Cat Nap

My lazy cat taking his mid-day cat naps.

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Relationship Therapy

So I’ve been studying a lot about psychology and different therapy methods and such, so much that I find I am analyzing people and situations in my every day life.  One of the topics that I am absolutely fascinated about is relationships and the dynamics of our behaviors in relationships.

Successful relationships require hard work.  Every relationship will be faced with challenges, some small and some that really tests the strength of the couple; most relationship challenges can be overcome with trust, open communication, and a willingness to change if needed; however, some relationships are also doom for failure, and no amount of therapy can “fix” it.  These barriers are often left unstated and ignored, leading to resentment, contempt, and a general unhappiness that not only affects the already troubled relationship but can also spill over into our work, family, friends, and other aspects of our lives.

The most common relationship issues involve financial difficulties, communication barriers, routine arguments, and lack of trust. Even marriage itself can be the cause of conflict for an unmarried couple, when one partner wants to marry and the other partner is reluctant to.  This is often the case in long-term relationships where many women start comparing their relationship to others, and they feel the family and societal pressure to get married; especially as they approach their late twenties, and even more so when they’re reached their thirties.

Having chronic conflicts in the relationship can produce stressors that can cause mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety; it can also affect self-esteem and even physical health, as well as contribute to addictive behaviors, like substance abuse. Relationship problems can also unintentionally affect family members, especially children, who may repeatedly witness relationship conflict between their parents, thus developing them to have their own relationship issues to work through in their adulthood.

Couples usually seek counseling for their relationship when the constant fighting has become too overwhelming to be able to cope independently, or to save the relationship; or even to fight in front of a “referee” so that they can get the sought after confirmation of who was right or wrong.

Case Example of a Relationship Conflict
Jane and Joe enter counseling because they have been fighting often. Inquiry reveals the fights are verbal but not overly emotional, it has never been physical. The fights have so far been considered “healthy”, with no traded insults or direct intent to hurt one another; yet, it seems that the fighting has become routine over the same topics.  Joe feels the pressure of Jane wanting to get marry.  It’s a big commitment, and although he loves Jane, he’s not sure if he’s ready for that just yet.  Jane feels insecure about the relationship; she feels Joe is dragging his feet in regards to marriage, but they have been having somewhat of a good communication in regards to getting married.  However, lately they’ve been fighting over an incident that has caused a rift in their relationship.  An ex has contacted Joe, and Jane feels unsure about how Joe reacted to it.  Joe responded to the attempted contact, and this has Jane questioning whether or not there is unresolved issues that Joe needs to work out with his ex.

During the sessions, there are many ways that a counselor can go about trying to help Jane and Joe, including finding out what the “family of origin issues” are. As the saying goes, everything starts from home — much of who we are have been developed from our childhood environment. From our family we learn many of our values, which can directly affect our behavior and actions; as adults we can either reject our family values or enforce them. An example of this is the belief that children who grew up in abusive homes are more likely to be abusers themselves, or be in abusive relationships, thus continuing the cycle. Our self-identity is also defined by our family, which can dictate a strong self if we were loved and felt safe within our family, or a damaged sense of self if love and safety were not shown during our childhood.

When children lack a healthy environment to base love and relationships on, they develop survival skills that are attune to what they perceive is “normal”. Jane shows signs of having commitment issues, despite pushing for marriage. Jane’s family origin issues were revealed to have been a very unhealthy and unsafe one. Of course, since the child’s behavior isn’t the cause of a parent’s failure to love, this created the personality that is now Jane’s.

A client may recognize their family wasn’t “perfect”, but for many individuals it is still difficult to confront our childhood, especially our family. We often feel loyalty to our family. It can be stressful in itself to examine our upbringing, but often it is necessary to get to the roots of our personalities.  However, it should be noted that family experiences doesn’t contribute or explain everything about who we are; genetics often play a role as well, including external factors outside of the family, like friends and school.

Couples bring their extended families into their relationships, whether consciously or unconsciously. The issues that we struggle with in our childhood contributes to our adult personalities. If we sought out our parents’ attention through perfection as a child, we may well continue to strive to achieve perfection for our mate. Additionally, we may put our own unrealistic expectations on a partner that is unaware, unable and ultimately unwilling, to live up to these irrational expectations. Bringing unaddressed family of origin issues into a relationship can create problems that are often confusing and overwhelming to both partners. In order to fully understand the behaviors we exhibit in our adult relationships, we must first become familiar with why we developed those behaviors in our childhood.

