The Day I Was Born

So I’m 48 today and I have just a couple other things to say.

I’m currently writing from the dining table of a vacation rental in Hoodsport, near Lake Kokanee and Lake Cushman. My sister declared a family getaway for the weekend, and so far we’ve eaten a crab and a dozen grilled oysters. I tried my hand at making gnocchi; they were delicious despite the fact that they were a shaping disaster; I tried to roll them over the back of a fork, and it was mostly not a success. Will keep trying.

Despite all of the seafood and the natural beauty of this weekend, the highlight is playing with my niece. She is brown and chubby and has learned how to holler at us and might have started teething very early.

The president is in the hospital and it seems there is an outbreak of COVID-19 among his inner circle. His followers are demanding some performative courtesy, but I shall decline. You reap what you sow, children. May his expensive experimental treatment and recovery lead to breakthroughs and relief for others; may he not lose this opportunity to realize the great power of his office for compassion. I pray for a swift end to the COVID-19 pandemic and the scourge of the Trump administration.

I asked my mama to tell me a story about the day I was born on a chat group, here’s what she wrote.

1971 Plymouth Barracuda

Your dad and I were living in a studio apartment on Capitol Way. When I started labor around midnight, your Uncle E and your Auntie R took me and your dad to St. Peter’s hospital in their yellow barracuda. They went home because it was late and they were going to work in the morning.

So following the hospital protocol, I was admitted and I was sat on a wheel chair and taken to the maternity ward. While entering the maternity ward, a nurse asked me what I was there for. When I told her I was having a baby she seemed surprised (I thought she was faking it to put me at ease). She said I was so little she couldn’t even tell I was pregnant. Of course back then I was still very petite and most of the pregnant white women were huge compared to my petite Filipino physique. Even their babies were giants at birth. My roommate at the hospital had a 12 pound baby, she cried every time the baby nursed because the baby boy ate a lot, I could even hear his sucking from my side of the room. You were small, only 6 lbs, v. 12 lbs. If you had an eating competition, he could have easily downed a gallon of leche while you would be taking your time just sipping and sipping.

You were also born free! We had just arrived here, May of 1972, although your dad tried very hard to find work, (me too, but I was told that because I was pregnant I wouldn’t get the job because the job entails pulling out files using step ladders), people who were helping us and those who gave us rides to go to our doctor’s appointments, advised us to not hurry to get a job until you were born. They drove us to DSHS local office in Lacey and apply for food stamps and medical aid. We were told that getting into the medical aid program was important so I could get prenatal care and childbirth medical expenses. So they helped your dad get temporary project job with the state. Two people who helped us navigate the system were Harry Johnson, supervisor at Public Instructions, and an elderly lady named Mrs. Esther Knox, a board member of public instructions. When you were born Mrs. Cox said “can I be your baby’s grandmother?” Harry Johnson gave me the first baby book to read to you everyday, not a picture book, but some short stories and poems. Isn’t it too early to read this book? I asked. He said no, it’s good to read to him. So you have something to thank the liberal socialists in the USA for making it possible to be born free in America. Nothing to be ashamed of; don’t forget about Tatang Mael’s service to this country. (My grandfather Ismaël “Tatang Mael” served in the US Navy during WWII, aboard a submarine).

We have so many people to thank for in this country. So if you get an opportunity to help out people, as long as you’re not hurting anyone, don’t hesitate to help. If you help, never expect for payback, God is in charge, your good deed will always come back to you in any form you may not expect or may not recognize, if not in this lifetime, maybe in the next. Don’t forget the Golden Rule, do unto others what you would want others do to you.

Happy birthday, anak! Thank you for all your goodness!

Thank you all for your birthday wishes; happy birthday to my mama, who did all the work 48 years ago.

I stopped going to Uwajimaya.

I stopped going to Uwajimaya Seattle.

I got up early one day and drove the long way from West Seattle, and showed up at 8am. The guard said “seniors only” and shut the door in my face. I didn’t get to tell them that I live with a condition that the CDC lists as having increased risk for COVID, apparently it wasn’t about that.

