Thursday, December 28, 2023

home alone letter writer

Today I read this advice column letter in the New York Times:
I am 68 and live alone in a nice home in the suburbs. My only child, 40, is happily settled with his fiancée in another city. I always hoped they would come back here to raise a family, and I offered to give them my home if they did. They like the idea and plan to build a new house on the site. Over Christmas, I told them I was excited about their plan and added: “You could build a mother-in-law apartment for me or even a guesthouse.” It’s a large lot. My son burst out laughing and said, “Mom, you wouldn’t live with us.” They assumed I would move into a condo. I was shattered!

The columnist replied:
I don’t think a reasonable person would expect the gift of a home to include your continued residency in it — unless you mentioned that fact.

American society is so different from Chinese expectations! I can only imagine how Chinese netizens would react to a son who wants to take over his mom's house but laughs at the idea of letting her stay in a detached unit on the lot. 

The US has sky-high demands on parents taking care of kids, but nothing in the other direction. If a parent said they wanted to take over their teen's inherited trust fund and then kick the teen out to live on their own, people would be aghast! Yet they don't blink if someone is doing it to their mom instead of their kid. 

American parents invest so much time and money into their children, with little hope of caretaking in their older years. It's interesting.

Monday, December 25, 2023


My mom and I have been strength training together for 6 months. I found a YouTube channel of a Japanese-American personal trainer with her 82yo mom. We are their perfect target demographic! 

Four times per week, we do an hour of these exercises. My mom is very graceful! She was a gymnast as a child, and it still shows in her fluid movements.

I see my mom getting stronger over the months, and her balance has improved. It is so satisfying to see. 

Saturday, December 23, 2023


I think it's safe to say I've broken free of my sugar addiction. It was difficult the first few days, and I felt urgent cravings that lasted for an hour or more. But now it's easy. I don't really think about sugary foods or this sugarfree experiment.

In the first week, I spent 10+ hours watching videos about the history of sugar. The British created colonies and enslaved Caribbean people on cruel sugarcane plantations. That has evolved today into the descendants working in indentured servitude on sugarcane farms, only earning enough money to eat one meal per day. They can only get medical care from the sugar company, which charges them hyperbolic fees. 

Up until recently, marketing led me to associate sugary desserts with celebration and self-pampering. You can't have a birthday party without a cake. Or a wedding without one. There's no funeral cake though. People celebrate team milestones with Krispy Kreme donuts or Sprinkles cupcakes, not with a veggie platter. The marketing for sugar is impressive.

I've eaten two sugary items in the past 1.5 months. The first was a slice of key lime pie with friends. Before eating it, I was worried that a single bite could send me on a sugar binge, like how a sip of alcohol will cause some ex-alcoholics on a bender until they hit rock bottom again. Luckily, that did not happen. 

The second sugary item was a crème brûlée at a restaurant. The first few bites were great. But after I finished eating it, my heart started beating so fast, and it was physically uncomfortable. I felt ill. Sugar is poison.

My plan is to keep eating like this henceforth. I haven't yet been confronted with difficult tests like a dessert buffet. Hopefully by the time those happen, my body will be even more recovered from my sugar addiction, and I will be able to stay on the wagon.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

the big terrible thing

I read Matthew Perry's memoir a couple weeks ago. It's about his addiction to alcohol and opiates. He went to rehab 10+ times. His withdrawal symptoms were worst on days 3 and 4. 

Even after 14 surgeries from drug effects, he still broke his sobriety and sneaked opiates when cravings hit.

After reading the book, I realized I probably have a sugar addiction. If I don't eat sugar for a day, I experience intense cravings. For an hour, it is hard to focus on anything except eating a dessert. I thought it was emotional eating and a stress response and lack of willpower, but now I realize it is probably a physical addiction.

When cravings hit in the past, I thought they'd go on and on forever if I didn't give in. I always caved. Had I known they were temporary withdrawal symptoms that would gradually subside over a few weeks, perhaps I could've powered through!

From now until the end of the year, I decided to stop eating added sugar. 

I was skeptical when Matthew Perry said his memoir is meant to help people with addiction. I thought perhaps he wanted to recapture some fame. I shouldn't have doubted!

Friday, November 03, 2023

three new bucket-list items

I have three new goals on my bucket list.

