Our Love Story

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(Photo courtesy of Katherina Vang https://www.facebook.com/kvang10?fref=ts)

My husband and I were just young, impressionable teenagers when we made the decision to get married.  He was my first crush and my first boyfriend. I broke up with him after we dated for a few months, but two years later our paths crossed again and I decided to give him another chance. We hadn’t even dated that long, less than one year, before we eloped. Were we wildly in love? No. Were we inseparable? No. Was I pregnant? No. The decision to get married was not romantic. It was made spur of the moment one evening at a dance party.

Recently, my husband shared with me his reason for asking me to marry him. He wanted someone to be with him to keep the loneliness at bay. During his early teen years, staying away from his home was the only way he could escape from a home life that was less than desirable.  All he wanted was someone to be with that would love him.  My reason? I wanted freedom from strict parents.  Romantic? Not even close!

What we had was a young, immature love that evolved into something stronger over the years. We were so focused on raising our children and surviving being young parents that we never focused on building our relationship. Those years passed in a blur. Suddenly, the kids grew up and we had more time with each other. The dates that we never had, we now spend time doing things together.  We have learned to have fun, to appreciate one another. Looking back, I see the little things that my husband did (and still do) for me, and realize that his expression of love may not always be loud or extravagant, but the gestures were done with love in mind. I have always loved my husband, but more so now than ever.

This year, we will celebrate 25 years of marriage. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I hope to spend the rest of my life with my husband.

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Are some friendships worth fighting for?

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”   ―     A.A. Milne,     Winnie-the-Pooh

I remember my first best friend. Her name was Jennifer, and we were in first grade. It did not matter that we came from two different worlds, somehow, we clicked and quickly became best friends. I loved spending time at her house in the country, going on hay rides, riding bikes, swinging as high as I could on the tire swing her father hung from the enormous tree in their front yard. We moved to Wisconsin after fifth grade and I lost track of her. We did reconnect in our twenties, but by then, that closeness was not there anymore and we just stopped communicating after a few sporadic letters.

Throughout my middle school years, I  had several best friends. Eventually, each of those best friends moved away, and I was suddenly the one being left behind. As much as I wanted to keep those friendships, it was hard to, because we were still kids and snail mail was, well….snail mail. Perhaps if cell phones, email, and internet existed (or readily available) to the general public in those days, I like to think I might still be friends with them.  I have since reconnected with them either face to face or over the phone/email, but once again, that closeness shared as young girls had disappeared, and as adults, we were not able to recapture that closeness. I have fond memories of those friends, and that is enough. One childhood friendship survived, though, and I treasure her friendship. We may not actively get together, but when we do talk, we pick up where we left off, not missing a beat.

There is one friendship that hurt the most when I finally decided to let it go. We  both married cousins and hit it off instantly. In high school, we would carry around hardbound journals and write to each other every day, passing the journals in classes that we had together or at the end of the day. We wrote about our every day life, things that irritated us, things that made us happy, our hopes and dreams. Circumstances (which will remain private out of respect for her) changed the status of our friendship drastically, and it was many, many years later that I felt ready to face her and reached out to her again. Even then, I felt the distance, but I thought that with our history, our friendship was worth fighting for.  I did what I could to reach out to my friend, but something was preventing her from reciprocating. I consider myself a loyal friend and was surprised to learn the reason for her reservations about strengthening our friendship. Since we reconnected eleven years ago, I had made many  attempts to take our friendship to the next level, but with no success. Recently, I decided that it was all or nothing, and spoke with her about our friendship.  We opened up old wounds and talked for a couple of hours.  The outcome of our discussion brought our friendship into a positive light, and I am optimistic we can only get stronger from there.

“Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find.”   ―    William Shakespeare

So are some friends worth fighting for? I believe so. I have been blessed with having so many good friends in my past and present.  We all have flaws, and I admit I may not always be a very good friend, but I am a good friend the majority of the time and very loyal to those whom I count as my very closest friends. We have to be ready to let go those “friends” who have become toxic, but also ready to fight for those friends who have always been there. Those are the friends who check in on you, call you just to talk endlessly about nothing, allow you to vent but call you out when you have stepped out of line, will go out on a moment’s notice, remember your birthday, let you sit on their couch and cry when life is too hard,  give you advice (even though you may not want to hear it at the time), and rejoice in your accomplishments without any jealousy.  They are the friends who do not give up easily, because they care. If the effort is not there, just like a marriage, the friendship will crumble and fall.

