First family trip of the year

After more than a week of constant rain, the sky has finally opened up with a vast blue sky today. We didn’t waste a good day taking Mom out.

Today, we decided to venture eastward to Palm Springs. Then we decided to drive a bit further down to the Salton Sea because, well, it sounded like an interesting place when I read about it on Google. But, in reality, the surrounding areas and towns looked rather run-down and dilapidated. We didn’t go to the right place to have a vista view of the lake and decided to head back to Palm Springs.

Pictures are taken at Montezuma Valley Road Lookout on road S22, with the desert in the fore ground and a faint shape of blue of the Salton Sea in the back.

Four days

I have another intense and excruciating migraine headache today.

It’s one of those pounding headaches (with vision disturbances) that would comically smirk at the medication (I took two Excedrin tablets) going down the pipes when I sought relief. “Hah, you tried, Excedrins, but guess who’s the boss?” Of course, the headache would have verbalized such a dare and contested with the pills.

I tried to drink a lot of water to keep up with hydration. I also had a home remedy of ginger and lemon seeping in hot water for relief. Unfortunately, none of these treatments have alleviated the pain at all. So much for trying and failing! Mom told me she would do the home treatment of scratching the wind (cạo gió) out of my system, but by the time I finished cleaning the kitchen, she was already sleeping. I just have to live with the pain for now, or I will ask Mr. O to scratch the wind, as he will reluctantly do so with repulsive grimaces.

It’s been a week of rain. Four executive days. Such a rare treat for California!

More rain will come to town in the next few days as a bomb cyclone has approached the coast.

I just realized that I have stayed inside since Sunday. That’s four days of hibernation, and I was not even aware of it until an hour ago. Perhaps that is another contributing factor to this migraine. I need to get out tomorrow somehow — grocery shopping, browsing the bookstore, or even thrift shopping with Mom. I can also sneak out in between the rain-break for a short walk around the neighborhood. Now I think about it, physical inactivity also contributed to my ailment.

Another note to mention.

Mom is going to Vietnam again at the end of February. She asked if I could travel with her. I have a lot of thoughts about it, and I think I can sneak out of stay-home-parent duties for two weeks during the boys’ Spring Break in late March and early April.

Mr. O is apprehensive about my intention to travel without him and the boys. He is petrified but willing to let me travel during that time. However, he is worried and afraid of too many unknown factors and risks that he can’t calculate. His worries and pessimistic sentiments are transferable to me too. I, too, feel apprehensive about traveling to Vietnam.

So now I am ambivalent about the travel plan, but I do not want to disappoint Mom.

She has already made plans to take me to my ancestors’ graves of two generations back and meet relatives on her side I have not known before. Everyone seemed excited upon hearing the news of my pending visit. They, too, are planning how to welcome me into their homes. However, I have not even purchased the plane tickets. The feeling of indecision is tormenting, to say the least!

I still have a little time to extend my decision-making process and must find a travel agency to purchase the plane tickets by mid-February.

P.S. How is this for returning to regular blogging?

Return to my little world

Happy 2023!

There it is.

Another year has arrived!

I feel compelled to write a reflection on 2022 since I fell off WordPress and blogging less than the previous years. I am trying to get my blogging grooves back, so be patient, and bear with me for my inconsistency.

Here it goes…

January — I decided to pursue a graduate certification in College Counseling. New year, new goals!

Mr. O and I renewed our commitment to each other and the boys. It seems like we do this at the beginning of each year when we have a long and deep conversation about the meaning of marriage, reflecting on the success and points of weakness that we both need to work on. I needed to change how I talked to the boys, and he needed to stop the quick reactions to them making mistakes. These were just small things, but we acknowledged our flaws and worked to improve.

February — busy with the first course and finished at the end of the month. The Lunar New Year (Tet) was just a blurrrr. We didn’t do anything or take the kids anywhere to celebrate. They called us out as boring parents. Mr. O turned 52!

March — Second course began. The boys had their Spring Break, and we didn’t take them anywhere. Boring-parenting continued. KG wanted to return to in-person school after the mask mandate was lifted. NG was still stuck with remote learning, although he expressed his wish for in-person. Mom came and stayed for a few weeks.

April — Working hard on the second course. We bought the premium, annual pass to Universal Studios. Yay! No more boring parents. I worked on my plan for starting the college counseling consulting business. I also started working on the summer essay workshop.

I looked back at the first three months on my iPhone photo album, and it looked like I had no photos of anything. I regret it now because I have a little collection of how we lived our days.

