Category Archives: New Year

Lunar New Year 2015

Lunar New Year marks the one year anniversary of the DiversityNerd blog and I have about 50 posts on this site. Considering I committed to posting once a week, I didn’t do too badly in reaching that goal. The last two paragraphs of my first post read as follows, written about the Year of the Horse:


On New Year’s Day, look forward, not backward, as this is not a time to even talk about the past.  Keep positive thoughts in your mind about the future.  This year, give love.  Remember karma?  Well, the Horse can be impulsive, “act now and think later”.  Be sure to radiate positive energy so impulsive actions won’t bite you in the ass.  Don’t be a douche, be good to others, give more than you take and do it all with love.

If you’ve read this far, mahalo nui loa/salamat po (thank you very much) for hanging in with me, I really appreciate it.  There will always be a message about Diversity and Inclusion in this blog, as my career is truly a part of who I am.  In addition, I will continue to nerd out over important things like “Star Wars”, “The Walking Dead”, “Downton Abbey”, “Scandal”, “24” (can’t wait for the re-boot) and “Elementary”.  My daughter turns 16 this month and her high school experience an endless source of material to write about.  I’m waiting for the ink to dry on my divorce papers so a story or two about me dating is a definite possibility in 2014.  And, I stay active with fun things like paddling outrigger canoes, dancing hula, wogging half marathons and occasionally kicking and punching at the dojo.  On some days, this blog will be a mindless string of run-on thoughts and other days, I will say something profound and prolific.  The only thing I can promise is that it will be my truth, the truth of Jennifer “Jae” Pi’ilani, a DiversityNerd.

It is sort of crazy how much my life has changed in just one year. As the ink continued to dry on divorce papers, the spark of a new friendship with a man who lives 2,000 miles away ignited to a long distance romance which is now a stable, loving and committed relationship. I am not sorry about not having blog posts about Tinder swipes or bar hopping or booty shaking at the club as I re-entered the life of a single woman on the dating scene. When I least expected to find a friendship on fire, this man walked into my life back in 2013. What started with an innocent night of talking and laughing about nerdy stuff led to a new beginning for both of us. Since then, only two days have passed where we haven’t communicated in some form or fashion. I am more connected to him than anyone else I have ever date, including the man I married.

Work continues to undergo chaos and change as we work to transition all four HQ locations to Texas. People are leaving the company for new opportunities every day and that is a new experience for most of us. I feel a weight on my shoulders to help the company be successful in this move. I also feel a responsibility to ensure that the new work environment continues to live the values that we have all grown accustom to in our current affiliates but evolves to include new cultural priorities. Business as usual won’t cut it in the future.

My return to the dojo has filled my life with new goals around martial arts. I want to train and become the badass black belt that Sensei Richard always wanted me to be. Not because rank is important to me but because it proves that I have accomplished the first stage of obtaining knowledge to pass along to students. I want to teach new students, especially young people, that the basics are everything. We need a foundation of basics to build our self-esteem and to understand how discipline on the dojo floor creates an avenue for success in all aspects of one’s lives. And the dojo is more than a room to sweat in three times per week, a dojo is safe environment in which to learn and where you can make mistakes in the spirit of continuous improvement.

And I am so grateful that my daughter is happy and healthy and still loves school. We have a special relationship because it has just been the two of us for so long. I see her developing her independence and it makes me proud. But I also see her struggle with the usual teenager drama and I wince when I remember how hard it is to be in high school. All I can do is to try to give her space to be a kid and to make mistakes and to know that I will always have her back.

I looked up what we have to look forward to in the Year of the Wooden Sheep and found this at:

“2015 is the year of the wooden sheep (or year of the wooden goat if you’re using other sources).

The Meaning Behind the Year of the Sheep

The Sheep is generally considered a very lucky animal by most Chinese, and this is because the Chinese character for Sheep, which is Yang, sounds very similar to the Chinese pronunciation for luck, which is Xiang. Because of this linguistic similarity, the Chinese horoscope associates Sheep with luck, which is why they consider them lucky animals.

