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In my 99 Things That Bring Me Joy journal, I have reached list number 7: listing your closest relatives. I find this list a bit hard to write about, as I have complicated relationships with some of my closest (DNA-wise) relatives. I have a good relationship with practically everyone in my family, including my 90-year old grand-uncle & 96-year old grand-aunt (both siblings of my maternal grandmother). However, in regards to my immediate family, our family dynamic is quite strained/tense.

If I had to make a definitive list based on who I believe are my closest relatives, well, I would definitely put my mom at the very top of my list. I have a wonderful relationship with my mother that continues to flourish every day, even as she lives with Jian & me. I wouldn’t exactly say that my mom is my “best friend” because I believe in parent-child boundaries, but we are extremely close & talk to each other about every subject under the sun.

When I was growing up, I feared my mom so much. She was an extremely strict disciplinarian, who had no qualms with disciplining me in public. I would often get myself into trouble, doing things my mom had specifically told me not to do, & that’s when my mom would really lay down the law…not with time-outs, or sitting in the corner, but with physical punishments (nothing severe, just basic spankings & light paddling with a thick/hard hairbrush). I had ultimately feared my mom’s strict discipline as a child, but grew to appreciate it as an adult, turning what would be perceived as punishment into a learning lesson.

On the flip side, I was super close to my dad when I was a very young child, but as I got older, I would often clash with my dad & we would get into arguments both small & extreme. My teen years living with my dad was especially tenuous. I was going through puberty, & wanted to be like my peers with more lenient parents who let them stay out late & drive to the big city, & go to music concerts. My parents, my dad especially, wouldn’t let me even hang out at a friend’s house on a school night, even though most of my friends lived on the same street as I did. So, that led to more than a few clashes with my dad, but eventually, I learned to stop fighting against my dad’s words, & start to listen to his words more. Gradually, as I further grew into adulthood, I became even closer to my dad, & we built a bond I will treasure forever even though his life was cut short.

I would then say, after listing my parents, that Jian would be the next closest in terms of relationships. He is my absolute most best friend in the entire world, & there is nothing in the world that could break that bond. Jian & I talk about absolutely everything, from internet memes, to our individual hopes, dreams & fears, all the way to bowel movements & flatulence.

Yes, at one point, Jian used to call me every day at work while he was making his morning deposits in the lavatory, & I would sometimes do the same to him, & we would often joke around that we should send each other photos of evidence, a la the “pics or it didn’t happen” meme. THAT is how close we are…resorting to talking about poop. However, aside from our easy banter, we also talk to each other about personal issues, life goals, & everything in between. I don’t even have girl-friends who I can talk to this freely. Jian truly is one-of-a-kind.

And then the next up on my list would be my two older brothers. It’s been a strange & difficult journey, since there is such a huge age gap between the three of us. My oldest brother is 17 years older, & my second oldest brother is 9 years older, but we have grown closer over the years, & we communicate with each other regularly.  It’s a bit difficult to keep in touch with my brothers, as the oldest has a family of his own to take care of (his two daughters are already out of university & into the working world), & my other brother lives in Southern California, but we still call & text each other regularly, & I will always cherish the memories I have of my brothers helping to taking care of me & playing games with me when I was growing up.

Here’s where things get a bit sticky-icky-icky. I do have an older sister, but things between my sister & the rest of our family is extremely strained. Due to many personal circumstances that have occurred throughout our lives, tension has continued to build over the years, & many unresolved issues have resurfaced to become obstacles blocking the path to our family’s unity. We still keep in touch with my sister, albeit limited to her terms, & we try to maintain a close relationship with her two children (my beloved 11-year old nephew & 9-year old niece), but when we get together as a family, the tension boils to the surface, & things spiral out of control. So, we try to keep things on my sister’s terms, in order to placate her hair-trigger temper & to “keep the boat from rocking”.

I’d love to build a closer relationship with my sister. We did not spend a lot of time together when we were growing up. My sister is 6 years older than I am, & when we were growing up she was always steps ahead of me: liking boys, wearing makeup, hanging out with friends. By the time I would reach a certain age, she would already be much older & had moved on to more mature things, which always left me doing things by myself while my sister would be going out with her friends. So that left me with no older sister figure for me to look up to at home.

We never got a chance to build a relationship when we were growing up, & it became even more difficult as we got older, since my sister moved out of the house as soon as she graduated high school & went off to university, never looking back. I had thought we were building our relationship once my sister became a mother, since our whole family centered around her & her kids, but our relationship became strained when I started getting closer to her children, & she thought that was totally inappropriate for an aunt to be so close to her nieces & nephews. Ever since that notion crept into her mind, things between us have not been the same. Our relationship has now devolved into one developed out of her paranoia, & my walking on egg shells around her while trying to placate her…unsuccessfully, to her chagrin.

