What I Learned On My Girls’ Weekend Getaway

This past weekend, a few fellow mommies and I went to SF for a Girls’ Weekend out. We lolled about, walked without considering small children, ate a ton and drank in the day time! Heck, we even drank at night! Awesome! It was so enjoyable and relaxing and truly fun. Thanks, ladies and husbands!

Here are a few things I learned this weekend on my first weekend trip without the kids in two years.

1) I didn’t really miss my children. Not even the baby. But I did talk about them at least 65% of the time and checked in with Hapa Papa every few hours.

2) Hapa Papa did fantastic with all three kids – even without having lactating breasts! Clearly, this is a sign that I need to leave more often.

3) Getting to know new friends is really fun. I’ve slowly been getting to know some of the moms at Cookie Monster’s preschool better and it has been wonderful. I don’t know why I worried so much about getting along with the other mommies. It gives me great hope for the future when the kids start elementary school.

4) Finding out what the other moms did before becoming SAHMs was a revelation. In our group, we had two lawyers, one child psychologist/school counselor, a financial advisor, and a preschool teacher. I had the least amount of education out of them all. They were all slumming it!

5) There is such a thing as too much chocolate. We attended a chocolate festival at Fort Mason and by the end, I was a bit sick of chocolate. Also, turns out I prefer truffles over bars. The best thing that I put in my mouth this weekend.

6) Valet parking in SF is totally worth it.

7) After attending an Asian American Film Festival, I realized I might have to start putting my money where my mouth is. If I want to see more Asians in film, I need to support their work.

8) Even though I’ve had my pixie cut for at least a month, I’m still not used to my new look. I am constantly surprised when I see myself in pictures and reflective surfaces.

9) I still get carsick.

10) Things that I might’ve found titillating or risqué a few years ago are now boring and contrived. Not because I am jaded or inured to sex. I’m just older and wiser and find some of the more desperate actions really sad.

11) I can’t control myself in bookstores. Especially when it comes to books that feature Chinese or Japanese stories for the kids. I’m also a sucker for coffee table books with tons of art/pictures.

12) Staying up until 3am chatting is better than sleep.

13) After coming home, say, “Thank you” to Hapa Papa and try to curb the urge to point out everything you see that is wrong with the house. It makes Hapa Papa feel shitty and me seem like an ungrateful jerk. Which I was for a few moments. Sorry, Hapa Papa. You are an awesome dad and husband and I am so fortunate to have you.

Since all the husbands performed admirably (one hit it out of the park by taking his boys on a spur of the moment camping trip to Santa Cruz), we clearly can leave our children more often. Any suggestions of where to go and what to do next?

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I’ve been caught up re-reading (for the third or fourth time) The Hunger Games series and I’m on the last book so I really can’t do anything else right now until I’m done. Even though one of the benefits of re-reading a book comes from already knowing what happened so you don’t have to blaze through at warp speed just to find out what happened, I’m nearing the home stretch and I MUST FINISH NOW.

So, with that in mind, super short post today (as well as group participation). What are your favorite books to read over and over again? Here are a few of mine (you’ll find many repeats from my post about books I want my kids to read):

1) The Hunger Games / Catching Fire / Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

2) Ender’s Game / Ender’s Shadow / First Meetings (really, the whole series) by Orson Scott Card

3) The Duke and I / When He was Wicked / Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

4) The Dark is Rising (whole series) by Susan Cooper

Ok. Now I’m off to read. Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

**(Links are all affiliate links.)

Yes, Another Post Wherein I Talk About Books

Since I love books, it only makes sense that many of my posts are going to be about books and their authors. If you don’t like reading, so very sorry. However, I’m sure you know people who enjoy reading – and maybe they would enjoy some of these books and their authors. Since I’ve had a reader request for YA books/authors, and YA is one of my favorite genres, we’ll focus on that today.

