Seattle weather has been quite precarious as of late, so to get a rainless Saturday morning for the Davis family photo shoot was reason enough to throw some leaves in the air and shout for joy! With our layers on and crunching leaves beneath our feet, fall was most definitely in the air as we romped around Discovery Park. I've known the Davis family since we first moved to Seattle in 2013 and they are seriously a riot. I loved getting to capture their personalities and the beauty that is their family.
It doesn't get much better than Pike Place Market when it comes to quintessential Seattle photos. The Larsens wanted to capture their experience of raising a family in the city, amidst the hustle and bustle of Seattle. I loved this shoot! Instead of a typically serene nature backdrop with no one in sight, I had the challenge of capturing the essence of their family with people and distractions everywhere. The shoot itself was so authentic and true to the reality of city living. Seattle has so many fun things to offer families, yet we have to learn how to keep each other close and connected in the midst of all the amusements.
Flowers, pigs and sea food, oh my!
A walk down Post Alley
Public Market Center
The Gum Wall
Bubble Gum Contest Anyone?
I met Abby for the first time at our photo shoot, but I knew she had a special story to tell. She had a light in her eyes and a confidence in her demeanor that spoke for her. I wasn't surprised to learn that Abby and her family converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after her mother passed away. She is now valiantly going forth to serve and teach others the gospel that changed her life. She has been called to serve for the next 18 months in the Salt Lake City West Mission in Utah. In the past as a runner, Abby ran races for her mother. As a missionary, she will now serve in honor of her mother's memory and keep her name with her wherever she goes.
Meet Sister Martinez
Utah Salt Lake City West Mission
Called to Serve
Full of light
The Beehive State
His word was in my heart
Treasure up the words of life
The day of the Fiorito family's photo shoot started with torrential downpours. This was not your typical Seattle drizzle, but rain coming down at a slant and crazy wind. Leyla (the mom) and I kept texting back and forth trying to decide if we should reschedule or wait and see what happens. Just an hour before the shoot we decided to go for it. Fortunately, the weather turned in our favor and for about an hour, we had rain free, beautiful skies and dry, happy faces to capture on camera. The stormy clouds created a dramatic backdrop and even skin tones, without ruining anyone's hair or outfits. It was truly the perfect storm.
All together Now
Hooray for Fall!
Liesl has a smile that can light up the world. Her optimism and generous spirit are contagious and people can't help but gravitate to her goodness. I first met Liesl when she was a student of mine in an early morning seminary class at our church. Even at 6AM, she could whip out her smile and questions and keep me on my toes. She will be leaving very soon to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Arequipa, Peru for 18 months, and will continue to share her smile and much more with the good people of that place. It was an honor to capture her energy and eagerness just before embarking on such an incredible adventure of service and love.
O ye that embark
Called to serve
A marvelous work
In his strength I can do all things
Then shall your light break forth
With all your heart
That your joy might be full
My baby is no longer a baby. There is a sense of bitter sweetness in the air and I'm feeling all sorts of nostalgic today. One year ago, Jonah joined our family and filled our hearts with the first real joy we'd felt in a long while. He healed many wounds with his sweet presence and filled in the holes left from past losses. He made life worth living again.
I wanted to celebrate his first birthday, but since he would most likely not remember any of it, I decided to do something different. I still had a party (let's be honest, that part was mostly for me) but I also put together a time capsule for him. I requested letters and pictures from family during his first year of life and plan to give it to him when he turns 18. However, I have to include one of the entries here because it is just so dear and precious to me. My mother wrote Jonah a poem and it sits perfectly with how I feel about the past year.
You came as a gift from heaven above.
God’s way to show us His infinite love.
With tragedy plenty the few years before,
It seemed life had nothing but sadness in store.
Then in the midst of unspeakable pain,
Came a sweet little baby, our love you would gain.
With tiny little hands and feet,
And a head full hair, you were very complete.
