On Shrinking

A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned off-hand that he was headed to the gym. He jokingly added that his mantra is, “Must get bigger.” I laughed and told him that I have never once in my life had that thought. We talked for a minute about the irony that (in general) men tend to go to the gym to get bigger while women go to get smaller.

This conversation played in my head over the next few weeks, and it occurred to me that my own mantra in so many parts of my life seems to be, “Must get smaller.”

I am talking about my body, of course. A body I have long struggled to love, and in fact, find myself hating more and more each year. But more on that some other time. Because I am also talking about the rest of me.

I’m talking about how much time I spend trying to shrink my too-big, too-wild feelings down to a manageable size. How I constantly fight to curb my too-loud, too-opinionated, too-clumsy, too-anxious self. How I leave most social engagements, and turn to Jonathan to ask, “Was I OK? Was I obnoxious? Did I talk too much? Did I embarrass you? Did I make anyone else uncomfortable?” *

I worry that my decisions are too-selfish. That my desires are too-frivolous. That my dreams are too-big. That my appetite for food, for life, for adventure, is too-much.  I am constantly aware of the space I take up and how often it feels like more than I deserve. And in sharing all of this, I now worry that I am being too-vulnerable. And that maybe all of this is just a product of my being too-selfish and too-whiny.

Of course, I want to cultivate truth in my life and to cut away the things that are not good for myself or for others. I’m not saying I should allow my worst qualities to run free. But how can I expect to grow when I spend so much time intent on shrinking myself down to fit into the limited space I am told I deserve?

I want to live a big life. A life where my love–for my family and friends, for my work, for freedom and justice, for the hurting, for beauty and diversity, and for the work of God in the world–is so expansive that it cannot be contained. I want passion and empathy and joy and grace to flow out of me and into whatever corner of the world I happen to be in.

I am tired of asking for permission to take up space. I am tired of apologizing because I have desires and dreams that don’t always align with other people’s expectations or are outside of their realm of understanding. I am tired of sucking in my stomach all day every day so I can pretend to have a more acceptable amount of belly fat. And I am tired of trying so hard to rein in all that seems unacceptable about me that I’ve been shrinking my soul in the process. I want to come to peace with all of my dimensions–from the circumference of my thighs, to the depth of my sadness, to the volume of my laughter. I want to take up space.

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*I’ve written before here about my social anxiety

What I’m Into: October 2018

This month has been especially busy for us, but mostly full of nice things. We did some traveling and had a friend come for a visit. We don’t have much of anything planned for November at the moment, and I’m actually looking forward to a few weeks of a normal routine. I admit that as obnoxious as it is when people post about how wonderful fall is, they have a point and now that I am living somewhere without a fall, I am definitely missing it. People here have started to dress like it’s fall, but it’s still in the low 80’s every day. It does get into the 70’s in the mornings and evenings which does feel like a nice change, but it’s hardly cause for sweaters and coats.

What I’m Reading

I read 11 books this month. Sadly, I am still about 20 books behind on my goal for the year. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I will be pretty impressed if I can pull this off. All of the books I read this month are pictured below, but I will just mention a few standouts.

36301023My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton. I had been waiting for this book ever since I read the trio’s first book,  My Lady Jane, last year. In this re-telling of Jane Eyre, Jane is not a fictional character created by Charlotte Bronte, but instead is a real life friend of hers whose Charlotte uses as the inspiration for her classic novel. Only this Jane can see dead people. It is every bit as silly and delightful as My Lady Jane and I definitely recommend you listen to the audiobook.

 

 

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. This book has been out for a long time and 10847I can’t believe I only just got around to it since it is about one of my secret fascinations – fundamentalist polygamist cults. The thing that stood out to me in listening to this compelling account of the history of fundamentalist Mormonism was how similar so much of the language is to what you would hear in a mainstream American evangelical church. For example, I can’t tell you how many times in my life I heard someone say, “I prayed about it and I felt the Lord leading me to do x, y, z.” Many of the stories in this book have that same language, but, you know, the thing the Lord is leading them to do is marry 13 year olds or slay the infidels. So there’s that. Seriously though, this book is fascinating and done in Krakauer’s typical thorough and engaging style.

