Friday, November 13, 2015

To Little Miss, on your 7th birthday


My dearest Little Miss,

You turn seven today, and while you’ve been anticipating this day for a good long while now, your daddy and I find it hard to believe that you’re only just turning seven. I think I said the same thing when you turned six. And five. Possibly even four.

You can’t blame us as you’ve always seemed older than your real age. Maybe it’s the way you talk - always articulate and so sure of yourself. Maybe it’s the way you fearlessly insert yourself in social groups, not feeling the least bit awkward in joining a conversation you didn’t start, and I often marvel at that. Or maybe it’s because, next to your sister, you’re always going to seem older, teaching her new games (and yelling at her for not staying put for you), and being a rather rigid rule follower, you relish instructing her to abide by our rules at home (which often fails, but don’t worry, it’s not you; she doesn’t listen to us either). You also love showing her how things ought to be done--your way. “No, no, no, Pickle, you are WRONG. Let me do it.” I didn’t say you always have the best delivery, but you have good intentions. Most of the time.


At seven, you are daddy’s girl. You light up when you see him, and you relish the time you spend with this man who can do no wrong in your eyes.  You bond over Minecraft, and you ask him questions  like “How does a car run?”, which you probably knew he’d be excited to answer.

I’m still the one you run to for comfort though; you fold your lanky arms and legs onto my lap as I stroke your long hair and plant kisses on your head. You still fit in my nook, but barely, and it makes me ache for the tiny girl you once were.


You have a knack for challenging me in ways both expected and unexpected. I have to admit, when you were going through your Terrible Two’s and Three’s, then Fucking Four’s, and later Furious Five’s, I was a little worried. Were you always going to be this way?

I can safely say now that, thankfully, the answer is no. Ever since you turned six, we’ve been noticing a gradual shift in your temperament. You’re more empathetic, less volatile and instead of being this little person who constantly wants and takes, wants and takes, you are starting to give. And that, my sweet, is something I hope will become a larger part of you over time. Because, really, it is in the giving that we find joy, and I wish that in abundance for you.



These days, as you slowly grow into the person you will become, I am in awe when I see you engrossed in a book in some corner of the house (or right next to me as I read mine), completely lost to the world around you, or when your fingers are perfectly poised on the keyboard for Minecraft, or when you are unfazed by trying something you’ve never had before, like raw oysters, or when you’re tackling water slides and carnival rides with such admirable intrepidity, or when you chose to be the lone (Minecraft) Creeper when all your friends were fairies and butterflies at a birthday party because what I really see are the best parts of your daddy and me in you, meshed with qualities that are so uniquely you, and it’s a beautiful thing.




Every day, you inspire me to try harder, not in a Sheryl-Sandberg-leaning-in kind of way, but in a way that allows me to be gentle with myself so you too can someday do the same for yourself. You push me to reach further so I may learn to meet your defiance with kindness, your exasperation with compassion. I am a better version of myself because of you.

My dear girl, I am grateful beyond measure that you’re my daughter, and I love you even more than that.

Happy birthday, my darling.




Thursday, October 29, 2015

10 years

 FullSizeRender (4) Circa 2005

This always sneaks up on me, but today is the six-year anniversary of my blog. (What?!) But I can hardly fault myself for nearly forgetting — it falls on the day after we celebrated our 10-year anniversary on the date we got married last year. Um. Yes. It’s complicated.

Before our little jaunt to the chapel, we were struggling with deciding between two important anniversary dates, one in March and the other in August, and finally decided to put our foot (feet?) down; let’s just combine all of the dates into the time when we finally made it to the altar, and call it a day. Literally. Better for our stress levels, better for our pocketbooks. Done. We’re pragmatic like that.

With Halloween just around the corner, there’s plenty to celebrate this week it would seem, and normally, I’d be all over it. So much to plan, so much to capture. The blog should’ve been overflowing with sweet words of remembrance and love. Except life happens, and I have a sick four-year-old in my hands.


She’s been quarantined at home with me for the past four days. With a mama this and a mama that every few minutes, I can scarcely string a cohesive sentence together before having to tend to the little one and her myriad needs while juggling freelance work on top of that. More water. I’m cold. I’m hot. Honey tea. Snuggle time. No, fresh water! Take my temperature. Honey tea. I have a headache. Stay close. Where are you? Honey tea. Can you play with me?

IMG_4308 Don’t tell her, but I let her win sometimes.

I had hoped for a quick getaway so we could indulge in something different – something as far from real life as possible - to celebrate this milestone anniversary. Reality, however, had other plans for us. Ironically, such is real life.