I tweeted them and they ignored me. I tweeted again and asked when people at high risk could go shop for seafood and vegetables; they actually replied! They said to call ahead and management MAY make special arrangements. That was a month ago.

Today I finally realized I’m not calling to make arrangements, the incident left such a bad taste in my mouth that I don’t bother. I buy my seafood at Mutual now, and veggies at Ba Mien; they’re both closer to my house. I had been going to Uwajimaya 3x a week, called the fish guy “uncle” and the deli ladies “auntie.” I remember going when it was across the street, and banh mi was 75 cents.

I understand that I am not supposed to go to senior hour. I understand that if you’re not a senior and you have a high-risk condition that we have to call and the manager MAY make arrangements. I don’t know if I have to produce a certificate of my chronic kidney disease or show the characteristic scars on my legs since I don’t heal very fast anymore. I don’t know, I just don’t care to go there anymore. Apparently they don’t have a time for people like me to shop.

No safe time to shop at Uwajimaya if you have the following conditions:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

I was sick of lockdown that day; I had gone early to buy my family a crab.

Why is the moon…

The first time I went to Beijing in 2000, I honestly didn’t know what smog was. I asked our guide what was that hot fog that limited visibility to half a block? He didn’t answer me, I think he thought I was shaming him. I wasn’t, I literally thought it was a weather phenomenon, a fog that would burn off as the day warmed. It never went away.

Later, when I was living in Shanghai, I remember looking up at the sky and seeing the moon in the middle of the afternoon; a full moon that was a dull orange. I thought, how strange to see the moon at 2 pm. Then I realized it wasn’t the moon at all; it was the sun barely shining through the thick layer of smog.

I remember living in Shanghai for six months before seeing blue sky.

This was just a regular day in China for us. This was before the catastrophic air pollution that was so bad, the authorities ordered people to shelter in place. It was before the US Consulate in Shanghai started tweeting the daily AQI, causing a diplomatic incident.

None of the images in this post are from Shanghai, they are both from Seattle, where over the last few days the air has been the most polluted of all major cities on the planet, due to wildfires burning on the West Coast. At first, it was smoke blowing west over the mountains from Eastern Washington; now it’s smoke from Oregon and California that drifted west over the Pacific and has now turned the corner to hit us from the west.

To be fair, the moon is also an eery pale orange. From my house I cannot see across the lake to Mercer Island. Driving northbound I-5, I could not start making out the downtown buildings until I got to the Brewery.

I had intended to teach from my classroom at school, but it’s not worth leaving the house at this point, so I’ve set up my battle station in my bedroom until the rains come to clear the air and squelch the fires. Hopefully today’s AQI of 251 is the worst of it. It’s not the “crazy bad” level, and to tell you the truth, it smells like campfire, which is not that bad. Still, I wish it would go away.

The Secret of (Mexican) Food

Back in 2007, I only knew of two “Mexican” restaurants in Shanghai. The first one I went to was terrible; it was out of the way, and I think they put corn starch in their salsa.

Here’s the deal; most of us expats really missed the cuisine of our home countries. Sure some of the expats were robots who didn’t understand that normal people enjoy food, but as a rule, the French people missed French food, the Italian people missed Italian food, the Spanish people missed Spanish food, the Mexican people missed Mexican food, and the American people missed Mexican food.

Certainly, there are plenty of distinctly American cuisines, fight me; but Americans in China always said they missed Mexican food the most.

Have you ever explained Mexican food to a Chinese person? They are terrified. You have to remind them that it’s an ancient cuisine, but once you tell them about enchiladas, they go into culture shock. “It’s just every food mixed together, randomly!” I know, it sound crazy to us, but to a Chinese person, it’s rice, beans, corn cake, meat, chile, cumin, cilantro, lettuce, cream, and fruit (avocado) on one plate. They are terrified. Those enchiladas represent food that was roasted, baked, fried, stewed, boiled, puréed; all on one plate. It’s too much for Chinese people.