34128219La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust) by Philip Pullman. It was great fun to dive back into Pullman’s world and to get more of the back story on Lyra, the heroine of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman’s storytelling was every bit as compelling in this book as it is in the original trilogy, though I do have to dock it a few points because I felt the last third of the book dragged on for too long.

 

 

35270717Unthinkable: What the World’s Most Extraordinary Brains Can Teach Us About Our Own by Helen Thomson. This book was fascinating. I’m not a scientist, so I appreciated how accessible this was for an unscientific audience. Thomson traveled the world meeting with people with rare psychological disorders and talking about those disorders both as they experienced them and in terms of what doctors and researchers had learned about the brain by studying the brains of these unique individuals. Her subjects include a man who believed he was dead for 3 years, a woman who constantly hears music that isn’t there, and a man who believes he turns into a tiger. In my opinion, Thomson was able to write about these people as real humans instead of distilling them down to their condition.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. This debut novel has gotten rave reviews with good 35068705reason. If you are looking for a fantasy novel you won’t be disappointed by, look no further. Rin is a poor, dark-skinned war orphan with no prospects, but after receiving the highest score in the Empire on the entrance exam for the empire’s top Academies, she earns a spot at Sinegard, the most elite military academy. There she learns the art of war and discovers her own unique gift in shamanism, widely believed to be a dead art. When war breaks out, Rin learns the true cost of her gift and what it might take to save her people. I will say, there is a lot of descriptive violence and brutality on the page in this book, but it’s fantastic. And it’s the first in a series so there will be more to come!

What I’m Watching

We are trying to catch up on the current seasons of Better Call Saul and The Good Place. Meanwhile, I have been on an Elementary kick. I’ve seen random episodes of the show off and on over the years, but never really followed it, so now I am taking advantage of Netflix and watching old episodes.

We also went to see A Star is Born. There was much weeping. That really got me in the feels. And also, I already knew Lady Gaga was wildly talented, and I think she is so interesting, but her acting in this was top notch. And of course…Bradley Cooper. Just…sigh. When we left the theater I was blinking back my tears and said to Jonathan, “We will never speak of this again.” It’s beyond my emotional capacity to handle how many feelings this movie gave me. Go see it, everyone. But then don’t talk to me about it. Because I just can’t.

What I’m Writing

While I was out having adventures a lot this month, I didn’t do quite as good a job of documenting them. But I did write about our day trip to Macau and told some fun stories about odd things I’ve eaten recently and some funny ESL moments with my students. Please follow me on Keep Roaming On for more of my day-to-day adventures and stories from my travels. I have a ton of things half-written, but I guess I have been struggling with follow through this month.

What’s On My Mind

This is a new section of the monthly post and it’s basically a place for me to word vomit some things that have been filling my thoughts lately and haven’t made their way out in the form of a blog post.

  1. The amount of hatred in the world, but particularly in the US right now is terrifying and heartbreaking. My heart is heavy for the many victims of injustice and violence who are suffering right now. Lord, have mercy.
  2. It’s hard to make new friends as an adult. Like seriously hard. But it makes me really appreciate the close friends I have who have continued to make the effort to be friends even though I’m the one who decided to pick up and move across the world.
  3. When we were in the Philippines mid-October, the shops were playing Christmas music. This felt wrong on so many levels. Rocking out to “All I Want for Christmas is You” while sipping mojitos on an island beach was…incongruous to say the least. And then yesterday (October 31st) the stores in the area where I work started putting out their Christmas lights. And I thought the US was bad about starting Christmas too early…
  4. One of our cats back in the US has been missing for several weeks. I try not to think about it too much because it makes me so sad, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I know this is not on the scale of anti-semitism and cancer, but on tough days it feels like the actual worst.
  5. Speaking of cancer, my cousin’s double mastectomy went well and they believe they got it all, but she will have to undergo a round of chemo just to be safe. She is a strong and beautiful woman who is already using her story to help other people. I’m kind of in awe of her.
  6. Having to meet your friends’ babies over FaceTime is both an amazing marvel of technology and also somewhat devastating. You cannot get that new baby smell or the feel their little fuzzy bodies through a phone screen. But thank goodness there’s a way for us to actually see each other live. We take it for granted, but if I had been living in Hong Kong even like 15 years ago this would have been impossible.

