Sunday, December 6, 2020

Gratitude and 2020

This year, it feels both harder and easier to be thankful.  2020 has been overwhelming.  The pandemic, climate change, civil unrest, political polarization, racial injustice, social isolation, school closures, and pregnancy after loss, have all brought up a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.  But at the same time, 2020 has forced me to do a lot of inner work and to appreciate things that I took for granted before.  Uncomfortable feelings have led to growth, awareness, learning (and unlearning), slowing down, solidifying values, and self care.  I'm not anywhere near where I want to be, but I have been able to devote undivided attention to both collective and internal issues that have flown under my radar for far too long.  Truthfully, neither the external work nor the inner work will ever be done to my satisfaction, and disappointment is certain.  I realized that I needed to come to terms with this by being at peace with myself.  To be fully present for learning opportunities, to create sustainable change, and to show up for others, I had to show up for myself.  For me, practicing gratitude during these torn times has helped me to move away from a place of guilt and go forward with a sense of hope.

Perhaps the biggest responsibility either of us has ever dreamed of holding is now on the horizon.  We are about to be parents of the next generation.  This has put us in both a vulnerable and empowering position over the last seven months.  To put the timing into perspective, I had literally just finished all of the infertility tests before things shut down, I was six weeks pregnant when we marched in a Black Lives Matter protest, my second trimester was overshadowed by the wildfires, and the elections were happening as I was entering the third trimester.  Throughout this time, we have had many conversations about how we can raise our child to become a socially responsible and self aware adult.  Our conversations always go back to how important it is for us to model what we want to see.  So, there is no better time to stop beating myself up, to stop acting like things need to be in my control, to stop hiding my weaknesses.  There is no better time to practice gratitude to reconcile vulnerability and empowerment.  I've been feeling positive and courageous about raising our kid together and about making progress as a society, even in this messy world, even though I'm still cleaning up my own mess.  I think that a big part of this is recognizing the good in the world, and the good in me.  

I feel grateful to start a family together, grateful for the opportunity to both teach and learn from our child.  I feel grateful for my health and my family's health.  I feel grateful to have our comfortable home.  I feel grateful that I have reconnected with hobbies that fulfill me.  I feel grateful for a job that satisfies me and for every parent, child, and teacher who has touched my heart through the Internet in the last eight months.  I feel grateful to have a supportive, smart, and selfless circle of friends.  I feel grateful for the 6-foot-distanced outdoor chats, phone calls, text messages, Instagram interactions, Facebook comments from people near and far.  I feel grateful to be breathing, grateful to be alive.  Grateful to give my all to what's to come.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Living with Pregnancy after Loss

We went to Descanso Gardens for a walk the week before my 31st birthday.  It is always really sweet to find ourselves there, since it's where we got married in 2015.  It hits me every time we come here how time flies so quickly, and this time the feeling was even more poignant.  Another year around the sun, another life ready to enter the world, another five years since we said, "I do."  We've grown a lot, and yet we still have so much left to experience together.  I've taken some time to reflect on where we are in our lives right now and how to make the most out of this waiting period.  

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Mooncake Gender Reveal

I’m 22 weeks pregnant today!  We had the pleasure of throwing an ignition-free, socially distant gender reveal with our families over the past weekend.  With the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival coming up this week, there couldn’t have been a more fitting way to announce our baby's gender than with mooncake, which we baked ourselves with discreetly dyed filling. 

Going into having this party, I was still fearful of the possibility of this reality crumbling before my eyes.  How horrible would it be to have to announce to everyone that we lost this one too, after celebrating.  It shouldn't feel this way, but it does feel like I'd be letting expecting grandparents, aunties, and uncles down.  It was bad enough when it was only Wes who knew.  But, I'm realizing that the longer I hold this in, the more I am letting that anxiety rule my world.  Wes reminds me that all of the evidence has been in favor of this baby being alive and well.  We saw the heart beating on the ultrasound multiple times already, measurements have come back normal, we're seeing my belly grow, and I'm still slightly gagging at the thought of sautéed vegetables and poultry.  We have more reason to expect than to doubt.