You were calm and sweet and so cuddly to hold,
Life seemed a bit better--not feeling so cold.
When we looked in your eyes with your sweet little face,
We could sense you had left a very choice place.
You seemed to tell us through your spirit so pure,
That with our Savior’s love we could surely endure.
As the months passed along through your very first year,
It was easy to see you were so very dear.
Your happy smiles were always there and snuggles took away our cares.
To watch you grow and laugh and play, has brought such joy to every day.
We are so grateful for the gift of life, that brings hope back in times of strife.
Our Father’s plan is so complete, It allows for death, yet also to meet…
New little one’s to love and adore, who win our hearts forever more.
I love you Jonah, you helped save my joy.
Happy 1st Birthday, Grandma Bird
Happy birthday my little man! Your sense of adventure and love of the outdoors comes from me. Your calm and joyful outlook on life comes from your father. You are the perfect blend of the two of us with your own flare for life, people and places. One day I will break down and cut off your soft curls, but today is not that day. I apologize in advance.
A Chinese proverb states that a boy with a wide smile has all four corners of the world open to him. Yours is the widest smile I've ever seen and it ignites my heart and my joy. May the world always be open to you and your smile never narrow.
My little explorer
My little heart throb
My little curious george
My little prince
My little drummer boy
My little builder
Today marks the one year anniversary of my dear Dadio passing away. In many ways, his death is still fresh to me. In other ways, I find I'm coping with it pretty well. This is the story of loss and grief: up and down, just fine and then totally not fine, happily reminiscing and then bawling my eyes out. Everyone mourns differently. I know there are identifiable patterns and processes of grief, but to be completely honest, they don't mean much to me when I'm going through it. My experience is mine. And mine alone. Someone else's experience of even the same loss is their experience. And their's alone.
After my dad passed away, I felt like I was thrown into the jaws of an intense acceleration program on mourning and loss. My youngest sister passed away two months after his death. I also had several friends experience very terrible losses and I started to think, what in the WORLD is going on with MY WORLD? What struck me the most was even though I had experienced great loss, I still didn't know how to best support and mourn with those who were also mourning. I just wasn't good at it.
I've spent a lot of time reflecting on this and have recently benefited from professional grief counseling that has helped me to sort out my thoughts on this topic. Navigating the waters of my own grief and the grief of others is tricky business. I still don't have all the answers, but I have found a few things that have struck gold with my mourning heart. If anything, I hope my thoughts are helpful to anyone else who is drifting down grief river and trying their best to stay afloat.
Good for you, not for me
I recently read Amy Poehler's book, Yes, Please and this was one of my favorite take aways from it. As I mentioned earlier, everyone mourns differently. What works for me in working through my grief may not work for someone else and that is perfectly fine. In fact, it's a good thing. In my own experience, the key has been finding what works for me personally. Sometimes it takes some experimenting and making mistakes. I've read several books on grief and tried a few of their suggestions. Some of them worked better than others. With some of the suggestions, I had to tell myself, good for them, not for me. Many of my thoughts on grief will be the same way. Some might think, good for you, Nicole, but not for me. And that's ok.
Being aware of what grief looks like
Some people handle grief really well and that's awesome. For me and many others, grief doesn't look so pretty. This can be hard to admit in a world where we encourage and admire people who “handle things well.” Sometimes grief comes out in the form of anger, mistrust of self and others, forgetfulness, indecisiveness or lack of control. Before I was aware of the many side effects of grief, I spent a lot of time beating myself up (emotionally) and experienced a lot of invalid guilt that was completely unproductive to my personal healing.
I've found that being aware of what grief can look like has been incredibly helpful for me and my husband in being preventative and seeking out tools to help me if things start to not look so pretty. The awareness alone calms my soul and helps me trace my not so well-handled moment back to my grief. I wear a black bracelet that says “grieving” on it to help me trace it back to something tangible. I became aware of grief side effects through reading, grief counseling and talking with others who have also experienced profound losses.
