Wednesday, December 1, 2021

A Happy Birthday and Friendsgiving

I heard this Mark Twain quote recently for the first time and it struck a chord within me: "The further the pendulum swings out over woe the further it is bound to swing back over mirth." This sentiment always hits me harder during this time of year, which is full of holiday cheer and unique challenges at the same time. It's one of the reasons why I never participate in National Novel Writing Month (known as "NaNoWriMo"), where writers try to write 50,000 words (usually to start and finish a novel draft) in November. It's already such a hectic time of the year for me, and I personally don't need to add one more thing to my plate.

This year marked a decade since my father passed away unexpectedly. If I had to divide my life into two segments, I would still choose my dad's death as the dividing line because of how profoundly it changed me. My sister and I still talk about how it felt like our childhood ended that night and we had no other option but to grow up faster than we planned. I wish I could go back to my self then and give her a hug and tell her everything would be okay. I think she would be surprised now to see how well we're all doing once we weathered the many storms of that season of our lives.

I had a milestone birthday this year, and my amazing friend N wanted to make sure it was special. So she worked with M to plan a whole birthday party for me, and I didn't have to lift a finger! It was so fun to see so many friends from different circles of my life in Korea get together and hang out in person. (In the case of my friend S, we've been meeting on Zoom to study Korean folktales together for 8 months but my party was the first time we met in real life!) I was blown away by the decorations, photo backdrop, food, and cake (can you believe those flowers are edible?). I felt so special and can't remember the last time I actually had a real birthday party. I am so grateful for friends like N. The Foreign Service can be a lonely life, but it doesn't have to be.

Soon after, it was Thanksgiving - which has always been my favorite holiday. It's so close to my birthday that the whole month of November always felt like a celebration to me, and I love food and getting together with my family. My love of Thanksgiving as my family practiced it and ignorance of the full history behind the holiday has led me in the past to dismiss concerns about its celebration. I regret that now, especially as I've listened in a more heartfelt way to Native Americans and the injustices they not only experienced from settlers in the past but continue to face today. I do still partake of Thanksgiving with loved ones each year - whether family back home or friends while living abroad. But I am trying to find ways to honor the Indigenous people who made Thanksgiving and so many other things I benefit from consciously and unconsciously possible. This year, that's learning more about the Wampanoag people whose generosity sparked the first Thanksgiving meal.

As Thrillist states, "Only 16 years after members of the Wampanoag tribe feasted with Pilgrims, they were massacred, leading to a statement from Plymouth Governor William Bradford that for "the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory."" Did you know that? I didn't. You can learn more by listening to the latest episode of All My Relations, a podcast hosted by Indigenous women to explore topics relevant to Native American peoples. You could also read the book Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Too Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer, which I just purchased and plan to read soon. I also asked friends online to join me in donating to the First Nations Development Institute, a national, nonprofit, Native American organization whose mission is to strengthen American Indian economies to support healthy Native communities. They believe (and I agree) that only solutions designed by Native peoples, for Native peoples, through the control of their assets and based on their cultural values, will succeed. They also have a perfect 4-star rating on Charity Navigator. You can donate to their organization in many different ways, all explained on their website.

I closed out the birthday and friendsgiving celebrations with my favorite birthday tradition. Although I'm in charge of food for our household the other 364 days of the year, M absolutely spoils me on my birthday by preparing and cooking whatever I request for my birthday. I tend to take full advantage of this arrangement and pick the most difficult and time-consuming recipes I can think of that I would love to have but don't feel like making for myself. This year, I let him postpone the actual cooking day given he had just arrived back in Korea a few days before my actual birthday and needed time to shop for the ingredients. Once the day arrived, though, he did not disappoint. Highlights included lemon blueberry pancakes, baked mac and cheese, almond macarons, stuffed cabbage (pictured above), and chocolate pudding.

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