Sister and Brothers

Siblings Gather: Alan, Jen
David, Ben, and Greg
Seattle, USA
November 30, 2011

We all celebrated Thanksgiving together last week. Jen's family hosted. Any year Thanksgiving dinner is held at my sister's family's home they throw their doors wide open, welcoming all comers. Friends, neighbors, even tenuosly related strays all joined the core Wong celebration of traditional food and games.

Nick Carves up
Thanksgiving Dinner
Nephew Nicholas continued his current phase of culinary exploration by roasting up the centerpiece dish, a 34-lb turkey. He also presented a dessert of his own concoction: pumpkin mousse. I don't think I was taking such an active interest in the kitchen (or perhaps in any area at-all) at 15. It's likely that back when I was Nick's age it would have been an all-day endeavor for me to prepare the simple dish I contributed to this year's Thanksgiving dinner--two large bowls of cranberry sauce. My nephews and nieces are developing cool interests and forming adult personalities.

My time here has been spent almost entirely seeing friends and family around town this past month. I decided not to move into that efficiency in Chinatown that I was speculating about moving back into when I returned to Seattle ten weeks ago. I realized that the reason I'm visiting Seattle is to focus on spending time with people here. Why set myself up in some private place away from everybody, staying somehwere more secluded, somewhere I'd have to leave from to meet up with people in another part of town? Rotating places as a houseguest with family has allowed me default time every day with those closest to me.

Nieces (Robin, Mai Linh, and My
Hanh) Surround Sister-in-Law
Louise To Inspect Teen Cosmo
So, over this past month I've been making the circuit around town, staying a week with one sibling, a night or two with another. It's been good to have one final checkout with everybody before I quit Seattle again tomorrow. I don't anticipate being back in town for another year. I'm a bit sad to not be staying on here through Christmas, but at least I was here for Thanksgiving.

Dad and siblings are all generally well. Below are brief profiles of how everybody seemed over the time I stayed with each sibling and what's different in their family's lives since when I last had an extended stay in Seattle:


Greg and his family continually amaze me. Everybody in that household seems to have limitless energy and patience--or at least far more than I do. Just the occasional hour or two when I might babysit for their kids is enough to exhaust me. But, they seem to thrive in taking more and more on.

Greg is well into his career working as an attorney. He's recently switched to a new firm. In the time I was away from Seattle his wife Louise finished up graduate school and is now teaching full-time for one of Seattle's public high schools.

Greg, My Hanh, and
Tai go Hiking
Typical of their capacity to take so much on was Greg's response one afternoon when I called to see if he wanted to meet up for a drink after he got off work.

"I'm actually not downtown today. I'm working from home so I can take care of the kids while Louise is out of town this weekend. But, if you happen to be free now--why don't you come on over? We were planning on painting the living room and dining room next month. I'd love to surprise her and do the whole job before she gets back."

To me, the idea of painting a house while minding three kids--even with a brother on-hand to help out--sounded chaotic. But, it was typical Greg: taking lots on and achieving beautiful results with aplomb. I did come by his house to help out with all the prep work. The next day when it came time to roll paint all over the walls, rather than minding the kids separately Greg engaged them in the task, letting all of them join in the painting. What I thought would have been too much to manage turned out to be a fine family day. The rooms looked wonderful.

All of their kids keep busy well beyond elementary school. Young as she still may be, My Hanh is entrepeneurial, seeking out tasks such as walking dogs around the neighborhood and setting up lemonade stands to earn pocket money. The older two both practice musical instruments. My Hanh plays the violin; Mai Linh has just taken up piano lessons. Tai is promised lessons in his choice of instrument once he reaches seven.

Even on the weekend their family doesn't slow down. Over the time I stayed at their home I joined along for a day hike one Saturday morning. We drove well out of the city, to a site northeast of Granite Falls with a trail leading up to Lake 22. As uncle, I had non-stop requests to give piggyback rides to all three children--which I was happy to do on the walk back downhill.

I'm already eager to see how they'll be doing whenever I next pass through Seattle. I know those kids are going to turn out spectacularly.


Alan and Devon
Alan continues to do well. Since he left the non-profit organization where he'd worked for many years he's managed to parlay what skills he developed on that job into a new living as an independent contractor. During his previous job he worked with "at-risk" youth, giving them outlets and opportunities to express themselves through music, performing arts, and other media, putting on concerts and leading retreats. Now, he's in demand by organizations who are looking for leadership training sessions for their staff. He's found clients not only Seattle, but internationally as well--last year he was brought down to South America to lead a session in Ecuador.

