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A Different Kind of Ghost

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I made some tea today. Chinese green tea from the Yunnan village near Pai in Thailand, in my grandmother’s tea pot. I took some pictures for Instagram and hashtagged it “asianamerican.”

I’m grieving my grandmother. It’s like a small tug on something inside me, a small ache there in my chest. I feel like some line that connected me back to the history of mankind has broken and needs to be repaired, and right now I’m still floating, loose – not floating away, just hanging, suspended, and waiting for the connection to be reformed.

There were a lot of conversations I wanted to have with her. I did not have the expectation of them, but I liked to hear her talk about people and things and places I was connected to because of her. It was alien and distant, but still something I could lay claim to, because of her, as her descendant. Now I have no proof, because she’s gone.

I read an article by a woman grieving the loss of her mother, and she asked, “Am I even Korean anymore?” And that’s how I feel a little bit. She was what made me Japanese, and now she is gone. I feel alienated from myself. How can I be Japanese when I don’t know how to make things, or don’t go to the effort to do it all properly? When my gyoza is store bought and I eat it with kimchi, and the rice for inari takes too long, and my miso has turned to a rock in the back of the fridge? My house does not look like a Japanese home, the way my mother’s does. My face doesn’t either. When I go to a restaurant or a cultural event, I’m another white girl, showing up because it’s something weird and interesting to do.

I judge the way other people hold their hashi, because, though I look more like them, I know how to do it properly. It’s a small thing I have that I can say, “see, I’m authentic,” and yet there’s so much I don’t know.

I was complimented once on how well I used hashi by the kindly proprietor of a restaurant. I smiled and ducked my head while my mother expressed her thanks on my behalf. Yet I felt that shame of being so out of place, of being singled out as Other, as not belonging, at a table with my own mother and siblings. “I’m Japanese,” I thought.

You would never be Japanese because you’re American, my mother said. They would never recognize you as Japanese in Japan, she said. It didn’t help that she said she could never be Japanese either. People recognized her right to her heritage. I was named interloper. That was part of it, the reason for not knowing things. If Japan didn’t want me, I didn’t want it. But of course, I did. And I do.

I’ve started to reclaim that as an adult, especially more recently. Still it hurts when people will say unintentionally unkind things (“you’re just white,” from a more-Asian friend), be casually misappropriative (“Kiyomi is a Hawaiian name, it’s my niece’s name, but it’s spelled differently,” from a coworker), or just plain ignorant (“your parents must have been hippies,” from an acquaintance). The bite of these things lingers. Other comments echo in my brain, still raw and upsetting. I try to be diplomatic.”I’m Japanese,” I think, and sometimes say. “Oh, part,” some will concede. “Oh, your mother’s half. So that makes you…” and they look at me, and I can tell they are thinking, “white.”

I am Japanese. I am. I am other things, but this too is mine to lay claim to, who I am. Without equivocation or caveat, it’s mine. I don’t have to look a certain way for that to be true. I don’t have to carry with me all of the cultural signifiers to prove it.

I want to shout these things.

When I was in Thailand, other women repeatedly began speaking to me in Thai. When there was a Thai price and a visitor price, there would be initial confusion as I handed over the visitor price. It made me happy, gave me some small comfort, to have someone else look at me and see belonging, even where I didn’t. It is part of the incredible diversity of Thailand, informed by centuries of rich history and an on-going openness to ideas and people that make it okay that I can look like me, and can still be seen.

You’re still Japanese, my mom would say to me, speaking of heritage. Mine to claim, because it is hers, and I am her daughter. Mine to claim, and she would defy anyone who might suggest otherwise, with that withering stare that other Asian children will know well.

My mom points out other’s like me in restaurants. “They’re at least a quarter,” she’ll assert with absolute confidence, of someone with lighter hair and more tattoos than me.

It’s a concession I’m learning to make, to accept. To be this third generation Asian-American. To eat my store bought gyoza with kimchi. To drink my Yunnan Thai tea from my grandmother’s teapot. I know there are more out there like me, invisible children who go to cultural events and are marked as strangers, to restaurants and get complimented on how they hold their hashi, and questioning looks or gentle cautions when they order off the traditional menu. Others who also have to navigate what it means when our connection to that other place – looming and important, and abstract and storied all at once – is severed.

Obon, the Japanese festival to honor ancestors, ended about a week ago. It’s more of a season than a date because of the way the lunar and solar calendars fail to line up. It started right after Gram passed away. It’s maybe right to have this period of saying goodbye happen when her ancestors – my ancestors – are traditionally remembered. She doesn’t feel like an ancestor yet, and I am still floating, untethered, with my tea.

