Happy Lunar New Year!

I got my new (used) camera just in time for the New Year’s festivities in Chinatown.

image by Amaia Li

image by Amaia Li

Jade good luck charms

image by Amaia Li

Miss Chinatown and princesses

image by Amaia Li

Good Fortune charm

Image by Amaia Li

To all, happiness, long life, prosperity and good health in the New Year of the Rooster!

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Five days to Christmas

Christmas lights
This is unusual for me. It’s five days to Christmas and I’m already done with the shopping and wrapping!—well, I have one more to wrap and I’ll be really done. I’m so glad I’m not arriving at Christmas Day’s doorstep in a whirlwind of running to and fro the malls or staying up late surrounded by bows, Scotch tape, ribbons and gift wrapping paper. So what I’m going to do with these five days before Christmas? I’ll try to make them wonder-full. And I start with gratitude. Where I grew up, we didn’t have Thanksgiving so Christmas has always been the time of the year where I thank the Lord for all his blessings. From being able to wiggle my toes to having a job, to sharing a laugh with my mom, to full moons, I’m grateful for both the ordinary and the extraordinary in my days.

Another way to fill these five days with wonder is to just enjoy the sights and sounds that only come at this time of the year. I turn up the volume when “The First Noel” or “All I Want for Christmas Is You” or any Christmas song plays on the radio. Early in the morning, before heading for work, I take a few minutes to walk around and admire the downtown display of Christmas lights.

This is the time for giving. And no matter how big or small is the check I write to help buy a meal or groceries for somebody in need or to help my college aid future students, I feel that it is a blessing that I can help others.

These five days before Christmas will also be for touching bases with friends from school. My Christmas cards (I’m still for the ones made of paper and are tucked into envelopes) are already on the way to them. But most prefer plain emails so in a few days, the round of virtual greetings will start. I always look forward to those greetings. They come from the mainland, Canada, Peru. I always marvel at how in an instant they can reach my inbox, and at how some of them are from classmates I don’t hear about except at this one time of the year.

There’s something about Christmas that makes me feel more alive. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the intention to fill it with wonder or maybe it’s the fact that it’s Christmas that’s feeding into the intention. I don’t know, but I’ll soak up in that feeling. Hope you too have found your own special Christmas feeling. Merry Christmas!

This song by Henry Kapono is for all my school friends, near and far:

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Giving thanks

It’s Black Friday but instead of joining the crowd of shoppers at the malls, I’m here at home, listening to the sweet dings of the wind chime hanging by my window while I write down my thoughts. Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day, but though I’m posting my thank-you list only now, they are the things I appreciate every day of the year.

I’m thankful…

For family. Yes, mom might drive me crazy at times (sometimes, many times), but she’s still part of my life. I have friends who have lost one or both their parents this year, and they all say the same: Enjoy your mother while she’s still here.

For friends. The ones whom I meet for lunch and the ones whom I meet online. Near or far, we’re for each other, ready to listen to our ups and downs.

For friends. The furry, feathery or scaly kind.

For good health. Birthdays are no longer the same. We all dread the New Year because it means we’re going to be one year older. To be able to walk, dance, do yoga, run a marathon, type, go to work, or wake up without pain may be things we take for granted but they’re all blessings. A healthy body is a fact we come to appreciate more and more as the years go by.

For having a roof over my head, food on my table and a warm bed to sleep in. Homeless people have become a more common sight in the past few years. They seem to be everywhere, business district, posh neighborhoods, working class neighborhoods, tourist district. They remind me how fortunate I’m to have a home to come back to.

For having to paint my characters into a corner and then having to figure out how to get them out of there. Isn’t using one’s imagination wonderful?

For amazing moments. Wherever or whenever we create them or just stumble upon them.

For challenges that help us grow and improve ourselves. They let us know we’re still a work in progress. We’re not done yet.

For you. For stopping by, for taking the time to read my posts, for your comments, and for your encouragement.

Thank you!