Predictions for 2015

Because the fire cycle is coming to a close, 2015 is believed to conclude many trends that had existed in the past few years. Many of the processes which have unfolded in the past are also believed to be wrapping up, which means that political and economic situations throughout the world are more likely to end. The downside to this, however, is that new troubles may also arise to replace the old problems that are expected to pass away. So the best way to greet 2015 is to expect a lot of changes, both good and bad.

If you’ve had nothing but bad luck in the past few years then 2015 may just offer you the chance to turn your life around. On the other hand, if you’ve experienced nothing but good fortune in the past then you may want to reexamine your priorities and make certain preparations just in case the worse happens. Either way, it’s going to be an exciting year.”

So buckle up and get ready for an exciting year of change, as if that is news to me. I hope to launch my podcast this year, earn my brown belt and do the Catalina Crossing this year. Cheers to the Year of the Sheep!

Adios 2014! Aloha to a 30 for 30 Challenge @YI_Mag : What One month of Yoga is teaching the DiversityNerd

2015 arrived with a whimper.  My December felt so jammed-packed, all I did for the last few days of 2014 was try to sleep in and watch movies with my daughter.  In November, I ran the Las Vegas Rock N Roll Half Marathon and suddenly, Thanksgiving arrived.  With Thanksgiving happening so late in November, I felt as if I had a lot less time to rest or prep for all the activities leading up to Christmas. And before the big introductions would happen, the halau was a whirlwind of activity.

400 pounds of kalua pork needed to be bought, prepped, cooked, shredded and distributed for our annual Winter fundraiser.

I jumped on a plane for an overnight business trip to Plano, TX, the first of many because the company who I have been employed with for over 16 years is moving all HQ locations there.  We will be neighbors with Dr. Pepper/Snapple, Frito Lay and FedEx.

Months filled with countess hours of singing and dancing rehearsals led up to the Christmas show “Mele Kalikimaka ‘Ia Oe”.

The halau also danced in a Daniel Ho concert that turned out to be a huge collaboration with about eight other halau.

When we got back to LA, my daughter spent the weekend with her dad and his family, as a late Christmas celebration. i sipped on a library wine from Leal, their 2006 Carnaval Meritage.  The website description makes me giggle:  “This masterful meritage of Bordeaux varietals is based on very deep and classic Léal merlot. While enjoying this wine, you will find nuances of baked raspberries, leather and just right measure of oak. The Merlot marries perfectly with the Cabernet Franc and Malbec to give the wine a plump and polished palatal feel. The finish shows perfectly integrated tannins balanced with fruit.”  This winery became one my favorites several years back, when the local grocer at Star Market introduced me to Leal Vineyards.  He said their red blends were divine and at the time, they were priced at about $20/bottle.  Also, they don’t do wide distribution or mass production and their motto is something like “phat wines. low pretense.”

When my daughter came home, we had two short days left to play tourist in So Cal.  What else could we do except hit the La Brea Tar Pits, LACMA and Disneyland?  We got some culture and saw Mickey Mouse, that’s a mighty fine way to spend the holidays together.

A few days before New Year’s, my cousin sent me a link for the “30 for 30 Challenge” by Yoga International.  She is a yoga instructor and practices daily.  I have taken three classes and have not gotten serious about my yoga practice.  However, as I turn my attention and focus back to martial arts, I see that yoga will allow me to increase my physical flexibility and mental patience.  I kicked off 2015 by spending 30 days practicing 30 minutes of yoga.

Day Five focused on the Root Chakra – Muladhara Chakra and the element “Earth”

Today’s yoga practice was about discovering where I had holding patterns (tension) and asymmetries in my body created by unregulated emotions such as the need for control, or fear.  It helped me see where I have “holding patterns and asymmetries” or, as I interpreted that statement, “tension”. For example, I felt my jaw remain tense even as I tried to relax into the simple “easy pose” called “sukhasana”. I had to consciously release the tension in my jaw and allow my mouth to relax. I felt like an ass but I kept breathing through it. No one is with me as I practice so I shouldn’t worry about being perfect for what I look like. That’s an important part of yoga, right?  This can also be caused by any repetitive motions: sitting at a desk, assembling a vehicle, pulling pints, or any other job task that is repeated over and over.