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Writing

A Stranger in Our Midst

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John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
They did say that it was murder. A seaborn girl and a landed lad, how could it be any different, one might ask? They found him in the surf, howling with a rage and madness, and her limp and dead away in his arms. They said that he had drowned her. She never could become apiece to his people. They were of different worlds. She ran away, the poor dear thing, and when he caught her, he drowned her. They say.

He never said anything. They took him away again, his landed people, gathered him back to his big landed house, and no one did see him again, but as a brooding shape in a window casement. That’s the way these things go.

There were ships on the sea, hunting when the season was in, and they brought in a pretty haul, seal meat and pelts and her too, pulled in from the sea and half drowned. Well, she ended as she began. Some soul took her in and nursed her well, and then she was a pretty thing, and they said she bewitched the whole village, every man laid claim to her, and since it would tear the whole place apart, they put her out of town. But she lingered like a ghost there before the crossroads, and it was a cold night, and many at that, and she begged for a coat.

The innkeeper’s wife brought her in again, and fed her and warmed her, and put her foot down that no man who would breathe a word of bewitchery and foolishness should have a sip of ale in that house. That put an end to it, and the pretty innkeeper’s daughter became such a common sight it was forgot that she was pretty, and as well that she was no native daughter.

That might have been the end of it. She could have married some young local lad, one who knew the ways of the sea, one not so high and fine. But they traveled down from their hills in the summer months, to take the air, they said. And he, that landed boy, didn’t know that she was common now, and thought her as fine and precious as he, and so he asked to take her away, and so she went.

Then the storms came, and then the hunt, and then that highborn lad came tearing through town with others like him, color high in their cheeks, like landed Gentry, riding on horseback, and pillaged our catch.

“My wife would have her coat,” it was reported he’d said, with lightning crashing behind him and fire in his eyes. In truth it wasn’t a stormy night, and the flush in their faces gave truth to another rumor that they were all right sotted and had decided on a raid for the evening’s entertainment. They took piles of seal pelts away with them, and it was supposed our girl had a fine coat out of it. What could anyone do for it? The head man applied to the house, and they say some compensation was made.

Who could blame her for running away? In time it became a common sight to see her walking among the rocks and surf, her dress sodden and heavy around her legs. One night, as snow floated across the beach, she stumbled into town half frozen, begging for a coat. Her parents took her back to their hearth and she lay abed there at the inn with a galloping fever for some days. Her landed folk collected her again.

Then they came back, without her though, the lad and the lord of the manor, and a retinue of armed men with them. Door to door they went and demanded to see all the winter clothing, though they left with none.

She could not get warm, it was said, and she was desperately ill. And little wonder, the mad thing wandering through town of a night and wading in the surf the way she did.

That fateful night, she did just that, came stumbling into town in sodden skirts, and screaming and weeping, incoherent and clutching at the fishermen. Her husband came and roughed some of the lads, and would have seen worse himself, had not cooler heads understood that it did not do to strike a landed man. So they shoved him off, and her with him.

That morning they were found together as I have said. It was murder for certain. But landed folk never could know the ways of the sea, nor the cost to such a small town when young men are drawn away by call of a siren, how tenuous our hold through a long winter. And isn’t it fair to have some tribute back? After all, a seal pelt makes a very fine and warm rug as well as a coat.

Blog · Writing

Taking Care of Yourself When Things are Crazy

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Photo: Dariusz Sankowski

 

It’s been a little rough lately – not terrible, just not great. I haven’t been doing any of the things I know I should do to sustain my creativity and energy levels, and I’ve paid for it in lack of focus, lack of patience, irritability. When things get busy, it can be especially hard to make the necessary time for self care. But we know that if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we don’t have the resources to take care of the other demands on our time and attention, no matter how important they are to us. As the old Zen saying goes, you should meditate for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy – then, meditate for an hour. So I decided instead to practice the self care I preach, to be wiser and kinder and gentler with myself in order to be wiser and kinder and gentler in the world, too.

Read more of 13 Self Care Tips for Working Women here

 

We all feel overwhelmed from time to time. Whether it’s taking care of our families, or work demands, we still have to get things done. First, make sure you are taking proper care of yourself, get enough sleep, meditate, insist on a girls night, whatever self-care means for, prioritize those things! With that said, here are 10 steps to streamlining your productivity through it all!

Read more of 10 Ways to Increase Productivity Even When You’re Overwhelmed here

Writing

Hamelintown by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines — Enchanted Conversation Magazine Fairy Tales, Folklore & Myths

My short story, Hamelintown, was in Enchanted Conversation recently!

