Monday, August 14, 2017

a look back at 2016.

This is definitely the latest that I've ever written one of these, but I figured I'd rather have the record 7 months late than none at all. So here it is, a look back at 2016... in August 2017:

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
Made the switch to natural skincare, cosmetic, and cleaning products—including deodorant! Went to an ice and snow festival. Won $2000! Used eyebrow products. Took a cooking class, and then another. Curled my hair with a straightener. Traveled on a sleeper train and saw the terracotta warriors. Celebrated our wedding anniversary. Went to a Pride parade and visited Peggy's Cove. Got pregnant.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and will you make any for this year?
I didn't make a resolution for 2016, other than telling T I want to be more intentional. And that's something I'm still working on and probably always will be. I want to be more intentional about how I spend my time, what I eat, what I say, everything really.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Haha I almost said, Me! But then I realized it's 2017 now and I'm writing about 2016. See what happens when you put something off for so long. So the answer is, I don't think anyone close to me gave birth in 2016, but I might be forgetting. Sorry if I am!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thankfully.

5. What countries did you visit?
South Korea! (We were supposed to go to Sri Lanka for Christmas but last year's heart problem + being pregnant meant no traveling. Womp womp.)

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
More chill. I can always use more chill.

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory and why?
October 19 because I found out I was pregnant. October 21 because we saw the little appleseed for the first time and it became real!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
See, I almost said having a baby, but again—we're talking about 2016, not 2017. So let's go with getting pregnant.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Same as the last 3 years: Getting caught up in the little things. Gossip, small arguments turned into small fights, overthinking everything. When will I learn?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
2016 is actually the healthiest I've ever been! Chalk it up to prenatal vitamins?

11. What was the best thing you bought?
At first I couldn't think of anything and then I remembered we paid to upgrade my insurance to cover maternity, just in case. Phew. Yup, best thing we spent our money on.

12. Where did most of your money go?
I can tell you that because I've kept up a budgeting app since 2016! Most of our money was spent on eating out (that includes ordering in). And wow, the amount we spent is sobering. Embarrassing to say, but I hadn't realized it until now. Definitely something we should look at.

13. What did you get really excited about?
Having a baby!

14. What song will always remind you of 2016?
I can't think of any, which makes me a little sad because I love music.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder? Thinner or fatter? Richer or poorer?
Happier because I have a baby, but also, being a mom is hard so...  Fatter because baby. Richer—thank God for insurance.

16. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Same as last year: Enjoying the moment.

17. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Same as last year: Worrying, always. (Guys, I'm sensing a pattern.)

18. How did you spend Christmas?
With T, in our apartment in Beijing. It was cozy and our first time spending Christmas at home, just the two of us.

19. What was your favourite TV program?
I didn't watch a lot of TV this year—I'm behind even on my usual faves—but I fell in love with This Is Us and The Crown. T and I also started watching an oldie but a goodie: Mad About You. (This is what made me think of the name Mabel.)

20. What were your favourite books of the year?
From looking at Goodreads, I know that I read 57 books in 2016 and my faves were To Kill a Mockingbird, The Nightingale, and Secrets of a Charmed Life.

21. What were your favourite films of the year?
I'm sure I watched movies in 2016 and I'm sure some of them were great, but I don't remember them. Let's blame that on the baby, too? Baby brain is a thing, guys! (But also, it's August 2017 now so...)

22. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
Oh man, I was 7 or 8 weeks pregnant, but no one knew and I was so sick and never wanted to eat anything but T forced me to go to dinner with friends anyway, where I barely ate anything and drank ginger ale and left my own birthday dinner early. But I'm glad I went haha. I turned 27.

23. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Less worrying.

24. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?
I do not have a personal fashion concept. And again, almost said maternity clothes, but I didn't need those until 2017. This is why you should fill these things out in January and not August. Ooh, but I just remembered I bought a romper in summer 2016 and loved it!

