Tuesday, February 23, 2021

book report / 2020 faves.

I read 60 books in 2020 (the most books I've read in years), which I was pleasantly surprised by because I remember periods where I did not feel like reading and really struggled to concentrate. I guess a global pandemic will do that to you.

Anyway, here are my fave books from last year (all of the ones I gave 5 stars on Goodreads): 

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb / One of my fave memoirs of the many I've read! Interesting and felt like a breath of fresh air. Made me want to see a therapist. I listened and the narration was excellent too.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett / I absolutely loved this sprawling story about a house and a family spanning decades. I had never listened to a novel before, but kept seeing rave reviews of this one narrated by Tom Hanks, so I figured if I was ever going to, this would be a good one to try. I loved it! I found myself going for walks just so I could listen to more.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson / An important, heartbreaking book. I saw a NYT review that said it "will make you upset and it will make you hopeful"—that's true. (If you're interested, there's a young adult version too.)

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball / I thoroughly enjoyed this—so much so that I volunteered to do bedtime with Mabel on nights when it wasn't my turn so I could have more time to listen. Before listening, I wouldn't have said I was interested in farming (but I'm always interested in learning how other people live their lives), and now I'm 50% "I want to be a farmer!" and 50% "I could never be a farmer!" A truly fascinating memoir and the narration was perfect. (I listened to the sequel as well last year and enjoyed it almost as much.)

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett / Loved, loved, loved. It was beautifully written; I found myself highlighting so many sentences. And it had plot points I wasn't expecting which is always a plus for someone like me who is good at predicting what will happen.

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson / Some books should be required reading for everyone; this is one of them.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller / A beautifully written book that shouldn't have needed to be written, but should most definitely be read. (I recommend listening to it as it is read by Chanel.)

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand / One of my fave Elin novels to date! It made me smile, it made me angry, and it made me cry.

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer / Beautiful and relatable. I'll be anxiously awaiting Kate's next book of poems. 

What were your fave books of 2020?

P.P.S. If you want more frequent updates about what I'm reading this year, you can follow me on Goodreads or Instagram.

Thursday, February 18, 2021


I'm cheating a bit because this photo is actually from December.

drinking a lukewarm caramel macchiato that has already been reheated once.

feeling anxious; I'm not sure why. 

growing my hair out. 

looking forward to the opening of my friend Dani's art exhibit tonight at Zarah

wondering if I'll actually get back into blogging.

trying to remember how to blog. 

navigating the new (to me) Blogger layout and wondering if I should switch to Wordpress.

thinking about the bed and bookshelf from IKEA that we ordered and then cancelled. 

wishing I was better at decorating and making decisions.

reading magazines on my new iPad with my free Apple News+ trial. 

spending more time on TikTok than I want to admit. 

taking deep breaths.

making a to do list in my head. 

wanting to do more decluttering.

What are you doing currently? And do you read magazines? Which ones?

Friday, April 03, 2020

mabel says.

One of my favourite parts of being a mom is listening to and talking with Mabel. She is so funny and so sweet. Here are some of the best things she's said lately:

When singing the alphabet, instead of singing, "Now I know my ABCs," she sings, "Oh my, oh my, ABCs."


Mabel: "What does a penguin say?"
Me and Tony: ...
Mabel: "Wobble wobble!"


Mabel: "I want to be a boy."
Me: "Why?"
Mabel: "I want to be a girl."
Me: "Why?"
Mabel: "I don’t know."
Me: "You can be a boy or a girl. You can be whatever you want to be."
Mabel: "I want to be a Mabel!"
Me: "I think that’s great!"


She calls the restaurant McDonald's "Old McDonald's"—like the song.


When I was tucking her into bed, she told me, “I love me daddy and me mommy and me baby. I love me friends. And I love me!”


She calls her Mr. Potato Head toy "Sweet Potato." She'll say, "Where's Sweet Potato?" or "I want to sleep with Sweet Potato!"