May — Second course continued, finished, and started the last course mid-May. Took mom to the Carlsbad Flower Field for the first time. She loved it. She left before we could take her to Palm Springs to visit Mr. O’ friends. KG started having emotional outbursts and shutdowns. Damn. That was hard for me to witness and deal with.

June — Finished the last required course for the certification. The boys finished their 6th and 4th grades, respectively. We spent three weeks in Minnesota visiting family and friends. My nieces from FL also came to MN for a week. Mr. O was also there for work. I still had a love-hate relationship with this place, as always. I didn’t get to see any friends or former classmates; most of my time was spent taking care of the boys while Mr. had his own work meetings, friend meetings, and visiting his side of the family.

The boys had so much fun with their cousins on both sides. My mom and Mr. O’s mom met each other for the second time since Mr. O and I have been together. It was strange to see our moms sitting together. I got to know Mr. O’s sister, nieces, and nephews. I felt three weeks was too long for me to be in MN, and I missed California. Our flight back to San Diego was canceled, so we flew back to LAX at midnight, rented a car, and drove straight home.

July — the month was filled with a lot of fun for the boys. We took them to Universal Studios almost every weekend. Sometimes we drove in the morning and came back late at night. Sometimes we stayed overnight in Orange County. We spent July 4th with my brother in OC. The boys always love to hang out with their uncle and baby cousin. I also enrolled them in summer camps — art/drawing, cooking, and basketball.

July was also the month of seeing my friends.

First, one of my Vietnamese mama-friend from Dallas flew in for a visit with her boyfriend (now fiance) and daughter. We also visited chi Q in SD; it was always a pleasure to connect with this group of mama-friends.

Then, a long-time blog reader (a younger sister of one of my mama-friends) came to CA from Oregon to visit families. We connected, and both families briefly met over dinner at a restaurant in San Diego’s Little Italy. I wish we had more time chatting and for the boys to connect. Her son was one of my students in the online writing workshop I did last summer.

Another friend from Boston and her son flew from the east coast and stayed for a week. This is the friend whom I have befriended from one of my workplaces in Boston. Her son was NG’s childhood best friend until we moved to MN in 2011. While they were here, Mr. O took a short trip back to MN for work and also to visit his mother, who has fallen ill due to early dementia and many other aging issues.

In between catching up with friends who came from out of towns, I also completed my first in-person College Essay Workshop with four student attending. While I wished more students to attend, my work and reputation spread among their friends and families, and I ended up having 11 seniors on my roster.

We also celebrated KG’s 10th birthday in a very low-key and informal way. He did not want to have any extravaganza the way that I did for NG’s 10th birthday three years ago in San Diego.

August — we wrapped up the last two weeks of the summer with weekend trips to Pasadena, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange County. I think we have maxed out most of the places in the nearby Southern California vicinity and within the proximity of our small town. We also took advantage of our annual pass and had at least three trips back to Universal Studios.

The boys returned to a new school year. NG started 7th grade with some trepidation about socialization and assimilation to middle school after two years of remote learning. But it worked out for him because he enjoyed making a concerted effort to form new friendships and renew the old ones with those he met via remote learning in the 5th and part of 6th grades. He also applied to become a member of the town library youth council and took part in leadership training and planning activities for youth.

KG also eased well into his last year of elementary school. He quickly formed his group of friends, mostly boys, who shared a knack for basketball, fart and ball jokes, and Roblox. He also put his name on the roster for a spot in the Student Council, wrote a speech, practiced, and delivered. Unfortunately, he was devastated when he did not get enough votes. It was a learning experience for him.

September — we started the month with a huge celebration that welcomed NG to teenhood. I made a reservation at a fancy restaurant for the occasion. This child of mine is so charming, and any young woman in the near future who comes to appreciate his personal character will be lucky to have him as a respectful and introspective companion. He talks nonstop, though, but I also think it is part of his personal charm.

Oh, the other highlight in September was when KG broke his collarbone in physical education class. He told me that he ran too fast, tripped, and fell. He smashed his right shoulder, and inevitably, the sudden brunt force caused a deep fracture to the bone. He had to wear the back brace for almost 24 hours each day, for more than eight weeks. The result of the incident forced him to end his weekly basketball classes, which he was not too happy about. It also caused him to bottled-up emotions, which affected his learning and behaviors at school.

October — I got busy with my college counseling and consulting. More parents contacted me to help their children with writing essays, particularly the Univ. of California Personal Insight Questions. I filled my calendar many with red dots as the color indicated individual meetings with students. Mr. O was a major support because he cared for the boys as much as possible to shift a load of responsibilities off my shoulders. He took the boys to school, picked them up, drove NG to art camp, and drove KG to orthopedic appointments and follow-ups.