Overall, things just are what they are. We are all trying to make the best of our situations, & getting by one day at a time. I am so happy & grateful that I have a wonderful & supportive family surrounding me, with three awesome nieces & one cool nephew. We’ll just have to wait & see what happens next. Until next time fam, cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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In my quest to discover 99 Things That Bring Me Joy, the next list in my journal asks me to describe one memorable family vacation, & there is one specific vacation that pops up in my mind vividly. I’ve been on many meaningful & fun family vacations throughout my life. Some of my favorite family trips were of my family along with my dad’s childhood & lifelong friends (including their respective families) going on summer camping trips in Lake Tahoe, up in Northern California. However, the most memorable trip I can fondly recall was an amazing road-trip my immediate family went on from way back in the mid-1990s.

My dad had taken a serious chunk of time off of work to take my mom, me & my younger cousin visiting from SoCal for the summer, on a really memorable road-trip in his modestly awesome Toyota Sienna minivan. We traveled from the Bay Area, up to & through Northern California, through Oregon & Washington, then ending all the way up to British Columbia in Canada. It was one of the best family road-trips I’ve ever been on, all thanks to the incredible planning by my late father.

Now, a lot of time has passed since then, & I don’t remember every little town we visited. I can only vaguely guess that my dad drove up Interstate 5 from California, through Oregon, then Washington, all the way up to British Columbia, Canada. Some of the little towns we drove through were really quaint & cute. Others were unique & fun. Back then, I was a teenager still going through puberty, & my cousin was barely even in her tween years, & those were the days before the technology boom of smartphones & tablets. So, naturally my cousin & I spent most of our time in the car either napping or playing the Cat’s Cradle string game. (Side note: We once tried to play with cards in my dad’s minivan, but quickly found out we all got carsick super fast & one of my cousins actually hurled into a plastic bag.)

Starting around San Francisco, we rode my dad’s above-average minivan up north, somewhere near Redding. We spent one night in an economy hotel, then continued up further up north, passing through Portland, Oregon & then on to Washington state. I remember one of our main stops along our road-trip being in Leavenworth, Washington. We stayed in a really cool hotel that had individual cottage style lodging. I specifically remember our cottage having an all-white color scheme. All of the wood furniture was light colored (like they were from IKEA or something), & the layout had a cute little kitchen & living room space, a master bedroom, & a separate smaller bedroom…the one my cousin & I shared. The only other time in my life where I had ever visited a Scandinavian-esque town was when my family would drive through the little town of Solvang in California on the way to visit family in Los Angeles. Let me tell you, Leavenworth is a whole other experience. It was a really cool & interesting touristy town.

My mom had a blast shopping for lots of little blue & white porcelain bric-a-brac to clutter up our house, as well as buying yards & yards full of delicate, handmade lace curtains to add just that little touch of gaudiness to our mid-century modern Eichler home. My dad loved sampling all of the delicious traditional German delicacies at the local restaurants. My cousin & I were so excited to have one unchaperoned night all to ourselves in our little hotel cottage, while my parents had a night to themselves to have an adult dinner.

Later that night as we went to bed, my cousin & I had to share one queen-sized bed in our small room. I remember the down comforter on the bed was the most fluffiest, & softest comforter I had ever slept on. It was super thick & pillowy. My cousin & I liked to stay up late (very late according to my parents’ standards) & chat. We tried to keep our voices low, thinking that my parents couldn’t hear us from two rooms away, but we could still hear my dad scolding us to go to sleep. How do you expect two giddy teenage girls to sleep when it’s barely dark outside? I mean, sometimes my dad’s bedtime hours were ridiculous.

After leaving the town of Leavenworth, we continued to travel north toward Canada. Our destination…The Buchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, somewhat near Victoria. Here’s where my mind is getting a little fuzzy. I can’t remember which parts of Canada we drove through to get to the ferry that would take us to Brentwood Bay. The only part of this portion of our trip that I can clearly remember is the time we spent on the ferry & the time we spent at The Buchart Gardens. My mom easily gets seasick, & I remember there were parts of our ferry ride that wasn’t exactly the smoothest. My cousin & I were so bored on the 10+ hour ferry ride, by the time we got to our destination, we were ready to kiss the ground.

When we arrived at The Buchart Gardens, we were awestricken. The Buchart Gardens is one of my parents’ most favorite places in the world, & it was one of my dad’s goals to take his family there for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I will admit here that my cousin & I didn’t appreciate the gardens as much as we should/could have. For two teenagers who were mostly interested in boys, TV, & hanging out with friends, in the beginning of our tour we weren’t as enthusiastic about looking at bushes & flowers for the entire day. However, as the day progressed, we took a bigger interest in the gardens. We all fell in love with the bright colors & grandeur of the gardens, & had such a memorable experience. I remember my dad taking a lot of photos of the three of us ladies: my mom, my cousin, & me.