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I voted

image by Amaia Li

image by Amaia Li

Election Day is around the corner, and I hope you’ll go out to your polling station and exercise your right to vote. I voted… but I admit, a bit grumpily. Maybe it is that as I get older, I’m getting more skeptical about what our politicians can accomplish for us, the ordinary, hard-working people. Or just like many others, I’m feeling disappointed that instead of electing the best qualified, deserving candidate for the job, we are instead, trying to figure out who’s the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, I voted. Thank goodness, I requested a mail-in ballot so the other day, I dropped in my favorite chair at home; pen and ballot in one hand, cup of hot tea on the other one and worked my way through the candidates for presidential, congressional, legislative and City and County races. Those were no trouble. But OMG when I got to the twenty Amendments to the City and County charter, I was glad for the privacy of my own walls. Otherwise, a “What the heck are these?!” would have resonated for all to hear. Really, who drafted and worded all these amendments and whose great idea was it to put sub-issues/questions under one main issue and then provide only one yes and only one no box for all of them. What if I wanted to vote yes on the main issue, no on the first sub-issue, and yes on the second sub-issue and so on? And the language they used!

Should the requirement be repealed that no more than five of the City Council Reapportionment Commission’s nine members be from the same political party?

Say what?

“You gotta do mental acrobatics to figure out what they mean,” somebody said to me.

“Did you see those amendments?” one of my bosses asked as soon as he came back from casting his ballot. “They must’ve been written by lawyers. It took me twenty minutes to do them.”
I wasn’t sure if he was bragging or complaining. After all, he is a lawyer.

What are we, mere mortals, plain-English-understanding people are to do? We feel it’s such an inconvenience to be stuck in a voting booth, trying to decipher the intention of our governing officials while at the same time having the feeling rise in the back of our minds that we might be tricked into voting for something we might regret later.

Then my boss went down the hall and I could hear him talking with his colleagues.
“Well, if you don’t understand them, then just vote no,” one of them said.
And that was from one lawyer to another lawyer.

If there was such a thing as returning the City Amendments ballot with a “Please rewrite” scrawled on top of it, I would’ve done it. And I’m sure I would not be alone. But since that was not an option, I went through all 20 questions + sub-questions, reading them once, twice and even three times. I might have cursed under my breath a few times, questioned why HART would be exempted for review while all the other boards have to undergo one, but I finished them all. In the end, we all just have to do to the best of our understanding. And no shame if we don’t quite understand. If a question didn’t make sense to me, I just voted no. As I see it, they don’t deserve our permission if they cannot explain themselves clearly. So I had a say. You have a say. Go vote.

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My thoughts on Harry Potter and The Cursed Child

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child cover

image by Amaia Li

As anybody who loves both the Harry Potter novels and movies, I too was excited to get the latest entry of the Potter series (a gift for my birthday so it was even more special). I still wanted to meet the new Harry even though by the time my birthday came and went, I have already read many of the book reviews on Amazon and was aware of the diverse opinions the rehearsal script has generated among fans.

So now that I’m finished reading the book, I have to say that I felt more disconsolate after watching Han Solo die in The Force Awakens than after following this practically “woe-poor-me” Harry version of the play. In a way, I expected that the grown-up Harry would not be the same as the Harry of the previous seven books. He couldn’t be. Why? Simply because he’s an adult now. And in the universe of children books, adults–even the well-intentioned ones—-are bound (intentionally or unintentionally) to fall short so that the kids become the heroes of the story.

In the universe of children books, kids have adventures. Adults have crises. And in The Cursed Child, Harry’s crisis is named Albus Severus Potter, his middle child. My first impression of Harry as an adult was that he’s been reduced to quite a bundle of nerves. Albus discombobulates him. He feels inadequate, insecure, at a loss as to how to relate to his son. Harry is irritable, quick to blame others for his perceived failures as a parent. Albus feels he has good reasons to shun his father. His fame and reputation are something he’ll never match. Merlin’s beard, he didn’t even make it into Gryffindor! But he and his only friend, Scorpius, Draco Malfoy’s son, will have their adventure, and they’ll face challenges that will change them into better people.

While kids have challenges in the universe of children books, adults have regrets. Harry has his regrets and grownup Harry may be a letdown, but the saddest portrayal of an adult in The Cursed Child is probably Dumbledore’s. He wanders from picture frame to picture frame like a zombie, weighed down by regret, and that’s regret with a capital “R”. Is it a wonder that Harry is so frustrated with him in the play? Dumbledore is a shadow of himself, weeping and feeling utterly miserable for his “mistakes.”

