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In the face of grief (updated)

8 Nov

Update: I received some feedback on this post so I added another suggestion: Food (longer term) and Errands (respite).  Respite is the biggest way to help caregivers.  That can vary between people (see below).

I’ve written before about grief and poems that I give to people or that I found comforting after a death. 

I just got back from visiting a friend whose father is dying. Family members are flying in from around the world to say goodbye as this man dies at home. She and her siblings and mother are taking shifts sitting and lying with him around the clock.  This was my first time in a dying-caregiving situation, rather than someone dying unexpectedly. So I thought I’d process it a bit via blog.

Note: I just wrote an article about caregiving. I also visited Chicago for a friend’s wedding last weekend and another friend told me that in her research, there wasn’t anything proven to help caregivers besides respite. Therapy, groups, etc. might work for individuals, but the only guaranteed way to help a caregiver is by giving them a break.

Tips for visiting a caregiver or grieving family, from my personal experience:

  • If possible, come. Just showing up means the world, even if all you do is sit. I remember my friends visiting after my dad died, it meant everything to me. My brother’s best friend sat on his couch for hours. It was great.
  • If you can’t come, reach out. Say SOMETHING. Even better: assure then that you don’t need a response, you just want them to know you’re thinking of them.
  • If you come and can, bring food. I brought a bunch of casseroles and an instant pot-full of ga kho and cooked rice when I got to their house. Then I bought some frozen pie crusts, a bag of frozen broccoli, a bag of diced ham, shredded cheese and eggs. I microwaved the broccoli, whisked 8 eggs with a cup of milk, then piled cheese, ham and broccoli in the pie crusts. Poured in the eggs, topped with more cheese, and baked at 350 for 45 minutes or so. My cousin brought quiche when my dad died and it was the perfect food to have in the fridge.
  • Food: close caregivers may forget to eat or be too busy to eat. Fixing a plate with a small amount of food (like a hearty snack) and putting it in their hands with a fork can help. We fed my friend’s mother a lot of small meals. When I walked in I scrambled some eggs and made toast and gave her a single egg + one piece of toast, and it was a lot for her. I remember spooning chao (congee/rice soup) into my mom’s mouth the day after my dad died.
  • More food: fruit is good. Food with vegetables baked in (a veggie lasagna, a quiche, etc.) are good. No one is thinking of healthy food but if you’re caring for a caregiver you can do that! Bananas, cut up apples or oranges, berries… the less effort required to eat, the better.
  • Food (longer term): In my visit case, it was an acute and immediate situation.  Lots of caregivers are in long-term chronic situations.  Frozen food that keeps well is great! When we had our first baby, a friend made a HUGE casserole of mac and cheese that we bagged into individual portions and froze.  My aunt made hundreds of egg rolls and froze them when my dad died.  Dumplings, lasagnas, casseroles, enchiladas, soups- all good.
  • Make coffee. (I didn’t do this but it was necessary and someone did it.) Top off coffee mugs, collect them and wash them.
  • Chores: do dishes! Wash dishes, load and unload dishwashers, clean and cook.
  • Take out trash, recycling, bust out a vacuum if you see one.  If possible ask a non-main caregiver on where these things are. Laundry is helpful too.
  • Errands: if people are coming in from out of town and staying, see if you can help solve problems. I helped unwrap and place some mattresses, and ran to the store to get sheets (and aforementioned quiche ingredients).
  • Errands (respite): For longer-term care, giving the caregiver a break so they can go grocery shopping in peace or sit at a coffee shop and zone out or buy a towel from Target may be more valuable than running the errands yourself.  Ask! A friend watched my newborn for an hour so I could go get a postnatal massage and it remains one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.
  • Care: if there are kids or animals around, offer to take care of them. Walk the dogs, walk the kids or take them to a park or play with them. I sang a bunch of songs to an 18 month old.
  • If possible, encourage caregiver to exercise. Take them on walks, lead them in mild yoga. My best friend walked me in laps around the hospital after I had my first baby.
  • Encourage naps. Even asking gently “when’s the last time you slept?” can shake caregiver into realizing. Or if you’re close like that you can command them to nap. My spouse did this to me in both newborn periods.
  • Check in often and for a long time. Even months later- in the throes of grief it felt like I had stopped and the world had gone on and it wasn’t fair, just knowing a friend remembered that I had loved someone once and now they were gone helped.

