August 22, 2016

San Diego Comic Con 2016 Recap

SDCC 2016 Recap: Yet another year of conventioneeringOur travel cost breakdown

Food and lodgings, $200
Gas, $150
Parking, trolley: $100
Gifts and things, $150

Total: $550

I normally love San Diego Comic Con. Perfect weather, all geek all the time, lots of fresh air and walking and being surrounded by people who are just there to enjoy the goodness.

These days, it’s so much more fraught to prepare for. The lottery system for the badges. The lottery system for the hotels. The lottery system for the parking passes. Everything depends on luck and that has my insides clenched with worry that we’ll miss something this time. This year I did miss something. We didn’t get a slot in the lottery and forgot to secure parking passes after the lottery was over. I panicked, then a friend saved me with her extra passes. (They were pricey but uber convenient for our JuggerBaby needs.)

I found myself dreading the week, rather than anticipating it. I wondered if it was a mistake to go. By the time we were a week out, already having spent far too much time working and hosting guests, a probable panic attack set in and if I could have, I’d have cancelled the whole thing.

Thankfully, by the time we reached San Diego, most of that feeling had dissipated.

On food.

We have a tradition of staying with family friends – friends who have become family, over the years – and San Diego just wouldn’t be the same without staying with them. They’re not just good company, Mama S is an amazing cook and does a fantastic family dinner every night. I could eat that baked pasta and garlic bread for a week straight. I could eat the pancit and lumpia for a month. It’s probably a good thing that it’s not an option…

We packed our lunches and snacks, as always, to avoid the atrocious and overpriced convention center food and enjoyed leftovers for breakfast. Best week of eating all year long.


On having fun.

SDCC is just too big. It overflows from the convention center out to all the nearby hotels and their ballrooms. The whole area out front is usually packed with promotional booths for tv shows, with prizes and treats. This year it was an enormous Superman statue, the Batmobile, and a Kristen Bell show, with an ice cream parlor theme. The crowds and the lines and the noise and all of it don’t bother me. It should. I normally hate all of that. But for this? It’s just right.

The downside is that I logged far more steps than is healthy for me. We had to walk three miles to get to the Marriott to get our badges on Wednesday whereupon they insisted that JuggerBaby had to physically be with me to pick up zir badge. So that was a wasted trip and then we had to go back with zir on a busy Thursday, wasting precious time between naps.

We took it almost as easy this year as we did when I was pregnant, but this time we shared the extra load. JuggerBaby rode piggyback in our Craigslist-purchased ErgoBaby ($50!) with me in the mornings when I was fresh, PiC backpacked zir in the afternoons. We walked the floor together discovering all kinds of new cute things, and visiting old favorites. It was a weird year, we bought more art then anything else and that’s never happened before.

I caught a couple of panels while PiC and JuggerBaby went exploring on their own. That always feels a bit luxurious because, though PiC is happy to give me a break, I always have a tinge of guilt that he’s doing all the heavy lifting whether I’m there or not so we tend to stick together more than not.

:: Do you have an annual vacation destination? What would it be if you didn’t? 

August 18, 2016

Just a little (link) love: toddler negotiation edition


Is the 6-hour workday the answer to better productivity and work-life balance? I don’t know but I think it’s worth a try, don’t you?

We’re now paying $2000 a month (!!!) for JuggerBaby’s daycare so you bet your belly button I’ll be happy when that “tax” turns into a “raise” like it has for Holly and Greg. But seriously, their commenter, Chris taking the stance that they obviously don’t care about their kids for putting them in daycare, and then having the nerve to celebrate getting that money back? What a smelly jerk.

Grants for writers and artists with children – this is neat!

Katie Ledecky two years ago was already blazingly fast

More reasons Zara is never getting a penny from me: they steal independent artist designs and claim they’re not culpable because they’re seen by millions and the artists aren’t well known so the copied art wouldn’t be noticed anyways. Except this artist, Tuesday Bassen, was notified by many people of the copied designs so obviously people did notice and by the way, “people don’t know it’s stolen” is not a sound defense.