What I’ve Been Up To

On October 10th, my bestie had her first baby, a truly gorgeous little girl with hair to die for. (Yes, this is a different baby than the one that was born last month). Natalie Loren, you are loved all the way across the world!

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I’m dead. Completely dead. 

On October 14th, we flew to Cebu, Philippines where we stayed for 4 nights in a hotel with the biggest bed I have ever seen. It was literally five Lily-lengths wide. I know because I counted. It was amazing. We had some very chilled beach time and also went out to Kawasan Falls and to the top of Osmeña Peak. It was like being in The Jungle Book.

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We stayed for four nights and then flew back to Hong Kong where my lifelong friend Rachel met us the very next day. She had been working in Bangkok and flew up for a few days before heading back to the US. So we spent 3 days playing.

Last weekend I had to go to Macau again to activate my new visa, but because Jonathan and I were both tired and didn’t really want to spend the money on another trip to Macau, I went by myself. I rode the ferry over, walked through immigration and into the ferry terminal, then went up the escalator and walked back through immigration the other direction and got on the next ferry back to Hong Kong. The whole thing took a few hours, but I was in Macau all of 10 minutes. The government, man.

So that’s me. I feel like we haven’t chatted in forever. What’s been going on with you guys? Read anything great recently? Or just want to commiserate on the sorry state of the world? Leave a comment or send me a message. I’m still here.

 

 

 

What I’m Into: September 2018 Edition

This month has been full of somewhat dramatic events in my personal life. Obviously, I moved across the world in August, so much of September involved getting settled into a routine here in Hong Kong, getting used to a new job, and exploring our new home. I’ve been writing a lot about our experiences here over on my new travel/expat living website: Keep Roaming On. I’ve even started a YouTube channel where I’m dabbling with vlogging some of our adventures. If you are interested in reading/watching, please follow me in those places!

What I’m Reading

In spite of all of these other ventures, I’ve still found a good bit of time to read between the typhoon days and during my daily commute. Actually, I think it may be an all-time record for me. I read 14 books in September.

One of my go-to genres for easy reading is the domestic/psychological thriller. I admit that I am often unimpressed with these books, but for whatever reason I keep picking them up. Most books in this genre rely upon a twist of some sort, and I often find the twist either not twisty at all or implausible, which leaves me with a “meh” reaction. But I enjoy how fast-paced they are, and I like trying to figure out what’s really going on. Since I read so many books this month, I’m only going to comment on the ones I particularly liked…spoiler alert, most of the thrillers didn’t make it.

32075853Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. This was the surprise standout for me this month. I’m not even sure what made me pick it up, but this book was bomb. Erotic stories don’t do much for me (I just can’t take “sexy” descriptions seriously), but the erotic stories in this book are simply a device to talk about so much more. A group of Punjabi widows sign up for a writing class. Their teacher, a young British/Punjabi woman, thinks she will be helping these women to write the stories of their lives, but she is unprepared for the stories they truly want to tell. This is a book about a tight knit immigrant community, about female friendships, and about women who have lived their whole lives without power or agency finding ways to gain those things while still holding onto the traditions and values of their community.

