Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

IMG_4441This was a book that I had seen on a lot of must-read or will-read lists. So when the book club ladies chose this one for the month of February, I was pleased to know that I would get to find out what all the fuss was about.

I live in a region in California where it is densely populated by well-educated and financially well off people, a land of tech companies like Google and Apple. Ironically, like the up/coming cities in the midwest, there are a lot of transplants here in the Bay Area too. The difference is that many of those transplants are from other countries more or so than a few select domestic cities & states like the places Vance mentions. Vance explains that the “Hillbilly transplants” like that of his family in the south or the midwest shared the same culture of the same food, religion, etc.

The book and the author did admittedly remind me of someone and that person’s family that fit the description closely in some ways. And it made me rethink the difficulty of being a transplant as a fellow American rather than as a foreigner. I always thought that being from another country would be more difficult for obvious reasons. But in a place like the Bay Area where everyone seems to be from other countries too, being a so-called Hillbilly transplant makes you even more foreign in comparison.

I also think about the description of these hillbillies not being motivated to work and blaming the government or some outside circumstance of them not having work or how systems that allow people to take advantage of welfare to raise the ever-growing number of children people have that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. In a place like the Bay Area, people come from other countries are hungry to work and work harder in order to achieve the American Dream. Children here are encouraged (and often times forced) by their parents to take AP (advanced placement) classes in high school while also running for class president and training for the olympics in whatever sport they end up pursuing. The bar is set very high and when you’re going to school with other children who reach high, it’s hard to avoid not feeling the pressure to do the same.

The other thing about having a family from another country is that you tend to be raised bilingual (if not, trilingual or with even more languages). So even if you do decide to learn another language in high school (which, in my opinion, should start much sooner) I think it’s much easier to learn a third language. On top of that, children like me were sent to Japanese school on Saturdays. And attending school 6 days out of the week does accumulate over the period of twelve years.

In addition, we had a concentrated 2 week period of Japanese school everyday before being released for “summer break” during the time in which I was often sent to the country of Japan to attend school there until they finally went into summer break in August (schools in Japan usually have only the month of August off in the summer). Since the weekly Japanese school I attended here in the states followed the same curriculum as Japan, we would cover one week’s worth of curriculum done in Japan each Saturday. So whenever I was sent to go to school in the country of Japan, the pace actually felt very slow in comparison.

Needless to say, family background and upbringing can very much make a difference. It makes a difference between coming from a family where they expect you to do better than your previous generation vs a family where there is no expectation. And children watch what their parents (or older role model) do. I have never seen or heard of my parents becoming physically violent with each other and it’s always a bit of a shock for me whenever I go to another person’s family gathering where even a heated argument might arise here and there. So it makes sense that someone like Vance who has experienced the opposite in his family would find it just as shocking to experience a non-yelling, peaceful family gathering.

Even though those of us who live in a place like the Bay Area are exposed to so many different cultures from around the world, it is important to realize that it can be very easy to stay in that bubble very much like it is for so-called Hillbillies to never experience other cultures other than their own.

Here’s to keeping our eyes open,




Book Review: Endurance by Scott Kelly

I admittedly had never heard of Scott Kelly nor his twin brother Mark (who is also an astronaut) prior to reading this book. Though I do recall seeing and hearing in the news about Mark Kelly’s wife Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords being shot in 2011.

Personally, I have no interest in ever going to outer space myself but I did find reading about the experience(s) very interesting. It made me appreciate all that we take for granted for living on this Earth and not having to worry about things like having to strap ourselves from flying off a treadmill or having an ample supply of oxygen to breath. Scott Kelly also describes the craving for fresh produce during long periods of not having access to such supplies coming in and the very last “real meal” or “real shower” he got to enjoy prior to his departure.

As someone who goes to the farmers market religiously every weekend, I would definitely struggle with the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables… In fact, Scott Kelly’s list of things he requested for his fiancé to have ready for him to enjoy upon his return home after his year-long journey in space consisted of basically different varieties of beverages (ie. Gatorade, beer, etc.) and fresh fruits and vegetables (ie. strawberries, salad). And I loved that the first thing he did when he got home was jump into his swimming pool still wearing his flight suit, just like he said he would- And that he would never take water for granted again.

None of the book club ladies that were in attendance at the book club meeting to discuss this book were able to finish reading the book in time for the meeting (I had one more chapter left which I got to finish reading this afternoon after the book club meeting). We purposely chose this book to read for both the month of December and January since we usually don’t meet in December due to the holidays and saw how long this book was (369 pages without the Index). BUT we all agreed that it IS a very interesting read and that with more time we would have probably been able to finish reading it. So it is a highly recommended read.

