OakMonster - Team Wicket and Animal

Counting my 2013 Blessings

I know I usually do a 2013 recap here with all of my high points and low points of the year. 2013 has been a year of great things. You could say it might have been one of the best years of my life.

So, instead of the usual recap, I’d like to actually, literally, count my blessings.

Blessing #1: A Permanent Job

Since I moved on from the last permanent job in 2011, I was freelancing for about 12 months of the 24 years of being unemployed.  My last temp assignment was to Frieda’s Specialty Produce.  It was supposed to be part-time for 2 weeks but ended staying on longer, and longer, until I became a permanent member of the Frieda’s family.

OakMonster - Captain Bubbles - Talk Like A Pirate Day

I couldn’t have asked for a better job! I am doing social media and marketing with a touch of PR for a produce company where I get to talk about food all day long, and test recipes and style a plate for photography here and there. And best of all is the commute…all 1.5 mile of it.

As for Brandon, he finally gets to make some awesome career moves he’s been working hard toward for a couple of years now.  So, yes, this year has been awesome for the both of us job-wise.

Blessing #2: Running

I am NOT athletic in anyway. Sure, I used to play tennis but I was no good at it. I was a dancer but I was never going to be on So You Think You Can Dance. But running? In a million years, I would never thought I’d end up running.

Unemployment was definitely a low point but as they said, you don’t make a change until you hit rock bottom. And I was there when I decided to get off the couch and onto the road.  February 2013 was my first 5K race ever, and I continued to race throughout the year. My time hasn’t gotten any better, but it was not the point.  The point is that I am RUNNING! Slow as all hell, but I’m doing it. Brandon got me a heart rate monitor for Christmas so I can train better.

And maybe, just maybe, I might be able to run the 5K in less than 45 minutes.

OakMonster - Will Run for Beer

What surprises me more is that I have NOT given up on running. One of my headbands said it best: I love running, I hate running, I love running, I hate running. Somewhere inside my head, I do enjoy the benefits of running while another part of me hates it.  But I love the freedom that comes with running.  I don’t have to stick to a set schedule like the dance classes I used to take. I can run almost whenever I feel like it, as much or as little as I want.

I’m not sure if it really offsets my caloric intake but if I haven’t gained any weight and my blood work is spectacular. I guess I am sticking with running, a blessing that keeps on giving!

Blessing #3: Friends

2013 has been a spectacular year of friendship.  I spent a lot of quality time with my BFF Nora per my goal to see her at least once a month.  We lapsed a little bit in December but it’s the holiday season so I think we’re okay with that.

My friendship with my cosplay buddy Christine, the better half of Team Wicket, is in full bloom. We don’t just do conventions together but we hang out all the time. 3 conventions, and one each of an Otto & Victoria book signing, Renaissance Faire, and Victorian Christmas event this year will be hard to top. But there are so much more adventures ahead!

OakMonster - Team Wicket and Animal

Team Wicket as Beaker and Dr. Bunsen featuring Animal (aka Brandon)

This year also brought us some new friends and next door neighbors: Andrew, Briley, and baby Jameson. It’s weird to be full-grown, responsible adults and yet we’d still leave our door open and so we can party with each other across the hallway as if we were still in a college dorm.  I also got to visit Pim of Chez Pim–and soon, Kin Khao Thai Eatery in San Francisco—and took her famous jam making class at Love Apple Farm in Santa Cruz. It’s an amazing to witness Pim doing all the things that she does!

The topper of it all is actually happening as I type this.  My best friend from Thailand, Tong, is in town. Right now! The original plan was for me to just see them twice as they transit through LAX in December and then again on New Year’s Day.  But they extended their trip so they could spend a few more days in Southern California with me.  They’ve just gotten back from a full day at Disneyland and California Adventures. I really didn’t know how much homesick I have been until they showed up at my door. I really do miss my friends!

Blessing #4: Family

If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you’ll know that my family is a little broken and is half a world away, and I love them still.  I didn’t get to see them this year, but we’ve solidify a plan for me to fly home for Memorial Day 2014, so that’s a good thing.

However, my biological family isn’t the only family I have. I got to visit my American host family, the folks who hosted me when I came to the US 20 years ago. Bob and Bonnie moved to Hollister many years ago and I haven’t been able to visit them. I had a chance to do so last summer on my way to see Pim.  I also got to visit Brandon’s family over Thanksgiving. His nieces are all tweens now and are both wonderful young ladies.