I’ve heard Chinese people say this more than once: “It’s just every food mixed together randomly!” and of course any Mexican and American will stop them and tell them, no, it only seems that way to you because of your total unfamiliarity with the world due to your country’s policy of isolation for three generations. Mexican food is ancient, complex, and even ritualized.

I remember telling my friend D this, and he took my word for it, begrudgingly, and told him that Chinese food also appears random and strange to people who didn’t know it. At first, he disbelieved, but then, again, he took my word for it. D was one of the few Chinese people I know that was willing to listen to the point of view of a non-Chinese person.

I remember once discussing regional Chinese cuisines with D; he knew about Shanghainese food (sweet), Northeast cuisine (dark and soy saucy), and the spicy food of western China. I told him that my favorite food was Cantonese food, and he swooned for a second, and then asked me in all earnestness, “JP, what is Cantonese food like?” Chinese people learn about the fame and sophistication of Cantonese food, but I don’t think Shanghainese people eat it much. Still, they swoon when they hear about it, the way they swoon about the idea of Paris, even though they’ve never been.

One time, at my birthday party, Leo made tostadas. They were spectacular, and D loved them. I told him, yep, that’s because it’s real Mexican food, made by a real Mexican person. He still thought it was a radical mix of too many food groups, but he got it, that creamy, meaty, earthy, spicy, crunchy freshness that hits you all at once, that’s Mexican food, the gift of Mother Corn and Brother Chile. He got it. And we could all appreciate his perspective that it was a radical mix of too many food groups; technically he wasn’t wrong, but he finally got it. Taste and see; the secret of Mexican food.

A year later, there were more Mexican restaurants open in Shanghai, I didn’t try them all, but for the most part, I didn’t like them. They were often more about the drinks than the food. One time, my Dutch friend invited me to a cheesy Mexican place for a party, and I was happy to go meet them. It was kind of embarrassing, the kind of place with puns in the menu and sombreros hanging on the wall.

Our Chinese friend A asked someone what to order, and whoever it was gave her a pretty poor explanation of what to expect. She turned to me and exclaimed, “Oh! I know the secret of Mexican food! It’s all the food groups randomly mixed together!” I told her no, it’s not that, it’s an ancient, complex, and ritualized cusine…” She interrupted me and said, “NO JP, IT’S EVERY FOOD MIXED TOGETHER RANDOMLY.” If I remember correctly, a white friend of intervened to correct her, and A turned and looked at me in shock.

Then I realized the kind of place we were at; it was Tex-Mex. I told her, listen A, this place is not really Mexican food, it’s 不地道的美國人覺得墨西哥菜是怎麼樣; inauthentic, American stereotype of what Mexican food is. (Back then I didn’t know how to say “很複雜的美式墨西哥菜”) Of course, that confused her even more, so I told her to and me the menu and I will find her something authentically Mexican to order.

The menu was as long as my arm and five pages front and back. I read the entire thing, front and back, and didn’t find anything Mexican. There was “taco platter” and “wet burrito” and “chimichanga” of every meat, but there was no guajolote en mole, no chile en nogada, no tinga, no camarones en mojo de ajo; I don’t even think there was carne asada. Were there even corn tortillas? Just canned refried beans and a bunch of La Costeña products, and imported flour tortillas that spent more time in plastic than on a comal.

Nothing on this menu is actually Mexican, I told A, handing back the menu; this is an American stereotype menu. Sorry. She was flabbergasted.

There are reasons that Americans are so attached to Mexican food, even when it’s not what Mexicans eat. I will confess that I am a fan of American stereotype Mexican food; I’m happy to eat a taco salad in a tortilla bowl next to a lake of runny beans topped with yellow cheese; I’ll eat it! To be honest, though, I much prefer to eat authentic Mexican food; the ancient, complex, ritualized cuisine that is creamy, meaty, earthy, spicy, crunchy freshness that hits you all at once; gift of Mother Corn and Brother Chile.

