Sunday, June 14, 2020

Chinese New Year: A Celebration of Togetherness

Chinese New Year was the last time that we had a family gathering at our place.  Little did we know that it would be impossible to do this again... indefinitely.  We traditionally host Fourth of July, but who knows if the coronavirus stay-at-home order will be lifted by then?

It was around Chinese New Year that the virus first gained attention in the media.  At the time, it was largely dismissed as a virus no more harmful than the flu.  My sister was handing out wedding invitations for her May wedding still.  We were exchanging everything from food, to hugs, to lucky money (cash, the germiest form of currency!).   I remember going to three different markets to get groceries for our Chinese New Year feast, and how "crazy" we thought the Asian markets were around this big holiday.  The definition of a chaotic supermarket has now been blown out the window.  Thinking back, our world has shifted so much since then.

I wanted to go back and relive that fun day.  It was our first family gathering since officially moving in.  The house was full and bursting with laughter and our oven was jam-packed with the many dishes that we had cooked ahead and were keeping warm.  People drove for miles to get together, bringing more goodies to share.  It was hectic getting everything onto the table while taking photos and entertaining, but I remember it being a good kind of hectic.  I miss having guests come by.  Sometimes when we cook great meals for ourselves during these days, I wish that we could have shared them with loved ones.  For now, all we can do is to share virtually.

I hope that we will get to see everyone again soon.  Thankfully, we've got technology to video-chat and my family already has a group text, but to share a physical space (without having to be six feet apart) is still an irreplaceable experience.  Also, food is our mutual love language.  On the final days before the stay at home order, we visited my parents and my mom insisted on cooking dinner for everyone to eat.  On Wes's birthday, about two weeks into the lockdown, his mom dropped off a box of homecooked food on our front doorstep.  We are really looking forward to bringing everybody together for a hearty feast to celebrate when it is safe again!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Tennesseeing with the Wongs

It was our first time in what you could consider the "deep South," and even though it was a short trip, we really enjoyed our little taste of Nashville, Knoxville, Harrogate, and Middlesboro.  We survived Prince's hot chicken, ate barbecue almost every day, listened to singers in a honky-tonk, milked a goat, wandered through historic Civil War sites and a graveyard, walked among centuries-old buildings, hiked in the footsteps of Native Americans and pioneers, and most importantly, watched Dr. Stacy Wong walk across the Lincoln Memorial University stage to receive her Veterinary Medicine diploma.

When we travel, we make it a priority to eat what the area is known for.  So in Tennessee and Kentucky, that meant all things smoked and fried.  Hush puppies, hoe-cakes, hot chicken, catfish, ribs, brisket, washed down with sweet tea.  We also snuck in one fancy meal for Stacy's graduation dinner.  Since we had Wes's parents in tow, they had no choice but to join us on our mad eating rampage.  They love food though and went along with whatever we planned.  Our eating to physical activity ratio was much more tipped towards the eating side for this particular trip, but we got to spend lots of quality time with Wes's parents over many delicious meals.

As expected, American history and tradition is so much more ingrained here than on the West Coast.  My dad had always told me that it would be very important to travel to the South as an American.  Being here was a good reminder of our nation's roots--walking through old forts, driving past colonial buildings, and getting a glimpse of farm life.  Seeing Confederate flags and Trump support flags waving alongside our American flag was also a culture shock that made me cringe a little, but of course everyone who we met was so friendly and kindhearted.  We didn't get weird stares for being the only Asians for miles, though we carefully avoided any political talk.  It was just a humanizing experience to come in close contact with those who we criticize to no end back home, and to see that they are also just fellow citizens who love music, barbecue, and their country as much as we do.

This trip wouldn't have been the same without Papa Wong and Mama Wong.  I have never spent this many consecutive days with them (and Wes hasn't for a long time) but honestly it was very nice to have them there with us. Mama Wong was always asking if I could Airdrop her my pictures, and Papa Wong constantly wanted photos of him making funny faces while holding meat in midair.   Seeing them experience a new place and take tons of pictures to post on their own social media accounts gave me a lot of joy and entertainment the whole time.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Snow, Seafood, and a Music Box - Otaru, Hokkaido

At this time last year, we were in Otaru, wrapping up our spring break trip to Hokkaido.  I've been meaning to blog about this beautiful Japanese canal city, but the months passed and before I knew it, a year has already flown by.  Between coming back from this trip and now, our lives have sharply swerved in unpredictable directions over and over.  First, we became homeowners, then we became parents twice (and lost both), and now we're stuck in a pandemic.  All of that came with many highs and lows.  We planned this trip originally on a whim--how I miss those days of going places without needing to worry about anything.  I'm glad that we did it while we could, and even though I yearn for those blissful days, I'm glad that we have come so far since then, too.

