pandemic diaries: party on

My last real update to the pandemic diaries was right around my 13th Twitterversary, right around when Elon Musk announced his intentions to buy Twitter, which he has now, 7 months later, finally done (then and now got me thinking about the song Reunion by The Indigo Girls (..."I have no need for anger with intimate strangers and I got nothing to hide"). I started putting together this post several days ago with the intention of combing through my tweets since that mid-April update and then deactivating or even deleting my account, not out of any kind of Twitter takeover protest but because I lack the willpower and self-discipline (and self-respect?) to stop wasting my time there. And then I'd lose @danceswithkids forever. Either way, here are some random things I thought worth tweeting over the past 7 months:

Debbie Millman in conversation with Amy Sherald on Design Matters about the long-term benefits of, well, hanging in there (been thinking about this a lot lately so I'll try to write more about this later).

We made vegan fondue for Easter.

The newsletter is mostly dead. Add it to the long list of things I've started and stopped.

Finally saw Bandaloop perform. It was incredible.

It's been very chilly here the last couple of weeks (although it's supposed to get to 67 today). Here's a haiku I wrote in February 2007 while living in Boston: 

so cold, the little

bit of heat from your eyeballs 

fogs up your glasses

As I settle into my 46th year, I really feel this quote from an LA Times article about the final season of Better Things: "My friends and I could rob a bank and nobody would notice. It’s that invisibility." 

Is there a better social media app for artists and writers? No links to share; I'd genuinely like to know.

I haven't run in several months (still working out...switched from Freeletics to The Fitness App because, what can I say, I do love me some Jillian Michaels) but I signed up for the Oakland Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving next week. Above is a picture of the lake at dawn in late June. Below is, I think, why I run. I need to get back to it!

Still haven't had time to watch the TV show remake of A League of Their Own, but did you know Abbi Jacobson's podcast Piece of Work back in the day was part of the inspiration to start my own podcast?

Finished this project, submitted it to a couple of alt gallery spaces here in Oakland. Nada. Rejection still a real bitch after 15 years of not showing my work. Considering clearing out my 120 square foot backyard studio to show the work there (I just want to show the work—beyond online—that I spent three years working on, y'know?) which wouldn't be all that different than participating in Open Studios, which will next happen in June 2023. So maybe then? Sigh.

Earlier in 2022 I started slowly going through this here blog, organizing posts into thematic Google documents. I ended up with 7 docs, the longest of which (about attending grad/art school in Boston) is 113 pages, 60,093 words. Who wants to publish my art school memoir?

I became a people manager again in August. Hopefully I won't have to fire anyone anytime soon.

From the New Yorker essay about Angela Garbes' book Essential Labor: "At one point, Garbes compares the pandemic to early parenthood, a period of time 'when whole lifetimes are held in a single day when 'the smallest details matter, they become the universe'—when we 'restructure and rearrange the way we live, how we define our lives, and what we value.'" Even though my kids were 7 and 11 when the pandemic started, I felt that so many times during the first couple of years of the pandemic, chronicled right here on this blog (those posts make up a 50-page Google doc...and counting!).

I recently finished reading Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention and now I feel like, actually, this will never come true. On a positive note, however, I also learned that if you highlight text while reading a book on your Kindle, you can then export those quotes to a Google sheet that your Kindle will email to you. Amazing!

Stayed in Oakland for the 4th of July. Had a good tweet.

Spent the last week of summer break solo parenting during a working vacation with the kids in Chico, followed by a truly solo weekend in San Rafael to attend Mindful Eating Film & Food Festival (which I wrote about here).

Traveled to San Diego for my birthday weekend last month.

Rewatched Wayne's World a couple of months ago and thought it was much funnier than I remembered. Decided to dress up as Wayne & Garth for Halloween.

Party on!


call me Fred

It's been almost six months since I last updated the pandemic diaries. And as fitting a note as that would have been to end on, the diaries, like the pandemic, haven't exactly ended, but they've definitely slowed in frequency of entries. On the heels of this article in the New York Times by Claire Cain Miller, I'd planned to write a little more about how the last school year was surprisingly challenging given most kids, both of mine included, returned to in-person school with little or no interruption all year, as I described to Claire when she interviewed me for the article in April in response to this Twitter thread. A few weeks later, she had the data to back up what seemed initially like an atypical experience (compared to stories about the many working moms, in particular, who felt they had no choice but to quit their jobs during the pandemic in order to care for children, facilitate distance learning, etc.). Turns out I was not alone in feeling more drained after kids returned to school than when they were home doing remote schooling the year before, nor was my experience of not only continuing to work but actually taking on added hours and responsibility, all that unusual, after all. 

