Lucky Rat

The beginning of a new year is full of hope for most of us. It can be a new door to many possibilities. I consider each New Year a chance to create a better version of me. I remember looking forward to and wishing for the good fate and fortune that I was certain 2020 would bring. I had high hopes, so many dreams, and a long list of goals I was determined to accomplish. The year 2020 marked my 48th year in this world and according to Chinese Astrology, it was the year of the Rat, too. The Rat is the first sign from the 12 animal annual rotation, and the year 2020 was believed to be the year of new beginnings, reawakening, and renewals. And I was ready to restore, revive, and improve in all ways.

Travel was high up on our list for 2020. We were going to do a family road trip to the Grand Canyon for spring break, with many stops along the way and back, creating memories that would be etched in our minds for the rest of our lives. Max just turned 10 and we wanted to spend more time as a family while he still wants to. We figured we only have two years before he realizes that his parents are actually uncool. We also planned a visit to the Philippines in December to get Max and Bobby acquainted with my birth country and relatives. I have not been back to the Philippines in 18 years and I felt it was time to introduce the older version of me to the country I called home for so long. I am certain that both of us have changed in many ways. I only hope that our feelings for each other have not shifted.

I intended to get to know my chef team better. I scheduled an hour weekly meetings with each one of them to discuss business and personal goals, daily challenges and triumphs, needs and wants, and anything else they would want to talk over. Overseeing a dozen chefs in different locations could be a challenge. Time has often been my adversary. In 2020, I planned to defeat it.

Covid-19 impeded my 2020 plans and goals. I spent the entire year traveling only to-and-from work, home, and sometimes the grocery store. I also had to let go of half of my chef team and 95% of my employees. As if living in a pandemic world was not enough, there was also an overwhelming sense of divide in the country, racial and economic injustice magnified to its fullest, and for the first time in my 30 years here, I questioned myself if this really is the best place to be. There are moments when I find myself in a daze feeling afraid and uncertain of so many things. What is happening? Why is this happening? Is this real? Am I having a very long bad dream?

With all this mess and chaos, my luck as a Rat continued to shield me from misfortune and defeat. My family managed to survive the year in good health. We kept the roof over our heads and we if we missed a meal it was only by choice. However, the feeling of depression, loss, and emptiness remain.

As devastating, sad, and lonely the year 2020 was, it did teach me some valuable lessons.

  1. Covid-19 is one scary virus and no one is untouchable. No amount of wealth can protect us from it. No designer clothing can armor us from its will. It does not see the color of our skin, nor does it care about our social or economic status. It doesn’t judge us by our looks or our smarts. We cannot outrun it because it is too quick even for the fittest among us. We can’t get away from it because it is waiting at every destination. We can’t see it. We can’t smell it. It is an invisible threat. I have to follow the rules to protect others and myself from the virus. The facemask became part of my usual getup. I could adapt to things that would have seemed ridiculous and uncomfortable to me before the pandemic.
  2. When there is not much to do and nowhere to go, it is best to take care of oneself and others the best way we can, with whatever resources we have. I found the following actions to be therapeutic. Treat yourself gently and kindly. Get good sleep. Exercise. Appreciate solitude that allows you to reflect and gather your thoughts.  Cry when you feel like it. Give yourself time to cope with whatever ails it. It’s okay to feel sad because our world is not where it should be. It is okay to binge on television.  Have a candy bar. Afternoon cocktails every now and then can be medicinal. Take time to read a book. Be grateful. Write a note to an old friend. Reach out to people and allow them to reach out to you…connection in any form is healing. Buy groceries for someone if you can afford it. Lend a hand from afar. I also learned to let go. I realized the pettiness of holding a grudge, hating, and judging. Kindness and generosity are good for my soul and helped with keeping my sanity.
  3. Life goes on. No matter how happy, exciting, tragic, hopeless, and boring our existence may seem, life continues to happen. We continue to age. Kids keep growing. People move on. Time doesn’t stop for anything. Therefore, keeping my eye on the ball is imperative. I cannot lose focus. I stay traipsing the pavement. I continue to take care of my family and myself. I smile. I maintain the standards at work. I stay motivated and inspired for my team and myself. We keep the show going. Because doing the opposite would mean defeat.
  4. There is always hope. Sometimes it is hard to believe, but from what I know, it is always there on the horizon. I see it when we help each other. I feel it when I hold my son and my husband. I hear it when I talk to loved ones. I am encouraged by it when I work with my team.
  5. It is good to look forward to a new year no matter how bleak the path seems. A new year will always present new opportunities to grow and improve. It gives us courage to restore what was damaged and to restart what has been halted. It is a chance for change. Change can make impossible things possible.

I don’t have many personal goals for 2021. Mostly, I wish for good health and for the economy to spring back quickly. I wish for the world to be a stable and safe place for us all. I will visit my mother as soon as I can. I will take my son to the movies. I will have a small gathering of close friends to break bread together and toast as soon as it is harmless to do so. I look forward to going outside without a facemask. I look forward to seeing you!

We did not get to visit family for Christmas and New Year’s Day this year. We are grateful for social media that allowed us to be together while apart. We were able to see everyone’s faces virtually. My mom and I talked recipes and prep for Christmas dinner over the phone. She gave me tips on how to make my pork leg roast extra crispy and I walked her through preparing and roasting prime rib roast. Both dinners turned out great and we were both very proud. It almost felt like we cooked together.

I hope you feel inspired to try these two recipes even though the holidays are over. It brought me extraordinary joy knowing that my mother and I could cook and celebrate together while apart. It just proves that as deadly Corona Virus is, there are some things it cannot take away from us. The sense of family lives in our hearts. Love does not have to stop because we cannot go outside. And, I promise that whatever you decide to make with the leftovers, it will be great.