The waiting will continue for just under 20 more weeks, and though we’ve been doing our best to protect all three of us and stay safe, we know that nothing is for sure.  What we've learned from the other losses is that so much is really beyond our control.  Living through these pandemic days may look uneventful, but I am constantly on edge that anything can happen.  Not just to our growing baby, but out there in our ecosystem, in our social system, in our economic system, in the world that this kid may be born into.  I've been more focused than ever on the news and anything revolving around social justice, and though I am disappointed, having the awareness is inspiring me, too.  Despite everything, our hopes are high.  I’m still learning, and I’m not afraid to face the ugly truths all around me and within me.  I’m still excited to welcome a new life into this crazy place.  These systems need love, tweaking, and rethinking.  If anything, there is no better time to raise a new generation to get that job done.

So, with a big breath of positivity and courage (just like when I shared about the miscarriages), I share this great news to lift a burden from my shoulders.  I dare to smile and put on a dress that shows my bump.  I want to bask in what happy moments this pregnancy can offer now and not deprive myself of what this special, yet brief time can offer us and our loved ones.  I knew that it would feel more real when we planned this party, made announcements, and started buying items... and that's all frightening, but it's also really fun.  Yes, I have PTSD, but I can let that go slowly and let the joy in.  I think that I finally reached that turning point at our 18-week doctor's appointment where we found out the gender of our baby.  There was something so tangible and real about everything since that day.  Soon after, I started to visibly expand in my belly!  It's beautiful, unpredictable, and it's life.  And yes, that's pink fillingit's a girl!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Who Let the Squirrels Out?

It started with birding, but quickly morphed into photos of any and all wildlife within the perimeter of our property.  The variety is actually quite astounding!  Wes used his telephoto lens to capture action shots of birds, bugs, cats, and plants through the Spring and Summer months.  Our favorite animals to observe were definitely the squirrels, though.  They are so cute, agile, and quirky.  There's nothing like seeing one hop from tree branch to roof like a superhero, observing a hungry pregnant squirrel going at a freshly picked orange, or enjoying the sight of young squirrels (quite possibly her pups) playing raucously early in the morning.  Wes insisted on making rainbow colored ladders for the squirrels to play on using scrap wood in the garage, which I thought was sort of ridiculous.  We made them anyway and they look cute, whether the squirrels actually make use of them or not.  On the hot days, Wes would turn on the sprinklers to spritz the grass and make it cooler for them, since we noticed that they like to lie in the grass to cool off.  For fun, we would leave oranges around to see if they would take them.  The squirrels provided a daily perk to look forward to and their surprising behaviors never ceased to amaze us.  Sometimes, it just comes down to noticing the simple things in times like this.  If we weren't home so much, we may never have known of this circle of life occurring right in our yard. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Adventures at the Wong Campground

Since we couldn't go anywhere this year for our anniversary (for a variety of reasons), we still made the day special by setting up camp in our back yard.  I was really craving an outing into nature after much time being cooped up inside.  We pitched the tent like we always do, blew up the sleeping pads, made a camp fire, and played games.  It was totally corny, but how often do two adults get do this?  We cheated a little bit by making it okay to use the bathroom and the kitchen!  We went on a familiar hike earlier that day in the Angeles National Forest, which was a great getaway that offered fresh air, sprawling mountain views, and no crowds.  I was worried at first that this year's celebration would be dull compared to the past ones, but of course it never ends up being dull unless you see it that way.  We felt fortunate to have been able to do something different for our five-year wedding anniversary, even though we stayed local.  In light of current events, this day was epic in its own way.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Indian Food

We have always told ourselves that Indian food was something that we could not possibly fathom making at home.  It seemed too difficult to identify what spices would go into dishes with such complex flavors.  Plus, nothing can replace that hot, fluffy naan, fresh out of a tandoori oven.  Due to this crazy pandemic, we ended up having to figure it out when the craving for Indian food hit.  After our first attempt, we became totally addicted to cooking Indian food!  It was not actually that hard, and most of the ingredients were things that we actually had already.  Like with Chinese cooking, garlic, ginger, and onions are the holy trinity of flavor (green onions for Chinese cooking, regular onions for Indian cooking).  While I am used to tossing garlic into the pan first and using green onions as garnish towards the end, I noticed that with many of these Indian recipes, you would saute the onions first and then add the garlic after.  While Chinese cooking involves a lot of wet aromatics such as rice wine and soy sauce, Indian cooking incorporates dry spices that enable the food to take on more of a char.  Once we got the hang of a few recipes, we were able to create our own dishes using non-traditional ingredients such as salmon and zucchini--just stuff that we had sitting around in the refrigerator that we felt would be fun to Indian-ify.  Ah, and we did make our own naan from scratch!  It was tasty and definitely much more straight forward than I thought it would be, though it truly does not compare to restaurant naan.  I've recorded all of the recipes that we made across three meals here.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Revisiting My Roots in Taiwan