Nonetheless, it’s a good life. It wouldn’t be right for me to lament this one day when I have all the other days for which to be thankful, where sweet Post-It notes, middle-of-the-day dates, “thinking of you” texts, and clasping hands are often a part of them.


We did manage to sneak in a lovely dinner in the city, planned entirely by My Guy, babysitter and all. We got to dress up, where I wore the earrings and shoes that I’d worn for the wedding, and he, the jacket. There were okra, mussels, Brussels sprouts, anchovies, and ramps - all the things that I love, which he had tried and learned to enjoy over the years because of me. He had, at one point in the evening, looked across the table and thanked me for introducing him to things he otherwise wouldn’t have known. He acknowledged that he had indeed come far.

Yes, my love, but so have we.

In all our time together, there were things that happened that should’ve been the end of us. We were almost finished — twice! Yet, we found a way to stay together. We worked incredibly hard and I’m so proud of all that we did to get here — are still doing, every single day.  There should have been fireworks, white sandy beaches, and a couples’ massage (or two) to commemorate this milestone. Instead, there were just us, and I’m just as grateful.

Because we can’t be together for this long and fight so hard for what we have and not realize that this “us” is no ordinary thing. Sometimes, it’s the best part of all, and how lucky are we that we already have that?

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

                            - Wendell Berry



Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Oh, the things we do for love

BagnaCauda Artichokes 

I discovered bagna c√†uda many, many years ago when I was obsessing over Nigella Lawson, the British cooking sensation, who featured the recipe in one of her books. It’s an Italian dip, served warm and consumed similarly to fondue, made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil, butter.

I mean, garlic, butter, olive oil and anchovies? Come on, what’s not to love? Dried anchovies are ubiquitous in Malaysian cooking, appearing in soups, stir-fries, sambal, you name it. It’s not something we love or hate. Like salt or soy sauce, it’s just one of the ways we season our food. But it wasn’t until I arrived in the US that I was introduced to anchovies canned in olive oil. I found ways to use and love those too.

However, My Guy, who was born and raised here, doesn’t quite have the same kind of relationship with them as I do. Naturally, when we met and I learned of his disdain for them, I thought, challenge accepted!

I discovered a killer recipe from Jamie Oliver - back when I used to collect his recipe books - that I thought would change anyone’s mind. A simple dish of pasta, broccoli, garlic, chili flakes and anchovies instantly made it to my repertoire after the first time I made it, and I figured anyone who tasted this dish would fall in love with it too.

Boy, was I wrong.

Looking back, I don’t even know why I picked that dish as the first thing I made for him. I mean, was I trying to impress him or warn him about me? The anchovies disintegrate in the olive oil and butter -- perhaps I thought he wouldn’t notice the stealthy anchovies and would love the dish. At which point, I would get on a pedestal and announce A-ha! See? It’s all in your head! I was (am) convinced that as a nation of anchovy haters, they’re collectively raised to turn away from it before really giving it a chance. Really, I think I was just desperate for him to like something that was such a big part of my childhood.


When he tried it, however, he eyed it suspiciously – what’s the smell? what’s this flavor?

I soon made my confession, and he also admitted he didn’t care for it.

Gasp! Naturally, I thought, “not love my cooking? What??! How can this be? How will we ever be happy together?” before I reined in my crazies. Well, at least our relationship wouldn’t be built on lies. There is that small, teeny tiny consolation.

Despite my foiled efforts to impress him, despite sneaking anchovies in the dish, despite his - in my opinion - lack of sophistication in food appreciation, we’re still together.

But that day wasn’t the end of this dish either. It’s still on the menu rotation at home. He just had to learn to appreciate it over time.  In fact, just the other day, he declared, “I’m surprised how much I like this dish.”

Huh. Imagine that.

Over the years, I’ve learned to be mindful of his wariness of anchovies. It doesn’t appear in my cooking as much as I like, but it doesn’t stop me from using it to flavor my soups and stir-fries altogether. I just don’t do it all the time. I’ve stopped trying to convince him that it’s The Best Thing Ever, and because he’s always open to trying new things (which I loooooooove about him), he would eat them and honestly admit that it’s just okay or it’s not his favorite.

I can live with that. From disdain to ambivalence. Progress!

I think this whole anchovy thing was the beginning of a long string of compromises between us. He’s a gamer; I’m a reader. He eats to live; I live to eat. He’s a thrill seeker; I’m a homebody. He’s an extrovert; I’m an introvert. I love running; he loves driving. Still, our relationship works.

After all, isn’t compromise a key ingredient to a healthy, happy union? We all do it, and because we love the one we’re with, we make tiny sacrifices to meet in the middle. Because this middle? It’s pretty damn nice.