This remains one of my favorite grief poems. I joined a grief poetry group years ago and this was in my email box, by Susan Florence:

MY FATHER
I think I am letting him go.
It is not that my love is diminished
or that I miss him less.
It is only that the sun is up
and there is no milk
in the refrigerator
and the bunny got out
of the cage
and is eating my red geraniums.
I think I am letting him go.
But sometimes at night
before I go to sleep
I feel the tears
fill up my eyes
and run down my cheeks.
I do not think I will ever
let him go.
But he is gone.

 

Another note: when my dad died I told one friend. He ran into a mutual friend and told him, who then told our friend group and I received a bunch of calls and emails and texts. I was so happy to get those. I’m not great at sharing sad things in my life and I was so pleased that my friends knew me enough to share for me. I think a lot of people aren’t good at reaching out for help but would take it happily.

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Chicago recommendations

7 Nov

I wrote this post from a plane on my way back from Chicago last weekend. Maybe I’ll do one for each city I’ve lived in [Orange County, California, Santa Barbara (2010-2012), New Haven (2006-2010), Austin (2014-2016)] eventually. A friend asked me to write a blog post of recommendations that I have from my time in the city. Okay! Let’s do this!

I cried a little bit when I landed and entered the city that I love so much, but I had a great weekend there and am ready to go home and see my family. But if the opportunity came up for us to move to Chicago somehow, it would be a very serious conversation because we do love that city. I bolded my favorite favorites.

Chicago recommendations

To get around: Download the Transit app. It works in very many cities, and it works very well.

To do: the Art Institute is truly incredible. Don’t miss the weird tiny miniature rooms and the fantastic paperweights downstairs right after the entrance. The stained glass mirrors in the very back are also easy to miss and wonderful.

I loved the Museum of Science and Industry this trip. I’d been once before but it was incredible this time. Loved the mirror maze and the science of Pixar exhibit, and the Swiss ball toy, and the model trains… It’s great.

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I had to TRI different ANGLES to get a good picture of the mirror maze.

The Chicago architecture boat tours are just as great as everyone says they are. I had a great time on my Arrr-chitecture pirate ship tour also.

If you’re there in the fall, Open House Chicago is an incredible opportunity- the architecture foundation opens up scores of buildings and rooftops and areas not usually available to the public, and you can just walk around and learn all about the architecture of all of these incredible hidden gems.

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Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s Chicago, so Call ’em maybe

If you live there, consider a neighborhood walking tour– there’s like 80 available. We walked around our neighborhood and learned so much.

The Logan Square farmer’s market is great. The Wicker Park one, not so much. Of all the festivals and fairs, I like the Renegade Craft Fair the best (yearly). Picnics in Millenium Park with music are the best. Lincoln Park Zoo is fantastic and free.

Maybe not tourist attractions to anyone but me:

Mariano’s is my favorite grocery store because of its 99 cent orange juice, free juicing of produce, free steaming and grilling of seafood or meat, live music, and especially the wine and oyster bars. Hot tip: the one on South Clark does NOT have a wine nor oyster bar! What even is the point of a Mariano’s without excessively luxurious extras? Oh yeah, groceries…

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My mom and I on a visit to Chicago. Oy. Sturdy snacks!

The Walgreen’s at Damen, North and Milwaukee is inside an old bank and has a really cool ceiling and old-timey pharmacy stuff on display in the Vitamin Vault.

To eat (obviously the important thing):

Chinatown: MingHin is the best dimsum in the city and also very cheap. I like Joy Yee bubble tee and Chi Cafe for food, especially anything in XO sauce.

South of UIC (I didn’t go down here much):

Pleasant House Pub was the place I went to straight from the airport. Wonderful savory pies, around $10 a pie, and delicious. I went here when it was just a bakery and now it looks popular and good for brunch too.

Lotus Banh Mi: surprisingly great banh mi shop that I ate at very often, a ten minute walk from the department. Also in the $ range.

The Rosebud: More of a $$$ range, but this old-fashioned Italian place is great, over near the UIC hospital. I’m not usually into Italian food, but this was very well done and quite flavorful- really richly flavored sauces that weren’t too heavy.

The Loop:
The Gage: $$$ classy fancy New American food right on Michigan Ave, we went here a few times before going to shows downtown. The beet salad was great, as was all their seafood dishes.