Alan Tudyk and Rogue One

On villainesses

I was having the worst brain-struggle day, and I’m so glad it occurred to me to listen to Lauren and Kamel’s latest. I don’t listen to podcasts, but this feels nothing like listening to canned radio. They make me laugh and feel like I’d just spent half an hour with friends. Bless y’all (and not in the passive aggressive way that’s often meant) for Episode 25: A Subdued Nighttime Announcement


Thank you, Adam von Koeverden, for calling out some maddening sexism by a fellow Olympian. The prolific sexism which has marked this Olympics has been something to behold. And not in a good way. It’s about darn time women were regarded as athletes in their own right and not as extensions of men around them.

The athleticism of gymnasts, I grew up with a few, has always been astounding. In high school, I loved that our resident gymnast women could and would handily beat any of the class, male or female, at push-ups, pull-ups, or any sport because their strength and coordination were so honed. So even if I don’t get the ins and outs of gymnastics, I have never thought of them as anything less than sometimes-pixie athletic powerhouses. NBC coverage is embarrassingly bad, aside from being horribly inaccessible here in the US, and utterly fails at helping the average American understand the technical reasons behind the Final Five.

The last of the Gucci line, hat tip to Katherine at Feather Factor. The end of the article has me shaking my head a bit. What did you expect when you had their father killed? A relationship? What kind of relationship is that going to be? How do you see this playing out? And what on earth makes you think your daughters want to have a relationship with you or let you be near their children? Assuming the father wasn’t abusive in any way, I sure as heck wouldn’t let you within 1000 miles of us if I had any choice about it.

Seriously disturbing: U.S. Armed Forces widely distributed mefloquine to the military to prevent malaria. Turns out it’s linked to brain stem lesions and psychiatric symptoms.

La Guardia Cross v Toddler

August 17, 2016

My kid and notes from Year 1.6

My kid at a year and a half: a force to be reckoned with!Baby games

We’re in that life stage where JuggerBaby loves being chased. So much so that even if you’re just walking behind zir, or look like you might be considering following, ze runs off with a shriek and a cackle. Then comes back to peek – are you coming? Are you coming?

*eye contact*

*shriek – giggles – laughter – runs away*

It’s actually a useful game where I don’t have to move very much, I just have to hear zir coming and go “Boo!” around a corner.

It’s a little harder on Seamus who has no idea why his sibling is fleeing ahead of him, noisily, then coming back to prod him into chasing zir “again”. He’s also very confused by the game of “I have the remote and you can’t have it.” His sighs plainly ask me, “but why would I want it?”


If/then statements are now an almost effective tool with an almost reasonable child. When ze is tugging on my hand to Get Ye To The Kitchen, I can persuade zir to come with me first if I suggest that FIRST we will change zir diaper, THEN ze can eat all the crackers ze can hold. Or FIRST, take a nap, and then we will read that extra compelling book.

It’s not always successful and I still have to physically wrestle zir to the ground on some particularly intractable occasions but it’s working more often than not so I’m calling that a win. Ish.


This child is already showing symptoms of the Terrible Twos.

In general JuggerBaby is a genial child. Out for a bit of fun, overly forward in the willingness to snatch things ze wants out of anyone’s hands, ze often shrugs and moves on to the next opportunity when told No.

When ze grabs my iPad and signals “more” (meaning “make it work!”) and I pretend that it does nothing more than make a clicky noise, ze will move on.

When ze grabs for a handful of Seamus’s tail and is roundly scolded, ze stops with a grin.

Or when thwarted yet again from zir fifth attempt to dash past me into the street, ze might fling zirself at my legs, arms octopusing around me as ze goes for the gusto. One of these days, ze is going to take a chunk out of my legs and that’s going to be bad times at the AGSL Corral.

Once in a while, though, when we say no, ze falls to the ground as though we cut zir little puppet strings, sobbing actual tears, face scrunched into a little angry red square.

It’s WEIRD. Tears stopped being a form of communication months ago. Ze has since learned to be stubborn, to brazen zir way through to a yes, to rage hir way there or to charm it out of us. But crying as a form of protest is just a bit ridiculous when ze has so many other effective tools in zir arsenal. So we tell zir to do what ze needs to do and leave zir to zir feelings until it’s cried out and miraculously all better or we start reading a favorite book and suddenly the tears are forgotten.

Speaking of emotions, ze thinks it’s really funny to bite me now, for fun, not just when ze is tired. So funny that ze broke skin and I now have a scar on my shoulder to show off because my child is a tiny many-toothed monster. Grrr.

Also like a ferocious kitten, ze has been leaping on me from behind things, grabbing an ankle to pin me, and going for a bite. Sometimes it’s a fake bite but who wants to stick around to find out which it is?? Not I, said the thrice-bitten tasty morsel.

