Saturday, December 31, 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Choices

The holidays came and went. I was glad to have found out that my stepfather came down with a bad case of flu just before Christmas. It saved us a trip up to New Jersey to visit my parents, which I had vowed not to do after a blowout with them over the phone a couple of weeks ago.

Like most parents with children of childbearing age, my parents pined for grandchildren. Unfortunately for my parents, neither of their kids were on the verge of procreation. While I had no steady partner nor a strong desire to have kids, my stepbrother and his wife to struggled with fertility issues.
Still, my parents did not hesitate to make their wishes known, with obnoxious frequency and sometimes at the most inopportune times. I distinctively recall my mother bringing up the possibility of using a sperm bank four years ago, the night before my LSAT exam. The same topic was revisited almost religiously during our weekly phone call. Anytime I resisted the idea of having kids, my mother would say something like, all normal people have kids, it's what you do, you'll change your mind and if you don't, you will regret it. And like most children, the more she insisted the more I resisted.

I had consciously thought long and hard about having kids for the last four years. I wrote about it, read about it, talked about it, and even created a gap analysis for it. While the exercise had provided no clear answer one way or another, it did became somewhat obvious that having kids is just might not be one of my lifelong goals. The only positive that came of it was to realize that I wanted to live my life to the extent of my abilities so that if I were to have kids, I could tell them a life I was proud of. This realization is what pushed me to go to law school, move to NYC, run, volunteer, travel, hike and generally live how I would want to inspire my kids to live.

Four years was long enough to get comfortable with a choice. While I was happy about the pregnancy, I kept the development mostly to myself. There have been so many other changes, challenges, and even difficulties in my life lately that I was not in the mood to jump up for joy. Besides, getting pregnant for me was not an accomplishment. Unlike people who had to try every possible method to conceive, there was nothing for me to do except to lay there. Frankly, it was the least amount of trying I had ever done in my life and certainly nothing worthy of all the congratulatory hoopla. That, of course, is not to say that I am not thankful everyday that things came so easy to me. It's just I can take no personal credit for such happening.

When people did hear about the news, their reactions often turned to something like, your parents must be so thrilled! It wasn't until recently that my parents even became aware of my pregnancy. I had no desire to tell them. In fact, I never said anything to them at all except I look obviously pregnant when they saw me over Thanksgiving. They were predictably happy, which made me annoyed. It was as if they had finally won. Admittedly it's a silly hang up on my part.

What's so wrong about making your parents happy, you ask. Imagine if your parents are raging racists who vehemently opposed to you having a black boyfriend and made their disgust known at the daily dinner table. Sometime later you happen to break up with your black boyfriend and started to date someone white. Would you feel so eager to tell your parents you're finally dating in the proper race and watch them celebrate with glee?

While it is true that parents always want the best for their kids, it is difficult, if not impossible to not act from self interest and power. I have always believed, and hope to continue to believe, that to give life is to allow the liberty to make one's own choices, even at the risk of total failure. There is a reason why life and liberty are the two principles so commonly spoken together in western ideology. There are very few people who are truly happy for you. To celebrate someone is to celebrate the choices they make, whether or not those are the same choices you have or would have made, or even approve of. Anytime short of that is not a celebration of an unique individual, but rather, you happened to have gotten your way.

I have made many choices, over and again, not in any alignment to what my parents had wished for me. My mom, perhaps due to a difficult life of her own, always wanted me to have a life of comfort and security. There is nothing awful about that except those are not the objects of my pursuit. Consequently, we fought at every fork on the road and I picked every path over against her wishes. Time goes on, things change, but hurtful words, once said, are not easily forgotten. Instead of objection, empathy or pity over my hard choices, I wish my mother had been more encouraging and openly supportive.

