On Embracing Midwestern Chic

Scene: Vera at 11 years old, begging her mom for silver puffy coat. Vera’s mom looks in disgust and denies the request.

Scene: Vera at 12 years old at Filene’s Basement buying her very own white puffy coat for the winter. She is pleased with her fashionable choice.

Scene: Vera at 13 years old, wearing the coat her mom bought her at year 11, because she has learned that the white puffy coat is ugly.

So, here we are. 15 years later and I am reliving the original scene from my youth. Except this time my mom and I are standing in Burlington Coat Factory in the middle of July buying matching puffy coats. My mom is currently living in Korea for the year after living in Saudi Arabia for the past 5 years and I am living in the Midwest again after a 4 year long hiatus in California. Neither of us had a need for Midwestern Chic, and now, after being away for so long, are ready to embrace the pragmatic approach to winter outerwear in the Midwest.

What is Midwestern Chic you ask? It’s this:

MidWestern Chic

 

 

It’s long puffy jackets from NorthFace, heavy duty mittens, mildly cute (hopefully fleece lined) ski hats, and some sort of snow boot to avoid frost bite. After many long winters in the Midwest, one usually breaks down and succumbs to pressure of Midwestern Chic fashion. For me, it happened in the middle of summer in a Burlington Coat Factory as I thought about the bone aching chill that hits you as you’re scraping ice off your car in the dead of winter. Midwestern Chic is the literal approach to comfort over fashion.

The first time I encountered Midwestern Chic was during a holiday visit on winter. I was at a nail salon braving the harsh winter wind putting my coat on when I noticed two women arguing over whose coat was whose. There on the coat rack, were five long puffy coats , all exactly the same. These women had to look into the contents of the pockets to identify their owners. Yes, they all looked the same, and awkward in these long quilted, jacket shaped blankets. But, they were warm. And that is the true Midwesterner at heart; pragmatic.

Also, scrunchies still live on in the Midwest.

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On The Difficulties Of Post-Grad Life

Around this time last year I started watching the show, Girls, and consuming episodes daily to catch up with the masses. I actually wrote an entry about how the show glamorizes life at 25.

But I was still in college when I first watched it. And now that I’m fully graduated, moved to a different city, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Women and Gender Studies, a fair amount of debt ,back at the job I had in college and A LOT OF UNPAID WORK listed on my resume, I’m all like, “WHERE’S MY BIG GIRL JOB?” And I also relate to the main character a lot more. Of course Hannah was working for free, because who wants to hire someone that has a Liberal Arts Degree!

There’s something interesting about this period of time, where you’re freshly out of college, with some skills, but not enough to be desired by businesses/organizations/paying employers. People are more than willing to offer you an unpaid, full-time internship where you can “expand your skill set” and “gain important experiences” but why is it that they’re not willing to give you a shot at a position you probably deserve. Is it because you haven’t done it for “3 -5 years in a professional setting”? Every time I see that bullet point in a job description listed at the very top of a laundry list of requirements I let out a big sigh. This isn’t to say I don’t take the chance and apply anyway.

However, making do with the bare minimum seems more appealing than seeing the words, “Thank you for your interest….” in my inbox again if I’m lucky.

So, what does one do while they’re feeling down about their employment (lack of) situation?

-call up your BFF and cry on the phone about it. everyday.

-start a blog!

-look up all the free things that are happening in your city.

-take immense pleasure in the fact that a cup of quinoa can stretch and last about three meals.

-remind yourself that you’re totally worth it. and everyone else can suck it.

-and finally, listen to this song in your kitchen on repeat and dance it all out:

On The Out-Of-Home Home Office

I blog. I freelance. I also live with my partner who works from home. I have a home office.

But working from home is a difficult task for me. It always has been, even in school. For a while I really valued the library as a productive working space. It’s free, the volume level doesn’t get too loud, it’s properly air conditioned or heated, and generally has reliable wi-fi. But we all know that the library doesn’t hold as much cute factor as working from a cafe. 

Ah yes, the work from home office often takes place at local cafes, coffee shops, and of course, starbucks. As I write this, I’m sitting at cute little cafe that serves up freshly baked goods and overly priced, mediocre coffee. There is a trade off though, I get to sit in a space outside of my home and use their wi-fi. 