25. What kept you sane?
Tony, Melissa, my Nan, and surprisingly, social media. Well, some people on social media. I was intentional about that.

26. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
If you're able to, buy insurance. Also, worrying doesn't help anything, so just don't. (I probably still will.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

july book report.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham / I was still thinking about this book days after I finished it. While I was reading it, I had a long conversation with Tony about it—the characters and the events—and I found myself starting to say things like "back then," but would catch myself because the truth is, not much has changed about the way Black people are treated, and this book does a good job illustrating that fact. I'm pretty sure it's meant to be a Young Adult novel, but I'd recommend it to anyone. And if you do have a young adult in your life, share this book with them and then have a conversation about it. Heck, if you don't have a young adult in your life, share this book with someone and have a conversation about it.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware / This was a bit hard for me to get into because it reminded me of The Girl on the Train at the beginning, but I kept reading and got sucked into the story; I had to find out what happened! Not the best mystery/thriller novel I've read, and I had a hard time keeping all of the minor characters straight, but a good story in the end.

Night Road by Kristin Hannah / Not one of my favourite Kristin Hannah novels, but I enjoyed reading it. It made me think back to when I was a senior in high school, the parties I went to, and the parenting choices my mom made. And of course, as a mom now myself, it made me think of the choices Tony and I will have to make as Mabel grows older.

It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort / I loved this book! It surprised me, because I thought it would be mostly about Nora's husband's death and how she dealt with it, and it was, but it was so much more than that. The Goodreads description describes it perfectly: "A love letter to life, in all of its messy glory, and what it’s like to still be kickin', It’s Okay to Laugh is like a long chat with a close friend over a cup of coffee (or chardonnay)." I felt like Nora was giving me a pep talk for life. One of my favourite quotes from the book: "It's harder than it looks, for everyone. If you ask me how I am, I'll tell you reflexively that I'm okay and it's true for the most part. And when you tell me the same thing, I'll know that it's mostly true for you too, because you're working hard to be that way, not because it's easy."

The Leavers by Lisa Ko / I did not love this one and while I did hover between a 2 or 3 star review, I think that's only because I live in China so found some details interesting. Then again, if you don't live in China, you might find it interesting. The whole book felt slow, especially the first half, but the second half was better.

Paper Towns by John Green / Chose this as a lighter read after a couple of heavier reads. It was okay; I think if I was a teenager (the intended audience), I would have liked it more. It's been awhile since I've been in high school (10 years to be exact), but the dialogue and plot felt relatable to high school-me.

What have you read lately?

P.S. More book reports here.

Monday, August 07, 2017

dear mabel / 2 months.

Dear Mabel Xiaoxuan,

That's what I often call you, your first and middle names—something that most moms use when they're angry. I guess when you get older and I get angry with you, I'll have to think of something else. Or I can stick with Mabel Xiaoxuan but it will be more like MABEL XIAOXUAN!

But for now, it's just Mabel Xiaoxuan, real sweet-like because baby girl, you are so sweet. You'll get tired of hearing this, but your Baba and I love you so much and we tell you and each other that all the time.

Girl, you are growing! Oh, how you are growing. Look at those chins! You've gained almost 3lbs since your 1 month checkup! Yay!

After that checkup, you were finally big enough for the Ergo, and your baba loves carrying you around in it. We go for walks whenever the AQI is below 100 (sorry about the air, baby) and that's your usual mode of transportation. You hang on so tight in the beginning but after awhile you relax and fall asleep. It's the cutest thing.

Another thing you're finally big enough for are the velcro swaddles your grandma sent us. You sleep so much better in those little straight jackets! You hate when we put you in it—it takes both me and your baba to wrestle you in—but as soon as it's fastened, you calm right down. And you're sleeping in your crib now! You have been since you were about 5 or 6 weeks old—no more stroller sleeps for you!

