Eulogy for My Brother, Chris Yoon

I’ll never forget the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend 2013.  We had friends over our house for Thai food and a cookout.  Around 6pm, as I was cooking noodles, my sister called.  “Linda?” she said tentatively when I picked up the phone.  Immediately I could tell that something was wrong from the hysteria and crying in her voice.

“Hi, what’s wrong?”

“Did you talk to Dad?”  I automatically assumed something happened to my mother.  My heart started to pound through my chest.

“No, what happened?!” I said, feeling panic and dread.

“Chris died.”

Those words would reverberate through my head for the next two weeks, and fresh tears shed as I recall the shock, despair, regret, disbelief, and overwhelming grief I felt at the sudden loss of my brother.

My brother Chris, 42 years old, was found in his apartment by a friend after he failed to respond to texts and phone calls.  Apparently he died peacefully in his sleep on May 25, 2013 after a night out with friends.  He had a host of health problems in the past few years, but his death was sudden and unexpected, and came as a shock to everyone who knew him.

As a way to memorialize my brother, I am posting the eulogy I wrote and read at his funeral:

Minna 201 187

Christopher Hong-Kyun Yoon, was born on April 14, 1971 in Seoul, South Korea to my parents, Choong Jin and Song Ja Yoon.  He was born with congenital heart disease, which affected his health as a baby and small child.  In 1975, when he was four years old, we immigrated to the United States, where he had open-heart surgery at the age of 5.  Some of you may have seen the scar on his chest.  When we were young, he used to lift up his shirt to try to scare my friends, or sometimes he would tell people that he was an alien from another planet.  However, his operation didn’t stop him from being active.  In his childhood, he earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, played Little League and was nicknamed Froggy by his teammates because he came to practice once with laryngitis, and played football in high school.  I remember when he broke his pinky during football practice, which seemed to give him the permission to boss his two little sisters around.

Chris also had a lot of different interests.  He liked Star Wars, playing video games on his Atari and Apple 2E computer, superheroes, WWF and Jimmy Superfly Snooka, the Dallas Cowboys, and Dungeons and Dragons.  We spent hours together watching MTV when it first went on air, as well as cartoons.  And like a lot of little girls with a big brother, I adored him and looked up to him.  I have two children who are home now in Arizona – Chris’s nephew and niece.  Alek is 4 and Aliya is 2.  When I see them together, I often see how Chris and I must have been like when we were their age.  Aliya loves her big brother and wants to be just like him.  She’ll copy his actions, his words, and sometimes I’ll even catch her in the same pose as Alek.  She would rather play with his cars and dinosaurs than with her dolls.  Chris was also a role model for me when we were young and influenced my tastes – sometimes good, sometimes bad.  He got me into Star Wars and other science-fiction and fantasy-type books and movies when we were kids, then in high school he got me into Whitesnake and other hair metal bands, and home from college in Chicago he got me interested in NBA basketball and the Bulls.  He was interested in so many things and had such passion and enthusiasm for them, whether it was for photography or food or his hatred for Republicans.  His most recent interest had been making pizzas.  I came home to find that he had turned my parents’ kitchen into a mini-pizzeria.  There were all sorts of pizza supplies everywhere including pans and pizza stones and big bags of flour.  He was reading pizza-making blogs and practicing every week to perfect his pizza.  He even wanted to build a brick oven in the backyard to make his pizzas.  And he was very excited to make pizza for Alek and Aliya when they come for a visit this summer.  If you were lucky enough to taste his pizza, you would know how delicious it was.  He gave me the recipe in February – a lengthy e-mail detailing each step to making “Chris Yoon’s perfect pizza.”  If you want the recipe, I’m willing to share it with you…for the right price.

Chris was non-traditional and unconventional, starting in high school when he grew out and permed his hair Tommy-Lee style.  He had to wear a hairnet in his job at McDonald’s.  My classmates teased me about it but also said he was the coolest guy ever.  He definitely stood out in the crowd with his individuality.  In his 20s when he moved to Chicago, he got into his goth stage.  He dressed all in black, wore big combat boots and lots of leather and chains.  We thought this was a temporary phase but he told me that this wasn’t a phase and that this is who he was.  When I visited him in Chicago, I would go clubbing with him at Neo and Exit.  At first I was a little intimidated to meet his crowd, but they ended up being the nicest, most open-minded and open-hearted people I’ve met in my life.  As much as I thought I was open-minded and non-judgmental, it was actually Chris who was.  I was glad that Chris found his niche and a group of friends who were kind and loyal.  In turn, Chris treated his friends and family with kindness and loyalty.  Although he dressed in black, he had a heart of gold.  He was so generous and always willing to give me things or share his food.  One time when he was home from college, he came into my room wearing a hooded sweatshirt with his college logo on it.  When I told him I liked it, he took it off right then and there and gave it to me.  I know he did the same for his friends as well.  I read on his Facebook wall that he literally gave the shirt off his back to a friend.  He was always helping his friends move, build closets; he gave them rides in his car even when it was way out of the way and gave his friends a place to stay when they were down on their luck.  One of his friends in a message to me described him as a knight in shining armor.  And in the end, it was his friends who made him happy.

A few years ago he went through a difficult time and was in a pretty bad place after a bad break-up. Around that time, he wrote me a note which I still have, thanking me for listening to him and reassuring me that he would be okay and will find happiness again.  At the end of the note he wrote ‘Carpe Diem’ (Seize the Day).  But soon afterwards he fell into a funk, lost his direction and entered a reclusive stage that lasted for a long time.  We were all worried about him.  Then about 4 years ago, things started to turn around for him.  He told me that the birth of my son changed him and that he vowed to make a better life for himself.  He began to exercise more, eat better, and reached out to his old friends while forging new friendships.  And in the past four years, his attitude improved greatly.  Somehow he developed an over-the-top zest for life in that time.  He wanted to try new things and had a child-like enthusiasm about them.  A few weeks ago we all went to Hawaii for my dad’s 70th birthday.  In past family vacations, Chris didn’t really participate in activities that much.  But on this trip, he went golfing with my parents and husband, snorkeling for the first time with my sister, and he drove in the middle of the night by himself to the volcano that he had visited earlier that day with my family to take pictures of the sunrise.  Last Friday he went to Costco with my mom and bought swim trunks and goggles because he wanted to learn how to swim.  My parents have had their swimming pool for over 15 years and just now he wanted to take advantage of it.  And on our last night in Hawaii, he insisted that we go to the beach and take pictures of the sunset.  Now we are so grateful he did, because we have so many beautiful pictures of our last time together as a family.

