Book Club: The Girl with Seven Names

Since I read this book a couple months ago, I haven’t been able to shut up about it. The Girl with Seven Names is a real memoir of an escaped North Korean woman. You’re already hooked, right?

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I don’t know about you, but I have a major fear of dying from and/or living in the aftermath of a major nuclear war. When a plane flies by and creates a sonic boom I sometimes stop and listen just to make sure it’s just on its merry way to my local airport. I never saw the movie The Interview, mostly because it didn’t look good but also because, like, what if one day everyone who watched it online is targeted in some hyper-planned attack? I’m even borderline worried about writing this post. Yes, this borders (or is?) paranoia and it’s not actually that big of a presence in my life but it comes up. Please don’t tell me how unlikely it is or how the US has gone through this before and we have more resources or whatever. I am allowed to be afraid even if you think it’s unfounded. This is just how anxiety works. Have we agreed to let me have my feelings? OK, great, moving on.

This book fascinated me in so many ways. First, it comes from the perspective of someone who had a relatively happy childhood in North Korea. The author lived through the Great Famine with enough to eat (though there are plenty of stories of her exposure to those who died of starvation in this time). She had a good family life overall and appreciated the natural landscape that she experienced in her home country. Then, as a teenager, she made a choice that caused her to never have any of that again. That — along with many other details in the book, including the social status of immigrants — made me realize how challenging it is for North Korean defectors to adjust to life outside of the place they’ve always known.

The book also details a lot of the horrors of North Korea and its propoganda-fueled regime. It seems fake and unthinkable and like a terrifying movie, but it’s real. The author attended public executions beginning at age 7. She saw a dead woman holding her barely-surviving baby. She forced herself to fake-cry after Kim Song-Il passed to avoid suspicion that she didn’t love the Great Leader enough (resulting in punishment, lowered social status, possibly eventual jailing or execution — yes, really).

The best part of the book, however, was getting the first-hand account of someone who lived and knew North Korea from birth. It gave me such a fresh and real perspective on how the regime works, and a great deal of empathy for the people who know nothing else. I was nervous to read it because I thought it would give me nightmares — my book club voted for it, not me — but it somehow made me less afraid and more in control of my thoughts because I learned so much.

When we finally got to discuss the book at our book club meeting, it was such a satisfying couple of hours. (Not to mention it was the first time I actually finished reading the book before the meeting.) The book isn’t a work of art — the editing is a little lacking and there are a few minor errors — but it’s a fascinating and very quick read (I read it on the flights to and from Kauai). Plus, there’s pictures. You get education, photos, and accomplishment of reading a book. And you have a guaranteed discussion partner (me) once you’re done! PLEASE read so we can discuss.

Now, what other books would you recommend?

“Shallow” mood boosters


Whether you’re struggling with anxiety or just having a bad day, you probably have tricks to make yourself feel better. I recently wrote about one of my favorite tricks for when I’m in a slump, but what about all those other times when you’re sad or lonely or scared or nervous?

There are a lot of things that I thought were too shallow to be real remedies. I should channel it all into being one of those really hot gym chicks or reading a really good and deep novel about happiness and life journeys and stuff or some introspective buddhist poetry or something.

But I am not an eat-pray-lover. Those things just give me more anxiety because I feel like I should be doing that. (Cue Carrie Bradshaw’s ‘Are we should-ing all over ourselves?’ which is top 10 Carrie for sure.)

Some things make me happier, and some things just distract me. Distractions, by the way, are completely legitimate in the realm of anxiety. Distractions, in fact, are something that my therapist recommends, whether it’s counting all the “A”s on the seatback airplane safety card, or spelling out all the vegetables in the grocery store. But there’s also a lot of distractions that take away from real things that you’re avoiding. There’s a difference, and that’s a whole separate post to come. But there are a lot of things that make me happy that seem sort of, well, shallow. And that thought chipped away at the happiness I was getting out of these things. It took me a long time to finally accept these things as totally OK and acceptable and real and impactful.

  • Sun (even if it’s not warm weather). Growing up in Seattle, it was as rainy and overcast as you’d imagine. Some people love it, but some people are hormonally allergic to it. I’m in the latter group. So now, on sunny days — especially when the weather’s been overcast or rainy — I make a massive effort to go for a walk, or sit out by the pool, or just keep my home flooded with natural light outside. It’s a massive boost for me.
  • Planning a trip. This is by far my favorite activity of all time. I think I have as much fun planning as I do actually on the trip. If you’ve ever traveled with me or been exposed to me while planning, you know this. It gives me something to look forward to, to channel my anxiety into (planning is a major source of feeling in-control), and to play to my strengths and therefore make me feel great. The flip side to this one is that in the past I’ve used travel as more of a distraction from dealing with things in my life that needed fixing; I’ve had to work past that (mostly with my trusty therapist, which you should be able to guess by now).
  • Going out and doing something. I usually don’t want to leave the house or be seen or attempt to have fun when I am down. It doesn’t feel genuine. But for the times when I was accountable to someone else to show up to a dinner, or get coffee, or see a movie, or whatever: It almost always brought me out of my funk. It’s definitely a fake-it-til-you-make-it trick, which feels (duh) fake. So now if I’m in an unhappy place, I try to go out to dinner or do something from my spreadsheet of local places I want to visit (yes, I have a spreadsheet of fun things to do. I LOVE SPREADSHEETS LAY OFF ME). PS: Some people — especially those suffering with depression or similar — may not find this to be a helpful or even doable trick, so I want to note that this is simply something that works for me. If it’s not your thing, I do not intent to create any feeling of guilt over not being able to “suck it up and go out.”