Given what upheaval is happening at work, it did not shock me to discover that my body is all kinds of asymmetrical right now.  These 30 minutes allowed me to see how I hold my body asymmetrically, usually because of emotions or stress. Emotions are not a negative thing but I know that not expressing my emotions causes physical pain or sleeplessness for me.  That is something I have been working on and “Jim” has played a huge part in helping me feel safe enough to do so.  No longer do I hold things in and run or punch them out.  Now I can actually talk to “Jim” about my feelings about anything and everything.  He helps me process the millions of thoughts and emotions that run through my head every day.

What am I learning?
30 minutes feels HELLA long
Yoga teachers work my nerves if their voices grate on me or they touch their students too much or if they sound monotone and boring.

Even as of Day Four, I can feel my muscles being stretched and worked in different ways from my usual exercise routines. My karate stances feel stronger already. My shoulders and triceps feel leaner.  As I develop more patience, I think the yoga will make me a better martial artist and allow me to breathe through the frenetic pace of change at work.  This year will be turbulent and filled with turmoil and tears.  But I am prepared for you, 2015.  Bring it.

Humility is crucial to this study. Patience is important. Breathing is key.

Just like in karate, as my late Sensei always said, the basics are everything.

Ash Wednesday 2014

Ash Wednesday

6:33am, I tip toed into the chapel and scanned the pews for an empty seat close to the exit. If Mass went longer than an hour, I would have had to sneak out to bring my daughter to school. I am not a devout Catholic who attended Mass every Sunday or made my daughter attend Sunday School. She has no emotional connection to attending church and I am fine with that. My own journey as a Catholic has had many more stops than starts. I identify with being Christian who went to a Catholic church but I also am a Catholic who wore a “Vote No on Proposition 8” button to mass at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Downtown LA. Little did I know that the priest was going to end Mass and tell his congregation to vote Yes on Proposition 8 to “restore marriage and protect children.” I left Mass that morning PISSED OFF and more frustrated than ever with the Catholic church.

Despite this, I consider myself to be more than a C&E (Christmas and Easter) Catholic because I believe in the fundamentals of what I learned from the church, my parents, and my grandparents:

• Love and protect your family.
• Always try to do the right thing.
• Be generous and help others in need.
• Respect your elders and care for all children.

And here is what I gleaned from those learnings:

• Everyone has a story to tell and something to teach me.
• Assume good intentions from others but watch your back.
• Do all things with Aloha and expect nothing in return.

My last memory of attending an Ash Wednesday service was while on a business trip in NYC. I always like to visit churches and cathedrals while in other cities. Architectural design interests and I appreciate how Catholic churches have a familiar look and smell (is that weird?) to me. When I walk into a church, regardless of where I am in the world, I get sense of who lives in the community. I scan for ethnic diversity, I listen for different languages/accents and honestly, I look at how people are dressed. It still shocks me to see people attending Mass in jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. It shouldn’t, as I am sure the priests are happy to have butts in seats.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NY is iconic and honestly, I wanted to compare it to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Northern Ireland, where my brother was married. The two buildings looked very similar but the church in Ireland had this heavy energy of time weighing over it. It has seen war and weather and many more moons rise over it. Our young country can’t compare to Europe in so many ways. This long-standing essence of maturity is yet another difference. When we drove to the rehearsal, we travelled up one of the seven large hills in the city of Armagh. The front of the church was illuminated with gorgeous spotlights hidden in the landscaping. Couple that with Aaron Neville’s rendition of “Ave Maria” spinning in the CD player and we all took in a collective breath of admiration and wonder. The church was stunningly beautiful and seeing it gave me a sense of how serious the commitment my brother and now sister in law were about to make. Scary, scary serious and oh so permanent. Sorry, I digress.

Back to my personal Catholic journey….
During my elementary school years, I attended CCD after school on Wednesdays. This was the only time I ate Twinkies or Ho Ho’s (those were the rolled up ones, right?) which we received as a reward for paying attention during CCD. After all these years, I realize that I don’t even know what CCD stands for so I looked it up. Thank You, Wikipedia.

“The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was an association established at Rome
in 1562 for the purpose of giving religious education. Its modern usage, often abbreviated CCD or C.C.D., is a religious education program of the Roman Catholic Church, normally designed for children.”