He and his girlfriend Devon have moved into an nice, old brick apartment on 18th and Spring, a place different from where they were when I was last in Seattle. As they've been in that location for over a year I suppose it's no longer new to them--though I've been away from Seattle for so long it was "new" to me.

Over the time I was staying with them at their place Devon started two new jobs. She now co-ordinates programs for an organization that offers in- and out-of-hospital experiences for children with grave medical conditions. She's also begun teaching dance classes at nearby Seattle University two nights a week.

I do hope they bring me more nieces and nephews some day.


Nick, Robin, and David
Play Game Together
My sister's family is busy as ever. The days I stayed at their home reminded me how involved they all are in so many diverse areas. My brother-in-law, Mike, works during the day for a company that runs ecological impact surveys. Jen has also been working, teaching a course on herbalism at a community center near where we grew up. But her daily schedule is probably most filled by getting Nick and Robin to some home-schooling course or other.

It sounds naive now, but I didn't appreciate how intense a program home-schooling would be before my sister announced that's how she'd be educating her two children. I knew it wouldn't be some bleak regimen of worksheets off in a corner of the house--but I had no concept of the extent of programs they'd attend around the city and the depth of interaction with other children and parents. Most of the way they go about it means going to activities outside of the home, meeting up for regular sessions with the other active parents in their home-school organization.

Some mornings the family home itself would turn into a campus for other students in their home-school group to attend history class. They all seemed to be fun and dynamic kids, but I tended to slip off to a coffeehouse (sometimes together with Jen: she wasn't the instructor) over those hours.

In addition to the home-schooling courses they particpate in, the kids are pursuing their own interests through other courses. Nick attends karate and takes piano lessons. Robin attends ballet classes and is taking flute lessons.

The best news is that my niece, Robin, is completely well. She's been through brain surgery and proton radiation treatment and come through without effects. The likelihood of one of well-too many debilitating side effects from the surgery or tumor itself were high. That she's come through both mentally and physically 100% sound was too much to hope for--but it's happened.


Anna and Ben
Ben is the same, though there is one significant change in his life from when I left Seattle in spring of 2010: he is now seeing Anna.

His new girlfriend shares much in-common with Ben. They seem a good match; similar in most every regard.

What I've been happiest to do with them has been to spend time tinkering with electronics. Anna seems curious about everything under the sun; Ben has begun teaching her the basics of electronics. They've built some basic projects together, including a voice modulator which they used in a robot costume this past Hallowe'en.

I was happy that they were up for toying with electronics over our time together. I'd recently dropped my iPhone and its glass screen shattered once again. With a few small screwdrivers and a suction cup Ben was able to piece a replacement screen in place one afternoon at a cafe. He also managed to repair the busted optical drive on my laptop in another afternoon cafe session. I've never met anybody better with anything technical than Ben.

The three of us are all planning to leave tomorrow for a trip to California to attend the wedding of a former classmate of Ben's and mine. So, there should be more stories of Ben and Anna soon.

Though I've mostly been calling on siblings and their families, there have been times when I've wanted space of my own for a time. That's been easy to come by. In my time here I've been offered several housesitting gigs of one to two weeks. I had to decline some, but jumped at the choicest.

Dad Proposes
Post-Dinner Toast
Sandra & Cedric went back east for their Thanksgiving. Playing cat-sitter for them this past week gave me not just the added benefit of the company of a cute kitty, but a location to sort through and winnow out belongings that I'd left for well to many years in Greg and Louise's basement. I brought over my plastic storage bins and spent the odd evening culling. Why did I still have old trophies from days playing little-league baseball? Well past time to get rid of those. That large wooden filing cabinet storing "important papers"? I managed to say goodbye to that and consolidate what few records I did hold onto into one accordion-style binder. It seems there are very few papers I need to keep a physical copy of these days.

I wish I had managed to dispose of even more--but at least what things I do store in Greg's basement are now a lot more organized.

Tonight, Dad, the siblings and their families, and I all gathered in Chinatown for one last dinner before I leave. Alan and Devon hosted games at their cozy apartment.

It's been a good visit. I feel that I've spent an adequate amount of time with family and friends alike. Come tomorrow, I'll leave Seattle once again. I don't plan to be back again for another year--and then only for a holiday visit.

Next stop: Los Angeles.