The danger of comparing losses
I experienced two very close family members passing one right after the other. They were both very profound losses. Less than a year before these losses, I experienced a miscarriage during my first pregnancy. I found myself comparing my losses to each other and experienced other people comparing my losses to their own. I have learned that even though we (including myself) tend to quantify and compare loss, it is extremely counterproductive. The only thing it does is invalidate people's feelings.
Every loss is a loss. Whether it's a divorce, a job, a child, a spouse, a sibling, a friend, a miscarriage or a pet, it is still a loss. Telling myself that someone else's loss is worse or mine is harder doesn't get me anywhere. There's really no way to determine whose loss is worse anyway, because we never fully understand what exactly each circumstance entails. For example, losing someone after a long struggle vs. an unexpected loss. They both have their challenges. Two people can both lose a loved one, but they can have entirely different support systems and financial situations that make their experience unique. There's really just no point in comparing. I like to focus on validating people's feelings, no matter what loss they've experienced.
When it rains, it pours
I've noticed that people who experience loss tend to have a lot of other struggles going on as well. The truth is, people who suffer loss suffer a lot of other things, too, because of the loss. As I mentioned earlier, there are many side effects of grief. Some people turn clumsy. Others experience marital strife because of misunderstanding of grief side effects, financial stress or depression. I look at my mother who suddenly turned into a full-time working woman because she had to take on the family businesses when my father died. Personally, I was really struggling with work and deadlines. I couldn't remember if I had done something or not and had a hard time focusing. For a long while, I felt like I was incompetent and a failure. Again, tracing back many of these struggles to grief can be extremely therapeutic and emotionally healthy. I realized I needed to scale back and simplify my life so I could address and make room for these additional struggles related to my grief. Sometimes I had to figuratively pull out the umbrella and wait for the storm to pass.
The Book of Job
A few months after the passing of my dad and sister, my husband Alex and I decided to do an intense study of the Book of Job in the Bible. I just felt like I needed to delve deeper into the whole loss/despair/not-cursing-God-thing because, well, let's just say I wasn't handling it as well as Job did. I learned a lot from that study, but surprisingly, the most powerful lesson I learned from that book of scripture was what not to say to people who are suffering loss.
We tend to quote the first and last few chapters of Job, but skim the middle section (or skip it entirely). After reading the book from start to finish, I realized there are approximately 40 chapters of Job's friends saying all the wrong things to him and making him suffer even more than he already was. For example, they speculated that his losses were consequences of his sins and that he needed to repent. This was very enlightening to me. It reminded me of an article I read a while ago about how not to say the wrong thing to people who are going through something hard. You can read it here. Basically, it made me very aware of what comes out of my mouth when I'm trying to be supportive of others who are suffering. It's also made me really appreciate those people who have said all the right things to me in my suffering. Those people are awesome.
Since I'm on this topic, I thought it might be helpful to be more specific about what to say and do because most people just don't know what to say. To me, less is more. When hard things happen, there usually aren't words to convey the depths of the sorrow. So say less. I loved the people who just gave me a long, sincere hug or just looked into my eyes and connected with my breaking heart. I knew they knew. They would say very little, like, "There are no words for all of this" or "It's too much, just too much" or "You know I love you so much, right?" The other people I loved didn't say anything. They wrote cards, dropped off flowers and food or saw a need and acted on it. I knew they knew.
Especially in the thick of it all, the last thing I wanted to hear was, "At least we know that families are forever" or "I bet your dad is so happy up in heaven right now." They seemed to say, "Cheer up, you'll see your dad again, so it's ok! He's not suffering anymore, so that should make you happy!" Even though I knew that's not what they were saying, that's how I felt. Those things were kindly meant and probably even true, but they didn't help me in my immediate sorrow. Couldn't they see that I was left behind and I was suffering? Who cares about heaven when I'm not there yet! Yes, it gives me hope for the future, but I'm living in the present. And my present is hard to face.
