Friday, December 26, 2014

Documenting a walk (drive): An afternoon in B'more

A few weekends ago, we drove up to Baltimore to visit Stu, who hadn't yet met Madeleine.  We brunched at Woodberry Kitchen, a cavernous space in a renovated mill.  I was not disappointed - it lived up to the hype. It was also such a baby-friendly restaurant, which seems like a rarity these days, at least in this country.  We then enjoyed a leisurely cup of coffee at Artifact before driving back to the city.  M is a fairly happy baby, particularly in the morning, but her temperament and level of patience take a sharp decline as we edge toward early evening. We squeeze in all the roaming around, errands and coffee dates in the mornings and early afternoons.  It helps keep me sane.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Recent acquisitions: Embracing mom pants

Earlier in the year, I committed to listing out monthly acquisitions - if only to hold myself accountable and to curb spending habits.  

I failed.  I haven't listed anything in months, even though I have been fairly active with internet purchases. I should have known that pregnancy and post-pregnancy would do a number on my spending - with my changing body shape, pre and post-partum hormones shifts and late nights/early mornings spent comforting an infant, I was bound to make a few irrational internet purchases.  I'm not going to list every single purchase here. That would be far too embarrassing.

But I will say that my purchases of late have been spurred on by my realization that my too-precious silk numbers aren't going to work, at least for now.
  • I've wholeheartedly jumped on the Ace & wagon.  It's funny.  I first heard of Ace & Jig when I still lived in Cambodia and back then I could not justify the prices, not when I could make linen/cotton shift dresses in Russian Market. In retrospect and objectively, my gut instinct was probably right. But when I finally purchased a piece, I realized how beautiful the textiles were and how wearable. I was sucked into the hype. These pieces aren't cheap, however, and I don't see them becoming more affordable in light of the the growing cult following, particularly from moms. Bottomline: I need to ease up.   
  • For the last year I've also been itching for a new pant silhouette.  Can you believe I've been wearing skinny jeans for over 10 years? While I still wear a black skinny jean regularly, I also welcomed two pairs of slouchy Black Crane pants into my rotation. I must say I'm loving the elastic waist and looser fit. I wear the quilt pants at least two times a week. I also own the carpenter pants in olive, but that pair doesn't get as much use.
  • As for shoes, I rotate between three pairs of boots: the Rachel Comey Mars (for days I don't intend to walk very far); the Dieppa Restrepo Mer boots; and the IM Dicker boots, a "maternity" purchase from last year.  To my credit, these are not new purchases.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thanksgiving holiday

I realize I use this space to whine about some of the realities of motherhood.  Today, I'm thinking about how tired I am, how I'm still not sleeping well, how I don't quite fit into my old clothes, and how postpartum hair loss is horrible, if not scary.

I think it throws friends when they ask me how I am doing and I launch into my grievances.  I see the look on their faces. But that is what's going on, dear friends.  Yes, I love my daughter, fiercely. Her smiles make me forget (for a while) some of the difficulties of motherhood.  And life is richer, in ways I didn't understand before.

But I'm not one to sugarcoat things and some days I surprise myself with my ability to get out of bed, get dressed and pretend to be functional, maybe even mildly coherent.  Today was not one of those days. I stayed at home in my pajamas while taking conference calls.

This post was about Thanksgiving in Colorado: There was snow and family. I didn't bring my work computer. I didn't think about human rights or the uphill battle we face. It was great.  And, speaking of M's smiles, here's one that melts my heart.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A year later

My little sister (above) flew out yesterday, after spending two weeks with us.  Tomorrow, M takes her first flight, to Colorado, where she will be surrounded by more family -- hopefully I can catch up on well-needed sleep and finally get over this nagging cough.

There's so much to be thankful for this year.  Last Thanksgiving holiday was a difficult one.  I alluded to many things, but never really wrote about everything.  In addition to my aunt's sudden death and some upheaval at work, this time last year I discovered I was pregnant, only to suffer what I believed to be an unequivocal miscarriage mere days after my discovery.  I was devastated.  I remember flying out to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving that day and how the airport seemed to swarm with babies.  Once in Wisconsin I remember confiding in Ethan's grandmother Megan, a petite woman who, with her steely eyes, sternly told me that this would pass, that women dig deep to find the strength to keep trying.

Well, a few delayed doctor appointments (and a few weeks of sickness) later, I discovered that I was, in fact, still pregnant.  

I didn't write about it then because it felt too close.  I carried it with me, even through the pregnancy, a little secret, a nagging fear.  But I've always tried to be honest in this space.

