Hello and welcome. My name is Cosette and I’m the writer here. I blog a lot about being an expat and have been featured on Blog Expat, Expat Focus, Expats Blog, InterNations, Expat Arrivals, and Globehunters.
Wish me a bon voyage. I’m going home. For a little while.
My father tells a story: when I was a little girl, I got mad because there was something I wanted to do that my parents would not permit. In my anger, I said to my father that I couldn’t wait to grow up and leave that house. He says he knew then that I would leave home someday.
It’s not an usual story. Kids say things like that in anger and, in some cultures, it is normal for children to leave home and lead their lives far away from their parents. But if Hispanic families are separated, it’s because the political situations in our countries make it impossible for us to stay together. Wherever possible, we stay together and we stay close.
I’m Cuban, but I was raised in America, where children are conditioned to believe that when they grow up and turn the magical number of 18, they are adults, suddenly more mature than they were yesterday at 17, to go away to college and live on their own, to then take a job across the country, and come home once a year for Thanksgiving. Family and community are great concepts as long as they don’t get in the way of individuality.
In hindsight, I see that I had a good childhood and many freedoms, but I felt stifled as an adolescent. When I graduated high school, I broke my parents’ heart and went away to college. I didn’t go that far, just five hours north, but it was far enough. It was hard, but it was healthy. It was what I needed to gain my independence as a young adult. I wonder if it was good preparation for a bigger move that came 13 years later.
I never imagined moving more than a few blocks from my parents. In 2012, I moved 9,680 miles.
My partner and I are off to the United States. We are getting married in ten days and will be spending time in South Florida among family and friends. We’ll also be going to New York for a week.
I hope to continue blogging while I’m away, but no promises. If you want to see what we’re up to, check out my Facebook and Instagram.
In November, I turned 40 and I wrote about things I know are true. A list of things I don’t know would be much longer and that’s just the things I know I don’t know. What prompted this abridged version was a discussion with my partner. We have been working on our wedding vows. When I asked him about the things he likes about me, he said a lot of sweet things, but he also pointed to my deficiencies. They make him laugh. They make me laugh too. Now. Years ago, they made me angry and they made me cry. Here are five things I don’t know.
I don’t know math.
I was a bad math student throughout my childhood and adolescence. For a long time, in college, it didn’t get better. Then I stumbled into a young teacher’s algebra class and, for the first time, I got it. Not only did I get it, I nailed it. I can still work out algebraic problems. It turns out that’s not very useful in my life. I didn’t go into the medical field or into business or become an architect or civil engineer. Nor did algebra improve my basic math skills. I can work it out on paper, but can barely add and subtract in my head. My partner laughs at my math mishaps all the time. Australians, but the way, call it maths, like the British.
I don’t know how to cook.
I have a few staples that I’m comfortable cooking, mainly Cuban dishes and a few desserts. Generally, however, I don’t know my way around a kitchen. I can follow a recipe and produce delicious results, but it takes me hours to cook. It once took me six hours to make a vegetarian lasagne. I have two main problems with cooking. One is that I can’t multitask in the kitchen. The other is that I’m impatient. I stir too much, turn up the heat too high, check it too often, remove it too soon. Cooking is a magical, alchemical mystery to me.
It took me 12 eggs to make this 5-egg omelette. Also, that’s not an omelette.
Money is this elusive thing that floats in and out of my life. I have decent spending habits and I’m never overdrawn on my accounts. I’m good about paying bills on time. However, things like budgeting, investing, interest rates, capital gains, gross things, nets… it’s another language to me, one that I do not speak nor understand. I suppose it’s the language of numbers that goes alongside not knowing math. Maths. All the maths.
I don’t know how to make things.
Needlework, jewellery-making, mosaics, pottery, decoupage, cardmaking, basket weaving… yeah, no, none of it is for me. I used to feel bad about not knowing how to make things. There’s something of a lost grandparental, rural art to this. Capitalism and consumerism have driven us away from create-repair to buy-a-new-one. I also felt that I wasn’t creative unless I could make something with my hands. I have tried a few hobbies, but I don’t derive pleasure from handicrafts and I don’t like buying and storing materials. Writing is a good art and craft for me. It doesn’t require a lot of supplies. The ideas are in the world and the words are pulled from the aether.
I don’t know how to fix things.
Toilet clogged? Leaky kitchen pipe? Replace a light switch? Nope. Luckily, I’m marrying a tradie.
Obviously, my chances of surviving the zombie apocalypse are not good. Given my astonishing lack of basic life skills, you might wonder how I even got to 40. Growing up, I had one responsibility: get good grades. I didn’t have any chores. I never had to make my bed, do my laundry, or cook myself a meal. My parents gave me a tremendous gift: the space to think, play, and explore. It came at a cost, as all things do, but it was also a great privilege and I am eternally grateful for it.
Sometimes I think that I would like to have these skills, but then the feeling passes. I mean, if I could just absorb them, I’d take it, but I’m not interested in making the effort anymore. When I was younger, I felt inept and inadequate, but I’ve gotten better at identifying which of my limitations I want to work on. I’ve also gotten better at being me and accepting my true likes and dislikes.
I love January. I love new-year-new-you energy. I love the quiet of Melbourne as many of its residents are away for the summer holidays. I love movie-award season. And I love reading new books and essays. Here are six films, two books, and the many essays that filled my January.
Coco Official US Teaser Trailer - YouTube
Coco is a Disney-Pixar film set in a Mexican village. The story follows Miguel, a boy who wants to be a musician though music has been banned in his family for generations. On the Day of the Dead, he is accidentally transported to the land of the dead, where he seeks the help of his ancestors to return him to the world of the living.