In the past couple of years and on that vacation in particular, Chris lived as if each day were his last.  He had told me before that he thought he would die young.  I don’t know if it was his declining health or an instinct he had.  In Hawaii on our last day, he was looking out at the ocean and the uninhabited island in the distance.  I jokingly said to him, “You’re so sentimental.” And then he said that if he died, he would want his ashes scattered on that island.  We quickly dismissed it, saying, “Why are you saying that?”  But in the past couple of years he did live as if he had a short time left on this earth, and with his carpe diem philosophy, enjoyed each day to its fullest.  He tried new things, took on his interests with a fiery passion, ate with gusto, and spent quality time with his family and friends.  He was fun-loving and full of life.  Most important of all, he was HAPPY.  In fact, in the past couple of years and the last time I saw him alive in Hawaii, he was the happiest I’d seen him.  He always had a big smile and with his big presence and big booming voice expressed himself with drama and flair.  It actually got to be a bit irritating.  In Hawaii, he told me, “God, Linda, you’re so grumpy now.  You used to be so happy.  You should be happier.”  At the time I got defensive, saying that having the responsibility of children makes it hard to be happy all the time.  But then I got to thinking that he’s right.  I have every reason to be happy and Chris made me realize this.  Chris LIVED.  And even in his death, Chris is my role model for how to be more like him and how to live my life. These are the lessons I will take and pass to my children:  Try new things and have new experiences.  Have many interests and hobbies.  Be kind to everybody.  Be a loyal and good friend.  Treat each day as a special gift.  Enjoy life.  Laugh more.  Appreciate what you have.  Be grateful for second chances.  Love fiercely your family and friends.  And be happy.

I’m very sad that my children will grow up without knowing their Uncle Chris.  But he will always be in my heart and I will continue to hear his voice inside my head guiding me throughout my life.  I will do my best to pass his legacy and philosophy in life to my children.   Chris, thank you for being you.  I love you forever and will miss you very much.


A Natural Birth Story (and the Greatest Birthday Gift Ever)

In honor of my 40th birthday, I’d like to share the story of the birth of my first child, born 4 years ago today.

April 16, 2009.  1pm.  I was lying on the bed resting when a warm gush of liquid leaked from me.  A hundred thoughts ran through my head at that moment.  What the hell just happened?!  Did my water just break?!  This can’t be…my due date is April 30th!  I have 2 weeks to go!  Wasn’t the statistic like 80% have their first baby on or past their due date?  But wait, I was 2 cm dilated a few days ago, so could this be it?  Shoot, I shouldn’t have had sex this morning!

For the next hour, I scoured the internet looking for an answer on whether my water really broke or not.  I guess I was in denial about it because the fact was, I wasn’t ready.  We had just bought the bassinet last weekend and I had planned on doing more shopping for the baby that day.  Slowly, though, it dawned on me that this is it.  I called the nurse at the hospital who told me to come in right away.  Then I called my doula who told me NOT to go to the hospital yet and to labor at home as long as possible.  I called Don who told me he was on his way home.

2pm.  After discussing our options, Don and I decided to stay at home for a while instead of going to the hospital.  We lay together on the bed for a long time in silence and disbelief.  During my whole pregnancy, the due date always seemed a long way off.  Now the moment was upon us – and 2 weeks early!  We were totally and utterly unprepared, and probably also a little scared.  We tried to take a nap in anticipation of a long night, but only got a few minutes of sleep before my parents called (“Why aren’t you going to the hospital?!”).

4pm.  I continued to have trickling, and when I went to the bathroom, I saw that I had spotting as well.  I knew that this was “true labor”.  We packed for the hospital, ate a little, and rested.  I spoke to the doula and informed her that we were still at home and that my contractions haven’t started yet.

5pm.  Don went to Albertson’s to pick up a few snacks while I jumped in the shower.  The contractions started while I was in the shower.  They were mild, but I definitely felt them.

6pm.  When Don returned from the grocery store, we timed the contractions, but they weren’t consistent. The doula said I could probably wait a little longer at home.  I used the toilet A LOT during this time.

8pm.  Contractions were getting more intense and closer together.  I leaned on the bed and did a side-step while I breathed through the contractions.  I pictured the beach in Zanzibar to relax and get my mind off the pain.  Soon I was on all fours and could barely talk.  Don timed the contractions – I was consistently having 45-second contractions every 2 minutes.  He called the doula and told her that we were leaving for the hospital immediately.  On the car ride there, I was in the backseat, facing backwards and holding on to the head rest.  I don’t remember the ride there at all – I was too focused on my breathing and visualizing the beach.

9pm.  We arrived at the hospital and checked in at the front desk.  I had to stop and bend over as each contraction came.  The receptionist offered me a wheelchair to triage, but I knew that sitting down would hurt, so we walked (waddled) instead.  When I told the nurse that my water broke at 1pm and my contractions were now 45 seconds every 2 minutes, she skipped the exam and immediately escorted us to the labor and delivery ward.  They set us up in a room and the nurse checked my cervix.  I was 6 cm dilated and 100% effaced.

10pm.  The nurse hooked me up to an IV (mandatory at the hospital) and had me sign a bunch of papers while laboring on the bed.  Even though we informed them that I was going to have a natural birth, I still had to sign an epidural consent form “just in case.”  The doula, Cece, arrived shortly after and helped me breathe and pushed on my lower back where I felt intense pain at each contraction.  I felt rectal pressure and the urge to push, but Cece told me to “blow” through the pushes.  It was difficult to do this because the urge to push was overwhelming and holding it in felt unnatural.  She had me sit on the birthing ball, but that was extremely uncomfortable so I moved back onto the bed.  Cece suggested I lean up on the bed on my knees to help the baby move down.  I swayed my hips during the rest periods while Don fed me ice chips.  At this point, the visualization no longer worked – I just had to focus on slow breathing through the contractions.  The massage helped with the back pain and a lavender-scented sleep mask helped relax me.