So it's crazy that a year later I will be flying with my little squishy daughter.  Motherhood is difficult, but I am so grateful for the presence of her in my life, and for the love of my incredible family and friends.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My balancing act

I took this picture of M when she wasn't yet two months old, when I was still on maternity leave and the days seemed to stretch out before me.

I went back to work in October, during a pretty full-on week.  But thanks my fabulous my in-laws, who flew into the city and hovered around my meetings so that I could nurse M every few hours, I survived that hectic time.  At more than one point in the week, I felt overwhelmed, out of sync, and ready to quit my job!  But I pushed through. One afternoon late in the week, I found myself seated at a table with two human rights defenders from Guatemala. As we discussed their case, I remembered why I fell in love with this work to begin with. 

I don't know how this work/life balance thing will ultimately pan out, but I hope I can strike a healthy medium.  Right now, my attempt at balance includes a mix of working a (very) slightly reduced schedule, leaving the office at 3:30pm most days, working remotely, and carving out time to spend lunch with M everyday.

One of the things that causes me the most anxiety now is something that I have thrived upon - namely, international travel.  I've managed to push off any international travel this year. There was the three-day trip to London that I jumped on and immediately backed off of once M was born. On the horizon is a meeting that keeps getting pushed back. Initially scheduled for Thailand, then India, the meeting will now either be held "somewhere in Africa," in Turkey, or in Thailand.  I won't be able to escape that trip, but I'm hoping that by the time I go - for a week - M will be a little older.  And then, there's the work trip to Nepal that keeps getting pushed back (indefinitely) and Peru, which will happen next October.

This is the longest period of time I've been grounded without international travel, and I crave a new stamp on my passport - but not yet, not if it means being apart from her, and not when she is so little.  A dream I have, someday, is to travel across the world with her, or at least to a few far-flung places.  I think fondly back to the French father-daughter pair I met in a ger in Mongolia.  She, a blonde bubble of energy, was on her gap year.  Father and daughter met in Mongolia for a three week tour of the Gobi Desert, after which she would travel to Nepal alone.  I remember their talks, his encouraging words to her about hiking in Nepal, of the Annapurna trail dotted with tea houses.

That's the dream, but baby steps first.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014


images via

I'm exhausted and a little ragged from attempting this whole work/life/baby balance thing. Frivolous distractions are welcome. Plus, aren't they healthy at this point? Rugs from Bohem.

Checking in and looking back

I'm happy to report that I survived yet another crazy week of meetings.  As is often the case with these chaotic weeks, friends and colleagues from all over the world flew into the city.  This time, Ratha, with whom I spent many tedious hours in the countryside of Cambodia, was in town to discuss her research on agribusiness in northern Cambodia. She came with news from Phnom Penh - mainly bad news. The small team I previously worked with faced threats of arrest from authorities (not surprising), but this time several staff were arrested, though eventually released.  If I was still in Cambodia, I would certainly have been one of those arrested.

Ratha's arrival also gave me pause to look back. The picture above is one that she took during a challenging week of research in Sihanoukville. There is probably a filter on this picture, but I swear the sunsets I remember, especially on that coast, were always bathed in some stunning, unreal light. 

This picture was taken during a very demanding, fast-paced month. At the time, our research team faced threats of arrest, so we moved our work to Sihanoukville, another province. The team, exhausted most days, bickered on and off, with a divide increasingly occurring between the Khmer and foreign staff.  I stood in the middle.  Days after that work trip, there was the elaborate Khmer wedding in the countryside, at the pepper plantation.  And then a few days later, I joined others for a lovely weekend in Koh Kong, at the Rainbow Lodge Eco Resort, to celebrate a friend's 30th birthday.  There was hiking and leeches, laughter, and sun-bathing.  That same month, Ethan had left to meet his family in Europe.  It was the longest time we'd been apart since we met.  A few weeks later Ethan would travel east, and I west, and we would meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It took me three separate flights to get to Almaty.  I remember it feeling like forever.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A taste of BKK

September is flying by.  It's difficult to imagine that this picture was taken over two weeks ago, on a day we found ourselves in Fairfax, Virginia.  I was desperate for a cup of coffee and we stumbled into this cafe, which turned out not to be a coffee shop but a Thai restaurant and one that, with its decor and soft music, transported me back to the many small eateries on the streets of Bangkok.

Even more difficult to imagine is that I will be back to work in a few short weeks. I'll be greeted by one of those crazy caffeinated weeks at a certain international institution.  I've been stewing, disheartened by my maternity leave options, or lack therof. I'm with an organization that has worked on international human rights for many years and yet I had to fight to get more paid leave. I also fought for more unpaid leave and lost that battle. And while I admit we're fortunate enough to have the resources where I could work very part-time for a while, I have no job protection if I choose to do so - and thus, I will be going back to work earlier than I had planned.

