The dangers of grocery shopping addiction

August 26, 2013

I realized recently that I have an addiction to grocery shopping. I go two to five times a week. After a bad day, usually most week days and Sundays, there is nothing like walking down the aisles of Safeway or Trader Joe’s. The shopping cart making that delightful rickety sound; all the lights and colors; the waxy, shiny fruit—grocery shopping is a sexy, sexy experience. I get hot and bothered when Barilla pasta is on sale, 10 for $10. And oh hells no, organic tamari soy sauce in travel-size packets?! 20 packets for $4.99? Who HASN’T experienced the frustration of being on a picnic and wishing desperately for a packet of tamari! No one, that’s who, except maybe crazy people!

I don’t know where this compulsion comes from, but it probably has something to do with growing up as a poor refugee. This survival mentality has apparently affected me in a couple of ways. First, whenever I see food items that are on sale, I must buy them, never mind if we will ever get around to using them before they expire. Going through the pantry the other day, I found the Arborio rice I bought six years ago when I wanted to make that wild mushroom risotto! And there’s the dried wild mushrooms mix!

Paradoxically, though, growing up poor and unable to afford gourmet food also makes exotic and expensive high-end food items very attractive, now that we can actually afford them. Jameelah, maybe because of her own childhood or maybe because I’ve infected her, is also addicted. Every other day, one of us would come home with some crazy new food item. This is Seattle, with its creative hipsters making stuff like applewood-smoked-olive-flavored caramel sprinkled with pink Himalayan sea salt and hemp seeds, or organic lavender-infused coconut flakes mixed with truffled agave syrup-flavored goji berries or something. Once, Jameelah came home with some weird yellow spiky fruit. “What is it?” I asked. “I don’t know! But it was only six dollars for one!” Last month we bought a new fruit called lekima for five bucks; it was disgusting.

A while ago I was cleaning the fridge and came across a bottle of chipotle blackberry barbecue sauce and could not remember when or from where we bought it. It looked expensive and expired in 2010. Digging out the rest of the fridge and pantry we found all sorts of stuff we bought, some of which we can no longer recognize. That weird powder is either garbanzo flour or vital wheat gluten…or maybe polenta. “All right,” I told Jameelah, “We can’t keep spending money on food. Let’s do a use-the-[stuff]-we-have challenge this month. We can only buy fresh fruit and veggies. No more spices, processed foods, simmer sauces, etc.” She agreed to it.

It has been two weeks now since our challenge started, and it is hard. What the hell do we do with arrowroot powder or three-year-old garam masala? Wanting to not think about it, and lucking out on a babysitter, we decided to go see a movie. The theater was next to the World Market, a magical place with food from all around the world. We forgot our challenge and bought several bars of high-end chocolate. Then we ran into some olives that were stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, so we had to have a jar of those. And we had to have these bottles of mangosteen and pomegranate soda. At the cash register, there were cans of sparkling muscato wine for four bucks each, and the novelty of wine in a can was enough to entice us to get one.

We ate and drank our goodies while watching the movie, then felt bad that we had failed our challenge with so much of August left. This is a classic symptom of addiction: You indulge in it, then you feel like crap afterward, and you vow to get better. We have to get better. Each month, childcare is literally more than our mortgage. Feeling awful and stuffed with strawberry-champagne-flavored chocolate and muscato, we drove home and made wild mushroom risotto.


7 Tips for Keeping the Romance Alive

August 23, 2013

Hi everyone. I’ve been cutting back on the blogging because this little baby has been an adorable black hole that sucks up time, energy, and brainwaves. All I can think about is baby, which means all I can write about is baby, and that must get sickening to readers. Writing just once a while will, I hope, allow me to focus on exploring other stuff and get back into form. Like my parents once taught me— “Son,” they said, “it is not the quantity that matters, but the quality. So when are you applying to medical school?”

***

In a column ages ago, I talked about the three phases of a relationship. During Phase I, both parties are madly in love, and every minute is magical, like when you eat that first bite of that curry lentil stew you made and it is delicious. During Phase II, you are still in love, but you start finding out that the other person has some flaws and vice versa. You then have to figure out whether you and this person are compatible still, whether you both can live with these flaws. It’s like eating that second bowl of curry lentil stew: Maybe it’s still yummy, and you can eat several more bowls. Or maybe you are so sick of the lentil stew and how it just leaves its stupid socks lying around and clips its stupid toenails while Master Chef is on! Oh yeah? Well maybe the lentil stew wouldn’t leave its socks lying around if you cooked more and washed the dishes more often!