1. Walk the Camino de Santiago, Portuguese Central route.

2. Do the most popular Camino, the Frances route. Perhaps I'll bike the Meseta plains in the middle.

3. All of that will be build-up for someday walking the Camino del Norte. It's often called the most gorgeous of the Camino routes, but people also say it may be the most strenuous. Nearly constant uphill and downhill. The route sometimes consists of scrambling over rocks. One person said that out of 30 days hiking, it rained 26 of the days.

But look at this view!

I've always been below average at cardio, and the Camino del Norte will be a stretch. However, the first time I read about it, I knew I wanted to do it someday. Mark my words!

Thursday, October 12, 2023

games with trees and water

I'm playing "A Short Hike", made by a solo developer. You play as a bird that's hiking and flying up a mountain. There's fall foliage, streams, and trees. It's cute.

I also enjoyed Eastshade, another game made by a solo developer. You wander around an island, solving mysteries and creating artistic paintings. 

I started playing Grand Theft Auto 4 and Spiderman last year. They're both impressive games, but I put them down partway through and haven't resumed. Instead I find myself preferring the cozy feeling of these one-person indie games.

Tuesday, August 08, 2023


After reading "Better Living Through Birding", I've started identifying birds via the Merlin app! 

There's a concept of the "spark bird", the first bird that gets you excited about birding. The first bird I identified was the Great Egret, but I don't think it was my spark bird. 

The author Christian Cooper points out how birding leads to an increased desire to protect the birds' habitat. Birding creates quiet communion with the outdoors. It's similar to bicycling in terms of being a gateway to increased social awareness.

Me: "Wow, I would never have started birding without Christian Cooper."

Aff: "He's your spark birder."

Friday, July 14, 2023

I walked the walk

I did the Camino Portuguese last month, 180 miles. 

I met pilgrims from many countries. One Italian man, in his 60s, has walked several Caminos in the two years after retiring. Next he will do the Via Francigena trail (2000 kilometers) from Canterbury, England to Rome. 

In one coastal section in Spain, the trail was 80% Germans.

Me: [to one young German] "Why are there so many Germans in this section?"

Him: "Because Germans are everywhere. Everyone thinks we are working so hard, but instead we are just making vacation all over the place."

One American woman was on her fifth Camino. She's planning to move to Spain and open a Camino guesthouse. She's currently a doctor and is disillusioned at the profit-driven nature of US hospitals. 

At a break, two college-aged guys were laughing over viral meme videos. Later, I encountered them on the trail and met their group leader, who is the grandmother of one of them. She told us about thru-hiking the Appalachian trail for 3 months, camping with snorers. 

I hoped to feel "walker's high" from endorphins. That lasted 15 minutes per day. Instead, most of the time I felt anxious, sometimes over practicalities like avoiding rain and heat, and other times ruminating pointlessly over frustrations. Despite this, I felt very satisfied by the Camino. I had many novel experiences. It was memorable. 

I also developed an appreciation for exercise. Working out is not just an obligation performed due to societal pressure. It actually helps you propel your body up hills and along trails. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

MRI happiness

Today I took my mom to get a brain MRI. She's been walking slower, and a neurologist ordered a MRI to check out her brain. It could just be age-related (she's 73), but we're verifying to be sure.

I sat in the corner during the 35-minute process. No electronics are allowed, so I wasn't able to use a phone or kindle. I just sat there and thought.

Strangely, I felt really happy during the MRI process! It was probably the happiest I've felt this week. I listened to the MRI machine noises, and felt satisfied that I was taking good care of my mom. It was a relief to get this errand crossed off the list, and be able to look forward to answers from the neurologist.

I would not have expected "waiting for MRI" to be the highlight of my week, but strangely it was!

random internet photo of MRI

Thursday, May 04, 2023

book about the two wolves inside us

I was touched by this book, by a mom who develops ALS at age 44. Upon her diagnosis, she knew that she had around 3 years to live, and would progressively lose the ability to walk, type, feed herself, and speak. 

She wrote about how some friends dropped her, because they were uncomfortable with her wheelchair and slurred speech. She was furious at their desertion. But she decided to intentionally focus her attention towards the friends who stepped up. 

Every day, friends stopped by with home-cooked food, to help her kids, or to read passages of her book. 

She typed the book using just her thumb on her iPhone. Later she could no longer move her thumb and she wrote an epilogue using nose-tracking software. 

There was a sweet quote from her husband of 20 years. He dressed her, fed her, and helped her go to the bathroom. He said, "You're not a burden. The least I can do for you is everything." 

