Monday, December 14, 2009

Annual holiday photo, take 3981

The Holiday Cards Project is still kinda stressing me out. Ever since we had kids, I've felt pressured to come up with cards that feature a cute photo of our offspring. It really shouldn't be that hard getting two boys to pose for a photo. Right?

I mean, after all, it seems that every parent I know handles this without incident. My friend Laura manages it with *five* (with another on the way) kids! Five! They wear adorable matching outfits and all smile at the same time, with everyone looking into the camera. There is no eye-rolling, no crying, no sulking.

For me and Vic, it is exhausting trying to get the boys to cooperate. By the time we are done, everyone needs a nap.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Annual holiday photo tradition

Can someone explain to me the secret to holiday photo cards - the ones where everyone in the family wears matching outfits and everyone smiles? Seriously, I want to know what it takes to make this happen. How do other parents do it?

Both last year and this year, I tried to get the boys to pose for a Christmas-themed photo I could use for our holiday greeting cards. With my sister in town for Thanksgiving, I thought the extra pair of hands would come in, well, handy when trying to wrangle the guys into place. Not so.

Last year, Auntie Linda, Nico and Nolan posed for a photo where the boys made it clear what they thought of the idea of taking a holiday photo. They thought the same of it this year too, apparently.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rest in peace, Linda Clark

Linda Clark passed away on Wednesday, December 2. She took her own life, leaving behind family and friends who will miss her deeply. We miss her already.

The church that held her memorial service on Saturday was full. So many people came to honor Linda's life - I wish she could know that.

Linda was a dear friend I'll remember most for her wicked sense of humor. I loved her for it - and for her passion and her boldness. She said things aloud few people would dare express openly. She was imperfect, like all of us, but she acknowledged her flaws; she never pretended to be someone or something she wasn't.

She had a deep maternal instinct that comforted me, a mother myself. As a stressed-out working mom, I often feel overwhelmed trying to juggle all my responsibilities. Linda shared countless parenting anecdotes and tips with me, stories about her daughter and son that put things in perspective, stories that had me in tears from laughing. I don't know how many times she picked me up when I was down, lifting my spirits with her wit.

I wish I could have comforted her in her moments of darkness. I wish I had known the depths of her despair and helped her find a way out of it.

She was a tough lady, strong and brash. She battled depression but I didn't think there was anything Linda couldn't handle.

I first met her three years ago when she worked at Case Western Reserve University. She joined Word Nerds, an informal network of campus communicators I co-founded. Her presence in the group gave us a jolt - that laugh, those stories! When she left the university we formed an offshoot of the original organization: WordNerds Without Borders. We met every month to share and discuss creative writing projects.

was the star of the show at our writing group gatherings - always keeping us talking, laughing, thinking. Some of us are introverts, yet Linda found a way to draw us all out to share our stories. She was a terrifically talented dynamic, creative force - a writer, an actor, an illustrator and more.

I'm heartbroken that I won't hear that big laugh in my living room ever again.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving: the most wonderful time of the year

The past few months have flown by in a blur of work and family issues and activities. I can't believe the winter holidays are upon us already. 

Last week, my sister flew in from San Francisco to spend a week with us. We've had a great time hanging out with her! Both boys adore their Auntie Linda; they have such a deep bond with her even though they don't get to see her too often. Lin was there for the birth of both boys and she has been a treasured presence in their lives ever since.

This past weekend was really fun. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. This year, we spent Thanksgiving at my father-in-law's house and the following day at my parents' house. We had a wonderfully delicious yet nutritious meal at my father-in-law's house. At my parents' place, Mom prepared an assortment of traditional American Thanksgiving staples (turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce) along with Taiwanese dishes (sticky rice, stir-fried shrimp, steamed eggplant with garlic). We stuffed ourselves.

Throughout the weekend, we played a lot of board games (I'm the house reigning champ at Scrabble, Nico's the one to beat at Sorry!) and had tons of fun playing Rock Band (I think the best combo for us was having Nico at the mic, Lin or Vic on guitar and me on bass). We also watched a bunch of movie DVDs. The weather was beautiful and Lin and I went for a nice long walk to Shaker Lakes.