On the bright side, going against my own mother consistently and starting at an early age, helped me to grow a strong backbone for everything and everyone else that came across my path. I've learned to do my own thing and seek approval from no one. Some of us became the way we are because of our parents, and some in spite of them. It just goes to show that there is no definitive way to parenting. After all, I have no doubt that my parents want what they think is best for me. And I have no doubt that I will make the same mistakes they have. I only hope my kids will be more forgiving than I am.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Six Months

Six months ago I married a stranger, who is now becoming my best friend. It was a shot in the dark at best, with conflicted emotions and reservations from both sides. Like all things new and uncertain, I wanted to give it a go. The past six months have been some of the most difficult time I have ever spent in a relationship, mostly because we stayed, willingly or reluctantly, and that have made all the difference. I'm happy we are here, together, and the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Making It Ourselves

It is possible to be comfortable hiking and camping. It just takes a little preparation and a lot of discipline. There are countless retailers selling the latest and lightest gears and supplies. And we have been and will continue to pay for commercial products. However, there's no doubt in my mind that to really "do" it is to get into the weeds and get our hands dirty on experimenting and making our own food and gears. After all, that is the Ray-way! The Jardine books were one of the first and only hiking books I've read. I'm obsessed about making a Ray quilt one of these days but for now, we've got our hands full with other essentials for our trip.

The first two pieces of equipment we purchased are the Excalibur 3926TB Dehydrator and a Singer heavy duty sewing machine. In the past I have relied heavily on ready-made, individually packed, freeze-dried meals from brands like Mountain House and Backpacker's Pantry. They work well for shorter hikes, easy to carry and easy to cook, just add boiling water and voila, you're ready to enjoy a tasty hot meal. I'm a big fan of the Chili Mac with Beef. We had Mountain House meals for all our dinners on the West Coast Trail. However, now that we're considering a mega-long trip, we both felt it was time to invest in a top rated dehydrator to see if we can gain efficiency in terms of cost and weight.

One of the keys to an enjoyable hike is to be disciplined about pack volume and weight. We simply can't carry individually packed meals and snack bars with all of the wrappers and useless trash. Eventually everything will be repackaged in bulk with the minimum amount of packaging waste. So far we have done quite a bit or research online on dehydration recipes and packing method. I am getting accustomed to sleep through the sound of the Excalibur dehydrating bulk ingredients. We now have put together six easy to assemble camping meals using on one main carb as base, one seasoned meat and a number of veggies. For example, one meal can be instant cous cous with Ethiopian spiced beef, and green peppers and onions. Another meal can be pasta with meat sauce and mushrooms. I have always used the JetBoil Flash as my cooking system. Its one liter cup is great for boiling water but not so much for cooking. I recently ordered the 1.5 liter pot flex ring for our one-pot-meals. Once it gets here we'll have to walk to a nearby campground to test out our meals.

We also plan to put our new sewing machine to good use by making our own baby carrier that attaches directly to our packs. So far Peter has been practicing using the sewing machine by making cat toys and burp clothes from fabric remnants we got at a deep discount from JoAnn's. The cats are now spoiled with all kinds of catnip toys!  

Monday, December 26, 2016

Nesting?

Another six pounds of ground beef is cooked and loaded into the Excalibur. In the last few days we have dehydrated ten zucchinis, a giant batch of green bell peppers, and probably more carrots than both of us have ever eaten. Our latest shopping trips include bulk hot chocolate, instant rice, mash potatoes and endless supply of zip lock bags in all sizes from wholesale clubs. Our doorway is blocked by a constant stream of packages from Sierra Trading Post, LeftLane Sports, Campsaver, Amazon, and other online retailers for hiking supplies. While standing in front of the sink draining tomato sauce, I can't help but to chuckle and wonder if this at all resembles the behavior of a nesting mother-to-be in the third trimester.

But then again, I'm a type-A, everything-must-be-done-right-now kind of gal. I've already acquired the crib and the change table, the rocker and the arms reach, and the Medela Freestyle Pump ready for back to work. We have diapers stocked up to size 3 and more than enough used clothing from the Goodwill to last through the first year. Peter has been forced to watch every natural childbirth and breastfeeding documentary on Netflix and Amazon. And that's all just half way through the second trimester.

