Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Best Birthday-warming Barbecue!

I don't remember when I began toying with the idea of having an actual housewarming party, but I wanted to have something to look forward to, and a sort of goal that we could work toward, with all that we'd been doing.  Plus, we already started having some people over a few times.  I also figured that my 30th birthday would fall perfectly on the 3-month mark of move-in, so it seemed like good timing for hosting a big fat celebration.

There are a few birthday parties that I remember in my life.  The earliest one was probably my fifth birthday.  Mom and Dad threw me a birthday party at Discovery Zoom (like a Chuck E. Cheese sort of place) and invited my whole kindergarten class from Montessori School.  I don't really remember any of the kids, but I definitely remember the awesome handmade pinata and how special I felt that day.  I don't remember having another one until my 18th, which was planned in collaboration with two other girls in my high school class who also had October birthdays.  We had a gathering at my apartment-style student housing at UCI - it was pretty major, because I was finally out of the house and living life as an "adult."  I got my first big-ticket gift: an iPod Nano, which my friends had all chipped in for.  The next big one after that was my rather ratchet 21st, when I tried to take 21 shots of the worst alcohol that I proudly purchased myself at the Ralph's by USC.  The night ended poorly, I think the last thing I remember was falling into the cardboard box that we had designated for recycling.  Onto the next chapter of my life - 25.  I was living with Wes and happily engaged by this time, and we squeezed at least ten people into our tiny apartment kitchen and rolled fresh pasta in many shapes and sizes!  Then, we had a carbalicious time tasting them all.  Since I am finally neither renting a place nor interested in getting drunk for the first time since I graduated high school, it is about damn time to throw the biggest and most sophisticated party in the history of me.

At first, Wes was a little hesitant of this ambitious undertaking, but I think he was 100% in when he realized that this meant that he could buy the smoker of his dreams and perfect his pitmaster skills.  Literally a few days after the decision was made, he reported to me that he found someone who was selling the smoker brand-new on OfferUp for an amazing price.  This does tend to happen with Wes.  He sets his heart on something, and then he finds a deal almost instantaneously... anyway, he borrows my car and drives away.  He comes home with the perfect little workhorse of a smoker that it is: the Traeger Timberline 850.  By the end of the day, it was all set up and standing under our tree in all of its glory.

Anyway, we decided to invite about a hundred people to our house.  We don't know how it happened, but the guest list just kept adding up.  It was pretty fun to see the RSVP's roll in.  Then, we realized what we had done... cooking all of the food didn't scare us as much as having to buy tons of folding tables and chairs.  And trash cans.  And a huge ice chest.  Tablecloths.  Lawn games.  Etc.  Did we even have enough space in the refrigerator?  Hmm...

Luckily, our good friends who have been throwing parties for a while lent us their tables and chairs, and I thought about buying picnic blankets as an alternative option.  While planning out our menu, we completed projects and realized some plans that we had always envisioned for the house.  Those included a very large painting for the living room that I had to literally take entire Saturdays standing in front of the easel, a side table that Wes built out of our tree slab wedding cake stand, a live edge coffee table that Wes built from a reclaimed tree slab that we had been saving for years, the gallery wall in the hallway of travel photos, the collage of collectibles from trips, painted corn hole boards, and certain living room statement pieces.  We definitely felt the urgency to decorate when we put the housewarming party on the map, but it was a fun and exciting sort of urgency.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Living it up in Lima

Lima, Peru.  It wasn't love at first sight, but the city definitely grew on me.  When we planned our trip to Peru, we decided to go to Cusco and the Sacred Valley first, and then end in Lima, the capital of Peru.  I figured that being in a metropolitan area would be a nice treat after all of our hiking and wandering in the parts of the country with less modern conveniences, but we found ourselves nostalgic for those places when we arrived in bustling Lima on a grey, smoggy afternoon.  We were sort of in denial that we had just been in pleasant, quiet old Urubamba just that morning and here we were, suddenly wrapped up in fumes, pedestrians, honking cars, and skyscrapers.  Lima is the third-largest city in the Americas.  At first, it was funny to be sarcastic about it all (Why's that dog on a leash? Why are they advertising bottled chicha?  Why are they selling sweaters in storefronts?), but soon it got to be sapping and I found myself regretful of our decision to leave Urubamba.  Wes reminded me that I didn't really know what to think of Urubamba at first either, but ended up loving it.  He also reminded me to think back to that first night when we laid over in Lima briefly before flying to Cusco.  It truly was all so fresh and exciting at that time, and we had been looking forward to coming back to check out what else this big city had to offer.

As I am sitting here in front of my computer a couple of years later, I look back on these photos and think about how wonderful the days we spent here were.  All things considered, Lima treated us so well, and I would be super happy to relive any one of those days there.  No, we weren't amongst ancient ruins or hiking in the jungle, but we got to eat food that was unique to Lima, we got to explore a UNESCO World Heritage site, we got to meet Chinese immigrants living here, we got to see what urban street art looked like, and we got to see sharply contrasting parts of the same country.  For example, our only choice of transportation in Urubamba was a rickety moto-taxi (or simply walking), whereas we were able to whip out our Smartphones and call an Uber in Lima.  I really value ending our trip in Lima now, and getting the chance to reflect on these things, and to think about how our lives in Los Angeles differed from what is considered modern in Lima.  We also unexpectedly glimpsed the striking similarities between the Peruvians of Chinese descent and our parents' generation in the United States, as first-generation immigrants.  These experiences in Lima, no matter how fleeting they seemed when they were happening, widened my world view.  Essentially, no travel experience can be taken for granted or underestimated, no matter how unglamorous.