We also started what I hope will become annual Thanksgiving weekend family traditions. During Thanksgiving, Nico announced to the family all that he is thankful for (I think the Buddhist school lessons are starting to make him more appreciative and grateful!). When Nolan starts talking more, I hope he'll do the same. On Saturday, we donated 13 bags of clothes and toys to Goodwill. 

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I'm going to try to keep a positive attitude through the hectic winter holiday season

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The force is with me

I am quite impressed with myself at the moment.

I completed the boys' Halloween costume hunt a full month before Halloween! This is highly unusual for me, as I'm usually scrambling at the last minute. After all, I'm the mom who gets holiday cards out super late - as in January/February ("They're Lunar New Year cards!"). Last year, I didn't have to worry about Halloween costumes since Auntie Linda provided Nico's Iron Man costume and Nolan wore Nico's hand-me-down giraffe outfit.

This year's hunt for Halloween costumes started a few weeks ago. I had set up a recurring annual reminder on my Google calendar to "begin researching Halloween costumes" on September 1. So when my reminder triggered, I asked Nico what he wanted to be this year. Our conversation went like this:

Me: Why don't you and Nolan go as Transformers? You could dress as Optimus Prime and Nolan could be Megatron!
Nico: But Optimus Prime and Megatron are enemies.
Me: I know, but they're brothers.
Nico: But they're enemies.
Me: I know. That's what makes it funny.
Nico: Why is that funny? Nolan's not my enemy. I'm going to be Darth Vader.
Me: Then maybe Nolan should be Luke Skywalker?
Nico: What? That makes no sense! Nolan's not my son. I'm not his dad.

We flirted with a number of other dual costume ideas - Batman/Robin, Darth Vader/stormtrooper, black-costumed Spiderman/red-costumed Spiderman - but ultimately settled on Nico going as Darth Vader and Nolan going as an Ewok. If I go trick-or-treating with the boys, I'll be Chewbacca, of course.

I then did a bit of research and found out that a full Darth Vader costume cost around $70. No freaking way. That's not even including the light saber! Of course, there are less expensive versions starting at around $20, but knowing Nico, they would be unacceptable.

So I posted my Facebook status as:
[Lisa is] is trying to find a reasonably priced size 6-8 kids' Darth Vader costume and size 18-24 month Ewok costume. My life is incredibly exciting.

Next thing you know, I had 11 comments, ranging from "Holy cow, you're already thinking Halloween" to "A *real* dedicated Mom would sew the costumes from scratch. I'm just sayin'...."

I had procured a fantastic Halloween costume through eBay years ago, so I decided to try that route. In the next few days, I lost seven auctions. But then I won two. Voila, we now have a gently used children's Darth Vader Halloween costume, replete with full bodysuit and shoe covers, belt, helmet-mask and light saber. We also have a new toddler Ewok costume.

I can only hope to be this organized for the winter holiday season.

Monday, September 28, 2009

September afternoon

Over the weekend, Nolan and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. I wasn't sure how he'd do, since we stroll him most of the time. Usually, when we do walk anywhere, we don't get too far before he wants to be held. Now that he's two, though, he is ready for longer strolls. So on Sunday afternoon, he and I set out for a neighborhood walk - just the two of us.

It had rained the night before and the ground was still wet. Nolan was in a super happy mood. He and I don't spend much time alone with each other and I really enjoyed being able to focus on just him. Often, he is just along for the ride while I run errands or shuttle his brother to various activities. On Sunday, we had a great time just enjoying the fresh air.

Every few steps, Nolan stooped to point at something and comment on it. He stomped in puddles and picked up all kinds of things from the ground: pebbles, buckeyes, twigs and colorful leaves. He laughed as acorns fell on us and around us from the trees overhead. He picked up the acorns from the ground and threw them in all directions. He picked up fallen branches that had leaves attached and mopped the sidewalk with them.

The weather was perfect and I had a great time with my little guy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Farewell, NFL

A few weeks ago, my friend Chris sent his annual NFL football email to his pals: "Join my Yahoo! Sports Pro Football Pick'em group".

I was tempted. For about a second.

Then I decided against participating this year. The Brown are horrible and I have no idea what is going on with all the other teams. Plus, the Browns are horrible (did I already say that?).

It's been liberating having my Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights back again. I can use all that time to, I don't know, fold some laundry?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First haircut

Poor Nolan often has to stand in the shadow of his older brother, Nico. I just realized that at least the last five blog posts have been about Nico. And I still haven't gotten around to displaying any photos of Nolan in my office at work.