  • Having a skincare routine. Early on when I was first seeing her, my therapist introduced the idea of creating rituals in my everyday. She would suggest things like “having a cup of tea” and “putting on a face mask.” I just thought that I had no time for boring stuff like that. But a few months ago (years after she first suggested this), I went to a skincare class at Sephora with my friend Mary, and somehow that experience completely opened my mind to the world of skincare, with which I am now obsessed. It doesn’t take long — only a few minutes every morning and every night — but it makes me feel like I’m really doing something good for myself. Skincare is not something that everyone gets into, but the real takeaway here is having a doable/repeatable daily ritual that prioritizes self-care.

This is a small cross-section of a much bigger list, of course. I’m always learning new things that give me a boost of happy when I most need it — and I’m always looking for more! What’s your favorite way to pull yourself up when you’re down?

Get you some gals who can do it all (Happy International Women’s Day!)

Four and a half years ago, I went to Europe for the first time. I’d saved up a little money and bought a spot on a loosely-guided tour through Contiki to London, Paris, and Rome. I went completely by myself, without knowing anyone or having much planned out.

That’s where I met Kristina and Mary.


Kristina was my randomly-assigned roommate, who had a cheery disposition and a habit of touring hard all day and still going out at night. She was also one of the very few people who went on to Rome after Paris, and we got some real quality power-touristing time in together.

Mary was that take-charge person who had all these guidebooks and knew what things we had to do in each city. I, like many others, gravitated toward her during the trip.

After the trip was over, we made a lot of promises to see each other. I didn’t really expect it to pan out, as hopeful as I was. But less than a year later, I met up with them for a US-based Oktoberfest celebration. We wore dirndls daily and drank way too much beer.


Since then, we’ve been all over the world together (sometimes just two of us at a time, too).

When your primary relationship with someone is travel, it’s easy to not really get to know the other person. You’re not a part of their daily lives, so you miss out on a lot of the conversations about things like the person you’re dating, or the weird interaction with your boss, or the things that your parents said when you last saw them. But something started to shift in my friendship with Kristina and Mary. We would take breaks from sightseeing to watch trashy TV (mostly Bravo) and drink beers in our room. We’d have real conversations over dinner or while waiting in line. It started to feel like a genuine and meaningful friendship.

I began to learn a lot about them and understand our ‘roles.’ We are all major planners — which is probably an obvious, since we all travel so much — so we split the burden on putting together these trips. Mary always finds the deals and always has some sort of connection who can hook us up with some new experience (or, frequently, access to Vegas pool parties). Kristina handles a lot of logistics, like the time we went to Calgary Stampede in Canada and she had pre-purchased all of our transportation and scheduled us down to the minute. (It. Was. AMAZING!) And I generally will make sure we have reservations for any meal. (Priorities.)

I learned that Kristina and Mary are both engineers — one oil, one airplane — and I know where they went to college, where they grew up, where their parents live and how many siblings they have. We’ve talked about our exes, our partners, our plans for the future. We’ve taken painfully necessary naps after late nights and gotten each other Pedialyte and Sprite. And they put together a hell of a special Bachelorette experience when they accepted my request to be my two Maids-of-Honor.

They are the definition of rally-ers. They can dance at a Parisian club all night and get comp’d bottles of Grey Goose, then still make it on the bus to Versailles the next day. (True story.) They are true joy in woman form. They are intelligent, hilarious, amicable, contented, organized, weird, enthusiastic, confident, and two super fabulous human beings. They can wear un-laundered dirnls three days in a row and consume all-you-can-consume sausage and beer, then give a killer toast and embrace all your guests at your wedding. They can do it all. They are exemplary women to celebrate any day, but especially today on International Women’s Day. And I’m so glad they became more than just my travel friends.

How to feel productive (even if you’re unemployed)

When I quit my job in August, I had a ton of plans to do and see and achieve. I built a massive list of local museums and hikes that I’d do; trips I’d been wanting to take; books I would read. But I was also planning a wedding. For four months, I worked my way through ordering a card box and deciding on how the bouquets would be wrapped. I called venues and finalized schedules. Mere days before the ceremony, one of our honeymoon hotels canceled on us. There was simply so much to do.

I was constantly busy, but I felt like shit come the end of the day because I had no tangible results of my work. There was no manager to praise or provide feedback. I started to feel like I was unproductive and, in full transparency, pretty worthless.

So I set up a time to talk to my beloved therapist, and she asked me how I was structuring my day.  I was stunned.