We're all in this together
A friend of mine recently passed away and this quote was from one of her art projects. I like it because it reminds me that all of us are struggling. All of us are trying to help each other and we're not perfect at it. I've learned that even though people may say things to me that come off as trite, they have the best of intentions and never mean to say something that makes my suffering or grieving even harder. I'm 100% positive that before I experienced my own losses and learned more about what not to say and do, I probably said something trite or not very helpful to someone suffering a loss. It's tricky business, so we all need to be more merciful with one another. When everyone is mourning together and struggling with various depths of grief, we can all benefit from quick forgiveness.
A helpful analogy
Many of the books I've read compare profound loss to having an amputation. It sounds a little intense at first, but I've found it to be fitting for helping people understand what it's like. Losing a limb is physically painful and jarring. It causes many limitations and frustrations. Though the pain may fade over time, the lack of limb is always there as a reminder of what happened. Physical pain can still shoot through the body from time to time.
When you first lose someone, it can be extremely painful and jarring. You learn to live with the pain day after day, week after week because you have to. People around you move on, but when they see you, the first thing they think about is the loss. It seems to be the only topic of conversation. It can get awkward after a while because you're tired of always talking about it, but it's also a major part of your life. Over time, which varies in length depending on the individual, the pain wears off slightly and you learn to function despite your limitations. But the loss is always in the back of your mind. The pain may be less, but the emptiness or lack of that person in your life is ever present. Emotional pain and overwhelming emotions still occur from time to time.
Though not for everyone, it's a good idea to be open to grief counseling. I didn't think I needed it at first. I also just plain didn't have time for it. I was sick and pregnant and then had a newborn baby to take care of while juggling work and a hectic schedule of responsibilities. I read books and tried to manage my grief on my own, but it got to a point where I knew I needed more help. The things I was doing on my own just weren't enough and I was floundering. It was humbling and hard for me to go, but I've never been more grateful I did.
My life was so crazy that I literally had to schedule an appointment to take time to grieve and work through everything that happened. My appointments are sacred time to me. They are times to reflect, work through and focus on my grief. It's actually really exhausting, but always therapeutic and beneficial in the long run. I know there are many ways to work through grief, but counseling works really well for those who can't or just don't have time to do it on their own.
At about the six month mark, I found myself having a really difficult time. I felt like most people around me had moved on and forgotten about my loss. This is normal and let's be honest, it's not like I wanted to talk about it all the time either. But I also felt like my father and sister had disappeared from my life and I didn't have anything solid in place to keep them alive in my memory. In January, my sister, mother and I came together for a retreat. We reflected on many of the things we loved about my dad and sister and all the things we used to do with them. So we decided that if there was any time we were sad about something we used to do with them, we would do it anyway in honor of them. Here are a few things I've done in honor of my dadio:
- My dad loved waking my family up early in the morning with Rocky soundtrack music blaring through the house. I decided I need to put the main theme song on my phone as an alarm.
- He had some funny things he used to always say. I decided to improve my calligraphy hobby and make some signs of these sayings to give to my mom and put up in my home where I could see them everyday.
- Every year on the first day of spring, my family would wake up early and drive to a lookout that had a beautiful view of the Wenatchee Valley. We'd eat breakfast and watch the sunrise. My mom recently decided to do this in honor of dad's one year passing away mark, since it's close to the first day of spring.
- Every summer when I was in college, my dad would take me on a fun motorbiking/hiking/camping trip in the Cascade mountains. I've decided to take my family camping there every summer.
- He loved to garden, grow raspberries and make fresh apple cider from his own homemade press. My family had many seasonal traditions that involved the garden and fruit, so I want to keep these traditions alive as well.