I was getting worried (I'm always worried about something) that you weren't making enough eye contact (really, what do I know; your doctor told us last week that can take up to 3 months) or smiling yet. On July 17th I was googling "when do babies smile" for probably the 5th time and then I realized I was being ridiculous. I looked at you laying beside me on the couch and I said, "Mabel, I am done looking things up. You will smile at me when you're ready. You will do everything when you're ready. I'm sorry, babe." And I put my phone down.

Mabel, I am not kidding; 5 minutes later you were staring right at me! And then you smiled! I started to cry (happy tears!) and messaged your baba, "She smiled! Mabel smiled! A real smile! Not gas or sleeping or milk! A REAL SMILE!" You smiled at me again the next day when I said, "Wow! What a big burp!" (Your burps and farts and sneezes sound like an adult's, not even kidding. When your baba's holding you and I hear one of the above, I always ask him which of you it was because I'm never sure.) And then you smiled at me again a few days later when you pooped and I said, "You're a stinky girl!" (Am I embarrassing you again? Sorry.)

Your baba spent the next week doing everything he could think of to get you to smile for him—silly voices, singing, tickling, bouncing, asking you to smile for baba (and I know that this is so not the same, but I can't help but think, here it starts, a lifetime of men telling you to smile). And on our 2nd anniversary, right when your baba and I were in the middle of a fight and he was holding you, he said, "She just smiled. She was looking right at me! She just smiled at me!" And he almost cried, too. We love you so much.

So far I wouldn't say you're a daddy's girl, but you definitely love him. The other night after your bath, he walked into the room and you turned your head and stared right at him the whole time I was putting your diaper on.

And another change is that you don't fall right asleep after I feed you in the evening any more. That was our routine: bath, swaddle, eat, sleep. Now it's: bath, swaddle, eat, baba rocks you, sleep. Most of the time you fall asleep quickly, but not always. You still wake up 1-2 times every night to eat, but instead of staying up for an hour, you're usually only up for 15-30 minutes.

You love baths now. Your baba and I bath you together and you stare at us or look around, so content to be in the water. If you're fussing or crying, you calm down as soon as you hear water running or we put you in the bath. One trick we learned that I think has helped is that we put one wet washcloth over your body to keep you warm while I wash you with another one.

Other things of note:
+ You met your aunt and your cousin—Xiaoxuan, your namesake. They came to visit for a week and held you as much as possible. Xiaoxuan uses her baba's phone all the time to message us asking for photos and to find out what we're doing.
+ Your arm movements are much more controlled now. But you still scratch yourself once in awhile.
+ You got your first diaper rash, and that made us sad, but didn't seem to bother you.
+ When you were 6 weeks old, your baba fed you your first bottle. Now he feeds you at least one a week while I take a break—I take a long bath or go get my nails done. Mabel, it really does make me a better mom for you; when I get back, even though it's only been 3 hours, I swear I love you even more.
+ You've grown out of your newborn clothes and are wearing some of the smaller 0-3 months onesies we have. (And you'll be happy to hear, your baba and I are MUCH better at putting onesies on you! ;)

We love you, Mabel Xiaoxuan.


P.S. Dear Mabel / 1 month.

Monday, July 31, 2017

we moved!

Okay, that sounds more exciting than it really is. We're still in the same apartment building on my school's campus, but we're now in a 2-bedroom on the 8th floor instead of a 1-bedroom on the 6th floor. As happy as we are to have more space, I'll miss our old apartment for a few reasons.

It has better light, a better view, a better bathtub, a (slightly) prettier kitchen counter and window area.

But most of all, it was home for 4 years. That apartment is the one where Tony and I moved in together. It's where we learned a lot about each other and ourselves. And it's where we brought Mabel home. So many memories.

A friend and former boss (hi, Jean!) once told me that you shouldn't always crop the background out of photos because it can provide context and evoke memories years later. I've always remembered that and even though Tony and I have been (and probably will be) in the same apartment building for a long time, I've tagged all the Instagram photos that show our home (or aspects of our home) with #zhangsathome. I love scrolling through those photos sometimes—seeing what's changed and what's stayed the same—and remembering moments from our life, good and bad.