Anyway, Nolan also hit a milestone over the weekend: his first haircut. Not that I want to keep talking about his big brother, but Nico was around 10 months old when he had his first professional haircut. (Vic dubbed the trim I gave him months earlier as the "Dumb and Dumber" Disaster.) Nolan is two weeks away from his second birthday. Although he doesn't have as much hair as Nico did at this age, Nolan's hair is cute and curly.

Nolan did pretty well during the haircut and only whimpered a bit when the stylist tried to use electric clippers on him. I saved some of his baby hair, especially the baby curls.

First day of second grade

I can't believe Nico is a second-grader now!

Nico's first day of second grade went well. Vic and I walked him to school and stayed with him through the school flag-raising ceremony. It was great seeing everyone there - students, teachers, parents and other family members.

Nico was a bit shy when we first arrived on the school playground, but gradually got more comfortable. He wore his Batman backpack from first grade (he tried to talk me into buying a brand new backpack but I stood my ground), which was heavy with school supplies. It turns out that Vic was right - I *was* the only parent who labeled every single one of the 48 pencils with Nico's full name. But that's what the instructions said to do! Label everything, including pencils. I followed the school supply list to a tee. Vic said I was being obsessive-compulsive; I said I was merely being thorough.

Anyhow, Nico was happy about his class and his teacher. We're looking forward to another great year.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nico loses his first tooth!

Finally. Nico lost his first loose tooth! After being wiggly for more than two months, the little thing finally fell out today.

Vic and I were starting to worry about the tooth. All of Nico's same-age friends have lost several teeth already and have moved on to their "big" teeth. I fretted that Nico would develop a mustache before losing his baby teeth. (It's not implausible - childhood photos of Vic suggest that he really should have started shaving at age eight.)

Nico's tooth had been loose for so long that its neighboring tooth started trembling too. Nico explained the situation once he noticed it: "It's like the two teeth are hugging each other and saying, 'Hold on!'"

Then, two permanent teeth started jutting up behind the two loose baby teeth. So for a while, Nico had two rows of teeth in his mouth, stadium-seating style.

This afternoon, after many close calls over apples and corn on the cob this summer, the first wiggly tooth finally gave in. This is a major milestone for Nico, my soon-to-be second-grader.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shark teeth

Nico is finally on the verge of losing one of his baby teeth.

Even though he is 7 now and all of his peers have moved on to "big teeth", Nico is still holding on to all of his little ones. His jaw has grown a lot in the past year, but his little baby teeth have remained the same size, which makes his smile look a little jack-o-lanterny with all the space between each tooth.

Nico has had one wiggly front bottom tooth for a month now; the permanent tooth has already backed up behind it and poked out like a tiny iceberg. Now he looks like a shark!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

No more training wheels for Nico

Hooray! Nico learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. Vic basically taught him how to do it in one weekend.

I can't believe my baby is growing up so fast.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Nick Chicken Food Show

CLEVELAND - In his new web series, the Nick Chicken Food Show, six-year-old host Nick Chicken shares his passion for food and fun. Aimed at kids, the show explores topics ranging from cupcakes and Easter eggs to fun things to do at the dinner table.

As the host and creator of the show, Nick chooses "fooditific" names for everyone with a role in the show, including mom/camerawoman Lisa Pizza and little brother/guest star James Fishy. Nick Chicken hopes, ultimately, to connect with viewers who agree that rolling your eyes while eating a meal is an important and valuable skill.

Teachers who inspire

I can't believe Nico has finished first grade!

Nico has been blessed with amazing teachers so far, starting from his early childhood program through kindergarten and first grade. This year, he had a wonderful Chinese School teacher on Saturdays too.

We've been so lucky that Nico has had teachers who have really taken the time to get to know him and nurture him. This year, I told Nico's first grade teacher, Mrs. Polanco, that he was having some cultural identity issues. She invited me to come to the class and give a cultural presentation as part of a social studies unit. I gave two presentations, one about Taiwan and another on Lunar New Year. Mrs. Polanco encouraged Nico to help with the presentations and she had an especially great touch when she asked him to teach the class how to count to 10 in Mandarin. When he wrote the characters on the blackboard and led the class in reciting the numbers, she exclaimed, "Thank you, Professor Nico!" Nico floated for the rest of the day and even talked about it again when I tucked him in that night. Even weeks - and months - later, he said he was going to grow up to be a professor (and a bowler and a father).

