Jet lag

We slept for 12 hours last night and woke up at around 11am this morning. This never happens to us.

Both of us are usually quite good about not getting jet lag and timing our naps and awake times on planes. I’ve been doing this since I did my first international trip to China in 2006. One strategy I’ve used to force myself back onto local time is to never take any additional days off to “recover,” and instead to go right back to work the next day. It forces me to be alert and get back into my usual routine.

That strategy doesn’t really work when the next day, you actually have the day off because it’s New Year’s Eve.

In the blur of our jet lag, I’ve started our wedding venue research and contacted at least 13 other venues today. The new year will have a lot to accomplish for our wedding, careers, and personal lives.

Two days away

We are two days away from the new year. 2015 seemed like it would be ages away for a long time, and now it’s just two days away. As difficult as the last year has been for me to accept many circumstances in my life, particularly losing Ed, the last year has been one of the most fulfilling years of my life.

I did quite a bit of travel, both for work and for pleasure: we visited a number of states on our quest to hit every state in the U.S., including Arizona, West Virginia, Vermont, Upstate New York, Michigan, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. We took my parents on a first vacation that I paid for to the Grand Canyon, Phoenix, and Scottsdale.

I learned how lonely and isolating work travel could be. I also realized how deep the word “unethical” can go. I stopped spending time with some friends who I felt just didn’t understand anything past the surface and wanted me to assimilate rather than just be myself. I realized through this process that some people never really get past the maturity and depth level of high school. I also stopped putting as much effort into other friendships because I didn’t feel like always being the one doing more.

Chris proposed on a secluded beach in Rio, and we became “engaged.” We went to Brazil for the World Cup and saw some of the most stunning and beautiful sights on earth. We also visited Montreal, Quebec City, Vienna, and Budapest as some additional international trips, and finished the year in Australia, visiting his hometown, of course, but also Cairns and Brisbane, and the biggest highlight, snorkeling underwater in the Great Barrier Reef. I finally got to hold a koala (yes, I am very ambitious like this).

I started my first fundraiser in honor of my brother to raise money for suicide prevention in the United States, and was ranked 10th out of hundreds of fundraisers in all of Manhattan. I met other suicide survivors and realized I wasn’t alone at all. I started mentoring with two youth organizations and started realizing things about how much my life has changed since I was my mentees’ ages. There’s so much more to be done to help others with hardships; I haven’t even done a fraction of what I’d like just yet.

My dad found blockages in his arteries that resulted in his having double bypass heart surgery, and I flew home to be by his side. After losing my brother, this was probably one of the scariest periods I’ve had to endure. Logic may prevail with those who are more distant, but when this is affecting someone this close, emotions aren’t always so logical.

I’ve continued documenting my life through 1 Second Every Day and through this blog. It’s kind of funny when I think about this because it’s like I am prepping for the one day that will come when I am gone and can for whatever reason no longer be coherent, and perhaps my children will read through all of this and see all the ponderings of their mother. They will look back and read this blog and think, damn, our mother was ambitious as hell. She loved and cared that much despite all the dysfunction and selfishness surrounding her. And boy, did she love travel with Dad.

Now, what’s in store for the new year?

Sky High Mount Dandenong

We came back up to the top of the Dandenongs where the viewing deck is today. Chris first took me here two years ago during my first visit to Australia with him for Christmas. It was a bit of an overcast day when we came two years ago, but today, it was semi clear despite the threat of rain. We had a clear view of the Melbourne skyline. I looked at the place with a slightly different eye, this time seeing it as a potential wedding venue with its Secret Garden, English gardens, and 180 degree views of the city of Melbourne and the Yarra Valley. When we walked around the grounds and the reception area, I could actually imagine this place as a feasible option for our party. Even the food options seemed like they could be fitting for our multicultural menu desires.

This wedding thing is becoming more and more real each day. I can’t believe this is really happening.

Venue inspections

We visited three potential venues today, and something seemed a bit off about all of them for us. The first one was the most naturally beautiful – it was a reception venue in the midst of the Dandenongs built to maximize the beauty of the forest surrounding it. The food menu was a bit lacking, though, and they didn’t allow for outsider caterers. The second and the third were owned by the same hospitality group. The second felt the most staged in terms of photo opportunities but had the grandest entrance and cocktail/bar area. I also loved the layout of the reception room. The third was still under renovation in many parts, but was the cheapest for a venue hire.