 

He wore a patchwork cape and carried a flute. He would help us, but his price was high… “It is 100 years since our children left.” Hamelin town chronicles, 1384… 1,253 more words

via SATURDAY TALE – Hamelintown by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines — Enchanted Conversation Magazine Fairy Tales, Folklore & Myths

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Gram

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When Red left the house, the wind was tugging at the laundry on the line.

My Gram died this month. I wrote something about my fish, about Anthony Bourdain, within days, and I was sad about those things. I knew what I wanted to say. How to express what I meant. But I didn’t know what to say this time. So I didn’t say anything at first, except to my husband, and my boss when I took the afternoon off. Not even to my closest friends.

It wasn’t like a tear, a wound. No violent, bleeding thing, this. More like a sudden void, an absence, not too heavy to bear, but Noted. Some new gravity in the rotation of what it means to be me.

When Red walked back toward the village through the woods, the sun was shining, the breeze was gentle. The day was bright.

Grama died last night, my mom said.

I finally cried when the boxes came. boxes full of her jewelry, earrings, tea cups, a scarf, her calligraphy set, washi paper. I wear a different piece of jewelry each day. Her jewelry. Every day someone compliments me. Every day I say, “it came from my grandmother.”

“Do you want me to come?” I asked.

She was fine. I just talked to her and she was fine, Mom said. They were planning a trip. A trip I thought I would join them on. We would travel together back to my gram’s hometown. Together. I would meet her brother, her nieces.

I hadn’t spoken to her in… “Were you close?” people keep asking me, and it makes it worse somehow. I don’t know how to answer, what that question even means. The words do not make any sense in my brain. Were we close? She was my grandmother.

We lived together when I was younger. She was a Japanese grandmother. I was an American teenager.

I still don’t know what to say.

Her heart just gave out, Mom said.

Red walked away from the house, back toward the village.

I hugged her, held her small body close, briefly, to mine. Everything about me that is Japanese comes from her. I kissed her cheek. “Love you, Gram. We’ll see you next time.”

She liked my husband. I think she was proud of me.

When I opened the boxes it smelled like her house, and I cried. “My gram is gone,” I said, stupidly, needlessly. “I understand,” my husband answered, both of his gone years now.

I expected to see her again. I suppose we always do. The pictures from her albums are all of us. I don’t feel regret, because there was no opportunity dismissed. There was nothing left unsaid. But I miss her.

When she came up the path to the familiar, neat little house, the laundry swayed on the line. Everything was just as she remembered it, all in its place. But when the woodcutter broke through the door, and she could finally look into the house, it was empty. No wolf.

And no Gram.

I still don’t know what to say.

She was just gone.

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On Death – On Enchanted Conversation!

Happy Friday the 13th!

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The first story in which I remember reading about a personified Death, and one I still love, is The Appointment in Samarra (or Samarkand). It’s a very old tale, said to be from Mesopotamia, and is included in the Talmud and collections of Sufi wisdom, and is sometimes also called When Death Came to Baghdad. In it, a man sends his servant on a long journey to avoid Death, only to find that Death had expected him there, in that other place, all along. I remember feeling that there was a certain injustice in that – if only the man had stayed home! How unfair that the man’s fear of dying drove him to flee straight to the place of his death. Yet, how foolish to try to run away, only to spend his final days on a long journey to a distant land, far from all that he knew and loved. That is where Death brings us in the end anyway.

In many old stories, Death is portrayed as a neutral, or even benevolent figure. Not frightening or evil, but someone who is just doing a job. These stories represent a way for us to make peace with mortality. Not to say that we shouldn’t cling to the beauty and joy and connection presented by a life well lived, or mourn the finality of separation from our loved ones. Rather Death represents everything that is unknown, and our complete inability to return to what was before – that is to say, death, (with a little ‘d’) in a very literal sense, or any process of change or transition. Not bad, and maybe not good, but inevitable just the same.

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Where the Bones Lie continues

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Louis Janmot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
You can now participate in Where the Bones Lie, and give your judgement! Is the narrator telling the truth, or did she kill her sister in cold blood?

Check out the new page, give your verdict, or follow the links to learn about the roles of music, water, and people in fairy tales!

Writing

Where the Bones Lie

'Woman_with_a_Harp'_by_Elizabeth_Nourse,_Cincinnati_Art_Museum
by Elizabeth Nourse

My sister, God keep her, was a troubled girl. She was beautiful in every way, as you have heard, but fair doesn’t always mean fair. You look at me now, all of you, with your wide eyes and your shock and horror at the things you have heard. I’ll not tell you that they’re lies, but the truth can have a way of shifting and stretching and spreading like silt in water before it finally settles out, and you can see clearly what’s at the bottom of it.