But then the school year ended and some of those emotions diminished as I transitioned into summer mode. Now that another school year has started, some of those feelings have returned. I think what happened for me shortly after winter break is that kids returning to school freed up some mental bandwidth to look around and realize that while kids being back in school in person was great for so many reasons, things had not, in fact, gone back to any kind of pre-pandemic "normal." After-school options were minimal while expectations around productivity at work, like traffic, were pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels. It's kind of like how the brain can only really focus on one major pain source at a time. If you have, say, chronic lower back pain due to mild arthritis and then suddenly experience a flare-up of sciatica (I'm old, okay?), while dealing with the latter the former will seem to go away. But as you get the sciatica under control, the mild back pain will inevitably return. Likewise, once the daily demands of distance learning were gone, I had time to look around and see that a lot of other stuff in my life was falling apart, all while the infrastructure to support working parents, shabby as it was pre-pandemic, was still almost nonexistent (kids were back in school but there were very few after-school options, so good luck with work after about 2:45 pm every day).

We're now 8 weeks into the 2022-23 school year (Oakland starts and ends early). My son is, somehow, in high school(!!). My daughter finally got a spot in the after-school program. I am no longer, as the article states, "a training coordinator at a gaming company." I'm now a Global Operations Lead for Professional Training, which is...basically a training coordinator. Over the summer I studied for and passed PMI's Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam. I moved from independent contributor to manager and, for a week or so, I was a people manager with no direct reports. Best of both worlds, I joked! Then my manager left the company and suddenly I have a couple of people reporting to me, I'm actively hiring, and oversee an entire program of about 100 third-party trainers with no support staff, all on top of what I typically do every day for the past three years. Welp. It's been kinda nuts, but, not unlike how I felt when presented with the opportunity to transition from part-time to full-time during a global pandemic and halfway through a full year of distance learning, scarred perhaps by my hummingbird approach to "career" and the challenges of looking for a job after any kind of break or deviation from an otherwise linear path, I feel like I have to take full advantage of these professional opportunities even at the expense of my creative goals and, some days, general physical health and mental well-being. 

I've been thinking about work-family balance a lot over the past week since I attended CCA's "Rooted" ceremony on the Oakland campus. I worked at CCA (California College of the Arts and, formerly, Crafts) from January 2015 through August 2017. Working alongside folks who'd been there for literal decades, it probably seems like a blip. But for me it was a really significant chapter in my work history in both positive and not so positive ways. Prior to CCA I ran my design micro-biz on Etsy. Prior to that, MFA in hand while the great recession unfolded, I had every intention of teaching art at the college level. Ha! The job I eventually landed at CCA was very similar to work I did before going to grad school: administrative in nature and specifically supporting upper level management and board members. It wasn't my first choice. But I was perfectly qualified and it was at an institution I still greatly admire. Not a bad runner-up, right? Well, long story short, it was really hard for me to feel satisfied with such a behind-the-scenes role at an art/design college where I would have much rather been teaching or managing programs or doing really anything more directly related to students and the kind of teaching and learning going on there.

I quit five years ago with nothing else lined up to spend a year (one year eventually turned into two) resetting as both a parent, spending more time with my youngest before she started Kindergarten, and as an artist, spending more time in the studio we'd built in our back yard the year before. I spent most of the second year thinking about how artists support themselves financially in the making of this podcast. When season one was done and I still hadn't figured out how to monetize anything I was doing creatively, I started looking for work yet again. I eased, with some luck and a little nepotism, into the job I have now. It's not any more creatively satisfying than the work I was doing at CCA. But unlike all the arts jobs I've had, at my current gig, I have no problem being the person behind the scenes making sense of the chaos. I'll never be a programmer and I'm totally okay with that. If anything, I'm further removed from the "art world." And perhaps that's why I really enjoyed but ultimately felt a bit out of place at the ceremony last weekend. It was a little like seeing an ex-lover or friend out in the world after a breakup or a falling out. I feel like I've grown so much as a worker over the past three years at my current gig and thanks to two years of working really hard for free, frankly, before that (more time with the kids, podcast production, and lots of volunteering). But being on the Oakland campus brought back feelings of inadequacy while simultaneously longing for a sense of belonging that only those who went to school there or had worked there longer than me and/or who were still working there could legitimately claim (these are my feelings; I'm not necessarily speaking for other participants).

I suppose it's an extension of how I've always felt with respect to anything art-related. Desperate for validation as an "artist," while keeping the "art world" at a distance, using defense mechanisms to cope with relentless rejection, dramatically swearing off the whole thing every few weeks. Toward the end of the ceremony, during which the bell that CCA founder Frederick Meyer would ring to bring the community together 100 years ago would be rung for the last time on the Oakland campus, a white bird (was it a dove or a pigeon?) started flying around the redwoods outside Macky Hall. It criss-crossed the lawn as it flew from tree to tree and as Lisa Jonas (an artist I interviewed for my podcast) concluded her closing remarks it landed on the wooden arch built from wood reclaimed from redwoods lost to disease over the last couple of years. It was a too-perfect ending, the white dove everyone believed it to be symbolizing peace, at once acknowledging our mourning for the Oakland campus while releasing us of our ties to this legacy in order to make room for new and future opportunities in San Francisco. But, Oakland Animal Services volunteer that I am, I couldn't help but think that "dove" looks an awful lot like the white pigeons we've had at the shelter lately. And if that bird was a lost pet trying to find its way home, well, that is a whole vibe that is, you have to admit, also kind of accurate. 