Friday, March 24, 2023

a little wizard hacker

I really like this Wired article about Marcus Hutchins, who saved the world from the WannaCry virus by registering its sinkhole domain. 

He comes across as very moral! He made mistakes as a teenager when he tried too hard to impress his peers. They asked him to write sketchy code, and he did it. Then he paid for it with years of anxiety, and now he is wiser and thoughtful.

He is Ged from the Wizard of Earthsea.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Red Rocks

I'm climbing with Aff and his friends in Red Rocks. Climbing on slab sandstone is much better than I expected. 

I've attempted ten routes over three days, and I successfully reached the top of all ten! 

It is calming to be out in nature, looking at cliffs and cacti, with no cell phone reception, climbing rocks.

Monday, February 06, 2023

a funny sketch: Black Lady Courtroom

This is uplifting and hilarious.

zen interior design style

I'm very impressed by people who can do interior design. I've read many books and watched videos, and I'm still unable to do it.

I did figure out that my preferred style is the Zen style.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Camino plans: Porto to Santiago

I've been talking a lot about the Camino. Finally I decided to do it. 

I bought plane tickets to walk the Camino Portuguese this May. Hopefully there will be wildflowers. I'll be walking 173 miles from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Aff will walk the final 63 miles with me.

I hope it will be meditative, with trees and ocean and port wine and audiobooks.

Monday, January 23, 2023

white-glove manipulation

During the pandemic, I read "Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels". The author went undercover and worked at two luxury hotels for a year, to assess how workers felt about customers spending $500 or $800 per night on a room. This book is from the mid 90s, so it would be equivalent to something like $1000 per night nowadays.

The workers were earning around $20 per hour. They used mental techniques to deal with witnessing the wealth differential up-close every day. Some workers looked down on the customers for being uncouth or being unable to endure any hardship due to lifelong pampering. They passive aggressively left rude customers on hold for 15 minutes, and then apologized profusely when taking them off hold. This made the customers frustrated and helpless. Other workers identified with the wealthiest customers and saw them as buddies. 

The customers wanted approval from the workers. These 5-star hotels cultivated an extremely complex and undocumented set of etiquette, to create insecurity in their rich customers. If you don't tip your bellhop, you're a jerk. If you try to tip the receptionist, you're also a jerk. If you tip too little, you're a jerk. How much is the right amount to tip? That depends on many variables and is not posted anywhere, but if you get it wrong, you're a jerk.

The customers end up in a state of insecurity, hoping they don't breach etiquette. They probably also sense that some workers may look down on them secretly. The hotels serve as a finishing school for the rich, teaching them the arbitrary rules. Customers sent flowers to the workers, brought them gifts, and remembered their names. The workers served as judges of who is exuding upper-class behavior and who is an impostor.

I like reading about manipulative systems, to give myself some defenses against manipulative tactics. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Earning dough vs unlimited breadsticks

Me: "So many work leaders like to say 'We're not just a work team, we're a family.' That's just a way to manipulate employees into working free overtime. I prefer if we just stick to setting clear professional expectations. What are the deliverables? When are they due? What will employees be paid? I don't pay my actual family. I don't assign titles and promote my family members."

Rebecca: "Maybe some people don't take the idea of family as seriously. It's like Olive Garden. When you're here, you're family."

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

History of Sugar

I listened to an audiobook "The History of Sugar". I had no idea that sugar plantations were even crueler than cotton and tobacco plantations. The average life span of a slave on a sugar plantation was 10 years. It was so hard on the women's bodies that it made them infertile. 

Sugar led to the creation of sugar bowls, for rich Europeans to show off. They whitewashed the ways in which the sugar was produced.

This audiobook actually led me to have less desire to eat sugary foods.

Also, these old-timey sugar advertisements are evil.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Wizard of Earthsea

I am having a good day. 

I'm 66% through "A Wizard of Earthsea", which I'm reading for a book club. I first read it in 2008 and didn't understand the ending. I could tell that it was about a journey toward maturity and wisdom, and I figured I would appreciate it better one day when I myself reached greater maturity. 

Fourteen years have passed. I have forgotten most of the plot, so this read still provides all the pleasure of discovery. I am listening to it on audiobook.

It is such a delight to experience a masterful work, to witness so much competence and skill. 

Perhaps this time I will understand the ending. If not, in 2037 I will try again. 

Update: I did understand the ending this time. But I'll probably understand it even better in 2037.