When my sister was a little girl, she would follow me around. I was barely older, but it was enough, and with a new baby, my mother put me to work while she coddled the young one. So I did make her eat dirt, and I did run away from her. I felt she had stolen my mother’s affections, and was only little yet myself.

As we grew older there were little pranks, the things children will do, none of it intending real harm. But didn’t she take a swipe like a punch, and fold herself over, always just when my mother came near. My own scratches and bites and bruises were left untended. I brought them on myself I was told. But I learned, and so I stopped fighting back, thinking that would show my mother. But still she said I brought it on myself, if not for what I did today, then yesterday or last week, or some other time wasn’t too long ago to warrant reprisal still. And didn’t she feign faintness and tremors at the wisp of a cough, to be bundled into bed with me to wait on her, with none to nurse me on my own sickbed, for she would be too fragile, and I was decided to be the one who would stretch my illness for laziness.

Meantime, if I wasn’t married, I was to be working to keep myself, and she, my sister, would only talk herself blue in the face. Being younger and now fragile my mother didn’t press her. So it was I who sat in the yard to get the better light to finish my work, and I who lost a thimble and followed it down into the well. She did lower me down to get it, and in the waters, I did find a gift, which she demanded a share of if she would pull me back up, and so I agreed rather than be left to drown in the well.

When I came up, this young man was there with her, and there we both stood, one dry and one wet, and she made jokes to humiliate me, and then she showed him both of our work, mine nearly completed, and her few, precise stitches, which were indeed smaller and more even than mine, but which she said she had just started on. Tell me, with such an introduction, what chance would any young girl think she had, even if she wanted to steal away such a suitor?

I took my work and my thimble and the treasure and made for home, but, “Ah-ah!” my sister called after me. “I believe you have something that is mine,” she said, and put out a hand. So I handed over what she had asked for, and as I left, she related to the young man that not only was I slovenly and unindustrious, but also a thief.

My mother wanted to know how I came to be wet, and so I told her of my shame and humiliations, and she remarked that she supposed a young man could choose whichever girl he preferred. But it wasn’t about the young man. It was about the unkindness. I would do the same, my mother assured me, though I may assure you that I would not have.

So this man indeed came to call, and seeing me dry and presentable, he approached to apologize for his laughter and then inquired about my new piece of work, and saw that my sister’s few stitches had not progressed. She complained to my mother that I was ruining her chances and spreading lies to turn her suitor against her, and I was thereafter relegated to the kitchen when he called. His interests were his own, not persuaded by me, and this you may ask him yourself.

In time as you know, yes, his affection turned to me, and I found much enjoyment in his company as we walked together about town.

My sister became dissatisfied with the part I had given her of what I found in the well. She wanted me to go down again, and I would not. She threw my thimble in for spite, and I told her she would have to go after it. She would not do it, and this time our mother came to my cause and told her she should. So I lowered her into the well, and I did pull her back! And I have the thimble to prove it. There was nothing but frogs down there anyway, she told me.

After that I can’t say with any certainty what happened to her. I was planning to marry, you see, and my mother, happy enough to go to much effort on behalf of my sister, would not do so for me, as she said I had stolen my sister’s chance. So I was on my own, grateful merely to have not been put out of the house. I did not see my sister. I did wonder after her, but determined she would not be seen as she did not wish me well.

Then we did notice her missing, my mother first of course. We all searched. We were all there.

And then someone went to the well. My wedding was delayed, of course, and it is only now that we are all gathered here, and this young man still beside me.

How this bone harp was made, I cannot account for, nor how this musician came to have it, a piece of my own dead sister. Yet, some part of what was left down there, some part of what I found in the well, caused this spell, and now we know what happened to her, and her own accounting of it.

But I did not push her into the well, and I did not leave her there, nor do I have any knowledge of how such things came to be. Now, you good folk, I tremble here as I say it, yet surrounded by you, now you must judge between us.

 

The Twa Sisters

Judge between the two sisters and give your verdict

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The Declaration of Independence

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US Declaration of Independence draft (detail with changes by Franklin) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

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Fairygodboss articles!

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I’ve had three new articles posted in Fairygodboss in the last couple weeks!

 

Six Ways to Treat Your Time Like Money and Reap the Benefits – this article was syndicated in The Ladders! It describes ways to think about budgeting our time to get the most benefit.

Five Documentaries You Can Stream Now That Will Make You Smarter – I recommend all of these documentaries, but if you only have ten minutes, watch Hilda! It is a short and sweet film looking at the life of a woman in the man’s world of art in the 1950s.

Have Insomnia? Why Traditional Chinese Medicine (And Other Unexpected Cures) Could Help – originally titled What We Mean By A Good Night’s Sleep, this article explains our natural sleep cycle and describes ways to support it.

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