But maybe I'm projecting. Maybe I'll always feel like an outsider who doesn't fully belong, incapable of appreciating a magical moment for what it is, skeptical that what I'm seeing is "real" and not, in the words of magician Schmendrick, from The Last Unicorn, a "disguise...for those eager to believe whatever comes easiest." Maybe there's simply more symbolism for me personally in the fact that my first job out of high school was at Fred Meyer, Pacific Northwest grocery chain, and CCA was started by Frederick Meyer, a connection I only recently made when my husband pointed it out after hearing me describe the ceremony, the bell, and the dove. Maybe, when it really comes down to art and work, in a world of doves, I'll always feel like a lost pigeon.


the world is not your oyster

"What's the opposite of 'the world is your oyster?'"

I think of this line, from Noah Baumbach's film While We're Young a lot. Usually with respect to what I thought my life would be like (creatively, professionally, etc.) compared to what it's actually like as I settle into middle age. But this scene came to mind again last weekend at the Mindful Eating Film & Food Festival in San Rafael. A fundraiser for Rancho Compasión, the festival is sort of like a vegan Sundance...or at least, aims to be! One day. In the meantime, the third iteration of this event (the first one was in early 2020, then they went virtual during the pandemic, and returned to in-person this year) included a line-up of five feature length documentaries, several short films, guest speakers and panel discussions, and a whole range of vendors providing free samples, vegan meals, and tons of information about living a plant-based life. 

If you know me (and/or read this blog) you'll recall that I began the transition to being vegan early on in the pandemic (having already eliminated beef and pork from my diet years earlier). I've been describing myself as "mostly vegan" since because being 100% vegan is, at times, still aspirational. But many, if not most days I eat a totally vegan diet and have taken a close look at other areas of my life as well (I don't buy anything made with leather, wool, silk, etc.). I participated in Veganuary back in January but relaxed the rules again ever so slightly when the month was over. Attending the festival reinforced my commitment to being vegan and I thought I'd share some of that renewed (com)passion in a recap here.

Filmmakers Jamie Berger and Shawn Bannon with Miyoko Schinner.

The festival began with the west coast green carpet premier of The Smell of Money, which examines the devastating impact of the pork industry on the surrounding community in eastern North Carolina. (Coincidentally, I had just learned about Smithfield Foods a few days earlier when Direct Action Everywhere activists disrupted the SF Giants game at Oracle park; read more about the issues here. Activism works!) 

In addition to yummy vegan food and drinks at the reception preceding the screening, I also met Susan Hargreaves, an activist featured in The Heart Whisperer, one of the short films that screened before each of the feature-length films the next day.

On Sunday, the lineup included four more feature-length documentaries over the course of the day, one of which I'd already seen (The Game Changers, which is streaming on Netflix). I watched the first three films and took in as much of the rest of the festival as I could between films. Up first on Sunday was Elk Water, about the Tule Elk at Point Reyes National Park, effectively being held captive and restricted from accessing natural water sources (which are dwindling due to the ongoing drought here in California) reserved for the dairy ranches on park land. You can get a gist of the issues here and see tons of related videos from producer Skyler Thomas here (I suspect he'll add Elk Water eventually). Stylistically speaking, it wasn't my favorite film, but it was produced as a direct follow-up to The Shame of Point Reyes, (supporting data can be found on the related website here) which kicked off this event back in 2020 (the event took place on the very land at the center of the documentaries!). There was a related panel discussion I was unable to attend because it conflicted with one of the other films.

Loaded tostones from Oakland-based Casa Borinqueña for lunch.

Next up was The End of Medicine, about the relationship between animal agriculture (and our general treatment of animals) and things like pandemics and antibiotic resistance. It's not a good sign when someone says something like, "you think climate change is scary, just wait 'til you hear about x!" Most doctors, and by extension their human patients, are more knowledgeable about overprescribing antibiotics now, but there is effectively no regulation of antibiotic use in animal agriculture, which accounts for at least 70% of all antibiotic use. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria will kill us before climate change does if we don't make some dramatic changes soon.

The final film I watched was Eating Our Way To Extinction, which takes a hard look at our increasingly insatiable appetite for animal meat and the disastrous effect fulfilling this desire is having on our planet (if you think being pescatarian is the solution, this is the film for you). This screening was preceded by 73 Cows, which was probably my favorite short film, about one beef farmer's journey to transitioning to a plant-based farm in the UK (Miyoko's Creamery has a transition program for dairy famers who want to make a similar change).

Have you noticed a theme yet? Are you surprised that it's not necessarily animal welfare? I tell people lately when they ask why I aim to live a vegan lifestyle that I came for the animals, and I stay for all the other reasons. The culprit in all of these films, whether they deal with native species, human communities (disproportionately affecting communities of color and lower-income folks), pandemics, or the planet is animal agriculture. If you think to yourself, sure I could kill a chicken in order to eat it, but you claim to care about any of these other issues, you should be very concerned. As Miyoko Schinner (of Rancho Compasión and Miyoko's Creamery) says in the Unbound Project short that preceded the screening of The End of Medicine, "everyone is a pre-vegan." You can choose to make changes now or you can wait until it's too late to do so in a way that starts to curb some of the downright dystopic effects of slaughtering 80 billion animals each year so that 7.8 billion humans (minus the vegan and vegetarian ones, of course) can continue to eat meat. Because the world is not, in fact, your oyster! As Eating Our Way to Extinction suggests, and a question that came up in the panel discussion that followed the screening, we simply must turn our personal desire into personal responsibility.