YA (for those of you not in the know, stands for Young Adult) is one of my favorite genres because more than any other genre, it focuses on story and plot and has a fast pace. The language is usually very clear and simple (which is not the same as simplistic) and there (usually) isn’t an excess of sex and/or violence. The protagonists are usually in their teens and while that may make for some annoying quirks in the characters, it also allows for a lot of growth. Also, there is the unfortunate tendency to have long, belabored love triangles that don’t resolve until the end of a trilogy. The trend lately has been dystopian (thanks, The Hunger Games), but there was YA long before that came into fashion.

Here then, are some authors and books I recommend. As always, the links are Amazon affiliate links.

1) Neal Shusterman – Fantastic writer of some incredibly moving and poignant series. The most famous of his series starts with Unwind, a world in which abortion is outlawed but between the ages of 13-18, a parent can choose to “unwind” their child by transplanting every single part of their body into willing recipients. There are three scenes in this book in which I defy you to not break down and weep hysterically. I also highly recommend his series that starts with Everlost.

2) Marie Lu – A newer author, so far she has only written the Legend trilogy (the final book dropping on November 3). I appreciate that she is an Asian author as well as the fact that her characters are of mostly mixed heritage. But that’s not why I like her writing. Her characters are tightly written and I particularly love June. It is also a rare thing when the second book is better than the first. I can’t wait for the conclusion!

3) Agatha H. and the Airship City by Kaja and Phil Foglio – Originally a web comic, the two books are the novelized form of a few of their stories. Steampunk in all its glory – and most importantly, the main character is a girl genius whose primary goal is NOT A BOY. That is supremely refreshing. I HIGHLY recommend both books. It took me a few tries to get into the first book initially but once I got past the first few pages, I was hooked and read it in all one sitting.

4) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – I have no idea whether or not Wein has written anything else. But OMG, this books is amazing (and NOT a dystopia). WWII, spies, women, and friendship. Oh, and the judicious use of ALLCAPS makes it my kind of story! FANTASTIC. Although I initially was reluctant to start, once I did, I never looked back. I really cannot tell you more without spoiling the whole thing – and it’s so worth NOT being spoiled. It’s one of those books that you have to re-read immediately (or at least, flip back through the book) to catch all the hints/red herrings. This book makes full use of the unreliable narrator trope. AWESOME.

I will not lie. I sobbed gross, messy, snotty sobs near the end. Gross. Messy. Shameful. Sobs. I cried so hard, I woke up Hapa Papa who sleepily pet my hand to tell me it was ok. (What a darling.)

I stayed up until 2am TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW. I had two small children at the time. It was worth it.

5) Megan Whalen Turner – Her The Queen’s Thief series is excellent (and also not a dystopia). It starts off with The Thief, which is good, but the rest of the series just gets so much better. The main character, Eugenides, is hilarious and has some of the best lines. My absolute favorite in the series is The King of Attolia.

6) Paolo Bacigalupi – Again, I appreciate an author who writes as if people of color are also in this world. He doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but it is so refreshing. I can’t wait for the day when that is no longer a distinction to note. But until then, it’s another plus in Bacigalupi’s favor. However, the reason I enjoy him has nothing to do with that. His stories are exciting and wild. My favorite is The Drowned Cities. Technically a sequel to Ship Breaker, it is not necessary to have read the previous book. SO GOOD.

7) Shannon Hale – She may be more famous for Austenland, but I found her through The Goose Girl several years ago. Again, I’m a sucker for a female protagonist – especially if it’s an alternate version of a familiar fairy tale.

8) Tamora Pierce – It’s been awhile since I’ve read her books but there is a scene from her book, The Woman Who Rides Like A Manthat consistently stays with me. Ok, it’s not a particular scene, but the whole section is imprinted on my brain. I constantly forget who wrote it and what it was about, but every time I think of a fantasy novel with a strong female lead, it pops into mind. Make of that what you will.