I was just finishing cleaning the bathroom and she came in and asked me, “Whatchu doin’, Mama?”
I told her I was cleaning the bathroom; she asked, "What?"
I replied, "I scrubbed the sink, toilets, and bathtub."
She threw her arms around me in a hug and said, “Thank you, Mama!”

Thursday, April 02, 2020

march book report.

I read seven books in March; here are my really quick takes on them.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson / An important, heartbreaking book. I saw a NYT review that said it "will make you upset and it will make you hopeful"—that's true. (If you're interested, there's a young adult version too!)

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood / I didn't like the main character and felt the plot was lacking. Only finished because I was reading it for a book club.

Open Book by Jessica Simpson / I listened to this after seeing a lot of hype. It was fascinating to learn about Simpson's life, but there were cringey moments—celebrity extravagance, some of the anecdotes, the occasional cheesy self-help-type lines (and I like self-help books!).

Don't Overthink It by Anne Bogel / I don't feel like I learned anything new, but it's nice to have it all in one resource. The author's personal anecdotes were a nice touch. I got the audiobook for free when I pre-ordered the physical copy. I'm looking forward to paging through the physical copy.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce / I was more interested in Harold's backstory (and that of Maureen and Queenie) than his pilgrimage and the people he met. I liked it but not enough to read the sequel.

Inside Out by Demi Moore / I love a celebrity memoir and this was a good one.

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey / Predictable, light, and cheesy—exactly what's needed at a time like this. If you like rom-coms, you might like this.

What have you read lately?

Monday, March 23, 2020

morning coffee.

I hear the doorknob rattle as I’m about to get in the shower. I hear your baba say, “Mabel! Bù! Mama xǐzǎo!” (He’s protective of my time alone and I appreciate that.) I hear you say something about coffee and then the doorknob rattles again. I walk over and open the door, see you standing there holding a little red cup. “Coffee, Mama! Put it here,” pointing to the spot where your baba leaves my coffee every morning.

I thank you and tell you I can’t wait to drink it. You smile and close the door.

Later, while I’m washing my hair, I hear you asking your baba, “Whatchu doin’?! No! I made Mama coffee!” He fibs and tells you he’s making coffee for himself.

I get out of the shower and find two cups of coffee waiting for me. How lucky I am to be loved by you both. Who knew morning coffee could convey so much?

Monday, March 16, 2020

16+ tips for surviving self-quarantine.

My family and I have been self-quarantined in Beijing since January 26. As the coronavirus has escalated in North America, I've had family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers reach out to me—asking for advice, asking about my experience, looking for commiseration, and some people specifically asked me to write a blog post.

Here it is, but with two big disclaimers: I am not an expert and this is my personal experience.

First, answers to questions a lot of people have asked:

Were you/are you worried about shopping for groceries? Did people run out and stock up on toilet paper and other supplies there?
In the beginning we were worried about groceries, because people kept talking about the possibility of shortages. We stocked up on enough food for about a week or two, a mix of fresh food and non-perishables. We bought one pack of toilet paper, two boxes of diapers for Clarke, one box for Mabel (she only wears them when sleeping), and two six-packs of baby wipes. Most of this we ordered (grocery delivery in Beijing is common and very cheap). I made one grocery run at the very beginning of our self-quarantine for a few items we couldn't order.

In the beginning, we did have a bit of a hard time getting fresh produce, but I think that had more to do with it being Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and stock gets low at that time anyway. After a few days, it was no problem.

Over the past seven weeks, we've continued ordering groceries a couple times a week. A lot of restaurants were closed (because of the holiday and because of the coronavirus), but as they've slowly reopened, we've been ordering delivery a few times a week as well. We feel it is safe and a small way to help support local businesses (the restaurants themselves but also the delivery companies).

I don't think people stocked up on toilet paper the way they have in North America; I didn't hear of any shortages. I know people did stock up on masks and hand sanitizer, and there were shortages of those items.

