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!

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.

Friday, October 18, 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!