By the end of November there was a swift change in our plan. While we continue to prepare for the baby's arrival, we are now also inching towards the biggest family project to-date. I've never been shy to take on new experiences, however seemly crazy and implausible they may be. When Peter looked into my eyes and said, if this is something you want to do I want to do it with you, I knew, we've got to give it a try. It is difficult to share our ultimate plan since very few people may understand. While we welcome constructive criticism and suggestions, we can live without the negative feedback. Thankfully neither understanding nor approval is required from anyone but ourselves.

Life is already hard enough as it is for everyone. Whenever someone proposes a new idea or pursuit to me, I always cheer them on and say, go for it! There is no adventure or satisfaction in doing things we know we can do but rather to try things that are just beyond our imaginary limit. Average people accomplish extraordinary things not due to their abilities but their imagination and willingness to try. Knowledge can be gained, skills can be acquired, but the will to pursue your dreams must be called forth from within. This is easier done when you surround yourself with inspirational role models and people who are just as crazy. I'm happy to have found Peter. He's on the same crazy train to crazy down with me (even though he might be coming along as a passive passenger at times).

So back to baby things... My friend Liz introduced me to the Facebook world of cloth diaper and babywearing. And we've even made personal appearances at the local babywearing and a La Leche League meeting earlier this month. I'm now going through the LLL book on the Womenly Art of Breastfeeding, while Peter is reading What to Expect in the First Year. The next on the agenda are infant care and breastfeeding classes.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Home

Home to most people is a stationary concept, even if temporary in nature. Having moved frequently since early childhood, at first by circumstance and later by choice, I don't consider myself the rootless type, but rather, someone who is efficient at homebuilding. Every time I moved, I settled, really settled. There was never a sense of making do when it comes to homebuilding, even when I knew I was only passing through a temporary station. But then, I just don't do things half assedly. The homes I built were beautiful and cozy. They made me feel proud and grounded.

Over the years, I'd like to think I've further evolved and improved on my homebuilding skills. Perhaps home can be a more fluid concept, rather than a point to point station. And homebuilding, a more constant action, rather than a stop-and-go interval. This realization became especially obvious when I entered the world of multi-day hiking and backpacking. To know that I can walk with everything I need to make a home wherever I stop is truly exhilarating. It is not the same sense of comfort as the one we are used to in our daily lives yet the simplicity and beauty of it all creates a new sense of comfort. I can't explain how wonderful it is to wake up in a tent and not have to wonder what I should wear. I only have one pair of pants. If it's cold, I put it on the outside of the baselayer I wore to sleep. The key to immerse ourselves in any new experience to not frame it as outside of our comfort zone, or even relate to what we've known as comfortable, but rather to open ourselves up to a new sense of comfort.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Gender Reveal

A lot people have asked us if we're having a boy or girl. We don't feel the need to know or have any preference either way. Initially, I kept replying, oh we'll find out when it gets here. After some thought I feel the need to correct myself by saying, no, we're not finding out now and may not even find out for a while after the baby gets here.
Gender identification is not something to be read off from an ultrasound scan or determined from body parts. I don't need to prepare myself or my baby to be in any particular gender. Someday we will find out on the kid's own term when it's really to tell us and our love will never change.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Babywearing


There are meetings and groups for all things baby related and one of them happens to be babywearing. My friend Liz introduced us to this group called Babywearing International (or BWI, also the airport code for Baltimore-Washington International Airport). The group educates people on how and what to use to wear their babies and offers an annual membership that allow people to checkout various carriers to try at home. It's a great deal considering how expensive these carriers are sold at retail! Sticker shock!

