The Home in Family Dinners: Day 15 // 365 Days of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for family dinners when (almost) all the seats at the table are filled. Usually, it’s just my mom, my brother, and me. That’s how it kinda went through most of my high school years. My dad travels a lot for work and has a lot of business dinners to attend so it does feel special when there’s more than just a few of us eating together.

In my family, we always eat at the table. Around 7 pm on most nights, we set the table with chopsticks and a soup spoon. My mom is usually working her magic in the kitchen with the exhaust fan on, the flame turned up high, the tsheee-tshee-tshee sounds of food tumbling around an extremely hot wok, smells of yumminess wafting through the kitchen door … I’m always excited and always the first at the table. And between helping my mom bring each dish to the table, I can’t help snag a few bites here and there. Once most the dishes are set, I start calling the rest of the people in the house, and slowly, each of us trickle in and find our spots at the table. My mom always makes it a point to make at least 3 to 4 dishes when there’s more than two people eating. The last dish comes after most of us have begun eating. And naturally, my mom is the last one to sit down, breathe, before picking up her chopsticks. It’s a real process – from the preparing to the cooking to the setting to the eating – filled with love and generosity.

Sitting down to put words to this experience shows just how elaborate and ceremonial a meal at home can be. This is how I’ve eaten dinners at home most of my life. So I never thought of it as special, or worth noting. I thought other families ate this way too, but that’s definitely not the case, and the foods I find familiar might not be the same foods others find heartwarming.

When I prepared dinner for myself in college, some white American suitemates once remarked at how ‘faaancy’ my food looked.

“Ooooouu~ that smells so good. What is it? It looks so faaancy!”

“Uh, it’s just some stir-fried vegetables and tofu.”

What I wanted to say was that this wasn’t fancy to me, this was dinner at home almost every night, and my mom made this sort of thing times three or four. Is it fancy because this is your idea of “ethnic” food? I don’t know why I started feeling so uncomfortable cooking the way I knew how to prepare food in front of my white American peers. I was always on guard for the next questions about what this sauce labeled with Chinese characters was, or what that weird looking vegetable was. These weren’t things I experienced first hand, but I heard the “Wow, that’s so exotic!”s hidden in their hyper-cheerful tones and in their gazes even without them saying the words.

So I guess that’s when I first realized how I ate at home is special and wonderful because it is my home, my idea of a family dinner, my family. And I don’t have to compare it with any other. We all have our different versions of home, family, family dinners, dinners at home, and all of those are valid and special and worth cherishing.

Food is what I often find my family and I around whenever we gather. Food is what nourishes the body and the soul and the connections we hold with each other. Food is love, strength, and support, in many, many ways.

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Day 14 // 365 Days of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for books. I love the feeling of getting swept up into a book. For a few hours, I tune out the rest of the world and enter an alternate world of the characters. When I read a book, I still feel somewhat mindful of my surroundings, but when I’m looking at a screen, I feel completely sucked in and I don’t particularly like that.

I do like reading. I just don’t read as much as I’d like. Honestly, the biggest thing in my way is my darn electronics… Something about this internet thing is really addictive. Today I didn’t even touch my laptop until evening time, largely because I was so into the book I’m reading – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I started the book like over a month ago and, up until today, have made very little progress on it. I didn’t look at my phone many times either, not that I’m constantly on my phone in first place.

Today was a lovely reminder that there are other ways to occupy time other than scrolling through the internet.

Day 13 // 365 Days of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for my mom.

I come up with these things at such random moments, like whilst brushing my teeth or watching the rain from the car. But then it’s worth asking, so what type of moments do I expect these things to come up?

I didn’t expect this to be the topic for today’s post since we butted heads today. My mom and I don’t agree on everything. We can’t expect to either. We grew up in completely different times and cultures, received very different educations, and are different people. It’s still hard for me to accept this emotionally because she’s my mom! Shouldn’t she get everything? My therapist reminded me aptly one session a few weeks ago that I have to accept (not only intellectually) that my parents, my brother, and I are all different people. This means we won’t agree on everything and we each have our own paths to live out. Yes, we are a unit as a family, and at the same time, we are also individuals within this unit. Secretly, I’m afraid of ‘being different’ which is a whole bunch of baloney since every person is unique and different than the next person. Does being afraid of ‘being different’ come from being afraid to living in a way that fulfills my heart and soul? Maybe, because what I seek for is apparently not the norm for a 20 year old woman.

