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This past summer I was extremely excited that I got to relive a favorite childhood experience with Jian. When I was growing up, my dad would take our whole family to go camping at Lake Tahoe. We always went camping with my dad’s childhood friends & their respective families. My dad would plan everything down to the last detail.

My dad would always book a camping site at one of the fancy-schmancy state-run campgrounds in Lake Tahoe, & when I say “fancy”, I mean the campground had public water spigots (for washing your cookout utensils, etc.) as well as proper locker room style showers & toilet stalls. Most outdoorsmen/women & true adventurists would say that’s considered cheating or glamping, but it was one modern comfort we had to have in order for all the moms to agree to go camping with our group.

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My dad & me at Lake Tahoe

My mom hated camping, but my dad loved it, ever since he learned to camp while being in the Eagle Scouts. When my dad was growing up in Japan, he joined one of the first International Boy Scouts troops, & his troop would often times hike up Mount Fuji & learn how to do outdoorsy survivalist things at the base camp there. That’s where my dad built up his passion for nature, camping, & the great outdoors. My mom, on the other hand, grew up in the heart of the big city in Taiwan & never developed a fondness for the wild outdoors. So in order for my dad to convince my mom to go camping every year, he’d have to find a campground with a few extra creature comforts (like proper toilets & coin-operated showers) so my mom wouldn’t be completely “roughing it”.

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My dad even took my cousins camping with our family friends.

In the very beginning when my dad first started taking our whole family camping, I hated it. I was too little (a.k.a. young) to do any of the things the older kids were doing, so I had to stay back at the campsite with my mom. On top of that, I was scared of getting bitten by bugs, & I hated being/getting dirty. Then, once I joined the Girl Scouts, I learned how to take care of myself & how to do lots of fun camping things with my Girl Scout troop. That’s when I truly started appreciating how much fun camping could be. Every summer after that I looked forward to my dad’s pre-planned camping trips.

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We always camped with the same family. All 3 dads were in the same Boy Scouts troop back in Japan.

Years later, after all of us kids had grown up & gone off to college, my parents stopped camping. Little-by-little my mom donated & gave away all of our deluxe camping gear (which have now become trendy collector’s items), & our yearly camping excursion became a long ago memory. My dad was disappointed that we stopped this yearly summer tradition, but everyone else lost interest in camping, even going to Lake Tahoe where we used to own a vacation cabin in the South Lake Tahoe area. We have since sold our vacation property, since it had become to difficult & complicated for my mom to manage after my dad had passed.

From the first time I had met Jian, I had been mentioning wanting to go on a camping trip, possibly with a big group of friends, or even going with just him. I annoyed regaled him with colorful stories about vacationing in Lake Tahoe & going camping in the great outdoors (managed by park rangers & run by the state of California’s Recs & Parks department). We occasionally talked about going camping with our friends, but we never actually planned it.

I would bring up the subject with Jian every so often during our conversations in our relationship, & we would often talk about making plans but never actually follow through. It wasn’t until this year when I finally was able to convince Jian to go camping with me. Jian was originally born in Canton, China & eventually immigrated to Midtown Manhattan in New York City before ultimately settling down in the California Bay Area. Needless to say he never had any opportunity to explore & camp in the great outdoors.

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One of the biggest mistakes we made was booking our campsite so late in the camping season, but we were still able to grab a sweet spot at the Tahoe State Recreation Area in Lake Tahoe. Ok, once you hear where this state-run campground is located, you’re going to laugh & call us “cheaters” & not authentic campers because our campground was located about a couple of hundred feet away from a shopping strip mall with a grocery store & a CVS Pharmacy as well as local shops & restaurants. Basically, we were located right on the outskirts of the city center, but hey, at least our campground was also right next to the lake with its own dock access.

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Despite not being at a real rugged campground, we both had a great time. The campground we stayed at was a perfect starter campsite for a beginner like Jian. I had the best time teaching Jian all about the ways of camping. I helped him pitch our tent & set up our camping gear. (To this day, Jian still doesn’t know hot to fold up our outdoor lawn chairs.) During the day, we took long hikes around the trails & had a relaxing time hanging out by the lake. In the evenings, we would have simple cookouts, though I wouldn’t call oxtail stew simple. We ate, explored the surrounding trails & popular attractions like Vikingsholm at the Emerald Bay State Park. We even tried our hand at making a campfire, though it didn’t turn out well because our logs kept smoking too much, & I am severely allergic to any kind of smoke (eg. cigarettes, fire, cigars, marijuana, etc.).