Pierogi Heaven: $ I LOVED this place. Tiny shop with hot trays on Wells Street, I think across from an adult store and next to a Subway or something. Incredible pierogies, stuffed cabbage, just general deliciousness. I went here anytime I was in the north part of the Loop.

Various neighborhoods:
Andy’s Thai Kitchen: $$ the papaya salad here was SO SPICY and so good. All the food was great and also VERY SPICY. First place I had kao soy, now one of my favorite Thai dishes- a chicken coconut curry stew with yellow egg noodles, and topped with crispy egg noodles. In Lakeview.

Isla Filipino food: I LOVED this filipino restaurant. I also love Filipino food. Just super flavorful, super delicious, BYOB and reasonably priced. I have a distinct memory of coming here with 8-10 people with a lot of beer and getting a lot of food.

Cafe Ba-ba-reeba is fancier and slightly more expensive tapas, Cafe Iberico is a ridiculous large restaurant also with great tapas. We loved both.

Chicago Diner: this vegetarian haven has been around since the 80s so you know it’s good. The Reuben is incredible. Also their vegan milkshakes are surprisingly excellent.

Yolk: great brunch.

Kasia’s: a Polish deli/restaurant/grocery store that makes the pierogies in the freezer. But their pierogies are really good!

Green Zebra: if you have a vegetarian (or is it vegan), this is THE fancy restaurant to take them. The mushroom pate was so good.

Wicker Park:
Tamale Spaceship $: hipster tamales that we loved.

Dove’s Luncheonette: one of my favorite places, a great grasp on flavors with Mex/Tex-Mex takes on brunch-y foods. The brisket taco norteno and the pepper-potato hash were the only things that had stayed on the menu in the four years since I’d been there, and they are both still great. I loved a quinoa pancake there, a sandwich that was soaked in ridiculously spicy mole sauce, a light avocado-seafood cocktail, their avocado toast was perfect… I love this place a lot. Very strong tequila cocktails.

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Service is brisk. Catch a waiter if you can! [But actually service is fine I just needed to get ‘brisket’ into a sentence.]

Stan’s Donuts: the banana biscoff pocket and the pistachio old fashioned are very good donuts in a town full of very good donuts. If someone recommends a donut shop to you it’s probably great.

Enso sushi: a small place with creative, yummy sushi rolls. I regularly got off the blue line from O’Hare and went straight here.

Coast sushi: extremely good, more expensive sushi up the street. Loud but really, really good. Not as creative perhaps as Enso, and definitely not as everyday.

Mindy’s Hot Chocolate: the hot chocolate really is good. Also they have food.

1311 Empanadas: $ embarassingly often did we come here, but we lived across the street. Cheap-ish, filling, yummy empanadas!

Sultan’s: I’m not sure how long this has been here, but Sultan’s feels like an institution. Fantastic $5 falafel sandwiches, a small cold bar, just great.

En Hakkore. This Korean place only has like 4 dishes and sashimi bibimbap is one of them. I loved it.

Antique Taco: I thought the tacos here were sort of meh but everything else is incredible. Horchata drink (it was a cocktail or a milkshake) was awesome. The soups are very, very, very good.

Podhalanka: this is a very hole in the wall place that is hard to find but legit Polish food. You will be upsold and you will eat yummy, salty Polish food.

Publican Anker: I just tried this place for the rehearsal dinner of the wedding I went to and it was great. An offshoot from the Publican.

Bongo Room still draws huge lines for brunch, go super early or on a weekday for their wonderful pancakes, huge salads. People love their breakfast burrito and I think those people are wrong.

Logan Square:
Lula Cafe is truly great but also I hate waiting so go at 9:30 in the morning?

Longman & Eagle: one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Wonderful cocktails (I love savory, herby, or spicy cocktails and they hit them all), great food. The first time my husband had bone marrow was here! They do it with a bacon jam on top. The wild bison burger is great. I did not love the cauliflower-lentil dish that is always on the menu but a lot of people do. I really, really like this place and almost all their food. They also used to and probably still do interesting pop-ups in the back- once it was donuts, another time it was sausages. Those were all great.
Fancy Pants Food Places $$$$:
-Yes, I’ve been to Alinea and yes it is a once-in-a-lifetime event. It’s perfect. The food is perfect. I don’t usually think about service but I was so, so impressed with it: jokey and teasing and lighthearted and self-deprecating with me and spouse, then immediately polished, white-glove, yes sir/maam with the table next to us.