Then, just when you’re about to pitch the child out on zir ear and toss a knapsack of provisions after zir, ze learns things like blowing kisses and hollers “mama!” And blows a dozen kisses at you. Then holds out zir hands for a hug which ze Does Not Do. *melt* Alright. You can stay for one more day. But tomorrow, you’re out!

Lean into the nonsense

At dinner, our one sit down meal together of the day, ze has a short attention span and if ze had late snacks, not much appetite. We don’t care if ze eats a full meal at dinner because that Buddha belly of zirs very plainly shows ze isn’t going to waste away for lack of half a meal. But what we do care about is zir level of civility during the meal. And that wanes dramatically when ze isn’t hungry and occupied with eating everything in sight.

We used to think that ze would do better if we treated zir like an adult: you tend to your meal and we’ll eat ours. For a while, that was true. Lack of attention was better – no one to show off for. But since ze has gotten used to company at daycare, ze wants more interaction, and was acting out more to get it.

My new strategy is simple. When bored, ze acts like a little punk: throwing food, throwing water, throwing bowls, spoons, forks. If ze is even just minimally snacking and/or playing, we all survive to fight another day. So if zir attention is wavering, it’s time to engage.

When ze is dramatically slumping over, I mimic zir. If ze is dancing, I dance. If ze is waving hands around, I offer a high five or a fistbump. It’s silly but the sillier, the better, because a laughing toddler is much better than a plotting toddler. If we’re “playing”, then even if ze isn’t eating or hungry, ze remains a tolerable dining companion and will even offer to have a few bites of our food. In solidarity.

I’ve also learned to plan to have a second dinner or a dessert after because ze eats a LOT of our food!


I know it’s a natural impulse to compare yourself to others but I find my tolerance for it in parents regarding their children is nearly non-existent. We joked about making sure JuggerBaby reached certain milestones by a certain age because expectations! But in reality we are NOT playing that game. Fat lot of good it’s going to do us here in the ultra competitive Bay Area?

A friend’s kid seems like a genius. He hasn’t started school yet but he’s a literate polymath. He speaks, reads and writes in at least 6 languages that I know of and will likely pick up a few more because he loves it. That’s awesome and we are happy to entertain his showing off new language skills because he’s a kid and he’s so proud of them. Meanwhile other parents are reacting to his accomplishments with weird jealousy and guilt. Like oh, HE knows this, now I have to catch up. And my friend hears this so often she actually feels guilty about how smart he is. I hate that for her.  I get why she feels that way – he’s still a kid despite all the intellect and acts like it, he shouldn’t be set apart the way the other parents are naturally doing, so she is catching herself downplaying it with the obvious: he’s awesome at this thing. He’s not awesome at other things that kids are normally into. She’s sensible and cognizant that balance is good for him, too much of the academic can leave him lacking in other necessary life experiences if he never pulls his nose out of a book, but I hate that the competitiveness of other parents means there’s this whole dialogue of “but he’s not perfect!”

If you’re a parent, that goes without saying, doesn’t it?

Why is it such a reflex to blurt out things like “my kid is so behind” and “we better go home and make them study now” over things that aren’t age appropriate? I figure the kid is oblivious right now but it’s a stinky impulse.

Wash your mouth out with … wait, no

Some things, JuggerBaby will never learn. Every bath, ze rearranges everything in the tub, plays with zir toys, and as soon as I’m distracted, grabs a handful of soap to eat.

Ze hates the taste, makes a horrible face every time, but it’s like ze has baby-amnesia and can never remember the 58 other times ze tasted that exact same bar of soap and had the exact same reaction.

Comprehension and communication

You’d think we’d be used to it by now but we’re not. I can ask JuggerBaby a yes/no question and get an actual answer now. Ze gets to choose from a small selection of breakfast foods, for example, and when I ask “do you want some yogurt?” I might get a firm headshake NO. Then ze points at the scrambled eggs. “Eggs? You would like some eggs?” “DA!”

“Do you want some toast?” “DA!”

“Do you want some strawberry bread?” “DA!”

“Do you want your water?” *headshake*

Ze hasn’t said no aloud yet but ze is quite firm when that’s the answer. Ze shakes zir head, puts zir hands up to signal “all done”, pushes things away. There is no convincing this child if ze didn’t want to be convinced. Luckily, ze is relatively open to trying most things at least once. Of course, it could all be stuffed in zir mouth to be dribbled back out slowly, so buyer beware.