 

Overall, we had such an amazing time at our modest little campsite. Jian had such a wonderful first-time experience that he wished we could have stayed at least one more day. He vowed that when we go camping again next year, we will definitely plan much earlier in advance & book more days at the campground. My only gripe about camping this year was that I got mosquito bites all over my arms despite practically drenching myself in extra strength bug repellent. Jian barely sprayed any bug repellent on himself, & he didn’t get any mosquito bites whatsoever. (So unfair!) Then again, a few bug bites won’t deter me from camping again. Next time I hope we can go camping with our friends. It turns out a lot of our friends have never been camping before, & they are eager for me to show them the ropes. How exciting! Until next time, cheers…& I shall leave you with some photos of our camping excursion down below.


Today’s song of the day:

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Hey guys, guess what? I’m traveling to Los Angeles yet again this upcoming weekend. It’s my aunt’s 72nd birthday, & her three daughters are throwing her an epic Bingo-themed birthday party. I wasn’t originally planning on going to my aunt’s birthday party; Jian & I are trying to save as much money as we can as our medical bills are piling up rather quickly. However, Jian convinced me that we could turn this weekend into a fun road trip down the California coast.

Jian has maxed out the amount of vacation hours he could accumulate at his office, so he’s taking a couple of days off to make it a long weekend. We’re planning on stopping off in Santa Barbara for one night before ultimately meeting up with friends & family in Los Angeles.

This makes a perfect segue into the next topic in my 99 Things That Bring Me Joy journal, which is about my best birthday celebrations. There are a couple of birthday celebrations that come to mind, but I wouldn’t exactly call them “celebrations”. They were more like birthday traditions.

One of my most memorable & favorite birthday traditions was from when I was a young child in primary school. I invited a lot of the girls from my class, & every year for my birthday I would always have a piñata & the same style cake. We’d play silly schoolyard games in the backyard before my older cousin would help us with the piñata. Then we’d all cram into our family’s kitchen to blow out the candles on my favorite Hello Kitty shaped cake.

I will always remember my childhood birthdays filled with piñatas & Hello Kitty birthday cakes. The piñatas were always some fun animal shape & filled with lots of fun candy that I had no interest in eating, so I’d always let my classmates & friends grab all the candy they wanted. (If it wasn’t chocolate or caramel chews, I wouldn’t eat it.) My birthday cake was always the shape of Hello Kitty‘s face, & the flavors would always be either chocolate or strawberry shortcake. Those two flavors are still my favorite to this very day.

The most memorable birthday of that time in my life was when I had invited two girls from my school who happened to be rivals. Both girls hated each other & always tried to one-up each other. At my birthday, they were both fighting over who got to swing from a low-hanging branch on the little peach tree in my backyard. Both girls were fighting for space on that small tree, but the branch ended up snapping, & the entire tree tipped over & fell. They both ended up flat on their asses with all of the other girls in our group looking on in sheer disbelief & a little panicked as to what the grown ups would say. Both of the girls were quick to blame each other for the murdering of the tree, crying the most phony tears for sympathy.

My dad, when he later found out what had happened to that peach tree, was pissed off. Apparently, that tree was still young & growing its roots, & it was one of my dad’s favorite trees in our backyard. He was so upset that these two girls broke the tree that he later forbid me from ever inviting those girls to another birthday party. My mom was equally as mad as my dad was, & she very swiftly declared that no one shall be climbing, swinging, or playing on any trees from that point on. She then quickly passed out all of the party favors, & sent all of the girls home. That was the last time I had a birthday party at home for the next couple of years.

As I grew older, my tastes changed (not my taste in Hello Kitty!). I would still celebrate my birthday with my friends, but one of my most favorite birthday traditions was to go out for a super fancy meal with my family. We would drive to San Francisco to eat at my dad’s favorite seafood restaurant, & my parents would allow me order a full lobster dinner. This became such a memorable family tradition that it became an inside joke amongst my family that I loved to eat lobster. Now, every time when I go out to eat with my family, they will always jokingly point out to me the lobster dish on the menu.

Now, in terms of actual birthday celebrations, nothing so far has topped my birthday vacation to London, England. Oh man, I cannot stress enough how badly I’ve been wanting to visit the UK. Ever since I was a small child, reading the Paddington Bear books, & watching the Mary Poppins movie a thousand times, I’ve had a dream of visiting the city of London.

