choppy waters

I wrote this post on Thursday, planning to post it over the weekend. The next morning, I woke up to the news of Anthony Bourdain’s passing. This “celebrity death” hurt. (It feels weird to call him a “celebrity.” The words role model, teacher, and even friend feel truer.) I fear joining the chorus of people mourning his death — as though I am a bandwagoner — but, taking a page out of Tony’s life, there should be no shame in being sincere.

I’ve learned a lot from Tony. In college, binging on No Reservations, I traveled the world with him. He taught me that it was acceptable, and even preferable, to stand for irreverence and wit over opulence and formality. He advocated for all walks of life, reassuring me that I could find a place in the world as the child of refugees — that I didn’t have to adhere to strict standards of success. In his openness about his struggles, he demonstrated that honesty and vulnerability are not weaknesses. Even in his death, he continues to educate us. I’m reminded that everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle… even if they appear to have it all. In this moment, as I am fighting against very minor currents, his absence makes me look around, breathe deeply, and reconsider what makes me happy. In light of that, I think I’ll go have some noodles today.

Earlier this spring, I looked at a piece of paper with three very important signatures on it. After three years of research and one hour of presenting, these scribbles granted me my Master’s degree. Holding that form in my hand, it felt like those countless hours of interviewing, coding, writing, and thinking really, really hard work had paid off.

Two days later, I looked at an email that absolutely eviscerated the very work I’d just defended. The reviewers at a very prestigious journal had ripped apart my manuscript. More than that, they had hit me where it hurt the most. They questioned the value of my study: asking if I was truly helping the vulnerable populations I intended to serve.

In a span of only a few dozen hours, I went from utterly delighted to unbelievably demoralized. Some days, I win a few treasures (grants, awards, lines on my CV) — but, other days, all those things seem to sink to the bottom of the ocean. As my advisor says, “grad school is a safe place to fail.” It doesn’t make those failures any less deflating, but I’m sailing on, learning and adjusting my course as needed. These waves are wild, but I’m still here… treading water and trying to find meaning in the motion.

long distance dal

In keeping with my frazzled grad student ethos, I forgot to take a picture of my dal (all seven versions that I’ve made thus far). These pretty yellow buds will have to do. Reminiscent of turmeric, maybe?

Tragedy strikes!!!


I’d known for some time that KT would spend spring away as part of his work rotations — but I hadn’t expected to be quite so sad on the day of his departure. I woke up that morning and tried to cry as discreetly as possible. KT then asked if I’d be able to drive him to the airport through my tears. He reminded me that it’d be a little more than a week until I’d get to spend my entire spring break him. Yeah, okay, I get it, maybe I was being a bit melodramatic…

In any case, being apart from my partner has made me reflect a bit on some of my favorite parts of our relationship. To no one’s surprise, that includes food. Dating KT has opened me up to the big and beautiful world of Indian cooking. I’ve tried my hand at quite a few recipes for dal — a fragrant, lentil-based curry, served best ladled over basmati rice. This was, by far, our favorite variant. KT declared it my best version yet, at which point I immediately shared it with my fellow Instant-Pot-loving friends in California. Now, I share it here, in the hopes that we can all make it and feel a little closer.

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2017: a retrospective

Be not misled; my 2017 only looked like this for 24 hours.

I saw a lot of things this past year. A terrible man took over; the masses rose up. I survived a hurricane and a rare snow day. I leaned more deeply into my community and my loved one. I failed in some of my goals, but accomplished things I didn’t even know were within reach. I traveled across the state, country, and world, several times over. I was broken down and built up, and somehow found balance.

I’ve now been completing these annual surveys for a decade (!!) — so here is one for an utterly exhilarating and exhausting year.

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Thailand, twice

Our quest to find an infinity pool ended in success at Ao Nang Cliff Beach Resort, following a luxurious two-hour massage.

My last experience in Thailand overlapped with a surreal transitional ~life phase~ , serving as a high-key emotional goodbye to the life that I’d lived in California. This time, my time in this lovely country was much more mellow than it was melodrama (though I still definitely ugly-cried a few times).

My beloved K (not to be confused with my significant other KT, who unfortunately could not join me on this trip) met me during our layovers in Singapore. I’d just finished a frenzied half-day tour of the city and checked into an airport lounge. (Thanks to a credit card perk, I’ve discovered the beauty of airport lounges and not-so-secretly enjoy feeling like a part of the 1%. My. Goodness. To think that I was sitting in terminals for so many years, when I could’ve been going HAM at buffets…)

Gardens by the Bay in Singapore was not part of the free city-sponsored tour, but definitely worth the taxi fare!

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I’m done with my second year of graduate school.

It’s insane to think how quickly time is flying by (and how poorly I am documenting all of this). Some neat things I’ve done:

I successfully proposed my master’s thesis, and am hopefully going to be able to defend it (and obtain two new letters after my name!) in the fall.

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twenty eight & Asheville

On the rainy weekend before my birthday, my friends and I went out to a lounge, built within the former home of an oil & gas tycoon, for late-night drinks and dancing. I ordered three Cucumber Irish Mules, requested one song (OBVIOUSLY), and took exactly zero pictures. It was so fun.

