Wednesday, March 1, 2017

SoCal wedding and babymoon

Our friends got married in LA the weekend before last! I made them this sampler:
They live in the Bay, she does Polynesian dance, and he wore a purple jumpsuit in college.
We stayed in an airbnb right by the ocean, so got to wake up to this awesome view for the weekend:

After the wedding festivities, we took the week off to hang out in nearby Ojai, CA for a "babymoon" - aka last vacation before we get sucked into a vortex of diapers and sleep deprivation in about two more months. Ojai is really pretty, and has a cute little downtown with a giant outdoor used book shop:
And a well-named liquor store:
But for the most part we just stayed in bed, read, watched movies, and took naps. We figured we should be as lazy and self-indulgent as possible while we still can, since - as this sign reminded us - there is no poop fairy to do the dirty work for us these next few years:

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

2016 book year in review

Towards the beginning of last year, I wrote about realizing my reading habits were startling homogeneous, and committing to be more intentional about reading authors from a greater diversity of backgrounds. Since 2016 is over, I wanted to step back and see how I did. Here's the raw breakdown of author demographics for every book I read in 2016:


Female
Male
Multiple authors with different genders
Total
Asian and Asian-American
6
2

8
Black
18
3

21
Latin@
4
7

11
Middle Eastern
10
1

11
Multiple authors with different races
1

1
2
Multiracial
5
1

6
Native
4


4
White
17
14

31
Total
65
28
1
94

First, you can probably guess that I am mad about falling just short of reading 100 books. I was totally on track until I got pregnant, and had to slow down my reading pace since I was too nauseous to read during my daily train commute. Stupid baby ruining my life goals before it even gets here.

Second, I was struck by how white authors were still the largest group by far, despite all my efforts. Turns out its hard to not read a lot of white authors when the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white. That being said, I definitely improved on my historic averages:

Time period
Female authors
Childhood
39%
High School
18%
College
56%
Post-College to 2016
41%
2016
69%
Overall
42%

Time period
Asian & Asian-American
Black
Latin@
Middle Eastern
Native
White
Childhood
0.6%
1.8%
0.6%
0%
0%
97.0%
High School
0%
3.7%
0%
1.2%
0%
95.1%
College
1.4%
2.9%
2.9%
11.4%
1.4%
80.0%
Post-College to 2016
2.1%
22.4%
2.8%
4.2%
0%
65.0%
2016
8.5%
22.3%
11.7%
11.7%
4.3%
33.0%
Overall
2.2%
11.1%
3.0%
4.3%
0.8%
76.2%

All in all - definite progress! Best of all, as I had hoped, I ended up reading some really fantastic books that I probably wouldn't have ever heard about if I wasn't intentionally searching for more diverse authors. You can check out my spreadsheet with all the books and my thoughts on them, but in particular my top three were:
  • The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. I don't even have words to describe what this book did to me. Read it and prepare to be gutted by the most uniquely beautiful writing you've ever read, and also to need several days to recover afterwards. 
  • Anything by Luís Alberto Urrea. I read "Into the Beautiful North" first and was so transfixed by his writing that I ended up inhaling everything he's written as quickly as I could. Even his nonfiction is mesmerizing.
  • The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Okay, I probably would have heard of this one regardless because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last year, but it still blew me away.
It was a great year for reading. Here's hoping 2017 is even better - at least, until the baby gets here and all reading goes out the window for a while. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Update

I shared this last week on facebook, but realized that I should write it here too for completeness sake: The Afghan refugee family my group of friends is sponsoring made it to the US! While the executive order still has put the fate of tens of thousands of refugee families in limbo, "our" family was able to come because they have a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) granted to Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. Government in Afghanistan and subsequently became targets.

The second piece of good news is that we ended up having every large piece of furniture donated, which left us with more money than we needed from our fundraiser. We were planning on donating the excess funds directly to the IRC, but as our family was about to arrive, the IRC let us know of a second Afghan family arriving last week under the SIV program, who would be living in the same apartment building as our family, and didn't yet have a sponsor. One individual donor stepped up to cover the second family's rent subsidy, and then we were able to use the remaining fundraiser money, and extra furniture donations, to fully furnish an entire second apartment. In the end, not one but TWO families arrived in the Bay to find a new home and welcoming community waiting for them.