There are many things that I looked forward to doing with my dad that I won't get to do. He always talked about helping me build a home for my family, making wooden toys for my children and traveling. Sometimes it's not only important to grieve in reflection of the past, but to grieve for those things lost in the future. My husband Alex has decided he wants to learn woodworking so he can make toys and things with our children that my dad would have made. I definitely don't think I'm capable of building my own house, but every inch of it will be built in his honor and as sturdy and precise as he would have wanted it to be.
Resources that have been helpful for me:
Some of my most therapeutic/healing moments have happened while reading books or scriptures about loss and grief. Below is a list of the resources I've read and studied that have been most helpful to me.
There are so many baby products out there. It's really annoying and awesome at the same time. So many cool inventions, yet way too many options. I have literally spent hours researching, reading reviews and trying to weigh the pros and cons of each one before I bite the bullet and hit BUY. Even after all the work, I still buy products that I don't end up liking in the end. So, what's the point?!
The truth of the matter is, sometimes you just have to learn by trial and error the first time around. Every baby, mom and circumstance out there is different and a product that works for someone else might not work as well for me. I've found that I have to be willing to do my homework, but I also need to be willing to experiment, make mistakes and find out what works best for me and my family.
In my quest for the best baby products, I try to look for things that follow the trifecta of baby product awesomeness (in my perspective). In order to find products that I will LOVE, it comes down to what I value and using that as my filter to narrow down the options. Here's what matters to me:
- Functional: It solves a recurring need/problem well
- Scalable: It can grow with my child or be used for a later child
- Beautiful: It has an element of design and doesn't add to the clutter
***Paul Graham wrote on article called Stuff that really drives home a lot of these values as well.
I try not to go out and buy products before I need them. Alex and I will usually discuss what Jonah will be needing in the coming month and then once we start to see that there's a gap in tools to handle those needs, I'll do some research and see what's out there. I'm much more willing to spend money on something that is a recurring need. If I find that I'm struggling with something over and over again, then it's a pain point worth investing in with some good products.
When I say it needs to solve the problem well, I mean it. If it kinda sort of works, then it's always going to be frustrating each time you use it.
- NOT functional: Standard cloth bibs for catching spit up and drool. The drool and spit up usually drips down and off the bib onto him or me. In approximately five minutes they are soaking wet, never get dry again and give him a neck/chest rash.
- VERY functional: I found Milk Barn burp cloths that are made of a light fabric in a square shape. I fold them in half and use them as a bib/handkerchief around his neck. I swap them out every few hours and lay them out to dry while he's napping to reuse them later. They wash up and dry so fast without me going through 10 per day and they actually catch the spit up!
I can't stand products that only have a one-time use case. If the product can expand, adjust and grow with my child, then it's worth the money because I'll get so much more use out of it. It's also worth taking up my valuable storage space in my small apartment if I know it will survive the first child and be reusable for the next one (whenever that happens). A lot of products claim to be "scalable" but are actually more of a hassle than a help.
- NOT Scalable: We bought a Graco Pack 'N Play Smart Station instead of a crib for Jonah. I thought I was buying something that would grow with him and save space. I was wrong. It lasted a whole four months. At that point, we had to turn him diagonally to fit in the bassinet. I didn't want to transition him out of the bassinet because once I did, I realized I had to take off all the convenient all-in-one features and I would have just a really uncomfortable Pack 'N Play for my baby to sleep in with a closet full of the extras (changing station, storage pockets & bassinet) that could no longer be used. So. Painful. We eventually made the transition, got rid of the Pack 'N Play all together and bought the Babyletto Mercer 3-in-1 crib off of Craigslist for $150. Should have done that in the beginning. It adjusts from infant to toddler quite easily. Done and done.
- VERY Scalable: About a month into motherhood, my arms were ready to fall off from holding Jonah all the time. I did NOT want to buy a baby chair or swing. It seemed like a first-world-problem thing. Not to mention, all the swings I saw were for infants, not very nice-looking and had terrible reviews about motors dying all the time. When I found the Nuna Leaf Curve, I was so excited! It holds up to 130 lbs, which means it is designed to hold an infant up to a toddler at least. No batteries. No motors. And scalable. Love at first sight.