The idea of having a wedding in a place that is 100 percent for weddings doesn’t really sit well with me. It seems a bit trite to have a wedding at a place like that to me. I think I’d prefer a place that was a garden or a winery or something specific that also happened to host weddings and other functions; it would have a bit more character.

The blessing

A few days after we arrived in Melbourne this year, Chris’s Nana called his dad and said she wanted the family to come over for a “blessing” of our engagement. It was originally just going to be immediate family, but Chris extended the invite to his cousins, aunts, and uncles. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just thought there might be a Bible reading or two, a prayer, and maybe some dessert at the end. Little did I know that a reading would be done by Chris’s mother, followed by a blessing prayer from both of Chris’s grandmothers with my head being held in their hands, and subsequently a blessing from Chris’s dad and his two uncles on his head.

“I know that Christopher proposed, and Yvonne accepted, but an engagement is only real when with the family,” Nana said, as she commenced the event.

In their prayers, they blessed our union and wished us hope and love for our life together. They said a number of words that made me immediately feel overwhelmed. This is what it means to be accepted into this family… Everyone will be praying for our life together? And everyone accepts me as one of them? And I get to have my head held by both of his grandmothers? That day, I thought about Ed and what he would have thought if he had witnessed the event. I’d imagine he’d be so proud to think that his sister was being accepted into a Christian family, where real love and care actually exist without any strings or senseless, conditional expectations attached. I can’t imagine my brother having a prouder moment than this one.

I haven’t converted or gotten baptized or started going regularly to a Christian church, but so far, I think this would make Ed as happy as he could be.

Wedding research

It’s been just over six months since we got engaged, and we’re finally starting to look at venues for our upcoming wedding in 2016. If it’s in Melbourne, it will need to be sometime in the first half of 2016, and if it’s in Southern California, it will need to be between May-August of 2016. Most venues tend to book out one year in advance, so if we decide on Melbourne, we will need to lock down our venue fairly soon. The stressful part about this is that our days are severely numbered here, and if worse comes to worse, we will need to have a proxy (most likely in the form of one of Chris’s parents or aunt and uncle) to visit places for us and send us numerous photos at many angles so we can decide if a place is fitting for us. I’ve just started booking appointments for site inspections and to discuss ideas with wedding coordinators at venues in the Mornington Peninsula and Dandenongs.

What is interesting so far in this research phase is that not all of the venues I’ve looked at require that you use their internal food services; if you wanted to hire outside catering, a number of places are accommodating around this. The prices also seem a bit lower than what I have seen back home, especially when you factor in that these prices are inclusive of tax and gratuity, and even more so when we consider that the U.S. dollar is very strong in Australia now.

I’m not sure if this means we should be adding in more things that I’ve dreamed of for our wedding or just sticking with what is basic. Now I feel conflicted and need to think more about what I want for us thematically. An ice cream truck sounds amazing, but so does a large table with a decorated dessert buffet, and a chocolate fountain, and a themed and colorful candy table. Needless to say, our guests will not leave feeling like they didn’t get their fill of food and dessert.

Happy Christmas, Ed

Dear Ed,

Merry Christmas! It’s the second Christmas since you’ve left us. Christmas will always be one of those bittersweet times for me each year because I know how much you’ve always loved it – everything from the Christmas trees and ornaments, to the giving of presents, to even Santa Claus and Christmas movies on television. You were always so generous every year, giving far more than you ever received. I’m sure a lot of us took you for granted. We all just expected to get high quality pillows and bed sheets and blankets from you. I honestly wish you weren’t so generous because maybe then, you wouldn’t have been so disappointed about other people and their lack of thought when giving you gifts.

It’s also Chris’s 33rd birthday this Christmas, Ed. He’s now the same age as you were when you left us in July 2013. Thirty-three years on this earth. It’s a number that will always be ingrained in my mind because once you reached that age, you never got any older, and you never will now. Even when you were that age, you barely had any white hairs or even a hint of a wrinkle on your face. It just added to your childlike innocence and naiveté in this world.

I stood around Chris’s family today, observing and listening and participating in all the loudness and insanity that has been there the last three Christmases I have been in Melbourne with them. Sometimes throughout the day, it’s as though I don’t hear all the calamity around me, and I drift off into my own thoughts which almost always include you. You probably would have been a bit awkward to be around them, but I know for a fact you would have enjoyed yourself. You would have enjoyed and loved being a part of an extended family that not only embraced Christmas, but tried to extend it for as many days as possible.