I remember we used to have the same argument many couples newly living together have: why can’t you put the toilet seat down? why can’t you leave it up?

Eventually My Guy suggested an alternative solution as a peace offering - that we both close the lid after using the toilet so we both had a responsibility, not just him. Fair enough. And we have been doing that since. (Which turned out for the best in the end not only because it kept the peace at home, it also kept our toilet-water-drinking cats away.)

See? It’s nice. Even hygienic.

Today, My Guy still doesn’t love anchovies, and I don’t expect him too. When I spotted beautiful globe artichokes at Trader Joe’s the other day, I didn’t shy away from making bagna cauda either so I could savor each succulent leaf. Except this time, I decided to experiment on my girls. Will they love it as much as I do?

They were intrigued by the artichoke itself - what’s this funny looking thing? The act of tearing off and consuming one leaf at a time in a particular manner (“use your teeth to scrape the meat off, just like this”) thrilled them. But when we finished the artichoke, they wanted more to go with the bagna cauda. I brought them romaine leaves next, and we polished off the dip.

Bagna Cauda Family

I guess it’s not surprising that they loved it so much. If they go for raw oysters, tongue taco and fish eyeballs the same way other kids clamor for pizza and chicken nuggets, what’s a dish pungent with garlic and anchovies?

But what surprised me was when My Guy dug in and kept going back for more. I didn’t try to be sneaky this time either; I warned him about the anchovies, but he enjoyed it anyway. He has come a long, long way indeed.

I guess time can do that. Or maybe it’s love.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

A curious thing happened

This is the longest I’ve gone without blogging since I started in 2009. At first, it was because I couldn’t find the time, trying to juggle my full-time work at Austin Spark League, a two-week summer program that My Guy and I cofounded with another friend, and full-time parenting while dealing with a mysterious medical condition that often times felt worse for my emotional state than my physical health. When Austin Spark League was over, it was finally time for our first real vacation in nearly a year and my birthday celebration in Chicago. After we returned from a wonderful time with our friends, My Guy went on a business trip for about a week - the last one right before school started - and the next thing you know, with the chaos of school thrown into the mix, I was already feeling the burden of a blogging backlog.

There was so much I’d wanted to capture for the record - the amazing experience of Austin Spark League, going back to the city with which I’ve had a love affair for the past 16 years, celebrating a milestone birthday with my people, Little Miss' first day of first grade.

Wow! So much to say, but where could I possibly start? That’s an overwhelming abundance of memories and emotions that I had to find time to record, but as time disappeared, so did my recollection of these moments that seemed so important at the time. And because I didn't know where to begin, I couldn't.

But then a curious thing happened.

After months of not seeing a Runner’s World magazine in my mailbox, I was surprised to find it among my pile of bills and junk mail yesterday. That’s odd.

I didn’t renew my subscription because I hadn’t been running since the end of April, when I was struck by this mysterious ailment that impeded my mobility -- I could barely walk or turn my neck, let alone run. In fact, I even had to quit yoga, another one of my favorite things.

It took me awhile to reintroduce physical activity back into my life after several weeks of gritting my teeth as I did anything that required me to use my joints. WHICH WAS EVERYTHING.

That’s when depressing thoughts descended on me like a pack of hungry wolves. Or bunnies, if you're not into violence. Doctors couldn’t give me a definite diagnosis, which also meant my prognosis was uncertain. Will I ever be able to run again?

Instead of sinking into that dreaded maelstrom of self-loathing - what the hell is wrong with my body?! I’m strong, I’m healthy, why can’t I beat this thing? - I decided to get moving to battle whatever that threatened to swallow me whole.

I started swimming laps, which was the only thing that gave my pain some sort of relief as the movement helped loosened my joints. Then I slowly added low-impact elliptical exercises to my repertoire. About a month ago, I stopped taking meds altogether - no pain relievers, no steroids - and when I realized I could still function, I decided to give yoga a try again and success! I’ve been back at it since, although I still avoid the headstand. I didn't want to push my luck.

The recovery has been slow, but I doubt hurrying it would take me back to my old self faster. I’m not 100% yet - I still have trouble with my shoulder, feet, hand and hips, but I don’t need help getting out of the car, so that’s certainly progress.

This past weekend was the Chicago Marathon, where a friend who started running the same time I did completed this remarkable feat. I couldn’t be more proud of her accomplishment, although I didn’t find myself wishing I could’ve run it with her. I just felt the pang of not being able to run. Period.

When the magazine showed up two days later, I couldn’t help myself. I flipped through the pages with my coffee in hand this morning, and several inspiring stories later, I arrived at this: why can’t I run again?