We are immensely interested in this topic since carrying the baby the only way we can be mobile until it can walk on its own at a reasonable pace and attention span. Peter and I both love the outdoors and traveling in general. Not surprisingly, the very first piece of baby gear I purchased upon seeing the positive result on the pee stick was an Ospray child carrier. However, in order to use the back carrier, the baby has to be able to sit up on its own, which could easily take up to six months. How will we move around before then? Especially with the precious time I will have off from work? Front carry it has to be!

So...we showed up at our local BWI chapter meeting with my zpack half full of hiking gears. The goal was to find a carrier that could carry a young infant in the front while carrying a full pack behind.




Friday, March 18, 2016

Punta Arenas

I flew overnight from JFK to Santiago and then transferred on a flight to Punta Areas, the southernmost city on the continent. Everything went smoothly, no one even took a second look at my Osprey as a carry-on. As we approached the tip of the Patagonia, I got glimpses of snow-capped mountains and glacier between the clouds. It was both exhilarating and terrifying to know I soon will be standing in the midst of it all.

The plane made a 180 degree turn over the Strait of Magellan and approached the landing strip from the south. There is nothing particular noticeable about this area from the above. The land is flat and barren as far as the eyes can see. There is no mistake that we have arrived at the end of the world.

As soon as I stepped outside, I was quickly reminded the wind in Patagonia. It was a cloudy day. The air temperature couldn't have been lower than mid 40s but the wind made it feel much colder. I looked around for public transportation into town and eventually found a white van. A couple of hiking packs were already in the back. I tried to ask an American guy about his trip. He asked if I speak Spanish. I said no and he ignored me the rest of the way. I couldn't tell if it was more rude for me to not speak Spanish in a Spanish speaking country or for him to not speak English to an English speaker from the same country (but I realized that to him I'm just some random Chinese girl). Instead I listened to him attempt to carry on a conversation in broken Spanish with a Chilean girl, who is stationed on the military base in Punta Arenas. Later on, I briefly chatted with an Italian couple and found out they had about the same itinerary as me.

It took us about 20 minutes to arrive in town. I was the last one to get dropped off but before that I asked the driver to recommend a restaurant for dinner (IN SPANISH).

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Going to Patagonia

The fear of unknown is the greatest fear of all. - Yvon Chouinard

Traveling was centered around sightseeing when I first started going to places. After I moved to NYC three years ago, my way of traveling took on a different direction. The constant discontentment towards what I have propelled me to seek all that I lacked: nature. And in the midst of unfounded mental anguish I gravitated towards a newfound a comfort in physical hardship. My experiences of altitude sickness in Peru and mind-numbing cold in the Himalayas often left people shaking their heads wondering why anyone would chose to endure so much suffering on their vacation. 

People see smiling pictures of me from different places and they assume that I'm addicted to traveling and that it must be easy for me to get around. While the first one may hold some water, the second assumption can't be farther from the truth. Sorting out logistics is one thing but like people who dislike traveling, I too must overcome many mental hurdles to get out of the door. It takes a lot of trust in people and things to let yourself go into the unknown. For example, although I'm no stranger to flying, I too have a mini freak out sessions on my way to the airport. There can be endless things to worry about when you get out of your daily routine and trust me, I have thought of them all. It takes an enormous amount of mental discipline for me to keep moving forward. This is why I find it difficult to answer when people ask me what I like to do. Do I really like traveling? Do I really like running? None of it is easy or pleasant. Perhaps that's why I keep going back to them and trying on more challenging things. 

After going on a few guided commercial hikes, I've decided to venture out on my own to hike the "W" circuit in Torres del Paine. I've read the guidebook a dozen times and made some attempt at booking hostels, buses and even cabins along the trail. But in the end, I only booked a hostel for my first night in Punta Areas. The rest I'll have to figure out once I get there. I've never camped by myself before. Even though I know there will be other people around I'm still terrified. But I guess that's the point. You're not challenging yourself enough if it doesn't scare you. 

So how do I really feel when I get on the road? Like that screaming kid being dropped of at the daycare.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Monday, January 4, 2016

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Saturday, January 2, 2016