Side note: Many of these books I heard of from Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite writers. I have found that in general, I trust his recommendations and I would urge you to check the reviews out for yourself. I have found that if an author I like is genuinely recommending a book (versus just pimping out a book or an author to get reciprocal props), it is definitely worth looking into.

You’ll note that I left off some of the more famous series such as The Hunger Games and Divergent. These books are doing so well and are made into movies so I think they’ll be just fine. The books are excellent, of course, but they hardly need my signal boost. I focused on some lesser known authors and I hope you give them a shot.

As always, once I get going on books, it’s almost impossible for me to stop because there is always just one more book that I need to tell you about. I love books and love to tell other people about them. If you want more recommendations, just check out my Goodreads young adult bookshelf.

What about you? What books or authors did I leave off that you think I’m clearly an illiterate son of a whore for doing so? What would you recommend I read? Let me know it the comments.

Here, Have Some Lists

I’ve been single-parenting it this week while Hapa Papa’s been in London on vacation for work and quite frankly, I’m pretty exhausted. Usually, my mom would come over and help but she’s in Taiwan until Sunday. What the hell, family? What’s with the lack of consideration for what’s convenient to my life? Ah well, pretty much as soon as Hapa Papa walks in the door all rested and refreshed from his relaxing trip without me 10 hour flight, I will hand him Glow Worm, kiss Cookie Monster and Gamera, and run out the door to the nearest spa for a full body massage. I might remember to greet my husband on my way out.

Anyhow, as a result, you get a listy and bookish post today. Yay! However, rather than give you a list of books (and I still may but I may also let you flex your Google-Fu), I proffer you some authors you should check out in my favorite genre of science fiction and fantasy. Of course, YMMV – particularly if you don’t care for SF/F. As usual, all Amazon links are affiliate links.

1) Orson Scott Card – Most famous for his Ender’s Game Series (approximately 15 books set in that universe), he is one of my favorite authors. I avidly read his columns that review anything and everything on his site. His Ender’s Game movie is coming out in November (and hopefully, won’t ruin the book for me forevermore). Even though I love his science fiction, oddly enough, my favorite book of his is Enchantment, a modern fairytale of sorts. Card’s characters all have smart-ass mouths and the banter is quick, self-effacing, and often full of love. I wish I talked like them.

2) John Scalzi – His most well-known series starts with Old Man’s War and he is lauded for writing “accessible” sci-fi. In other words, you don’t have to be some hard-core geek to love his writing and his books. You just have to like reading. Bonus: Scalzi is hilarious and his fiction includes copious amounts of funny moments. However, what wins me over are his more surprising poignant moments.

3) Brandon Sanderson – Sanderson stepped in to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series after Jordan passed away. However, Sanderson is an awesome author in his own right. Be forewarned, though. Most of his books are door-stoppers and usually top out at 100,000 words. But you can’t beat his unique magic systems, world-building, and immense scope. For an easy intro to his work, I would start with the normal length, free-standing Elantris. Then, I would move on to his Mistborn trilogy. Mind-blowing. However, my favorite is still Warbreaker. I can’t articulate why, I just do.

4) NK Jemisin – Jemisin is one of the few black female fantasy authors and I fully appreciate how that influences her writing. Fantasy, more so than other fiction in general, is often lily-white. Jemisin challenges that default and her writing and worlds are the better for it. I would start with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

5) Kate Elliott – I LOVE Elliott’s writing. Her worlds are also not in the default European setting and I really appreciate that! Plus, like Jemisin, she includes non-heterosexual pairings and considers them normative. Like Sanderson, is incapable of writing a short book, but I don’t mind at all. I love her writing. (My brother, on the other hand, is bored to tears by her.) I would start with Spirit Gate even though she is more well known for her Crown of Stars series.

