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I love Christmastime. It’s one of my favorite times of the whole year. Christmas reminds me so much of my late father. He truly loved Christmas, making our house look festive & cheerful, & having friends & family gather around to celebrate together. Christmas was my dad’s most favorite time of year to get our whole family together: grandparents, parents, brothers & sisters, cousins, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, even in-laws. My dad loved having a house overflowing with happy people celebrating & sharing in the joys of family togetherness. Plus, my dad loved spoiling his loved ones with plenty of food, drinks, & gifts for all the little kiddos scampering around the house. That’s probably where I developed my love of giving to others & taking care of others…learning from my dad’s selfless generosity.

Each year at Christmastime, my dad loved having the house decorated, looking colorful & festive. My mom loved it too, but she always dreaded having to put away all of the decorations after the holidays were over. (Who doesn’t dread the massive holiday clean-up?) I also loved decorating the house for Christmas, but my all-time favorite was decorating the Christmas tree. The tree was always the main attraction at our house, & it still is, which brings me to the next topic in my 99 Things That Bring Me Joy journal.

One of my favorite childhood holiday memories was when I was in my teenage years, & my dad would make a big fuss over decorating the house for Christmas. He would load up our family (usually myself, my mom, my dad, & whichever cousin was boarding at our house at that given time) into his minivan, & we would drive to the wholesale flower market in San Francisco. Back then you didn’t need a wholesaler’s/decorator’s license to shop there (unless you wanted to get a discount on bulk items).  There were a few decorating supply warehouses that would be packed to the gills with every Christmas decoration & novelty item you could possibly think of.

My dad loved taking us to these shops during the holidays, so we could all pick out new ornaments for our tree & decorations to liven the house. There were a couple of Christmas holidays where we would buy entirely new sets of tree ornaments to create a different theme/color-scheme each year. One time we decorated the whole tree in plastic, metallic musical instruments (i.e. trumpets, saxophones, drums, guitars, etc.) & music notes. My cousin & I had a fun time decorating the tree in all of these wacky ornaments. The next year, my mom chose the theme of our Christmas tree, & she decorated the tree in a pastel Victorian theme with lots of ribbons/bows, angels, plastic violins & harps, along with papier mâché hearts.

Picking out tree ornaments was a big deal in our household. However, over the years, we stopped shopping for plastic ornaments at the wholesale flower market. We now prefer to pick & choose ornaments that are more durable/long-lasting, a higher quality, & have thoughtfulness & meaning. My parents are the super “bougie” kind of shoppers, & will only buy Christmas decorations (mainly tree ornaments & decorative candles) at places like BloomingdalesCrate and Barrel &/or William-Sonoma. As for myself, if I see a holiday tree ornament that I like, I will spend an unnecessary amount of time, pacing back & forth mulling over whether or not I will get it. Then, after a lot of complaining from Jian, & a lot more internal back-&-forth thoughts in my mind, I will end up buying said ornament.

I’m not quite sure exactly how many Christmas tree ornaments we actually have. I haven’t counted them all, but I can safely estimate that we have a crap load amount. I had to buy three jumbo sized ornament storage containers from The Container Store, & with my super amazing organization & compartmentalization skills, I’m pretty sure I’ve been able to fill each box with triple its designated capacity. Organizing & compartmentalizing (to the point where I often forget where I’ve stored things) is probably my biggest & proudest skill to date.

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an example of the storage containers we use for Christmas decorations

Since my dad’s passing, I’ve taken it upon myself to head up the Christmas decorating department. My dad always loved to shop for Christmas gifts & decorations around this big holiday season, & I suppose this trait has very much rubbed off onto me. I also love to give gifts & shop for Christmas decorations…mainly tree ornaments. It is a fun tradition that keeps me forever linked to the memory of my dad during the most festive & cheerful time of the year.

Oh, & just a little side note… our Christmas tree is fake. Yes, it’s a plastic fantastic (& metal) contraption that we have to make a big to-do about each year, but we love it nonetheless. It’s always a pain to set-up & take down our tree, but it’s just one way we’re doing our part as a family to conserve environmentally. Well, to be honest, we mainly decided to switch to a faux tree because my dad & I are both severely allergic to pine trees (especially freshly cut ones with tree sap & pine needles aplenty). My dad hated having to put the tree on a tree stand, which always made the tree crooked no matter how much adjusting we did, & that annoyed my mom, who liked everything in our home to look Architectural Digest Magazine-ready at all times, especially during the holidays when we hosted many parties. As for me, I hated always being delegated to keep the water tray on the tree stand full, which was an extremely difficult task for a child who was prone to spilling things & inadvertently making messes everywhere. Let’s just end this part by saying I got more water outside of the tray than inside, & that got me in trouble with my mom more often than not.

