I'm back in Illinois now, about to make the drive to Indiana, and taking a moment of quiet before I jump back towards the semester lest I get lost in the rush of Shiny New Things.

The Oregon reunion continued to be gorgeous; team Pirated Software set up a "CD-copying station" (make-your-own-taco bar, with the Gold Master on display as a finished product example to emulate) and a baggage claim with "suitcases" (casserole dishes filled with lasagna and adorned with baggage tags) because "pirated software enters the USA via our aunt's luggage," plus "anti-virus software" (Airborne for everyone). Dessert was gelatin with the Windows logo in its cross-section and little flags warning that "this copy of Windows is not genuine" and "you may be a victim of software counterfeiting." They also made a slideshow that copied every family member's faces into a movie poster; I was put up on the Princess Diaries. (Jason was Home Alone, Melanie was Wreck-It-Ralph, my dad and 8eetiu were both featured in Dumb and Dumber -- they're childhood friends.)

The final night's cooking team, "It's not what it appears to be," won the show, though. My dad made a quick phone call to his friends at the medical supply company he recently (as in, the week before) retired from, and a mysterious box arrived -- and so we found ourselves drinking "pee" (apple cider) from urine sample jars, "blood" (beet soup) from large syringes, "vomit" (bean dip) from a bedpan... this team made a little film of "St. Helen's General Hospital" explaining the provenance of the main courses as "surgical remainders" -- breast reductions (stuffed squash carved to look like boobs), liposuction (lemon cream pie), brain surgery (cauliflower), and so forth.

We put on small performances for Guama on New Year's Eve. My mom and her sisters sang "Because You Loved Me" (7ee's idea; some liked the song more than others) and Guama started crying partway through, which made some of my aunts cry, which made some of the others cry, and by the end the tissue box was circulating around all the older women while us kids rocked with laughter on the couch and on the floor (but we were also touched, it's just -- it was hilarious as well). My mom, 3ee, and 5ee did the rendition of "Love Me With All Of Your Heart" they used to sing as little kids standing in the windowsill of their old house. 8ee and 7ee and my mom wrapped themselves in blankets and towels and put long socks on their arms for gloves and marched around like princesses the way they used to when they were little. I had seen some of these things in earlier reunions when I was younger, but half the cousins didn't remember -- they were either not born yet or infants at those reunions -- so the reprise was fantastic, now that we're all old enough to see and know.

Then my generation did a revamp of a skit we'd done at the reunion 16 years prior, sketch-caricaturing our parents. I played my father. Audrey and Kei got huge laughs as 3ee and her dog refusing to go on a walk, and Mia only had to walk in wearing her mom's leopard-print bathrobe before the audience started howling. We added a little surprise at the end: a skit portraying our older selves at the 2026 reunion. Some portrayals were more serious than others; Neil and Kei walked in throwing money into the air and announcing they were millionaires, Melanie talked about designing the logo for her mom's preschool, Megan had been travelling and food blogging. I made myself a nametag that said "Dr. Mel" and walked in as a professor, wondering if that's actually what I will be.

I also tried out my new dress on New Year's Eve at the request of several cousins who had never seen me in a dress before. A lot of the aunts and uncles came up to me quietly afterwards and said that I looked wonderful; some also suggested getting contacts (which I've been considering for dancing anyhow) so -- we'll see. It's strange to actually see myself as beautiful, and to actually like it. I guess that means I'm growing up, becoming a woman.

And I'm not the only one growing up; most of us are now in late high school, college, or out of college. Predictions are that by the next reunion someone's going to be married or engaged, because -- I mean, we're in that stage of life, some of us. After New Year's Eve festivities, the older cousins ended up clustered around the table chatting, and the conversation turned to partnerhood -- if we were to get married, what criteria are important to us? Would we do this, would we look for that, would we consider this, how would we handle that? The older generation was asking mine questions, and it was fascinating to hear everyone's answers. Most of the aunts predicted that my generation wouldn't end up with Chinese guys -- we're very westernized, half of us grew up in America, we'd hate needing to fit into a traditional Chinese mold. And that's okay -- that's an evolution of things, they said. It was a really nice conversation, actually.