But as I’m writing this there is a woman sitting next to me going over wedding plans with her friends via FaceTime on her Ipad. She is talking loudly and I keep sending her death stares. It seems as though she has totally forgotten the out-of-home-home office rules. 

1. TIP your barista. ALWAYS and FOREVER.

2. Don’t take phone calls inside the cafe. It’s hella rude and I don’t want to hear your conversation. Also, put your phone on vibrate. 

3. Headphones, always. 

4. Don’t overstay your welcome. 

5. Do charge your computer beforehand. Outlets are not always plentiful.

6. Space is often times lacking. Be aware of how much space you’re taking up. But that’s just a general rule of life. 

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On Adopting a Dog

I totally disappeared didn’t I? My best friend came to town and visited for a week and in this period of time I gave myself permission to have complete and total BFF time. But in this week long visit I started getting really serious about adopting a dog.

You see, it has been my dream to have a pug for years. My mom had one when I was a teenager and it was the highlight of every visit to her place. Pugs are naturally a little lazy, a little needy, and hungry. Basically, I am a pug. So when Chad entered my life, I shared the obsession with him and after so many years we’ve decided that we’re finally ready to take the jump and adopt a pug.

We chose adoption/rescue because it seems like the right thing to do. We don’t want to be a part of the puppy mill industry, and would love to take in a pug that has some emotional baggage (don’t we all have some?) Except adopting is hard.

Last week Chad and I were declined a pug. It was totally heartbreaking and worse than being denied a job (which I’m also going through). It felt like a personal attack, as if to say that we’re not fit to be parents to a pug. It’s so difficult because I waited all these years until I was in the right place to adopt and now that we’re ready, nobody wants to let us adopt.

So, lessons learned and we keep applying until that special pug finds it’s way into our home. But until then, a constant stream of pug videos will do for now.

On Falling Back In Love (With A City)

Yesterday, I fell back in love.  You see, I was always in love, for years, even after we broke up. I was just denying it.

I was in a relationship with Chicago. I often took it for advantage and it yelled back at me, “pay attention to me! i’m great!” I was a bad partner.

I’ve left the city for someone else, in search of something better. I’ve had flings with other cities, even had a relationship with another city (a long term one). But that city broke up with me, threw all of my clothes on the lawn and told me to move out.

And then I came crawling back to Chicago. I moved back slowly, only going on dates with the city, not quite ready to commit again.

But last night, its beauty shined through everything. I forgot what a reliable partner they are, always giving, surprising me when I need it, charming me with their grace.

I might as well change my relationship status on facebook, adding Chicago as my partner for 22 years (we won’t count those years I left).

But why? Why now?

While sitting in a public park watching Chad play basketball with random strangers I felt happier than I had in a long time. I took in the weather, the scenery, the feeling of the ground beneath me, and the kindness of strangers. After this I went and had a drink with a friend, sitting outside, feeling content with everything and Chicago put its arm around me and whispered to me and said, “will you be mine?”

I said yes.

I’ll take Chicago for all of it’s flaws. Because for every single flaw there are folks working to make change. Change that is good.

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On My Love For Margaret Cho

We didn’t have cable growing up so I watched a lot of TV that was beyond my comprehension as a child. Most nights I watched whatever primetime programming was on network television with my dad. This was in the mid-90’s when family sitcoms were pretty popular (read: white upper middle class families). Then came the show All American Girl, a family show centered around a Korean-American family and all of the shenanigans of their teenage daughter, Margaret. You could not believe how elated I was as a 7 year old seeing somebody that looked like me on TV. More than looks, Cho’s character was always trying to break out of the model minority myth, not being the submissive, studious, passive idea of a Korean girl. This show shaped my idea of self as a young girl, confirming that I didn’t have to be something that I’m not. This was the first (and only) time I had seen an Asian-American family on network television with a star that was funny and not tokenizing of Asian culture.

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While the show was canceled and replaced with something that I couldn’t relate to, Margaret Cho was still an integral part of my life. My dad would record any TV appearances she did on late night shows so that I could watch them in the morning. This was all pre-internet, before one could YouTube anything you wanted more information on. Cho wrote two books about life, lessons learned, and a bit of calling out those who had done harm to her. I consumed those books, certain experiences sticking with me throughout my formative years.