I personally enjoyed the incredible photos that were in the book too and the diagrams of the International Space Station and such were very helpful to reference to. Since the book was also about his life leading up to the year-long space mission, there was a lot of going back and forth from chapter to chapter of different time periods. And I was impressed by his honesty of telling his life story the way he did. He was very candid about his marriage, divorce, family, his struggle with school, etc.

In the book Scott Kelly gives acknowledgement many times over to Tom Wolfe for changing his life forever by inspiring his pursuit to become a navy pilot and astronaut from the moment he picked up Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff at the age of 18. It made me want to pick up a copy myself so it is now on my list of books to read.

I continue to nourish my soul with great books to read and gorgeous roses. The white roses I purchased this morning coincided with the headlines I read online just minutes ago in regards to the statement celebrities were apparently making tonight at the Grammy Awards by wearing white roses for the #TIMESUP campaign. Whether it is honoring women or astronauts (or female astronauts), I felt like it was a reminder of how precious and beautiful life and life on Earth can be. So for this week’s documentation of my weekly roses, I present to you all this photo I decided to capture in honor of it all:



Year of the Rose


According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, 2018 is the Year of the Dog. However, I plan on having it be the Year of the Rose.

Perhaps this will also serve as a hint as to what my next book cover will look like since I am also working right now on my second AND third books as I type this.

Truth be told, I had a sunflower phase for a long time and actually was a bit anti-rose because I saw roses as the archenemy. I also have had a dahlia phase and actually do find all of these flowers still beautiful.

I think my newfound love for roses might have something to do with me embracing my inner Belle since last year when the film Beauty and the Beast came out. It’s evident by my many posts reviewing books, the one I did on my love for life-like inanimate objects, my fashion choices, and now my obsession with buying bouquets after bouquets of roses the last several weeks.


Also, being a Game of Thrones fan, I had a coincidental incident happen where a fellow GOT fan joked about my house doing well and I asked him what animal or creature my so-called house would be symbolized by. In my head, I thought to myself “House of Roses.” Out of curiosity I decided to look up “roses” on wikipedia when I got home and it led me to a historical reference to The War of Roses, the war within the English royal family between the House of Lancaster (symbolized by a red rose) and Yorks (represented likewise by a white rose). Being an American, I was not knowledgeable of much English history but these civil wars were fought between the two houses over which house were to gain control of the throne, serving as an inspiration for the author of the Game of Thrones books. Hence, the Lancasters would be the Lannisters and the Yorks would be the Starks.


Like the English, I continue to enjoy my tea, sometimes in my rose tea cup topped with a silicone rose lid to keep it from cooling down as quickly. One of my friends who gifted me with tea was thoughtful enough to also gift me with a gorgeous rose tea comprised of whole minature roses to steep.

So as the saying goes, don’t forget to smell the roses in life.



Book Review: Unshakeable by Tony Robbins

I’ve been a fan of Tony Robbins since being introduced to his work several years ago. And I have had the honor of partaking in his Unleash the Power Within seminar too. I just finished reading his latest book Unshakeable so this is a review based on that experience.

Since I have been working for myself pretty much most of my adult life now, I have never worked at a company where opening a 401k account was offered. It really wasn’t until I got divorced in my late twenties that I actually bothered learning about opening up a retirement account. And even then, I made the very mistake Tony Robbins talks about in entrusting a friend who has the title of a financial advisor whose agenda was to sell me an expensive life insurance policy instead of helping me open a retirement account. Thankfully, I was able to get a second and third opinion and realized my mistake before it became a very expensive one long before I read the book.

However, in reading the book I was able to learn the different types of financial advisors and what to look for. Likewise, I had recently shopped around for a new tax accountant and have come to learn what to look for in that particular situation as well. There are certain things I believe in hiring professionals to get the job done correctly, especially when it comes to legal documents or anything that I am unfamiliar with that could get me in trouble if I do it myself incorrectly. So it’s that much more important to know that I’m hiring the right people in the first place!

It was also when I opened a retirement account that I started to invest in stocks. According to the book, low-cost index funds is the way to go and I was reminded of why I shouldn’t invest in mutual funds. I admittedly wasn’t aware of all the different asset classifications for low-cost index funds until I read the book (and I still need to refer to the post-it notes I stuck on the pages in the book to go over them as I type this).

I do consider myself a creative, artsy type. But I’ve also been running a business for over ten years now and have made a living from doing creative, artsy things. Reading a book on finances many not seem as entertaining as a pre-conceivably creative, artsy novel —- but pretty darn vital for a single, independent, modern vintage woman. And I would argue that it’s even more of a challenge to be creative in presenting information in a book about finances so that people can understand it and hence, enjoy reading it.

More surprisingly, I actually was moved to tears when I was reading one of the chapters in the book on emotional/psychological/spiritual wealth. It was a two-minute gratitude meditation that Tony Robbins takes people through at his seminars. He has an audio version of it available too but I decided to continue reading the words on the pages and went through it as I read along. Somewhere between steps 2 and 4, I lost it. He instructs you to breathe while becoming physically aware of your heart beating, reminding you to be grateful for it doing just that.