36344555All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin. I’ve loved Emily Giffin for years, but I didn’t enjoy her last book (before this one), so I was pleasantly surprised by All We Ever Wanted. While Giffin’s previous books have all had some sort of romance at their core, this one didn’t. I think Giffin’s decision to steer away from that helped her showcase her skills as a storyteller and the strength of her characterizations. This book handles serious issues like how to raise teenagers (particularly sons) in the midst of rape culture and some of the less obvious ways that privilege asserts itself. It’s not a perfect book, but I found it very engaging and I liked it.

27161845-1Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand. Elin Hilderbrand is a new discovery/obsession of mine. I had never picked up her books before because I thought they would all be very chick-lit-y. Actually, the books I’ve read so far combine two of my favorite genres – rich white people problems and stories that look at how multiple members of a family or a community experience one event. This book tells the story of the aftermath of celebrity chef Deacon Thorpe’s sudden death as his three ex-wives and his children come together to say goodbye. To be honest, not that much happens in this book, but what I enjoyed about it was the different characters’ perspectives, interactions, and motivations. And…Nantucket.

 

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Calypso by David Sedaris. David Sedaris is strange and sometimes dark, but undeniably hilarious. This was one of my favorites of his essay collections. I highly recommend listening to it on audio since he reads it himself and his delivery adds a lot to the text.

 

 

 

34189556The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. This thriller was a rare case where I was surprised by the initial twist AND I thought it worked. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy the parts of the book that came after the twist as much as the first portion, but it still rates as above average compared to other psychological/domestic thrillers I’ve read recently. It’s the story of a young woman preparing to marry a too-good-to-be-true man while being stalked by his ex-wife. (Or is it?)

 

I also read:

What I’m Watching

Jonathan and I have been watching Better Call Saul, which is a spin-off from one of Jonathan’s favorite shows, Breaking Bad. I’ve never watched a single episode of Breaking Bad, but thankfully it doesn’t really matter for understanding this show. It’s a drama, but it’s the perfect blend of serious and comic and from what I understand, nowhere near as dark as Breaking Bad.

Thanks to my sister-in-law, I also discovered the series Marcella on Netflix. As another British detective show, it filled the hole left by Broadchurch. However, there are only two seasons at this point so now I am back to needing more shows like this.

Jonathan and I went to see Crazy Rich Asians in the theater. It was a unique experience to watch this in Hong Kong since it has an all-Asian cast and is set in this part of the world. I loved it. The books are even better. But I still loved it. We also went to see the latest Mission Impossible movie which was all action all the time and a lot of fun.

What I’m Writing

Most of my writing has been over on Keep Roaming On, where I’ve done posts about the typhoon, some fun weekly posts with observations about daily life here, and posts about hiking in Hong Kong, as well as a few posts about our experiences in Ireland earlier this summer. I also wrote an update here on this blog about my mental health since moving to Hong Kong.

What I’ve Been Up To

I have had lots of daily life adventures getting used to a new city, but it’s also been a month with a lot of ups and downs.

At the beginning of the month, we did an incredibly strenuous, but also beautiful hike up Lion Rock. I thought I was going to die, but it was worth it. Except for the part where we saw the monkeys. Because those things will rip your face off.

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We experienced our first typhoon which also happened to be the strongest recorded typhoon to hit Hong Kong. It was equivalent to a Category 5 Hurricane in the Atlantic and it was awe-inspiring and terrifying. We are so thankful to have been safe and sound and that our home did not suffer any damage.

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Typhoon damage outside of our apartment

A few days later, one of my closest friends back in the US had a beautiful baby girl…in her front hallway, 5 minutes after the firemen arrived. Sweet baby girl was in a big hurry to make her entrance, arriving just an hour and a half after my friend first thought, “I think we’re going to have a baby today.”

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Emmaline Alma Kroll

Then I learned that my beautiful, healthy 35-year-old cousin had been diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine check-up. After a whirlwind of tests, she had a double mastectomy earlier this week. They are still waiting to decide if she will need follow-up chemo, but all seems to have gone well. Through the whole thing, she has been so brave and strong, immediately wanting to share her story with others to encourage them to be proactive about their own health.