Have you ever broken up a friendship or been on the receiving end?

A Year in Blogging

Hello Blogosphere

When I first began my blogging journey in  January 2013, it was with naïve optimism that being a blogger was simply the  easiest “hobby” or job any individual could pick up. How wrong that assumption was! I have yet to find my niche in the blogosphere. It was my intention to document my “firsts” in life, but that quickly became difficult to blog about as it appeared I was not social or daring enough with my activities. The other reason: blogging requires time, dedication, and creative juice. Time I had, but lacked in dedication or creativity in terms of topics to share on a weekly basis, never mind daily!

I give credit to all the bloggers out there who make blogging seem so easy.  Even though I have only published 36 posts, I am optimistic that 2014 will bring me greater creativity not just with my posts, but the redesign of my page.  Stay tuned, but for now, let’s go down memory lane.

My first blog post: First Wine: Roscato Rosso Dolce

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Most viewed blog post: Favorite Things Party

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Least viewed: Ready for Spring: Dresses

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Crossed off my Bucket List: 5K Run

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Biggest Milestone: Turning 40

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Thank you for reading, and Happy New Years! No New Years resolution for me, just hoping for a year of new opportunities and adventure.

Book Review: What Matters Most by Luanne Rice

Four stars

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Once in a while, I read a book that stirs such intense emotions in me to the point where I feel as if I am one of the characters. This morning, I finally finished a book I began last week (it was a busy and tiring week for me).  I have always been a fan of Luanne Rice and this book does not disappoint. The first half of the book is slow, but it does pick up and kept me interested. This is a story about a love so strong that time and distance cannot diminish or extinguish it. It is also about hope, forgiveness, and survival.

There are no intentional spoilers in this review, only my honest opinion, but there may be an occasional plot revealed in order for me to tell my thoughts.

What Matters Most is the story of Sister Bernadette Ignatius (Bernie Sulllivan) and Tom Kelly, whose love story began in Ireland and ends in America, spanning almost two decades. Sister Bernadette and Tom gave up their newborn son whom they named James Sullivan (he later calls himself Seamus, Irish for James) because of a vision she had from Mary to take the vow. They took comfort in knowing James would be adopted by a family who would love him.

In a parallel story,  Seamus is unable to stop thinking about Kathleen, a girl he grew up with at the orphanage run by the Sisters at St. Augustine. They were both taken in as newborns and immediately developed a special bond. They became inseparable and were best friends.  James was never adopted, but Kathleen’s birth parents came for her when she was thirteen. Devastated, he runs away from the orphanage, determined to find Kathleen. Ten years later, Bernie and Tom return to Ireland to find the son they gave up, but Seamus wants nothing to do with them. Disheartened, they return to Connecticut where Bernie is the Mother Superior at Star of the Sea Academy.

Tom, in love with Bernie, has been by her side as the groundskeeper of Star of the Sea, hoping that one day Bernie would have a change of heart and renounce her calling.  All he wants is to marry Bernie, the woman he loves beyond all else. Bernie is torn between her duty to the Church and her love for Tom. She wavers at times, showing her vulnerability, but then in a show of strength, resolves to keep her vows, no matter the price. The love story of Bernie and Tom is very bittersweet, and the ending will leave you crying.

There is so much more to this story than I have written, so I urge anyone who is interested just a bit to pick up the book and read it. You will find out what happens to Bernie, Tom, Kathleen, and Seamus. Oh, you will also meet some great secondary characters that I wish were more developed.

What I liked about What Matters Most:

1. Beautifully written, I feel the hopelessness of Tom, the despair Seamus has at the possibility of not seeing Kathleen again.

2. The conflicting emotions that Bernie has between her calling to God and Tom, her one true love, makes her relatable, but at the same time, unlikeable, if that is possible to dislike a nun.

3. I can visualize Ireland through the eyes of the characters and appreciate their love for their country.

4. Reminds me that we are all flawed in some way.  We make decisions everyday we believe are right at the time that affect those we work with and those we love. The hope is that we learn from those mistakes and retain them as life lessons for future reference.

What I found lacking:

1. The character development of both Kathleen and Seamus. I know they have this special bond, but what are their personalities like? What do they like to do? Read, play sports, swim, etc…?