The Cursed Child seems to be a story where not only the child/teen heroes we loved in the 7-book series have been somewhat taken down, but also the villain. The thought that Lord Voldemort had a child somehow diminishes his towering presence of evil before my eyes. Voldermort was a man who put himself above everything, even above death. Love had no appeal to him. And if he had sexual needs, then I think he would have fathered children way before the Battle of Hogwarts, especially when his reign of terror was at its height.

There are calls out there for J.K. Rowling to stop tinkering with the Harry Potter story. Personally, I think it’s her creation so she has all the right to do whatever she wants with it. The Cursed Child is not the best of the crop, but it has appealing young characters (Albus and Scorpius), whom I would like to see again–just create a totally new adventure for them, unrelated to the Dark Lord or his child.

If “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” were to open at my local theater tomorrow, I would be among the first in line to buy the tickets. I think watching the play being enacted would be awesome. I would be there just to see how all the stage directions in the book would come to life in front of me.

Finally, just as authors have rights over their creations, as a reader I have mine too. When we read a story, we interact with it. We picture the characters in our minds. We try to feel the way they feel. We imagine their world. We each have a very particular experience with them. As readers, we have a right to preserve that unique experience if we wish to. And I do it by cherishing it in my memory and heart, regardless of authors’ later changes.

There’s a little place where Harry, in his student robes, will always be walking down a corridor at Hogwarts or he’ll be flying high and at full speed on his broomstick, trying to catch the Snitch. It is a special place in my mind where my fictional heroes remain as I experienced them when I first met them. My Harry is there and yeah, in that perfect world, Han Solo lives forever.

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5 things I never thought I’d like

A short list of things I never thought I would take a liking to but did:

1. Elephant mugs

ceramic elephant mug

image by Amaia Li

2. Big floral print skirts

floral printed skirt

image by Amaia Li

3. Vintage student lamps

vintage student lamp

Image by Amaia Li

4. Goldfish

fantail goldfish

image by Amaia Li

5. Yoga twists

yoga twist doodle

doodle by Amaia Li

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Class reunion

I’m still basking in my vacation afterglow as I write this post. I have a California tan in my arms to show off for a quick visit to the happiest place on Earth and to an unusually sun-baked Hogsmeade Village. But a lot of the feel-good post vacation feeling comes from the fact that I was part of a high school class “pocket” reunion, the very first one we held on American soil. And it was a blast. I confess that before it became a reality, I had my doubts. I’m sure many others thought the same and feared that all the hoopla (that included an online survey, multiple emails flying back and forth, and even the creation of a blog) would end up in nothing. But five of us met in L.A. and it was great fun.

It’s been more than 35 years since we graduated from high school. Three of us currently reside in the United States; the other two, in Lima, Peru. All the uneasiness that I would not have anything in common with them (other than the time we spent in the same classroom) melted away as we caught up with each other, teased, joked, sang, and remembered together. Our lives represented quite a variety of experiences. Here we were the eternally single, the happily married, the divorced and dating again, the surviving spouse. Or here we were the business owner, the 8-5 office workers, the laid-off and the in-between jobs. We are dealing with the cards Life handed us out whether we liked them or not and even if some of us ended up quite in a different place from the one we dreamt back when we were school, none of us judged or made fun of the other’s destiny. Instead we gave and received acceptance. And we laughed so much wherever we went, squeezed all together in one car on the way to the Disneyland, or waiting in line 75 minutes to get on the Forbidden Journey ride, or sharing ginger chicken at a Chinatown’s restaurant. We remembered missing classmates and long lost impossible crushes. We also mourned school friendships that didn’t make it into adulthood. One of us reminded the rest that we can never know what happened in people’s lives to change them for the worse and so they’re no longer the person we once knew. We have grown older and thankfully, wiser too.

Three days went, as they say, too fast when you’re having fun. We parted tired but happy. And thanks to real-time posts to Facebook and Whatsapp of our “adventures” in Disneyland and Universal Studios, the rest of the class, maybe regretting that they had missed on the fun, was already circulating location suggestions for the next reunion.

I had to admit that the reunion went better than I thought. I expected that the past would be the centerpiece of it, but it wasn’t. Sure, we talked about our teachers, about our most and least favorite classes, our respective cliques, and about who was going out with whom back then. But we also bonded over our college-bound kids, over care giving to our parents, job and financial issues, middle-age aches and pains, and our retirement dreams. This reunion gave me the opportunity to get to know my classmates as adults. That feeling of invincibility of our youth may be gone. Life has knocked us down. Some got it harder than others. But here we were and as I listened to and watched these four friends share the past and open up about their present and future with me, I had to say, “We turn out okay, after all.”