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Last weekend we had to leave the country on a visa run, so we took the one-hour ferry ride over to Macau and spent the day wandering around this strange and interesting city where the signs are in Portuguese and Cantonese and the shimmering casinos are just a few streets over from historical church ruins.

It was also Mid-Autumn Festival, a major holiday in the Chinese calendar celebrated with lanterns and moon cakes, so we went down to a lantern display on Hong Kong Island to join the celebrations.

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This month was full of emotional ups and downs for me as I experienced the danger of the typhoon, the joy of baby Emmaline’s safe arrival and the sadness of not being there to meet her, the shock and the sadness over my cousin’s cancer, and the wonder of exploring a new place.  It’s been a month chock-full of life in all of it’s splendor and all of it’s brutality, and I’ve come to the end of it grateful for the grace and provision I have seen in my life and the lives of many I love this month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Abroad With Mental Illness

Many of you have (kindly) asked how my move to Hong Kong and transition to life here has affected my mental health. This past April, just over a year from when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Bipolar Disorder and a slew of other anxiety and panic disorders, I started a new combination of medications. One is an anti-depressant, and one is for severe moments of anxiety. I had reached what felt like a breaking point in my life and this was the third treatment option my doctor and I were trying.  Within just a few weeks I was stunned to realize that I felt “normal” for the first time in as long as I can remember.

Normal meant I was no longer waking up in the morning with twisted knot in the pit of my stomach before I had even opened my eyes. I no longer entered each day feeling defeated and on edge, like at any moment the tenuous rope of functionality I was holding onto could unravel. Yes, some days I still struggled with anxiety, especially when faced with something particularly triggering. But where my base level for anxiety used to never dip below a 4 on a 10-point scale, even on my most stable days, now I find that many days, my baseline is a 1 or a 2.

The best way I can describe it is that it feels like relaxing your muscles after holding them all in tension every moment of every day for years. Most days this feels like a miracle.

The past few months have objectively been extremely stressful. I think the stress of moving internationally, changing jobs, and being separated from your spouse are things that would cause anyone a decent amount of anxiety.  I don’t deny that there have still been moments where I have been overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. I have also been deeply sad about leaving behind my life in Columbia. But the thing that stands out to me is that somehow, I have managed to cope in a way I don’t think I could’ve done a year ago, or even back in March. And not only cope, but find moments of sheer joy and new excitement for this new life.

I can’t describe my gratitude for this. And at the same time, I have to acknowledge the fact that I am not “cured”. I am on a journey. I am managing so much better than I was a year ago, but it’s not as simple as just popping those two little pills each night. My mental health is a holistic battle and the reality is that it will probably be a lifelong fight.

This past Sunday we visited a church for the first time since coming to Hong Kong. We haven’t really met anyone here besides coworkers, and we are hoping to find a community. Throughout the afternoon I could feel myself getting more and more anxious. By the time we left our apartment, I felt like I was in a daze. Everything seemed a little too bright and blurry around the edges and the sounds around me were like a low buzz in my ears. Jonathan tried to talk to me about other plans for the night and for the future, and I could barely process what he was saying to me. Eventually he gave up talking to me until after the service was over.

After we sat down in the church auditorium (which looked like the church auditorium of many an evangelical church in America), all of my thoughts and all of my energy were consumed with trying to get through the service without panicking. Understand, it was a perfectly normal evangelical-style church service. There was nothing particularly objectionable about it. But for most of the service I felt simultaneously like my skin was on fire and like I was going to pass out. “You are OK. This is OK. There is nothing wrong here,” I kept chanting to myself.

After the service was over, we ducked out and went to dinner where I tried to explain to Jonathan what I’d been feeling but failed (though he was gracious as always). By the time we got home later that evening, I was utterly exhausted. Coming down off of the adrenaline that had fueled me through the afternoon was like crashing after a sugar high. My whole body ached.