Coco became the highest-grossing film of all-time in Mexico and has received many accolades. It’s Pixar’s most gorgeously animated film and it tells a thoughtful, warm, and moving story. I’m not Mexican, but as a Hispanic person Coco resonated tremendously. The themes of this movie – family, identity, forgiveness, and healing – are close to my heart, and it’s a great example of how to respectfully tell a story of a culture other than your own.
I, Tonya Trailer #1 (2017) | Movieclips Trailers - YouTube
I, Tonya is a mockumentary-style film on the life of American figure skater Tonya Harding. In 1994, Harding’s main competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, was bludgeoned on the right lower thigh with a police baton after a practice session. The attack was planned by Harding’s ex-husband and bodyguard. Harding’s role in that plan is unclear, but she pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers. After its own investigation, the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) concluded that she knew about the attack before it happened.
Little of “the incident” makes it into the movie. It’s mainly about Tonya’s childhood, her relationships with her abusive mother and abusive ex-husband, and her struggle to be accepted in the figure skating world. Tonya may be the best skater, but she’s also poor, white trash. She can’t afford elegant skating costumes. She lacks grace and willow proportions. She wear scrunchies, paints her nails blue, and skates to ZZ Top and Tone Lōc instead of Tchaikovsky. She doesn’t have the wholesome American image that the USFSA wants to present to the world at the Olympics.
The violence, class issues, and institutional discrimination are the most interesting parts of the film, but they are not deeply explored. I, Tonya never quite figures out what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes it’s glib, there are giggles, but then there are black eyes and bruised cheeks. The soundtrack is very distracting. Perhaps the stylistic wrongness is designed to parallel its character.
Margot Robbie is superb as Harding and so is Allison Janney as her mother. It’s a sympathetic portrayal: Tonya as victim. And it works. I felt sorry for her, but keeping in mind that she’s also a perpetrator.
Lady Bird | Official Trailer HD | A24 - YouTube
Lady Bird is a coming-of-age comedy-drama about a high school senior named Christine, who prefers to go by Lady Bird. I didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. Lady Bird is fresh, quirky, and funny. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother is familiar. It’s turbulent and harsh, but also warm and full of love and sacrifice and a certain friendship that mothers and daughters have in between arguments about where you’re going, with who, what time you’ll be back, what you’re wearing, your grades, and what you’re doing with the rest of your life. Around all that are boys, friends, and the yearning to escape. Lady Bird is a sweet and bittersweet film that captures the honesty of late adolescence.
THE SHAPE OF WATER | Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight - YouTube
The Shape of Water
If you’re familiar with Guillermo del Toro’s work, you know you’re in for something special. Set in Baltimore in 1962, The Shape of Water follows Elisa, a mute custodian at a government laboratory who forms a relationship with a captured humanoid-amphibian creature. That plot description sounds silly and doesn’t do much to sell this movie. It is a fantasy, but it’s much more than that.
It stars Sally Hawkins, who is captivating as Elisa, Richard Jenkins as her neighbour and best friend, Octavia Spencer, who is underused as Elisa’s best-friend-at-work, Michael Shannon, and Doug Jones as Gill-man. The Shape of Water is stunning and absorbing. You can watch this film, stay on the surface, and take it in as a fantasy, but you’ll be further rewarded if you dive into it.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI | Official Red Band Trailer | FOX Searchlight - YouTube
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother who rents three billboards to call attention to the her daughter’s unsolved murder. The film also stars Woody Harrelson as the police chief and Sam Rockwell as a police officer. I enjoyed this film while I was watching it, and critics love this movie, but I found it problematic.
The trailer is going for black comedy and maybe tries to recall the work of the Coen brothers, but Three Billboards is not funny enough or weird enough. It introduces important social issues such as domestic violence, racism, and police brutality, but never does anything with them. Mildred is very angry, but not about any of these things, which affect her life and the lives of the people around her nearly every day. It’s strange that a small town wouldn’t be shaken to its core by a gruesome murder and be more supportive of Mildred. There’s also an odd and undeserved redemption arc. There more I thought about it, the more I thought there’s a lot here that doesn’t make sense. McDormand and Rockwell are fantastic though. With lesser actors, I doubt Three Billboards would have garnered such positive critical response.
12 truths I learned from life and writing | Anne Lamott - YouTube
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is less a book of instructions and more a collection of stories, anecdotes, and jokes. It is good writing about writing. The inspiration for the book’s title, which is at the heart of Lamott’s writing advice, captures it.
Thirty years ago my older brother, who as ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”
In Bird by Bird, writing is about writing. It’s about quiet grit. It’s about shitty first drafts. It’s about observation and neurosis. It’s not about publishing, fame, or fortune. Writing is about giving freely.
Marina Abramović e Ulay - MoMA 2010 - YouTube
The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose
The Museum of Modern Love is inspired by the life and work of Marina Abramović, a Serbian performance artist. From 14 March to 31 May 2010, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held a major retrospective of Abramović’s work. She performed The Artist is Present, a silent piece in which which she sat immobile in the museum’s atrium while visitors were invited to take turns sitting opposite her. Abramović sat during the opening hours of the museum for 75 days, for a total of 736 hours and 30 minutes. Her former collaborator and lover, Ulay, made a surprise appearance at the opening night of the show.
This is the setting for Heather Rose’s novel, The Museum of Modern Love. The main character, Arky Levin, is a self-absorbed film score composer. His wife, the famed architect Lydia Fiorentino, is dying. Arky is drawn to MoMA’s atrium every day. He watches and meets other people drawn to the performance. He slowly comes to understand what the work is about and what he must do.