Here’s to learning to make better decisions, building & growing wealth, and being grateful for what we have.



Film Review on Wonder, Book Review on The Best Day Ever, and How They Helped Me Get Out of a Funk

This week I went to go watch the film Wonder on release day and completed the book club read of the month The Best Day Ever (by Kaira Rouda).

I personally don’t mind doing a lot of activities solitarily or with other people as it’s apparent from a lot of my blog postings where I read a lot (but do enjoy discussing the books with the book club ladies) or travel by myself (but also enjoy visiting others or traveling with others sometimes). So while I did ask around to see if anyone wanted to go watch Wonder with me, I did end up enjoying the film on my own as well as the book. And I found these two seemingly very different stories therapeutic.

We all strive to be perfect or want to at least look it, even though we know no one can be [perfect].

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 5.43.51 PMWith Wonder, it’s very evident that the story is about a boy who has a facial difference he was born with (Treacher Collins Syndrome) but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film actually does go into the back stories of the other characters in his life. And while it is heartbreaking to see him go through what he goes through because of the obvious, the way the film shows perspective of the other characters’ lives it’s a lesson that it’s beyond life that revolves around you—- even when things are hard for you, it doesn’t mean other people have it any easier because we all have things we have to deal with.

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 5.46.40 PMIn reading the novel The Best Day Ever it was also surprising to know that it was written by a female author but from the perspective of a psychopathic male character. While some of the things this character thought was repulsing, I couldn’t help but be reminded that there are people out there who think these thoughts. And yet, this person thinks that he is “perfect” because he is in denial of his problems.

So may these pieces be a reminder to not be deceived by the facade of things and being able to accept and acknowledge your imperfections.

I admittedly strive to paint this image of fabulousness of myself in sharing things I do in these blog posts. But like everyone else I am vulnerable and feel pain. Even if I appear strong enough to get back up, the pain is still there. While some may perceive that as a sign of weakness, I believe that there is strength in continuously getting back up in spite of the pain and also being able to be kind to others through empathy of understanding or acknowledging other people’s pain/hardships.

Be kind to others and to yourself,



Book and Film Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

The book club ladies and I read The Zookeeper’s Wife for the month of October. And at the meeting for discussing the book, a lot of the ladies who had seen the film said that the film was better than the book (which doesn’t happen very often). So I decided to put that theory to the test and watched the film myself.

The verdict? Overall, I did like the film better too.

Visually – The book did provide actual photos of the Zabinski Family as well as the zoo animals whereas the film did not have any archived footage or photos even at the end. However, the film did make it easier to follow the different guests that stayed since it does tend to become difficult for me to keep up with too many characters in the written form. I did wish that the book would include a map of where everything was which would have been more helpful.
Historically – Luckily, both the book and the film were done in the style of having things happen in a chronological order. However, the book does have less of a progressing story feel to it in comparison to the film. This is where a lot of the ladies from the book club felt like it was hard to get through the book at times since it had a more history book or documentary feel to it. Though I will say that reading the book did give me a good understanding of what was going on in the film. So I’m still glad I read the book.

With the recent natural disasters that have been happening all over the country lately, it has been a sad reminder that whether it’s a natural disaster or a war innocent lives are taken and endangered, both human and non-human animals. And it is always heartwarming to hear about the selfless kindness and courageous acts to help others that exist amidst such tragedy.



My Everyday Life in Black & White

Many of you have probably seen the posts people have been doing on the 7-day challenge of posting black & white photos from everyday life. The posts usually are something like this:

Seven days. Seven black and white photos of your life. No people. No explanations. Nominate someone to do the same. Day <enter number> of 7. I nominate <enter name>

My friend Megan nominated me to do the challenge on one of her 7 days, coincidentally on a Sunday after I returned home from an outing with my mother in the city where I came across this humorous book cover that I had just happened to photograph:


Click here to buy the panda book
And then from the first photo I took for this challenge, I realized that the first photo was also an object that was in black & white against a black & white background, coincidentally enough! So then I decided to add a new layer to the challenge by being mindful that whole week of photographing everyday life that is ALREADY black & white, though I did still use a black & white filter to photograph them.

In following the instructions, I will not provide any explanations to leave a sense of mystery (or at least to those who aren’t familiar with what I’ve photographed). However, en lieu of nominating someone for each day, I invite anyone who is feeling inspired to take on this challenge!

From doing this project, I also became more aware of the different colors in my everyday life in general. It made me think about the fact that I could do different colored versions of this photography project (ie. a red things in my everyday life). For me, it was about taking a moment to notice things in my everyday life and being mindful. It’s why people do things like meditation.