Moving abroad has helped move me out of some old patterns that were not good for me. At the same time, it’s launched me into a world of unknowns, a somewhat precarious place for bipolar planner like me.

The thing about mental illness is, it’s effing scary. It’s scary to feel like you don’t have control over your own mind, or that your body has these visceral reactions you may not even understand. It’s scary to know that it’s possible for your feelings to not accurately reflect reality. The fight for wholeness and wellness forces me to choose every single day to actively work towards healing.

It’s a holistic effort. Medication is a blessing, but it is not enough. Meditation, exercise, and diet help. Nurturing life-giving relationships helps. Prayer helps. Avoiding triggering situations helps. Turning off the introspection to show love and care to the people I encounter every day helps. But the thing that helps the most is hope. Hope each morning when I wake up that today can be a good day. It can be good no matter what yesterday was like and no matter what may come tomorrow. Today I can be well.

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PS- I just wanted to give another shout out for my new travel website www.keeproamingon.com. I’m proud of the work I’m doing there and would love to have you follow me if you are interested in sharing my travel and living abroad adventures. You can follow by clicking the follow button at the very bottom of each page.

 

 

 

 

Introducing…Keep Roaming On

Faithful friends, today is the day! I am so excited to announce the launch of my new website Keep Roaming On. This site will be dedicated to travel adventures and advice, to feeding your wanderlust (and my own), and to telling the stories of our daily life in Hong Kong and of all the people we meet along the way.

I will still be keeping Such Small Hands active and will continue to post here about topics like reading, faith, mental health that don’t necessarily fit under the general travel/living abroad umbrella.

In the meantime, I would love for you to head over to the new site which already has a few posts up, and follow or subscribe by email if you are interested in what’s going on there. You can also follow Keep Roaming On on Instagram and Twitter for more of a daily dose of life here in Hong Kong and tips from other travels over the past few years. If you have any specific requests for topics you’d like me to cover, please let me know!

https://www.keeproamingon.com

Best Reads of 2018 (So Far)

This past weekend we experienced the most crazy, wonderful blessing – one of our good friends from college, whom we have not seen since our wedding eight years ago, showed up in Hong Kong with her husband and baby. They had already planned this trip before we announced our move, so when we realized we were going to be in the same place at the same time, we all kind of freaked out. I mean, mostly Mary Claire and I freaked out. But I think the boys were excited too. Just in a more tough, manly ways.

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We had an absolute blast with Mary Claire, Benjamin, and Banning and are secretly hoping they just drop everything and move here so that we can hang out all the time. While we were together, Mary Claire mentioned that she’d read several of the books I’ve recommended over the years, and she kind of called me out for not posting any book recommendations in such a long time. So…long introduction to say…for all of you who have had absolutely nothing to read these long months where I haven’t written about books, the dry spell is over. You’re welcome. 😉 Here’s the best of what I’ve read so far this year.

Note: I realized that most of my favorite books so far this year have been recent releases that deal with sad or difficult circumstances. To be fair, they all have some measure of hope to offset the sadness, but if you don’t like books where people deal with hard things, you might not like these.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

33253215This book, man. It is not for the faint of heart. This book tells the life story of Cyril Avery from birth to death. Cyril Avery is born to an unwed mother in rural Ireland and adopted by an eccentric writer and her husband who really know nothing about children. As Cyril grows, we meet a cast of richly drawn characters who impact Cyril’s life, for better or worse. This book is largely focused on the horrible treatment of gay men in Ireland (and elsewhere) in the late 20th century. Because of that, some parts are very hard to read and some of it is very sad. There is also a significant amount of sexual content in the first half of the book (just fair warning if you don’t like reading that). However, the characters are amazingly vivid, unique, and quirky, and in the end, I can’t describe this book in any way other than beautiful, deeply moving, and unforgettable. The book ends on a sweet note which might strike some readers as too convenient, but I felt set up for it from early on and found it satisfying the that it ended in a place of peace.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