And then yet another surprise. My cousin Toni, who I thought was living in Japan, turned up in Southern California. She finally got herself a car so she drove out to spend the weekend with me last weekend. We haven’t seen each other for 10 years! And it was kind of funny how we’re pretty much the same person. We also discovered that she has my mom’s slender hands and I have her mom’s wide hips and stocky legs. LOL

My mom would’ve been so happy to know that Toni and I are reunited at last.

OakMonster - Oakley & Toni at the Aquarium of the Pacific

These blessings may not be the winning Powerball numbers or a secret billionaire benefactor, but they all make 2013 memorable and awesome. What else can a girl ask for?

OakMonster.com - I'm Blogging This

Everything has changed: 10th Blogoversary

Might as well join in the crazy world of Blogging. So I don’t have to keep sending you emails to update and stuff. Hehe.

That was my first blog post on this very day, 10 years ago.

Oh yes, kids. I’ve been providing you with entertaining verbal vomit for 10 years now.

Back then, not a lot of people were doing it. And those of us who did, we were writing about anything and everything.

Now, we’d be called a “lifestyle blogger” since we don’t specialize in anything. Or maybe even “humor blogger” if we were slight bit funny.

Two weeks ago, I was in a room with a handful of bloggers as we chat with experts at Gigasavvy about how to optimize our blogs for search engine and what the best practices are. I was sure of two things that day: I was the only child-less blogger there and that I’m probably the only person in the room who doesn’t give much thought to traffic coming and going from her blog.

But I’ve already ranted about the evolution of blogging/social media so I’ll spare you my Purist/Pragmatist theory.

I started this blog originally because I was bored. And the next thing I know, it became a hobby and I was blogging all the time. At some point, it was almost like the speed of which I tweet or post on Facebook now.

“Wait, let me write down what you just said. I’m blogging this!”

OakMonster.com - I'm Blogging This

I ranted. I raved. At some point I was writing for 2 other blogs. I was quite prolific. Thoughts and ideas were pouring out of me. And I had no other hobbies to channel my energy into.

I wrote about everything. My hopes and dreams. My emotions. I wrote about home life, work life, and even about Thai politics once in a while, and got in trouble with friends, family, and coworkers for some of those things.

You practically see me grow up right here on these pages.

I’ve made friends with great people along the way with bloggers and readers alike. And because I’m comfortable in the virtual social setting, my transition into Facebook and Twitter was seamless. And as you already know, Twitter brought me a whole bunch of friends.

Naturally, with all these friends and new hobbies I’ve discovered (hello, cosplay!), my time to sit down and compose a blog has dwindled. You’d think now that I have so many more adventures, I would write more. Yeah, that’s what I thought too. LOL

One thing I haven’t realized about blogging is that writing gives me peace the way that my other hobbies doesn’t. (Well, except my attempt at singing and playing musical instruments.)  Writing is a creative and emotional outlet and a meditation, all at the same time.

I didn’t think I’ve missed blogging until I sit down and write one. Like I’m doing right now.

Doing better at blogging seems to be one of the yearly goals I never accomplished. Then again, who would’ve thunk I’d stick with running the entire year! LOL

Maybe it’s time I make time for blogging again.

It’s been an interesting journey so far, you guys. 2014 will be more fun.

Thank you for being here.

OakMonster.com - Talk Like A Pirate Day - Krispy Kreme - Captain Bubbles

On the Universe & Being Shameless

It was Talk Like A Pirate Day last week. Since I’ve learned about the holiday 7 years ago, I’ve transformed into Captain Bubbles and gone to work as such. Every year.

Last year, I sailed to the township of Long Beach to plunder a pastry shopped called Krispy Kreme. Since I was rogue at the time, I brought the booty to my good friend Doctor Justin to take to work.  This year, Captain Bubbles, now employed, repeated the raid and came away with pastries for her shipmates.

OakMonster.com - Talk Like A Pirate Day - Krispy Kreme - Captain Bubbles

Before we took this picture, this little girl kept looking at me and told her mom, “Mama! She’s a REAL pirate!”

One of my coworkers asked, “Where did you rent your outfit from?”

“These are all mine,” I said.

“You OWN these? Why?”

“Because it’s my hobby.”

“Wait. I don’t want to know.”

Move along, muggles. Move along.

Then another coworker told me, “I just love how in-to things you are. I mean, obviously, you have your clothes. But you actually name your pirate alter ego and everything!”

I shrugged and said, “Hey, life’s too short to not go all in.”

She laughed and went on her merry way.

I’m serious, people. Pussyfooting around your life gets you nothing but a really boring existence.

You can quote me on that one.