Joe stated that he wants to “wait for the right time” to get marry.  He feels that he is not yet financially secured enough to support a wife and ultimately a family.  Joe’s family history reveals that he comes from a large family, where finances were always a cause of concern, as well as his father being the main provider for the family.  With Joe, CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) would be the best approach; it deals with the here and now, and puts emphasis on the present, not the past.  Although Joe’s values might have come from his childhood, in his situation it is best to focus on the present for a solution.

Joe needs to change his current cognitive outlook on what he perceives as his reality.  Unless Joe wins the lottery, it is unlikely that he will ever feel financially secured enough at any point in his life. Other contributing factors to Joe’s values is gender-roles and societal expectations; the man is the provider of the family.  This puts great pressure on a man to be able to support a family, and is often one of the focusing reasons why men are reluctant to get married.  However, with CBT Joe can change his current thinking process — which is that the concept of the “right time” is unrealistic.  There will never be a right time, financial stresses beyond his control will always come up — the stock market crash, he lost his job, he got injured and is now disabled, the car broke down, the roof caved in, the pipes broke — basically Joe needs to realize that he will probably never be financially secured enough to not worry about money, but he has to learn to be okay with that.

(This psycho-babble, Sigmund Freud stuff is actually really interesting, right!?)

Going to the Fish Market with Mom

One of the things that I miss the most about home (NYC) is the foods.  You just can’t compare it to anywhere else in the world.  NYC is home to every culture and ethnicity there is, you don’t even need to know how to speak English because you can always be certain that you will find a community from ” back home” somewhere in NYC.

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What I love the most about going home is having REAL Chinese food!  I love all of the Chinese vegetables that aren’t available in Iowa, and I especially love the fresh seafood that’s caught right from the Atlantic Ocean.  When I am coming home, my mom always knows to get a fish to cook for my first night’s dinner.  I love my mom’s fish.

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One thing I love doing with my mom is going to Chinatown with her to buy groceries.  She’s most comfortable in Chinatown and Flushing (Queens) because there she can find people from the same village as her from China, or from nearby villages.  It’s that feeling of cultural communion with another person in a faraway land that makes my mom take a train ride into Manhattan instead of just walking a few blocks to the supermarket by the house.

So when my mom buys groceries she takes the M train into Chinatown and buys from the vendors who have their fruits and vegetables displayed in barrels and bins outside (I guess the Midwest’s version of a farmer’s market, only it’s year-round and no one selling it grew it themselves).  My favorite thing about dinner shopping with my mom in Chinatown is going to the fish markets, I LOVE seeing all of the freshly caught seafood.  I can’t even describe the vibrancy of it when I’m at home compare to frozen fish in a bag when I’m in Iowa.

I remember when I was little and my mom would get crabs, I’d play with them; I try picking up and poking at them to see if they’d snap their claws at me, sometimes I’d even get them out of the kitchen sink and put them on the counter to see them walk.  If I was with her when she was in Chinatown to buy them, I choose one myself and it would go into the big, brown paper bag (one of the rare occasions that you don’t get a red plastic bag); during the train ride home, I’d peek into the bag to see what they were doing because I just liked watching them snap their claws and move their legs.  You can’t do that with a bag of frozen, process crab in a supermarket … Food is so much fun!

Arroz con Pollo Recipe

My niece is half Puerto Rican and my best friend is Dominican.  I grew up in a very Hispanic neighborhood that use to have a large Italian population, which by now is mostly eastern Europeans from the former Eastern Bloc (especially Serbs and Poles).  There use to be a small Spanish restaurant up the block from us that I loved going to all the time; they were Dominican and family run and owned.

Arroz con Pollo means chicken and rice, and there’s many ways of cooking it.  Different Hispanic cultures have different spices that they add, different methods of cooking, different ingredients that they like to use, etc.

For mine I used Spanish olives with stuffed pimento, lean boneless chicken breast strips, onion, garlic, cilantro, and red bell pepper.  I use white rice, I’m not sure what the difference in rice is (too Americanize to figure it out, I guess), so I usually just get the white rice in the Asian section at Walmart or Hy-Vee.  I have a rice cooker, but if you don’t, you can do it the old-fashioned way; which is just cooking the rice in a pot (I use to cook rice like that in North Carolina).