34912895Hannah showed up on everyone’s radar after The Nightingale in 2015. Her newest book takes place in Alaska in the 1970’s where Vietnam veteran Ernt Allbright takes his wife and his 13-year-old daughter Leni to live off the grid. The family think this will be their salvation, but in the long, dark winters, Ernt is haunted by the ghosts of the past and becomes increasingly paranoid and irrational. Leni realizes that she must fight for survival for herself and for her mother in the great Alaskan wild, There is something mesmerizing about the wild, rugged beauty of a mostly unsettled land. The story itself is very reminiscent of The Glass Castle although fictional, so there is definitely a trigger warning for domestic violence. The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the ending which felt a little abrupt and too neat compared to the rest of the book. However, if you are someone who needs it to end on a hopeful note, you will probably like this.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.

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A short and sweet account of an adult child (Ruth) stepping in to care for her father as he slips into dementia.  I read it in almost one sitting and I loved it. In spite of being quite short, I felt like it delved into the issues inherent in being an adult child taking care of a parent as the parent loses agency. It also dealt with the complexities of dementia without being overly sappy, sad, or sentimental.

 

 

 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.

35133922This memoir has exploded onto the scene and (deservingly) gained a lot of attention. Growing up in a fundamentalist, survivalist family (again somewhat a la The Glass Castle) , Tara Westover had no access to formal education. Taught that western medicine was evil, she learned to use herbs and natural remedies for everything from childbirth to severe burns. Violence and control were part of every day life, but they were all that Tara knew. At 17 she became determined to do things differently. Having never been to school, she taught herself enough to gain entrance to Brigham Young University where she learned for the first time not only math, science, and literature, but about the history of her own country and of world events (like the Holocaust) which she had never even heard of. Exposure to the world of learning sparked a hunger in her for all that she did not know and went on to study at Harvard and at Cambridge. As she gains knowledge and understanding about the world and her own upbringing, she is driven to try to forge a way back to her family, so many of whom are still living in a toxic environment.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

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Celestial and Roy are still newlyweds when the unthinkable happens. Roy is arrested and convicted of a crime he did not commit. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison. In the beginning, Celestial and Roy remain fiercely devoted to one another, but as the years go by, Celestial begins to move on with her life. When Roy’s conviction is overturned and he is released early, the (still married) couple must figure out what really makes a marriage and whether or not they can still have one.

 

 

 

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler.

35133923Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School who has devoted her professional career to studying the prosperity gospel. At 35, she has is just hitting her stride in her career and has finally become a mother after years of trying. Then she is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. As she navigates the grief and pain of illness and facing her own mortality, she finds herself drawn to the reassurances offered by the health and wealth doctrines of the prosperity gospel and comes to an understanding of why people cling to these beliefs even when they seem so obviously false. As someone who grew up in an environment I would call “prosperity gospel adjacent,” I was moved by this memoir of wrestling with the harsh reality of death within this specific context. Bowler’s writing is funny and witty and heart-wrenching all at once and this book will stay with me for a long time.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl.

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Ruth Reichl is a renowned food writer and was a long-time critic for the New York Times. This memoir recounts her time as a food critic and her various experiences eating her way through New York City. The most entertaining parts are how she created actual characters with backstories and disguises in order to visit these restaurants without being recognized as the New York Times food critic and receiving special treatment. Parts of this are laugh-out-loud funny, and Reichl’s skills as a master storyteller are on show here. Such a fun read.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

36840397I don’t have the words. Part of what moved me so much about this book is that it was so emotionally resonant to my own family history, even though I grew up as a very conservative Christian rather than Muslim. I particularly enjoy/connect to stories that show how different family members experienced the same event in different ways. This book tells the story of an Indian-American Muslim family and their individual struggles with belonging. Parents, Leila and Rafiq have tried to instill their traditions and values in their children, but each of their three children has had to forge their own path. Leila and Rafiq have had to make difficult decisions about whether or not they can accept and embrace their children when their decisions don’t align with Leila and Rafiq’s hopes for them. The book opens at the wedding of Hadia, the family’s oldest child, who has chosen to marry for love rather than have an arranged marriage. The family are collectively holding their breath to see if the youngest sibling, Amar, will come to the wedding after being estranged from the family for three years. It’s a novel about the ways that families try (and often fail) to love each other well, and in that way, I think it is something we can all relate to. I think this book is a great choice for anyone who loved Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You.