Baby stuff can take over your life. And your home. And your sanity. Yes, it's going to be messy. Yes, things are going to get cluttered. So my motto is minimize the mess as much as possible. I do this by buying as few things as possible. And the things I do need to buy should be as beautiful as they possibly can be. This is not beauty for the sake of beauty. This is beauty for the sake of peace and sanity.
I can say most of this because I don't have a child requesting Lightning McQueen toys yet. When that day comes, I will ask him if he'd like a red wooden car that looks just like it instead. If that doesn't work, then I have no idea. We'll get there when we get there. I guess the point is, if you can control the design and quality of the product, take advantage of that control while you can.
- NOT Beautiful: Most baby bath tubs are hideous, huge and clunky. They take up so much space and if you can't hide it in a closet, they're a guaranteed eye sore.
- VERY Beautiful: The Boon Naked Tub was the first baby product I researched that caught my eye visually. It's simple, sleek and well, beautiful...for a bathtub. Then it caught my eye design-wise. It folds FLAT and hangs on my bathroom door by a hook. YES and YES! Not to mention, it dries super fast all on its own. It also falls into the scalable category because it collapses to a bigger size when your baby starts to sit up on his own. Boon for the win!
In honor of my dear friend and former coworker, Susan O’Malley, I’ve been pouring through my sweet memories with her at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. My heart was crushed to its core when I learned of her recent passing along with her soon-to-be-born twin baby girls. Like some of the Behind the Sceenz footage in the video above, I find myself wishing I had the ability to rewind time and go back to the beautiful days when Susan was alive and thriving. As I'm quite powerless to do so and unable to attend any of the services and celebrations of her life, the only thing I can think to do is share her wisdom, art and legacy with others through the lens of my own experience.
Having endured many of my own personal losses in the past year, I believe that there are moments in time that call for silence. There are times that call for no words to be spoken because no words can convey the well of grief formed by a person's absence.
If any tragedy warrants a moment of silence, surely this is one of them. Susan was one of the most brilliant, authentic, impassioned and altruistic individuals I have ever had the privilege to know. Her art was powerfully positive in the most genuine way and she postered the world with goodness and humor on a large scale. I have no doubt she had even bigger plans for motherhood.
The funny thing is, I have a hard time thinking Susan would have wanted a moment of silence in her honor. I think in her own brilliant way, she knew we would have a hard time wrapping our tongues around this terrible loss, so she carefully prepared beforehand all the right words for us through her art projects.
She believed words had the ability to inspire, empower and reflect our collective inner wisdom. I find it incredibly ironic that I’m turning to her own Community Advice project for comfort, strength and reassurance. It’s simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. But in her own words, she hoped “that these community-authored public service announcements will reflect back—even if momentarily—our inner brilliance and perhaps allow a brief space to gently listen to our own advice.”
All I can say is what an incredibly selfless legacy she has left behind for us. To honor her is to hearken to her messages of hope, humor and love. Even in this moment of sorrow. For you Susan, I will try to “Keep Moving—Keep Playing—Keep Dreaming.” For you, I will “Take more chances—Make more friends” and try to remember that “We are all in this together."
Susan’s last words of personal correspondence to me were through email. She reached out to me immediately when she heard of the sudden loss of my 22-year-old sister who died due to complications with a brain tumor. She wrote, "I hope you find solace in the memories that will remind you of her spirit everyday. Know you and your family are in my thoughts and I will light a candle for you tonight.”
I am now using her own advice to cope with her death as I find solace in the memories that remind me of Susan’s spirit. I think of her smile each time she walked through the ICA doors in all of her biking gear. I think of how Potrero Hill became my first newlywed home in San Francisco because of her recommendation and encouragement. I think of her unabashed dancing skills that could always make me laugh. I think of her noticing that I was struggling at work because of the recent cancer diagnosis of my father and taking time to talk with me about it. She recognized the opportunity for kindness and kinship found in the small and meaningful moments between people. What a glorious soul! What a glorious person she was and continues to be for each and every one of us!