If it’s that important to me, surely I can find a way to do it.

And I did!

I ran on the wooded trail outside my gym with the sun on my face. It was a mere 15 minutes of slow, continuous running, but it was a glorious 15 minutes.

It didn’t take long for muscle memory to kick in. Yes, this is what it feels like. I also remembered that we get so much more from running than just burning calories. Today, what I got from it was this: Running seemed impossible during those nights when My Guy had to help turn my body from one side to another in bed because it hurt too much to do it myself as I desperately tried to sleep, but if I can eventually find my way back to running, perhaps I can find a way back to blogging.

So here I am.

And maybe, just maybe, years later, should I experience another setback - as I most likely will because such is life - I can look back on this difficult summer through these words and find the courage and the strength to keep going until I find my way back to myself again.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The surprising things about this summer


I’m going to come right out and say it. This is NOT the summer I had envisioned for us. The girls were supposed to be at summer camp and preschool respectively, and I was supposed to be busy with freelance work. And possibly some house projects.

But then sickness happened, and suddenly, plans veered off course and here we are, having a completely different kind of summer altogether.

When I first realized that I would be home with the girls 24/7 while suffering debilitating pains from my freak condition, I panicked. How the hell am I going to do this?

It’s been a month now, and I think I figured it out. It’s pretty simple actually. I decided to just let summer be summer for all of us.

You know, the idyllic childhood school break that most of us remember from our past - big blue skies and the great outdoors in hot, hot heat with no big plans and no place to be, doing mostly that which is led by our whim? Yes, just like that, minus the great outdoors for my girls, because, according to them, what’s that? Unless it involves a pool.

With my limited mobility issues, I hesitate to commit to anything beyond play dates because the thought of rushing to classes and following a schedule feels exhausting, let alone having to go through with them.



The family command center

I have a family calendar that I try to fill with possible things we can do together around the city, but if something else comes up, no big deal. There’s always the next day or the next week. This laidback approach isn’t usually my style, but as part of my healing process, laidback is all I can afford, and you know what? For both my sanity and my recovery, laidback is good.

Glorious Sleep
Apparently it’s the summer of discovering strange yet wonderful new behaviors for us because the female species in this house have been sleeping in. It is uncommon for the girls to wake after eight, but when they’re crawling out of bed closer to nine, sometimes after, you know this is a fantastic new era for us.

I’m usually a morning person myself, but with my ailment, I allow myself all the sleep I need because a) it’s good for healing; and b) deep in dreamland is the only time I don’t feel pain.
As someone who thrived on little sleep, operating on no more than six hours of sleep every day, this abundance of sleep - Seven to eight hours? What?! - is almost unheard of for me, yet it’s probably one of the best changes that my condition inadvertently brought me.

The strangest part is when I wake to the streaks of morning light that shine through the sheer curtains in my room, feeling fully rested, and I find the house is silent because the girls are still asleep. I then make my way to the porch to listen to the chorus of birds in my yard with that exquisite first cup of coffee in hand, just slightly unsettled by my solitude at this time of the day. No kid to interrupt my reverie, no one’s asking for more milk, more’s like The Twilight Zone.

Not that it all goes to hell when the girls are up. In fact, they deserve credit for often starting the day quietly, each in their own way. Little Miss will be in her own fictional world with a book; Pickle either climbs in bed with me for a cuddle or sits in the craft corner, coloring and humming some nameless tune. Or she’d sing Tove Lo’s, “I’m high all the time, to get you off my mind, ooooh ooooh…”  At four, she has no idea what she’s singing yet, which makes it that much funnier for those of us who do.

When we’re all awake, My Guy takes a break from his work to make us breakfast. Unlike us, he begins at 4AM or 5AM when his girls are still slumbering and the owls are making eyes at him from the trees in our yard. (No, seriously, he showed me pictures of the three owls that were flirting with him.) Sometimes he would eat with us; sometimes he’d scramble back to his office for his next conference call, which has become such a familiar soundtrack of our summer days. That and NPR from our kitchen radio, my constant companion.

Unless the girls are in the mood for Disney tunes or Katy Perry. But if I’m lucky, we’ll get on the Pandora station set to Vampire Weekend as we slowly ease into the rest of our day.

Passing time
While we wake to unstructured time each day, there’s still a rhythm that involves weekly activities that the girls have learned to expect so we’re anchored by familiarity.

We go to the gym at least three times a week so they can play at the child watch center while I try to rehab myself into better mobility. Sometimes, we’d plan to meet friends at the outdoor pool there or we would randomly bump into them. Now that Pickle can swim, both girls will play in the water with their buddies until they turn into prunes while I enjoy adult conversations with fellow parents.