Honorable Mentions go to: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, Heartless by Marissa Meyer, Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan, I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessmyn Ward

You can always follow me on Goodreads for updates on what I am currently reading. Let me know if you have read or end up reading any of these!

Why We Moved to Hong Kong

In my last post, I gave a brief answer to the very complicated question of why we picked up and moved to Hong Kong. Of course, there are some obvious reasons–we have wanderlust, and the timing was perfect for a new adventure since Jonathan was graduating. We found jobs in Hong Kong that match our interests and skill set. This is likely the last opportunity we will have to live abroad before we’re ready to settle down somewhere. We also have a great opportunity to save money and to travel more. But even as spontaneous and adventurous as I like to think of myself, I could never have made such a huge decision based solely on those things.

On some level, it isn’t anyone’s business but our own, and I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation, but to my core I believe in the power of truth-telling, even when that truth is ugly.

Our three years in Columbia were unhealthy for us in many ways. We both struggled with our physical health and fitness as well as bigger issues like Jonathan’s knee surgery. I struggled off and on with disordered eating. I had several low points in my mental health (though now, after nearly a year of experimenting, we seem to have found a good treatment solution). We loved our church, but our hectic schedules made it hard to plug in outside of Sunday mornings. Most importantly, these years were not good for our marriage.

For three years, we existed largely in different worlds that overlapped only at the edges. We loved each other, and we lived peacefully together, but we were living separate lives. Jonathan learned and worked and grew and changed in his grad school community and through his hours and hours of dedicated writing. Meanwhile, I threw myself into my job, into nurturing and caring for children in my life and for friends whom I connected with deeply. Both in terms of our actual schedules and in terms of emotional energy, we gave very little to each other. And so we grew and we learned and we changed and we became in ways that we did not share with each other.

In the spring, it became clear that we had a problem that we couldn’t fix with a few date nights or meaningful conversations. We had rooted ourselves into a way of life that did not include one another, and this had taken a toll. We felt disconnected and frustrated, resentful and sad, and, in moments, a little bit hopeless. Something had to change, and in the end, we knew that it would be very difficult to make those changes if we stayed in the same place doing more or less exactly what we had been doing for the past three years.

We always speak of our time in Korea as being both the hardest and best time of our lives. The pictures and the CoT stories cast some glamour and humor over the memories, but there were moments when life there was very difficult. The thing that made it so worthwhile anyway, was how close we were to each other. We were all each other had, and we supported each other, explored together, and grew together in a sweet way.

In Columbia, I had a job that was meaningful and fulfilling and that I worked hard at. It was a job I loved and felt competent in. I had gained the respect of my peers and my superiors and the love of my students. I had a boss who became a dear, dear friend. I had amazing relationships with several families who let me into their homes and their lives to help care for their children. I had a beautiful 14-year-old girl who I loved with my whole heart and whom I took care of  like she was my daughter. I had (have) friends who I love like my own heart. And for once, my family was actually close enough to visit several times a year. I had built a home, and leaving it all behind was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I did not do this casually. I did it because even though those things are important to me, my marriage is more important. My marriage will always be more important. And Jonathan and I had peace that moving away was the best thing for our marriage. We are not running away from our problems. We are taking them with us to a space where we can work on them without the temptation to slip back into the separate lives we had been living.

So here we are in Hong Kong, launching into a new adventure, hand in hand, faces turned toward the same horizon, waiting to see what we will discover next.