One that stuck out most to me (other than her talking about her relationship with her mother, a given) was her experiences with body image. I suddenly related to Cho on a different level, rather not focused on being Korean, but both feeling the pressure of society and media to lose weight, to be less of a person. But the best part of all of this is that Margaret Cho didn’t lose her sense of self to all of these demands. She turned her pain into comedy, speaking out about the bullshit that we are told to succumb to. An inspiration to me, I try to take this idea with me.

I recently read a blog post on Cho’s website about a trip to the jimjilbang (Korean day spa) and the discrimination she faced there. I have a soft spot for jimjilbangs, spas where women are fully naked with other women scrubbing their bodies, sitting around in saunas and hot tubs taking in all the gossip imaginable.  Some of my fondest memories I have of my mom and aunties are in a jimjilbang, all taking care of each other and then talking shit about people. The part that I love the most about this experience is that you’re fully naked, every thing just hanging out and nobody is saying a single thing about your body, it’s just not the topic of discussion. Cho was basically asked to leave the jimjilbang because of her (awesome) tattoos. Othered by her own community, it hurt to read. Because I hope my mom and aunties would never do that, not to someone who could very much be their daughter or niece. It was difficult to read about this mostly because the shape or look of your body isn’t the defining factor of these places. Cho spoke up and called out the place and it was great.  Let’s just add this to the reasons why I love Margaret Cho.

I think we would be good friends, chatting about life at the jimjilbang while we caught dirty looks and laughed them off. I’m not saying that our lives are parallel, but I hope she knows what she means to so many other awkward, slightly chubby, loud, non-pristine Korean Americans.

 

On Growing Up

 

growingup

Rather, I should just entitle this blog post “what it feels like to be closer to 30 than 20”.

I get tired early. and fast. It seems like the night doesn’t even get started until 11 and by this time I’m ready to be in bed, preferably catching up on some terrible guilty pleasure on MTV. I’ve gotten to the point where I have justified that I want to go to bed early in order to enjoy the next day and wake up at decent time that doesn’t verge too much into the next days activities. At 20, getting 4 hours of sleep seemed pretty valid, so did waking up at 2pm and starting my day.

I have always valued my friends but now I REALLY value them. Having fun was a huge component of my friendships but as I have gotten older the conversations start less with “what’s going on tonight?” and more with “hey, how’s life?” I have become more emotionally invested in their lives and think of them more as family than just a friend.  I have even reverted back to writing letters by hand as a form of communication with a friend as a way to really converse with them.

I admire any adult over the age of  40. By the time one has reached this age you’ve probably worked a significant amount and experienced your fair share of bullshit. You survived! I’ll take advice from any of you.

I spend more money on hotels than I ever did before. Crashing on couches no longer seems fun (not that it did in the first place). I figured out where my priorities lie.

In my first apartment my roommate would ask people who came over to color a page from a Hello Kitty coloring book. We would then tape the pages on our walls as decoration. I was 18. Currently, Chad is the middle of building our kitchen table with a friend.

I have 3 calendars. One on my computer, one written appointment book, and one Google calendar that Chad and I live by.

I carry backpacks. My back and shoulders do not need to endure pain for fashion. Nope.

I don’t look back on these things and think, “damn. this sucks.” –I’m ready for it all. They don’t feel like growing pains, those happened in my early 20’s. It’s interesting to see when this shift in thinking happens. And maybe it doesn’t happen to everyone.

 

On Traveling

I was never into the idea of traveling for much of my life. The idea of packing, unpacking, navigating around a destination, and staying in a new place always deterred me from it.  While most of my friends spent semesters abroad in college I stuck around Chicago, a place I was determined to never leave (like EVER). Even when my best friend spent a summer in Germany and I cried because I had nobody to hang out with, the idea of traveling still seemed like an awful task (like running).

And then I met my travel partner.

Here I was, dating a person whose personal goal was to travel as much as they could while in grad school and I hadn’t stepped out of the midwest in 5 years, a combination set up for failure surely. But the best thing about dating Chad was that he was constantly challenging me to step out of my comfort zone (and still is). Suddenly, traveling didn’t seem so awful, I was just missing my perfect traveling partner this whole time. I knew I was in love with Chad long before we started traveling together, but after a trip to Portland (that also involved my best friend and her love) I knew I was in it for the long run.