All that being said, no matter what, my mom will always be my mom. She has given infinitely to our family and me. She endured 30+ hours of labor to birth me, and to this days still gives out so much physical and emotional labor for us. I have to appreciate her. It’s the least I can do.

I made it to Pilates, folks. I got up at 8:30 am 🙏🏼 and made it without turning off my alarm and falling back asleep. Pat on the back, Claire. Good job. Ate lunch. Had a heated conversation with my mom. Sent a couple emails. Watched ‘Very British Problems’ on Netflix, in preparation for my return to the birth land. Sat in a cafe reading and writing a bit while my mom did some TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) massage sort of thing. Came home. Ate dinner. Watched more Netflix and some YouTube.

My days have been pretty bland. I like writing these posts because when people read it, they’ll see that my life is not all glitz and glamor. I remember some girl from my high school once said to me something along the lines of, “I wish I had your life!” based predominantly on my social media posts. In my head I was just like WHY??? No… Ah. There are stretches of time when I’m just ‘potatoing’ and even though it’s not what I’d like to do for the rest of my life, it’s okay for now. So yeah. I’m not gonna make videos or post photos of me watching TV or sitting on the toilet but it doesn’t mean I don’t do those things.

If I don’t link these to Facebook, who even reads these? Besides you… You know who you are.

Day 12 // 365 Days of Gratitude

Omg I almost forgot to post. Not a big deal. Should not make it a big deal. Okay, here we go. 

Today I am grateful for pink skies in the evening time. 

I had to think hard for something today. 

What’s new? This morning I pressed snooze too many times and didn’t get up in time to go to Pilates class. Tomorrow!!! Honestly don’t know why I can’t stop sleeping. 

I felt like moving my body a bit so I went downstairs and half-powerwalked for 40 minutes or so. It’d be nice to start every morning that way. It would. The rest of the morning and early afternoon I helped do some cleaning and laundry in the house and took out some fall/winter clothes from storage. Later on, I went shopping with my mom. Important to note that it’s usually me following my mom around as she picks things out for me. I don’t enjoy shopping. Walking into clothing stores makes me feel really overwhelmed and honestly, I would rather just sit somewhere and wait for whoever I’m with to finish shopping. I go anyway though with my mom because it wouldn’t hurt to get a couple new things and it’s better than getting told a bunch of things I don’t like hearing. I definitely don’t need it, but my mom thinks differently. 

Day 12 // 365 Days of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for warming food and the company of my family on a chilly, rainy day. Rain fell gently out from the sky as the clouds hung low, blocking the sun’s rays from beaming through. A downcast day – one I am thankful for because it purified the air and gave us fresh air to breathe. How sacred and refreshing.

火锅 🍲 (there’s an emoji for it!) or hot pot was the perfect dinner for today. With all the cold dampness that settled into our bodies throughout the day, we all needed some warmth to balance things out. I like hot pot because it extends the dinner proceedings, which also means more time with your dinner companions. Everyone sits around waiting for the water to boil before putting their desired foods into the pot. You have to wait for your food to cook and then poke your chopsticks around the pot in search for your whatever you want to eat. Dip it in some sauce and you’re good to go! All four of us happened to be home tonight so we ate all together. Afterwards, I felt warm inside knowing that all four of my immediate family members were under the same roof at the same time. Doesn’t happen all the time. So I’m extremely grateful for these precious moments.

Simple and fulfilling.

Day 11 // 365 Days of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for my brother. Why? Just because! I’m grateful to have a sibling close in age and whom I share many things with – raised by the same parents, in the same household, lived in the same places growing up, and more recently, a fondness for the outdoors. 

We don’t usually spend a lot of one-on-one time together, but today we went out for lunch since both my parents were out. We don’t talk about much, either. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit in comfortable silence, acknowledging each other’s presence. 

I feel like as we get older, the age gap between us shrinks too. We start to speak a similar language, know more of the same things, develop some mutual interests. When I get asked if my brother and I are close, I have difficulty answering with yes or no. I do feel close to my brother but not in the same way I’d feel close to a friend. We don’t write to each other or call each other often if we’re in different places. However, when we end up in the same place and spend some time together, I am reminded of a distinct closeness. 

Sibling love aside, I started watching The Get Down on Netflix today! It’s got me looking into the post-WWII history of the South Bronx, with white flight and urban decay at their peak. Set in late 1970s South Bronx, the show captures the origins of grassroots hip hop culture. A very lively show, indeed.