It brings me joy right now, as we shelter in place, to look back on these photos and write down what I can before the sensation of being back in Japan fades as more time goes by.  Wes recently told me that my blogging is just as important as all of the things that he does around the house--this virtual space is sacred, like our physical home.  I need to try to document as much as I can, and it's fun and rewarding for me just as it's fun and rewarding for him to complete house projects.  I have begun to affirm my role here as the keeper of memories.

We were only in Otaru for a full day plus one morning, but we packed in a ton (of seafood).  When we pulled up to the train station and stepped out of the train, the softly falling snow took our breath away.  The elegance of the stone sidewalks, the delicate taste of local seafood, the charm of the little artisanal shops, the chills that the Suitengu shrine gave us, the tranquility of endless rows of bare cherry blossom trees in Temiya Park, the enchanting sound of an antique music box... it was all very pleasant and it seemed like nothing could possibly go wrong in this town - until the day we were leaving...more on that later.  Going to this city was the perfect way to decompress from our four days of snowboarding in Niseko and take our time saying good-bye to beautiful Hokkaido!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Finding Peace after Pregnancy Loss in Sedona

I really needed this trip.  We both did, but especially me.  I was feeling crushed, helpless, and disconnected to the world the days leading up to that weekend.  We just lost another pregnancy.  Just as I was getting excited about passing the awful milestone that we miscarried our last one, I saw blood again, and it kept coming.  I couldn't believe it, I was bewildered, I was angry, I was shaken.  Even as I am writing this, I am feeling waves of those same emotions, like PTSD, just hitting me over and over.

This time around, I had a much harder time accepting what was happening because there are very few I know who have been through more than one miscarriage in a row.  They call this condition recurrent pregnancy loss.  It even has its own medical abbreviation, RPL.  I was scared and in disbelief.  As someone who has never had a major health problem, never done drugs, young, and for the most part optimistic, I was shocked that I was a victim.  Though the first miscarriage was also painful to go through, we moved on knowing that it happens to every 1 in 4 pregnancies.  We know people who have had one miscarriage and then successfully sustained their next pregnancies to term.  But what now?  It felt like I'd never reach the finish line, since I couldn't even make it to the first hurdle, twice.  When the blood was flowing out and I was curled up on my side, sobbing in a voice that I had never heard before, I didn't know what to think, but I was very afraid.  Afraid of what this could mean for our future, and afraid of finding out the "truth" about myself.  Now, I have come to the conclusion that this cannot define who I am.  I am more than this.  I may be crushed, but I am not broken.

Going back to a few days before we left for Sedona, I could not shake the sinking feeling of failure and hopelessness after the disbelief wore off.  I felt like somebody was playing a practical joke on me, like I was being teased over and over for having done nothing wrong.  Or maybe I was being punished for having had it too "good" so far.  I couldn't reason it out, it was just plain unfair.  My body felt like it wasn't mine, my emotions also felt like they weren't mine.  I felt so alone and un-me.  The only thing I could think somewhat positively about was to get away and be with nature.  It's ironic because previously, I would opt for the outdoors when things felt too in control--like things were too predictable.  Not that daily life was boring, but just that I craved a little more adventure, a little dose of the unknown that usually comes about when we go backpacking, snowboarding, and hiking.  This time, nature was what called to me when everything internal was in total disarray.  I didn't know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, but I felt like I needed a retreat and some source of renewal.  I already tried retreating into my own mind through meditation, which was actually really great, but I needed more than that.  When I told Wes, he said that he had already googled a bunch of places for a getaway and was going to ask me if I wanted to try going to Sedona, Arizona.  I honestly was down for anything at that point, but Sedona intrigued me.  It sounded like a beautiful and peaceful place full of good vibes, and relatively easy to get to.  With that, we booked a last-minute hotel room and a rental car and packed our bags.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