This book did not grab me from the start. I thought about putting it down, but something told me to stick with it, that it would reward me, and it did. When I got into the second half, I couldn’t put it down. Abramović is the vehicle for profound observations about life and art; you don’t need to be familiar with her work to enjoy this novel. I struggle with modern art. I struggle with performance art, but Abramović, or Rose’s interpretation of her, is inspiring. The Museum of Modern Love is novel is for artists. If you struggle with your identity as a creative, with imposter syndrome, with the courage to create, read this novel.
One more film and many essays
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix - YouTube
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
In October, Netflix released Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, a documentary about Didion’s life and work. I can never decide if I want to know about the personal lives of artists. I’m afraid that if they turn out to be awful people, I’ll be unable to enjoy their art. At least, I’m likely to feel guilty for enjoying the art of great artists who are terrible people. I’m not interested in celebrity gossip, but I am interested in the minds and processes of creative people. Thankfully, The Center Will Not Hold gives us an intimate and affectionate portrait of Joan Didion.
Directed by her nephew, the actor and filmmaker, Griffin Dunne, The Center Will Not Hold covers the whole of Didion’s life, but it doesn’t offer thorough examination of her work or insight of her creative process. The best way to gain that is by reading her work and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks with a number of her essays. Didion has recorded American life since the 1960s with sharp observation and literary techniques rather than, despite her apparent detachment, dispassionate journalism. It’s not her subjects that interest me, but her style. She writes as if she were working her thoughts out on the page. Heavily influenced by Ernest Hemingway, she is economical with her words on the page and in this documentary. Her command of language is extraordinary.
The Center Will Not Hold is not masterpiece and it’s not as fascinating as its subject, but its glitters as good as gold.
Expats spend a lot of time talking about the differences between their home and adopted countries, particularly the things that perplex or irk them. There are some things you never get used to and there are other things that fade into the background of normal. In between, there are things that you get used to, but that never lose the quality of feeling new, original, or unusual. For me, the sausage sizzle is one of those things.
The Rotary Club of Nelson Bay raises money at Bunnings Warehouse in Taylors Beach, NSW.
The sausage sizzle is a Australian community fundraising event. It involves the barbecuing and sale of sausages, typically on bread, maybe with onions, and usually accompanied by sauces. You can usually also get a drink.
Its American cousin is the hot dog stand, but whereas the hot dog stand is usually only found at local fairs, park events, and theme parks, the Aussie sausage sizzle can be found not only at school fetes, but more commonly in the parking lots of your local Bunnings Warehouse and Officeworks stores.
The front page of news.com.au on 6 January 2018.
The sausage sizzle can also be found at polling places on election days. This special sausage sizzle is dubbed the “democracy sausage”. Most polling places are at schools, churches, and community halls. They take advantage of the extra foot traffic to fundraise.
“The taste of democracy”
– Bill Shorten gets into his election day sausage + onion + tomato sauce in bread roll pic.twitter.com/c9j2POGZEj
With tongue squarely in cheek, the sausage sizzle is so important that Prime Ministers Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, and Malcolm Turnbull have all been photographed cooking and serving democracy sausages. During the 2016 federal election, Twitter changed its emoji for #ausvotes from a ballot box to sausage on white bread topped with sauce. The hashtag “#democracysausage” trended and Australians shared hundreds of photos of their “snags”.
It has also been at the centre of political controversy. In 1989, the then-West Australian Premier Peter Dowding was accused of bribing voters with free sausages, leading to a police investigation. During the 2016 election, Bill Shorten, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, confused the whole country by biting into his sausage sizzle sideways.
The popularity of the sausage sizzle
Australians will no doubt disagree with me when I say that the sausage sizzle isn’t very good. It’s a hot-to-warm, cheap pork or beef sausage served on a room-temperature piece of white bread. Sometimes you get lucky and they have tastier Kransky sausages and rolls. So, why are they so popular?
An Aussie friend explained that, as per health regulations, it’s the only food non-professionals are allowed to prepare and sell.
Another Aussie friend said it’s cheap. As a fundraiser, that’s true. It’s cheap to buy sausages and bread in bulk and sell them for many times the price. As a consumer, “cheap” is relative and prices vary. Sometimes it’s a gold coin donation ($1-$2). Sometimes it’s comparable to fast food. Last weekend, my partner and I paid $15 for two Kransky sausages on rolls, one with onions, and one Coca-Cola. One “snag” satisfied me, but he could’ve eaten two.
Another Aussie friend pointed out that it’s easy to eat on the go. You don’t need cutlery or even a plate to enjoy them.
One long-time American expat called the sausage sizzle one of the wonders of the Lucky Country, adding that he loves them.
The sausage sizzle falls into that category of food that isn’t that great, you know it isn’t good for you, but it hits the spot and you still kind of like it. Beyond that, it captures much of what makes Australia interesting. The sausage sizzle is serious business, but also humorous, self-deprecating, a little bit bogan. It highlights the Australian sense of community and mateship.
On most weekday mornings, I get a coffee on my way to my office. The barista knows how I like my drinks. My flat whites and lattes with one sugar. My hot chocolate extra hot. My chai lattes extra spicy. Usually small, occasionally medium. Because of my hot beverage infidelity, he waits until I place my order before making my drink.
I’m equally unfaithful when it comes to my tech. Over the last six years, I’ve owned a Windows desktop and laptop, an iMac, an old laptop running Linux, a Google Nexus tablet, an iPad, two iPhones, two Kindles, and one Google Home Mini. I’ve never belonged to any fandom; I enjoy all my devices.
My first smartphone was an iPhone 4. My second was an iPhone 6, the 128GB model, which I bought about two years ago, for $1129 AUD. It was more pleasant to use than the 4 – slimmer, lighter, faster, and a little larger. But it never felt as stable and the battery life was terrible. By midday, I was low on juice. I never went anywhere without a portable battery and it was always plugged in if I was at a computer. I bought the 6 because the 6 Plus had felt too big in my hand, but the way I use my smartphone changed over the year. Even though it was larger than the 4, the 6 began to feel too small. I decided my next smartphone would be a bigger model.