But we had fun, too. We tried to stay away from the label that our boys have given us — boring parents — so we took them out on the weekend as much as we could, such as going whale watching in Dana Point (we saw a lot of dolphins but no whale). We ventured back to Universal Studios two more times, and one of those times, we went to see their Halloween decorations at night. We took the night studio tour, a different experience from the daytime one.

Mr. O went to Vegas for a week of work-related ACAM conference. There, he met up with one of his college friends who flew in from Boston, and they both drove back to CA at the end of the week. Mr. O took the friend to LA for a day (a boys’ day!) to visit some of the notable landmarks. Then we took him to San Diego, where he fell in love with the October weather and the city vibes. Our boys finally got to meet Mr. O’s friend since all of the friends we had met in 2022 were mostly mine. One of Mr. O’s greatest strengths that I adore is his natural ability to connect and maintain friendships. He still connects to some college friends he met more than 20 years ago. On the other hand, I lost touch with those I knew from college.

I also celebrated my 46th birthday! Mr. O and the boys took me to Newport Beach and reserved a spot at the Lighthouse Cafe, where we sat on the upper deck with an open view of the water and seagulls. The view and the atmosphere was just right; the food was not, unfortunately.

For Halloween, we let the kids go trick-or-treating with NG’s friends. Mr. O and I stayed home to greet trick-or-treaters. We bought a lot of candies. At one point, I had to wash the dishes and left a bowl of candies out front. Through the security camera, I saw two kids just dumping the whole bowl into their pillowcases. I had to turn on the speaker and ask them to kindly take some and leave some for others. It was to no avail; they flipped me the middle finger. Oh well, I tried! We ran out of candies within an hour or so after sunset.

November — busy, busy, busy! I had at least four parents call me in late October to get their children on my essay coaching schedule. The three weeks before Thanksgiving, I had individual sessions every day except for Saturday, during which I told the students I could not compromise my family day for them. Some students had a polished way of writing, and some took more of my coaching time to get the structure and the right writing style. There were also last-minute procrastinators who wrote their final drafts two nights before the UC deadline, and I had to sit with them until 9 or 10 p.m. to proofread and help them revise.

November was also a heart-breaking month for me. As much as NG thrived and gained momentum, KG seemed stuck in an emotional space that was alarming. His ego and pride got him into trouble at school, which involved the town police’s psychiatric unit coming to our home and having a family meeting with us. He also got suspended from school for two days. However, due to these two incidents, Mr. O and I decided he needed therapy. An outside resource and expert could provide much more for what he needs than we could as parents. His therapy sessions will start the first week of January. And due to the tension between the boys, I also had NG meet with the therapist for an initial consultation. He, too, will start his therapy sessions in January.

We had a low-key Thanksgiving celebration. I planned to meet up with my brother, but he was busy and had his own plans. But having a low-key family time was not bad; we watched movies, played board games, and reinforced our family relationship.

December — with the UC application deadline on November 30th, only half of the students remained on my calendar for the Common App essays. Finally, I had more time to spend in the evening with the boys and check in with their homework. My mom flew in from MN to spend a few weeks with us, but then she decided to stay until after the Vietnamese Lunar New year.

Mr. O flew out to MN for a week to visit his ailing mom and for some work matters. While he was away, Mom and I cooked some of the Vietnamese meals that we both enjoyed and reminisced on moments of our shared pasts. She just went to Vietnam from early October to mid-November with one of my older brothers, so we had a lot to talk about.

My niece Tini flew to CA on the same flight as Mr. O as he returned home. Tini celebrated her 23rd birthday with us, but she didn’t get to see my younger brother’s family. They were busy making funeral arrangements for his wife’s grandfather, who passed away on December 21st at age 90. So we took Tini to Orange County for her flight out from Santa Ana and picked up Mr. O’s friend, who flew from San Francisco from the same airport. We stayed in an Air B&B for a few days, then celebrated Christmas with my brother’s family and his in-laws. It was a somber celebration because of the death in the family.

We received a considerable amount of rain between Christmas and New Year, which is a blessing for the drought condition in California. Mom didn’t want to go anywhere, but on the last day of the year, which was her on-paper birthday, we told her to dress up and took her to Los Angeles. It was raining heavily, and we had no choice but to find an indoor venue, which was The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Later, we took her to a mom-and-pop Yemeni restaurant in Anaheim. It was her first time having Yemeni food, and she liked it.

I wanted to have our family photos taken on the first day of 2023, but the rain squashed that plan out of the window. We spent most of our time inside the house; I lounged around, took naps, ate some food, and then picked up a new book to read. I am currently reading Outliers — The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.