Next: Also a yes. I mean, if you’re paying this much to go to these places you have already looked up reviews and do not need me to tell you these things…. except…

Avec: Not impressed! Slow, distracted service, not-very-memorable food for way too high a price point.

Mexique: this was fine?

Le Colonial: My least-favorite dining experience in the city. I mean, the concept is weird- let’s go back to colonial times in Vietnam when France was occupying it? I tried to order in Vietnamese and my white waitress did not know what I was saying. Why would you put Vietnamese names on your menu if you can’t understand them?

To drink:
Ipsento is one of the best coffeeshops in the country. (I don’t drink coffee but spouse is very into it).

Wormhole (Wicker Park) has a DeLorean, always has cascara, roasts HalfWit coffee, and has a dear place in my heart. Super interesting fun drinks and very hipster, great for working.

Alliance Bakery (on Division, so the bottom of Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village) was a place i worked often, even though it was cold. We got our wedding cake there!

I loved Maria’s (featured in the nytimes a few times) back when Pleasant House was next to it. Now they have Korean food?! The Zombiemaker beer cocktail had Gumball Head from Three Floyds (one of my favorite beers) mixed with grapefruit juice and maybe vodka and it was my favorite beer cocktail ever. Also my only beer cocktail.

People were always hyping Violet Hour for their $15 cocktails but like, they’re really good but not like, wait in line good.

 

Many places I loved in Chicago are now closed, and of course there’s now a zillion more restaurants and bars and things to do etc.  But these were some of my favorites. You can also look at my yelp for reviews etc.

Some people I admire

1 Mar

When I was applying to the magnet program of my public high school, I had to write an essay on “My Hero.”  I’ve never been much of a hero-worshiper, so I wrote about myself (yes, I have always been this awesome and modest).  In retrospect maybe this means I didn’t have too many role models as one of two Vietnamese kids in my school, and a math nerd to boot, but of course at the time I took it as a source of pride that I only looked up to myself (and secretly my parents, but the 13-year-old who writes an essay about looking up to their parents is a far more mature one than I was).  I have always found it difficult to admire/like people that I don’t know in person, because you never know if you’ll get the feeling that someone likes to kick puppies in their spare time until you have a face-to-face conversation with them.  So Melinda Gates, for instance, will not be appearing in this blog post.

I admire all of these people, and I want you to know about them too because they are all going places or are already places.  This is a very incomplete list in no particular order, and also I count all of these people as personal friends.  This post was inspired by Mathematically Gifted and Black.

Moon Duchin– Moon has been all over the news lately because of this awesome gerrymandering workshop she’s co-organizing this summer at Tufts, to prepare mathematicians to be expert witnesses in legal cases (they’re working with lawyers).  Here’s the interview and article from Chronicles of Higher Ed [Note: yes, it’s standard in Chronicles of Higher Ed to refer to profs by Ms./Mr./Mrs. and yes, many of us skimmed several random articles to check that].  It’s so big, there’s a meta-article about it on Snopes with “geometric group theory” in the title!  So Moon Duchin is a name you should know.  She’s also extremely dedicated to mentorship-she was part of the team that started the Directed Reading Program at UChicago, which now exists in at least a dozen schools, she’s extremely approachable to Tufts students, and she goes above and beyond with research clusters, minicourses + conversations, and still manages to do lots of cool research.  I’m a big fan.  Fun fact: when I cut my hair short I didn’t know how to style it, so I texted Moon for help (she was helpful).

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I didn’t want to post a pic of a friend without permission so I’m posting a pic of myself.

Piper Harron– Piper blew up the math world two years ago with her thesis, a testament to her journey through mathademia and astute observations of her own experiences.  We first started talking when I posted an emo post about that thesis, and I’ve been reading her powerful words since then, especially through the election.  Here’s her blog.  Piper’s honesty, directness, and way of wielding words like a sword to cut straight to your heart and the heart of the matter at hand all make for a nigh-poetic reading experience, but the matter at hand (often math culture, American culture, oppression) is so heavy and concrete that we are brought to earth, crashing hard.  See, I do not wield words like a sword, and Piper would’ve written that sentence way better than me.  Fun story: at IAS last year Moon and I ran a discussion on intersecting identities and I TOTALLY crashed and burned trying to explain intersectionality with a raft metaphor (I am not going to try to explain it here), and Piper rescued me.