Then, back in 2016, everything aligned so perfectly, & I had the immense pleasure & rare opportunity to visit the city I’ve always longed to visit, but had always felt was out of my reach. I will never forget that incredible experience, from the people, to the sights, to the food, to the experiences Jian & I shared together. I even saved the handwritten birthday card the hotel staff wrote to me & placed in our hotel room along with a little complimentary chocolate confection. I truly had the time of my life & cannot wait for the next opportunity to visit my new favorite city!

Over these past few years, I haven’t been much of a celebrator of birthdays. I’m not very comfortable with all of the attention being focused on me, & as I am maturing in age, I have become increasingly aware of the modest yet obvious age gap between myself & Jian, as well as myself & a majority of my friends. I don’t like to focus on my age, but as the years go on, I tend to focus on it more & more, which makes me feel self-conscious about it. So, I end up not celebrating my birthday in order to avoid thinking about my age. Also, I feel like a party to celebrate my life is too indulgent & unnecessary. I celebrate my life everyday. I don’t need one day out of the year to feel special. I feel special right now, in fact. Until the next occasion, cheers everyone!

Today’s song of the day:

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Two weekends ago I took a weekend road-trip to Los Angeles for my cousin’s 40th birthday. Jian & I had a blast. We were able to equally split our time with our family, our friends, & take time out for ourselves to spend alone. All in all, it was a good day weekend. (Sorry…I couldn’t resist adding in that infamous Dr. Dre song lyric.)

This might come off as a little bougie to some, but over the weekend, Jian & I ended up staying at two different hotels. For the first leg of our Los Angeles extended weekend, we stayed at a hotel called The Jeremy. The hotel is located in a great location that’s close to all of the things Jian & I like to do when we’re there, but it’s still somewhat close to the area where a majority of my relatives live. We had never stayed at this hotel before, but whenever we travel to L.A., we always hang out around that West Hollywood neighborhood.

The last time we were in L.A., this hotel was still under a ton of construction. It was still under quite a bit of remodeling & reconfiguring during the weeekend we had stayed there. Yet, even though the hotel’s layout was a little confusing during all of the reconfiguring & remodeling of their main lobby, we still had a good experience staying at that hotel. One thing I could not believe was that this hotel (The Jeremy) was the most affordable hotel we could find for that weekend (the second weekend in March). It wasn’t super cheap, but it was still affordable, & typically hotels in the West Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles are expensive no matter what time of the year it is. Here, I’ve included photos of our hotel room. It was super spacious considering it was only the two of us (& we usually share a suitcase on short trips).

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Our main objective while in Los Angeles was to attend my female cousin’s big 40th birthday party. However, we were able to take time out for ourselves to swing by all of our routine L.A. haunts, as well as checking out some new hot spots that Jian discovered while browsing the internet. Jian has a fun time window shopping at his favorite licensed Japanese clothing brand retailers (like UNION Los Angeles, VISVIM Exposition, etc.). At the same time, I have a good time of my own browsing through all the various stationery/office supply/gift shops for lots of cute Japanese branded goods. You know, I feel like since Los Angeles has a larger Japanese population there’s a much higher retail demand for Japanese branded products in those shops, compared to similar shops in the Bay Area city where I live. So, I have a much easier time finding things that catch my interest in the shops down in Los Angeles, & I like that because it saves me from having to plan a big trip abroad back to Japan or Taiwan just to satisfy my meaningless retail hunger.

[I AM JUST GOING TO INSERT A LINK OF MY SHOPPING HAUL HERE BECAUSE YOU DON’T NEED ME TO EXPLAIN IT TWICE.]

Now, as I am typing this blog post & thinking about the layout & format of my post, I am kind of, sort of regretting not taking more pictures of the delicious food we ate during our trip. I’d have a good amount of cool food pics to show you, but I ended up not taking very many photos of what we ate/drank. Part of the reason why is because I get in a lazy rut sometimes & just don’t feel like taking photos of anything, but mostly it’s because Jian has been complaining a lot lately that I spend too much time on my mobile phone taking & editing photos (especially of food & drinks) when we go out.