Later that night, my friend Traci sent me a link to this video about how Hubble telescope was pointed to a spot in space that is utterly empty.

Except that it isn’t.  The light from 13 billion years ago has just now been captured. The “empty space,” about the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length, has 10,000 galaxies, each filled with hundreds of stars.

That’s how tiny our existence really is in the scale of things.

We are but a speck in this vast universe. Our lifetime is just a blip compared to everything else.

The more the reason to not waste anytime not living your life.

I discovered as a child that it is more fun to NOT be shy. By being “brave” (or as my mom called it, a showoff), there were so many fun things I got to do.

Need a volunteer to go on stage? I’ll do it. Nobody is going to start the buffet line? I’ll go. Dance floor is empty? I’ll start.

I can’t even begin to tell you about all of my adventures because of me NOT being shy. (Or as my mom called it later on in my life, being shameless.)

It’s not “Oh my god! What are people going to think about me when I do this?!” that I think about. It’s “How much fun is THIS going to be if I do it?! Let’s do it!!!” It’s “None of these people know me and/or I’d never see them again. Let’s do it!!!” Well, the second doesn’t seem to work very well in the digital age, so it is now, “Someone’s going to get this on video, but I don’t care. Let’s do it!!!!”

My life has been amazing because I’ve long ago abandoned the concept of shame.

Let’s just put it this way, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I have no regrets.

(Well, okay. Not having been to Italy to eat would be the only thing on my bucket list that I would regret not having accomplished.  But I can make up for it the next time around, I’m sure. Hey, I’m a Buddhist. We’ll ALL be back!)

Life is but a blip in the universe, people. Live it well.

As Mark Twain said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

Bring it.

OakMonster.com - Be Kind for Khun Noi

Be Kind for Khun Noi

OakMonster.com - Be Kind for Khun Noi

Please join me in remembering my mom, Noi, on the 6th anniversary of her passing by doing something good for others. Treat your coworkers to donuts. Donate to charity that is not yours. Give money to a bum. Etc. Share your act on the event’s Facebook wall, if you’d like.

Dedicate your act of kindness to the wonderful Khun Noi who was always generous to her family, friends, and those in need.

OakMonster.com - Doctor Who - Silence in the Library

My Reading Evolution

Brandon reads on average a book and a half a week. You wouldn’t believe how much of a relief it is when he got a Kindle for Christmas the year it first came out.  Our shelves were overflowing with books back then. We were taking boxes to our friend’s used bookstore or local library. At one point, I started re-selling them on Amazon.

As for me, as you know, my goal is ALWAYS to read 12 books a year. Some years I did well. Some years I didn’t. So far, this year I’m on a pretty good path. Thanks to some really good books I couldn’t put down. I’m about to add some big volumes of graphic novels to the list this year too as my neighbor loans me his collection of Alan Moore’s work.  (That’s the guy who writes V for Vendetta and The Watchmen.)

Still, compared to some of my friends and even to my husband, I’m crap for a reader.

But then, as I was talking to a few coworkers the other day about books, someone said to me, “Wow, you’re so well read.”

Well read? Is she talking about me? Oh, I don’t know about that. I read well, perhaps. But far from well read.

There’s always that list of books you should read before you die or something like that, and I would come up to about 20 out of 100 while my friends would score a lot higher. For example, the recent Best 100 Novels of All Times by Entertainment Weekly, I’ve only read 12. (We’ll discuss this further below.)  I also cheated a little as I read so many of Western classics in Thai. They were a series of these classics on paper back and I wanted to read them all. I’m pretty sure it was a bit more of the translation of the Reader’s Digest version of the books because there was always one page of illustration every other chapter so so.  Nevertheless, I read Call of the Wild, Moby Dick, Black Beauty, Around the World in 80 Days, Robinson Crusoe, Three Musketeers, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that way.

I was fortunate to have grown up in a household where my parents would buy us as many books as we wanted.  The first place I’d run to when we went to the mall would be the bookstore.  Anything in the kids section I could reach, I’d very likely go home with at least one.

In first grade, I was introduced to the library at school. Once I discovered that there was a room full of books, I practically lived there. When I was not at dance practice or any other activities, I would be at the library. All the way to 9th grade. My mom agreed to let me hang out at the library until it closes as long as my homework gets done (or mostly done).  Even before the librarian trusted me with putting the books away, I was already helping her close up shop almost everyday.