In the past weeks, I've wondered several times if we made the right choice to move back to the US.  I know we did, but it's not easy to reconcile that conclusion with the realization that I would have better maternity leave options (and easier access to affordable daycare) abroad.  I think back to the position I was vying for before this DC position came up.  It was with an international group based in Paris and would have had me ping-ponging between Bangkok and Paris. Interesting, but not ideal for motherhood. Yet, I am certain my maternity leave options would have been far more favorable.  But in the end, I didn't make the final cut, so it's a moot point.

How do women do it?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dieppa Restrepo, blue suede

Dark blue suede boots from Dieppa Restrepo - a departure from my usual cognac colored boots, but surprisingly versatile. If I've learned anything from living (and walking so much) in this city, it's that flat boots are key.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


So tired.

And it's the last day of August. HOW?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

From the morning market

Flowers to brighten our home on this rainy day.  I don't want summer to end, not just yet. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Strawyberry-Rhubarb Goodness

This was in late June. That's a very pregnant me, after I waddled half a block to the farmers market.  I bought rhubarb and strawberries, and I made this compote.  So good.

David Lebovitz's Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

  • 1 ¼ cups (310 ml) water
  • 1 ¼ cups (310 ml) dry or sweet white wine
  • 5 slices (15 g) fresh ginger, unpeeled
  • ½ cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1/3-1/2 cup (100 - 160 g) honey
  • 2-pounds (1 kg) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3-inch batons, about 1/2 –inch wide
  • 1 pound (450 g) strawberries, hulled and quartered
In a large saucepan, heat the water, wine, ginger, sugar, and honey (use the smaller amount if you think you might want it less-sweet.)
When all the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is simmering, add the rhubarb and let the rhubarb cook in the simmering syrup until it’s just softened, which may take as little as 5 minutes, depending on the rhubarb. Remove from heat and add the strawberries. When cool, pluck out the ginger slices.
Serve warm or room temperature.

On Privilege

Early days in Cambodia, on one of the monitoring trips
No one told me the early months of motherhood would be this difficult. I simply had no clue.  But we're adjusting to sleep deprivation and slowly a routine - a new normalcy - is emerging. And with that difficulty, there's also a lot of joy, which helps.

My mornings - just when M falls back asleep and the light is out - are precious moments for me, minutes when I am (relatively) awake and I can think about things other than feedings, the daycare search, minutes that I can waste on thoughts of autumn layers and flat boots, on the world that existed before motherhood.

This morning, I thought of the string of emails I received - actually, just as I was in labor!  They were from two families of Vietnamese Montagnard refugees I worked with in Bangkok.  Fleeing from religious persecution in Vietnam, they made their way to Cambodia first, then Thailand, where they would settle (illegally, as with all refugees in Thailand).  Theirs was a story that went back 7 years, with numerous rejections of refugee status by the UN, detention in Bangkok, release, and then the precarious life of a refugee not being able to lawfully live/work in their country of refuge.  Extortion by police is not uncommon. I had helped with a re-opening request to the UN (the third one, as their files had been closed), and the day of the email, they had finally received their refugee certificates.

It was such fantastic news.  I could imagine their faces and those of the children.

When I left Bangkok, there were others whose cases were still pending.  I didn't write about their stories then because it felt so close.  I still think about the Iranian man, detained in jail for political activities, tortured, raped. He was seeking an appeal. Did he ever get it?  I think often about the Muslim Pakistani woman forced to have an abortion by her tribe because she fell in love with and married a Christian.  What became of her?  And what of the woman from Cameroon, who fled her country with her daughter who faced genital mutilation?  The Palestinians displaced from their refugee camps in Syria, who bought a visa to Thailand not knowing how long it would take to be recognized as refugees and how arduous daily life could be in Thailand for a family waiting out resettlement?

One of the things that struck me in my travels was just how privileged I was to be an American citizen.  In Cambodia, on monitoring trips where arrest was possible, I knew that my passport would provide a level of protection. Same thing when I was in Burma on one of those frequent middle-of-the-night military checkpoints, where you're scooted off the bus and required to stand in line to be interrogated.  In the international work travel that is sure to follow this fall or winter, I will be working on human rights issues in difficult contexts, again with the protection of my passport. 

And, I'm aware this privilege came at no cost to me, really. My grandfather was the one who made the journey in the 1920s. He was alone, 16 years old. He toiled as a migrant worker until his retirement. Once a US citizen, he went back to the Philippines, where I was ultimately born.  For me, it was never a question of "if" but "when" I would move to the US to claim my citizenship.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Slipping away

In the early months of summer, the sunflower patch on my block barely had any flowers. Now, in mid-August, the flowers are out, some wilting away. I cannot believe the final weeks of summer are here.  

