Monday, January 26, 2009

Year of the Ox

Happy Lunar New Year!

This year is the Year of the Ox. We celebrated the New Year with more fanfare than we typically have in previous years. Right now, my parents are in Taiwan celebrating with our relatives there, so without them, I felt a deeper obligation in making sure the boys felt connected to an important part of their cultural heritage. Without my parents here to guide me, I tried to follow many of the traditions I remembered from growing up in a Taiwanese American household.

Last week, Nico and I went to Asia Plaza to buy some Chinese New Year decorations. We hung the red and gold banners, paper lanterns and ornaments on our front door, our entryway and in our living room. We displayed a bowl of oranges with their stems still attached, along with a red and black Chinese candy box filled with Chinese sweets. Nico was really happy with the results.

Then, Vic and I followed the tradition of cleaning the house from top to bottom. The idea is to sweep all the dust and bad luck from the previous year out the door. We didn't quite get the whole house in order the way we would have liked, but we made good progress. Some parts of the house look great; others - not so much.

On Sunday night, we celebrated with a Lunar New Year's Eve family dinner at Li Wah restaurant in Cleveland's Asia Plaza. I was interested in the special banquet menus the restaurant offered that evening, featuring dishes including:

Assorted Seafood, Bamboo & Shark's Fins Soup
Sauteed Assorted Seafood & House X.O. Sauce
Lobster w/ Ginger & Scallions
Steamed Fish
Chinese Sausage & Diced Vegetable Fried Rice
Fresh Oranges Fruit

Since it was just the four of us, though, with three of us (i.e. not me) being unaccustomed to Chinese banquet dishes and two of us being picky kids, we ordered from the regular menu. The food was OK, but we mainly went to the restaurant so the boys could see the lion dance. Nico was excited about putting a red envelope inside the lion's mouth, and was thrilled when the lion rewarded him with a peppermint. Nolan didn't really understand what was going on, but he was alert and attentive.

This afternoon, Nico and I gave a Lunar New Year presentation at his school. We had done so last year too, for his kindergarten class. Like last year, it was fun! Nico has been really fortunate. Last year and this year, he has had fantastic teachers. We loved Nico's kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Miracle. This year's teacher, Mrs. Polanco, is awesome too - she is really attuned to Nico's interests and needs.

When we gave our presentation, Nico and I sat next to each other in little chairs in front of the class. Nico read the book "Dragon Dance" to his class, as he had last year, and we talked about some of the traditions associated with Chinese New Year. We talked about the significance of the color red and the Chinese Zodiac animals. We answered questions and afterward, Nico handed out Chinese candy and lucky red envelopes containing gold foil-wrapped Chinese coins to his classmates.

During our presentation, Mrs. Polanco asked Nico to teach the class some Chinese words he learned in Chinese School. After writing the characters on the blackboard, Nico led the class in counting to 10 in Mandarin. I was amazed that Mrs. Polanco was able to convince him to do this so easily, as Nico has been rather reluctant to acknowledge his Chinese background. He was so happy, though, when the class was receptive to his lesson and when Mrs. Polanco called him "Professor Nico"!

I'm really proud of Nico for being brave enough to get up in front of his class to share his cultural heritage, something he been very shy about. The timing is perfect because this Saturday, he will have to step onto a larger stage. Nico will be in a lion dance parade when his Chinese School class performs in its annual Chinese New Year Celebration. Nico is proud to be only one of two students in the class with the honor of holding the lion head. Now he just needs to memorize the song!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Of pride and presidents (and poetry and potlucks, too)

What an incredible, historic day.

At noon, I watched the live, televised inauguration of President (no longer "President-elect" - at last!) Barack Obama with hundreds of people on campus. Faculty, staff, undergrads and graduate students joined with local high school students to fill the Thwing Ballroom where I work at Case Western Reserve University. The energy of the room was amazing. Tears filled my eyes.

The last time I felt such emotion about being an American was, indeed, when I first became an official American. In 2000, at my naturalization oath ceremony, I stood among people from all over the world, all of us united in our desire to seek U.S. citizenship. In watching the millions of people on the National Mall today, I was again reminded of those people who stood with me in San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium years ago, when my voice joined hundreds of others in reciting the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.

I am so proud to be an American today! We did it!

For me, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, it is such a thrill to witness a son of an immigrant ascend to the highest office in the country.

For me, the mother of multicultural children, it is such a thrill to witness a person of multiethnic roots become one of the world's most powerful leaders.

For me, an American citizen, it is such a thrill to witness the realization of a dream deferred.

This evening, I took Nico to an inauguration party in our neighborhood. It was quintessential Cleveland Heights. Coventry Village’s Big Bouncing Inaugural Ball was held at the Grog Shop, a hip concert venue in the area. The party, which benefited the Heights Emergency Food Center, invited attendees to a family-friendly "global potluck".

Potluck? You don't have to ask me twice - I'm all about potlucks! I prepared my signature potluck dish, rice pearl balls. Nico was so excited about the inauguration party he could barely keep it together. The other day, when Vic said to him, "Today is George Bush's last day as president," Nico responded, without missing a beat, "Change we need."

Since the potluck party had a late start time, too close to Nolan's bed time, Vic stayed home with Nolan while I took Nico to the event. Nico and I pinned our Obama campaign buttons to our winter coats, loaded up a bag of canned goods, carried our potluck platter and headed to the party.

When we arrived, I placed our platter on a table teeming with other eclectic dishes: hummus and pita, potato cheese pie, African ground nut stew, spicy black beans and rice, Mediterranean couscous, Kenyan vegetable curry, Mexican popovers, pizzas, various soups and "some kind of chicken salad thing" (that's what the label said). A dessert table held more treats: brownies, chocolate chip cookies, Canadian maple cookies, cheesecakes, cupcakes decorated with "O", a cake featuring a peace sign made of strawberries and blueberries and a sheet cake bearing a U.S. flag and icing with the message "Congratulations President Barack Obama".

I met up with my friend Claire, who had cajoled me into attending the Cleveland Obama rally in November. We greeted familiar faces from the community. We listened to performers. We celebrated with poetry and song. We realized the culmination of a dream we couldn't believe could really come true.

I'm exhilarated but exhausted. I want to sleep with the words from Inauguration poet Elizabeth Alexander on my mind:

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2009 already?

Yikes. I didn't want to start the year off this way, but it's too late. I'm already behind. It seems like Thanksgiving was just here and then, wham - the New Year arrived!

So, Christmas was good. We spent Christmas Eve with Vic's family and the boys really enjoyed it. It's a Thomas family tradition to open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, so after dinner and our gift exchange, by the time we drove home, Nico and Nolan both conked out in their car seats.

The next morning, Nico woke up early and angrily exclaimed, "Santa didn't come! These are the same presents that were here yesterday!" Vic gave me a dirty look since he doesn't like the whole Santa business, so he left it to me to respond. "What are you talking about?" I said. "Your stocking is full, isn't it?" "Oh yeah," Nico said. "And he did eat the piece of chocolate I left for him." Vic rolled his eyes. Apparently, Nico hadn't told us he left a piece of chocolate on a napkin for Santa to consume. Hmm. Good thing there are people* in the house who can't resist chocolate.

Nico and Nolan had fun opening the rest of their presents. They're so spoiled. Nico, in particular, received way too many things. I don't even buy him gifts for his birthday or Christmas any more since I know he will get showered by everyone else, including his dad. Nolan was oblivious, for the most part.

Anyhow, the holidays were a whirlwind and there's just one more to complete the season for us: Lunar New Year in two weeks.

*I love chocolate.