The point is, lentil stews make for very poor analogies for relationships. Another point is that the honeymoon period does wane as relationships deepen. During Phase III, you have settled your differences and start to really assess your future together. Maybe marriage, maybe buying a house, maybe having a baby. These things start to consume you, and then one day, three or four phases later, covered in baby throw-up, you look at your partner and start longing for the feelings you had during Phase I.

Well, that’s why I wrote down a list of tips for bringing back the ole romance. Just because we have been with our partner for years—endless, endless years—doesn’t mean that we can’t get that spark back.

Tip 1: Shower and brush teeth at least once every other day. Just because you’re so comfortable with each other and priorities have shifted doesn’t mean that you should abandon hygiene completely.

Tip 2: Schedule regular date nights and take turns planning it. Try to be creative, such as not telling your partner where you made a reservation and then leaving scavenger hunt-type clues throughout the day as to where you are having dinner. After three or four elaborately planned dates, lovingly agree to just stay at home and watch TV for your date nights.

Tip 3: Stay at a friend’s place for several days or maybe weeks, and call up your partner each day to talk for hours on the phone.

Tip 4: Leave love notes in your partner’s briefcase. If they don’t have a briefcase, buy them one. Nothing is more romantic than briefcases stuffed with love notes.

Tip 5: Practice giving smoldering looks to your partner, which you can do by leaning your head forward and slightly to one side, narrowing your eyes, and trying not to blink. Think “hyena looking at a gazelle.” Then, whenever you see them, give them this look.

Tip 6: Think of games and activities that you both enjoy. Now add a stripping element. Strip Monopoly. Strip Scrabble. Strip Candy Crush. This also works for activities you don’t enjoy: Strip vacuuming, strip laundry folding, strip tax filing.

Tip 7: Finally, recreate the conditions under which you experienced Phase I. For instance, many couples fell in love when they were poor. If that’s you, make a romantic candlelight dinner of ramen or spaghetti. Call up your parents and ask them to yell at you for being with someone of a different race/religion/age/income class.


Adventures of a New Father, Part 3: Far Down the Rabbit Hole

June 22, 2013

As soon as the baby was born, we entered into the world of babies. Seriously, it is all babies all the time. I didn’t realize how deep down the rabbit hole we were—probably because we are exhausted—until yesterday, when we attended our new-parent support group. This group, comprising eight tired, unwashed couples who smell like spit-up and hand sanitizer, meets once a week to discuss baby stuff such as sleeping patterns, breastfeeding challenges, cloth vs. disposable diapers, and books to read to the little ’uns. All very helpful information, and everyone is friendly and open. Yesterday, I was munching on a plate of snacks, including hummus, guacamole, pita chips, and grapes, when someone started asking about poop, wanting to compare, concerned for her son.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” said one mom, “it’s not grainy. It’s kind of chunky.” Chunky like what, asked the others, like salsa? Like hummus? For several minutes the group discussed this. It’s OK, said someone, little Charlie produces small grape-like pellets. What color? Green, like that armchair? Or like that guacamole Huy is eating?

Oh, God, we have become those parents whose lives revolve around their kids, whose every thought is about babies. I barely write anymore, I still haven’t caught up with Breaking Bad or seen Star Trek into Darkness, and any semblance of exercise, hygiene, and nutrition, not to mention anything of a social life, has taken a back seat. By 10pm, we’re exhausted and need to mentally and physically prepare ourselves for the grueling night.

Some of this is good. The baby is adorable, especially when he is alert and playful and saying things in his baby language like “gah” and “guhhhh.” When I am away from him for more than an hour, I start missing him like crazy.

But still, all baby all the time can’t be healthy. We may have started isolating all our non-parent friends by constantly talking about the baby. On numerous occasions I’ve flashed pictures on my phone to random strangers who are just innocently minding their own business standing in line at a bank or going up to a podium to deliver a eulogy or something. Thank God I’m already married and raising a kid, because I am not sure in this state I’d be able to attract anyone.

So all of the people we hang out with are new or veteran parents, and I can’t help it but I am starting to resent non-parent people, with their freshness and their smiling and their spontaneity and their healthy glow and fashionable clothing that are not crusted with dried spit-up. Worse of all is their staring, with that sort of pity in their eyes. It makes me want to grab them and shake them and say “I may have a newborn and have not bathed for days, but I’m still a human being, a human being!”