Throughout the year, with Nico's writing assignments, Mrs. Polanco gave him feedback that showed she was paying close attention. She'd write "Yummy!" when he wrote sentences about food. When he wrote too much about diapers and poo, she'd say, with a smiley face, "Nice sentences! Next week, let's try to write without the Captain Underpants sense of humor."

On one homework assignment, he wrote a paragraph about whales, using as many words of the week as possible:

Whales live in the Pacific Ocean. They don't each whiped (sic) cream. They can not catch a ball. They can not match things. They don't have a chin. They can not chop things. They can't be our pets.

Mrs. Polanco wrote on his paper, "You made me laugh!" When Nico wrote jokes and special instructions for her on his work (e.g. "Turn the page for a big surprise!"), she complied and replied with messages of her own.

When we went on trips out of town, Mrs. Polanco encouraged him to keep a travel journal. Each time he did, she had him share it with the class. She also sent back wonderful handwritten notes with his journals. One read, "Wow, Nico! Perhaps you will follow in your mom's footsteps and become a writer! Wonderful, fabulous, fantastic work! I liked your attention to detail and beautiful drawings. Way to go!"

On one of his stories, Mrs. Polanco wrote, "Nico, you are a very talented writer! I can't wait to buy your best seller book one day. Keep up the FABULOUS work!"

In doing all of this, she helped Nico understand the power of language. When I was growing up, I was fortunate to have teachers who nurtured my love of reading and writing. I'm so happy Nico is experiencing this too. Thank you, Mrs. Polanco!

I hope our streak of fantastic teachers continues this fall!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I'm half the fan I used to be

Well, I'm not as devastated by last night's Cavs loss as I thought I'd be.

Maybe it's due to some sort of self-preservation mechanism, but I've become a bit numb to these things, you see. Don't get me wrong - I still love my teams. I still want them to win, and I was still swearing up a storm during the final seconds of those heart-stopping playoffs games. But my recovery from the losses was much quicker than I expected. And the intensity of my emotions is much duller.

Admittedly, I'm probably less than half the Cleveland sports fan I used to be. I have vivid memories of the big heartbreaking Cleveland sports moments.

But then something happened to me. I became a mother.

Now, I know plenty of moms who are still rabid sports fans, but for me, the combination of more chaos and deeper sleep deprivation in my life meant something had to give. The first thing to go? My fantasy sports teams. Next up? My coordination of various sports pools*. Following that, I scaled back on mere *participation* in sports pools (with the exception of my March Madness pool with Vic, but that's only because the winner gets a Hassle-Free Fun Day and what mom in her right mind would miss out on the possibility of that?)

It's healthier this way, I think. I don't want my boys to ride the same Cleveland sports fan rollercoaster Vic and I have ridden most of our lives. It may be too late for Nico, I'm afraid. He was in bed when the game started so he didn't get to see any of it. He pounded his fist and stomped his feet when I told him about the outcome of yesterday's game. "SHUCKS!" he cried. "SHUUUUUCKS!" (He hasn't discovered stronger words to use - yet.)

Nolan, I have a feeling, will be much mellower. He's only a year and a half, but he seems naturally mild-mannered. Even though we may have started him down the wrong path by dressing him in Cleveland sports team infant outfits, he seems to take it all in stride.

I still care about Cleveland sports, but I will no longer let team losses sink me into a deep funk. In fact, this morning, I told Vic, "Well, the good news is I can move on to other things and think about having a fun summer."

*Note: This year was an exception.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day = no heartbreakers

For Mothers' Day, Nico gave me three gifts he made in school:
  • a big, red (my favorite color) construction paper card
    The front said, "Happy Mothers day!!" in giant letters with a balloon drawn next to the words. The inside had instructions: "Draw a pitchure, and I'll draw a pitchure!" Then there was the personal message, written in pencil:
    Dear Mommy,
    Happy Mothers day!
    Hope you have a speacteaculer day.
    Hope your not sick too!
  • a beaded keychain
    Nico threaded beads of my favorite color (red) and his favorite colors (blue and black) for this project.
  • a letter
    Nico wrote a message to me in pencil that read:
    To: Mom
    From: Nico
    Dear Mommy,
    Happy Mother's Day!
    I love you because yore my S.P.S.S. [Super Pretty Super Star]. You are the best mom in the world because yore beautiful.