Besides, the Americanized stuff tends to be every food just mixed together randomly.

Cultural Competence and Cheese Cutting

When I’m at dinner at someone’s home in France, they often offer me the cheese plate first, since I’m the guest. Very gracious, and of course I love cheese and I want to try all of them. I was taught that the cheese plate only comes around once, so there is a little pressure on me to get it right.

I never get it right.

I say, oh, please serve yourself first! But they insist that I must go first, since I’m the guest. Then I tell them the truth; that I don’t know how to cut the cheese, and I know that it’s important to them, and it would be better if someone else went first, so that I could follow an example.

Nonsense, they say, there is no wrong way to cut cheese; please JP serve yourself.

So I serve myself. The cheese plate only comes around once, so I take off a little piece of each of the cheeses to try. I watch people’s faces deflate in disappointment, as they realize that there actually is a right and wrong way to cut cheese, and I totally blew it.

A lot of people think that culture is about folkloric costumes and national ballets. That stuff is all great, but when we talk about “culture” as in cultural differences, and culture clash, what we’re actually talking about is common sense.

Common sense is culture-specific. It’s an invisible set of customs and rules that nobody has to think about if they’re from the same culture; they’ll never question it until someone violates the rule; the way I violate the French cheese plate.

I will post a picture of the French cheese cutting rules that I discovered in social media last week. Apparently they are now talking about it, so it has become a matter of etiquette; perhaps there has been so many violations of the custom that they care enough to make it explicit. Maybe they did this just for me.

This is the poster that I saw in social media; it blew my mind to see this explained so clearly here.

Now that I see it, it’s clear to me, I can explain it just as well as a French person; it’s common sense. I totally get it. I only had to see this graphic for a second, and suddenly my decades of turpitude during the cheese course have come to an end.

Here’s the same information with actual cheese.

When you’re at a dinner party, (and hopefully you are, when you are in France), the cheese plate only comes around once, so when you serve yourself, you have to do so in a way that satisfies your love and curiosity about cheese, but evenly distributes all the cheese for everyone in the room. These recommended cuts try to keep the cheese amount even for every guest. Some of the cuts are intuitive, but some are not. I was always screwing up the Brie and the Roquefort, and when I mean “screwing up,” what I mean is I was starting the cut in a way that would leave the last person with nothing but a piece of rind. And since the cheese plate goes around the table in one direction, that person left with rind is probably the person immediately next to me.

Roquefort is shaped in these wedges, and the best part is in the center.

Roquefort is most delicious in the center, and the rind is not great. If you slice it the “proper” way, every guest will get a little bit of center and a little bit of rind. The portion may be uneven, but this way everybody enjoys the center. This is common sense, according to French people, but there is no way a Filipino American kid from Seattle would just magically intuit this.

Slice Brie this way at a dinner party so that everyone gets a similar amount.
Slice brie this way to pack it in your lunch box. Don’t do this at a dinner party, though, they will accuse you of “cutting off the nose.”

Brie is also an awkward shape to try to distribute evenly at a dinner party, and if you do it wrong, someone will accuse you of “cutting off the nose,” which is TOTALLY BAFFLING but also seems really negative. If you grew up steeped in French culture, you’d know both a) how to slice this elegantly at a dinner party, and b) the meaning of the expression “cutting off the nose.” But if you’re a Filipino American kid in France for a few months doing study abroad, that is a lot to expect.

Many people will be surprised to learn that Americans also have a culture-specific “common sense” rules that we don’t think about unless they are violated. When we enter an elevator, we face the door; it’s a rule. We eat pizza from tip to crust, and not from side to side or bottom to top. We stifle our belches. We remain standing for other countries’ national anthems. We wear basketball shorts when we’re not playing basketball.