6) Lynn Flewelling – Another fantasy author that includes non-het pairings in a positive fashion (I think she is famous for this, actually). I would start with The Tamir Trilogy, a truly creepy and horrific series that I still get the heebies thinking about. But it’s SO GOOD. *shudder*

Obviously, this list is not all-inclusive. I tried to include some famous authors as well as authors you may not have heard of. I may do another SF/F author list in the future but for now, since my brain is running on empty, this will have to do. If you want to see more of my SF/F books, check out my Goodreads shelf and filter by rating.

You know what? This post did not go as quickly as I had anticipated. *Shakes fist at sky.* I actually did some WORK! BOOOOO!!! 

Anyhow, like I mentioned, this is not an all-inclusive list. So, calling all my fellow SF/F geeks. What authors would you recommend?

Books I Will Force My Kids to Read

Yes, I know. Forcing my kids to read certain books is just guaranteeing they won’t like them. (This theory has not worked for snacks and desserts, however. They like their forced cakes and ice cream just fine.) However, I have several brilliant ways around this!

1) When the kids get old enough, we can read these books aloud before bedtime. Even better, I will make Hapa Papa read the books. That way, it kills two birds with one stone! (I doubt Hapa Papa has read more than ten unassigned books in his lifetime.) 

2) I will tell the kids, “I don’t think you’re old enough to read this book yet.” Then, I’ll leave it out in a conspicuous place and hope they will give into curiosity and “rebel” by secretly reading the books under the covers at night.

3) Read a lot of books in front of them.

I’m not talking about kiddie books, of course. I’m talking about meaty, classics. Books that I have read over and over again over the decades – and they just get better and better. For the sake of limiting this list, (because otherwise, I’ll just keep going), I will assign the arbitrary number of six.

Here then, are six books (pretty much all of them are series) in no particular order that I can’t wait to share with my children.  I have handily linked them to Amazon with my affiliate links for your convenience.

– The Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis (7 books)

– The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain) Series by Lloyd Alexander (5 books)

– The Dark is Rising Series by Susan Cooper (5 books)

– The Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien (4 books)

– A Wrinkle in Time Series by Madeleine L’Engle (4 books)

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (7 books)

Now, of course, I cheated. This is really a list of thirty-two books. But come on! You can’t start a series and NOT FINISH IT!! Especially when it’s high fantasy! Sorry I am feeling lazy today. I purposely didn’t explain why I love these books. But I figure most people are aware of them. They’re not really that obscure and I believe every single one of these series has at least one movie adapted from it so pull from your general pop culture movie knowledge, ok? Or, you know, just follow the links.

If you are interested in what books I read and review, you are welcome to follow me on Goodreads. Just be forewarned. Just as with Facebook, I only friend people I know in real life.

Your turn. What books do you want to share with your kids? Tell me in the comments. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can even include why.

I’m Afraid of Twilight

I have never read the Twilight or 50 Shades series – not because I think they’re stupid (which from what I’ve gathered from Wikipedia and generally being alive, I do), but because I am afraid I will secretly like them.

I pride myself in being able to detect good from bad writing and the thought of me liking books that allegedly contain such horrible writing – well, I find it wounds my self-image. In addition, I want to be special and an arbiter of good taste. How can I maintain this falsehood if I should actually *gasp* like mediocre books that millions of fangirls and fanmoms adore?

How ridiculous is this? Who cares if I like these books? Or don’t? Who is this arbitrary Gatekeeper of Coolness that I am trying to appease?

Never mind that I read plenty of Regency romance novels (although I do toss the poorly written ones to the side – I have standards, people). I have slogged through plenty of crappy fan fiction (I have a low tolerance for that, too). I even made it through two books of The Vampire Diaries and they were awful! Why should it matter if I like or dislike Twilight?

For some reason, I seem to have a perverse need to seem “rebellious” or anti-mainstream. A hipster-like mentality without actually being a hipster. In college, I steadfastly refused to like *NSYNC or Britney Spears or Harry Potter not for any valid reason, but because so many people liked them. The irony being that once I got over myself, I absolutely LOVED all three. ABSOLUTELY LOVED.