I had misguided notions about what maternity leave would look like --that I'd have plenty of time for reading and trips to the cafe, that I'd be able to keep up with what is going on with the outside world. Since M's arrival, my world has felt much smaller. Today, we managed to take a walk around our neighborhood in the early evening. We came across the trickle of people coming home from work.  I felt out of sync.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sale Alert: Dieppa Restrepo Camilla Boots

A pair of Dieppa Restrepo boots for $98.  Not a bad deal.

Maternity leave has really exacerbated my online (window) shopping habit.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Russian chocolates

The day before I went into labor, Ethan and I celebrated our one year anniversary.  In lieu of how we imagined we would celebrate (a trip to Kyrgyzstan, camping in a yurt), we instead spent the day doing more low-key activities--namely, buying houseplants, eating at our favorite Sichuanese restaurant in the Maryland 'burbs, and visiting a few of the adjacent "ethnic" grocery stores, one of which was a Russian/post-Soviet Imperium grocery store.  There, we came across these chocolates, which I encountered in many grocery stores in Russia. I remember bringing these home as souvenirs for friends in Portland.

That trip feels like a lifetime ago.  I think often of that trip.  I guess it could have been any trip. Replace the Tran-Siberian with a trip to Italy or Chile - whatever.  That trip marked an inflection point in my life; so much changed after that time.

One of the surprising things I've found about motherhood is that it has strengthened my resolve to live/work abroad again.  Moving abroad again has always been our plan, but there's another dimension to it now. When I found out I was pregnant, my mind clung to an image of me, Ethan and our child in Cambodia or another country. Perhaps it's because that's where this story began (where Ethan and I met and fell in love).  Perhaps it's because I was exposed to many expat mothers raising their families in Cambodia, Thailand, elsewhere.  And/or, perhaps I'm clinging to a way of life that may no longer fit.  I'm not sure; it's probably a mix of all three.

With M's arrival, Ethan and I talk a lot about living abroad again.  It pains our families to hear that we plan to move abroad with M in a few years. While life certainly has its twists and turns, I hope that when the right opportunity presents itself, we will have the courage to go through with the move.

But that won't happen for a few years, I think.  And right now, there's a lot to relish about life in DC.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What I've Been Up To

Introducing Madeleine. Two weeks ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


 images via

Thinking of small everyday pleasures, like these ceramics by Mayumi Yamashita.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Little Tokyo/Arts District

An afternoon in Little Tokyo with Ethan and Jack: rummaging through beauty shops, a big bowl of ramen at Daikokuya, green tea Kit Kat (!!!), and a visit to Poketo

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Me + Mom

Last night, I returned from over a week in California.  It felt good to be home.

"Home" is a concept I struggle with.  I was born outside of the United States, lived a huge chunk of my life in southern California, and lived most of what I consider to be my adult life in Portland, Southeast Asia, and now Washington DC.  I feel like I leave little bits and pieces of myself in the cities I've lived.

For as long as I've lived outside California, every time I've visited, I have always ask myself if I could ever move back.  Could I imagine myself doing the long commute in a car to my workplace in x?  Actually, could I even imagine myself spending that much time, daily, in a car? The whole southern California dependence on a car would probably kill me a little and moreso Ethan, who bikes everywhere.

But: Could I imagine being able to have weekend dinner with my family at the drop of a hat?  And reliable childcare?  Diversity?  Good food?  Constant sunshine?

This internal dialogue has been going on for over ten years.

After weighing every factor, I always come to the same conclusion: "No, I can't. Not right now." That was the answer I came up with last night on the plane back to DC, as my thoughts wandered through the week, to the baby shower that I was foisted on me, to the wedding prep, to my sister's stunning wedding, the driving, the eating, the constant chatter, the warmth of being around people who just know me.  It pains me a little to say goodbye each time.

I wonder if someday that answer will change.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014



According to a report from the International Labour Organization, only three countries do not mandate paid maternity leave: Oman, Papua New Guinea, and ... the United States! 

This is a constant topic of discussion, as I work with a fair number of European and Australian colleagues who never fail to point out, with a look of pity as their eyes sweep over my expanding midriff section, that US maternity leave sucks.  "Oh, no, " one German colleague recently said, lips puckered in dismay, "I guess you'll be back working in the fall.  In Germany, my colleague x has been on maternity leave for almost a year."