We'll Be Home for Christmas

We actually agreed to not get any Christmas decorations this year and wait until everything goes on sale at the end of the season...but we caved!  I mean, how can people who turn on Christmas music right after Thanksgiving resist the festive lights, evergreen garlands, wreaths hung on the front door, and colorful ornaments?  First, we were just going to decorate the top of the mantle, but then we saw the little Christmas trees who so badly needed a home, and then I forced Wes to get out his woodworking equipment to make wooden trees for our front yard, too.  He surprised me when I got home one day with Christmas lights strung around the brick pillar in front of our house, too.  We even participated in the Christmas Tree Lane lighting ceremony, like true locals.  Just kidding, the true locals hide at home and avoid the crowds!  Anyway, it was a super fun Christmas season, and I'm glad that we gave into the cheesy holiday spirit!  Altadena truly feels like home, now.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Our Last-Minute Journey around the Thousand Island Lake Loop

I never would have guessed that we'd be back in the Eastern Sierra backpacking like two people without a care in the world after becoming homeowners, and especially not after becoming pregnant.  Our lives had changed so much in the past few months that we never bothered to entertain the thought of going on a trip anytime soon.  We barely even got to do one leisurely hike after moving in, even though the hiking trails were more accessible than ever from our new place in Altadena.  In the whirlwind of events, we miscarried at six weeks.  It was crazy because just as we were starting to wrap our heads around the fact that we were expecting, we had to accept the fact that it wasn't happening anymore.  Well, since there was no longer a baby on the way, I figured that a getaway into the backcountry sounded like something that we should prioritize.  It also seemed like a worthy time to take a pause in our fast-paced homeowner life and put the brakes on the rollercoaster of parental emotions.

Even though we both knew that it could happen to us, it was really sad when we experienced the pregnancy loss.  By the time Labor Day rolled around, enough time had elapsed for us to process it.  I've come to focus on the idea that what I have now is always more than what I had yesterday, even if I had a potential baby in my belly yesterday.  It was hard to think this way at first, but it is true.

I, myself, feel stronger as a woman for getting through it, and I feel that I can now sympathize more with those who have struggled or are struggling with pregnancy in general.  This whole unpredictable journey to having a baby can be either debilitating or empowering -- I emphatically chose the latter. The situation has given me an even more fiery drive to stay in control, and savor what the present has to offer instead of over-anticipating the future or fixating on the past.  Life is still beautiful the way it is, so I put the past behind me and found ways to enjoy what I am able to do now, and only now.

As a couple, this was our first time both going through a joint loss.  Despite the sadness, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth that this has added to our outlook on parenthood and our relationship with each other.  Wes was so kind, yet logical, and he helped me to honor the situation rather than resent it during the first couple of days.  Our emotions around starting a family have become more intricate, more mature, and more resolved.  We have, in this unexpected loss, expanded our capacity to be grateful for when we do get our rainbow baby, which I am very optimistic will happen!

Booking our backpacking permits felt surreal.  We got really lucky to get permits for this particular trail, which has been on my bucket list for a while.  Someone must have cancelled, because two spots opened up on this very popular trail that usually gets booked well in advance.  Time to gather that camping stuff and brush up on our hiking endurance and backcountry survival skills!  We were barely finishing up with unpacking, fixing up our house, getting the yard in order, and my body was still adjusting back to its usual cycle.  Even though it felt like we were leaving behind loose ends and unfinished business, I knew that we needed this.

It's always freeing to be out there in the rocks, trees, and lakes, but this time it was something else.  It felt safe and yet adventurous in its own way, and it proved to me that life is still as good as it was before. Wes joked that the only difference now is that we have to live with the fear of our home being burglarized.  Not to worry, when we had a shred of reception, we checked our security cameras for activity.  We also made sure that there were no Labor Day deals that we were missing from our favorite furniture stores!  But other than that, our bodies were surprisingly still in shape, and it wasn't hard to slip into that backpacking mentality.  The trail that we chose was challenging, our packs were heavy, and we hadn't actually hiked long distances for months, but I believed in us!  I also felt glad to be out here, all things considered health-wise.  Most of all, I felt grateful to have a loving, steadfast, and supportive partner by my side who not only knows how to make me laugh, but who I can count on to hang a bear bag, steer us in the right direction, and stop to take as many photos as I want.  The three days went by at a good pace and it was all very rewarding!