Here are some of the photos and what I remember when I look at them (sorry, a lot of them became blurry when I downloaded them from Instagram):

I remember that Tony is a pro mosquito killer, which is great, because every spring our apartment would have at least one mosquito every night. 

I remember buying that lego calendar for Tony in Hong Kong. I remember that he often works late. 

I remember that it was in this apartment I discovered a love for baths. I remember we got a new bathtub last year (not this one) and we were both pumped it was almost long enough for us to stretch out our legs. 

I remember that Tony was so excited to find this clock by the garbage and to hang it in our apartment. I remember buying that card in Vermont for the sole purpose of framing it. 

I remember buying Jenga for Tony for Christmas and as soon as he opened it, he said, "Let's play!"

I remember getting back from our vacation in Cambodia to find a red button in our bedroom. Of course, Tony pushed it and a LOUD alarm went off. 

I remember having to convince Tony it wasn't weird to have hanging plants inside, that it's a normal thing in Canada. 

I remember getting into the habit of coming home from work, changing into pyjamas, and lying in bed reading until Tony got home from work. 

I remember the first time we hooked up our water filter in the shower; charcoal sprayed everywhere and I ran away leaving Tony to deal. Oops. (I came back to help him clean up.)

I remember how excited I was to buy these dishes at IKEA.

I remember that Tony celebrated Christmas for the first time in this apartment. I remember that this was my first fake Christmas tree

I remember we hosted Thanksgiving and it was so much fun cooking in our toaster ovens and on hot plates (not even being sarcastic). 

I remember how happy Tony was to discover we could have hot pot delivered!

I remember loving our trip to Bali, but realizing I'm just as happy at home with Tony. I remember watching Friends with Tony (he loves Joey; "he's so funny!"). I remember that quilt was a gift from my friend Emily when I graduated from STU and I was so happy the year I finally had room in my suitcase to bring it to Beijing.

I remember having regular FaceTime dates with Cara. I remember putting that sticker on the mirror as a daily reminder.

I remember Tony and I would always go to bed at the same time, even if one us wasn't tired yet. I remember always having a drying rack full of laundry in the bedroom. 

I remember decorating for Christmas. I remember being so happy I had a cart full of tea and mugs. I remember that poster said, "Fortune favours the brave" in Latin. I remember making the decision to keep twinkle lights up all year long because they make me happy.

I remember Tony got me a Wii for my birthday. I remember always beating Tony and Melissa at Mario Kart. 

I remember trying to focus on the positive. I remember always loving the light.

I remember loving white walls. I remember buying that downloadable poster after Tony and I decided to move in together; I loved it because it said "I love you" in English and Mandarin. 

I remember buying our own curtains and finally getting rid of these beige ones. 

I remember Tony bought me that lap desk because I was always working on my blog on the couch. I remember we bought that blanket in Cambodia

I remember having a floor picnic to celebrate being back in our own apartment after it took forever for it to be painted. I remember the bathtub cracked the next week. I remember Tony loved Gung Ho so much he bought a membership. 

I remember going to IKEA on a Friday night right before they closed to buy that coffee table. I remember my Nan made us matching blankets. 

I remember buying Tony Monopoly Deal for his birthday and we played it all the time. I remember we even played it at the hospital when I was in labour with Mabel. 

I remember we could watch the sunset from our apartment. I remember loving the evening light.

I remember being so mindful not to fill our apartment with too much unnecessary baby stuff. I remember bringing Mabel home and she still had jaundice so she had to hang out by the window. 

I remember Tony convinced me we should buy this couch because it had storage space. I remember he wanted it because it pulled out into a sofa bed. 

I remember we didn't have room for a changing table, so we used waterproof pads and changed Mabel's diaper on the couch and bed.

Going through all of these photos made me think, I love our life together.

P.S. This was my apartment when I first moved to Beijing.
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