This is why we new parents like to hang out with one another. No longer part of the world to which we used to belong, we must now carve our path in a vast and confusing and stinky wilderness. When you’re this deep down the rabbit hole, you lose your sense of time and direction. “One day,” we tell one another, “they’ll graduate from college, and it’ll be over, and we can sleep for six or even seven hours at a time.” It seems so long ago in the past, and so far away in the future. We stare at our tiny screaming bundles, hopeful that these endless nights will get better, and yet fearful that these days will pass by too quickly.


Adventures of a new father, part 2: Raising a tricultural baby

June 12, 2013

eucalyptus oilThe baby is now eight weeks old, and I look at him as he smiles in his sleep and wish for time to stand still. Mainly because he is growing so fast and soon, as if it were already happening, he is walking and talking and riding a bike and graduating from high school and experiencing his first heartbreak. But also because Arrested Development Season 4 has been released on Netflix and I haven’t been able to watch it at all, being busy getting thrown up on.

It has been an exhausting and exhilarating journey, kind of like a really good bout of exercise, or maybe a marathon viewing of The Wire. Thankfully, we’ve had the support of our friends, who have been bringing food. The family has been helpful too, but sometimes it can be challenging. This baby is half Vietnamese, a quarter Black, and a quarter White, which means we have three separate cultures to deal with, and it is important to Jameelah and me that he experiences all the richness of his heritage. That’s why I’ve been singing to him classic Vietnamese songs, along with standards like “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “No Diggity,” as well as songs by Foreigner and the Beatles.

We’ve been getting all sorts of advice from the different cultures. My older sister, Lynn, came over with two bottles of eucalyptus oil. “Put this on the baby’s soft spot each day,” she said, “it’ll keep him warm.” Eucalyptus oil is very pungent. Favored by the elderly in Asia, it is the solution for everything: a cold, a stomach ache, coughing, the runs, headaches, seasickness, accidental amputation, etc.

Uh, OK, I said, taking the two bottles. “And here are some herbs,” my sister continued, handing me a small bag of what looked like some sort of shaved bark. “Make it into tea, and give the baby three drops per day, to clear out his tongue so that he has a strong appetite.” Jameelah and I looked at each other. We had been trying to be respectful of the various advice we got, both from Lynn, as well as from Jameelah’s mom, who is Black, while discreetly ignoring most of it. They were both insistent that the baby remained inside, hidden from the world and “bad air” for a month. “The baby will get sick if you take him outside,” said her mom, and Lynn agreed. Jameelah’s mom was suspicious of the Moby wrap Jameelah had, a long piece of cloth to hold the baby close to the mother. “He might suffocate in there,” she said, and we had to tell her the women in various African countries had been strapping their babies to their backs and carried them around that way for thousands of years, usually while working the field and fending off lions.

The White side of the family has been less pushy, thoughtfully advocating for cloth diapers and organic baby food. Jameelah’s dad is looking forward to buying the baby a gun and taking him to his first firing range. Nanna, Button’s great-grandmother, will ensure that he writes thank-you cards for every gift he gets.

While we ignore a lot of the advice given, such as new mothers should not bathe for a month, there is comfort in these traditions, and knowing that we have people like my sister and Jameelah’s mom to ground the baby in his heritage. Two weeks ago, Button turned one month, a milestone in the Vietnamese culture. To celebrate, Lynn brought over the required materials to make an offering to the Quan Yin responsible for making sure children grow up strong and obedient. She laid out 12 bowls of stick rice, 12 bowls of a bean and rice dessert, lit incense, and held the baby and made him pray that he’ll eat well and grow fast and to do well in school later. Looking at my sister, who is now the matriarch in our family since my mother passed away eight years ago, I was grateful that Button and I still had this link to our heritage. When the ceremony finished and Lynn left, I grabbed a bottle of eucalyptus oil and rubbed a drop onto the baby’s head.


Adventures of a new father, part 1: On backing dat azz up

May 29, 2013

Baby Button has been doing well, and has actually gained nearly two pounds since he was born on April 10th. You may not think that’s impressive, but he was only 7 pounds when he was born, so that’s like me gaining 41 pounds in 3 weeks. Which I may be reaching, due to stuffing my face at night while trying to calm the baby, who screams like some sort of dolphin on steroid.