Now, let me stop being all serious and get into all of the wonderful things about Lima that we loved and still remember well!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Struggle Sweet Struggle - Our First Two Weeks as Homeowners

I didn't think that I'd be googling how to coil a hose or measuring Plast-O-Mats to size for kitchen cabinets right now.  In the span of two weeks, I've learned some fun facts: the tree of heaven is really the weed from hell, distant earthquakes can mess up your sprinkler system, laying down a tarp before staining a fence is a good preemptive measure, and keeping your grass green makes car maintenance seem like a piece of cake.

I must confess that there is a lot of unsexy stuff that goes into moving into a house that you bought.  It's not like starting a lease where you sign a contract with a definitive end, you've got definitive rules to follow, and you've got a landlord to call if something breaks.  The irreversible prospects and infinite list of things to do when it comes to owning a home is what scares me.  I knew that there would be a lot of repairs because we did buy a house that is nearly a century old, but I didn't see certain emotions coming.  Homesickness, frustration, helplessness, and self-inflicted pressure, all descended upon me after the glow of the first two days faded.  It was wonderful to drive up the long driveway and stare across the front yard for a little while, but then the driveway starts filling with fallen leaves and the yard begins turning an embarrassing shade of yellow.  Things that came up in our inspection report started to creep into my mind and scare me, like those cracks in our foundation, our outdated electrical box, and the roots intruding our pipes.  I wondered if that musty smell emitted by the crawl space would ever go away, and we discovered that there was a dead cat down there with mounds and mounds of its dried up excrement.  Then, the breaking point for me was when I realized that all of the numerous "bushes" in the front were really hugely overgrown invasive weeds (the "tree of heaven" that I mentioned) that were too hard to remove by myself.  There were even more of these weeds throughout the yard (and ugh, are those rotten orange remnants?), and you'd be shocked too about the random shit that I dug up from the ground while weeding - one of them was a really huge bone... The thought of ever gardening back here was literally disgusting.

Rewind to about two months ago, when we first laid eyes on this house.  We were on our way home (to the apartment) from dinner or something when Wes told me that he wanted to swing by a house that he had been eyeing on Redfin.  I shrugged, sure.  We drove over as the sun was setting and parked on the street in front.  Our first reaction was our astonishment at the size of the front yard, the big tree with trailing leaves, and how deep everything went back.  I remember thinking, wow, that's pretty ideal.  Little did we know that we'd be the lucky ones in escrow a few weeks later, after watching it go from open, to pending, then back on the market, and finally pending again, but this time it was pending to us.  I think back to that moment to remind myself that this was truly what we wanted.  I admit that I let all of the appreciation and excitement fade away when we started to unpack and focus our energies on learning the ropes of homeownership.

I went from not understanding what anything was at a hardware store to being more or less comfortable with its industrial-like aisles.  As of now, I think we've been to three different Home Depots at all hours of the day, to buy "essential" things like a string trimmer (they were running a good deal on it), a huge leaf blower (his brother got him hooked), a paint sprayer (because we realized that using a paintbrush to stain over 200 feet of fence was not wise), multi-purpose home insecticide (with the fun spray gun attached), Nature's Miracle (cat...shit...).  We are also now frequent customers of the Container Store, Ace Hardware, and OfferUp (you know it).  Advertisements that appeared on my Instagram seemed to transform overnight from trails and trees to rugs and pillows.  I'm not even kidding.  The whole idea of "splurging" skyrocketed to a new level--the fact that everything we buy must have permanent value makes it fun to entertain really nice things, but also it's a lot of pressure to make a final decision that you can't go back on.  And if you know me, you know I can't stand that.

In addition to the stress of endless spending and feeling like life as we knew it had slipped through my fingers, I felt (and still feel) very incompetent and pretty much like an imposter with all of this homeownership stuff.  Who am I anymore??  I went from being sure of my abilities and always having a plan to second guessing everything, and worst of all, comparing myself to my star of a husband, Wes.  I have to say that he is just kicking ass at all of the lawncare, large appliance installment, repairing, burglar-proofing, window treating, etc... while I am mainly in charge of organizing and handling things that a middle-schooler could probably do.  I find myself wondering if I am contributing enough and doubting my intelligence and worth.  It's sad, however, I do feel that it's important to go through times like these in life.  As I approach my 30th birthday soon, I am grateful for this opportunity to reexamine myself and grow from this discomfort.  As much as I would like to fast-forward through all of this tension and state of limbo, I am starting to think that there is no better way to spend the final months of my twenties.  It's still a work in progress, but as the house develops, so do I.  As Wes always says, "Stop being so hard on yourself."

With that being said, I am so unbelievably proud of Wes, who has taken on any project with genuine devotion and with a burning desire to get it done right.  This guy never cut corners to begin with, so I'm not surprised, but I still am very impressed with his skill, resourcefulness, patience, efficiency, and willingness to jump into the unknown.  And on top of that, he never expects any help or acknowledgment.  I bet this paragraph is making him cringe, so I'll stop.

Here are some tidbits that we captured (on our phones) of our first two weeks as homeowners!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dear Apartment, We'll Miss You

This was the photo of us that we used on our initial offer letter to the seller of our new house.  Wes dug it up from one of our Fourth of July family barbecues that we hosted, a Wong/Chiu family tradition that we started right here in our apartment.  We thought that this picture, if not a little silly, captured us for who we were, and showed the seller that we would use and love the house well.  I think it worked!

Now with the big move (and major "adulting") on the horizon, it is with a bittersweet sentiment that I write this ode to our first home.  With every change comes mixed emotions.  Moving out is sad, but we are so thankful to this apartment for everything that it had been for us, and looking forward to what's next.