Yesterday I turned 35. WOWZA. Thirty-five is... well, it's a lot older than I was when I thought I was 'getting sooooooo old' in my twenties. I'm not a big birthday person, and I'm not sad in the least about getting older. But I do think birthdays are a time of reflection, and yesterday I found myself reflecting on the best advice I ever received. Here goes:
I swam on a swim team for ten years. Despite being a strong swimmer, I was never a fast one. Actually, I was almost always the slowest in my age group. For ten years. That's a long time to be the slowest at anything. I have memories of it bothering me when I was very young, but as I got older I accepted it for what it was. I had lots of friends, lots of fun, and WAY too much sun for my years:
Take a moment and soak in this picture. Just soak it all in.
We used to do these drills in swim practice called 'hypoxics'. Basically, it was controlled breathing. Lap one you would take five breaths, then four, then three, etc., until you got to the final lap where you didn't take any breaths at all. Like I said, I was never awesome at swimming. But I ruled those hypoxics.
Until it got to the final lap.
For some reason, that last lap with no breaths was too daunting for me. I couldn't do it. I'd get within a few strokes of the wall and take a breath, telling myself I just couldn't do it. It was too hard.
One morning, my swim coach, JR, pulled me aside. JR must have been about nineteen years old, but to me he seemed ancient. He was also an incredibly fast swimmer, and we all admired him. (I wonder whatever happened to him?) He was not interested in hearing me complain about not being able to make my last hypoxic drill. At all.
'Why did you breathe?!' I remember him demanding.
'I... I just...couldn't do it...' I said as I adjusted my swim cap.
He rolled his eyes and knelt down next to the wall. 'Yes,' he said sternly. 'You can.'
'I can't,' I repeated. Everyone else can, I could have continued. But I can't.
'Of course you can,' he said. 'Just don't breathe!'
Something clicked within me in that moment. I can't say what. Something very primal. I think about that moment all the time, considering I am a woman in her thirties who tends to oversimplify things. I think this was the moment when I realized (most) things really are that simple.
Do it. Or in this case, don't do it. Make a choice and make it happen.
I have used this advice in thousands of ways throughout my thirty-five years. Quit my job? Write a book? Move to China? Move again? And again? Take a chance? Take a risk? Don't breathe.
Now, more than ever, this advice sticks with me. A woman in her thirties at the middle of her decade takes a moment to consider how far she's come and how far she's still going to go. I might be thirty-five, but I'm still that swimmer in the pool, still questioning my next steps, still forming a picture of what I want the future to look like.
And choosing to make it happen. Choosing not to breathe.
Most people reading this blog know that I lived in China for three years. The pictures above are from my very favorite adventure there-- hiking a treacherous three mile stretch of the Great Wall with a group of tenth graders, including a campout in one of the watchtowers.
I did not look this perky on day two, let me assure you.
Whenever anyone asks me about my time in China, they ask what the best part was about living there. For me, it was two things. Acupuncture and massage at ridiculously affordable prices, and the food.
I also miss the hilarious signs I saw around the country, but that is a post for another time.
Back to the food. One of my most favorite things to do in China was go out for dumplings. Potstickers. Gyoza. Whatever you call it. In China, you can get these like fast food. Pick your filling, wait a couple minutes, and for about $2 you have a plate full of fresh potstickers. Or you could go to Din Tai Fung, which has the world's most amazing (and unhealthy) dumplings. But that, too, is a post for another time.
Anyway, dumplings. One of the problems with coming back to the US after living overseas is trying to find food that compares to what you experienced abroad. (Like, for example, I would have cut off my right arm for decent Mexican food in Beijing. Not to be found.) So has been the case for dumplings. I know you can buy them frozen, and Trader Joe's makes a somewhat acceptable version (the ones labeled "potstickers", NOT the ones labeled "gyoza"), but in truth, there is only one place one can find delicious dumplings in the US.
And that is at my mother-in-law's.
We've established the fact that my MIL makes the best Asian food this side of the Pacific Ocean. But these dumplings are so good that they are the #1 requested for item whenever my equally awesome sister-in-law comes to town. So, for your eating pleasure, the experience is documented here.
You will need:
1 3/4 lb ground pork. (This must be freshly ground from a reliable source. My MIL gets hers from Cub Foods in Eden Prairie. I would not question this, if I were you.)