“So how was your reunion?” My nephew asked as he drove me home from the airport.
“It was awesome. We stayed in the park until past midnight, survived on chips and snacks all day, and didn’t go back to the hotel until 2 in the morning.”
“I’ve done that with my friends,” he said.
“We also sang in the car and giggled like teenagers all the time.”
“Auntie,” he said, with a worried look on his face. “That’s… scary.”
And I thought, He’s just 18. Give him thirty-five more years and he’ll understand.

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Humble pleasure

Image by Amaia Li

Delicious pan con chicharrón sandwich from La Lucha Restaurant in Lima, Peru

In response to the Daily Prompt – Pleasure

No food brings me more pleasure than bread. Nothing smells more delicious to me than bread, hot out of the oven. Sometimes when most people are extolling the beauty, texture, and taste of a cake, I’m going through the motion of nodding my head in agreement because I’m afraid that if they find out that I don’t quite share their enthusiasm, they are going to think I’m weird or that I’m an alien from another planet. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy eating cake and my share of pastries, but it’s bread that’s close to my heart. When I was a child growing up in Peru, my parents used to send me and my older siblings to buy bread in the mornings. Mom or Dad would give us some money, a bag, and out of the door we went to the bakery down on the corner. Often times, we would end up standing in line, waiting for the next batch of pan francés to come out of the oven. Pan francés translates into French bread but this is the Peruvian adaptation, and it’s the most popular bread consumed in Peru. And pan francés, golden and crisp, is absolutely heaven for me. The outside is crunchy but the inside is soft and light.

I don’t live anywhere near a bakery now, so anytime I happen to catch the aroma of freshly baked bread, I smile, thinking about the little girl who walked home, hugging a bag of warm bread to her chest. And I promise myself that the next time I visit my birth country, I’m going to eat as many >pan francés with chicharrón as I can.

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My first meditation session

In response to the Daily Prompt’s Smooth:

I’m finally reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” And inspired by her section on her experiences in the ashram in India, I decided to practice meditation. I have dabbled with meditation before, mostly with the help of guided tapes/CDs. This time, I wanted to do it without any prerecorded instructions. I just wanted to sit, breathe and be one with my mind. So I downloaded a meditation timer app to my tablet, and one night perched myself on my chair, eyes closed, my legs crossed; my hands in the mudra of wisdom, I proceeded to my first 7-minute session.
Ding! The bell rang, marking the beginning of my meditation that I had decided to dedicate to praying for calm, peaceful thoughts to fill my days.

Long breaths in, long breaths out. I tried to observe my breathing. My ears, however, seemed more interested in following the cars and trucks that rambled outside, past my window. And my thoughts chased after them, remarking how loud and annoyingly noisy those vehicles were. “Come back here!” I yelled after them. And once I corralled them and brought them back. “Quiet!” I barked at them. Back to breathing. Long breaths in, long breaths out.
Ding! The bell marked the first 2 minutes of my session. My ears perked up again. My head started counting. Two more bells to go and this bother will be finished, it said.
“Hey, hey,” I said. “This is not a bother. This is supposed to be good for you.”
Yeah, right!
Yay, hurry up! Psst, BTW, lady, your fingers are going numb.
“OMG,” I said, “You’re right. But I must keep still. I can do it; I can do it.” I opened one eye and watched the seconds ran on my tablet.
You’re cheating!
“Shh!” I closed my eyes again. “Pay attention. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out…hey, wow, my mind..my mind…is blank!”
So that was my first meditation session. It didn’t go as smoothly as I wanted it to be, but for one millisecond I achieved stillness.

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In my backyard

Sometimes, it’s nice to remind myself that I don’t need to travel too far away to enjoy Nature. My own backyard can be the place to find beauty. I just have to pay attention and be willing to get closer:

succulent plant flower

The only flower in the entire plant

This is perfection:

succulent plant

symmetry in action

Hidden beauty:

Love the camouflage

Love the camouflage

Wild cat (not quite):

Miss Kitty reminds me that she's the tiger that roams my backyard

Miss Kitty reminds me that she’s the tiger that roams my backyard

All photographs by Amaia S. Li, copyright 2016

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