I will admit I was apprehensive about attending this event. I had a hard time watching the documentary Eyes without crying (a short film about animal activists, Moby among them, who gather in the middle of the night to greet trucks full of pigs on their way to slaughter, to be witness to and give them some small comfort during their final moments of an otherwise miserable life). But I left the event feeling a guarded mix of energized, empowered, and hopeful. I'm encouraged by the fact that it's easier—and more delicious—than ever to be vegan, and buoyed by statistics like these (according to this, about 10% of American do not eat meat). But I worry, like I do with minimal progress on emissions and other climate-related solutions, that it's happening at a pace far too slow to make enough difference in time to avoid doing irreversible damage (not to mention the billions of animals that will suffer in the meantime). 

But these concerns only underscore my commitment and my desire to share something I'm passionate about in a joyful way (animals are amazing! vegan baking is fun and delicious!). I'm grateful I'm not alone and that there are people with voices much louder than my own behind documentaries like these. The End of Medicine producer and actor Joaquin Phoenix, in his famous 2020 Oscar acceptance speech, points to the commonalities of all these different issues celebrities use their platforms to address (a common theme in all of the festival's documentaries as well...everything is interconnected!). At the end of that speech he quotes his late brother, River, urging us all to "run to the rescue with love and peace will follow." Love and compassion, not just for the animals, but for the farmers and the workers involved in factory farming, the communities directly affected by these practices, and even the proud meat eaters who dismiss the research and data in documentaries like The Game Changers as simply confirmation bias. As the late Tommy Raskin is oft-quoted as having said, "I’m working for a vegan world, not a vegan club." This is an all hands on deck situation, folks, not an exclusive club. You don't have to be perfect to make a difference. You don't have to attend the film festival to see the films (most of them are streaming for free!). The first step is to simply not look away.


pandemic diaries: the souvenir nobody wanted

After two years of being pretty darn careful, even for heightened Bay Area standards, COVID caught us. The pandemic diaries have officially been renewed for a third season! Welp. I'm fairly certain my son, and maybe I, brought it back from D.C. (I hinted at a follow-up post in my recap here; not the encore we wanted). And we were being pretty careful there, too—everyone was vaccinated, masks were required everywhere except when outside, if not particularly crowded, when eating and drinking, and in hotel rooms. But there was a fair amount of unavoidable indoor dining and nobody has successfully figured out how to eat and drink and keep a mask on at the same time (maybe these goofy things which, in hindsight, don't seem so silly now). 

When we returned home on Sunday evening, middle of the night east coast time, I was exhausted and had some irritation in my sinus passages and upper back portion of my throat. I chalked it up to the trip, the dry circulated air on the plane, etc. I woke up the next day to more cold-like symptoms (definite sore throat, runny nose) and news that at least one traveler had tested positive for COVID upon returning home. Crap. Elias and I did rapid home tests that morning (it was spring break and I am still 100% WFH so we were already effectively on a sort of ongoing lockdown). Negative. But because I was symptomatic I scheduled PCR tests for both of us just in case. Also negative. Could I have picked up a cold on a trip with folks who picked up COVID? Technically, it's possible. There are certainly other viruses circulating. I managed to work through Wednesday, taking just a half sick day on Monday to catch up from the trip (I cleaned two bathrooms and the litterbox and did a little vacuuming...this is what I do even when I'm not feeling well) and go to the drive-thru PCR test appointment. 

Wednesday evening Elias seemed more tired than usual and right around bedtime looked flushed and was very warm. We took his temperature and sure enough, he had a fever of 102. He did another rapid test. Hella positive. I took another rapid test. Still negative. We locked it down through the weekend, canceling numerous plans (I'd taken Thursday and Friday off already but I'm still trying to sort out if I can swap those for sick days instead!). Daphne and I both tested negative on Friday; by then I was feeling mostly better, aside from a lingering cough I'm still trying to fully kick. Neal started to feel a slight sore throat on Friday night but waited until Saturday to test since testing too early can result in a false negative. Hella positive. Like, seriously, the line was so thick and dark it put the control line to shame. 

Our house is really too small to effectively isolate anyone, and we don't have any friends with, say, spare condos in the area, but we jacked up the air purifier, wore N95 masks as much as possible, and, while it was summer-like for a few days late last week, opened the windows and turned on the fans. So far, Daphne continues to have no symptoms and test negative. Elias had the faintest of positive tests yesterday so he's still home from school today. We only have 2 home tests left so I'm tempted to just keep him home through the weekend; he can return to school on Monday either way. And I'd say he's about 95% recovered as far as symptoms go.