1 lb fresh Won Ton wrappers. We used these:
(the package should be very bendable, to ensure freshness)
A bunch of green onions. We used four, chopped.
2-4 tablespoons of soy sauce. Depending on taste. L's Mom doesn't measure, but I think that's about right. It should be enough to coat the outside of the pork and make it turn brown-ish.
Black pepper, about a teaspoon. Maybe more.
Sesame oil. A teeny tiny drizzle. That stuff is powerful.
You mix all the ingredients together (except for the won ton wrappers, obviously), in a bowl. L's Mom prefers a pie tin. She also mixes everything with a knife which she will later use to fill the won ton wrappers.
'My mission in life is to dirty as few utensils as possible.' -my mother-in-law
So your ingredients are all mixed. Super easy. Then you lay out the rest for filling:
This was our filling station, including a tiny plate of water. When you open the won ton package, you'll notice one side is floury, and one side isn't. You want to stuff the non-foury side:
Then you dip your finger in the water and lightly dab half of the edges of the won ton. Then you wrap:
(Once you make a rectangle add another drop of water on the lower right corner.)
It took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it, which is pretty good if you know me and my lack of dexterity. When you finish, lay them on a cookie sheet like this:
This next step is important. Crucial. You MUST FREEZE THEM THIS WAY. Do not-- REPEAT-- do NOT just throw them in a bag and freeze them. They will stick together if you do that. This is a lesson many dumpling-novices have learned the hard way.
When they've frozen (about a couple hours), THEN you can take them out and put them in a ziploc to freeze until you're ready to cook them.
Fast forward to cooking day.
You'll need enough (vegetable or canola) oil to coat the bottom of the pan:
Then you artfully arrange them, like so. Pack them in nice and tight. Trust me.
Once they're a little brown on the bottom (a couple minutes), add a cupful of water. This is different than the directions on the back of the ones you buy at the store, that say you only need a tablespoon or so. You want the pan to look like this:
Then you cover the pan, and go play with the kids for about twenty minutes:
When you come back to the pan, the water will be pretty much absorbed. You have a choice. You can either flip them one-by-one, or your can be all strong and powerful and flip them all at once. Guess which one L chooses?
Then you fry up the other side for a couple of minutes until it's brown on the bottom, during which time you assemble your dipping sauces:
L's Mom's La You (hot sauce-- recipe later), LA CHOY LITE SOY SAUCE (no exceptions), HEINZ RED WINE VINEGAR (no exceptions), and sesame oil, combined as you like it.
Oh, and Kim Chi, if you're really nutty, like most of L's family is. I'm not.
And then you eat until you are silly and sick.
Afterward, you give your significant other a big-ol' happy 40th birthday smooch:
And say thank you for all the adventures before, and all the adventures to come.
There is no way for you to wrap your head around this number, so let me do it for you in a visual way. Ten months ago you were this:
Now you are this:
Go ahead, make sense of it. I'll wait.
This month has been all about movement for you. Crawling(ish), scooting(ish), and reaching, reaching reeeeeeaching for things to put in your mouth.
I call you Mister Squirmy-Wormy often, because that's what you are.
The squirmiest of worms.
You're starting to vocalize more. Some 'Ma-ma', some 'Ba-ba', but mostly 'Da-da' (of course). And lots, I mean LOTS of laughing. Particularly with your sister:
I'm sure, before I know it, I'm going to have to remind you often just how much you love Anna. But for now, you have no problem letting the world know. And the best news is that the feeling is mutual:
We do need to talk about sleep. I can tell you that there are several people reading this blog who are sick me complaining about sleep, so I won't go into too much detail. Let's just say that, to date, you have not slept through the night. (That is not including the particular sleep issues we are dealing with with your sister.). Momma is tired. Momma is cranky. Momma will buy you a car when you're sixteen if you would please start sleeping through the night.*
(*Statement may or may not be true, depending on grades, funds, and your willingness to promise me that I will be the only woman in your life until after you've finished grad school.)
Still, I maintain that I hit the baby jackpot with you. This week you had a virus that may or may not have been Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. (Remember that lovely post??) Did you complain? Did you stop laughing even for one day?
No. And if I could wish one thing for you in life, it's the ability to do just that. To look at all the craziness surrounding you and see the good things. Smile, despite anything. A good reminder this week, for all of us.
I love you so much, my ten-month-old Mister Mister. You keep me smiling, too.