2. The story line with the Mother Superior at the orphanage also needs to be more developed. The author reveals a little bit why the Mother Superior is so bitter towards Bernie and consequently making decisions that ultimately changed the paths of Bernie, Tom, Seamus, and Kathleen.

3. I do not know much about the Catholic faith, so a little more explanation about why Bernie suddenly gave up a child she loves desperately would make me understand her decision more. Is the calling something that supersedes everything in life? Is it the job of the Mother Superior to help make the decision for those who have such visions?

4. The ending to me was abrupt, as if the author just wanted to finish the story and felt like that was a good spot to end the saga. I felt like the story between Bernie and Tom was not finished. I can’t say much more without revealing the ending, but somehow what happened was unbelievable to me.  No warning signs and boom, it happens.

5. Kathleen’s reappearance in the book did nothing for me.  So she is the lost love of Seamus, so what? The author did not make me care about Kathleen and Seamus’s love story. Maybe it is because they were 13 when separated and really did not have time to develop their young love into something more. Is it believable that young love this young can survive that long and be even stronger after a decade? I guess I am a skeptic.

In summary, the last forty pages plummeted me into a feeling so melancholy I had this urge to curl up in my bed, get underneath my white down comforter and cry. I could feel Tom’s pain, his love so evident in everything he has done for Bernie, what he has given up to be with her: his wealth, their son, and a chance to have a family. Tom is the character I most identified with, I wanted so much for him. My soul aches for him.

My first official 5K Run: Biggest Loser Run/Walk

Yesterday was the day! I ran my first official 5K on Sunday, October 20 at 9 a.m., and I did amazingly well in spite of the cold weather. Yes, there were clouds, cold temperature (in the low 40’s), and rain. I am very grateful there was very little wind blowing, otherwise my result would have been affected greatly.

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I have been training since the end of June for this event. With the dropping temperatures, I was afraid I would not be able to run nonstop, which has always been my goal. Saturday evening, I spent some time perusing the Internet looking for tips on running a successful 5K. I tend to run faster in the beginning, then slow down towards the end because I have used up most of my energy.  There were some wonderful tips that I saw, but the one that kept coming up repeatedly was to start slow, then increase your pace. This reminds me of the idiom:

Slow and steady wins the race

Then there is the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare. I like to think that similar to the tortoise, I remained determined to reach my goal. I may not have won the race like the tortoise did, but I ran it nonstop and broke my personal bests in both time and distance. The best part, I enjoyed running the race. I consider myself a winner in those aspects.

On race day, I calmed my nerves and vowed to start as slow as I could without actually walking. Surprisingly, I was able to pace myself and run faster with each mile that I surpassed. Crossing that finish line was one of the best feelings I have had for a long time. It is a milestone for me, and also one more item to cross off my bucket list. This is only the beginning for me. 2014, bring it on!

Here are a few pictures from the event!  The first picture is with my good friend and  training partner, Youhang. She placed fifth in her age group! I was 19th in my age bracket (40-44).

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 Group picture with other friends who ran the race.

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Picture with one of my best friends, Michelle.

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And another one of my best friends, Dee Dee.

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Finally, here is my medal for completing the race!

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Are we victims of fate or do we shape our own lives?

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Last evening, I watched Betrayal, a new television series on ABC. Towards the end, the female lead asked her friend, who is also her boss, “How do you know if you are living the life you are supposed to live, or the one that just  happened to you?”

Her friend confidently responded, “I do not believe we are victims of fate, we shape our own lives.”

After listening to their conversation, I contemplated the path my life has taken and wondered what would have happened if my father had not decided to move to Wisconsin. The man I married is the boy I first dated when we moved here. We married very young and thus, had to grow up very quickly when we became parents while still in high school.

I have to admit that I use the terms fate and destiny interchangeably, but I had this desire to know more about the differences between fate and destiny. Through my short research I was unable to find any scholarly articles to reference, so excuse the lack of professional sources and concrete examples.

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Fate is simply events that happen beyond a person’s control, events that have been predetermined and will happen despite what you do.  In Greek mythology, there were three goddesses called the Fates (or Moirai) who determined the course of the life of a person through the thread that is spun at birth.  Clotho represented birth and decided when someone would be born.  She selected and spun the thread to give life. Lachesis was the drawer of lots  and decided how long a person’s life would be by measuring the thread.  Atropos  represented death; she choose when and how a person dies  by cutting the thread with her scissors.  (source: http://www.mythography.com/myth/welcome-to-mythography/greek-gods/spirits-1/fates/)

The assumption that I make of fate then  is that no matter if I had moved to Wisconsin or not, I would have met my husband another time, another place. How long we are together in life has already been determined by a greater power.  This sounds like we are destined to meet each other, not matter what.