I'm trying to focus on maintaining the positive momentum and motivation from these developments, which is hard because at the same time that I am elated about these two families, there are thousands more refugee families who had been vetted and promised a home in the US and now seem unlikely to actually be admitted. But, not being able to fix everything doesn't mean we shouldn't try to fix as much as we can. Onward.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Uphill battle

I wrote last weekend how one of the small pieces of encouragement I found under the new administration was that within three days of me posting about sponsoring an Afghani refugee family with a group of friends, we had raised all the money and supplies we needed to support them in their transition to America. They were scheduled to arrive this upcoming Wednesday, February 1, when we would meet them at the airport with a warm meal and welcome them to their new home. Friday night we found out that the president signed an executive order banning all refugees from entering the country for 120 days, and cutting the number of refugees being accepted this year from 110,000 to 50,000, even though more than 50,000 have already been vetted - including our family. Best case scenario is that they still get in after spending an additional and unnecessary four months in a refugee camp. Worst case is they don't make the cut anymore. And that's to say nothing of all the families from the seven countries that are banned entirely.

I spent about two hours sobbing in bed yesterday morning. I know this isn't the most upsetting thing about the executive order, but I kept thinking how I had found this one tiny way to help one individual family in the face of so much awfulness, and now even that was gone. And then thinking that the despair and helplessness I was feeling could only be a tiny drop in the bucket of how the family was feeling. They had been five days away from starting a new life in safety, after years and years of waiting in refugee camps and being vetted and vetted and vetted again. I can't even wrap my head around how that would feel.

Ben eventually got me out of bed, and as we were trying to figure out what to do, a friend told us that a protest was happening at SFO airport in a few hours. I figured doing something was better than continuing to cry at home, and that it might feel good to turn some of my anger into yelling. We pulled two big pieces of cardboard from the dumpster outside our apartment building, wrote "banning refugees does not make us safer" on them in marker, met up with some friends who had just done the same, and then headed over to SFO. We got there shortly after the protest was scheduled to start at 3 and there were already a couple hundred people there - within about an hour there were close to a thousand, and the road to the terminal was shut down as we filled the space. We eventually moved inside and took over the arrivals level of the international terminal, since that's where the Department of Homeland Security is.

As with the Women's March last week, being with a big group of people all committed to the same values was a comforting experience during a profoundly discomforting time. I was particularly heartened by the number of signs expressing Jewish-Muslim solidarity, since so often that divide is exploited to try and prevent two groups who are both oppressed by Christian hegemony from coming together as one. I was also heartened by the number of people showing up with tons of water bottles and food to distribute throughout the crowd, especially as the evening wore on and it became clear we were going to be there a long time. There were lots of chants and songs, but my favorite was "Move Trump, get out the way. Get out the way, Trump, get out the way" (reference, in case you need it). Both because it was fun to yell from a pettiness perspective, but also because it's how this whole week is making me feel - he will get out of the way, or we the people will push him out.

The best moment of the night was when word came through that a federal judge had issued a temporary stay on the executive order. The crowd erupted into a joyous mass of screaming, clapping, jumping, and overall jubilation. I don't know if this was a pure coincidence or if the noise triggered it (either from the crowd or from my own yelling), but at that moment the baby started kicking like crazy. I felt like I was doing something as a parent for the first time - trying to make a better world for my kid to live in.

We'd later find out that the judge's stay only applies to people who were already traveling when the order was issued, and that it would still take many hours - and in some cases over a day - for Customs and Border Protection to follow the stay and release people being detained, or even let them have access to a lawyer (even as of today, CBP is still disobeying the order in at least one airport). We ended up staying until 9pm, at which point my pregnant self was not hard core enough to commit to spending the night like many of the protestors did. An even bigger crowd reassembled today, though, since detainees were still being held as late as this afternoon, and on the news there are dozens of similar protests happening at airports and public spaces across the country. So, while this administration is clearly going to make it harder to find even small glimmers of hope than I thought, there are plenty of Americans willing to come together and fight for those glimmers. It's a small comfort to the Afghani family now indefinitely stuck in a refugee camp after being promised safety, and the thousands of other families in the same position, but hopefully it's the start of moving the administration out of the way and making America a country that is worthy of those families once again.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Small victories

I'm trying to stay focused on what I want to work towards in the coming four (and God forbid eight) years, instead of despairing over all the things there are to work against. In that spirit, here are three and a half things I am happy about this weekend.