I got excited when September rolled around. This is when Apple held its annual keynote event. I wasn’t sure if I’d be upgrading my smartphone in the following months, but I was excited to see what Apple would introduce. I was a little disappointed.
Apple’s iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X
Apple unveiled three new phones: iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X.
The iPhone 8 64 GB is $1079 AUD. The 256 GB is $1329 AUD.
The iPhone 8 Plus 64 GB is $1229 AUD. The 256 GB is $1479 AUD.
The iPhone X 64 GB is $1579 AUD. The 256 GB is $1829 AUD.
There isn’t a big difference in price between the 8 and the 8 Plus and between the 8 Plus and X. That was deliberate and designed to compel you to spend just a few hundred dollars more for a better smartphone. I knew I wanted a larger phone. Although the X was smaller than the 8 Plus, the X has a larger screen in a more compact package. If I was going to upgrade my iPhone, it was going to be to the 64 GB iPhone X. But I wasn’t entirely sold on it.
When I held them in my hands, I was drawn to the 8 Plus in rose gold. It’s a beautiful phone, but it felt like an aesthetic upgrade rather than a functional one. Although the X introduced new features to Apple’s lineup, it mostly just brought the phone up to date with other smartphones. It’s sleek and modern, but bezel-less design, wireless charging, and facial recognition have been available in other phones for years. And Animoji wasn’t the feature that was going to convince me to part with $1500+. I wanted my next phone to be more than just a beautiful phone. Actually, I don’t even care if it’s not that beautiful. I wanted fewer bells and whistles and solid basics like a headphone jack and a longer battery life in a phone I’m not afraid of dropping. I wanted a phone that helps me solve problems.
Google Pixel 2 XL, iPhone X, and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
I thought I’d stick with my 6 for another year, but I was getting tired of the crashes and dud battery. Apple stopped support for the 4, which my mother inherited, so she needed a new smartphone. Since she only uses about five apps, I thought the 6 could work well for her with a factory reset and a new battery. But I would not be getting an iPhone for myself. I started exploring other options. I immediately ruled out Samsung. The Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8 are fantastic smartphones, but I don’t like the way the surface flows over the edges.
Google Pixel 2
I was smitten by the Google Pixel 2 XL. I liked Active Edge (the squeeze functionality to access features) and Now Playing (the song identification feature). It also has the best camera on the smartphone market. My smartphone has replaced my camera on a daily basis so this is a spec that I look at. But the Pixel got my attention for a couple of other reasons.
First, although I like Apple hardware, I was using Google products. I like Gmail, Drive, Calendar, YouTube Red, and I have a Google Home Mini. A Pixel made sense in terms of seamless integration. This is what I mean about a smartphone that helps me solve problems, that is a computational device, and not just a luxury brand and lifestyle phone. Apple has smart home technology too, but it isn’t in the same ballpark as Amazon and Google. I’ve always found Siri more entertaining than useful.
Second, I loved the clean design and basic operating system (referred to as stock Android). The Pixel gets the first Android updates so not only do you experience new features first, it’s the safest Android phone. Other manufacturers may take months to update their Android models. If you place two Android smartphones side by side, you’ll see they’re different. Android is open source and free for manufacturers to use. Smartphone companies like HTC, Samsung, Sony, LG and Motorola alter aspects of the user interface to give their users a unique Android experience. When Google releases an update to Android, these companies may need to update their skins, which takes time and delays the release of the update. This leads people to erroneously believe that Android phones are insecure while iPhones can’t be hacked.
The ethics of smartphones
The 64 GB Google Pixel 2 XL costs $1400 AUD. I’d spent $1129 on my iPhone 6 so it wasn’t that I was unwilling to spending $1k+ on a smartphone, but I felt that, if I was going to, I wanted noticeably top notch performance in a phone that was going to last more than two years. The idea that I should be shelling out this much money for a phone each year is absurd to me. I couldn’t help but reflect on this and not only on the impact on my pocketbook, but also on the ethics of smartphones as well as how I use my phone.
Smartphones are powerful mini-computers and, for many, have become necessities. But a $1k+ smartphone reeks of privilege and vanity. There’s not a lot that a $1k+ smartphone does that a budget smartphone doesn’t. I wasn’t using my $1100 iPhone for life and death matters. I was using it primarily to read and write a little, chat with family and friends, snap and share photos, and watch videos.
I also grew resentful of planned obsolescence, products being created to need replacement after a finite amount of time in order to keep sales going. Further, the smartphone supply chain is full of social injustice and environmental destruction. I know many people don’t care about these things, but I do. Although there’s not a lot we can do about it, resisting the urge to buy a flagship smartphone every year, or even every two years, is something I can do.
So, I said no to Apple and Samsung and Google. I looked at HTC, LG, Huawei, and Oppo phones. They all make fine phones, but I didn’t fall in love with anything. I looked at the Razer, which has a huge battery life as it was designed for gamers, but it came at the cost of a good camera, which is more important to me. I came close to buying a OnePlus 5T. It’s an excellent phone that comes close to stock Android, has a solid camera, and retails for $500-550 USD. It outperforms its competition and even flagships in some ways, but I was disappointed by the Chinese company’s data collection practices and its failure to include the Australian market. In the end, I bought a Moto G5S Plus.
Moto G5S Plus
It’s not fair to compare a $400 AUD smartphone to a $1k+ one (I know people will anyway). A flagship phone like the iPhone X or the Google Pixel 2 is a better phone objectively. You can see it in the design, materials, and specs. But the Moto G5S Plus is good enough for me. It can do all the things I need it to do. Here are the features I like:
An all-metal unibody design (many mid-range phones have a plastic body).