We didn’t stay in Canada for very long. Shortly after our day in The Buchart Gardens, we headed back down south in my dad’s trusty minivan. We passed through Seattle, Washington, & I was super excited to be able to see the iconic Space Needle as we drove through the city. We then, took another drive through downtown Portland in Oregon, & I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t stop to look around for a bit. Then, as we passed through Northern California again, we stopped at a little town where we saw a shop selling handmade wooden furniture made by Quakers. My parents ended up buying a wooden China cabinet/hutch for our kitchen that we had shipped to our house. That China cabinet is still sitting in our kitchen, & it still looks as new as the day we brought it into our home.

My  absolute most memorable experiences from this entire road-trip was when we stopped at a cute little toy shop while strolling the downtown area of this town who’s name I can’t remember. My dad let my cousin & I each pick out one souvenir to buy, & I vividly remember picking an alarm clock. Well, it wasn’t just any plain old alarm clock. No. This alarm clock was shaped like a puffer fish. It creeped me out at first because the teeth of the puffer fish represented the numbers on a traditional clock, but the design eventually won my heart over with the little rotating clown fish that represented the second hand of the clock. Let me show you an example of this clock for your reference.

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My dad thought I was absolutely nuts for choosing something so unattractive & weird as my souvenir, & my mom tried to get me to pick something else, but I was determined to get this alarm clock. Ever since I first saw it in the display window at the shop I was completely drawn to it. No matter what else I saw at the store, my eyes kept darting back to this ridiculous alarm clock. I just fell in love with it, & had no regrets ever since buying it. This alarm clock lasted for nearly 10+ years before it finally “clocked out” for good. (Pun intended.)

I initially thought I would get a scare every time I would walk into my room & see this creature staring straight at me, with it’s mouth gaping open & baring its sharp teeth, but it didn’t bother me at all. It took me a couple of weeks to get adjusted to having such a large object, especially a clock, occupying so much valuable space on my small nightstand, but it was a pretty smooth adjustment.

This alarm clock may look kitschy & like a cheap novelty toy (it was not very cheap), but it served its purpose well. I used the alarm function of this clock every day for school, & it worked great until one day it just stopped working & I almost was late for school. I had tried changing the battery, but that didn’t work, & I knew then that the clock was busted & broken. It would’ve cost me more money to repair the clock than it was actually worth, so I ended up tossing it out.

Now, I wish I still had that clock today, even in its non-working condition. It would’ve been nice to keep it just as a sentimental keepsake of our amazing & unforgettable road-trip as a little family. I loved telling strangers that my little cousin was my sister. I never had any younger siblings growing up, & I had always dreamed of having younger siblings. Back in those days, I hated being the youngest child, always getting yelled at or picked on by my older siblings, & being overbearingly over-protected by my parents.

Having my younger cousin around during the summer holidays when we were growing up was so much fun. We made so many great memories together, playing, talking, & learning about life together. Now she’s a mother of two & living her best life. I am currently in the process of expanding & adding parts to my already-in-progress best life ever. So, let’s get on to the next post. Until next time, cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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My goodness, these past couple of months have been a complete blur. I started writing my blog post about my beloved childhood books, but I got sidetracked by so many family events & activities, that I had to put my entire blog on hold. I had just begun writing my next blog post, & then…family happened.

One after another, my extended relatives came to visit & stay at our house, & of course since my mom still hasn’t fully recovered from her sciatica (which has evolved into full-on spinal stenosis), I was assigned the task of playing chauffeur/tour guide for  everyone. Plus, I’ve been kind of put in the role of round-the-clock personal assistant/sherpa for my mom, which has been a good way for me to really get to know my mom better in a deeper way. We have been able to talk more, & she has really opened up to me about stuff that I never knew before regarding my family.

So, we’ve been hosting a revolving door of guests at our house, & then we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to pay a visit to my 96-year old grand-aunt in Austin, Texas. This aunt, which I consider to be my second grandmother, had recently recovered from a broken wrist, & got her cast taken off. Her health hasn’t been the best in recent years (she’s lost a lot of weight, & her hearing loss has gotten worse), so my immediate family & I have been making a better effort to go & see her more often, you know, because we don’t know how much time we have left with her. We all love her so very much & are doing our best to keep her company & to make her feel as comfortable/happy as possible.

This quick trip to Austin was so much fun. My mom, Jian, & I got to spend some quality time with my grand aunt (which I refer to as 姨姥姥), & my mom’s two sibling cousins (one male, one female) who live with their mother, my grand aunt. We also got to explore the downtown Austin area, which Jian was more than happy to play tour guide for us. Jian has spent his fair share of time in Austin on business trips, & he’s also really great at memorizing directions, maps, & general city layouts. He was the perfect guide to show us all the cool shopping spots & hip eateries all around town.