That's that. For now. A total of 6 negative tests later, I guess I'll never know if what I had was COVID, which is annoying when you think about a possible 4th booster in the nearish future. Do I get it or wait until any possible natural immunity wanes? But if I didn't have it, am I more susceptible during that period? I did find one article that might explain my experience, but who knows. As far as catching COVID after 2+ years of avoiding it, it's tempting to feel like a failure, but I'm grateful we got it after the vaccines and the boosters. I'm also grateful we didn't catch it in the fall or even winter because I think I would have felt a lot more shame, guilt, even fear, and anxiety, and that's a real drag on top of everything else. It's too soon to say our cases won't develop into long COVID but I will say we've all had worse bugs. So at least there's that. But this thing sadly ain't over, folks.


5 days in D.C.

I recently chaperoned my 8th grader's class trip to Washington, D.C. When Omicron started to surge right after the New Year, I worried the trip would be canceled as it had been the two years prior. But I think we just managed to squeeze in between the Omicron surge and whatever BA2 is going to do. Sort of. But more about that in a follow-up post.

I should preface this by saying that when the school started discussing this trip, and the need for chaperones, in the fall, I knew I'd probably want to step forward. I love traveling, increasingly longing for anything to interrupt the tedium of the past two years, and I genuinely enjoy chaperoning school field trips. I haven't chaperoned any middle school field trips, mainly because there haven't been many (none since the first half of 6th grade), so I decided that if my 8th grader didn't object, I'd volunteer. I think he may have been motivated by the false hope that I'd be able to smuggle his cell phone to him in spite of a no cell phone policy, but either way, he said he wouldn't mind so I filled out the form. 

We saw so much over the course of our nearly five days in D.C. I already posted a list on my newsletter, which you can check out here. For this blog post, I thought I'd flesh out that itinerary with some images and reflections.

Day 0: redeye flight from SFO to IAD

Neal and Daphne drove us to the airport on Tuesday evening to meet up with the other families, in particular the other students in our chaperone group. I was partnered with a teacher, which was great, not only because he was great, but because it was nice to have a parent-teacher combo. The kids were overall really well-behaved, engaged, respectful, etc., but sometimes it takes a teacher to get their attention and cooperation. Together we were responsible for 8 students, including Elias. The only challenge here was that chaperone groups didn't necessarily match friend and/or room groups. The kids got along well enough but they got really tired of my repeated attempts to get chaperone group pictures to text to their parents. 

Anyway, we made it through security to the gate without incident and had plenty of time for everyone to get dinner, fill up water bottles, etc. The kids were pretty quiet on the flight so I assume most got at least some sleep. Elias and I were prepared with neck pillows, eye masks, and ear plugs, but it wasn't exactly a great night of sleep. I was so tired when the plane landed in D.C.

Day 1: National Museum of the US Army, Monuments & Memorials on the National Mall, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The redeye flight was just a little over four hours from takeoff to landing, so no matter how you slept on the plane, you were operating on a sleep deficit for the first packed day. From the airport, after freshening up a bit, we met our tour guides and bus drivers (2 of each for the duration of the trip). Our Bus, Bus B, was cursed, as we'll discover why a little later on. From the airport we drove to our first stop—the National Museum of the US Army—by way of a cluster of fast food joints for breakfast and, most importantly, caffeine. We had a couple of hours at the museum before lunch at the Pentagon City Mall and on to the National Mall to walk around the monuments and memorials. 

From there we moved on to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History plus dinner at a restaurant on the way to our hotel. 

I lucked out and got upgraded to a single, private room, and honestly, that was a total game-changer. If my daughter goes to the same school and I chaperone her trip (or any other like it), I will pay extra to have a private room. That said, our first night at the hotel was a late one, since we got checked in relatively late and still had to debrief as a chaperone group, something we did every night after the kids were all tucked in in their rooms. I slept so soundly those first couple of nights (but still woke up tired!). My strategy was to get up and be partially ready before I had to wake up the students in the room I was responsible for (different than my chaperone group). That first morning I snuck down to the hotel breakfast before the kids did and, not to be a food snob, but let's just say I walked across the street to Starbucks every subsequent morning. The waffle maker, however, was a big hit with the kids. Later that second day I bought a giant blueberry muffin that served as my breakfast for the following two mornings, alongside a soy latte and a banana. I'd also brought some vegan granola/cereal bars. After the first breakfast, I smuggled a banana to Elias each morning (what hotel doesn't at least have bananas?).

Day 2: US Capitol Building, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Inner Harbor for a Dinner Cruise

The night before, upon discovering that the tour company had not in fact secured us group tickets to the Museum of African American History and Culture, as requested, we decided we'd try as a group to get enough individual tickets for everyone when that day's tickets were released in the morning at 8:15 a.m. And we were successful! But first, we drove to the US Capitol Building for a photo op in our matching red t-shirts.

From there we moved on to the museum. It was packed. We spent so much time waiting in line first to get in, then to get to the bottom half of the museum, and again for lunch at the cafe. I mean, what else can I say, it's heavy stuff. And a few hours is not enough time. One also needs time to take in the building, both from outside and within. The cafe is excellent. I recommend spending a full day there, with a lunch break at the cafe in the middle.