It has been the longest and shortest month of our life. We have kind of a routine down. At 10pm, Jameelah watches the baby while I go to sleep, marking the first time since high school that I’ve gone to sleep this early. At midnight, I wake up and relieve Jameelah. Button now will sleep without us having to hold him; however, every 15 minutes or so he’ll start fussing, and I have to tap him and soothe him back to sleep. At 2am, he’ll wake up hungry, so I take him to Jameelah for feeding. Then I take him back. At 4am, he wakes up again, and we feed and change him; at this point we are so physically drained that we are begging him to eat and go back to sleep. I take him back and snuggle with him till he dozes off. Then at 6am or 7am, Jameelah wakes up, takes the baby, and I get 2 or 3 hours of sleep.

The nights have been challenging. At 4am, we get so tired that we start getting confused and careless, for example wiping his face and putting a diaper on his head, which he does not appreciate. Even when he’s sleeping peacefully, we still can’t sleep well, because Jameelah and I will freak out about whether he’s OK. Sometimes he’s sleeping so peacefully, like an angel. So then I start poking at him to make sure he’s breathing. The other night, he fell asleep on my chest, and then exhausted I fell asleep, and then I woke up panicking and checking to make sure he was breathing. It was a horrifying feeling, thinking he might have rolled off, or I might have shifted position and accidentally squished him or something. I guess worrying about our son is something we’ll be doing the rest of our lives.

The days are better. I’ve been singing to him a lot, and anyone who does not know that I am an amazing singer has not heard my take on “Back dat Azz Up” by Juvenile (“Girl, you looks good, wonchu back dat azz up…”). It puts the baby to sleep. When his mother is taking a shower and he’s hungry, I sing “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” And after he’s been fed, I sing a soulful rendition of “Please Don’t Throw Up on Daddy,” which is an emotional lullaby I wrote just for him that I hope he’ll sing to his own kid (Lyrics: “Rest your head/close your eyes/time for bed/baby mine/please don’t throw up on daddy./ The rain outside is falling/your sweet baby dreams are calling/And in my arms you’re staying/While the night is fading/please don’t throw up on Daddy”)

Having a baby is an amazing and life-changing experience. Still, every time I run into a child-less person, I grab him by the lapels, whispering “Sleep! Sleeeeep! And go on a weekend-trip! Go see a movie! Go out every day! Watch all your favorite shows! See your friends! Don’t take life for granted! Sleeeeeeeep!!!” We are exhausted, disheveled, and constantly having this lingering smell of bad yogurt surrounding us. Still, we are determined not to have this baby rule our lives. So last Friday, we went clubbing. That’s right, we were dropping it like it was hot while our tiny newborn was at home with his grandmother. We had a great time, and only fell asleep on the dance floor twice.


Say hi to Baby Button

April 22, 2013

After 12 difficult hours of screaming and crying—and that’s just me—Jameelah and I are proud to announce the birth of our son, Nam Edwards Le, aka “Button,” which has been his nickname for the past 10 months, at exactly 7 pounds and 20 inches.

Intense labor started at about midnight. Up until then, it was minor contractions, so we just watched episodes of “Chopped” on the Food Network. Then, contractions started really hitting, and it was terrifying and exciting. I don’t know what that feels like, being a dude and all, but I would imagine it was like that one time I did 50 abdominal rolls and the next morning, my stomach hurt like CRAZY every time I moved. I’m sure it’s exactly like that.

And then it got worse. The contractions got closer and closer together, and I was trying to remember everything the instructor told us in baby birthing class, including “Wait till contractions are four minutes apart, lasting one minute each, for one hour, before calling your midwife and heading to the birthing center” and “if your water breaks, check for meconium, which may mean the baby is in distress” and “Huy, that placenta model is not a toy! Stop using it as a hat!”

We were hoping the baby would arrive soon, because if he prolonged the labor, we would have to induce, which sounds painful, probably exactly like that one time I had to get one of my teeth removed. Well, he came, and it turned out to be back labor, which is basically the baby deciding to cause the mother as much pain as possible on exiting. Of course, we were going natural, so it was a long, long 12 hours. Our doula was very helpful, saying things like “that contraction is gone, and it’s never coming back” and “You are in power; just punch the pain in the face!” She was straddling the birthing tub, exerting downward pressure to counter the back pain, while Jameelah squeezed my fingers so hard it imprinted my wedding ring into my knuckles.