Awhile back, I read an article about women and judgment. I think it was somewhere in the Huffington Post, but I was probably sleep-deprived and can't really remember. The gist of the article was that women are horrible to each other, and if only we supported each other in our decisions then the world would be a better place. The comments that followed were resounding yeses. Stop judging!
I don't know why it got to me, but it did. I felt like the writer had confused the words 'opinion' and 'judgment'. In a world where everything is out there-- blogged, tweeted, Instagrammed-- we are bound to be met with people forming opinions about who we are.
Isn't that okay?
Case in point: Childhood vaccines. I have a very strong opinion about these. Not in a but-you-do-what's-right-for-your-family kind of way. In a for-the-love-of-God-do-your-research kind of way. If I come across a blog by a woman who disagrees with me on this subject, I don't read on. I am judging her. And guess what? I'm not sorry about it.
A woman in her thirties should be able to take it. Someone telling her how they feel, even if it differs from what she thinks. You don't have to agree. Duke it out, have a healthy fight about it. But don't cry 'Judgment! Judgment!' and use that as an excuse to avoid conflict.
So I wrote this, which was published today on Project Underblog. I'm hoping that not everyone will agree with it. I'm guessing that people out there reading it will pass judgment on me. And I really, really am okay with that.
My only hope is that someday this girl, who will someday be a woman in her thirties herself, will thank me for it.
Well, it's been 40 days. The Facebook Fast (trademark?) is over. I have accepted friend requests, commented on statuses, and read hilariously sad articles posted by my hilariously hilarious brother. I'm back on, officially.
This Lent will go down in the history books for me. I have to admit that, at the beginning, giving up Facebook was harder than I thought. It was second nature to check it on my phone or to open up a 'Facebook' window on my computer, so much so that I did it quite a few times only to shut it down quickly once I realized what I'd done. Then it started messing with my head a bit, like I was doing something wrong. Like I was purposefully ignoring the people in my life by not being on Facebook.
About two weeks in, when the Facebook Reflex (trademark?) had been settled, I started to feel the benefits of being offline. I wasn't getting worked up over status updates, and I wasn't spending time looking at so-and-so's pictures from their vacation to wherever. I wasn't thinking snarky thoughts about the people I was connected with. I wasn't passing judgement based on an opposing political view or a self-righteous post.
And then there were the emails. I had misjudged just how much I used Facebook for email, and when it came to my attention that there were several messages of importance that I was ignoring, I made the conscious choice to log in. All told, there were three 'cheats' this Lent, two of which involving a road to trip to New Jersey this summer, which I'm hopeful Jesus will forgive me for.
And then there was Instagram which, for all intents and purposes, took the place of Facebook on my break. Here are a few gems:
It wasn't lost on me that I'd simply replaced Facebook with other form of social media. It also wasn't lost on me that my time formerly spent on Facebook was being spent reading other news, not reflecting on the Saints or praying for the needy. I did do other things, things that I'm hoping will make me a better person and stuff, but as far as giving up Facebook factors into that... I'm dubious.
Will I give up Facebook again next year? Probably not. But I'm glad I tried-- a woman in her thirties tries. And even if she doesn't get the results she was hoping for, she applauds the effort.
Things are starting to get fun over here. You are just figuring out crawling (who would have thought I would end up with a crawler?!), but you haven't quite figured out how to do it with your belly off the floor. So you look like this at lot of the time:
But that's okay, because you're getting there. You are so, so active, always wanting to get into everything, always wanting to grab at things and put them in your mouth. We were lucky with our gentle little Anna in that way:
(Anna at nine months. Can't handle it.)
She wasn't the explorer that you are. But then again, she wasn't the extrovert you seem to be. There is no one that doesn't make you smile.
Not just smile. Beam. And it's ridiculously easy to make you laugh.
And I love that about you, so much.
It's March (AND STILL SNOWING, SOMEONE PLEASE MAKE IT STOP), and I can't help but go back in my mind to March of last year. Sure, it was 80 DEGREES, but despite the beautiful weather, things were starting to get a little scary around here. I looked like this:
There were a lot of doctors, at lot of scenarios, a lot of crazy what-ifs. Sure, I might be rockin' the leggings in that picture (you know it), but Momma was getting scared.
And yet, here you are:
Perfection. You might be nine whole months now, but you should know there's not a day that goes by that I don't thank heavens for our good fortune; that you found your way to us.
Now if you could please start sleeping through the night...