It must have been during second and third grades that I went to Mrs. Lavarato’s house for CCD. Her son, Chris, had been a classmate since kindergarten. Chris had thick dark hair and huge brown eyes, he looked like an adorable model for an Italian garden statue and all the girls crushed on him. His best friend was the other hottie who had blond hair and blue eyes, Shawn Jackson (or “SJ”) and he lived right across the street. They were excellent athletes and the cool kids at school. Also in our class was the sweet and sort of soft spoken JoAnn DiMaggio, who I am still in contact with on Facebook. I really love that JoAnn is happily married and posts about her attending pole dancing fitness classes. That so rocks. The four of us memorized prayers and read bible passages, all under the watchful eye of Mrs. Lavarato. Mr. Lavarato was a successful attorney in town and I remember thinking that they lived in a mansion. Mrs. L was always dressed to the nines, I think she shopped exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Her hair was jet black and sprayed into place with care. But her make-up always bugged me. She wore extra creamy foundation from Hollywood and too long of eye lashes with blue eye shadow. I always felt like she looked like a nice version of Cruella DeVil. And should Cruella DeVil really be teaching CCD to our youth? I keep getting off track here, I meant to write about Ash Wednesday.

Every year, Ash Wednesday falls on a different day but it always marks the first day of Lent and is 46 days before Easter Sunday. I hadn’t done the math before but since we always say that Lent lasts for 40 days, I wanted to figure out what happened to the other six days. Of the 46 days until Easter, six are Sundays. Sunday is the Sabbath for Christians and are not included in the fasting period and are instead “feast” days during Lent. So, boom. That’s why there are 40 days for Lent but 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

I also looked for a reminder of the “rules” for Lent. In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are observed by fasting, not eating meat, and repentance – a day of contemplating one’s transgressions. Fasting in this case refers to eating just one full meal a day, we don’t have to starve ourselves to follow this rule.

My goal during Lent is to take an action that will benefit others and help me break a bad habit or stop doing something that is not productive. In my case, I find that I use too many curse words. A well placed “F” word is acceptable from time to time but gratuitous swearing is not ladylike or classy, and I am all class, right? This year, I vow to try to stop cursing so much. At one point in my college career, I was an English major so I know that removing swear words will not limit my vocabulary. In fact, it should grow because I won’t be relying on cursing. I also want to give up alcohol because that will feel like a supreme sacrifice. Red wine is divine and whiskey sipping has fast become a favorite pastime. (Did I really just make that rhyme? Sorry.) Some of my friends give up carbs because they love bread, sugar and pasta and that is an appropriate sacrifice. Another friend gave up Facebook and never went back to it. We, as Catholics, are also expected to spend more time reflecting and praying. Lent is considered by many to be an opportunity for spiritual transformation.

It seems appropriate to include a quote from Sister Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun, author, speaker, and HufPo blogger. She wrote, “Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.”
“Repent and believe in the Gospel” these are the strong words as I received my ashes this morning. My approach to Lent and to 2014 is to embrace the changes in my life, forgive myself for my short-lived marriage, and continue to fall in love with myself again. The last few years brought me down a path where I could have been content. I was in a marriage to very nice man who was a friend but not much more. There was no heat in the relationship. We might have had a baby together and lived as roommates for a lifetime. My passion for life was stifled. I could have been comfortable with complacency and just existed, living my life through my children. Instead, we walked away from the marriage early and I feel like the universe has sent me such much positive energy. As if some life force is hugging me tightly and protecting me from harm. I’ve been reminded of the passion I have for culture and movement. Martial arts brings me a sense of power, both physically and emotionally. I’ve begun to practice yoga and can already feel a difference in my running, hula, and karate. I feel happier than I have ever been, which makes me a better mother to my daughter. My heart is open to all that is coming my way. To my surprise, that includes having a very special man in my life who has only added to my happiness. Sister Joan Chittistqer wrote that “Lent is a summons to live anew.” I am all in to live life anew.