Even though I was not born there, I almost automatically use the word hui 回, "return to," when referring to traveling to Taiwan because that is how my parents have always phrased it.  I have only had the privilege of making that trip a handful of times in my life, and each time has been different and special in its own way, with memories that I can still recall clearly.  However, Taiwan was becoming more and more of a distant "home" to me as the years went by, and even my dad had not been back in almost 20 years.  It was this thought of losing that part of me that urged me to ask my mom if I could join her when she returned for Chinese New Year in 2017.  She had been going back almost every year after us kids went to college, so she was at first confused about my sudden desire to come along.  Surprisingly, my dad also tacked on, and before we knew it, he and I were on a plane bound for Taipei!

This was my first time experiencing the Lunar New Year at my grandma Po-Po's place , and though I didn't know it then, it was also my last chance to spend quality time with her.  Wes did not come on this trip, and insisted that I take advantage of this rare opportunity to be 100% immersed within this side of my family.  I totally indulged in being a Chiang grandchild again, sleeping with my aunts and mom in Po-Po's bedroom, eating everything they put in front of me, and tagging along everywhere they went.  My complete lack of control was a refreshing and nostalgic way of experiencing Taiwan.  I brought my honkin' DSLR camera and took some pictures, mainly focusing on Chinese New Year traditions around the house and capturing my Po-Po at some of her favorite local spots.  I am so glad to be able to look back on these more recent memories of her and to have been able to feel close to my Taiwanese roots again.  My mother was worried that I would get bored, but everything we did felt significant in some way, whether it was something as mundane as picking up the dry cleaning with my aunt or as unique as sharing in Po-Po's delicious cooking on New Year's Eve.  

Po-Po and my mom

Katie, Aunt Nancy, and me

Aunt Kathy and my mom

Rachel, Katie, and me

Aunt Nancy, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Karen

And how could I ever be bored around so many talkative, opinionated, and spunky women?  Aunt Nancy is the eldest, Aunt Kathy is next, and then my mom is the youngest of the four Chiang children.  We call their brother Jiu-Jiu, and he is possibly the most gentle and compassionate of them all.  My cousins who were there were Rachel (Jiu-Jiu's daughter) and Katie (one of Aunt Kathy's daughters)--many others like my sister were in America and unable to join.  So basically, the men were outnumbered and I appreciated that the Chiang house seemed to be perpetually dominated by women's voices.  My grandpa, Gong-Gong, passed away ten years ago, but even when he was alive, he sweetly catered to his wife, daughters, and son with grace and wisdom.  I wish that I had known him better.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Five Years Married

It's our five-year anniversary today.  Looking back at these photos has never made me feel so emotional before.  It could be from feeling socially distant from all of these loving friends and family members.  But I think that it's mainly because it hits me how much we have changed in the last year.  We are no longer as carefree as we were when we said our vows and danced the night away.  Everything that day looked so predictable and fun, so perfect and happy.

It was on this day last year that I surprised Wes by announcing our first pregnancy, under the same tree where we had our "first look" on our wedding day.  We were celebrating our fourth anniversary by returning to Descanso Gardens, our wedding venue, after a long day of unpacking boxes and working with the electrician.  Moving into our newly-bought home was hard work, but we were so full of hope for the future.  Wes never shed a tear (not even at our wedding), but he had to wipe tears from his eyes when I told him that we were expecting a baby.  I had no idea that the ensuing twelve months after this day would bring so many more tears.  But the hard year ahead also brought a deeper level of empathy and trust into our marriage.