11pm.  The nurse and Cece helped me out of bed to use the bathroom.  With every contraction, I felt intense pressure and the need to push.  The position of sitting on the toilet felt good and the nurse told me that during her labor she spent most of the time on the toilet.  I had a few contractions there by myself, and then the nurse wanted me to get back on the bed to check my blood pressure.

When I returned to the bed, Cece could tell that I was having hard contractions, so she suggested that I get in the shower (!).  She told the nurse outside, who wanted to check my cervix first.  Well, when the nurse checked me, she informed us that I was fully dilated and that the head was “right there”!  Now they wanted me to push whenever I felt the urge, which was a tremendous relief.  Cece realized later that I was in transition that whole time, but didn’t realize I was progressing so fast which is why she advised me to blow through them.

A flurry of activity commenced.  At least 5 nurses and the doctor came into the room.  Everyone told me to push, so I hung onto to the rails of the bed, let out a scream, and pushed.  Everyone was very encouraging; they told me that was a good push and to do it again. I felt the “ring of fire” but it felt natural to push when my body (and the baby) told me to.  After a couple more pushes, the doctor told me to stop because the umbilical cord was wound around the baby’s head.  Then the doctor told me to “look down” but I couldn’t because I was in a daze from the pain and pushing and determination to get the baby out.  Finally I felt a big release, which I knew were the baby’s shoulders coming out.  I heard the nurses say to Don “Do you want to tell her what it is?”  Don announced, “It’s a boy!” (we waited to find out the sex of the baby, and it was so worth it.) They then placed the baby, covered in blood and fluid, on my chest.  Overwhelmed by emotion, I started to cry.

It was 12:15am on April 17th, 2009, my 36th birthday.  I had just received the greatest birthday gift of my life.  Happy Birthday to my darling little boy, who brings so much pride and joy and laughter to my life!

Spring Cleaning by a Messy Person

My idea of spring cleaning since moving into our house has been to put away winter clothes and take out the summer ones.  I vow to do things differently this time.  Purge will be the key word for spring cleaning this year.  Now that my youngest child is two and there are no more babies in the foreseeable future, I want to clear out the clutter that has accumulated in the past three years since we’ve lived in the house.  On top of that, I want to clean the house from top to bottom, just because that’s what spring cleaning is about, right?  Oh yeah, and because my husband stepped on a scorpion the other night (supposedly they like to lurk in cluttered areas).

This is no small feat for me, and it’ll probably take a good month (or two).  I have never been a neat and tidy person – a former boss once referred to my desk as “organized disorganization.” I have actually gotten better since marriage, as my husband’s cleanliness has rubbed off on me over the years.  He grew up with a military father, so he is pretty good about being neat and putting things away.  The problem is that his idea of clean is to stash everything away so that nothing is out in the open (as opposed to my family, who leaves EVERYTHING out).  The counters and floors may be cleared out, but when I open a closet or drawer or cupboard, it’s jam-packed with stuff and in complete disarray.  So actually he just has the illusion of being clean.  As for me, I’m actually quite organized under a messy cover. 🙂  I guess I should consider myself lucky to be married to a man who is cleaner than I am, according to a friend who constantly picks up after her slob-of-a-husband.  However, my husband seems to complain more than help me clean.

I do prefer to have a clean house, I just hate to do it myself.  I suppose I could hire people to clean the house, but somehow I feel wrong about it.  We had cleaning people in Thailand who came in to clean the house every week (and even washed our dishes!), and it was great, I’ll admit.  But over there we were giving the locals jobs.  Over here, it just feels so…elitist.  Why pay for something that I can and should do myself?  The problem is that I don’t, at least on a consistent basis, because cleaning the house just isn’t a priority for me.  I can see the urgency to doing the dishes or washing clothes regularly, but I don’t see the urgency to having a clean house unless my father-in-law comes over.

One of the tasks I do try to be on top of is keeping the floors clean.  With two kids, there seems to be debris (or toys) on the floor all the time, and I always seem to be stepping on something sticky or crunchy or hard.  I make an effort to sweep the floor twice a week and mop the floor every week or two.  I actually got a little obsessed with finding the perfect floor cleaners when we first moved into the house – spending hours online researching the top-rated vacuums, floor sweepers, and mops.  I may have inherited this from my father, who owns 8 (yes, EIGHT) vacuum cleaners.  At first I tried to make do with a Swiffer, but it just didn’t do the job (plus the smell was way too chemically).  I then moved onto two Sharks (floor sweeper and mop), and despite the very pretty color, were pieces of crap.  The Shark mop leaked water and the handle broke off.  The Shark floor cleaner lost a wheel at the bottom and the canister kept falling off.  I finally donated both after they sat in the garage for months. I have finally settled on a Hoover floor cleaner and Eureka Enviro steam mop.

However, with all this research and trying out different cleaners, I’ve found that nothing works better than the way they clean floors in Kazakhstan: on your hands and knees with an old rag.  And I realize that sometimes the simple and minimalist approach is best, and perhaps that’s how I got into this mess in the first place.  I buy things hoping to make my life easier or better when instead I just end up gathering stuff that contributes to the clutter.  So this year in addition to purging our house of stuff, I’m going to be mindful of my purchases to avoid clutter in the first place.  That might mean to:

  1. Cancel some magazine subscriptions.  I have a huge stash of magazines dating back to 2009 on the floor next to my bed – can you say perfect scorpion hideout?!
  2. Get library books or e-books instead of buying paperbacks or hardcover books.
  3. Invest in higher-quality clothes (for me, not the kids :)) and kitchen appliances.  We got two Black & Decker kitchen appliances for our wedding (our choice so our mistake) and have already replaced the toaster oven and looking to replace the food processor.  They are pieces of crap!  I’d much rather pay a little extra for quality items that are better equipped to handle years of wear and tear.
  4. Prevent my husband from going to estate sales.  It’s his new hobby and I shouldn’t deprive him of that, right?  But we end up bringing home more junk we don’t need.
  5. Stop buying stuff for the sake of scoring freebies.  Sometimes when it’s Clinique Bonus Time, I’ll go and get the free pouch full of samples.  The problem is that the make-up comes in a horrible shade of pink and ends up languishing in my cabinet.
  6. Buy only things I can envision using a year from now.  The juicer I purchased a couple of months ago went from being used daily to now being used every other week or so.  In a year, I’m sure it’ll be stashed away in the cabinet of unused kitchen appliances.
  7. Avoid those kids’ meals!  I find that the fast food kids’ meals are a hefty price to pay when my kids don’t even eat the apple slices (which taste very chemically anyway), and the cheap plastic toy contributes to the clutter in the house (have you noticed that the small toys are more annoying than the big ones?) and breaks after 3 uses anyway.  Since my kids are still young and don’t know the difference anyway, I order a combo meal for myself and a sandwich a la carte for the kids, share my fries with them and bring juice boxes from home.