“Dragonflies whisper”

imageFairly often, I am asked about my tattoo. It is not something that I put on display on a regular basis, especially while working in a professional setting. My tattoo is located behind my right ear and it large enough to be seen from quite a distance but it is private to me. I didn’t get the tattoo on a whim, I thought about it for two years before committing to the ink. It is a symbol of going through a very long hardship and coming out in a different place. In addition, I was being recruited for a new position in another financial services organization based in the same city that houses the headquarters for Smith and Wesson and the Basketball Hall of Fame. That would mean this Island Girl would be living across the country in Massachusetts. At the time, I didn’t even know how to spell “Massachusetts”. Dragonflies are a symbol of change and change is peeking over the horizon in my life.

2007: Interesting to me, I became fixated on dragonflies this summer, right about the time when I was ready to escape. Escape from the prison of lies that had consumed, enveloped and torn down my peace of mind. My body and brain existed in constant fear, fear for the safety of my daughter, fear for my own safety, fear of what this stranger in my home might do. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t release myself from high alert. Code red. The truth had begun to chip away at the bright and shiny exterior of bling and things and I realized that my gut instincts are always to be trusted. Why it took so long, I didn’t want to think on that. Forgiveness is in progress, my heart has locked itself back into stillness. Thankfully, I am starting to turn the key. Turn slowly, just as I should kiss slowly.

Beginning on my birthday in April, I saw dragonflies in my dreams, I noticed images of dragonflies in books and magazines and I often mistook images as being dragonflies. They had consumed my thoughts. Strange but true. Why dragonflies? I had no idea. Because really, they are just bugs. And I don’t so much dig on bugs.

In passing, I had mentioned this to my dear friend a few months ago and she recently hand-crafted me a gorgeous dragonfly necklace. It means so much to me that she took such time and care to design a gift so personal and meaningful and now, as I discover, so powerful.
It is said in some Native American beliefs that dragonflies are a symbol of renewal after a time of great hardship. Think about it, dragonflies are a symbol of renewal. Consider what they go through in terms of physical development…You see, the dragonfly is very similar to the butterfly in two respects: first, they both are flying insects with four wings, and secondly, they both go through a metamorphosis period to emerge as fully formed and functional new creatures. For the dragonfly, life starts out encased in an egg. These eggs are laid in water, and when the young dragonfly emerges, it is known as a nymph. These juvenile dragonflies are not nearly of the beauty or stature of their adult counterparts. In fact, they can be downright ugly. Their wings are tiny and their jaws are large and extended, to make it easier to find their favorite foods (like mosquito larvae). They can spend three years in the nymph stage, living in water, waiting to truly take form. The skin of the nymph begins to split, with the new head emerging from the ruins. The rest of it emerges, until finally free, its wings have a chance to dry and become strong enough to fly. The process takes about two hours. However, it won’t be fully complete for another day or two, when the beautiful colors begin to fully come in.

So there you have it, or there I have it. The dragonfly suffers through various stages of metamorphosis, some painful, some long and trying, before it can develop wings strong enough to fly. Only after it gains it’s strength does it fulfill is beauty. To quote india.arie (who wore butterfly wings the last time I saw her perform): “My body is nice and strong…But my heart is in a million pieces. When the sun is shining so am I…but when night falls, so do my tears…Sometimes the fear is so loud in my head…that I can barely hear what God says. Then I hear the angels whisper that this too shall pass.” Or in my case, the dragonflies whisper.

About the Dragonfly
The meaning of the dragonfly according to the medicine cards:
Dragonfly medicine always beckons you to seek out the parts of your habits which you need to change. […] If you feel the need for change, call on Dragonfly to guide you through the mists of illusion to the pathway of transformation.
Follow Dragonfly to the place inside your body where magic is still alive, and drink deeply of its power. […] This ability is ever changing, and contains within it the knowledge that you are creating it all.

“There is no death. Only a change of worlds.”
– Chief Seattle [Seatlh], Suquamish Chief-

The more that I learn about this small but very powerful creature, the more I understand that it is not only a testimony to beauty, but also to strength and more importantly, change.