First and foremost, my feminist reading group was matched with an Afghani refugee family via the IRC earlier this week. We set up an Amazon registry for everything they'll need for their new apartment, and a GoFundMe for the rent subsidy we'll be providing them. We posted both links on Thursday. By Saturday, 100% of the registry was purchased and we had exceeded our GoFundMe target. There's still a lot of work to do to set up their apartment, and even more to support and mentor them as they make the transition to America, but this is a great start that has me feeling renewed faith in and gratitude for my community.

Second, the picture of the Obamas I ordered a few weeks ago finally came! Now I get to look at them on my way out the door each morning - I pretend Michelle is personally reminding me to "go high" as I start each day.

Third, yesterday we went to the Women's March on San Francisco, and it always feels great to be with friends and surrounded by a massive horde of excited people who agree with you :)

Although, while at the Women's March I couldn't help but think about a Black Lives Matter protest I went to a few years ago in the exact same part of SF. That was a small weeknight protest, with 30 protestors max standing on the sidewalk. There were at least 50 police officers in full riot gear there, and they stood shoulder to shoulder encircling the protest. At the Women's March yesterday there were over 100,000 protestors shutting down the street for over a mile, but the police were only stationed every few blocks. They were wearing regular uniforms and casually chatting with each other and with protestors. The difference in police presence and behavior was startling, even knowing what I know about how police treat protestors of color versus white protestors. It was a stark reminder that I need to keep showing up, and bringing my protective whiteness along with me. I hope I'm able to keep doing so once the baby comes.

Three and a half - this isn't really my thing to be happy about, but as I write this post Ben is at a training for "White Men for Racial, Gender and Economic Justice," along with another white male friend of ours. Neither of them were particularly active before the election, although they both supported equality, but now they are both looking to become more active in pushing for what they believe in. I am hopeful that there are many, many more people out there finding themselves in the same situation, so that the momentum of yesterday's march carries through to meaningful social change.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Chicago

The end of 2016 wasn't all terrible - we spent the last week in Chicago with both of our families, and were joined by my best friend for a Christmas Eve showing of Hamilton!
After obsessively listening to the soundtrack for a year I wasn't sure if the show could live up to my impossibly high expectations, but it exceeded them! It was so, so wonderful in every conceivable way. I cried a few times, especially at "include women in the sequel."

Outside of the theater, it was great to spend a day with my bestie, who drove down from Milwaukee to hang out with us and her future goddaughter.
A few days later, our families and some family friends surprised us with a Harry Potter baby shower! It was completely unexpected, and very fun. It was also immaculately decorated - I felt like we were in a pinterest board. There were HP candies:
Reese's cup "broomsticks" and Lindt truffle "snitches."
Every Flavor Beans and Chocolate Frogs - all homemade, including the packaging!
HP decorations:
Hand knit HP scarf, owl, books, and Ben's niece in HP glasses.
Ben's family and floating candles.
My mom knit Ben a sweet Dumbledore cap.
And a beautiful (and delicious!) cake:
The inside was layers of scarlet and gold for Gryffindor.
It was a great reminder that while the next four (and god forbid eight) years are going to be rough, there is still a lot to look forward to.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Goodbye 2016

I didn't write anything here for the last two months of the year because I was really depressed about the election. I was also in the early months of being pregnant, and while the pregnancy is great news, I was sick most of the time so wasn't really doing anything besides struggling through the workday, lying on the couch, trying not to throw up, and throwing up. The election and the pregnancy sort of swirled together into a seemingly endless stream of nausea and existential dread - we had been thrilled about the pregnancy on November 7, but then a switch flipped and both Ben and I really struggled with what it's going to mean to bring a child into a world that is much different, and much worse, than the one we had anticipated.