So, lately I have really been putting in effort to not fiddle around on my phone every three minutes while we’re out & about, especially at restaurants. If I complain about those Insta-posers who take carefully staged/posed photos of their food to get more Instagram ‘likes’, then I shouldn’t contribute to the problem by whipping out my mobile phone everytime I’m about to devour something delicious. Therefore, I’ve got nothing of interest or substance to show you in this section of my post. However, I do have a couple of rare food snapshots from a new seafood joint we discovered for the first time, located in a really cool, up-&-coming hipster shopping district called The Row DTLA. The place was called Rappahannock Oyster Bar, & it was a good Happy Hour spot for both of us to rest our feet & whet our whistles.


Here comes the par-tay! For my cousin’s birthday, her husband first took her out for a fun, intimate dinner near their house. Then, they invited all of their closest friends & family to join them at a rented music recording studio space for a laid back & casual dance party, complete with a bartender slinging simple drinks, catered food, & a really cool DJ spinning some of the best song mixes of both today & yesterday’s hits.

Aside from my cousin, the one person who was living the absolute most bestest life ever was our little 2-year old niece. This little munchkin loves to dance every chance she gets, no matter where she is. As soon as she arrived & heard the loud music, she made a beeline straight for the dance area. She could not stop running around the event space & following her mom everywhere. This girl seriously cannot live without her mom (not even dad can corral this little spitfire). She was the cutest little thing the whole night.

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Yup! That’ s my niece playing the bongos!

Jian & I had so much fun dancing the night away, & Jian actually spent the entire night nursing one margarita, while I was surprisingly chugging beers all night without feeling even one ounce of tipsiness or tiredness like I typically do if I even consume half a bottle of beer on an average day. I had such a blast singing along with most of the songs throughout the night, & Jian kept trying to sneak away to grab snacks at the catered food stand, even though we had a pretty hearty dinner right before going to the party. (I warned him not to eat too much, or else he’d get indigestion when we got back to our hotel, but he didn’t listen…as usual.) By the time we got back to our hotel room, our feet were throbbing, our thighs were feeling tight, & we were both ready to each take a super hot shower to soak our overworked (yet underused) muscles. It was all worth it though, just to see my cousin having the time of her life.


On the very last leg of our whirlwind weekend, we very quickly stayed overnight, for one night only, in my brother & sister’s southern L.A. beach neighborhood. We were both extremely disappointed that we were not able to visit & spend time with my niece & nephew, whom we are both very close to. It would have been great to spend a little time with them, especially when my niece’s birthday is coming up in one week. We knew they would’ve both loved to see us, but we were told that everyone would be busy that weekend, & it would be a huge inconvenience for her if we tried to meet up with the kids.

We had decided to switch hotels on the last days of our trip because we were planning on visiting our best friends who live in Irvine, & we didn’t want to actually stay overnight in Irvine & have to drive back to northern California from so far south. So, we thought spending one night in my siblings’ neighborhood would be a good compromise. It was a good resting point between visiting our friends, & driving home early in the morning. For our hotel choice, we decided to book a room at the same hotel we usually stay at when  we visit my siblings.

The hotel is in an extremely convenient location, approximately a five-minute drive from each of my sibling’s places, & it had recently been remodeled & re-branded under a new name, but still under the Marriott hotel chain. The new hotel name is called WestDrift, & the newly remodeled hotel rooms were roomy & comfortable as well. Surprisingly, our room’s couch was larger at the WestDrift compared to the one at The Jeremy even though this new room we were staying in was smaller, & our new room didn’t have any cheesy, skeezy hotel carpet. Hooray for hardwood floors! Here’s a peek at what our new room looked like.

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We met up with our friends on the last full day of our trip. We love spending quality time with our friends & their fun pets, just hanging out at their house, chilling on their couch & chatting while something Netflix-y is playing on the TV in the background. Our friends took us to one of their favorite sushi spots down in Irvine/Costa Mesa, & it was a cool experience. I mean, I’ve never had a piece of nigiri sushi topped with fresh garlic & a dollop of chili sauce. It was something I never expected from a traditional sushi restaurant, yet it tasted really good.

We definitely ended our trip on a high note by spending quality time with our close friends, & Jian got to bromance with his best friend. It was a great ending to a wonderfully action-packed, yet relaxing weekend. We had so much fun blending family time with personal time, & meeting up with friends from afar. Now is the time for us to buckle down at home & not travel for a while. We’ve got lots of home maintenace projects lined up for the forseeable future, so we’re going to have to put our traveling & big activities on hold temporarily, but that’s okay. We truly enjoy spending quiet time at home too. Until next time, cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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