All of these things are culture-specific to us; they don’t necessarily occur to other people. French people will smile politely when you take them on a tour of your home, but later will commiserate with their friends about how creepy it is that you took showed them your bedroom the moment they arrived. “It’s just common courtesy,” we say, but it’s a culturally specific common courtesy, and it baffles them, the same way that their cheese cutting baffles us.

The same way it baffles us when they put their bread on the table, instead of on a plate.

The same way it shocks Asian people when you walk into their homes with your shoes on. And when you happily remove your shoes, but then ALSO REMOVE YOUR SOCKS?! Don’t do that!

The same way it shocks Latinos when you put your shoes on the furniture, whether you’re in a house in an office, or on a bus, or in a train.

The same way it shocks us when we go to Japan, Brazil, or Finland and there is canned, cut corn on your pizza.

The same way it shocks Europeans and Asians to see native Hawaiians eating poi with their hands.

I grew up as a minority in this country, so culture clash has always been part of my life. I’ve also made it my business to travel and experience other cultures. I have a lot of experience in shocking culture clash situations, and to tell you the truth I kind of look down on people who handle culture clash poorly.

That said, I was in my mid 30s in China, and every day for me was a culture clash disaster. I had my own “common sense” culturally specific ideas that I constantly tripped over; concepts like, “you’re in my way” (that space doesn’t actually belong to you) and “you’re taking too long” (your rush is your own problem). I tended to take personal offense when someone lied to me, which was several times an hour in Shanghai, if you’re out in public. I didn’t always understand who to mind and who to yell at, and when I would start getting mad at all of China, I had to take myself aside and tell myself, this is their country; their common sense is the one that counts here.

One time I was in Taiwan, and a teacher was asking me about the English word “foreigner.” I told her we didn’t really use that word in American English very much. Certainly the word “foreigner” exists for us, but we didn’t use it to identify people, we’d never say, “look at her, she is a foreigner.” My teacher was shocked to hear me say that if I saw a Chinese person randomly on the sidewalk or in a drug store somewhere in Seattle, that everyone would assume that the person was a Chinese American, born here, English-speaking, rather than a “foreigner.” “Foreigner” is never our first assumption, not in Seattle, at least. It’s just our common sense.

We do have our common sense cultural tendencies, just like any other culture. However, as a nation of immigrants, are in constant contact we other cultures, and we have an expectation of ourselves to be more accepting of cultural differences. I heard a bigoted Filipino once say that we were “permissive,” but that person is a horrible bigot. We know not to act shocked when white people put soy sauce on their rice in a restaurant.

One time, when I was in France, I took my American students to a French elementary school, and French people asked my students if they had noticed any cultural differences. All the Americans said, yes of course, they have seen many. I thought to myself, this could get awkward.

When I was studying in France 20 years earlier, they asked me the same question, “Jean Patrique, what is your impression of France?” I struggled to answer in French, but I gave an honest and objective answer, “Tout est vieu.” Everything is old. We had just been given four days of tours of Paris and Avignon, and every single thing they pointed out to us was a from a different century. They seemed very impressed by it, naming the century with breathless exuberance. So when I said “tout est vieu” I was hoping to show them that I had been paying attention. Of course, they chuckled to each other and assumed that all Americans are fascinated by newness and took it as an insult that I called their country old. Shrug.

Anyway there I was again with my own students and a similar question/trap, “what cultural differences have you noticed about France?” I looked over at my students, and saw them trying to come up with something gracious to say. To their credit, they had more tact than I did. “Boys wear capri pants,” was their answer. Honestly, we were very shocked by this cultural-specific common sense custom of theirs, because where I’m from, boys don’t wear capri pants… they wear basketball shorts.

Happily they took that strange comment, “Boys wear capri pants” as a odd but valid observation, even having one of the students stand up and do a turn to model his capri pants, which he did happily.

I like to tell stories about France. It somehow feels safer than telling stories about Asia, since French people for the most part are white-skinned and Americans are not as quick to exoticize them as they are with Asians. I don’t buy that French culture is somehow closer more similar to American culture than Chinese culture is, since I felt equally alienated in both cultures. But the same rule applies; that cultures differ because we have different definitions of “common sense,” what we don’t notice unless the unspoken norms are violated.