At this point I should explain that — if you haven’t experienced it first-hand — I am a very organized person. Planning is probably my biggest passion, and I love the logic puzzle of putting together an amazing schedule for trips or events. I don’t go on vacation without a solid list of the best places to stop by, organized by neighborhood, and at least a couple Google Maps connecting tourist spots for a half-day of sightseeing. I make to-do lists for everything, and I keep an up-to-date spreadsheet of restaurants and museums and wineries and bars I want to try.

But, untrue to my character, I wasn’t structuring my day at all. I would sit on the couch with my laptop and look at all the tabs I’d left open from the day before. I’d throw a few things into a spreadsheet then make a call and then look at the mockup for our invitations. I couldn’t look back on my day and see one or two clear achievements I’d made.

So my savior of a therapist suggested scheduling my days: Block off time on the calendar for everything I want to accomplish. EVERYTHING. Errands, workouts, segments of planning. Here’s a look at November 9-10, 2017:

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Y’all, it’s crazy that I wasn’t doing this in the first place. I used to do this all the time when I was working, but I think the concept of ‘not working’ made me lose all my normal productivity habits. And not feeling productive was a big trigger for my anxiety, and it certainly played a role in my risk of entering depression territory. And absolutely no one wants to be struggling with that, much less before their wedding. I also sensed that I did not want to talk to anyone in my personal life about how I was feeling, because I didn’t want that to be a memory attached to that time. And in case you hadn’t already guessed, not talking about it is NOT helpful. With this one simple suggestion, I felt that it solved everything for me. I was organized and loving it.

You may not be unemployed, but these feelings and ‘slumps’ are equal opportunity predators for anyone. If this suggestion helps you, amazing! But if you’re struggling with something and either aren’t talking about it or aren’t making progress with the advice you are getting, getting a therapist that works for you solves a lot more than you may think. A lot of people think they have to be diagnosed with depression, or have regular panic attacks, or have some big messed up background to see a therapist. It’s really just having a sage advisor who gets to the root of your problem as opposed to the surface-level details. I have talked to my therapist about anxiety and panic, but I also have talked to her about things in my relationship that I didn’t know how to address, and things at work that I didn’t know how to handle. Nothing’s off-limits. And the best part: I can talk very personally to someone who will never be involved in my personal life. There’s no worry about her meeting my husband or that problematic coworker. Isn’t that the best friend of all?

PS: I recently fell in love with Bring Change to Mind, a nonprofit that wants to break the stigma of mental health. Please check it out!

Universal wedding advice

Are you getting married? It feels like 97% of people on my social media feeds are engaged or newlyweds, so the odds are that yes, you are getting married. Congratulations. You have probably already noticed that people love to give you their unsolicited advice. Like me, you probably grin and bear it. Maybe you took away a couple nuggets of wisdom. But ultimately you’re just gonna do your thing.

Well, here’s my unsolicited advice! Why should you listen? I was told by TWO of my vendors — on the day of my wedding — that I was the calmest bride they’d worked with. And here’s my guarantee: I have included only the absolute best, most impactful, easiest to implement, non-personal, and truly universal top three tips that I can offer. You won’t hear what to give as favors or what type of DJ to book. ALL you will receive here are the three things that made the wedding genuinely less stressful and so much more joyful.

1. Lots of people WILL forget to RSVP. Almost a third of my invitees did not RSVP on time. It felt shitty but it’s just the way people are so brace yourself now. On the due date, I sent everyone a mass text giving them a new deadline (five days later) and said if they didn’t reply in time I would assume they were out. I also enlisted my in-laws to message their family members that I didn’t know very well.

2. Makeup and hair WILL run long,
so book your HMU artists to arrive earlier than they suggest is necessary. Mine arrived at 8:30am for my 4:30pm ceremony.

3. Take all your photos before the wedding even starts.
You may not be willing to do a “first look.” Your prerogative! If that’s the case, skip this. But if you are thinking about (or definitely doing) a first look, try your absolute darnedest to have your photographer take ALL your portraits (with the groom, with your girls, with family) before your ceremony begins. The wedding is your precious few hours to revel in the pure joy that happens when you love someone and are surrounded by people from all different corners of your worlds that you love. You will never have this time back, so be selfish with it and get all your portraits done first! I did it like this: We had a 4:30pm ceremony, which meant i needed to be in “hiding” by 3:30. I had the photographer arrive at noon for getting ready pics, then I got the dress on at 2pm, did my first look, took bridal party pics, then at 3:00pm we did family pics. (My family was instructed to arrive by 3:00pm.) We were done with everything and got some time to relax in the bridal suite. Then, after the ceremony, we got a few quick sunset pics, but we got almost the entire cocktail hour to talk to our guests and have a great time!

Venue: Casa Real at Ruby Hill Winery
Photographer: Daniel Neal Photography
Florals: LC Floral Design
Dress: designed by Robert Bullock; purchased at BoLee Bridal Couture
Hair & makeup: Lacee Deniz

What did you do to make your wedding less stressful? Was anyone else calm on their wedding day?