Sunday, April 2, 2017

Aloha 'oe, Daddy

My dad, Cesar Diapues Hiponia, died on Sunday, March 26, 2017. He was born on November 24, 1938 — the same year as Superman, as he was fond of saying. Dad was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease about a year ago, so we all knew his last day would come sooner rather than later. It did not make the day any easier to bear. I'm sure I will be awash in waves of grief for weeks, months, years...

Yesterday, my family and I bid him farewell. It's hard to capture in a three-minute speech everything my father was to me, but here is what I said to a chapel full of family and friends who loved my dad.

When I was about six or seven years old, my dad got a chance to travel to Europe for business. Somewhere on one of these poster boards, there’s a grainy photo of him wearing a winter coat, posing in front of the Vatican. I remember thinking how novel and exotic it was to wear a coat. Daddy looked so cool — like an American in the movies!

Like an American in the movies!
 He brought home the most wonderful pasalubong for me from that trip — a collection of dolls, one from each city he had visited. Each doll was dressed in national costume, and had different-colored skin, hair, and eyes than me. Through those dolls, my dad was showing me that there’s a world outside the Philippines, full of different, beautiful people.

That pasalubong sparked a lifelong wanderlust, and I became determined to travel to the places my dad described in his stories. Somewhere in my photo albums, there’s a photo of me wearing a winter coat, posing in front of the Vatican. I don’t look as cool as my dad did in his photo.

I miss swapping travel stories with my dad. I miss talking with him about our mutual aloha for Hawai'i and dreaming about a family reunion on Moloka’i. I miss seeing him sprawled on the floor with his grandkids, playing with them, talking with them, and really listening to them. I miss his wide, toothy grin. That grin said, “I’m getting away with something.”

Totally getting away with something.
I miss arguing with him about politics and the state of the world. Dad and I were both Sagittarius, born in the year of the Tiger, just 36 years apart. And when two fire signs argue, honey, it is a FIGHT! But even when we argued, I got the sense that he was trying to learn something, to figure out how he could become a better person from this fight, from any fight.

I’d like to think I got that same drive to become a better person. My dad thought deeply about things, and almost until the end of his life, he was still learning and growing. Much of who I am is a reflection of my dad. I inherited his adventurous wanderlust, his insatiable curiosity, his ambitious determination, and his irreverent sense of humor.

When someone we love dies, our natural coping instinct is to elevate our beloved to sainthood. My dad was a lot of things, but he was no saint. Nah.

I mean, just look at this cool cat. 
My dad was a force of nature. He had the energy of a Signal 5 typhoon, the warmth of the sun over Manila Bay, and the hidden depth of the Pacific Ocean. He laughed and learned and loved and lived out loud, inviting the entire world into his big, open heart.

Thank you, Daddy, for helping to bring me into this world, showing me how wide and wonderful it is, and encouraging me to go out into it. I will strive to keep my heart as open as yours was. I will keep laughing, learning, loving, and living out loud. Maybe someday, I will grow up to be just like you. I love you. 

Aloha 'oe, Daddy. Until we meet again...



Friday, November 25, 2016

Dear Girls: Keep Loving. Keep Fighting.

Dear Tala and Diana,

We’re in Baltimore to celebrate Lolo’s 78th birthday and have our second Thanksgiving meal in a week. We have a lot to be thankful for, this year and every year. We are all in excellent health. We have a warm, safe place to call home. We enjoy clean water and more than enough food. We love and are loved by our family and friends. Both of you are learning and doing amazing things at school, Daddy is pursuing his dream of developing an indie VR game, and I got an editor job after six years away from the game industry.

Life is great. 

But there are a few things that are not so great. Your grandfather is struggling with Lewy Body Disease, and for the last year, his condition has just gotten worse. You might be surprised to find that he’s no longer the silly, happy Lolo you remember sprawling on the floor and playing with you just a couple years ago. Lolo can’t get around very well on his own anymore and his speech is slurred. 

It has been tough for the rest of our Hiponia family in Baltimore, too, helping him live with this disease while also living their own busy lives and taking care of themselves. I’m glad we have this chance to spend some time with Lolo; I’m not sure how many more chances we will have.