I think we’ll all get along better when we learn to recognize and appreciate those cultural differences, rather than avoiding and resenting them (as I did in France) or raging against them (as I did in China). And to tell you the truth, I do expect more from Americans; we’re supposed to be multicultural and accepting, it’s part of our ethos.

From where I’m standing, it’s just common sense.

Recipe: tortillas de maíz

I’ve been making a lot of corn tortillas lately. I love to make them. I actually resent store bought tortillas now; and I resent all the people that said it was so much work. I can do it in my sleep now.

For instant masas, I like Masabrosa the best, although Maseca is fine. I don’t measure anything anymore, just masa harina by the fistful, a pinch of salt, and the right amount of warm water. I use warm water because my hand is going to be in that masa a lot. What’s the right amount of water? Enough water to wet and incorporate the flour into a dough, but not so much water that it leaves a thick, soapy film on the bowl. I like to shape the masa into a sausage shape, but that’s just me, helps me keep fingers clean and tortillas even.

The formula is to seal up one side of your tortilla on a hot comal for 30 seconds, then flip it to side two for 60 seconds. Finally, flip it back onto side one for 30 more seconds, and you’re done. If you’re making them by the dozen, I create an assembly line down the length of the comal, laying the new one at the top of the comal, and flipping it or sliding it down the comal so that it gets its 30-60-30 cooking time by the time it reaches the bottom of the comal. If the comal is hot enough, your tortilla will inflate on the second flip.

Last week I forgoed (forwent?!) the instant masa harina and bought some fresh nixtamal. The result was some spectacular tortillas. I just have to remember to salt them.

Recipe: Beans, the magical fruit

I have been making a lot of dried beans lately; black beans, red beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, cranberry beans… I’ll add more to the list as I get through them. I know there are existing recipes, and that different cultures make them different ways, but for now I’m making them all the same way; refried.

Red beans and rice.

Also, I should mention that I’m cooking for someone that has a garlic and onion sensitivity, so there are no onions or garlic in my recipes now. I do miss the sharpness and bite of raw garlic and onion, but to be honest I’ve lost the taste for the sweetness of cooked garlic, and especially cooked onion. I made a tortilla de patatas the other day with onion, for old time’s sake, and it was so sweet it tasted like diabetes to me.

But I digress. Here’s how I make beans:

  • Soak about four handfuls of dried beans in a large jar in a whole bunch of water; 4 to 1 beans to water. Leave it to soak overnight.
  • The next morning, drain off all the water, rinse the beans.
  • Throw the soaked beans into the crock pot with a bunch of water, 2 to 1 beans to water. Throw in some bay leaves, half an onion, and a couple of smashed garlic cloves. But of course nowadays I omit the smashed garlic cloves.
  • Return a couple of hours later, when the water is boiling. Throw in two big pinches of salt, black pepper, and a handful of oregano. If you want, you can throw in big pieces of carrots of celery in there to stew, whatever.
  • Check to see if the beans are creaming after four hours total cooking, if so, turn them off. Congratulations, you have made frijoles de olla. Eat it now, or continue.
  • Sauté a diced tomato in some oil or butter. Maybe you want to add diced onion and or a diced celery at this point. Maybe you want to sneak an anchovy into there. Whatever, it’s your life.
  • Dump the beans and the water into the sauté. Bring it all to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer.
  • Simmer, simmer, simmer. Boil off the water. Boil it until the sound changes from bubbling to sizzling. Boil it until you can scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula, and see the bottom before the thickened juice slowly floods the pan again. Shut the heat off at this point, and expect the beans to keep thickening as they cool.

That’s it, that’s how I’ve been making them. The result tastes rich and expensive. So far I’ve had the best results with red beans and black beans. Pinto beans and kidney beans don’t like to be overcooked, so once they are creamy you gotta stop cooking them there, so they don’t pop.