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By definition, destiny is the “events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future” (source: Oxford dictionary). Unlike fate, a person can shape (or control) his or her destiny by the choices he or she makes. This is called free will, the ability to make your own decisions no matter what destiny has in store for you.
So in other words, I may have been fated to meet my husband, but whether or not I chose to be with him determines my destiny (i.e. four children, current hometown). My decision to be with him and ultimately marry him became my destiny. I often think about my sister who died in a fire when she was a teenager. If she had different friends, lived in a different city, would she still have died, and in a fire? Fate says yes to both, as her lifespan would have been predetermined. Would her destiny have changed if she made better choices in friends and activities?  Her death is the result of the choices she made, but would the manner of her death be different?
To answer the question: are we victims of fate or do we shape our own lives?
 I am not sure what I believe at the moment. I do believe that there are certain things that a higher power already has in store for each of us. No matter what fate has decided, we can still change the events (i.e. going to college, getting married, who we get married to) during the lifetime allotted to us. To some degree, I believe in fate, that when it is my time to die, I will die no matter where I am. I also believe that I would still have met my husband, but at a different time in our lives, perhaps as adults and not as pre-teens.
What do you believe in? I would love more information on this topic if anyone has some to share.

Appreciating my heritage

acceptance by ee cummings

Growing up in the eighties as a young, Hmong girl was not easy for myself, or my parents. I was only six years old when my family immigrated to the United States. After the Vietnam War ended, we became the hunted and were forced to flee Laos. My family went from being self sufficient agriculturalists to becoming refugees.  We lived in a Thailand refugee camp for several years before being sponsored by an American church. I was too young to remember much of my early years in Thailand and Laos, unlike my parents and older siblings who saw the poverty and harshness of our living conditions.

What I do remember, and know, is my life here in the states. I learned English mainly through full immersion into the school system and acquired American customs through my peers at school. I dressed like them, spoke them, and had mannerisms like them.  English became my first language as I continued to make my way through the school system. I did not like wearing the cumbersome Hmong traditional outfits that my mother wanted us girls to wear at the annual Hmong New Years celebration. Instead, I went dressed as an every day American teenager (leggings and oversized sweaters in the 80’s).

During my teen years, I decided to become even more Americanized and gave myself English names. I was Samantha, Paige, Vivienne to my closest friends. That time in my life, I believed that fitting in meant changing as much about myself as I could. In my twenties, when I entered the workforce, I hated my name even more. My Hmong name is Xee (pronounced “see”). I legally changed my name to Elizabeth when I was in my mid-twenties. What I realize now is that I can change my name, speak English, wear American clothes, but the fact is, I  am still a brown faced, black haired  Hmong girl.

Last weekend, my husband and I went to the Hmong flea market in the twin cities. For some reason, I found myself yearning to have a Hmong traditional outfit. I had already started my daughter’s hope chest and filled it with traditional clothing she would receive upon her wedding. I am embarrassed to say, my personal collection is dismal. I have the outfit my mother gave me when I got married, but have not added to it. When I saw the outfit below, I just had to have it. I do not like the new outfits that look more Hmong-Chinese, but the more authentic looking traditional pieces. What I love is that these are still hand-stitched and not a pressed pattern. Thanks to my dad, I was able to purchase this outfit for myself. There is this sense of pride I have now when I wear this, even just for pictures. I know that this traditional costume will be passed down to my daughter and granddaughter, and so forth. I want to keep the Hmong culture alive, through these stitches made by women who are the heart and soul of the Hmong people.

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Below, I safety pinned the sash because there are no fasteners, but that will be my project in the next few weeks. Others like to deck out in money bags and beads/coins on their sash, but I like to wear this outfit just as is, no fuss. I like the simplicity of the red sash uncluttered.

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I  believe that I am accepting my heritage and appreciate it even more with age. This does not mean I now only eat Hmong foods, wear the traditional outfit to the Hmong New Year, and become a more subservient wife (not in this lifetime), but I know I cannot change who I am simply to “fit in” with my peers in my personal or work life. I like the little things that used to drive me crazy. I embrace both my Hmong heritage and the way of life in the United States. I do not need to choose one over the other, I just need to accept who I am.

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