A Buckwheat Pillow and a Curated List of Joy

A classy Korean halmoni (grandma) noted that when her daughter moved to the USA, one of the things she missed the most was her 베고자니 or buckwheat pillow. The Korean expat missed the coolness this type of pillow offered on summer nights.

Anyone who has traveled to another country for a limited time knows that you spend a lot of time chasing purchases on a hard deadline. Luckily, I was able to locate one of these traditional pillows at a street market on the final day.

The buckwheat hulls conform to the neck with a satisfying crunchiness as you settle in. The pillow isn’t just for sleeping. It can brace your neck in a sturdy way while seated.

Which is why, it is one of the things that is bringing me joy during the seclusion of the pandemic. Here is a curated list of culture I am consuming, sometimes with my head firmly resting in a begozani:

In the weekly words of Sam Sanders, “What is bringing you joy?”

*This list doesn’t contain a lot of work by Asians. As I venture out to discover my voice, I will be forever grateful for the Slice of Life writing challenge. It offers the opportunity to respond to this immortal quote:

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Toni Morrison

For now, “book” is blog post.

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Good at Math: How to Leverage an Asian Stereotype

When I was in high school, my math teacher married my English teacher. I had a slight crush on my math teacher, but knew I would major in English after graduation. I was fascinated by the fact that my math teacher had once considered going into law but had decided to teach high school instead. I could not believe it! I just knew I would follow through on becoming a lawyer.

Recently, I saw this couple at a teacher convention and was delighted to catch up. I hadn’t seen them for over 15 years and was excited to share that I was transitioning from being an elementary teacher to becoming a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) teacher. They had taught me well.

In the early days of interviewing, I had interviewed for a Middle School English teacher position and made it to the second round with school board members. One of the board members began his questions with, “Why did you want to become a math teacher?”

As an Asian American, the assumption that I am good at math has served me well more often than not (except in that interview from which that board member did not seem to recover when he was told I was there for an English position).

To be clear, stereotypes are not cool. They reduce people to their appearance. The assumptions behind them can and do cause harm.

This piece is about how this Asian math stereotype has offered an advantage and how I have taken the culture up on it. It’s like a check that I haven’t cashed. I tutor students after school. One of the most popular subjects requested is math–specifically, middle school math.

For this reason, I have reacquainted myself with the following:

  • reciprocal numbers
  • Pythagorean Theorem
  • slope intercept form
  • polynomials
  • FOIL
  • completing the square
  • quadratic formula
  • vertex form
  • exponential growth and decay

I attribute this recall to my incredible high school math teacher. In addition, since people put their trust in an Asian’s ability to grasp math concepts, I have risen to the challenge and fallen in love with the beauty of the quadratic formula. I continue to be be wowed that the same formula can render TWO solutions, revealing the x-intercepts! Mic drop!

As I prepare students for the SAT, since I am so close to the learning process myself, I can point out the clever tricks many practice problems present and which strategies are most effective in recognizing these pitfalls. It’s like a being a math translator.

I’ve embraced the math aura I apparently exude. Oh, and I’m all in for Math puns.

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9 a.m. Turkey Time!

turkeys outside my window
Backyard Turkey Talk

Tom Talk

“I found this place last year and it had some decent food. So I thought I’d bring the ladies. They like seeing the people. These cages are large enough to where I don’t feel like they’re being mistreated at all.”

“Act casual. We’re not here to scare anyone.”

“I guess. Our feathers are a lot! But I’m not going to be less than what I am just to make a caged animal feel better about itself. We may as well put on a show. Like, what else do they have to do?”

“I don’t know. Let’s get out of here. There’s NOTHING happening right now, that’s for sure.”

Hen Huddle

Backyard Hens

“When Tom mentioned that he had this place he wanted to show us, I was like, ‘Here we go again.’ You know what I mean?.”