Every day, I’m learning to accept life without you as one of us. Some days, it’s easier than others, but around Christmas time, your birth date, and your death date, it’s always the worst. The void you have left becomes more pronounced, but then I am reminded of all the things in life that you were deprived of that made me angry for you.

It would have been amazing to take you to be a part of these Christmas gatherings and to involve you in our wedding planning. Can you believe that your little sister is going to get married and is actually planning her wedding? I can’t even believe it myself. It’s like the reality I hoped for but never really thought about realistically. I am thinking about ways to incorporate you into the wedding and reception. Some ideas are cheesy, some are a bit morbid, but all are filled with how much I love and miss you. Happy Christmas from Chris and me. We haven’t forgotten about you. And we never will.



“Gas leak”

I woke up this morning to find out that our cooking prep for Christmas day had to be delayed due to a supposed gas leak in the kitchen. I was originally concerned because I knew I was the last person to use the stove, and I was pretty certain I checked the stove to make sure everything was fully off before we went to bed this morning at 2am. I went on with my mincing of all the dumpling ingredients and just stayed away from the stove and oven for a few hours.

As I am mincing up the shiitake mushroom caps, Chris’s mom is standing across the counter from me, watching me do my prep work, and asking if I could smell the gas. I told her I couldn’t smell anything gas-like, and maybe it was because my nose was slightly stuffed. I had left the mushrooms out on the counter to re-hydrate and soak overnight. She then puts her nose closer to the mushrooms for a sniff and exclaims, “I think these mushrooms are emitting that smell!” She calls Tony over, and Tony runs up to the mushrooms, takes a whiff, and declares these silly mushrooms to be the culprit. He calls the gas company to let them know it was a false alarm, but they let him know that someone is already on the way, and it’s better to be safe and check anyway. A dispatcher comes, does his thorough check, and declares the mushrooms as the cause of the smell. I never would have guessed that these little mushrooms could cause so much drama. Who would have ever thought that these shiitakes could be thought to be gaseous?

Another argument

My dad has felt progressively better since he had the excess liquid dispelled from his lung. The procedure was non-invasive, and in fact, he was awake the entire 15 minutes that they did it. That part of his chest was just numbed so he didn’t feel any pain. He said he felt relief immediately after the liquid was emptied out (about three cups of liquid total). He’s even said that the physical therapist he’s been working with as well as his cardiologist have cleared him to drive again, so he’s recovering far quicker than the average person who has had bypass surgery.

My mom, though, as per usual, doesn’t see his recovery as quick. In fact, she blames his surgery for the reason her own health has supposedly gone downhill “extremely,” as she says, and she says she has absolutely no energy left, and her back and neck have been acting up even more. She yelled at me for taking my Europe trip the week after my dad was discharged from the hospital and said she expected more from me, and then insinuated that Chris wasn’t thinking of our family when he didn’t encourage me to extend my stay in San Francisco to help out my parents. “Nothing is ever enough for you,” I finally told her today. “So I know no matter what I do, you will never be satisfied.” That was when she started screaming and told me to stop instigating arguments. I never realized I was an instigator in arguments with her.

She also expressed sadness that Ed wasn’t here to help her out with things like cleaning and buying groceries. “He would have been a big help if he were here,” she said wistfully. It’s sad when she wants him back not just for wanting him back alive and healthy, but just because she knows she could tell him what to do at any moment of the day. Ed doesn’t need any of that.

Mozzies attack

Tonight, we went to Ivanhoe, the well-known neighborhood in the Melbourne area for its Christmas tradition of decking out all of their private residences in Christmas lights. Everyone seems to know about the neighborhood, and people come to park their cars early and walk over and do the street walks to admire and take photos of these Christmas decorations and lights, some of which take an entire week or two for families to put up.

What I wasn’t anticipating during this walk was that the mosquitoes (or “mozzies,” as Australians call them) would come out from the bushes and grass and feed on my vulnerable feet and ankles. The entire walk around the neighborhood resulted in about nine mozzie bites for me, and I was itching like mad the entire time. It doesn’t seem to matter where I go, whether it’s Malaysia, Cambodia, anywhere in the U.S., or Australia – these blood suckers are always attracted to me, and never even once has Chris been bitten in my presence. What does it say when mosquitoes are always attracted to you and never the person next to you?