I serve my beans with rice or chili and then I eat them non-stop until they’re gone. It’s a problem. However if I make too big of a batch, I will eat one serving and then despair at how many beans ai have to eat, and then order a pizza.

Pinto beans soaking
Cook them until they give you a brief peek at the bottom if the pan before the juice rushes back in and covers it.

Emergency Isolation

Yesterday I got a call from someone saying that so-and-so has come down with COVID-19; tested positive and experiencing symptoms. The person who called me told me that she might have been exposed, so she’s getting tested right away.

We used our memories to trace back to see if I had been exposed and, indeed, there was a remote chance I had been exposed for a brief second. I had lowered my mask for a selfie!

I was driving on Meridian Avenue in South Hill at the time, so I pulled into Ivar’s to get some lunch and then called my sister to strategize. We agreed that I had to isolate from my family, including Baby K, my niece, until we could confirm that I had not been exposed.

It would have been tricky in the old apartment, but in the new house I am on a separate floor from the rest of the family, and I have my own bathroom, so it’s relatively easy to isolate. My sister and cuñado would leave me things on the stairs; a bowl of rice and beans, an ear of corn… and I would leave the dirty dishes for them to pick up, after wiping them down with Clorox wipes of course. We could communicate by text message or just by talking into the stairway. On one occasion I saw my sister sneak past my room into the garage; she was masked up.

It had been just a second; I lowered my mask for a selfie. The person I was with has been taking precautions for months, as have I, and didn’t have any symptoms. But if there was a chance I could infect the rest of my household, I didn’t want to go up there, not even with a mask.

It was a long afternoon of me in my room, hearing life go on upstairs. My niece would occasionally holler. She’s getting close to five months now, so she’s got a pretty good /a/ vowel. I didn’t have much to do; I tried my best to arrange my room and played a stupid iPad game that involves moving shapes to make matches, which then disappear and new shapes fall into place. I’m almost to level 900.

This morning I got up and got dimsum for breakfast at 來來點心 Homestyle Dimsum, and coffee at Empire Espresso in Columbia City. I came home and started organizing my clothes into the closet, finally, hanging up my neckties, and listening to a podcast about Ancient Rome.

I studied in Rome in the mid 90s; got to tour the Domus Aurea before it had opened to the public, read about the Rape of the Sabines and the Roman Kings and the Plebian Secessions to the Mons Sacer. I had heard all of these stories before, but in my mind they were all separate scenes and vignettes. Back then, Roman history seemed too vast to even understand them all as a narrative. It turns out that the founding, the “Seven Kings” period, and the early Republic can all be threaded together in a series of dry lectures. I’m halfway into episode 8.

At about 4pm this afternoon I got another phone call; the COVID-19 test had come back negative. That’s good news for all of us. We did some mental calculations, and realize that that person’s negative test means that I was no longer at risk of having been exposed. I went upstairs and held my niece for about six hours. She missed me!

The moral of the story is that during the pandemic, don’t lower your mask to take old-fashioned selfies. Social distancing selfies are just fine. As this pandemic has gotten old and tired, I think most of us have had sloppy moments where we let our masks down. Maybe I wouldn’t mind so much if it was just me, but I can’t put the rest of the family at risk. My brief isolation kind of threw Baby K’s child care plan a curve ball, since her parents rely on me to relieve them. No more sloppy isolation, that was scary.

So I hope very much for a speedy recovery for that person who is sick, and I’m glad for the negative test result, and I’m glad that I can go back upstairs. Tomorrow faculty meetings start; I’ve chosen to attend via Zoom from the comfort of my house, as to limit exposure. I will be missing the free food, and I honestly hate Zoom meetings, even the fun ones. I’m sure at some point I will throw in the towel and just go on campus, once it’s all figured out, but for now I’m going to keep my head down, and see how it all shakes out.

P.S., I kind of hate the Patricians.