    Next to his signature was a picture of a heart, with a line bissecting it with "Mommy" on on the left half and "Nico" on the right. On one side of the page, he had another interactive area where I was told "(Do it yorself)" and "Draw yourself" next to his "(Do it myself) and "Draw myself". The idea, I guess, was to have a self-portrait of me next to a self-portrait of him. Then there was a picture of a big broken heart with my name and his name on the ripped heart, with a slash through it. I take it to mean "no broken hearts allowed". This makes sense. Whenever Nico is pleased with me, he declares, "You're my superstar!" When he's upset with me, he whispers in my ear, "You're my heartbreaker."
On the back of the letter, Nico drew a heart within a heart within a heart - with at least a dozen layers - labeled "Humungus Heart". He also included a short customer satisfaction survey, which I found interesting, considering what Vic does for a living. It had one simple question: "Do you like it?" with checkboxes for Yes and No.

I checked Yes.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cheers to Chinese School

Today was the last day of Nico's first year of Chinese School. It was a wonderful experience! Nico enjoyed it and was thrilled to have won a second-place trophy in the word-phrase contest two weeks ago.

At first, I wasn't sure if Nico was going to enjoy Chinese School. This past fall, he and I enrolled in a Chinese as a Second Language (CSL) class at the Chinese Academy of Cleveland, a Saturday morning program at Shaker Middle School. For this particular class, a parent must attend the class alongside the child. I was hoping Vic would want to accompany Nico, but it ended up being me.

I already know some Mandarin from going to Chinese School myself when I was a kid, and from taking Chinese in college. With language, though, if you don't use it, you lose it. So I've forgotten a lot, especially reading and writing.

Growing up, my parents mainly spoke a Taiwanese dialect at home; they spoke Mandarin to each other when they didn't want me and my sister to understand what they were saying. Of course, that was a great way to motivate us to learn Mandarin!

For me, there wasn't a choice about going to Chinese School. My parents insisted, and both of them took active roles in running the school. My mom taught a Chinese culture class and at one point, my dad was the principal. So for years, while most of my friends watched Saturday morning cartoons in their pajamas, my sister and I sat through Chinese language and culture classes.

Today's Chinese School is a much more sophisticated operation than the one I remembered from my childhood. Like mine, Nico's school is run by a cadre of dedicated, energetic parent volunteers. But Nico's school has a board of directors, a PTA and a pedagogy committee! My Chinese School only had one curriculum track. Nico's has two, the CSL program and one that is more intensive, comparable to the one I went through.

I didn't think Nico and I were up for an intensive language program, so I registered us for the CSL program. I wasn't sure what to expect from it, but right from the start, I was impressed. Nico's class was rather diverse, with a mix of students from different backgrounds. His teacher was very kind and affectionate toward the students. She engaged them with songs, games and crafts. In just the first three classes, Nico and his classmates could sing two Chinese songs and read and write numerals 1 to 10.

Another great feature of Nico's school? Their snack break is fantastic! This is what happens at Snack Time: After the first hour of class, the bell rings and all the students rush from their classrooms into the cafeteria, where a glorious array of snacks is spread across two lunch tables. The snacks are a mix of Asian hot dishes (e.g. curry chicken, bean thread noodles and fried rice) and American packaged snacks (e.g. pretzels, M&Ms and Capri Sun juice pouches). The students earn coupons during class time they can use to purchase their snacks (or they can just pay with money). I loved that week after week, Nico would use his coupons toward an eclectic Asian American mix of foods (e.g. tea eggs and Cheetos). It might seem like a simple food choice to some, but it's a powerful metaphor to me.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Don't hate the player, hate the game

Wow, I really hit a nerve when I shared the results of my March Madness pool last night.

I know I was majorly late in reporting the results, but I had no idea I would upset anyone in doing so. Last night, I emailed everyone in the pool a gentle reminder: "Hey, you forgot to congratulate the winner of the "March Madness 2009: In It to Win It" pool. Let's not forget our manners! (Yes, I realize I'm superlate with the trash-talking. What can I say? I've been busy.)"