The route back to Seattle was long and happy; I rode with 2ee and 5ee in the station wagon Mia's learning to drive in, and a bunch of us paused at Powell's Bookstore in Portland on the way. I didn't get any books -- I didn't feel the need to get any, actually. It's odd; I think I used to crave and stockpile books as information security blankets, because I'm often cut off from information in the world (thanks, deafness!) and wanted to make sure I'd always have something to learn or do. As a kid (and an adult) I used to pack my suitcases half-full of books and half-full of clothes, I still reach for books out of reflex habit -- but I'm becoming conscious of that, and I'm choosing to not do it.

It's not that reading is bad. It's awesome. I love it. But reading as a way to not deal with things, reading and missing out on what's in the world around you, clinging to books because they give you a security you feel you need -- I don't want to need them as a crutch, and I don't want them to keep me from the world; I want the things I read to help me be more fully in the universe I'm inhabiting. So that's what I'm trying to do. I'm reading only when it helps me become a better person, become more present, more educated, more able to connect with people. I'll try this for as long as I think I need to do it, which could be weeks or months or years -- don't know, don't care, don't need to figure that out in advance, it's just a thing I think I'd like to do, because that's the person I'd like to be.

The remaining few days in Seattle were full of late nights and long conversations and adventures with my cousins and aunts in the city, mostly hunting for food (Serious Pie has an egg-and-kale pizza; highly recommended -- and everything at The Whale Wins is highly tasty). I liked waking up and having breakfast with more and more family members trickling into the kitchen over time, talking with Barby and Bea about farming and house construction and being in our "what should we do with our lives?" twenties phase as we drifted off to sleep in Mindy's room, my dad walking in with canisters of tao hue (soft tofu with sweet syrup), playing the piano with Kei, being able to walk to Mia and Neil's house.

My parents dropped me off at the airport yesterday, and Randy picked me up. After dinner, we ended up driving around Glenview and talking -- it was a Childhood Memories tour of the town we'd both spent our first 6 years of life in. Randy was born 6 months before me on the street next to me, and we were inseparable until he moved away right before 1st grade. We drove to the park, the library, the middle school I'd gone to but that he only remembered as the gym we went to Asian Night Performances at when we were tiny children.

We drove to Willowbrook, our elementary school; I told him that many of our teachers had retired last year, we walked around the building's perimeter remembering what it had been like to be tiny. Randy remembers being awe-struck when he learned about the concept of "years" in kindergarten and thinking "wow, in 1997, I'll be ten and that will be so old and I wonder what I'll look like and will I have braces?" I remembered how big I felt when I hit the 3rd grade and moved to the Upstairs Classrooms, which was where the Older Children studied. The same murals are on the walls (that we could see through windows, anyway), but the playgrounds have been replaced; the trees I used to run around and hide in are still there, though, and the fields where we played flag and touch football are still there but far smaller than I remember. Everything's bigger when you're small.

Then he dropped me off at my parent's house, and I slept, and now I'm up and writing, because writing is what I do to calm myself, to think, to come into myself again. And I think it's nearly time for me to head back to Purdue.

I miss my family. I miss my friends. I feel more than a little lonely -- and it's okay. It's good for me to be alone sometimes, and not to drown that feeling out with work or finding ways to be busy for the sake of being busy. Sometimes you need to learn a little more about yourself. And what I'm finding is a self that's flawed and working on things -- but a self I'm proud of, and a Mel that's stronger and more grown-up than I knew, one that's able to feel and cry and love as well as learn, one that's able to be in a world that's sometime painful without shutting things out and muscling through all the time. Silence and stillness are also a kind of strength, and I'm developing that. Togetherness and connectedness are also a sort of wisdom, and I'm learning that too, with many people in my life that I'd just really like to spend more time with. I've got a life now, and I intend to keep it that way, so this post is in part to remind me of that balance.

Okay. I think this one's a wrap. Breathing, and then on to the next thing.