:: How much soap can a baby eat before ze foams at the mouth? Did your food preferences as a child stay your food preferences as an adult? Do you have trouble with comparing yourself or your family to others?

Read Months 1-17!

August 15, 2016

Married Money: How we do it in 2016

How PiC and I build up our wealth: together, as a teamI asked how you manage your money if you have to compromise with another human. It’s only fair to share how we’re managing ours!

It’s taken years, but PiC and I have a pretty good system for us these days.

Once upon a time, my money was my money, and then it wasn’t. The last time it’s been totally separate was when I was 12. Since then, my own money has been intermixed with family issues at various times for various reasons. After years of hard lessons with my family, I had to learn to trust, and take risks based on that trust again when PiC and I started to cohabitate, and that’s where our money started to intertwine.

It took at least a year after we got married for it to truly sink in that our money was irretrievably connected, however we chose to handle it. I was evaluating our life insurance 4 days after we got married but viscerally, it’s a lot hard to remold “me” into “we”. Over the course of that year, it was a tentative subject and we weren’t ready to say much, but we were slowly aligning ourselves with each other without words, just through actions.

It’s never painless, not when you’re talking about unseating a decade of habits. Our foibles would occasionally pop up and give us some trouble. It was at this point that we began to learn the art of compromising with each other, and realized that neither of us did well with a shared budget and separate finances. It’s taken a few more years and a lot of adjustments but we’ve got a working system now.

Ours to have and hold

Budgeting the money

Pretax contributions come out first: taxes, retirement contributions, health, dental and vision, pre-tax FSA account, disability and life insurance benefits. Those all come out of PiC’s paycheck because his benefits are way better than what my work offers.

25% of our take-home pay is automatically deposited to our joint savings account, this comes out of both checks. We added up all our bills and made sure that it didn’t exceed the remaining 75% which is dropped into our joint checking account. All the bills are paid out of that account: mortgage, HOA fees, rent, daycare, credit cards.

Spending the money

All routine costs that can be are charged to credit cards that bring in the best rewards and that’s paid by the joint checking account: gas, groceries, utilities, travel, dining out, medical and vet bills.

We kept our own checking accounts and credit cards. I pay most of the bills out of the joint account, he pays a couple of the utility bills and his own credit cards. I do all the accounting, oversee our retirement accounts and, since my eye is on early retirement, I actively manage our brokerage account and our real estate property. We use Mint for bills reminders but usually have paid it by the time Mint sends the weekly update.

Pretty simple all around.

Communication is key

Twice a month, I ask PiC what he’s going to pay in the next week. I don’t see all his credit card bills so that helps me keep a bead on the expected withdrawals. Our mortgage, rent, and association fees are automated monthly payments so asking regularly and a quick eyeball of the account tells me if I am going to run short. That really only happens when a big unbudgeted four digit check is cut, but I’ve been burned by keeping too low a balance in the checking account before. Never again!

We also created a shared email account so all our financial accounts go there. That way if either one of us is out of the picture, access to important financials isn’t restricted to someone’s email.

Bonus money

I do some credit card churning on the side to earn travel money, that’s how we paid for our travel to Hawaii and Washington without breaking the budget. I keep that simple too, one or two cards per calendar year for specific trips. This year I’ve already done our second card, but I’m considering a third before the end of the year. 

I alternate between cards under each of our names and don’t bother with any sign-up bonus less than $250 value in travel money or miles. 

I used to be cautious about keeping  old credit lines open, which I still do, but I’ve spent enough years being responsible and carrying no debt that our credit histories are in great shape. I’ve shown that I can carry an auto loan and pay it on time for many years. I’ve got many years of credit card use, always paid in full and on time.  Same goes for the mortgages – always paid on time. 

This means our credit scores are always in the high 700s or low 800s no matter how much churning I do, so I stopped worrying about preserving it years ago. This is good for anywhere from $500-2000 worth of travel value. Not bad for several days of work.

:: Do you simplify your money management (fewer accounts, less active management) or go for the more complex (maxing rewards sources, bonuses, etc)?

This website and its content are copyright of A Gai Shan Life  | © A Gai Shan Life 2016. All rights reserved.

Site design by 801red