My friend (and former boss), Bob, replied to all: "Seriously. This crosses a line even for you, Lisa. Trash talking a month late is definitely out of bounds. It's like putting your MVP award for little league on your college application." Bob, I should mention, is the director of undergraduate admission at a major university.

So I checked in with Bob, via IM, to see what was up and why he was being so cranky:

me: way to put an admission-related smackdown on my trash-talking
Bob: you deserved at least that much
me: come on
i didn't have a chance to say anything sooner
Bob: W [Editor's note: This is Bob's shorthand for "whatever"]
me: don't hate
Bob: if you truly believe in the trash you're talking, you make the chance
wow, you should sell that to someone

After my exchange with Bob, a few other friends chimed into the email thread. To all of them, I say, "
Don't hate the player, hate the game." As Urban Dictionary explains, "Do not fault the successful participant in a flawed system; try instead to discern and rebuke that aspect of its organization which allows or encourages the behavior that has provoked your displeasure."

It's lonely at the top. Everyone wants to bring you down.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

March Madness (in May)

So I realize I'm quite late in reporting this, but with NBA playoffs taking place now, I'm in a basketball mood again. And I realized that I had not shared the the results of my March Madness pool.

This year, my friends Bob and Jonathan coerced me into running the pool once again, despite the fact that I'm the one who is married with children. (What do you do when you want something to get done now and done right? Ask Mom!)

Anyhow, I ran the pool via Facebook, which turned out to be pretty easy. In the past, I collected paper brackets and there were always stragglers who tried to turn in picks after the first round started. With Facebook? No muss, no fuss.

Check out who won the pool.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Husbands and birthdays

In contrast to the lovely homemade card my first-born son gave me on my birthday, my husband offered a different approach. I'll give him credit. Vic gave me something I really wanted - however, he bought it on my actual birthday and there was no element of surprise. There was no fanfare, no joy attached to the gift.

Here's an excerpted transcript of the IM conversation we had on my birthday:

Vic: I'm looking into the iPhone stuffme: ok
Vic: would you believe that if the battery goes bad and is out of warranty, that we would have to take the phone to an Apple store or send it to Apple for replacement?
which costs 1/2 as much as the phone?
me: i guess i would believe that
i haven't heard of anyone having problems with the battery so far
Vic: i'm not real thrilled with a lot of Apple's business practices
me: i know

Vic: but i guess i can look the other way
if the monthly cost is not too high
i'm going to print out our current deal with AT&T so that we can compare the before and after
me: good idea
Vic: do you prefer black or white?
me: white
they don't have any pretty colors?
Vic: black or white
like a Model T
hey, once you drink the Apple Kool-Aid, you get what they want you to get. And you have to like it.
me: wow
don't be a hater
Vic: otherwise, you're not cool
Vic: by the way, you are going to have to chain this thing to your wrist so that you don't lose it
me: sigh
Vic: the phone itself costs $300 for the 16 GB
$200 for 8 GB
$200 for 16 GB, refurbished
me: ok
Vic: $5 per month for voice dial

I think not (it's optional)
$2 per month for detailed billing
(this is AT&T, not Apple)
me: wow, this is quite crazy
Vic: data plan is required
$30 per month
me: that's much less than i expected
does that include all internet access?Vic: Data Plan for iPhone 3G includes unlimited data in the U.S. Access rich HTML email and desktop-level web browsing, as well as Visual Voicemail to listen to voicemail messages in any order you choose.
me: cool
Vic: it is done

At the end, Vic also informed me exactly how much the net extra cost per year would be, as opposed to my old phone with its service plan. So romantic!

Happy birthday to me!

Happy Birtay

Nico made me a fantastic birthday card. The front was awesome. Besides writing "HAPPY BIRTAY!" in my favorite color, red, Nico decorated the words with hearts and fireworks. Then he sprinkled Easter egg, flower and football stickers across the page.

The inside of the card showed a scene of me and a large pink and blue rabbit jumping up and down. "You are so cute!" the animal was saying to me, with me answering, "Thank you, Easter bunny!"

Nico wrote a message to me that said:
Dear Mommy, Today is your birthay! I hope you like today. Don't you wish it would not be snowing? It's snowing on April 6, 2009? Plus its a blizerd! Get that out of your mind and think of your birthay! You are 39 today! Love, Nico

I love it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Skin deep

I think I'm officially getting old. My birthday is tomorrow, and I'm feeling my age. Even though I'm still in my 30s, 40 is right around the corner! I really need to take better care of myself.