So hopefully following these rules, along with purging this year, will result in less clutter for next year’s spring cleaning.  Now what to do about all those toys that the grandparents buy for the kids…

Dealing with MORE Crap (literally)

It is Sunday afternoon.  Daughter is napping, and I’m about to make a quick run to the grocery store.  All of a sudden, I hear “Mommy!  I need new underwear because I did a poo-poo!”

Sigh.  My son.

I come into the bathroom and see that he has pulled down his underwear and shorts and that there’s a great big mess in there.  I put him quickly on the toilet and see that the poop has gotten onto his foot and leg.  I mutter under my breath as I put the underwear and shorts into the washing machine.  I thought I was done with laundry for the day!  And now I have to deal with this shit.  I hate dealing with shit!

After my son is finished with what seems to be a very unpleasant #2 (may be in the territory of #3), I stick him in the bath to wash off his feet and leg.  Except I didn’t wipe his butt first so a little piece of poop drops into the bath.  Ugh!  I’m so not ready to potty-train my daughter and deal with more of this crap.  Then I see that there’s poop on the outside of the toilet as well as the bathmat where he took off his underwear and shorts.  And I still have to clean the poop off my son.  UGH!

Did I mention that I hate dealing with shit?!

I curse and moan as I wash my son off roughly with a washcloth, while he keeps saying “Sorry!” over and over again.  I bark at him for getting his disgusting paws near my head when I take him out of the bath.  I order him to wash his hands really well at the sink as I clean up the poop from the bathtub, bleach it down, wipe the toilet with Lysol, roll up the bathmat, and stick the washcloth into the washing machine along with his soiled clothes.  All of a sudden, I feel exhausted.  I don’t think I have the energy to go to the grocery anymore.  I yell at my son to put on new clothes as I go lie on my bed.

“Mommy! Mommy!”

“It’s quiet time!  Let me rest!” I yell back.

He comes into my room and hands me a piece of paper.  It’s a page ripped out from his coloring book of Dora and Boots on a train.  It’s colored green, I suppose because that’s the only color crayon he could find in his room.

“I made this for you.”

And just like that, all is forgiven.  I gush as I thank him and tell him how sweet he is.

The thing with having children is that there will definitely be stinky times, but sometimes those stinky times lead to sweet moments.  And after all is said and done, dealing with poop is temporary.  A child’s love is forever.


Potty Training vs. Elimination Communication (or dealing with more crap than I can handle)

Spring has arrived, as has that time in our household.  I’m not talking about spring cleaning, although there will be a lot of that in the coming weeks.  It is time to buckle down, stay focused on the goal, and….potty-train.

I feel like I just went through this yesterday, but it was exactly one year ago that I was potty-training my son.  He was one-month shy of his 3rd birthday, and I ignored all the advice around me to wait until my temperamental toddler was ready.  I figured if I put all my energy and focus to getting my son potty-trained, it will happen.  I armed myself with two types of potty seats, M&Ms as reward, and Thomas the Train underwear that I thought my son would be thrilled to wear.  I knew that if I went all in, eventually he would get it.

Three weeks of potty training later, with almost daily accidents, I was chasing my son to get him to use the potty before we left the house.  I was frustrated that he wasn’t cooperating with me fully on this potty-training thing.  As I nagged him one more time to pee in the potty before we left, he stopped in the hallway, looked at me with an evil grin on his face, and peed right there on the floor.  I so wanted to smack him at that moment.  Instead, I admitted defeat.  I gave up on the potty training.

I tried again about a month later, just a week after he turned 3.  After one day, he was potty-trained.  It was a miracle!  No nagging, no chasing, no bribing.  There were only a handful of accidents from there, but within 3 months he was even out of nighttime diapers.  He was officially potty-trained and it was the easiest thing (that time around).

My daughter turned 2 a couple of months ago, and now it’s time for her to get on the potty train.  I heard that girls train earlier than boys do, and I know some of my mom friends who trained their daughters by the time they were two.  I think my daughter will be much easier to train than my son since she’s already pooping in the potty 4 times out of 5 and is generally good at following directions.

People may think 2 or even 3 is too early an age to potty-train, with perhaps the exception of EC’ing parents.  EC, or Elimination Communication (aka Diaper-Free Baby, potty whispering or natural infant hygiene), is potty-training for babies before the age of 18 months. I saw a video of the method when I considered it briefly after having my daughter.   EC requires a lot of attention to your baby’s expressions, holding the baby over the bathtub or toilet, and cueing.  A lot of people are skeptical about this practice or may think it’s reserved for hippie-types in order to avoid using diapers.  However, this method is used by several different cultures around the world (just without the fancy name for it), and in developing countries most babies are trained by the time they turn 1.

I know that this practice is not a crock, because I’ve seen it in action.  When I worked in the refugee camps in Thailand, one of our community health educators had a baby under a year old (she couldn’t walk yet).  The mother held her baby over a basin and made the noise, Shhhh shhhh, to signal her to pee.  And she peed.  I saw accidents as well, but the mothers never seemed bothered by it.  Perhaps because their floors are made of dirt (where it can be covered up) or bamboo slats (where it can fall through or be evaporated quickly) so clean-up is minimal.  Once the babies become mobile, they just go pantless and learn to relieve themselves in the ditch or to squat in the latrine.  It was the same way in Sudan, where the kids are taught early to go “into the bush” to do their business.  It just makes sense for them since they live in places where they spend most of their time outdoors and don’t have disposable (or even decent cloth) diapers available to them.