Here’s a video (and transcript if you don’t like watching videos) with pizza as a metaphor for intersectional feminism:

My Khanh Ngo: MK is a classmate of mine from Yale, and while I’ve been spending the seven years since we graduated on this Ph.D. and making babies, she’s been tirelessly fighting for social justice through immigration law and reform.  She also introduced me to takoyaki so she obviously makes this list.  My Khanh has also been in the news lately as one of the writers of the ACLU Darweesh vs. Trump case, and she just published a piece on Feministing about another project she’s involved with, the Immigrant Bail Fund.  Just in case you aren’t sure about where to donate to benefit your LOCAL COMMUNITY (or national), she’s sent out a link to a google doc with a great list. Here’s a preview of her TV debut on Frontline:

Ivuoma (Ivy) Onyeador: Ivy was the year below me at Yale and a Bouchet Fellow, which like the Mellon fellowship supports undergrads who want to join academia.  They definitely got their money’s worth with Ivy- she’s heading back to Yale as a postdoc in the fall after defending her social psychology thesis this spring!  Ivy is also a social media maven (the link for her name above is to her Facebook profile) AND she co-hosts one of my favorite podcasts, The Get.  One thing I love about this podcast is that Ivy and Rhiana are often calling each other in and accepting that getting to equality/social justice is a journey.  For instance, they apologize on the podcast about inadvertently being trans-exclusive or heteronormative.  They’re still miles ahead of me on the journey to wokeness (maybe I’m behind on the terms now, based on this article from LAST YEAR in the NYT by Amanda Hess who can join my Melinda Gates list).

Ellen Junn: Ellen is the president of California State University, Stanislaus (aka Stanislaus State), which is AWESOME and well-deserved.  We first met in 2006 when she was my alum interviewer for Princeton.  During the interview she told me that she always takes the students who get in out for lunch to talk about Princeton and their plans for undergrad.  I did not go to Princeton, but I emailed her anyway and she took me to lunch anyway, and has been doing so for over ten years.  She also went to University of Michigan for undergrad, which is where my best friend Denise Ding went, so she’s also mentored Denise through our journeys.  Back then she was a professor in psychology at Cal State Fullerton, then she moved to Fresno as associate provost, then to San Jose, Dominguez Hills, and finally Stanislaus as she climbed the ladder.  Throughout all of it, she’s shown dedication to mentorship, community, and students, and I can personally attest to that- she even called me in 2012 when I was freaking out about grad school to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of academia.

Brittani Nichols: B is another social-media maven (here’s her twitter, instagram, youtube of her webseries, and two podcasts and also her imdb page).  We met senior year of college and became friends pretty quickly.  I’m very enthusiastic about all the people featured in this list but I can unambigiously say that B is the coolest person I know (though my cousin, a producer of Dear White People, comes close).  I’ve watched B over the past seven years endlessly working to make it in an industry that doesn’t exactly love black lesbians.  I admire her gung-ho-ness, sharp and quick-witted sense of humor (she is a writer first, as seen by her articles on Autostraddle), and extremely strong sense of self which we all felt in college and still feel now.  She’s definitely an up and comer- I didn’t even know until going to her IMDB page that she was on Transparent!  And her film Suicide Kale has won a bevy of awards.  Once she turned down a Thanksgiving invitation from me to go to a famous person’s house, and she told me that it was for her career and she would’ve rather had my Vietnamese-American turducken instead.

Evelyn Lamb: Last but certainly not least is my fairy blogmother and friend who is a  freelance mathematical journalist.  She’s published on so many websites at this point it’s hard to keep track, but each month you can get an update from her (I do!) via email list.  I think we met via twitter, where she’s often promoting young mathematicians like me, and keeping us all up to date on math news.  Then we met in person at a math conference, and a few times since then.  I’m a big fan.  You should read Evelyn’s work if you haven’t already.  I’m tired now so she gets the worst blurb of all, but I’ve written about her before so hopefully that makes up for it.

Phew!  Eight months pregnant with a horrible cold and I still very slowly wrote a blog post!  Huzzah!  Back to bed (I am surrounded by tissues and pedialyte right now) for me.  Hope you enjoyed this list!

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