We stopped at a general gift shop on our way back to the hotel, where we had an hour or so to freshen up for the Inner Harbor dinner cruise. Not gonna lie, this was not my favorite part of the trip—especially given we didn't leave the harbor due to choppy water—but the kids had a blast. A thunder storm was moving north of us so that provided a cool, if slightly concerning, backdrop to some upper deck outdoor photos before they sent us inside again. 

The party was extended for Bus B when it was discovered that Bus B had a flat. Another late night settling in to the hotel. Mind you, we chaperones also had to fit in phone calls to parents once or twice a day for each of our 8 "chapees," as we affectionately called them. We took advantage of the extra time on the boat that night to do just that.

Day 3: George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, The White House, and National Harbor

I was really looking forward to Mt. Vernon since this was one of the stops on the itinerary that I hadn't visited before (I lived in two D.C. suburbs—Springfield and Manassas— for 2nd and 3rd grades, and we returned as a family in 2019). As with almost every place we visited, I wished we'd had more time to explore. We spent way too long waiting in line to use our lunch vouchers provided by the tour company, and apparently if you order a veggie burger with a meal voucher they refuse to "dress it" with lettuce or tomato. Worst meal of the trip. The gift shops are nice but they were so crowded. And one thing I learned on this trip is that I am not ready for crowds! I may never be.

From Mt. Vernon we drove to Arlington National Cemetery. We walked around with our tour guide, observed one of 31 funeral processions scheduled for that day, and spent about ten minutes (too long) watching the guard pace back and forth before the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We observed him interrupt his pacing to firmly request silence and respect from another school group chatting and giggling as they sat down on the steps, so that was exciting. Our group of students was collectively quiet as a mouse after that!

After Arlington National Cemetery we took a quick detour to the sadly fenced and barricaded White House for a few photos (hard to see the janky barricade from the photo above but let me tell you it is sad and janky and totally blocks the view of the bottom half of the building and grounds). When we got back to Bus B, we discovered that cursed Bus B wouldn't start. Bus A had already departed so the plan became this: get Bus A to the National Harbor—a 30-minute drive—before returning to the White House area to pick up the occupants of Bus B, the battery woes of which would be remedied while we too ate dinner and explored The Awakening statue in the very cold wind. 

It was a relatively early night back at the hotel where kids who wanted to could fill out postcards to send back home and to their fundraising donors. I was delighted by the size of the stack produced that evening in the breakfast area of the hotel.

Day 4: Thomas Jefferson Memorial (and cherry blossoms!), Arts + Industries Building, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

First stop of day 4 was the Jefferson Memorial and a short walk around part of the lake to check out the last of the cherry blossoms (wish I'd known about the bloom cam before...although, it would have been about 6 a.m. west coast time when we were there!).

From there, we'd decided the night before to check out the Arts & Industries Building

This was probably the only place we visited where I felt like we had enough time to look around. It was fun to see the kids engage and interact with so much cool stuff. The other thing I liked about this day from this point on was the walking to and from destinations compared to hopping on and off the cursed Bus B (the only downside to this is that middle schoolers are apparently not very good at staying to the right half of a busy city sidewalk; they're like liquid, filling whatever form they collectively occupy!). From the A+I building we walked to L'Enfant Plaza for lunch. After lunch we walked to the Holocaust Museum. Apparently there was another mixup with tickets, with only about half of the tickets provided by the tour company for the afternoon slot we all wanted. So earlier that day a group of chaperones had again snagged some individual tickets online (most D.C. museums are free but you still need advance tickets and total number of tickets at each location are limited each day). But this meant some groups, including mine, had to wait a bit. Perfect opportunity for my kid to call the other half of our family back here in Oakland; with all my energy focused on making sure the other kids in our group called their parents each day, I'd completely blanked on having Elias call home the previous two days! 

The Holocaust Museum, like the Museum of African American History and Culture and some of the monuments and memorials we saw earlier, is extremely somber. And we did not have enough time, despite allowing an extra hour or so beyond what was originally allocated on the itinerary. I like how both museums kind of move you through the space according to the narrative arcs of those histories. After the museum, we sat on the grass near the Washington Monument to decompress and debrief in reflection circles. We had dinner at Uno Pizzeria and checked out the MLK Memorial a little after sunset before returning to the hotel for our final night in D.C.

Day 5: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center + flight home to SFO!