So, after 5 years, and one semi-failed vacation, Chad and I have obsessed over the art of successful travel. These things tend to make our trips a bit easier and more enjoyable.

1. Have a schedule, but not so rigid that you’re going to freak if you don’t stick to it. It’s just nice to have an idea (in some sort of documentation) of what you want to do.

2. Use the app, HotelTonight, for really awesome discounted hotels. The app curates a small group of specialty and regular hotels and puts them up for booking at noon the day of. We have had great success with them and stayed in some hotels that we would never be able to afford normally. This route may not be the best for the overly anxious. In the past we have booked a room for most of our trip beforehand and then used the app the last day, to make the trip extra special. Also, HotelTonight, has definitely saved our butts during unpredictable road trips.

3. Try to figure out what you’re doing by neighborhood. Planning geographically allows for you to really enjoy a neighborhood and feel a bit like a local. Walk as much as you can, otherwise you can miss some really awesome hidden gems.

4. Do not let Yelp rule where you eat. Yelp is an awful thing to base an experience off of. Rather, go to a cafe and ask a barista where you should eat/drink/experience. Also, tip kindly.

5. Before your trip, ask your trustworthy friends if they have been to your destination and see if they have any recommendations.

6. Go on some sort of public transportation if the destination has it. Seriously.

7. If you jam pack your trip with things you want to experience, you might miss out on being present. So, don’t worry about getting the best instagram shot or seeing everything at once. Just be present.

8. Lastly, try to get to a photo booth. It’s a great takeaway that you’ll have to always remember the trip (even if it’s a bust).

from a previously anxious traveler to one who seeks out new adventures (within reason)

from a previously anxious traveler to one who seeks out new adventures (within reason)

On Coming Home

Home is such a weird concept. What makes a home?

I always thought Chicago is my home. It’s where I’m from. Where I spent most of my life. It’s the city that I have come back to after leaving for 4 years.

It’s funny how things change while you’re gone. Now that I’m home, I’m realizing how much the idea of “home” is different for me now.

I don’t have family in Chicago anymore and no family home to take all of my crap to. I don’t have my old bedroom to crash at while I figure my life out.

Most of my childhood friends have moved to other areas of the country and most of the establishments I used to frequent are gone or something else (mainly turned into Chipotle’s and Potbelly’s).

So, not a lot feels the same.

However, there are things that make this city feel like home.

The friendliness of passersby who say “hello” as you walk past them on the sidewalk, the cicada’s chorus at night, the screeching of trains on old el tracks, the uneasiness of driving down streets that have been abused by harsh winters and sweltering summers.

I feel like a bit of a tourist in my own city when I have to open up Google Maps on my phone to direct me to places or not remembering where I can transfer from one train line to another. But when I drive down streets and memories of my father and I come flooding back to me I’m taken back to a feeling of home.

Home is not a place, home is a feeling. And you can feel home anywhere.

On finding friendship in unexpected places

I have AMAZING friends. I really do and everyday I am so thankful for those friendships.

Today, I would like to give a shout out to those friends that I have found in the course of my part-time work at childcare centers, retail stores, and restaurants. They are real, genuine friendships with people who, without these jobs, I most likely would have never met.

THANK YOU PART-TIME JOBS. These folks have seen me at my most stressed out, fragile state. They have found me frozen with my eyes bugging out of my head begging to “please, take this child out of my hands.” and  crying “I forgot to put table 13’s food in!” (btw, thanks Laura) and yet after all of this, they still wanted to be my friend. While we may not share the same political views or even the same interests, true friendships have arose from these jobs, in the most unsuspecting places.

These people, the ones who serve you your food and console your child while you’re in your spinning class, are wonderful people. They are artists, musicians, community organizers, life coaches, scholars, change makers, politicians, and counselors.

I’m thankful for the experiences that I have had while working these part time jobs and mostly thankful for the friendships that have grown out of these jobs.

Special shout-outs to: Chadwick Flores, Jeffrey Nolish, Justin Flores, Sierra Wendt, Mike Morales, and Laura Olson. I just outed you on the internet for being a good friend.