A fast-charging 3,000mAh battery. I can go almost four days without charging it. I know that won’t last forever, but I’m loving it right now.
32 GB internal, up to 128 GB microSD Card support.
Dual SIM. I love this because it means I won’t have to replace my SIM card when I travel to the US.
A very snappy Snapdragon 625 processor.
Android 7.1.1, Nougat.
Near stock Android.
Moto Actions. These are tasks associated with gestures. For example, twisting your wrist twice opens the camera. A chopping action turns the flashlight on and off. Placing the phone face down silences notifications and calls.
Integration with all my other Google products.
A good camera.
Notice I didn’t say an excellent camera. The quality of my photos with the 6 has declined, but in good natural light, my two-year old iPhone takes sharper photos than my new Moto. Of course, the camera of any flagship phone would blow it out of the water. For me, that’s the Moto’s only weakness, but it is, after all, a mid-range phone, and the camera is still good enough.
The Moto G5S Plus not fully waterproof, but it has a water repelling nano coating. So, splashes are okay, but don’t drop it in the toilet. And it is bigger than my 6, but it still feels good in my hand. The trend in high-end smartphones is slim and light, but the heftiness of the Moto G5S Plus is a nice change.
These are stock images used to demonstrate the sizes of the Apple iPhone 6 and the Moto G5S Plus.
Moving from my iPhone 6 to the Moto G5S Plus was easy. It took seconds to log into my Google account and then everything was there – Gmail, Calendar, Drive, etc. It took a little longer to download my favourite apps and log into those accounts. It took much longer to subscribe to all my favourite podcasts. All up, the setup took about two hours. There were three hiccups.
The first one is years of music I’ve purchased via iTunes. Eventually, I’ll move these to Google Play. These days, I use Spotify so I’m not in a hurry to do this.
The second one is photos. This wasn’t a big deal either because I keep very few photos on my iPhone. I’ll create a few albums on Google Photos and use that instead.
The third one is that even after removing my sim card from the iPhone, I received messages there. I soon realised I was getting Android messages on my Moto and iMessages on my iPhone. Turning off iMessages solved that.
There’s no such thing as a perfect phone or a best phone. There’s design, features, specs, and cost. You need to decide what you want in your smartphone and buy the best phone for you. It’s also worth thinking about how deeply you live in Apple’s or Google’s ecosystem. I live comfortably in both so this didn’t impact my decision. I may buy an iPhone again someday, but for now I’m happy with a simple workhorse.
When Taquerias El Mexicano moved into my Little Havana neighbourhood, nobody thought it would last. That wasn’t because it was the first Mexican eatery en el barrio or because nobody wanted it; you’d have to be crazy not to want a taqueria in the neighbourhood. It wasn’t because it was bad. It was good. It was still good when I last visited in 2015. The locals didn’t think it would last because everything that opened in that spot closed after a short time. It’s hard to say why. It was on a busy street surrounded by mom and pop shops, including a shoemaker and dollar stores where my mother resolvia, a bakery that sold us our Cuban bread, pastelitos, and lottery tickets, a pharmacy, and a supermarket.
The pharmacy not only survived the opening the Eckerd-turned-CVS and Walgreens, two big pharmacy chains, it remodelled and expanded. It thrived thanks to its friendly staff that customers got to know, its colourful assortment of gifts, such as porcelain figurines accompanied by “you break it, you buy it” signs, and by selling medicines and medical supplies without prescriptions and at reasonable prices to old Cubans who needed them for their relatives in Cuba.
The small-chain supermarket managed to survive the openings of not one, but two Publix supermarkets. Whereas Publix had an “ethnic” food aisle and a few “ethnic” products throughout, el market catered entirely to the local Hispanic community. It was no frills and shopping was not always a pleasure there, but you could always find what you needed and find it cheap. As an aside, my first job at the probably illegal age of 15 was as a cashier at that supermarket. Despite my poor math skills, I was an excellent cashier, fast and precise. I retained the bagging skills and chide my partner every week for trying to pack hard items in the same bag as the bread. My mother and sister worked at that supermarket too, as did the young man that my sister later married. I think his brother may have worked there too, and his ex-wife. I went on one sad date with a boy that worked there. He was named after a brand of tea. He was cute and sweet and there was a shy chemistry between us, but neither of us knew anything about dating. It was that kind of supermarket. It has changed hands once or twice, but it might still be.
Maybe it was because of bad management that nothing survived in the spot where Taquerias El Mexicano moved in, or bad luck, or a curse – un fukú, like the Dominicans say. Whatever it was, Taquerias El Mexicano overcame it. Not long after it opened, The Miami New Times, a free weekly, gave it a favourable review despite its being in a “dumpy” neighbourhood. Say what?
Growing up, I knew that rich people did not live in my neighbourhood. They lived on private islands and neighbourhoods with names like Coral Gables and Cocoplum, not anywhere with “Little” in its name. And I had no idea there was such a thing as “middle class”. People were either like my family or they weren’t. I didn’t know my neighbourhood was dumpy. I didn’t even perceive it to be dangerous. When a car was set on fire in the middle of the night, a gunshot was fired at a party, or a body was found on the steps of a local warehouse, well, that’s just life in Miami. I still walked to the pharmacy or to work at the supermarket. There were a lot of things I didn’t know.
Over the years, that dumpy neighbourhood has become as hot as the jalapeños at the taqueria.
Recently, my partner and my sister were talking about their first cars. My sister dug up a photo to show him hers, a Pontiac LeMans that my father referred to as “el cadaver”. She was struck by how much the skyline has changed. In 1987, there was one tall building, which is now one of the shortest.