The cherry blossom 10-miler happening in D.C. on Sunday meant we had to omit an item or two from our itinerary, but honestly, I'm so glad we did. I think everyone was feeling the effects of our whirlwind pace by that point. We had about an hour and a half to wander around the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on our own (everywhere we went, depending on the location, we were either "tight" with our chaperone groups or "loose" and free to wander around until a specific time to return to a meet-up point), with a check-in break at lunch (Firehouse Subs lunch boxes on the benches outside the Museum), and just enough time after lunch to watch one of the IMAX movies. We all thought we'd have a ton of time at the airport, leaving the museum around 2:30 for a 5:55 pm flight, but it was nonstop until it was time to board. Sorting 100+ boarding passes takes time, as does getting that many kids and adults through security. To add to the chaos, once my group got to the gate, excited that we were finally not the last group to arrive somewhere, we discovered our gate had changed and, this being IAD, had to take one of those weird, wide buses over to an entirely different area of the airport. Which was a real bummer because our original gate was in what appeared to be a much nicer, newer part of the airport with better dining options. But wait, there's more! On top of all this, when we got to the correct gate, one of the students in my group announced that he'd left his backpack on the bus thing. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve it but let's just say I clocked a lot of airport steps that day. I had just enough time to hit the bathrooms, refill my water bottle, and grab a veggie sandwich from a deli chain I can't recall the name of now. I also bought some chocolate I intended to enjoy with some red wine on the plane as a little reward to myself, but United's "contactless" method of payment is way too fussy. I watched Spider-Man: No Way Home, slept for about an hour, and we were home. I've yet to have that glass of wine, but again, more about that in a follow-up post.

Overall, I had so much fun. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by how generally pretty great the kids were. They were well-behaved, quiet and respectful when they needed to be, polite and friendly when they were separated from their friend groups for one reason or another, a little goofy as this in-between age tends to be, which I love, never complained about all the walking, and thoughtful and reflective in ways I think they'll carry with them for a long time.


the race that took me 2 1/2 years to run

In my last running-related recap, I mentioned the Alameda 10-miler I signed up for to help kickstart my eventual (re)training for the 2022 Oakland Running Festival (having deferred to the in-person option in 2022 versus a virtual race after the 2020 festival was canceled due to the pandemic). I wasn't terribly well-prepared for the 10-miler, having by then plateaued at a couple of 5Ks around the lake each week, but I ran it anyway, and actually had a pretty good experience. I walked a couple of miles overall, but I finished within my goal and it was really lovely to run a race with other runners and all the usual fanfare. As I mention in this more recent post, I then started to have knee issues that I thought might be a meniscus tear but an MRI eventually ruled that out. Just some lowkey arthritis in my right (and probably left) knee(s). After a 3-month hiatus, I started running again in January. I hated it for about a month but I did eventually get over the hump (it always takes me about 3-4 weeks to get back into running after a break), but not really with enough time to properly ramp up for a half-marathon. My longest training run was just six miles. Welp. I seriously contemplated skipping it altogether. But considering, if you think about it, that I've been preparing for this race for two and a half years, I knew I'd regret it if I didn't at least give it a try. There's also something really powerful about—finally—checking a goal off one's pre-pandemic to do list. I was feeling pretty bummed out about the whole thing, about this feeling of loss and reflecting on how different my life is now compared to two years ago, in both good and not so good ways. But I did it. In the end, I just fucking did it. It wasn't the race it would have been two years ago, but it's done. At last! And it felt really good.

But, let's be honest, it also felt kinda bad, at least from about mile 11 on. Kids, do not try this at home! Do as I say, not as I do! Etc, etc. Ideally, I would have spent 10-15 weeks ramping up to a final long training run of about 12 miles. But I also knew that once I got over the return-to-running hump (I didn't hate it, I wasn't in constant pain, and my lungs didn't feel like they were going to burst into flames a half mile in), it was at least partially a mental game to finish 13.1 miles. And with a generous course time limit (about 15 minutes per mile) I felt fairly confident that I could finish in time even if I had to walk half of it.

And obviously, when you go into something like this with a mindset of finishing versus owning it, that changes your experience of it. One of the best moments of the entire race was just a couple of miles in. A woman who had run the 5K earlier was on the course, proudly wearing her medal, cheering other runners on. She said all the usual things—good job runners, you're doing great, you got this!—but she also said, "enjoy it!" And you know what, I really did have a great time. I'm not sure I've ever enjoyed a race, or even a run, as much as I enjoyed yesterday's event. Some highlights along the way:

I loved this runner's shirt. I stayed right behind her for several miles but at some point I lost sight of her. I'm pretty sure I was still behind her, though, so I was that runner, slower than the self-proclaimed slow runner.

Dude, I ran through fire! Again

The Paramount marquee welcoming the Oakland marathon.

The bling and the fam. I actually wasn't expecting them to be there at the finish. Not that they weren't cheering me on in spirit, but we didn't talk about meeting up at the end. I figured they'd go about their day, I'd drive myself home, take a shower, collapse, and we'd celebrate later. So it was such a nice surprise to see them. I may have cried a little.