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our now famous Xmas tree

I love keeping my dad’s tradition alive every year by adding something new to our overly-decorated Christmas tree. Both my mom AND Jian think I go overboard on decorating our tree each year, but I think it’s quite lovely & definitely necessary. Our annual Christmas tree is an absolute statement piece whenever someone  new walks into our home, or during the time when we host our annual Christmas party extravaganza. Yes, it’s a huge pain in the ass to carefully pack away all of the decorations at the end of the year, but it is all worthwhile as long as I get to keep my dad’s memory & tradition going for all of the family to enjoy together. We’ll just have to wait & see how our tree will be decorated this year. Until next time, cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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I am chugging along on my 99 Things That Bring Me Joy list train. This next stop brings me to the list of my oldest friend. Growing up, I didn’t have a large group of friends. I was an extremely shy child; so shy to the point where I spent a majority of my Kindergarten year of school cowering in the corner by the door of the classroom. I was so extremely shy & frightened to sit along with my classmates, that I spent the entire class period sitting in the corner between the front door & a table, doing & saying absolutely nothing the whole time. At the urging of my teacher (who was very gentle & kind), my parents tried to encourage me to engage with my fellow classmates, but like I always did when I was that scaredy-cat, little tyke, I bawled my eyes out. (I was an easy crier when I was a little kid.)

It wasn’t until I met a girl in my Kindergarten class who broke me out of my shell, & we became fast friends. Her family came all the way from Japan, & we were both two shy little girls with runny, sniffling noses who were both extremely into Hello Kitty & other cute Japanese things.

I don’t quite remember the details of how the two of us met or became such close friends in such a short amount of time, but we built a close friendship rather quickly. Since this girl came from one of the rare Japanese families to move into our neighborhood, both of our families bonded fast. I don’t know how, but my dad knew all of the Japanese speaking neighbors in our immediate neighborhood, & all of the moms got to know each other very well.

When we first met this family, my dad was thrilled to interact with a fellow neighbor who was also born & raised in Japan, someone he could freely speak Japanese to, who understood him. That’s how both of our dads became fast friends. Both of our moms also became good friends, with my mom teaching my friend’s mom how to speak English. My friend’s mom, in turn, taught my mom all about Japanese culture, & my mom was also able to pick up a few Japanese phrases here & there. I remember my friend had two older brothers who pretty much kept to themselves whenever I would hang out at their house, but like in true sibling nature, both brothers found us girls to be annoying (even though we never really bothered them).

I was super sad when my friend had announced after three years of living close by that her family was moving back to Japan. At that time, I had no idea what was going on or why my friend was all of a sudden moving back to Japan. Back in those days, especially when you’re a little kid, you never heard of the work-abroad program that was so popular in Japan. Big-time companies would send selected employees to work overseas for a maximum of three years, to build work experience & learn more about foreign business. My friend’s dad had come to the United States for his company’s work-abroad program, & the whole family moved to my neighborhood. I got to know this girl through school, & my parents got to know their family through all of the times we would spend at each other’s houses on play dates.

Ever since my friend had moved back to Japan, we have kept in touch over the years. We send each other greeting cards with letters written inside. I’ve traveled to Japan to visit her multiple times, & once stayed overnight at her parents’ (gorgeous & substantial) house in Tokyo. She has come back to visit the Bay Area a few times & take a walk down memory lane, checking out our old school grounds & passing by the house she once lived in.

A lot of time has passed between us, but we still keep in touch. My fondest memory was when my parents had planned a huge family reunion in Japan, & they had extended the invitation to my friend & her parents (her brothers were both studying & working abroad at the time). All of my extended family members came out, & we packed an entire Italian restaurant with our reunion group. My oldest brother (who is my dad’s first biological child) with his wife & two daughters were part of our travel group, along with my brother’s best friend (with wife & two daughters). My dad was extremely generous to invite my brother’s friend with his family to join us on our family reunion trip. It was so much fun interacting with my extended family & all of our friends.

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Here is a photo of my friend & I with our moms during my family’s huge reunion party circa 2006.

All in all, I am very thankful to call this girl my friend. We have both grown up so much from our days of sniffling noses & playing with Hello Kitty toys, but we’ve definitely stayed good friends throughout our time apart. There was another girl that I met in primary school after this friend had moved away, & we also became fast friends. We went through a shit ton of ups & downs (mostly downs), but I will leave that whole can of worms for a different blog post. I want this post to be happy & upbeat. So until the next time, cheers & T.G.I.F.!! (I really need a break this weekend.)

Today’s song of the day:

 

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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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