2014 Lunar New Year – DiversityNerd

Thinking about my childhood, I have fond memories of making decorations in my elementary school classroom in January/February.  The smell of tempera paint and stick glue (was it really made out of horses?) still fills my nostrils when I think back to those days.  We would paint signs with “Gung Hay Fat Choy” in large red letters, complete with dragons and firecrackers and cute drawings of the current Chinese Zodiac animal.  Now that I think about, maybe things were a little stereotypical and definitely over-simplified for my non-Asian peers to understand these customs.  However, the handful of Asian kids in my school and I really enjoyed the holiday.  We always went to a parade.  I remember red envelops with coins or cash tucked inside given to us at my friends’ homes and that money was always given out in even dollar increments.  So, at a minimum, we made off with $2.00, which was an absolute fortune to a seven year old.  I couldn’t wait to walk home from school and stop at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital cafeteria for a chocolate milkshake with extra whipped cream or caramel sundae with chopped almonds, not peanuts.

This isn’t to say that my parents and I celebrated Lunar New Year.  They are Filipino immigrants and I was raised Catholic.  But without anyone telling me, it was quite obvious that I was more like the other Asian kids than I was like the other students at Monterey Park Elementary School.  And we were truly a minority, I could count the number of non-white students in each of my classes on one hand.  The Asian kids were all second generation or brand new immigrants.  Most of our families came to the U.S. to pursue higher education and some left to escape war-torn countries and oppression.  Either way, we were all growing up with parents who were bilingual and grand-parents who may or may not have spoken English.  We were stuck between becoming Americanized and acculturated or hanging on to the family/cultural traditions, victims to incessant teasing by our white friends. “Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees, Look at these!”

But back to Lunar New Year…

2014 Lunar New Year is on January 31, 2014.  Lunar New Year Day is the first day of the first lunar month of Lunar Calendar

To truly welcome Lunar New Year, some people follow the tradition to open every door and window at midnight.  Not sure I will ever do that, even if I’m wearing my hot pink snuggly Hello Kitty fleece PJs.  But the idea is to let go of last year and let good fortune flood into your home.

My mom said that to welcome in the New Year, grandma always bought a new sack of rice before New Year’s Eve to signal the continued abundance of food for our family.  Grandma also used to hit all the pots at midnight.  Filipinos believe in making a lot of noise to scare off the evil spirits.  But my favorite story was hearing that my grandpa would light firecrackers inside the house, at the same time.  Close your eyes and picture that scene and the racket, just smell the flash powder.  And my mom added, “Can you imagine how dangerous that was?  We survived, though.”  Yes, you sure did survive and I love the stories you have to share because of it.

This year is the Year of the Horse.  Susan Levitt gave this quick summary on-line:  “The Wood Horse year is a time of fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance. It is an excellent year for travel, and the more far away and off the beaten path the better. Energy is high and production is rewarded. Decisive action, not procrastination, brings victory. But you have to act fast in a Horse year. If you are not 100% secure about a decision, then don’t do it. Events move so quickly in a Horse year that you don’t want to gallop off in the wrong direction.”

On New Year’s Day, look forward, not backward, as this is not a time to even talk about the past.  Keep positive thoughts in your mind about the future.  This year, give love.  Remember karma?  Well, the Horse can be impulsive, “act now and think later”.  Be sure to radiate positive energy so impulsive actions won’t bite you in the ass.  Don’t be a douche, be good to others, give more than you take and do it all with love.

New Year’s is a time for new beginnings and endless possibilities, just as my new blog is a vehicle to record the endless thoughts, feelings and emotions that run through my head.  If you’ve read this far, mahalo nui loa/salamat po (thank you very much) for hanging in with me, I really appreciate it.   There will always be a message about Diversity and Inclusion, as my career is truly a part of who I am.  In addition, I nerd out about things like “Star Wars”, “The Walking Dead”, “Downton Abbey”, “Scandal”, “24” (can’t wait for the re-boot) and “Elementary”.  My daughter turns 16 this month and her high school experience an endless source of material to write about.  I’m waiting for the ink to dry on my divorce papers so a story or two about me dating is a definite possibility in 2014.  And, I stay active with fun things like paddling outrigger canoes, dancing hula, wogging half marathons and occasionally kicking and punching at the dojo.  On some days, this blog will be a mindless string of run-on thoughts and other days, I will say something profound and prolific.  The only thing I can promise is that it will be my truth, the truth of Jennifer “Jae” Pi’ilani, a DiversityNerd.