I leave the olives whole and cook the chicken in whole stripes first; and I chop up the garlic, cilantro, pepper and onion.  So first, I get the rice going in the rice cooker, then I get the chicken cooked at the same time.  It doesn’t take a long time to cook chicken, and you can tell it’s done once the meat turns white when you poke it with a fork.  In a large skillet, heat up cooking oil (I use extra virgin olive oil), and cook it on both sides evenly for a few minutes; take out chicken and tear (or chop) the chicken up into big chunky pieces (or however big you want them to be); add some more olive oil and sauté the other ingredients until they’re cooked (I usually judge this by the onions when they’ve soften), and then add the chopped chicken pieces back into the pan along with the cooked rice.  Give everything a good mix around in the pan for about three minutes and then you’re ready to eat! 10322771_10152080608798225_2918613737295522574_n

Sorry for my lack of detailed instructions and directions; I really believe that as long as someone knows the basics, they can substitute things like cooking time, measurements, preparations, etc. for whatever they’re comfortable with, or what their preferences are.

Stir-Fry String Beans Recipe

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This is something that’s really quick and simple to make, doesn’t require a lot of work or cook time.  You’ll probably find this dish in a lot of Chinese buffet/takeout restaurants.  This was something that my mom made a lot.  I love it!  Mine isn’t as good as hers, but none of my cooking (or anyone else’s for that matter) can compare to my mom’s cooking.

When it comes to food, I grew up rather spoil.  We never had a microwave growing up (I didn’t buy one until I was 21 and moved out on my own, and even then I hardly ever used the thing!), so everything was always homemade and from scratch.

I can’t give detailed instructions because I’ve never been good with stuff like that.  Even when I’m reading a recipe online, I never follow the measurements, I always just “eye-ball” everything — it’s probably why I can’t bake!  You’ll need fresh string beans/green beans (whatever you want to call it!), wash them under cold water, and chop off both ends of the beans.  Pre-heat a wok, put oil and stir-fry the garlic (I chopped the garlic into halves, but you can chopped them up finely, or however you like — really doesn’t matter to the overall dish, in my opinion); put the string beans in and stir-fry that in the wok for about 2 minutes, add a little bit of water (I’d say like 3 tablespoon, give it a peek when it’s covered to see if more water is needed) and cover the wok to let it steam for about 5 minutes, add oyster sauce and stir-fry for another two minutes — and you’re done!

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You can use onions also if you want to, and you can use soy sauce if you don’t have oyster sauce (many non-Asians don’t have it, so soy sauce will be okay too).  This is best cooked in a wok for even heat and quick cooking, but you can also do it on a large skillet if you don’t have a wok.  Some people add ginger to this too — it’s whatever you prefer, whatever pleases your appetite!

Mom’s Home-cooking ♡

I know there are just certain things that people are bias to — like, your kid being the smartest and the cutest and the most behaved; and your mom being the best cook ever… only, my mom really is the best cook ever (in my eyes anyway).

There’s no restaurant or food in the world that can compare to my mom’s cooking; her cooking is one of the things that I look forward to when I’m home.  Besides from the dinner shopping that I tag along with her in Chinatown for (usually consisting of some sort of fish/seafood, vegetables, and fruit), she also grows her own vegetables and herbs in her garden in the back of the house.

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One of the many winter melons that my mom grows in her garden. She usually makes soup out of it or stir-fries it.

My mom has such a green thumb!  She grew up in a rural village in China, where the livelihood of the villagers was farming.  My mom said we use to own dogs, cats, fishes in a pond, hogs, chickens, etc. (I imagine she grew up in a place that’s probably like Iowa! — but how I grew up would be comparable to a place like Hong Kong instead).  Anyway, she grows Chinese vegetables in the backyard — things like chives/scallions, cilantro, winter melon, green beans, and other things that I don’t even know what their names are.  She has an abundance of vegetables and herbs, so much that she is always giving some to my aunts and uncles, to my sister-in-law’s mom, to extended family and friends, basically to anyone.  It’s also a part of the communal sharing that is exhibited, especially in the past in rural areas of China under Communist influences for crop sharing (before what historians now term as the evolution of “modern China”).

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One of the many winter melons that my mom grows in her garden. She usually makes soup out of it or stir-fries it.

My mom cooks everything (except for soups) in a wok.  Seriously, whether stir-fried or steamed, it is cooked in a wok.  It’s crazy because I hardly know how to use one!  You’d think since I grew up seeing one every day of my life I’d know what I was doing with the thing!  I don’t know what the best type to buy is, and I don’t know how to properly clean it so that it doesn’t rust.  I’ve never seen my mother doing anything other than washing it like you would normally wash any other cookware; but online they have instructions on how to “properly” wash a wok — things like “seasoning” it by coating it with oil and rubbing it down and cleaning it up with paper towels.  The funny part is, all of these instructions are usually from a white person!  I mean, would anyone seriously listen to a Chinese person giving cooking instructions for Italian cooking?  I supposed she’s never had to do any of that because the wok is constantly in use, so there’s never a concern for it rusting because it would never be “put away” in the cabinets.