What precautions did you take to stay safe and healthy?
We've been self-quarantining; the first two weeks were mandatory and the rest of the time it's been encouraged that we stay home as much as possible and only go out when necessary. (Protocol has been different depending where in Beijing/China you live.) We live on our school's campus; I've left campus three times (once for groceries, once for toys/activities, and once for a walk for my mental health). Tony has left once. The kids haven't left at all.

We wash our hands often—every time we leave our apartment, after getting a delivery, when we come in from outside, and all the usual times like after using the washroom and before eating.

When we leave campus and/or are around groups of people, we wear masks. We wear masks because it is recommended/required here. (Clarke hasn't worn a mask because the risks to babies' breathing outweighs the benefits.) Follow experts' advice on masks wherever you are.

What have you told Mabel? How much does she understand or know?
We have kept it very simple and told Mabel only what she needs to know, when she needs to know it. When she asks questions, we answer only what she asks and are as honest as we can be while keeping it appropriate for her age/maturity.

For example, she knows that school is closed right now and her ayi (nanny) and friends aren't here. She knows that she has to wash her hands more than normal because of "germs." Sometimes she seems to fixate on germs and I've told her that there are always germs and we should always wash our hands. I've explained that germs aren't all bad, that they can help make us strong, but sometimes they can make us sick so we're being careful.

She surmised on her own that school is closed "because germs" (her words) and so we went with that, and just told her we hope she can go to school again soon. We're doing online learning for now.

When she asks where her friends are, we tell her: Canada, Costa Rica, etc. When she asks why, we tell her because their moms and dads wanted to go there. (Obviously it's much more complex than that, but I'm not going to get into all that with my two-year-old.) When she asks when they'll come back, we tell her we don't know but hopefully soon.

Sometimes she tells us she's sad and I acknowledge her feelings and am honest, "I'm sad too" or "I miss my friends too." Sometimes I leave it at that and sometimes I try to swivel to a positive.

I think her young age is an advantage to us right now because her questions aren't too complicated.

How are Mabel and Clarke doing being cooped up?
We're lucky we live on campus so we have been going outside to the soccer field and playground almost every day. (There aren't many other people here right now and they're all being cautious too.) I don't think Clarke notices any difference (but maybe he misses our ayi and his baby friends?). The hardest part for Mabel has been missing her friends, teachers, and ayi. She tells us she misses her friends almost every day.

How did you stay mentally well? What is the best thing you've done to keep from panicking? 
The most difficult thing for me has been my mental health. I’ve gone through a range of emotions. It’s stressful not knowing when it will end, I feel guilty about Mabel having more screen time than usual, I've felt anxious and depressed, I miss my friends and feel lonely. I’m what I call an “introverted extrovert” so I love being home, but I also love being with other people. I'll share what has helped me below.

Is there an end in sight for you? Is it getting better?
Last I heard, cases have gone way down and most new cases are from people coming from abroad. For the time being, we are still practicing "social distancing" and there are strict measures in place in public areas like temperature checks, limiting the number of people allowed to sit at tables in restaurants, etc. Still no sign of when schools will reopen.

Tips for Your Mental Health

1. Stock up on self-care items for yourself.
Buy or borrow a bunch of books you've been wanting to read. (I love my Kobo and you can borrow library books online!) I've been using face masks and taking bubble baths a few times a week.

2. Get outside (or at least open the windows)!
I feel so much better after even just a few minutes of sunshine and fresh air. Like I said, we're lucky to live on our school's campus, but go for a walk or to a park if you can. (Note: Follow local/health experts' advice; I am not an expert.)

3. Exercise.
I was in a great routine pre-coronavirus but all that went out the window. I recently started doing pilates again and it's helping me feel better mentally and physically.

4. Keep up your planner.
Since I'm on maternity leave right now, I haven't been using a planner. I started again though and it's bringing peace and order to my days. I write down a few tasks to accomplish each day. And I sometimes retroactively write things down and check them off—Bath kids, check! Laundry, check!—to "prove" to myself that I did something that day. (Of course, it's okay to not "be productive" every day! You should take days off!)