Once I got to be an actual library assistant, I found myself making notes of what I was putting back on the shelves. A special note on what the older girls were reading. (Advanced reading! What a challenge that would be!)  I got to read bits and pieces of Daddy-Long-Legs, and Charlotte’s Web (in Thai).  Putting a wrong book away yielded another about an expedition to find a Coelacanth and the horrific cover of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which got me flipping through a few pages. (That’s soooo very fucked up.)

During my an archeology phase, I went through the entire small section on Egyptology.  Ditto when astronomy got me interested in Greek and Roman mythology.  But the nerdiest of all the phases was my encyclopedia phase.

Around 7th grade, my mom said that the Encyclopedia contains everything you ever need to know. If you can finish A through Z–in English–you’d be the smartest person in the world. So, I went to work on that as my lunch break project.  I would have an Encyclopedia and a notebook open on the table and a dictionary nearby.  A slow process, yes, but I think I got through the first volume before quitting.

My folks turned around and invested in a set of Disney-licensed kid’s Encyclopedia (about 2 dozen books or so), and book sets on science, along with other Disney stories in English.  They weren’t cheap, for sure. I remembered my parents debating about it but I promised that I would read everything. And I did. Over a few years.

With all the encyclopedia reading, I never thought to pick up a proper literature in English. Not until it was required of me to do so 20 years ago.

Ah. American high school and their summer reading list.  To my surprise and horror.  The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises were my first assignment. It was hard enough finding a copy of them in Thailand to begin with. We couldn’t find Sun so I got started on Gatsby (again, with a dictionary nearby).

Talk about a culture shock. Not only the language was flowery (as you know, encyclopedias were kind of dry), there were cultural references and time period about which I had zero knowledge.  Thank god my mom was a Robert Redford fan and remembered the movie!  Surprisingly, we managed to find a copy of that in Thai video store. That helped quite a bit. But it was still a struggle.

The Sun Also Rises, though, that one I was told to wait until I get states side to get a copy. My host mom took that time to also introduce me to Cliff’s Notes.

That was a beginning of a new adventure in reading, and also the end of reading for pleasure.

When I first came to the U.S., it was like having a learning disability. My English was great but I was missing a lot of context, nuances, history, and cultural references. It wasn’t just culture shock, but it also applied to school work.   It took more time to study most of the subjects at school, and even a little more writing reports. (In Thailand, we had a lot of tests and not many reports. Learning to think for yourself was also new.)  2 dictionaries always on hand: Oxford Student one and Thai-English/English-Thai that I would only use if I was really stuck.

So time to read for pleasure was no longer something I could afford.  The only non-school work I was reading were magazines and newspapers to better acclimate myself to the new environment and keep up with the world, respectively.

College was pretty much the same.  With so much reading I had to do already, I didn’t have the heart to read much more.  But I did spend ridiculous amount of time at the Stacks at USC Doheyny Library. It was my happy place. The Stacks are below ground with low ceiling with tight rows of shelves and secret corner tables.  Always quiet and smell of old books. (Best place to nap, by the way.)

Oh, the eau du Old Books! I don’t know where it started. I could be my grandmother’s books or my dad’s old dictionary. I just love that smell. And down at the Stacks, among the first volumes of several classics, you can get a lung full of it.  This is probably still why I insist on reading analog book instead of digital ones. But I digress.

Now, back to my first English-language book I read for pleasure.  It was Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, on a road trip to Texas with my friend Jennifer and her family.  I tried to start a non-school book reading habit back then but it didn’t stick. I was already spending a lot of time journaling so reading more of an afterthought.

Until I met Brandon. The man READS.  He reads everyday. And this is when I moved the journaling to the internet and picked up a book.

We read different things except for Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. When the latest book Cold Days came out, instead of having Brandon read it first, we decided to read to each other so we can both “read” the book at the same time. That lasted about 4 chapters. LOL.

So what do I read? Just about anything, really.  While Brandon is strictly sci-fi, I’m all over the map. I like murder-mystery and thriller best, but I do like me some of the Young Adult (YA) sci-fi series once in a while.  If I come off of something dark and heady like Haruki Murakami 1Q84 (What the FUCK was up with that book?!? Seriously.), I’d pick up something light like YA Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  

I cried over Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and laughed with Seth Graham-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice, and Zombies.  I pored over popular bestsellers like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and total guilty pleasure of Richard Castle’s Nikki Heat series. I don’t have many books that I would re-read but Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is one.