Susan, I’ve been writing this tribute by the light of a candle lit in your honor. Your family and loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers. I’m having a hard time believing that “You are exactly where you need to be,” but for now, there is nothing more to do but take “One day at a time.”
One of the things I love about being part of a Chinese family is that I have this great excuse to wait until the Chinese New Year to send out our family newsletter. And since the holiday is based on the lunar calendar, it changes every year and no one really knows if I'm late, early or right on time. It's fabulous. I also get to work on it after the holiday craziness has simmered down. So, without further ado, I give you the Cheung family 2014 year in review:
We've had a lot of good things happen in the past year. Despite the rough times, we've had some very cherished and memorable moments to keep us going. I'm so grateful because without them I may not have made it through. Here's what's been keeping our hearts pumping and our legs moving this year:
- MARRIAGE #1: My brother Mitchell was married in January and I'm proud to say that I was there in attendance. Alex convinced me to go even though I was deathly ill. I may have puked all the way there and all the way back, but I was there! Mitch and Maddie are the cutest together and I'm glad Alex convinced me to go.
- SEMINARY: Alex continued to volunteer teach our early morning church seminary class without me through the end of the school year. He was such a champ and he loved our students. We miss them.
- BABIES: My sister-in-law Tiffany had her fourth, Eleanor; my sister Natalie had her third, Asher; and my sister-in-law Beth had her first, Ethan. Babies all around!
- WORK TRIPS: Alex traveled several times this year to meet with and interview clients for their life stories. Despite all the hardships in our family and his numerous responsibilities, he has continued to work so hard and keep Antho going. I've helped when I could, but he is the fire in the engine that keeps things moving forward.
- WE MOVED: Not very far, mind you, but I'm so glad we did. We now have a lovely view of the Space Needle and downtown Seattle and Jonah has his own room. Come for a visit!
- JOINING WEWORK: Moving was also in part because we got our first office space at WeWork and we wanted to live close enough to walk to work. We LOVE WeWork. Great co-working space, great networking, great people. Alex thrives in that environment and I love how happy he is after a productive day's work.
- MARRIAGE #2: My other not-so-little brother Mike was married in August. I'm also proud to say that we were there to support them. Luckily, Jonah was born a week early, which made our attendance even possible. His wife, Angel, truly lives up to her name in every aspect.
- UTAH FOR THANKSGIVING: Last minute planning landed us in Utah for Thanksgiving surrounded by friends and family. We needed it. We had so much to be grateful for and it was therapeutic to visit Michelle's grave.
- CALIFORNIA CHRISTMAS: It was a joy to be surrounded by family and visit so many friends over the holidays. We particularly enjoyed the sunny weather and stay at Pismo Beach.
*Click photos for larger images.
It's also important to note the sad things that have happened this year. I'm not going to sweep them under the rug or skim over them. They were real. They were painful. They were a huge part of our life.
HYPER-WHAT?: This time last year, I was deathly ill (hence, the reason why you didn't get a newsletter from us). I was pretty much in bed all day long due to something called "Hyperemesis Gravidarum." Yes, it's as awful as it sounds. I was lucky enough to be in that 1-2% of pregnant women who get "severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss and electrolyte disturbance." Basically, I dried up like a skeleton, had to receive multiple IV's and got to eat yogurt and ice cream for months. Alex was my caretaker and champion, even though I couldn't stand the smell of him (due to hormones) and was completely helpless most of the time.
THE LOSS OF MY DADIO: After a two year battle with a rare form of liver cancer, my father passed away on March 27, 2014. I am still learning what it means to grieve his loss and how to function without a father. I don't recommend it and now have great empathy for the fatherless everywhere. He continues to inspire my life and help me in ways only possible as an angel father. I'm grateful for that, but I'd still rather have him here in the flesh.