I had never seen such bravery in the face of unimaginable pain. I will never complain about having to load the dishwasher again; or at least for a month. At one point, the pain was so intense Jameelah started crying while addressing the baby. “Get out of here!” she said, “I don’t need this right now!” At another point, between contractions, she reached out and caressed my hair and looked at me so tenderly, and looking back at my exhausted wife, I was filled with so much love. And fear. “Please, please don’t yank the hair off my head,” I was praying. It made me wonder why anyone would ever have a second child after going through this soul-numbingly painful process.

But then the baby came, and I looked at him with the awe of a new father, and immediately I thought, “My son; my little boy…I hope you get cuter soon, because Daddy has to send out pictures of you to people, and that conical alien head is just not cool…”

Seriously, it’s magical, like having your own baby unicorn. Jameelah is doing great. Baby Button is doing fine, and he changes by the minute. We haven’t slept much for days. The baby is so incredible, and sometimes it is so surreal. I can spend hours just staring at him and his little baby hands and tiny baby feet. And I do, because that’s much more fun than actually changing his diaper.

Thank you so much for everyone’s kind words and support. I can’t wait for Baby Button to meet this awesome community. More updates later.


Let’s bring back old-school neighborliness

April 22, 2013

Hi everyone, I wrote this a while ago, and completely forgot to publish it, because of the baby, who is here and will be written about in the next post.

In the past few months, I’ve just been talking about baby and baby birthing and eating placentae and stuff. Having a baby is one of those things in life that absolutely consume you. Other things along the same line are planning a wedding, buying a house, and watching “The Game of Thrones.” Apologies in advance, and I’ll try to balance out the baby talk with other stuff. I mean, I haven’t made fun of the Tea Party for a long time, for example.

Recently, our microwave died. Jameelah, who is still pregnant with this stubborn baby that refuses to come out, wanted to eat some leftover pasta, but we couldn’t heat it up. I thought about steaming the pasta, but all of our pots and pans have been crusted over and would take a long time to wash. I was seriously considering running down to Target at 8:30pm to buy a new microwave, when I thought, Hey, maybe I can just go over to a neighbor’s place and ask to use their microwave. So I did, and they were more than glad to let me heat up the pasta. “Anytime,” he said when I left.

For the past few decades we have been gradually moving toward something I call “social siloism,” where even though we live in a community and are in proximity with other members, we do not interact. Some of us live for years next to people and may not even know their names. Whatever happened to those Lucy and Ethel days when neighbors can just pop in to say hi, or call up to ask for a cup of sugar or pint of moonshine? Most of the time, we are complete strangers among people to whom we are geographically closest to. At worst, we live in fear of our neighbors, thinking they might just be meth makers or arms dealers or worse, Tea Partyers. This totally defeats the purpose of a community.

I say we start being better neighbors and take advantage of being in geographic proximity. Here are some tips I thought of for how we can all get to know our neighbors better and start being more neighborly.

  • Stop and talk to your neighbors when you see them. At first, it is very awkward, since you have nothing in common with these people so far, except that you’re in the general area. Our first instinct is to avoid them and quickly get inside our place to avoid the uncomfortable conversations. However, try to get over that and spend more than ten seconds talking to them, and you may realize they are fascinating people who are not serial killers at all.
  • Bring over a basket of baked goods. Sure, you may have lived next to these people for three years, but it is never too late to get to know someone. This, however, is Seattle, so make sure your baked goods are organic and gluten-free.
  • Next time you’re running to Trader Joe’s, call up a couple of your neighbors and ask if they want to come along or need anything. Likely they’ll decline, but they’ll appreciate the thought, and they might start reconsidering their suspicions that you’re a meth maker.
  • Invite them over to your place for a beer. Since none of us ever see what our neighbors’ places look like, we build up these weird and unrealistic images of their homes. When we see that everyone’s place is just as crappy and weird smelling as ours, it helps to humanize us all.
  • Next time you run out of something small like a clove of garlic, ask your neighbor if they could spare it. People feel good when they are helpful. Why the hell are all of us running to the store just to get an onion or a lime, when 99% of households naturally carry these items?
  • When you see door-to-door missionaries coming toward a neighbor’s place, intercept them and gently nudge them away. If we can all do this, we can protect our community from the ravages of door-to-door proselytizers.

It may take a while to build up trust and break away from this cycle of each home being its own silo, but if we all attempt to be better neighbors, we’ll have a stronger community. Otherwise, the Tea Party wins.


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