For us, however, in the typical American world of overly-clean-and-sanitized indoor spaces, this method just isn’t practical.  It makes more sense to wait until our children are ready (around 3 years old), so that we as parents aren’t terribly inconvenienced.  We set aside a block of time to stay close to home and mentally prepare ourselves to deal with all the crap (pun intended) involved in potty training.  Potty-training becomes a battle as we deal with uncooperative children and messy clean-ups.  We constantly ask our kids if they have to use the potty and then rush them to the bathroom so they don’t have accidents on the living room rug.  When they do have accidents, we scream in exasperation (at least I do).  It’s no wonder that some parents put it off and put it off, until one day their kid is 4 years old and still in diapers.  Plus, with a billion-dollar diaper industry making disposable diapers easily accessible and relatively cheap, it’s easy to keep kids in diapers for as long as possible.   Those diapers (and Pull-Ups) are just so darn convenient, especially when leaving the house to any overly-clean-and-sanitized public place where it would be an embarrassment for our kid to have an accident.

In theory, Elimination Communication is an ideal solution to get kids potty-trained early and avoid diapers altogether.  Believe me, I hate using disposable diapers and feel guilty every time I throw away a bag of dirty, heavy diapers that I know will sit in the landfill for years and years.  I admire the American parents who choose to EC their babies as I’m sure it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and patience.  However, in most cases it’s just not practical or convenient for us.

Okay, now I’m off to potty-train my daughter…tomorrow.

Getting Stuff Done means Letting Go of Perfectionism

I had never considered myself a perfectionist until one evening in Kazakhstan when I was cooking dinner for a group of fellow Peace Corps volunteers at my apartment.  When it came time for dessert, I took the cake out from the Soviet-style oven (a tiny oven that heats low and uneven, which you light by sticking a rolled-up piece of paper lit on one end through a hole in the bottom while simultaneously turning on the gas) and saw that it was a lumpy, hideous disaster.  It looked like no cake should, and I was too ashamed to serve it. When I told the others that we won’t be having dessert after all because the cake looked terrible, Jen, one of the volunteers, said, “You’re a perfectionist, aren’t you?”

I was completely taken aback.  Me, a perfectionist?!  No one had ever called me that before.  After all, I associated perfectionists with being Type-A personalities, anal retentive, super-clean-and-organized, and never happy with anything.  That’s definitely not me, and my husband would wholeheartedly agree, judging from the state of the house, the top of my desk, or the way I cook (I could never follow the advice “clean as you cook.”  I mean, I’m too busy cooking!).

However, I realized the perfectionist side of me definitely creeps in it when it comes to writing or doing something else creative.  Back in the day when I used to write letters to my friends by hand (yes, those of us over 30 actually did this), I would start over if I didn’t like my handwriting or the way a sentence sounded – I’d just crumple up the piece of paper and start with a fresh one.  With this blog, I write a first draft which I need to edit over and over again before posting a copy that I’m happy with.  That’s exactly why I haven’t written as much as I’ve wanted to lately (hmm, 3 entries in the past 4 months?).  It’s not for lack of ideas on what to write, writer’s block, or the lack of opportunity to sit and write.  It’s finding the time to go back and read, edit, rewrite, reread and edit again.  At least 10 times.

The same is true for my creative pursuits.  A few years ago I enjoyed making my own jewelry with silver and glass beads.  The problem is that I never actually made anything because I didn’t like my creations enough to finish them (plus it got very tedious with all those little beads).  Same goes with the countless scrapbooks I’ve started – Turkey trip, India trip, Kazakhstan, Baby #1, Baby #2.   They are all sitting on my shelf unfinished because it takes too much time for me to make the pages look just right (also very tedious), which is stupid considering I’m really the only one who will ever look at them.

Now that I’ve taken up sewing , I find that my perfectionist tendencies are again impeding my ability to finish any projects.  A couple of weeks ago, the sewing teacher showed me how to construct a tote bag.  I brought the almost-completed tote bag home with only the straps left to sew on.  But after a few days of looking at the bag, I decided that I didn’t like how it looked.  So I ripped out the seams and tore it apart.

The thing is, I need to let it go.  I can’t be perfect at anything these days because with two young kids, there’s just no time to strive for perfection with anything.  I need to approach my projects the way I approach parenting (the one area in which I never strove for perfection).  I realized early on that there’s no such thing as the perfect mom or the perfect way of raising a child, so I gave up trying.  There’s nothing more humbling than raising a child and constantly being reminded that you’re never going to get everything right all the time.  Sometimes “good enough” is, well, good enough.  Once I realized that, it took the pressure off immensely.  After all, it’s not like I’m at a paid job where I’m being evaluated and critiqued (except maybe by my husband, but he doesn’t count).  I’m being my own worst critic and I just need to stop.  It’s more important for me now to get these things done than to do them perfectly.  Post a blog entry every week whether I think it’s perfectly written or not (it never will be).  Finish those scrapbooks even if I don’t like the layout of the pictures.  Cook without following the recipes exactly.  Invite friends over even if the house isn’t totally spotless and orderly.  Clean out the closet even if I don’t have the perfect organizing materials.  Just do it and don’t worry about the outcome because it’ll end up fine (like my kids, I hope).  At the very least I’ll learn by trial and error.  Maybe if the pressure is off, I can actually enjoy these things as well.

Am I being an underachiever?  Do I get a failing mark for my half-assed effort in these things?  Perhaps.  But at least this way I can finish that darn tote bag.

“Be Gone, Baby Weight!” Update

Four months have passed since my entry “Be Gone, Baby Weight!”  I figure it’s time to give an update on my progress, although I really don’t want to.  Preface: I have not reached my goal weight yet.  I blame it all on timing.

Immediately after I posted “Be Gone, Baby Weight!” on November 13, 2012, I became motivated to work out more.  Instead of sitting on the couch watching my kids, I started doing my exercise DVDs while the kids played (it took a few times before they realized “don’t bother Mommy during exercise”).  I began to take more walks and ride bikes outside when the weather was nice, so that I was working out 4-5 times a week.