There were books I started and never finished like Emperor of All Maladies, Lord of the Rings, and many business-related books like Seth Godin’s Linchpin or Malcom Gladwell’s Blink. Then there were books that I wanted to rip into pieces and burn in the hottest bonfire known to man after I read it like Ann Rice’s Angel Time (A modern day assassin chosen by an angel to go back in time to save a life sounds like a good premise…until the end of the book when you realized it wasn’t a book you thought it was going to be.), and MANY Dean Koontz’s books. (I fell in love after Watchers and I tried to read others. I hated all of those others.)

But books are books. I will always love them even though I hate some of them.  I grasped in horror when the video of this idiot making arts and crafts out of old books hit the internet. There’s a special level of hell for that separate for people who actually burn literature because they were “inappropriate” or “immoral”.

That said, I’m always on the look out for new things to read. I get most of my ideas from EW, I have to say. So far, their editors haven’t steered me wrong yet.  Currently, I’m alternating Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.  (You can see my reading list on the left hand side on the home page.)  I have nothing lined up after Henrietta Lacks but a stack of graphic novels from my neighbor I mentioned earlier. So, please leave your suggestion in the comment.

OakMonster.com - Doctor Who - Silence in the Library

Out of the 100 books on EW list, I have read…

81. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818) – High school.

67. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000) – A recommendation in EW way back in the days. I did like it and still remembered many parts of it, oddly enough.

62. Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) – High school. This is also where I stopped killing spiders if I can help it.

59. Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897) – High school.

39. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002) – Another EW recommendation. Not my favorite, but it was intriguing.

37. Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926) – High school

33. Art Spiegelman, Maus (1986) – College. This is a part of studying signs and symbols in Communications class. I still have the book and wouldn’t part with it. Brilliant work.

18. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851) – I read this in Thai. Perhaps it’s time to do over…

17. Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2006) – This book is a Dementor realized.  The most depressing book I’ve ever read but yet I could NOT put it down. I needed to watch 3 cartoons before I started to feel happy again.  Yet, the impact on my emotions is a testament to how good this book is.

12. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929) – High school. I still don’t know what that was all about.

7. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter: The Complete Series (1997-2007) – I actually started on Prisoner of Azkaban on accident. Half way through, I realized I’ve missed the first two books. LOL

2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925) – High school. First book in English!

Henry Cavill - Man of Steel

Crushing on Superman

Then again, who isn’t? Am I right?

It’s been well documented that I love me the dark haired, blue eyed boys. So it shouldn’t surprised anyone that I walked out of Man of Steel with a crush.

Hi, Henry.

Henry Cavill

Yeah, you, sir. Clark Kent. Kal-el. Superman.

(Nerd note: They’re just calling him “Kal”? That bugs the living hell out of me, by the way.)

(More nerd note: Yes, I kind of like the new back story of Man of Steel. So I thoroughly enjoyed the movie up until he and Lois met, and it pretty much went downhill from there for me. No, I don’t like any of it once Zod landed. Yes, I liked that Lois tracked Clark down. No, I did not like [SPOILER!] what the writers/director decided that Supe do to Zod at the end. However, in their defense, I could see Clark not paying attention to his surroundings from being new at the super hero thing. He’s blinded by emotions over it all and went all “Kal Smash Zod!” on everything, and didn’t pay attention to the destruction. Sure, older, more experienced Superman would do that. If you look back at it, Christopher Reeve’s Superman get to play hero in the cape for a while before fighting evil. Brandon didn’t buy my excuse one bit. lol)

Yeah, you.

Henry Cavill - Man of Steel

Hi.

I only watched a few episodes of The Tudors and I totally remembered you from that. Mainly, this scene.

Henry Cavill - Tudor

Although, not so much in Immortal.  But your character has to be skinny/ripped, so I get it. But so, so gaunt, Henry. Don’t ever get there again, please.

Henry Cavill - Immortal

But anyway. You’re adorable. But you know that. I can tell by the way you carry yourself.

Yet, so humble.

Can we get an awwww for Fat Cavill?

This part I didn’t know before, but I know now. You’re a gamer nerd too.

WAIT.

AND you’re dating a possible Wonder Woman?

Henry Cavill - Gina Carano - PerezHilton.com

Photo: PerezHilton.com

ETA: Okay. Fine. He broke up with Gina. And now publicly dating Kaley Cuoco, also a nerd starlet.

Huffington Post - Henry Cavill - Kaley Cuoco

Huffington Post

While I’m not entirely happy about this piece of news, my last statement kind of still works. Kaley WAS Wonder Woman too…

Big Bang Theory - Kaley Cuoco - Wonder Woman

That’s it, Henry. You are perfect.

So, if either you or Russell Crowe show up at my door one day, you know what the answer is.

And as for the rest of us mere mortals, watch this. You’re welcome.