My family’s corner of Little Havana is close to the bay and the beaches. For years, my parents have rejected offers from developers while watching old homes go down and condos rise in their places. Last weekend, when I spoke with my mom over the phone, she told me the bakery is closing. It didn’t succumb to the competition. The owners accepted an offer on their valuable real estate.
“But where will you buy pan cubano y pastelitos?”
“Publix sells them,” she said.
“It’s not as good.”
Assimilation happens naturally. Case in point: my family.
After thirty-something years in the US, my parents, like many Cubans of their generation, do not speak English. They never learned. My family are refugees who arrived in the US with very little. You can get by in Miami just on Spanish and so they did, prioritising instead finding a safe place to live together, making ends meet, and taking care of a baby and a pre-teen girl. My father took English lessons for a time, at night, but abandoned them. He can kind of make do. He and my partner, who doesn’t speak Spanish, got on just fine. I suspect that my mother also speaks and understands more than she lets on, but may be embarrassed by her pronunciation. My sister and I, however, are bilingual. Her children struggle with Spanish. I wonder if the youngest, my 15-year-old nephew, will forget it. Over generations, immigrants are assimilated and the nooks and crannies they carved for themselves in the poor and dangerous corners of a city are gentrified. A dumpy neighbourhood becomes a goldmine. It was always gold to me.
Immigrants and expats take their place with them, but it’s only a version of it, one that is frozen in time and experienced through a unique lens. Whilst you live there, you’re like the frog that doesn’t realise the water he’s laying in is slowly being brought to a boil, but when you leave and return, the changes are striking. I can’t imagine that Miami will ever become a stranger. It takes a long time for a city to forget its history and flavours, but every time I visit, I know Miami a little less.
Happy New Year! You know what a new year means, don’t you? A new Bullet Journal!
If you don’t know what a Bullet Journal is, start here. In short, it’s a planner created by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer. You could also look at my 2017 journal. The Bullet Journal (BuJo) has exploded on the internet over the last couple of years and it’s changed a lot, but I still use Ryder’s original system. This style is now sometimes referred to as the Minimalist Bullet Journal. I still just call it the Bullet Journal.
This is my fourth Bullet Journal. It will contain All The Things. In previous years, I experimented with keeping a separate one for work, but I didn’t like juggling two journals. In 2017, I had an integrated journal and that’s what I’m doing in 2018. Once again, I’m using a Moleskine Classic Collection Dotted Notebook. This is a hardcover journal. My first Bullet Journal was a softcover grid Moleskine, but I prefer the hardcover because it holds up better. I’ve used both the grid and dotted journals and I like the dotted journal just a little bit more.
My Bullet Journal retains the same basic features year after year: index, monthly calendar and tasks, rapid logging, and collections. The collections have changed and I have experimented with other features, but after a few years of using this system, I feel like I’ve settled into the features I like.
Last year, I dedicated two spreads to the index. I didn’t use the second spread so I’m using just one spread for the index this year.
In 2016 and 2017, I dedicated the following two spreads to a future log. This is not part of Ryder’s original system and was created by someone else to resolve what is often seen as a weakness in the system: the lack of future planning. I tried two different layouts. The 2017 layout was more practical because it had more space to add dates, but I didn’t end up using it much. I relied more on Google Calendar. I’m skipping the future log in 2018.
In Ryder’s original system, the index is followed by the monthly calendar. The collections emerge from your monthly and daily calendars. I followed this process with my first two Bullet Journals and so my collections were scattered throughout the journals. Now that I’ve been using this system for a few years, I have a good sense of which collections are useful for me. Because I like to collect my collections, I put them all at the front.
Last year, I had 12 collections. This year, I have seven:
CP’s Guide to Life: These are principles I try to live by as well as the character strengths and virtues that I strive to develop. I’ve stolen most of them from someone else. You can read some of them in 40 things I know are true.
Goals: Like a lot of people, I set New Year’s resolutions in the form of goals. The page contains a list because I like to look at them, but I don’t track progress here. I use Trello for project management.
Donations: Every year, I donate a portion of my income. I use this page to keep track of what organisations I donate to and how much I give.
Waiting on: It’s the first of January and this list has eight items on it. I use this list to track purchases I’ve made online. I jot down what it is, where I bought it, and when. When the item arrives, I tick it off. Last year, I gave this list one page and it poured over into the next page. This year, it’s getting a spread.
Master packing list: This is a spread with a master packing list on the left and special categories on the right – e.g. camping, beach, Pagan, cemetery. Impromptu trips are not uncommon and this helps me ensure I don’t forget anything.
Important info: This is a collection of random, but important information that I need to have on hand sometimes. For example, medical information such as when I had my gallbladder removed or my last dental visit.
Logins: This is a collection of some usernames and passwords. I know that sounds risky, but I’ve written it in a way that only I understand.
Collections that I axed this year are:
Blog ideas: I now keep this in Trello.
Nail colours: This list was to help me avoid purchasing duplicate colours, but I didn’t buy any nail polish in 2017. I’m guessing I’m not going to buy any in 2018 either.
Makeup brushes: This list was to help me avoid buying yet another eyeshadow brush, but I’ve got all the makeup brushes I need and don’t foresee buying any in 2018.
On loan: This is a list of items I’ve loaned to others. I’ve given up on the idea that I’m getting these items back so I’m eliminating this list.
Books to Read and Films to Watch: I used this spread to capture titles I’m not familiar with. Now I keep track of my books on Goodreads. I don’t have a place to capture Films to Watch, but I didn’t use this list in 2017. This one could make a comeback if I don’t end up using a platform like Rotten Tomatoes to keep track.
The calendars follow the collections and these are the bulk of my Bullet Journal. I use Ryder’s original spread: the month on the left and the monthly tasks on the right. I also use the tasks page to capture things I want to explore, such as books, movies, ideas, websites, and apps.