Well, guess what holiday comes shortly after and ruined all my weight-loss plans?  The one where the typical American consumes 4,500 calories…just from dinner! So despite my good intentions, my efforts flopped.  I weighed myself the first week of December and saw that I had not lost any weight.  Okay, then what holiday comes after that?  And it’s not just Christmas, but the entire holiday season that’s a nightmare for anyone wanting to lose weight.  Between the decadent spreads and caloric cocktails at numerous holiday parties, Christmas cookies being baked and passed around, and our Mexican vacation with the all-you-can eat buffet three times a day, it was nearly impossible for me to resist the temptations surrounding me.  Plus, with the hectic holiday schedule of decorating, shopping, wrapping, etc., I just could not find the time to exercise.  So I put all my weight-loss plans by the wayside and figured it would be futile to start during the holidays.  After all, what are New Year’s resolutions for?

In January, I decided to start fresh.  I was committed this time to sticking to my goals.  After all, there were no binge-worthy holidays coming up, and my 40th birthday was around the corner.  I started to exercise again 5 times a week.  I didn’t do much to moderate my diet but I figured since most of our dinners are vegan (husband is a recent convert), that would help.  Soon enough, though, I realized that exercise alone isn’t going to cut it.  My metabolism is not what it used to be and it’s just harder for me now to lose weight.  In addition, the more information I read (from health/fitness magazines, weight-loss websites, etc.), the more I realized that moderate exercise does little to shed weight and that DIET counts for everything (recent studies have shown this to be true, sadly).  I read somewhere that losing weight is 80% about nutrition, 10% exercise and 10% genetics.

So when I weighed myself at the end of January and saw that I still hadn’t lost any weight, I knew I had to do something about my eating habits.  And that’s where my challenge lies, because I’m an EATER.  I come from a family of eaters (except for my dad, who stops eating when he’s full even if there’s still food left on his plate.  I’m not sure where he was growing up when the rest of us were part of the clean-plate club).  People have even commented on how much I eat.  I’ll never forget years ago during my graphic design course when my classmates and I went to McDonald’s for lunch.  One guy watched me eat my Quarter Pounder with cheese combo meal and said to me, “I’ve never seen a girl chow as much as you.” Yep, his exact words.

Starting at the end of January (3 times a charm), I did two things to gain momentum on this weight-loss journey:  1) I signed up for a 5K with my friend (I never ran the 5K in December like I said I would in my last entry), and 2) I started to plan my meals.  I’m not big on counting calories – I find it really tedious, but the point is to be conscious of what you’re eating.  I have sample meal plans from a few sources* that include healthy breakfasts and lunches (low-calorie, high protein, high fiber) as well as snacks to have on hand, and that’s generally what I eat during the week.  I’ve also been better about reading the nutrition labels of questionable (processed/convenience) foods.  Like the other day I was going to make a package of frozen Korean noodles that I typically eat for lunch.  550 calories!!!  And it’s not even a big portion (not for me, at least). Same goes for the tortilla chips that my husband likes to snack on during the weekends – 140 calories for just 10 chips!  He can easily polish off half the bag in one sitting (okay, that’s me).  And the M&Ms I give to my kids as reward for using the potty (and reward for me in dealing with it) – 210 calories for just ¼ cup!  Once I became conscious of some of the foods in our house that were really calorie-dense, I avoided them (or just had 1 or 2 🙂 ), considering I’m aiming for 1,200 – 1,500 calories per day (not easy for me!).

So since training for the 5K and moderating my diet 6 weeks ago, I have lost 4 pounds.  It’s no Biggest Loser (where contestants lose like 10 lbs. a week!  Uh, how?!) but for me, slow and steady seems to do the trick, since these last few pounds are tough to budge.  I can also feel that I’m getting stronger and leaner and my belly doesn’t stick out as much.  Another thing is that I can actually get my skinny jeans on again (my main goal)!!!  Just a few months ago, I couldn’t even get them over my thighs, but now I can put them on all the way and even button them!  Granted they’re still way snug and give me an unattractive muffin top, but at least I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I still have more than halfway to go toward my weight-loss goals, but just being able to put on my pre-pregnancy jeans again gives me added motivation.

I’ve also found that staying busy with other projects helps me stay on track.  When I get bored (which inevitably happens as a stay-at-home mom), I raid the fridge.  I used to eat because there was nothing else to do (or needed something else to do while I watched tv).  If I focus too much on losing weight, then I start obsessing about food, and next thing you know I’m caving to my cravings, whether it’s for pizza, cheeseburgers, or ice cream.  So rather than looking at my Bon Appetit magazines and watching the Food Network, I have recently taken up sewing.  I also have this blog that I’m trying to keep up with (and not doing a very good job of it), as well as a stack of books to read.  I allot 20 minutes to 1 hour of exercise a day, and with the rest of my day taking care of kids, grocery shopping, cooking, paying bills, etc., I find that I’m occupied enough to keep my mind off food and not eat strictly out of boredom.

Although I’m happy to be making progress in my weight-loss journey, I’ve also come to the sad realization that I have to watch what I eat for the rest of my life (did I mention I’m an eater?).  I can’t just stop eating healthy and exercising when I reach my goal weight.  I just don’t have the metabolism at 39 that I had when I was 20.  I need to maintain this healthy diet and exercise otherwise the weight will inevitably creep back up.  I’ve noticed that even two days of bad eating causes my weight to shoot right back up where it started and a big belly to go with it.  That’s why studies show that 80% of people who lose weight gain it right back and why they always say “Diets don’t work.”  So these light and healthy meals and increased activity for me are here to stay.  Unless I get pregnant again. 🙂

*My meal plans come from several sources, but my favorites are Eating Well magazine, The Volumetrics Eating Plan by Barbara Rolls, and The Picture-Perfect Weight Loss by Dr. Shapiro.  The last two focus on feeling full on fewer calories by incorporating more vegetables, beans, water (like for soups), etc. into your meals.  After all, this mama eats like no bird!