5. Get dressed.
At the beginning, I was using self-quarantine as an excuse to stay in PJs and not do my hair or makeup. After a while, I realized that was contributing to my low feelings. Now a few days a week I get ready like I normally would; it's amazing what showering and putting on a bit of makeup while listening to a podcast and drinking coffee can do for you!

6. Talk to friends.
If possible, it's great to have a friend who is going through the same thing and someone who isn't. (I realize that latter option might be harder now that it is a global pandemic.) I've had regular video chats and group texts with friends and while we've been talking about the coronavirus, we've also talked about regular things: work, books, podcasts, joys and hardships of parenting, etc.

I haven't done this yet myself, but I've heard of people having virtual wine nights, book clubs, etc. I'm excited to try!

7. Find the silver linings.
When I start to feel really down, I try to find and focus on the silver linings. I get to spend more time with my family. I've been reminded that I can do hard things. Colleagues whose maternity leaves were shorter than mine have been able to spend more time with their babies.

8. Acknowledge the hard parts.
So many people have asked me some variation of, "Is it hard?" Yah, this whole situation sucks. Hashtag understatement. Acknowledge it. Sit with it. But try not to dwell in it.

9. Limit time spent on social media.
Easier said than done and I need to do better at this myself.

Tips for Kids

Some of the above apply to kids too: Get outside; exercise (Cosmic Kids Yoga is great); video chat with family and friends. Three more things that are helping us:

1. Stock up on toys and activities if you can. 
When I knew we’d be stuck at home for the foreseeable future and wasn’t sure if stores would remain open, I went on a small shopping spree. I bought everything from a DUPLO dollhouse, to a train set, to bath toys, to finger paint, to stickers. Tony and I agreed that we would give the kids a new “thing” whenever it seemed right and that we would probably (hopefully!) not use them all. We will save whatever is left for gifts for their birthdays, holidays, and maybe even other kids’ birthdays!

(That Lego doll house is in the running for the best money I've ever spent; Mabel has played with it—with us and independently—every day for the past 5 weeks!)

More ideas for activities: Busy Toddler and Days with Grey

2. Say yes.
That’s a tip I first read on A Cup of Jo and I always try to live by it, but especially now. Mabel wants to sleep upside down in her bed? Yes! Wants to play naked? Yes! Wants cereal for supper? Yes! Wants to jump on our bed? Yes! This has been hard for her, especially missing her friends, so I’m trying my best to keep her happy and entertained AND safe and healthy.

3. Throw away all the guilty feelings!
I know it’s easier said than done. I have felt guilty that Mabel is getting way more screen time than usual, that we chose to stay here so she isn’t able to go to school or play places or libraries (although it seems that would have eventually been the same if we had returned to Canada), that we’re ordering delivery for dinner a little more often because it’s hard to work and take care of the kids and cook and clean. When I give myself grace and tell myself I’m doing my best, it’s easier on all of us.

More Tips for Getting Through This

1. Continue to live your life.
It will look and feel different, but you need to adjust to your "new normal" for however long it lasts. While we've been self-quarantining, we've celebrated Tony's birthday, transitioned Mabel to a "big girl" bed, handled temper tantrums (Mabel's and our own), and done our best to have fun.

2. If possible, continue to pay people/support businesses.
I've been worried about the economy (locally, nationally, globally) since this all began. Tony and I are very fortunate that we are still getting paid (he's working from home and I'm on maternity leave). Because of that, we're able to:

+ Continue paying our ayi even though she's not working with us right now. (At first she wasn't allowed on campus; now she is a couple times a week, but we're being extra cautious.)

+ Continue my weekly pilates class with my "pre-coronavirus" instructor (via Zoom) so he'll still have that source of income, in addition to free/more affordable exercise classes online.