Before I jump into the daily calendar, I dedicate a page to capturing things I’m grateful for. It looks like the monthly calendar page, but rather than adding events, I jot down one thing I’m grateful for every day. I used to do this in the daily calendar, but like seeing them all on one page. The position of this list varies a little bit. I always keep the monthly calendar and tasks on a spread. I never leave an empty page and so, depending on how the month ends, the gratitudes page might be before or after the monthly spread.
Then the daily calendars and rapid logging begin. When I started using the Bullet Journal, I used Ryder’s suggested bullets and signifiers. Bullets are the unique symbols that represent tasks, events, and notes. Signifiers give context. For example, a star to represent a priority item or a light bulb to represent an idea. Over time, I’ve developed my own key, which includes only a handful of bullets and signifiers. It’s short, inconsistent at times, but it works for me. In my first bullet journal, I added the key to the back of the journal, but I no longer need the visual reminder.
That’s it. Those are the first 17 pages of my 2018 Bullet Journal.
What’s not in my Bullet Journal
My Bullet Journal is my personal organiser. It’s largely a productivity tool. I don’t throw my old journals away, but I store them and rarely need to refer to them. Given the temporary nature of its purpose, I don’t use it to keep information that I want beyond the year. For example, I don’t use it for my writing. If I attend a writers’ workshop, I don’t use my Bullet Journal for notetaking because I will want to refer to those notes after the year is over. For writing, I use Scrivener. For notetaking during courses and workshops, I use a separate journal or an online tool such as Google Docs or Evernote. For magickal work, I use my Book of Shadows.
How do you stay organised? Do you use a physical planner like the Bullet Journal, digital tools, or a combination of both?
I hope you’ve had a wonderful solstice, Noche Buena, Christmas, or whatever you celebrate. If you don’t celebrate any holidays, I hope you’re having a relaxing break from work. It’s hard to believe that 2017 is almost over. Here’s my 2017 year in review.
Theo and I got engaged in late 2016. In January, we began the wedding planning. It all kicked off with our engagement party in February. It was a casual event in our home and it was perfect. Throughout the year, I went to a few bridalexpos and planned our wedding with the help of a wonderful wedding planner, Blush & White Event and Design House. There were moments when it was getting stressful and we considered cancelling (the wedding, not the marriage), but my friends jumped in to lend a helping hand. Everything is almost in place now. We’re very excited.
February also marked five years of living in Australia. In April, I became a permanent resident. In just a few months, I’ll be eligible for citizenship.
In 2016, I decided to write a novel. I’ve been writing for many years and I’ve published some work, but it’s always been research papers, news articles, and blogs. The idea of writing fiction scares me. I didn’t get that far into it, but I can confidently say it’s happening, albeit slowly. This year, I took a few courses at the Australian Writers’ Centre, a workshop by Kill Your Darlings, and attended a helpful Q&A day with Writers Victoria. I received really encouraging feedback from author Nicole Hayes. Among the advice she gave me was to stop taking courses and write. Next year, I’m giving up my extra projects so I can use that time for my own work.
Writing is also about reading. My reading goal this year was originally 12 books, but I increased it to 26 books at some point. I read 26 books in 2016, but I didn’t make it this year. It looks like the final number will be 21. That will be my goal for 2018. I’m happy with the great fiction I read this year.
Every day, I write down at least one thing I’m grateful for. As I review my bullet journal, I see that so many of the things I was grateful for involved people – catching up with family and friends in the US and here and spending time with my wonderful partner. Also, getting a great night’s sleep, my cute dog, rewatching a movie I love, finishing a great book. These are the things that bring me joy. There were a lot of small pleasures too, like getting a massage, discovering great podcasts, and buying a Google Home.
Other highlights included:
Spending time in Barwon Heads, one of my favourite places
Appearing on two podcasts to discuss community management
Speaking to students at Monash University about online communities and emerging digital technologies
Blessing the 20th-anniversary re-nuptials of my friends
On account of our wedding, my donation budget this year was smaller than it’s been in previous years. I was happy to support some friends in their fundraising treks and I also gave to Cherry Hill Seminary, The Wild Hunt, and, since I couldn’t participate in the same-sex marriage postal vote, to the Equality Campaign.
In May, I consolidated my blogs and created this one, and I’ve redesigned it twice (I think, at least). I was tired of compartmentalising. I know that best practice says you should have a niche, but I’m a multipotentialite; I have many interests and creative pursuits. I want to keep them all in one place. I published 50 posts including this one. My top five posts were:
I’ve been living in Australia for almost six years. I still get homesick around the holidays.
This time it crept in and caught me by surprise. I thought I was coping well this year with the lack of gifts, decorations, or gatherings. But on Sunday I spoke with one of my best friends in Miami. She told me about Turning the Tide, a local Pagan festival that is put on by the community I belonged to. It recently took place for the 11th year. As she told me about it, I started to cry. I suddenly felt homesick. I missed everyone so much.
When I lived in Miami, I had a lot of traditions. My family observed all the major holidays. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, we’d go shopping for costumes, decorations, and candy. There were school dances, private parties, and, of course, trick-or-treating on the big night. The activities changed as I got older. Dance clubs, scary movies, and theme park horror nights replaced school dances and adolescent parties. I still went trick-or-treating, but now I watched from the sidewalk as my nieces and nephew knocked on our neighbour’s doors.
Although I have a few memories of Halloween as a child, I don’t remember Thanksgiving gatherings, and have only glimpses of Christmas. I suppose these were quiet times until I was about seven or eight. My sister met the man that became her husband and our two families merged. This is when my memories of the holidays really begin.