Christmas in Mexico Part 2 – Traveling with Children

Before actually having children, I had envisioned myself one day to be one of those rare globetrotting moms, the type you would picture carrying a baby on her back while shopping at the local market in exotic locations around the world.

Yeah, right.  Although I wish that could be me, the reality now that I am a mom is that even the thought of international travel with my children intimidates me.  Whereas one time, I would jump on an airplane and fly around the world on a moment’s notice, now a trip abroad fills me with anxiety and stress. I can barely stomach a family trip to Mexico, let alone the other far-flung areas of the world that I still want to see.  Apparently my adventuresome spirit has left this building.

Even after my parents offered to pay for our trip to Mexico, my husband and I were still reluctant to go, mainly because traveling with kids is a real pain in the ass.  Perhaps if we traveled more often, we would be used to all the hassles and minor annoyances that accompany international travel, and a trip to Mexico wouldn’t be such a major ordeal.  Perhaps traveling with kids is a learned skill and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.  However, this was our first trip abroad in two years.  We were rusty and out of practice.  And the bottom line is that traveling with kids is a lot of work for a vacation.

One thing I wish I had more foresight about before making an international trip was getting my children’s passports early!  (Unfortunately, I don’t have much foresight when it comes to my kids.  I’m more of a take each day as it comes, while some of my mom friends are already looking into Kindergartens for their toddlers.)  With both kids, I got the passports exactly one month before the trip.  Not recommended.  I spent two days frantically filling out passport applications, getting passport pictures at Walgreens (which my children were not very cooperative with, so both ended up with passports that look like they’re about to cry), and going to the passport office/post office with my husband and kid.  On top of the passport fee, I had to pay an extra $60 for rush delivery.  Three days before our trip, our daughter’s passport still hadn’t arrived.  My husband, the negative thinker in the family, kept going on about how I should’ve gotten her passport earlier and now we paid for the trip and we’re not able to go, blah, blah, blah.  We don’t fight much, but the stress from getting passports led to a couple of tiffs between us.  Luckily the passport came the following day (as I knew it would).

Then there’s the packing.  Packing becomes a huge project before a vacation with kids.  I used to be the quintessential last-minute packer.  The night before one of my international stints, I would pack 6 to 12 months’ worth of my stuff into one large backpack and a carry-on.  Now, packing for me and two kids requires preparing days in advance.  I make lists so I don’t forget anything, buy things from the store that might come in handy during the trip, and pack a lot of extraneous supplies for “just-in-case”-moments.  My husband and I packed our clothes and toiletries into one suitcase, while the kids got their own big suitcase.  Soon enough their suitcase was full, and then their clothes (although smaller, I packed a lot more of them – 12 outfits for them vs. 6 for myself), diapers, beach toys, books, swim gear, and separate toiletries started to spill over into our suitcase and carry-on luggage.

The actual travel to Cancun required a 1.5-hour drive to Phoenix, two 2-hour flights and a one-hour layover in Dallas.  That was the easy part.  Fortunately for us, our kids are phenomenal travelers on airplanes.  They love the adventure of flying on an airplane, and when that novelty wears off (after take-off), they have their v-readers, coloring books, DVD players and snacks to keep them sufficiently entertained. Of course the trade-off is that I don’t have the chance to relax. I’m always making sure they’re sitting down and buckled in, fetching their entertainment and snacks, telling them not to kick the seat in front of them or catching them from spilling juice.  I can never relax enough to nap, let alone read a book or magazine, because I’m constantly in serving mode in order for my kids to raise the least amount of fuss possible. It pays off, though – on every single airplane ride, they have been complimented by a fellow passenger for their good behavior.

We opted for what we thought would be the easiest way to travel with the kids – the all-inclusive resort.  We didn’t even have to leave the resort grounds because everything was provided for us – the beach, swimming pools, entertainment, shopping, food and drink.  In a sense, it was nice that we didn’t have to worry where our next meal or snack will come from and that everything was a 5-minute walk or shuttle ride away.  However, it was still work bringing the little ones everywhere, and as kid-friendly as the resort claims they are, there are still some things that just aren’t suitable for young kids, i.e. the hard floors in our room (both kids fell off the bed during their sleep).  The buffet wasn’t easy either since the kids aren’t old or tall enough to get their own food.  And when my daughter got Montezuma’s Revenge in her swim diaper by the kiddie pool, the only place I wanted to be was back home.

Back in the day, the way I used to travel was with a Lonely Planet guide book in hand, hopping around the country to different hostels or guest houses while learning about the culture of the country and trying out the cuisine at food stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.  I had the independence, freedom, and adventurous spirit to travel in that way. Not so now.  There would be no adventures or learning about the culture or trying new foods or attempting to speak Spanish in our trip to Mexico.  I didn’t even get to go snorkeling in the ocean, my favorite outdoor activity.  Every day we carried three enormous bags of toys, clothes, towels, water, etc. out to the beach or kiddie pool, where we spent most of our day watching the kids have fun.  We might as well have been on a beach resort in the U.S. (although it wouldn’t have been as warm, which was my parents’ beef about traveling within the U.S.).

Perhaps when the children are old enough we’ll be able to travel the way I enjoyed at one time in my life.  We could be one of those rare families that travel around the world, exposing their kids to different cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles.  But first, my adventuresome spirit needs to come back!

Christmas in Mexico Part I

This past Christmas we celebrated the holidays in my parents’ typical fashion…at an all-inclusive beach resort in Mexico.

Since my siblings and I reached our mid-20s several years ago (yikes), my parents have completely given up celebrating Christmas in the traditional sense.  No more Christmas tree, no decorations hanging outside or around the house, no special Christmas dinner, no Christmas shopping.  Instead, they have come up with a different tradition: traveling to a warm and sunny location in the tropics, preferably by the beach and a golf course.  Considering we’re all grown up and out of the house, and that my parents have extra days off during the holidays when their business is closed (not to mention the fact that Indiana gets so freakin’ cold and dreary before the holiday season even hits), it kind of makes sense.  And so, for the past 15 years or so, that’s how they’ve celebrated Christmas.