“We know. And a zoo? I mean, I read this article about how some of us were even getting shot at zoos. Shot at, ladies! Not with actual bullets, but still. With something aimed in our direction. I don’t like it.”

“I’m getting a weird vibe right now. Who’s down for heading back to the woods?”

From inside the cage

Army crawling across my living room phone with the iPhone, I realize the camera is set to photo. I want video.

The flock doesn’t seem to see me. Let me stand up to capture some turkey drama.

Wow. So chill.

Hmmm . . . was the army crawl really necessary?

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VSCO girl and other things I learned from my nieces and nephews

“This girl in my class is a VSCO girl. Do you know what that is?”

“A disco girl?” I attempted to clarify my 4th grade nephew’s question.

“I don’t know. Everybody thinks she’s a VSCO girl.”

“Are you a VSCO boy?” I asked after looking up ‘visco’ on my phone.

“No! You can’t be a VSCO boy, Aunt Jackie!”

Once I was introduced to this term a few months ago, I was intrigued.

The VSCO girl is a fashion trend or subculture that became popular among teenagers in the summer of 2019. The term refers to the photography app VSCO.[1][2] The fashion choices are relaxed and easygoing, and include oversized T-shirts, scrunchies, metal water bottles, Crocs, and beach-related fashion. Environmental concerns (in particular for sea turtle conservation) are common. Stereotypical catchphrases include “and I oop” and “sksksksk”, both used to express surprise or shock.


My niece in college let me know she dressed up as a VSCO girl for Halloween. My niece in high school let me know that VSCO is more of an “aesthetic” rather than specific fashion items.

Hydroflasks with cleverly adorable stickers came to my attention across campus, seemingly all at once.

But like someone learning a new language, I felt foolish asking the meaning behind “and I oop” and how to pronounce, “sksksksk.”

For this reason, unlike learning a new language, I will avoid cringy interactions and stop making an effort.

Today my nephew was over for a bit and after making pizza, I relented and we watched a bit of YouTube. Again, I was intrigued by this tiny glimpse into a new culture as I joined him in viewing a dedicated Minecrafter as he faced creepers–the entire time expressing every question, strategy and expression of triumph or defeat aloud.

No travel restriction here when you are at the side of a young person gracious enough to chaperone you into his / her world.

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Autopsy of a Sick / Snow / Quarantine Day

MorningAm I sick enough to write sub plans?Secretly the reason to be an educator. Yes! No excuse for not doing full sun salutation before checking email.
AfternoonProbably should have gone in since I’m feeling better. Or is it the ibuprofen?Are the roads safe enough to stop by school to run some copies? Or meet a friend for lunch?Yikes, already time for that Google Hangout with colleagues! Where should I stage my device which offers just the right glimpse of my home?
EveningShould I have gone to the doctor? Is this a fever? Guess the ibuprofen was doing more work earlier than I had accurately assessed.

Sub plans: How much stamina is realistic for Drop Everything and Read?
Where did the time go? Could I have been more productive? What day is it again? Did I meet the expectations of my principal, colleagues and students?

Tomorrow is a new day.
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An Ode to the Mute Button

The most unnerving aspect of video conferences, happy hours and tele-gatherings is the rectangle that contains an aspect of the meeting that is ironically, not present during face-to-face meetings (unless the meeting is taking place in a mirrored room)–your own face interacting with yourself.

Who knew a slash could offer modest cover?

And an X, privacy?

The frantic search for the icon with the slash in a new app at the beginning of a video session is the equivalent of your hand reaching for a towel, the first night as a guest in a hotel or friend’s home. Your face examining the screen in a very much unscripted close up.

The speaker not set to silent X or slash often prompts the incredulous question, “Is someone watching Netflix?” or a firm, “Could everybody please mute to cut back on the distractions?” The public exposure of the adjacent Netflix window or the teen’s urgent inquiry from another room.

Glimpses into private life exposed or shielded with a simple click.

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Tales from the Grocery Store


Maybe you should build a little chicken wire cage with a 6 foot diameter perimeter and wear it when out it public. You could decorate it with caution tape.