At Thanksgiving, our families gathered at my sister’s home for not-so-traditional dinner of roast turkey, white rice, and black beans. At Christmas, my mom’s decorating rivalled Santa’s Enchanted Forest, a local holiday theme park we visited every few years. On Christmas Eve, my family gathered again for Noche Buena, for a roast pork feast. Those were days before divorces and deaths, before children grew up and left, and the family was large, young, and carefree. The celebrations went late into the night with music and dancing.
Once in bed, I cracked open my bedroom door every few minutes trying to catch Santa Claus delivering the presents until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I woke up early on Christmas morning and, on seeing the presents under the tree, woke up everyone else. We spent Christmas day visiting family and exchanging gifts. In the early afternoon, we went to my godparents’ house, who every year opened her house for lunch – takeaway Chinese. And in the evening, we went to the home of my sister’s in-laws for leftovers of lechón and flan or pudín or pan.
We watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on Thanksgiving, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Disney Christmas Day parades. New Year’s was a quieter affair spent with family, 12 grapes, bubbly, and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Joining the Pagan community only added to the joy of the season. In addition to traditional family gatherings, there were Samhain rituals, festivals, and Witches Balls, Turning the Tide, and winter solstice celebrations. More people, more festivities, more merriment.
These days, people are older. People have died. The music is not so loud. The nights are not so late. But they still gather.
I made enormous trades when I came to Australia. I left a past for a future. I’m happy with my loving partner, who I’m going to marry soon. I feel safe. I have access to excellent health care. Professionally, I’ve done well and worry less about my financial future. Those are all important things. But I don’t have family. I don’t have friends to drop everything and come to my rescue. I don’t have a spiritual community. I don’t have celebrations.
I draw strength from all those before me who share similar experiences. I’m not alone in feeling homesick, especially around the holidays. This is the story of history’s young brides who had to leave their homes, their villages, to join their new husbands. This is the story of my parents, who left their homeland and their families in Cuba to give my sister and I a better life. It’s a shared experience of refugees, immigrants, and expats.
Here’s the first of my ‘this year’ lists: the best fiction books of 2017. This list covers books that I read this year, not books that were published in 2017.
The Power by Naomi Alderman (2016)
The Power is an exciting work of speculative fiction.Young girls and women around the world develop the ability to release electrical jolts from their fingertips. This changes the balance of power between men and women. I was completely on board with the first half of the novel in which girls and women free themselves from oppression, but it started to lose steam for me when girls and women start becoming the oppressors. I enjoyed it, but I wanted more from this book. The Power is set to be turned into a television series.
The Strays by Emily Bitto (2014)
The Strays tells the story of a community of modernist artists led by Evan and Helena Trentham in Melbourne during the 1930s. It is narrated by Lily, a girl who steps into their bohemian world via her friendship with Eva, one of three Trentham daughters. Lily is enchanted by this world, but this is a story of neglect and loneliness. I love Bitto’s voice, but I also enjoyed this novel because I’m one of those people that like to peek into the lives of other artists. The Strays was inspired by the Heide circle, a well-known group of Australian artists brought together by art benefactors John and Sunday Reed. They lived and worked at the Heide, a former dairy farm that is now a museum.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007)
This novel won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It chronicles the life of Oscar, a nerdy Dominican-American teenager living with his family in New Jersey. I love this novel because it’s about family, struggle, immigration, it contains elements of magical realism, and it’s full of Spanglish, slang, and pop culture references. Even though I’m not Dominican, the characters and stories in this novel felt familiar. It speaks to me as a Hispanic immigrant.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)
American Gods had been on my reading list for a long time. The novel follows a convict named Shadow who meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday shortly after his release from prison. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, Shadow accepts a job as Wednesday’s bodyguard. They travel across America meeting Wednesday’s friends and enemies along the way. American Gods blends Americana, fantasy, and myth to explore themes such as immigration, the nature of gods, and contemporary cultural phenomena. It’s a thoughtful and highly entertaining read.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013)
Set in 1829, Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a servant in northern Iceland who was condemned to death for murder. That’s not a spoiler. When the novel opens, Agnes has already been arrested and tried. The novel is set in the winter before her execution. Burial Rites is a slow, beautiful, and haunting novel. I love it because it takes its time, it is rich in its description of life on an Icelandic farm, and it gives Agnes a voice.
The Good People by Hannah Kent (2016)
While researching Burial Rites, Kent came across the inspiration for her second novel. Set in a remote valley in south-west Ireland in 1825, The Good People tells the story of Nóra Leahy and her neighbours who believe the misfortune in their valley is caused by a changeling, a fairy child left in the place of Nora’s real, human grandson stolen by the fairies. With her knowledge of Them, the valley’s “handy woman” is the only person that can restore the child. Steeped in folklore, like Burial Rites, The Good People is well-researched, rich in detail, and explores the lives of women.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
Orwell’s classic dystopian novel saw a burst in popularity after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Some of the novel’s elements, such as nationalism, a leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, and historical revisionism, can be observed in America, but it’s a vision clearly borne from Hitler-Stalin communism. In fact, the concept of a ruling class that has its citizens under constant surveillance, controls all information, and uses brutal force to persecute individualism reminds me of Cuba. It’s hard to say that I like this book, but it’s a classic, it’s relevant, and enriching to read.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)
This is the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It tells the story of runaway slaves Cora and Cesar and brilliantly reimagines the Underground Railroad as an actual train rather than a network of secret routes and safe houses. Of course, it’s difficult to read; it’s brutal, but there are a lot of reasons to admire this novel. I love it because it weaves realism and fable. It reads like a slave narrative, but feels fresh, modern, and relevant. I also like that it places Black people at the centre of their liberation efforts.
What were your best fiction books this year? You can see more of what I’m reading and share your reads with me over at Goodreads.