just starting to think about and get familiar with their sexual sides so it makes sense why they would relate to the vampire myth.

I recently saw the trailer for the newish film Only Lovers Left Alive and while part of me feels some vampire burn-out, I can't help but want to see this film. The fact that both of the main actors signed on makes me think the script must be very interesting. And even if it's not I'm sure I could be thoroughly entertained watching the talented Tom Hiddleston and the other-worldy Tilda Swinton be beautiful yet tortured lovers. And this definitely looks like a grown-up version of our favorite immortal menaces. Sadly though, I'll probably have to wait for it to be available on iTunes.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Craving bike culture

As mentioned the other day, there are great things about living in the middle of an urban area. On of them I didn't touch on too much was being able to bike everywhere. Los Angeles is famous for it's car culture, and for good reason. The city is so large and spread out that to experience it all you do have to spend time in your car. But, there are areas of the city that are self contained enough that to enjoy them all you need is a bike! Downtown LA is one of those areas.

A couple years ago D and I had dinner plans with some friends of ours who also live downtown. They are a little too far away to walk so we jumped in the car and drove the whole 6 minutes it took us to get to their place. That was when I realized we needed to get bikes, and once we did it felt like the whole city opened up to us! It was so quick and easy to get around, and it feels like a great way to experience the city. We even have the next CicLAvia, when roads are shut off from cars and open only for bikes, this Sunday.

But LA is only just starting to get a decent bike culture. We're starting to see more and more bike lanes being created, and more and more bikers on the streets. But bikers are still at a disadvantage. It makes me so jealous when I hear about places elsewhere in the world where bikes are considered a normal part of life, even family life! And while I know as a city we'll probably never be able to embrace bikes like they do in Amsterdam, but I'm hoping we'll keep getting closer and closer. And next for our family is to get an attachment for our bikes that will allow us to ride around with Pepper. I think she'll love it!

And how cute is this little bike accessory?! I want one.

Image via.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Being complex is hard


Over the weekend D and I went to see the film Divergent, based on the novel by the same name. I read the book and enjoyed it, so I wanted to see the film even though it had been getting mixed reviews. That night we were in the mood for an action movie so it hit the spot and we both really liked it. But what I really have to give it credit for was giving D and I a lot to talk about afterward over dinner.

As a fan of science fiction I particularly love stories set in dystopian society. These alternate realities are often created around an extreme response to world challenges. In Fahrenheit 451 society has outlawed all books, in Brave New World everyone is drugged to stay happy, in The Giver there is no knowledge of past history, and in 1984 there is Big Brother. The idea behind all these dystopias is that free will is what causes violence and war, especially when combined with knowledge. So in order to bring peace and happiness we need to find ways to suppress emotions, feelings, and sometimes even thoughts: people need to conform. But of course the costs are high and the books are about that tension. In Divergent, as a response to some kind of large scale war society is divided up into factions. Each faction focuses on one strength and all members of that faction are to comply with the values, goals, and routines of that faction. At age 16 each person gets to select which faction best matches them and once there they are expected to conform, or they become one of the "faction-less"(a fate seen as worse than death). That is where Divergent starts, when the main character must choose which faction to join. The choices are: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the Intelligent.

There are some interesting things to think about here. Recently at my work the executive team has been discussing possible team building exercises. One of the concepts we're working with is Strength Finder. The idea is that every person has strengths and weaknesses and apparently it's been proven that people are more productive if they work in areas that meet their strengths. Seems obvious but it's important to think about when staffing and resourcing. On a team of people you will probably have a mix of skill-sets and knowing how to best utilize those is important for efficiency and accord. if you think of society as one large team working towards a goal, then it makes sense to put people in groups that work towards their strengths.

But what D and I ended up discussing over dinner was two fold. The first was the idea that being able to commit yourself to one goal can give freedom. In the book the protagonist talks about how free the Dauntless seem. They work to rid themselves of fear and that lack of fear gives them freedom. And I'm sure that could be said for any of the other factions. For example, committing yourself and living by total honesty would also set you free. So, is one of the reasons we all struggle in our lives to some that we are trying to excel in all these areas and they conflict? Sometimes being selfless doesn't go along with being smart. Sometimes honesty doesn't go along with kindness. Being a complex human means we need to constantly navigate our priorities and values. The goal I believe is still to find freedom and peace within the ongoing negotiation, but it reveals why it can often be difficult to achieve.

The second thing was if we were in the protagonists situation, what faction would we choose? D and I both agreed that I would choose Erudite, the faction that values knowledge. They love research and understanding how things work. I'd be happy in a life devoted to learning. D was not as clear at first, but then I realized he'd of course be Candor who value truth and honesty. While this "game" may seem juvenile it was a good way to think about what D and I each bring to the relationship and the ways that our values often align, but sometimes don't.

So, thank you for a fun night Divergent. I'm hoping the second book offers some additional things to ponder.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

City Mouse or Country Mouse?

I've been having fantasies about moving into a place with actual rooms and maybe even a yard. I'd love an office, I'd like to be able to do dishes at night after the Pepper goes to sleep, it would be nice to have some grass to play on. But, right now we are in a loft in the middle of an urban area. So, to combat my longings I've been reminding myself of all the great things about living in a loft in downtown Los Angeles:
  • Family time: D and I both work a lot so it is nice that when we are all home together we're actually all together. Since we have no real rooms dividing up our space, if one of us is cooking or folding laundry we can still participate in the playing or the book reading. Even though we are growing out of this place, it has been nice to have that intimacy and proximity while the Pepper was so little.
  • Less upkeep: Having a small space meant that it was necessary for D and I to limit the amount of baby stuff we had (actually, all the stuff we have!). This is maybe one of the best things we could have done. We weren't overwhelmed by the baby gear, and it wasn't hard to keep the place somewhat tidy during those crazy newborn months. We're still a fan of keeping things simple and I hope that if we do move to a house some day we can maintain our minimalist lifestyle.
  • Access: We can access so many things so easily. We have 3 parks in walking distance from us, we can easily take a bus to places like the Natural History Museum, and there are lots of restaurants and stores just blocks away. Even though we don't have a lot of space of our own, it's so easy for us to go outside I never feel trapped (and the California weather helps with that too). One of my new favorite things to do on a weekend morning is get up with the Pepper, walk to a local 24/hr restaurant to have breakfast, and then walk down the street to one of the little local parks. We can go for as long or as short as we want because going out isn't that much of an investment (we just need to get our shoes and sweaters on and go!). Plus, if I realize we're out of milk or need more bananas for the Pepper's breakfast I just need to walk a block, something I've often done in my pajamas.
  • Neighbors: My favorite thing about being downtown is the people. Everywhere we've lived downtown we've really gotten to know our neighbors and neighborhoods. Some of our neighbors can even remember both D and I before we started dating 8 years ago so they have seen us create our family over all these years. And I think the communal aspect has been great for our little one. She's a very social creature and she loves all the people she gets to interact with in a day. Our nanny takes her out during the day and they do their rounds which means visiting our local restaurants and shops. She has friends all along our block who know her and get upset with me if she hasn't been brought by to visit in awhile. If you believe that it takes a village (which I do), then the Pepper will certainly benefit from our little downtown village.
I believe that almost all things have costs and benefits. I'm starting to think that our lives are shifting such that maybe the costs of being where we are no longer outweigh the benefits. But I can't deny that my last 8 years downtown have been wonderful and that includes the first year of the Pepper's life. Instead of focusing on the challenges, I'll continue to try to be thankful for all the great things about our lives.

Image of the the Pepper at one of our local parks from my Instagram.