Neighbor in NextDoor forum

This sarcastic response in a neighborhood thread that was initiated by a post expressing concern for the lack of social distancing (during the pandemic) at a local grocery store on a busy Sunday afternoon sparked lively discussion yesterday. Most along the lines of, “STAY HOME!” and others urging compassion for the low wage workers.

Home Delivery

During my brief stint as private contractor in the gig economy, I delivered groceries for people (long before the pandemic). Near the end of my time, I decided to choose small orders in order to lower the anxiety of the opposing pressures of the ticking deadline and the out of stock items that required frantic correspondence with fussy subscribers.

One order came through that, among other things, included the following:

  • 2 bulk cubes of ramen noodle packets
  • 5 frozen pepperoni pizzas, each a different brand
  • What turned out to be the largest bottle of vodka on the shelf
  • 3 varieties of Doritos
  • 1 plum tomato

Just so you know, I am a very judgmental person so now you can envision the slight smirk as I foraged the aisle for these items.

When I arrived at the address–well within the delivery window–the customer greeted me in the parking lot of his apartment complex. This was a relief since apartment complexes are tricky as they often have entry codes. The man offered to help carry the groceries in or to hold the door to the building. I chose the open door.

When I entered his apartment, the heavy scent confirmed suspicions I had as to the cause of the haphazard grocery selections.

Unexpected, yet solicited advice

Last December, searching for molasses, I asked an employee for assistance. As she guided me to the right aisle, she shared, “I’ve been really backed up lately. I’ve tried prunes but things are not getting better. Do you have any advice?”

Amused, and also oddly complimented that she felt comfortable sharing something so personal, I replied quickly before the wildly inappropriate nature of this question could really sink in, “My only thought is to stay active. Although your job seems to require a lot of walking, so that might help.”

She shook her head skeptically.

A reusable bag which induces a gag

Before the pandemic, about a month ago, I tossed my 3 reusable bags on the conveyor belt before placing my items behind them. As I greeted the cashier, a young black woman, she had just finished a friendly exchange with the previous customer–an older black man–who was pushing a cart packed with at least 20 plastic bags worth of groceries. When I encounter black people in conversation, I wonder if, as an Asian, they suddenly feel they need to be more formal.

This didn’t prepare me though, when she began to throw up into a trash can after securing one of the bags onto the packing station rounder.

“Are you okay?” I wondered if she were in the first trimester of a pregnancy which was a much more benign explanation than the fear that she had a sudden onslaught of a violent and virulently contagious stomach flu. “Maybe you should go home and rest.”

“Okay. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I don’t want you to think it’s you. I don’t want you to worry about me. But, earlier today, a lady–an older lady–I felt very bad for her, came in. She had had surgery a few months ago and she hasn’t been out of her house this whole time. She brought a pile of grocery bags in–just like yours–that had been sitting in her house for months. She was so excited to be shopping again.

“Anyway, when I opened the bag, there was dog poop in it. She felt bad and said that her dog had been sitting on those bags. I didn’t want her to feel bad. So I held in my throw up until now. Your bag reminded me of that. I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry.”

“Wow! Yikes! That makes sense. I’m so sorry. Did you throw the bag away?”

“Yes, I threw the bag away. I just can’t believe she didn’t know.”

I began to feel horrible about the little shards of onion skin that I had left in my reusable bag.

The next time I came into the store, I decided to buy new bags. When I came to her aisle, I realized they weren’t hanging at the checkout as usual. I asked if I could go look for them since no one was behind me. She sprang into action, calling the manager to inquire where the bags were and dashed off to find them for me.

Since these interactions, I attempt to always clean out my reusable bags. Any time I pass her aisle, I offer a friendly smile. During this crisis, my appreciation and admiration for the grace in which she and her colleagues interact with customers, has increased exponentially.

Let’s plot ways of thanking them!

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