All you careful readers out there might be starting to notice a trend with me. I constantly avoid or deny activities, hobbies, even careers that I don’t think I should enjoy. As a result, I have often lived a fake life, including what I like and dislike, in a pathetic attempt to appease a non-existent Gatekeeper. That’s just sad, people.

The most ironic thing is that until recently, I had prided myself in being such an authentic person! It is only through writing this blog that I’ve come to recognize just how much of myself and my life was for building an image vs actually living. Only in the last five or six years have I become more and more comfortable with who I am as a person, gradually shedding the affectations of a person I thought I should be.

I am thirty-five years old.

How mortifying.

I don’t necessarily think the solution is just to read more Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. (Although, I’m not as opposed to the idea as I once was.) It’s more that I can unabashedly claim the things I enjoy without shame. It also helps that geek culture seems to be on the rise in both popularity and acceptance.

Sidenote: Do you know that it was at least five or six years into our relationship before Hapa Papa realized how much I LURVED Batman and dinosaurs? (Separately, not together – although that would also be awesome.) HOW COULD HE NOT KNOW I LOVED BATMAN? THE MOST AWESOMEST SUPER HERO EVAR?!? Or dinosaurs? I mean, what’s not to love about dinosaurs?

Anyhow, suffice to say, I’m a dork. A nerd. A geek. Math humor cracks me up. I love science fiction and fantasy novels/books/whatever. I love books. I read CONSTANTLY. I love romance novels. I love YA fiction. I love Batman. (OMGERD, I LOVE BATMAN!!!) I love cartoons. Board games are awesome (especially Puerto Rico). I read fan fiction. I have written fan fiction. (No, you may not read them.) Puns rule. Most crappy pop-music is awesome to me. Star Trek: The Next Generation is the best Star Trek series ever and I LOVE JEAN-LUC PICARD (without apology!). I secretly wish I could code. I constantly find cartoon characters incredibly attractive. (I’m looking at you, Prince Zuko.)

And one day, I just might love Twilight. 

Rainbows and Genocide

‘Cuz God is a killer from the start
Why you think Noah had to build his ark?

Heaven, Ice Cube

Everything I ever learned in Sunday School about Noah’s Ark involved cute little animals marching up the plank onto a giant boat. Oh, and of course, 40 days of rain, rain, rain and crows and doves and olive branches. And rainbows. Pretty, pretty rainbows. And perhaps some passing mention of flooding the world to the point where everyone died except for eight people stuck on a boat.

Wait, what?!

God kills almost every person on the planet (not to mention all the animals and plants) and we Christians teach it to kids with catchy songs because it has cute fluffy animals and boats and stuff?

I find that really inappropriate.

In a related vein, my kids’ Sunday School teachers are going to hate me.

It doesn’t bother me that everyone dies by God’s hand. It bothers me because we gloss over hard parts of the Bible, Disney-fy a Grimm story, and put a pretty bow on it with a nice banal song to boot. Maybe even add a talking animal friend.

Basically, we lie to our children about God and His story and one day, they’re going to read the Bible for themselves and hit Noah’s Ark and say, “What the flying fuck is this?”

And not just Noah’s Ark. The Bible is page after page of completely messed up stories and people that challenge us and make no sense sometimes, and often bring up more questions than answers about God and His infinite mercy and wisdom.

Don’t think the Bible is that edited when we teach our kids? How about the raping of Dinah and her brothers killing all the men of the offending tribe when they are recovering from circumcision? Or David committing murder so he can cover up adultery and knocking up someone else’s wife? Or God commanding the Israelites to kill all the people – women and children included – in their skirmishes as they invade another people’s land to turn into their own? Or the tenth plague of Egypt where the Angel of Death kills every single first born – including babies and toddlers (which I have a huge problem with)? Or when Abraham whores out his wife, Sarah, to various kings because he is too cowardly to claim her as his wife?