We’re staying at Tita Maricel’s house for the first couple days of our trip, and you will notice that she has a bunch of quotes on her walls. They are words that inspire her and help her keep going when things get tough. I also keep a few quotes in my back pocket that help me keep going during tough times. My favorite is one you may have heard from me before:

“Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving. Keep fighting.”

I’ve been struggling to keep this quote in front of me since the election, and focus on the work that needs to be done. On election night, when it became clear who our next President was going to be, Daddy and I were shocked, embarrassed, angry, scared, and sad. We were in a bad place. We thought about the truly amazing progress that President Barack Obama made during his administration and worried that it would all be undone. 

I still remember watching President Obama’s inauguration with Diana, who was only eight months old at the time. I was breastfeeding her on the couch in our living room in Edmonton, and as we watched President Obama being sworn in, I felt such pride and hope. I was excited to see the change that the next four years would bring to our country.

President Obama is the only President you girls have ever known. All your lives, you’ve had a President who works and fights for the same things your parents believe in. The Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) was a godsend for our family. It allowed Daddy to pursue his dream without worrying that he was putting our family’s healthcare in danger. Now that I have a full-time job again, we are covered with good healthcare benefits, but that’s not always the case with everyone we know. Uncle Jeremy ended up paying about $6000 for an emergency room visit and doctor follow-ups, and he has insurance through his job. For his sake and others’, I hope Obamacare is only made better rather than taken away.

All your lives, you’ve heard from us that you can love and marry anyone you choose. Gender and sexuality are fluid and flexible, and love is love is love. Daddy and I happened to fall in love and marry each other, and our marriage looks like what most people think marriage looks like: a man and a woman. But it wasn’t so long ago that it was illegal for Daddy (a white man) and me (a woman of color) to marry. People realized that law wasn’t right so it changed. People and laws can change. 

Under President Obama, marriage equality became law in our country, and the weekend the law passed, we went to our first Pride parade as a family. It was important for all of us to be there to celebrate that love wins. Aloha always wins. Remember that, especially if/when the government thinks it can tell you who to love and marry. Keep loving. Keep fighting.

Also remember that a woman—a girl—can be President someday, probably in your lifetime if not mine. You two were so excited that we might get our first woman President, and Daddy and I were, too. We let you stay up way past your bedtime to watch Hillary Clinton accept the nomination for President of the United States. Tala checked out about halfway through her speech, but before she fell asleep, the two of you built a LEGO set of what you were seeing on TV. 

LEGO Hillary Clinton addresses the DNC.
I don’t know if I have enough words to tell you how much my heart swelled with pride and hope that the two of you saw a strong, smart, capable, powerful person – who just happens to be a woman – speaking about working and fighting for the things she believes in.

Daddy and I are so proud to watch you two growing into strong, smart, capable people – who just happen to be girls – and we know you will work and fight for the things you believe in. I have to admit that I’m a little anxious about the change that the next four years will bring to our country. We live in Washington state, among many people who share my and Daddy’s values and beliefs. We are mostly safe from the danger other people around our country are facing, all because of what they look like, where they come from, the people they love, or the things they believe.   

That doesn’t mean we’re safe from some of the big and small changes that will happen in our government, since it seems like they want to do everything different than what President Obama did. So we have to keep working and fighting for the things we believe in. To keep that goal in front of us, Daddy and I are setting up monthly recurring donations to organizations that reflect our values, like Planned Parenthood. They provide much-needed health services to people in our community who would otherwise not be able to get them, and they strongly support women’s reproductive rights.  

All your lives, you’ve heard from us that you—and only you—have the right to make choices about your body. I remember when Diana tried to use that to her advantage: “Why do I have to wash my hands for dinner? You said it’s my body and only I get to choose what to do with it.” Technically, you are correct, but the only exception is when you sit down to eat dinner at my table. Wash your filthy hands. But keep challenging anyone who tries to tell you what to do with your body. 