BLOOD CLOT: If my hyperemesis wasn't enough, I decided to add a nice life-threatening blood clot to the mix. I landed in the ER while visiting LA in April. I was then required to take two injections a day for blood thinners for the entirety of my pregnancy and for all future pregnancies. The bruises, pain and fear of needles were all softened by my loving husband, who faithfully administered each one for me because I just couldn't do it myself. Gotta love that man.
THE LOSS OF MY SISTER MICHELLE: With the pain still fresh from my father's loss, we suddenly said goodbye to my sister on June 4, 2014 due to complications with a brain tumor. Sometimes I feel like she is still here and just a phone call away. The shock of her death is still reverberating in my soul. I don't understand it and I probably won't ever know how or why and that's ok for now.
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In a lot of ways, it seems like this last year felt like we were going through hell. Fortunately, we were given a gift from heaven in the midst of it all. I think this was mostly to remind us that life was still worth living and that God was mindful of us and what we were going through. He knew we really needed a pick-me-up. After my miscarriage last year, I spent most of my second pregnancy worrying that it wouldn't end well yet again and I'd have another loss to add to my miserable year. Luckily, this was not the case and Alex and I were blessed with an extremely healthy, incredibly adorable, although rather large-headed baby boy.
We named him Jonah Randal Cheung. Jonah because, hello, Sleepless in Seattle. Randal because that's my dad's name. And Cheung because, you know, that's our last name. Actually, we really named him Jonah because we found a very large, very cute, stuffed animal whale in a baby store that Alex said I could only buy if his name was Jonah. I still need to go back and buy that whale. Not commonly known is that his name means "dove" and his Chinese name means "great peace." It's perfect. He has brought so much peace and happiness to our family during turbulent times. Every time I see him smile or hear him belly laugh, I remember that even though I'm still grieving the losses of the past year, there is still joy in my life. And even I can be joyful and smile and laugh. Sometimes I really don't feel like it, but I just can't help it when I'm around him.
Jonah is an unusually happy baby. His happiness radiates from every fiber of his being. You know he's happy when he flashes his wide, gummy smile, kicks his legs and waves his arms as if it were a natural reflex of his pure joy. He loves people. He loves adventures, especially going outside whether it's rain or shine. He's extremely observant, focused and calm. This all may change in the next few months as we near the "stranger-danger" period of babyhood, but for now, we are reveling in it. He is so much like his father and lights up with giggles each time he comes home. He's obsessed with staring at his hands intently, moving his fingers back and forth and then pondering the universe, no doubt. It's as if each time he sees them is like seeing them for the first time. Adorable in every way.
His sleeping skills tend to oscillate between amazing/consistent to horrendous/unpredictable, depending on the month. We take credit for the good months and deny any responsibility for the bad ones. He also loves to squeal and make very loud and sometimes inappropriate noises at inopportune times (like motorboat spitting in church during the most reverent and quiet part of the meeting). He rarely cries, but when he does, pull out your ear plugs because velociraptor baby is here. He's impatient for food, adamant when he doesn't like something and usually gets his way when he wants to be snuggled or held. He's only snuggly for so long, so I'm going to squeeze in as many hugs as I can before he turns into a squirmy worm. And yes, he has a very large head. He's been above the 90th percentile at every check up. His height and weight, comparatively, have tapered off since he was born, giving him a very disproportionate baby bobble-head look. We love it.
He recently started eating solid foods, rolling all over the place and I think I can see his first tooth coming through. No signs of horrible teething yet, except his incessant drooling. If that's his way of teething, I'll take it! Basically, we love him and no longer need any other form of entertainment. We could literally just sit and stare at him all day and make annoying googly faces and sounds like I never thought I'd do as a parent. It's the best. You can follow our adventures with Jonah on his very own Instagram account: @jonahcheung. Yes, I'm that mother and wouldn't have it any other way.
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