Escape from West Seattle

It was the hottest day of the year today, the mercury reached 97º F, which is hot for Seattle. In the afternoon we had a surprise thunder storm that reminded me of the midwest. The air was dark and sultry, and the barely noticeable rain shower did nothing to cool the air. It tasted like electricity.

Today we turned in our keys at the apartment in Admiral, after having emptied it and vacuumed. It was cool to live right in the center of that town, across the street from three major supermarkets, three gas stations, a movie theater, and restaurants. It was close to my cowsin’s and just up the hill from the beach. There were spectacular views from all over the neighborhood.

But now we’re fully in our new house in Rainier Beach, at the stage where we’re living with boxes. Hopefully we can get it unpacked and put away soon.

On the hottest day of the year during the pandemic, we didn’t have much choice but to stay inside and try to stay cool. We couldn’t risk the usual hot weather things like movies, malls, or libraries, especially with the baby. So we engineered the airflow in the house to do the best we could without air conditioning. Most of the time, the whole family was in my room, which is the coolest room in the house. It was a cool 84º F in here, whereas the rest of the house was at 89º.

Baby K handled the whole thing like a champ. We got dinner at Mawadda Café because I felt it was too hot to cook. Tomorrow I have to start making a bunch of instructional videos. I cancelled my ukulele lesson.

Adiós, alfombra

So we bought a new house in Rainier Beach, and we’re doing some projects before moving in. I hired some folks to do some electrical stuff, plus build a fireplace accent wall with a mounted TV. More on that later.

I hired Sergey for the floors. He brought out Andrei and Ivan to install new floors and baseboards, and Vitaly and Tim to paint baseboards. Originally I heard them speaking Russian, so I referred to them as “the Russians.” My cuñado pointed out that this was culturally appropriate in Spanish speaking cultures, but a little questionable in English. To tell the truth, I picked up this habit from Kiwi J. In any case, only Ivan is Russian. Sergey, Vitaly, and his son Tim are Ukrainian, Andrei (and his son Michael) are Estonian. My real estate agent Tess remarked that there are a lot of Russian and Ukrainian folks around here who do floors. From what I’ve seen, they do good work

We are getting floors done because the original carpet made us itch and sneeze. It had a very thick pad, was bunching in some places, and was not entirely free of dog hair and dander. It hid some defects in the floor that Andrei had to fix; some places he sanded down, other places he mudded up. It also had a lot of squeaky parts, especially in the stairs. Andrei said that around 2014-2015, a lot of experienced contractors quit due to the economy, and a lot of construction from that time was done by rookies. These rookies did not necessarily nail floors or stairs into the joists; and the result was squeaks. Andrei fixed all of those.

The baseboards; ah, the baseboards… In Spanish, “baseboard is “zócalo” in the dictionary, but I’m going to stick with “el rodapié” or “el friso.” In French, it’s “la plinthe,” which sounds a million percent French and is totally opaque to me. In Chinese, it’s 踢腳板.

So anyway, the baseboards on the stairs were ugly AF. They were only on the treads, cut very bluntly, and spaced way above the puffy carpet, (puffy due to the thick pad). The default option was to return the ugly baseboard, but it would have to be lowered since the new laminate floors would be much lower than the puffy carpet. I said it was too ugly. The contractor proposed a skirt, which is the fanciest fix. But since my stairs went around corners a lot, I thought the angles would be wonky. I asked the guys, what if we put baseboard on the tread AND the riser? They said, nope nope nope.

But then, from where I was standing, I noticed that there was one spot in the stairs that actually had a baseboard going up the riser. So told the guys, “look at that!” and pointed to it. Earlier, they said nope nope nope, but seeing it made them reconsider. Yes we can do that, they said, it would be cheaper than the skirting, but it would be a lot of work. I said, let’s do it.

It was a lot of work, and I’m sure Andrei never wants to see my stairs ever again. But it now looks clean and finished.

Later, I’ll blog about the fireplace wall, the landscaping, and the fence. And someday, we’ll have to paint the walls.