+ Order food and drinks from local restaurants and places like Starbucks. (Yup, Starbucks. I know they are a BIG corporation, but the way I see it, if people are ordering from them, baristas have more job security and so do the delivery guys and they will continue to get paid.) I've seen people online suggesting buying gift cards to your fave places to use after this ends. Do whatever is possible/what you feel most comfortable with.

3. Help others.
I've seen so many great ideas online and I'm sure you have too. Donate cash to food banks, offer to get groceries or run errands for those more at-risk, help look after someone's kids if they have to go to work and you're able to stay home, whatever you're able to do.

4. Do your best to flatten the curve
I know it sucks (again, hashtag understatement) to have trips and events cancelled, to be stuck home with your kids, to not be able to go out for your morning or afternoon coffee. But it is possible, it is doable; we've been doing it for 7 weeks and counting now.

If you have any more questions or if there is any way I can help you, please leave a comment, email me, or message me. We will get through this together!

Friday, March 06, 2020

january & february book report.

I set a goal for 2020 to read 52 books and I read 14 (total) in January and February. Here are quick reviews; I've starred my faves:

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris / Listened to this one and I highly recommend that. I liked some of the stories more than others, and found myself literally laughing out loud a couple times and gasping at at least one part.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith / I once wrote on my blog, before having read the novel, "I think I'd like Francie." I did like Francie! And her whole family, too. What a delightful novel.

*Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb / One of my fave memoirs of the many I've read! Interesting and felt like a breath of fresh air. Makes me want to see a therapist. I listened and the narration was excellent.

*The Dutch House by Ann Patchett / I absolutely loved this sprawling story about a house and a family spanning decades. I've never listened to a novel before, but kept seeing rave reviews of this one narrated by Tom Hanks, so I figured if I was ever going to, this would be a good one to try. I loved it! I found myself going for walks just so I could listen to more.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang / It had so much potential (and so much hype) but I thought the plot and the characters lacked depth. I probably shouldn't have finished it but I'm not good at quitting books.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine / Even though I predicted what would ultimately happen about halfway through, I still enjoyed it and as I read, I wondered what the characters would do next.

So Here’s the Thing… by Alyssa Mastromonaco / I was super disappointed with this, especially after loving her first book (Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?). Some anecdotes were recycled from the first book, many I didn't care about (like the most-played songs on her iPod or what's on her nightstand), and some felt like they will soon be outdated (like mentions of Trump).

I'm Just a Person by Tig Notaro / I'm not a Tig Notaro fan (only because I don't think I've ever heard/seen her perform), but I stumbled upon her memoir and I like learning about people's lives, so I listened. I liked it, didn't love it.

*Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes / Loved it! A breath of fresh air. Loved the characters, the dialogue, the setting, and the details. Especially perfect for any other North American East Coasters.

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda / Loved Miranda's pep talks when I read them on Twitter and love them in the book. The illustrations are fantastic!

*Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid / Please read this so we can talk about it! I loved Briar and the relationship she and Emira had. This novel felt complicated, in the way that life can be. I want to say more, but don't want to spoil anything.

To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma by Molly Millwood / I wish that I had read this before having kids. Then again, I probably wouldn't have really understood or appreciated it as much as I do now that I'm living it. A lot of points the author made left me feeling validated, and I was excited to talk to my husband and a friend about things I learned. I liked but didn't love the book because I felt like I was listening to a textbook.

Dear Mother: Poems on the Hot Mess of Motherhood by Bunmi Laditan / A treasure for moms. A few of the poems really resonated with me, and I think that will be the case whenever I pick it up again. Would make a good gift.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield / Fairytale meets mystery. I was slow to get into it, but once I was in, I was hooked. (I read it because it was a Girl Next Door Podcast book club pick.)

What have you read and loved lately?

P.S. I share reviews on my Instagram stories whenever I finish a book. I also save them in my highlights; here's 2019 & 2020.

P.P.S. More "book reports."
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