But celebrate later, we did (with, among other things, my favorite red blend from Farmhouse Wines). You can see a few additional videos of the entertainment along the route on my Instagram post here

Amir Aziz via Twitter

Some say the Oakland Running Festival is the best race in NorCal. I've only run a few, so I don't know about that. But it's definitely a great day to be in Oakland.


give chickpeas a chance

Well, folks, I did it. I survived Dry January. I survived Veganuary. I survived the combination Dry Veganuary! I know a lot of folks pooh-pooh these sorts of month-long self-imposed challenges as examples of toxic diet culture, but the reality for me is the period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas saw me bending my usual rules and limitations around food and drinking more than I’d like. And I didn’t feel great about it. I was starting to feel - once again - like I wasn’t in control of my relationship with food, and using food and alcohol as a vice or crutch or reward more often than I’d like. The New Year presents a fresh start, a departure point for hitting the reset button and maybe implementing some longer term positive changes along the way. As I’ve written about before, I’ve been “mostly vegan” since May 2020, when we went totally vegan for one week. I’ve had fish a couple of times since and continued to eat eggs and a little bit of cheese, plus some non-vegan candy with popcorn during Saturday movie nights. But about 90% of the time (that is a totally unscientific estimate) my diet is 100% plant-based. In January 2022, other than one sip of a smoothie my daughter made that included cow’s milk yogurt (she assumed all the yogurt in the fridge was non-dairy), I ingested neither alcohol nor animal products.

And it really wasn’t that hard. When you’re already “mostly vegan,” going totally vegan for one month mostly entails cutting out foods you shouldn’t be eating too much of anyway, like cheese and candy. The dry part was even easier. I listened to this NPR Life Kit episode for some tips (the social part is still, nearly two years into this pandemic, kind of moot).

We had some seltzer leftover from our holiday delivery driver snack basket and I’m not usually a fan of seltzer, but it was nice to have something other than water to accompany dinner every now and then. I really only missed that glass of red wine with pizza toward the end of the month, but what I didn’t miss was the inevitable sleepiness that would no doubt follow for the rest of the evening but not necessarily translate into an early bedtime or a good night of sleep. Not drinking, on the other hand, did not alleviate the increased joint aches and pains I’ve been experiencing on the weekends. Maybe I need to cut it out of my diet for more than a month? Maybe two extra hours in bed and skipping my weekday morning workouts isn’t great for the mild arthritis in my low back and knee?

So other than the seltzer sub, what did I eat? Probably more than I should have! I definitely fell into the trap of “if it doesn’t break the rules, it’s OK to eat!” more than once. Oreos are vegan and alcohol-free but maybe not a great afternoon snack? With that, here are some highlights of the month:

My favorite weekday lunch is a leftover burrito bowl. Rice, beans, “meat”, some vegan cheese and sour cream, topped with avocado and a handful of corn chips. All vegan.

We get donuts for a weekend breakfast once a month. I love Dick’s Donuts for classic and Donut Savant for fancy but neither are vegan. This is where Vegan Donut Gelato comes in. They’re a bit of a drive compared to our usual non-vegan spots, but so worth the extra time it takes to fetch these.

Veganize it! You don’t need to follow only vegan/plant-based recipes (although there are a ton of really good vegan cookbooks and Instagram accounts one can follow for recipes and ideas). Many recipes are really easy to makeover fully plant-based, like these peanut butter white miso cookies from New York Times Cooking. I used Miyoko’s vegan butter (the best!) and a flax egg and they turned out perfectly.

There are some really good non-dairy ice creams on the market now, so if you’re into that sort of thing and you’re nervous about cutting out dairy, don’t be! This is a newer flavor at Trader Joe’s, but my favorite is any and all Ben & Jerry’s plant-based flavors. The 8yo, on the eve of her 9th birthday, is requesting ice cream sundaes for her birthday dessert and approved the B&J’s vegan flavors I purchased. They're that good.

So, yeah, if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it's don’t be chicken! Be adventurous, try new things. Like plant-based “chicken”. If you haven’t already, but you’re plant-based-meat-curious, you simply must stop by the Don’t Be Chick’n food truck. The family meal is a pretty good deal but the chicken strips are my favorite.

Try the vegan portion of the menus at places you already frequent. If you're into plant-based options, let the world know it! I really think as demand for vegan options increases, so will supply, and honestly that’s when cooks get hella creative. Like Senor Sisig’s extensive vegano menu. Hello plant-based crunch-wrap supreme with vegan queso dipping sauce!

One of the non-vegan staples in my otherwise “mostly vegan” diet was scrambled eggs with cheese. It took a minute to get used to it, but I’m totally content with a JUST Egg patty (you can buy these in bulk at Costco and pop one in the toaster to warm it up!) and a slice of Daiya cheese melted on top. I don’t plan to ever go back to real eggs. The vegan muffin from Arizmendi, delicious as it is, is getting a little boring, though, so whether or not I sneak in the occasional non-vegan scone from time to time remains to be seen (and in case you’re wondering, I long ago switched to Silk half & half in my coffee).

The other weekly staple is non-vegan candy with popcorn on movie nights. This one was tough, not gonna lie, partly because we had so much candy and chocolate leftover from the holidays going into January. We still have peanut M&Ms and an entire box of See’s chocolates that I will, now that January is over, have to polish off. But after that, I’ll try to stick with the vegan alternatives I discovered over the course of the month. Some of them are not cheap (but the Unreal peanut gems - not pictured above - are so good!), but, y’know, I probably shouldn’t be eating too many of them anyway.

So, clearly, lots of hits here, and it wasn't that hard. Any misses, you might ask? In two words: vegan bacon. This non-vegan food is best forgotten altogether!