After a mourning period (no kidding - I wore a torn black ribbon for a week after the election to symbolically sit shiva), I owned up to the fact that as rich, well-educated, straight, cis, white people living in an extremely liberal area, we are going to be among the least harmed by the new administration. That means we need to step up to try and minimize the damage to the more vulnerable among us. So far we've done that by:
  • Increasing our recurring donations from 5% of our income to 10%, partly by increasing the amount to organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, whose work is now more important than ever, and partly by adding a few new organizations that address the increasingly urgent issues of Islamophobia (Council on American-Islamic Relations), immigrant rights (National Immigration Law Center), voting rights (Brannan Center for Justice), and trans rights (TGI Justice Project).
  • I found out I get a bonus at my new job, which is great but financially unnecessary, so I gave it away. Some went to extra end of year giving for organizations we already support, most went to organizations working to support Syrian refugees given the current severity of that crisis.
  • The feminist book club I'm a part of decided to do more than just read together, and collectively we are sponsoring the local resettlement of a refugee family with the International Rescue Committee. Unfortunately the US doesn't let citizens sponsor the settlement of additional refugee families, so we can't increase the number of people receiving safety here, but the IRC works to support the settlement of already approved refugee families who don't have any local friends or family to support them. We should be matched with a family in the next few weeks, at which point we'll raise funds to support them financially, collect furniture and other items to furnish their new home, and mentor them in navigating the city, getting jobs, getting their kids enrolled in school, and all the other tasks that they'll need support in managing over the coming months.
  • I've been calling various elected representatives every morning on my walk to work to advocate for and against various bills, proposals, and appointments. I get my daily action list from a combination of We're His Problem Now, #FightTrump, and Wall of Us. At first I was reluctant to do this because I don't like talking to strangers on the phone, but it is actually really easy, and now it's just part of my morning routine. For the first few weeks I was calling while walking, I was still stopping behind what I nicknamed my "puke bush" midway through my walk for my daily morning throw up, and I was still able to make calls before and after - it really is that easy. One time Jason Chaffetz even answered his own phone, which I was totally unprepared for, but the lesson I took away was to keep calling and be prepared to talk to anyone.
  • This is a small thing, but we sent handwritten support letters to every mosque that received hatemail after the election. It felt nice to write uniformly positive and loving letters, in contrast to the often critical phone calls, and the unexpected - but completely lovely - result has been some incredibly wonderful letters back from people at the various mosques. So if you're ever visiting and wonder why we have holiday cards from random mosques across the country on our fridge, that's why.
  • Ben has been especially concerned about the potential environmental harm on the horizon, so he's been figuring out how to make us greener in various ways. For now he's mostly focused on reducing our water use and our trash output, and we've also agreed to only eat meat twice a week, fly less often, and do as much of our shopping locally as possible.
  • We're not going to go to the Women's March on Washington, as part of our new "minimize flying" policy, but we are going to go to the Bay Area solidarity march.
  • I re-read "Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice" with a group at work, and we're trying to figure out how we can collectively do something useful like my feminist book club is doing.
  • I also read "Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities" and found it really helpful for thinking about how to approach the coming years. In particular, I'm realizing the importance of picking only 1-2 issues and really focusing on them, rather than trying to do everything and doing it all poorly. The author also writes about the importance of centering your actions around the goals you are trying to achieve, and not developing an unhealthy obsession with "the enemy" standing in your way. In other words, I need to resist the temptation to waste mental energy despairing over how awful the human dumpster fire of the president elect is, and stay focused on loving and supporting the people I want to protect from him.
All told, I'm feeling okay about what we are doing so far (and I haven't stopped doing any of the things I've written about in previous posts). I'm having to resist the temptation to join more groups and sign up for more recurring actions, because I know I'll have limited capacity once the baby comes, and I don't want to start any work where me suddenly disappearing for several months would cause problems. I am feeling kind of icky about the fact that all of these actions we're taking would have still been important had the election gone the other way, but we probably wouldn't have been catalyzed into doing them. I'm hoping the unpleasantness of that personal realization will compel me to maintain this level of engagement even when there isn't a looming existential threat to our national freedom and security.