Shortly after we came back from Austin, my mom had to get ready for her tour trip to Spain. I usually travel with my mom, especially when she goes overseas, to be her companion, & to help her when she doesn’t understand something, but also to take care of her & make sure she’s not aggrivating her sciatica. This time I wouldn’t be traveling with her, & that made my mom anxious for her trip. This would be one of the first trips she’d be taking without me constantly by her side, holding her hand when she needs walking assistance, or helping her carry heavy bags. So naturally, she was worried about me not being there to help her, but I was also worried that my mom would have to take care of herself in a country she hasn’t visited in over thirty plus years.

As I am writing this post, my mom has already returned from her trip to Spain, & she had a lovely time. She traveled with all but one of her siblings & their respective spouses. My youngest uncle also invited his daughter to go with them. Aside from experiencing a few (a few, meaning only two) mishaps during their tour, everyone had a fabulous time eating & walking their way through several cities throughout North-East Spain. My mom brought a walking cane with her on this trip, but her sciatica still flared up, & now she’s back at home recouperating from a long trip away.

I, on the other hand, jetted off to Vancouver, British Columbia again with Jian. Jian had a business trip in Vancouver to visit a few of his major customers that he just was not able to put off. Intially, when he first invited me to tag along, I felt unsure about going. Jian’s work trip was going to coincide with my mom’s trip to Spain, & being the superstitious worry-worts that we are, we as a family generally do not like the house to sit empty & unoccupied. I didn’t really want to let the house stay empty (even though my dad’s urn full of ashes & his spirit are always watching over our property), but I also really wanted to go back to Vancouver.

Jian barely had to twist my arm (as in, he didn’t twist my arm at all) to convince me to go with him. This was only going to be a quick 4-day work trip for Jian, & I would be by myself for a majority of the day. We chose to stay at the same hotel as the last time, the DOUGLAS (Autograph Collection) Hotel, & our room was pretty much the same as the one we had before in terms of décor & overall layout, except there was one king-sized bed instead of two full-sized beds, & the bench sofa was now against the window wall instead of incorporated into the desk/tv wall.

Here’s an example of our hotel room if you didn’t read my last Vancouver blog.

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I was so incredibly excited to be able to explore the city all by myself. The other time we traveled to Vancouver for Jian’s work trip, my mom tagged along with us, & due to her sciatica, she wasn’t able to spend a lot of time outside. While I wanted to explore the many fascinating neighborhoods outside of our hotel’s neighborhood, my mom always had the two of us end the day early so she could go back to the hotel & rest. I didn’t have any complaints about that during our three-person trip back then, but I’ve never felt the kind of freedom I had when I was able to explore the city all by myself, completely alone. During this past trip to Vancouver, I amazed myself with the amount of pure walking I did, even in the pouring rain.

Oh, I almost forgot that it had been raining almost the entire time we stayed in Vancouver. It rained the hardest on Jian’s first full workday, but I still trekked outside, braved the rain with the trusty umbrella I packed, & went to get myself a luxurious manicure. Everyday I walked between five-and-a-half miles to nine miles all over town. I even learned how to navigate the SkyTrain transit system all by myself. Considering how unreliable I am at navigating through public transportation, I had to give myself a pat on the back for being able to take the subway without any mishaps.

The only mishap I’d say happened throughout this entire trip was the fact that I brought two pairs of water-resistant boots to protect my feet from the rain, while I should’ve brought an extra pair of walking shoes instead. My two pairs of boots, even though they could withstand light rain, still got soaked through & made my socks soggy. But even though my feet were wet, I still stayed out & did a little shopping before ultimately giving up & heading back to the hotel to put on some dry socks. Both pairs of boots, although they may be comfortable & somewhat stylish, are not very suitable for long walking excursions. My feet & my thighs were super sore by the end of our trip, but it was totally worth it! I love traveling to Vancouver so much, & wish I could visit more often. I’d love to try more restaurants, & explore more neighborhoods way outside of our usual hot spots.

I love traveling. I really do. However, I am kind of glad that I don’t have any other major travel plans for the rest of the year. I still think I will be going to Los Angeles for the Thanksgiving holiday, but I don’t think my family will be doing any Thanksgiving destination weekend trips like we used to do. This year, my ex-brother-in-law will have full custody of the kids for the entire Thanksgiving holiday, & those kids are the reason why we take annual Thanksgiving trips to Disneyland & San Diego, but since they won’t be spending that holiday with us, we won’t need to travel much. I’m so glad I get to finally settle down & get back to writing again. I’m in the process of putting together a few new graphics for my next blog post. Until then, cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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