One year they traveled to Hawaii, one time they went on a Caribbean cruise, and a few times they’ve gone Mexico and various islands in the Caribbean.  They even came to Tucson three years ago to celebrate our son’s first Christmas.  However, contrary to popular belief, Arizona is not a blazing inferno yearround.  It actually does get chilly in December and January (highs in the 60s, sometimes in the 50s and even the 40s like last week!).  When my parents realized that Tucson at Christmastime doesn’t sufficiently thaw them out from the harsh Indiana cold, they opted for warmer climates, which meant going further south than Florida or Arizona (i.e. outside U.S. borders).  This year they chose Riviera Maya in Mexico.

Initially my husband and I vetoed the idea to meet them there because traveling with kids, especially young kids to international destinations, is a real pain in the neck (more about that in the next entry).  However, my parents desperately wanted to see their grandchildren, whom they hadn’t seen in a few months.  And since it was their turn to travel (last time we had seen them, we all flew Indiana), they offered to pay for our trip, including our flights to Cancun and a week’s stay at an all-inclusive beach resort (very generous, I know).

So our Christmas Eve and Day were spent on the beach.  Don’t get me wrong – it was a gorgeous beach with fine, white sand and beautiful crystalline blue waters.  However, despite the fact that I was with my entire family, it didn’t feel like Christmas.  The resort attempted to make things Christmas-y for their gringo tourists, with a humongous Christmas tree in the lobby, Christmas music playing throughout the resort, and a holiday-style buffet.  Although the resort look more festive, it didn’t successfully achieve the Christmas feel.  I guess the Christmas spirit comes from being at home with family and time-honored traditions (and cold weather, perhaps), not when it’s artificially concocted by a monstrous corporate entity (as our resort was).

Before having children, I hadn’t felt the Christmas spirit in years, not since maybe college.  Toward my adulthood, Christmas became more of a nuisance than a time for celebration.  I don’t even remember coming home for Christmas while I lived in Boston after college because I was too poor to travel during the peak season.  I remember one year I waited tables on Christmas Eve and the next day, two fellow servers and I volunteered at a homeless shelter.  Then there were those years when I was abroad and in places where they didn’t even celebrate Christmas.  During those years I was aware that it was Christmas but didn’t do anything special in honor of it.

Despite the 10 or so non-Christmases I had in my life, I actually have great memories of Christmas when I was a kid.  And now that I have young kids myself, I would like to create wonderful memories of Christmas for them. Part of the fun in having kids is reliving your childhood through their eyes and recreating traditions while starting new ones with them.  We already have started some traditions for the holiday season – watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special on tv while drinking hot chocolate, decorating the Christmas tree, seeing the Christmas lights at Winterhaven (a neighborhood in Tucson that is famous for its Christmas decorations), baking cookies, etc.  It’s fun for them to hear stories of Santa Clause, see the colorful blinking lights, decorate gingerbread houses, and sing “Jingle Bells” (not so fun to visit with Santa Clause…yet), and through my children, I feel the Christmas spirit returning to me.  Although at one time all the music and decorations and presents seemed extraneous and wasteful and unnecessary, I realize that it all contributes to the magical and wondrous feeling that makes Christmas the best time of the year.  And seeing the joy and excitement on my kids’ faces is priceless.

Next Christmas my youngest will be nearly 3 and the oldest 5, so they will start grasping the concept of Christmas. And that’s the best time to celebrate holiday traditions at home and start creating memories for them.  I want my kids to see Christmas as a magical time and look forward to the holiday season each year.  So sorry Mexico, we won’t be spending another Christmas with you.  Maybe another time, though.

A Healthy (and Happy) Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving is upon us – the only holiday of the year in which the primary focus is on food and overindulgence among friends and family. (Okay, maybe the primary focus of Thanksgiving is being thankful, but that quickly becomes an afterthought as soon as we dig into our heaping plates of turkey and its fixings.)  It’s no wonder Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays!

Growing up in my family, Thanksgiving usually involved a typical feast of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and of course, being a Korean household, a side of kimchee (believe me, turkey tastes infinitely better with kimchee). After my mom slaved away in the kitchen all day while we kids watched the Star Wars marathon on tv, we proceeded to sit at the dinner table for all of 15 minutes, quickly devouring what it took my mom all day to cook.  After several Thanksgivings like this and my dad finally declaring that turkey is “the worst meat ever”, my mom changed up the menu to ignore tradition and serve our family favorites of filet mignon and lobster.  However, after a couple of Thanksgivings, my brother and I wanted to go back to the American tradition of turkey and casseroles, so from that point, we volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner.  (My mom was happy to oblige.)  We did our part to make Thanksgiving decadent by having a massive bird, several side dishes (all of which contained heavy cream and butter) and two options for dessert, one of which was always a French silk pie ordered from Bakers Square Restaurant.

It has been three years since I last cooked Thanksgiving dinner, but this year is going to be different from the past dinners I’ve cooked in that it’ll be….healthy.  Why, you ask?  After all, I love butter as much as Paula Deen (okay, not THAT much).  The main reason is that my father-in-law suffered two heart attacks this year, in which he had stents put into his arteries.  Since then he has completely revamped his diet.  In addition, my husband has high cholesterol and switched to a mainly plant-based diet this year to improve his health. As for me, I want to look good in my bathing suit for a family trip to Mexico over Christmas (not quite as important :)).  I know that Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that overindulgence is allowed, but the health of the men in my life is more important than food that tastes really, really good (butter, butter, and more butter).

So how am I going to do this?  Well, I’m going to focus on vegetables, forgo the side dishes that require two sticks of butter like stuffing (which my husband and I don’t like much anyway), and make healthy alternatives to some of the dishes (I got half of the recipes from Eating Well magazine).  Here’s our menu for Thanksgiving:

Herb-Roasted Turkey
Smoked Turkey Breast (My husband wants to try out the new smoker/grill)
Layered mashed potato/mushroom casserole
Roasted Harvest Vegetables
Steamed Broccoli (my father-in-law’s favorite vegetable)
Cranberry with Orange Sauce
Dinner Rolls
Pumpkin Chocolate Torte

I look forward to cooking and eating this meal, and I hope my family members enjoy it as well.  I really don’t think we will be missing out on anything when we have our feast on Thanksgiving Day.

Oh, and I can’t forget the side of kimchee.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Previous Older Entries