I mean, this barely scratches the first few books of the Old Testament! You could say, “But that’s the Old Testament! God was different and full of wrath!” To which I reply, “Oh, God changes personality then? He is inconstant and schizophrenic? That’s comforting.”

But let’s say you’re right. What about the cozy, heartwarming stories from the New Testament? Like when the lovely baby Jesus is born and King Herod massacres all Jewish baby boys under two or three? (Kinda like with Moses.) Or that delightful, kid-friendly crucifixion – the basis of the Christian faith? Or John the Baptist’s head on a platter because King Herod lusted after his grand-niece/step-daughter (let’s not even get into the incest!)? Or Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead on the spot for lying about how much money they got for a plot of land?

We Christians give our kids such sanitized Bible stories that when they inevitably find out the truth by actually reading the Bible, our kids are totally unprepared for the brutality and hard questions these stories raise. At best they will think the Bible has no relevance to the real world and at worst, they will think the Bible a pack of lies. We rob the Bible of any teeth and power by serving it diluted. We do an immense disservice to our children when we “clean up” and serve God and the story of His people in palatable bites.

The Bible is NOT palatable. The Bible is not easy. The Bible is not safe.

The reason, of course, is that God is not palatable, easy, or safe.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver […] “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis [emphasis mine]

Why are we so afraid of teaching our kids the unedited stories of the Bible? Is it because we secretly don’t believe that God is good? Or that God is big enough to handle our questions and doubts? Or maybe we are too lazy to think about these things at all? Because if we did think about what the Bible actually says about gossip, the poor, money, and grace, we would actually have to change our way of life?

I realize no parent in their right mind wants to discuss after Sunday School why it seems okay for God to kill babies or what adultery means. But that’s our job as parents. I don’t want to talk about drugs or sex or race with my kids, either, but I will because that is my job as a parent. To frame and put hard things in context. To equip my kids the best way I know how even if eventually they decide that my values and faith will not be their values and faith.

For me, that is the hardest thing. To trust that God will take care of my family and kids even if they reject everything I teach them. That even if I do everything “right,” there is no guarantee of safety or shelter from suffering. That life is like the stories in the Bible: messy, complicated, and sometimes, really screwed up.

Yes, life has beautiful and grand moments. It’s easy to think God is good then. But as we all know and experience, life is not always lovely and wonderful.

If we only cherry pick the good parts of the Bible and God, how will our children know to cleave to God when life spirals into the grimiest shit? How will they respond to the seeming disconnect between “God is good” and the world they see with their own eyes?

This is why I get so mad about Sunday School stories as they currently are. They paint a lie of the world – that if we just believe in God, everything will be shiny and full of ponies! That God makes everything better and rewards good little children. That only pillars of faith make it in the Bible – not real humans.

But that’s NOT TRUE. It is a lie.

The truth is, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45, NIV) That no matter how faithful you are, sometimes, prayer doesn’t work out the way we want and families split up or friends die of cancer. That despite all our good intentions, babies starve, women are raped, and children are sexually enslaved.

It is a fallen and broken world in which we live. The same fallen and broken world in which the Bible and its characters and the story of God’s people take place. I’m not saying that Sunday School should be a depressing experience, but it should at least sometimes reflect reality and not a Pollyanna view of the world. Sunday School should be a safe place for equipping our children to examine and question what the people do (as well as how God responds) in the Bible. Sunday School should not only be a place for our kids to learn about the Bible, but to learn how to grapple with the tension between the hope and promise of a new kingdom, and the temporary reality of pain and suffering in this world.

This sounds great in theory, but I have no idea how to implement this with my own children. They are young, yet. Plus, I doubt I will ever find this type of Sunday School while my kids are still eligible to attend. *sigh*

What do you do with your kids? How do you explain suffering and hope in an age-appropriate manner? For that matter, how do you approach religion and faith in your family? Let me know in the comments. I’m looking for ideas I can blatantly steal. 🙂 Cheer me up, please!