I'm baffled by how women in America balance it all.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A weekend in Baltimore

A quick train ride to Baltimore to celebrate Stu's birthday: oyster festival, roller derby hijinks, and just generally, slowing down.

Documenting a Walk: Graveyard Grub at Historic Congressional Cemetery

Life has been busy this month.  By the end of the month, we'll have spent three out of the four weekends in May out of the city.  We welcomed a weekend in the District - and it's Ethan's birthday! - so we did what we do best, which is to explore (and eat).

I feel like, at one point in my life (in my childhood or teens, perhaps), my cultural upbringing would have made me turn up my nose at an event like Graveyard Grub, a gathering of food trucks at a historical cemetery in the Eastside of the city.  But thank goodness I shed those kind of feelings and associations with cemeteries and sacred places as vacuously solemn long ago.  

Over the years, my favorite visits to hallowed/sacred buildings are often those that involve life mixed in - people sleeping in the corners of a red-stoned Burmese temple, attempting to escape the dry, unbearable heat outside; children playing outside of, and Hispanic vendors peddling queso fresco and sugary drinks on, the steps of the church in Mount Pleasant, DC; the birds chirping loudly and flying in and out of windows in a Catholic church in Saigon, Vietnam. 

And I was reminded of this cycle of life at this old, stately cemetery, where children ran around, dogs and their owners sunbathed on the green grass, couples explored the rolling grounds, looking for famous gravestones, and late 90s music and Pabst Blue Ribbon were served along with fare from DC Empanada and Captain Cookie and the Milkman.

One of the visits I had - to Wisconsin a few weeks ago, to attend the funeral of Ethan's grandmother - came to mind as I was sitting next to a giant stone obelisk.  Having lost yet another wonderful female in our family and anticipating the birth of my daughter in late July, my thoughts were wrapped up in this idea of cycles, of birth and death, and the lives we live in between.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Muumuu fever

It's partly due to my growing belly (I can hardly fit into anything else I own these days), but I can easily find a reason to wear a loose, flowy dress.  Ethan's been murmuring that I look very "Earth Mother" lately, not quite a compliment in his book. But I don't care.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

March/April Acquisitions: failure, utter failure.

Here I go trying to keep myself accountable again.  March and April were plagued by some very impactical, emotionally-driven impulse buys, some of which I regret.  I'm not even going to list everything I purchased, though I'll note a few.

But first, a word on my crazy emotions these days: I blame the pregnancy. It's exacerbated a vicious buying cycle. I see something I like. I order it online. I try it on.  Ugh--not great on me.  I'm left unsatisfied.  I see something I like. I buy it. I try it on... and this repeats and snowballs.

I didn't realize how difficult it could be to dress in the morning, particularly on those days when I have a meeting and I need to look semi-put together.  For the past 6+ months, I was able to get by with my trusty, old DVF wrap dresses and a blazer, but even those pieces are now too short and ill-fitted. 

Some of my purchases -
  • I was given birthday money by my lovely mother-in-law to buy maternity clothes, so I bought "maternity boots," the IM Dickers to be exact. (Ethan calls foul.) I've been reluctant to purchase these boots as they had such a cult following and are super expensive. But the heel is low, the shape is sleek, and I can see myself walking around the city in these shoes. I also bought them discounted. I do love my Mars boots, but I want less of a heel these days.
  • Sézane jacket.  I like being able to touch fabrics and try on cuts before purchasing, but I took a gamble with Sézane by Morgane Sézalory, a French line I'm obsessed with.  I purchased a jacket (pictured above), fully ready to return it if it was of shoddy quality.  Alas, it was gorgeous - of high quality and a nice, sleek cut. Nevermind that pregnancy has caused me to gain weight in strange places (hello, meaty shoulders); I do think it's a piece I'll cherish.
  • Ace & Jig tea dress and the domino check reversible robe.  The practical buy was the reversible robe, which I wear several times a week, including right now actually.  I want to wear the tea dress (pictured above; I am a sucker for open backs), but again it's one of those pieces that, while I can squeeze into it, is not the best fit for my current state. 
  • Hatch maternity airplane dress - This was a practical buy.  It's massive on my frame (or once was), but it's a piece I can throw on as my belly grows. 
  • Emerson Fry caftan -  I know I must stay away from muumuus, but this piece makes the California girl in me happy.  Plus, I have a trip to California later this month and some days in Malibu, so there.
What I should have bought:
  • Storq pieces.  Despite the pieces being reasonably priced, I'm nonetheless relucant to spend $65 on a tube skirt.  Also, I wonder about the quality.  But then I see images like this and I realize I could easily use this piece.  Same reluctance about the Storq dress.
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