A few days later, KT & I were on a plane to North Carolina. Despite a number of travel mishaps (why are not all airport car rental kiosks 24 hours?!), we made it to Asheville, a charming little town tucked within the mountains. We stayed in an AirBnB branded the “zen cabin,” built by a monk-turned-playwright-turned-milkman and featuring a meditation corner, Buddhist library, and Tibetan singing bowl. On my actual birthday, we were visited by our host’s friendly golden retriever, Rosy, and later had Spanish tapas in a cozy, cavernous restaurant in the heart of the city. I was in heaven.

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“Is… someone here? Hello?” I called out as I opened the door to our AirBnB.

The studio was warm and steamy, as though someone had just taken a shower; on the bed, rumpled sheets and blankets were heaped into a pile. No one answered. I gingerly walked into the space, peeking into the bathroom. Aside from a hamper full of dirty towels, there were no indications of life. It looked as though someone had just left the apartment, mere minutes ago. “This is weird.”

KT and I glanced at each other, laughing nervously. After quickly texting our host, we passed out (as loathe as I am to admit this) on a corner of the unmade bed, laying my scarf down on the pillows to feel slightly more hygienic. What can I say? We’d stayed up all night to catch a 4am flight, and were in desperate need of a nap ten hours later.

Despite a rocky start to the trip, our time in Chicago was pretty lovely. We were there for KT’s college friend’s wedding, so we spent each night at open bars. (Can I also just say that, should I get married, my top priority will be free-flowing alcohol? How else am I supposed to make family togetherness and lifelong commitment bearable, am.I.right?)

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done with one

… And, just like that, my first year of graduate school is over.

I’ve rambled at length about the major life change this whole process has been, so I won’t bore you with details or existential questions anymore. I just wanna document some cool things that have happened, complete with poorly/casually-shot iPhone photos. Without further ado…

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ice cream cake

My ice cream cake, in all its un-iced glory.

Perhaps it speaks to my nature that, on the eve of my 27th orbit around the sun, I am posting about a cake I made for someone else’s birthday. But — onward.

This has been a year of insane growth, in which I’ve reinvented myself several times over. My friends have come to know (and name) my alter egos.

There’s Bad Jules, or BJ for short. Formerly known as Party Jules, BJ is the wild mustang who comes out after a drink or two. She is responsible for many fun nights, Ubers of shame, hungover mornings, and one (relatively uneventful) experience blacking out (oops). I embrace BJ with all my heart, as she is the person I once was in my younger, study-abroad years and have since neglected. She is the id to my ego, the Sasha Fierce to my Beyonce, the Miley Cyrus to my Hannah Montana.

There’s also Productive Jules (PJ), that version of myself who actually gets shit done. You can find her in one of a few beloved coffee shops, at a corner table, earbuds in, typing notes frantically, papers strewn all over the table. It is thanks to PJ that I’ve passed classes, written book chapters, and (mostly) checked all my emails. She is the functional piece of me who does all the adult-ing of which I am capable.

Finally, there is Mama Jules. This, perhaps, is the alter ego truest to my real self: the person who loves to take care of others. My lab knows to expect baked goods with every birthday. My colleagues know that I will make a signature batch of roasted broccoli for every event. My friends know that I will heat up leftovers for them if they come over (and Mama Jules always has leftovers). As I was told recently, cooking for someone else is the ultimate form of affection, in that it involves actual nourishment of a body. That lovin’ maternal instinct is what drives me to make and share food.

It is with great care, then, that I made an ice cream cake for a birthday. I’d considered baking an actual cake, but my (school-dominated) schedule and (grad student stipend-funded) pantry are not what they used to be. I gotta say, though… Though I personally thought this ice cream cake was a misshapen cop-out, everyone else in the room seemed duly impressed when I brought it out. People were mystified at how I managed to transform gallons of dairy into a big ol’ birthday dessert. It still comes up in conversation months later. I guess that’s what happens when you do anything involving ice cream.

My own birthday festivities will certainly involve indulgence — hopefully involving an equivalently copious amount of ice cream, in addition to beer and pizza, at a sweet new biergarten here in HTX. More importantly, though, I’ll be ringing it in with people who I’ve come to care about and vice versa. Late twenties… I’m ready for ya. I think.

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2015: a retrospective

We are nearly finished with the first month of 2016, and only now am I getting around to  posting my reflection on 2015. It’s cliche to say, but it really has been a whirlwind. I can’t believe how drastically my life has changed in one semester, let alone an entire year.

I spent the last few weeks of 2015 all over the map, both emotionally and geographically. After clawing my way out of statistics hell via 100-page final, I immediately dove into writing a 40,000-word textbook chapter. Fortunately, I was able to do so in my beautiful home state — in Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Strikingly, however, I couldn’t wait to return to Texas by the end of break: to the new home I’ve built in a new place with new people. Life is full of surprises, y’all.

This year also marks the 10th (!!!) year in a row that I’ve completed the same survey. Without further ado… Continue reading