The next few days of our trip are going to present a few challenges. One of the things I used to be able to count on when I saw Lolo was a spirited debate about politics. It makes me really sad that it won’t happen this year, for many reasons. At the same time, I’m hoping that the conversation at dinner tonight (or any other night of our trip) will not break down into the grownups shouting about politics. Uncle Greg and I have very different viewpoints (that’s what we call the Understatement of the Year, kids), but he’s a decent and kind man and I want to understand where he’s coming from. I want to listen to him with my heart wide open.

The next few years of all our lives are going to present a few huge challenges. On election night, I couldn’t even cry as so many people did, and I haven’t cried. It’s almost like the time I didn’t cry when my best friend in 7th grade died. If I don’t cry, maybe it didn’t really happen. But the election did happen, and now we have a lot of work to do. 

I haven’t even talked to you two about the fear that I carry in my heart, fear that only brown-skinned immigrants can really understand, fear that only women face every day. Listen when your heart pounds with fear; it’s trying to keep you alive. Always remember that fear can be transformed into a force for action, a force for change. Use the force for good.

Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving. Keep fighting.

Love,
Mama 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Family Favorite: Tinolang Manok

Seattle Weather™️ is back. That means it's time to bust out the rain jackets, rain boots, and soup recipes! Few things in this world bring me more happiness on a gusty, wet day than a bowl of warm soup. I'm going to share with you one of our family favorites, but first: a story. 

Before we got married, Dusty and I lived together for a couple of years in a cozy house in Fremont, CA. We had small appliances, dishes, linens, and all the other things most newlyweds would ask for in a gift registry. So on our wedding invitations, we specified: "No gifts, please. Your presence is the only thing we need." 

My mother was not having any of that business. She wanted to give me something to welcome me into the Married Lady Club, something that would ensure my success as a future matriarch. I asked her to give me her recipes to my favorite childhood dishes. I was expecting nothing more than stapled photocopies, but true to form, my mom found a really cute recipe binder and neatly typed up all the recipes on index cards. Best wedding present ever.


It even has a kickstand in the back so it can be propped up on the counter.  Bless.

One of the recipes in the binder is tinolang manok, which is Pilipino chicken soup. Manok means "chicken" in Tagalog, but I have no idea what tinola means. The "ng" at the end means it's a verb, though, so tinola is something that was done to the chicken. I have just decided it means "made it yummy".

Pilipinos eat tinolang manok with rice on the side, like the soup is the main course. Dusty likes to fill his spoon with rice and dip it into the bowl to scoop the chicken and goodies and broth. The girls like to spoon all their rice into the bowl and mix it all together before digging in. I fill my spoon with the goodies out of the bowl, scoop up a little rice and eat that, then refill the spoon with broth to sip separately. If you figure out a fourth way, please share in the comments.

This is the perfect meal for Seattle Weather™️. Make this for lunch on a rainy Sunday and have a long nap afterwards, with your belly full of yummy, soupy goodness.


Mmm... soup...

Tinolang Manok (Pilipino Chicken Soup)
Prep Time: ~30 minutes
Cook Time: ~40 minutes 
Serves 4 adults

Ingredients
2 lbs chicken thighs, deboned and skinned, cut into bite-size pieces
6-7 cloves garlic, minced
1 “thumb” of ginger, peeled and minced
1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 sayote*, peeled and cubed
1 lb of bok choy**, chopped
Water
Salt to taste
Patis (fish sauce) to taste

Directions
1. Saute garlic and ginger in oil until slightly soft.
2. Add chicken pieces and saute until the juices run clear and the chicken is opaque.
3. Add just enough water to cover chicken and season with salt. Boil until chicken is tender, about 10 minutes.
4. Add sayote cubes and chopped bok choy.
5. Bring back to a boil, then turn down heat, cover the pot, and simmer on medium-low for 20 minutes, until sayote is tender but not mushy. 
6. Season with patis (and salt if needed).
7. Serve in a bowl, with rice on the side. 

*Sayote is sold in most Asian stores, usually labeled as “chayote”. In some cities (like Seattle), you can even find it at your local grocery store.
**My mom's original recipe for traditional tinolang manok calls for malunggay leaves, but they can be hard to find.