Sometimes we’ll invite friends and neighbors to our pool at home instead. Or the girls just jump in and spend a couple of hours in there on their own while I prepare dinner and tend the garden. In short, my water babies don’t stray too far from the pool, but with our scorching summers here, it’s a Texas thing to do.


On Mondays, we hit the library for books and attend some kind of performance held there weekly. There was a clown show once, where lucky Little Miss got picked to be his helper. The girls also watched a puppet theater and the Austin Opera perform while learning all about a genre that seems strange to their ears.


Apart from the gym and library, I would plan an excursion - a museum jaunt, the park, a movie - either with friends or with just the three of us. Sometimes there would also be a play date for Little Miss while Pickle and I spend some time together.

IMG_2250 At the Thinkery, a children’s museum


These outings, planned or spontaneous, break the monotony of our daily routine at home, although with summer, there really isn’t a real routine. I had envisioned a carefree summer for them, not unlike the one I had when I was a kid, but at ages six and four, sometimes this “carefree” needed some planning.

Like intentionally creating a “Busy Box” - a crate filled with coloring books, word games, mazes, etc. - so they can easily fill their own down time. It’s not like my girls don’t get to indulge in TV. They definitely get more of it this summer, although I try to hold off until later in the day to capitalize on their morning energy, when they’re more likely to try something new, explore, be creative, play together and even comply to my requests.



I am of the “let the kids be bored” camp of parenting, where I neither try to fill their every hour with activities nor do I help structure their play time, because it’s good for them. They’re expected to devise their own entertainment in between Pokemon episodes and the iPad since screen time is still not a free-for-all in our house. The funny thing is, I rarely hear complaints of boredom because eventually, with a little bit of imagination, they do figure it out.



Recently, My Guy introduced Little Miss to Minecraft, and he has since been relishing every opportunity he gets to bond with his daughter in the way gamer dads do. He’ll occasionally take a short break from work in the middle of his day to play with her for a bit or she will get to stay up a little longer in the evening while they build something in the game together. They now share a lingo that’s alien to me, and I think it’s a beautiful thing.

IMG_2101 (1)


I guess there is a bright side to my unfortunate disease. I get to slow down, hang back, and notice the little things I otherwise might have missed. Like the connections that are happening around me.

The father-daughter minecraft connection. A secret club between sisters.




This has to be my favorite part of this summer - watching our connections morph from one that’s formed purely out of need to one that’s shaped by desire. I’d spent every summer with my girls since Pickle was born, and each time, I’d been an active participant among them because they needed to be supervised, needed to be close to me. Sometimes I would be roped in to (begrudgingly) play the part of the witch or whatever villain concocted for me because, well, if I had to be there, I might as well join in, whether I liked it or not.

This time, however, my role as mom is secondary to their role as sister to one another. They’re far more likely to go off on their own to create an elaborate scene for themselves, each playing a character of their choosing. When they hit a wall and come running to me for ideas, I do just that - I give them ideas and tell them to “run along now”, which they miraculously do. As a parent to young children, this “run along now” moment used to only happen to parents on TV but man, now that it actually works for me, I find myself getting things done in the middle of the day (like writing this blog!), or, if I so choose, sit back and relax myself, which, frankly, is rare.

I’m just not the sit-by-the-pool-with-a-book-while-the-kids-swim type of person, not that there’s anything wrong with it. I’m just not wired that way, much to My Guy’s chagrin because he’s always encouraging me to relax. I would rather use that opportunity to maximize my efficiency to stay on top of things.

However, it’s not like I don’t notice what’s happening around me even if I choose to check off my task list. The one thing I notice above all else is the blossoming of this sisterhood between my girls. Of course they squabble and fight and tattle. But they’re sisters. As an only child, I’ve been told that’s what sisters do.

But I also see an abundance of love. They’re old enough now to have real conversations, they share secrets that belong only to them, they build a world of their imagination together - even if it’s just to battle one another in a Pokemon arena. Sometimes, when one gets in trouble, the other stands up for her. They’re also starting to band together to make their case against me, but I’m secretly okay with that too.

Sisters first has always been my plan, only they don’t know it. Because, really, what an honor and privilege it is for me to see this relationship, as complex as it is beautiful, take shape right before me.

In the end, sure, it can be annoying to chalk every misfortune to “everything happens for a reason”, but I suppose this is how we, the blighted, cope. It does feel better, knowing that this pain that derailed our plans for the summer actually gave us something even better instead.

It gave us each other.



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