Lately, I noticed a disturbing pattern in the ads and coupons I clipped from magazines. Many of them promoted skin care products:
  • Garnier Nutritioniste Skin Renew Anti-Puff Eye Roller
    ("Massage away puffiness and dark circles")
  • Olay Regenerist Reversal Treatment Foam
    ("Some women nip and tuck. Others prefer the cutting edge.")
  • Olay Definity Deep Penetrating Foaming Moisturizer
    ("You could spend $2,000 for laser treatments to fight wrinkles and discoloration. Or you can bank on Olay Definity.")
  • Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Cream Foundation with Custom Coverage Applicator
    ("Rewind the years, instantly!")
  • Almay Bright Eyes
    ("A wake-up call for your eyes")
  • Neutrogena Mineral Sheers Liquid Makeup SPF 20
    ("Creates such a perfectly natural look, you'll wonder who did your makeup."

My friend Janet had been raving about a new skin care regimen she had been trying, so I decided to give it a shot. I headed to Target and examined the products in the skin care aisle. Overwhelmed by the choices, I called Janet. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I don't know which one to get! Help!
Janet: It's OK. Just get the Olay Regenerist stuff.
Me: There's so much here. Should I get the Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum or the Olay Regenerist Deep Hydration Regenerating Cream?
Janet: No, don't get the Deep Hydration Regenerating Cream. Well, I mean, you can get it but I didn't like it. It was too heavy for me. You want the Olay Regenerist lotion that has sunscreen in it. You'll use that during the day.
Me: I don't see that. I see a whole bunch of other stuff. Do I want the Olay Total Effects 7-in-1 Anti-Aging UV Moisturizer?
Janet: No, not Total Effects. You want the Regenerist stuff.
Me: Well, I don't see what you're talking about. Do I want the one that is with Touch of Foundation?
Janet: NO. Don't get the Touch of Foundation. You want the Olay Regenerist lotion. It's kind of in a round container.
Me: I might get the Total Effects stuff too. It has "7 anti-aging therapies in 1 vitamin rich moisturizer" and is "for visibly younger-looking, even toned skin".
Janet: Hmm, OK, but that's not the one I'm talking about.
Me: Wait! I think I've got it! Is it the Olay Regenerist UV Defense Regenerating Lotion?
Janet: Yeah!
Me: Yeah!

I hope this works.

Monday, March 30, 2009

March Madness: mathematically eliminated?

Yesssss! Even though the NCAA men's basketball tournament is not over yet, I've already won the 10th Annual March Madness 1:1 pool between me and my husband. Vic and I do this every year, with the winner earning a Hassle-Free Fun Day. Basically, that means the winner gets to plan activities for one full day any way s/he wants and the loser must participate with nary a whine nor whimper (i.e., no hassles).

Since Vic only has only one remaining team in the Final Four, and I have three (including Vic's lone surviving team), he has been mathematically eliminated. Too bad, so sad!

I wonder what to do for my Hassle-Free Fun Day. Vote in my poll and help me decide!

Postscript: These are the results of the poll:
Dinner and movie (chick flick): 0 votes
Spa day (including massage): 5 votes (71%)
Hike and picnic (with things *I* like to eat): 2 votes (28%)
Shoe shopping excursion: 0 votes

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A typical scene in our house

Nico and Nolan are developing quite the love-hate sibling relationship:

Video Synopsis:
Nico and Nolan are playing in Nolan's Pack 'N' Play - yes, Nico weighs way too much to be sitting in there. Nico starts doing Kuk Sool Won moves on Noli, and Noli protests. The sleepy younger sibling motions to be lifted out of the playpen, but once he realizes that his mother will not put down the camera, resigns himself to enduring his brother's torture. After Nico finishes with the martial arts practice, he continues to antagonize Nolan by mocking him and repeatedly throwing a ball at his head.

Perfecting the work-life unbalance

I've been very busy this year working toward my latest goal, one I am confident I can achieve: perfecting the work-life unbalance!

For too long, I've lamented that I don't have enough hours in the day. I've decided to to embrace the fact that my life is overstuffed, that I'm chronically overcommitted and that none of this is every really going to change. The fact is that I like having a crammed calendar, brimming with things to do. And with an equally busy husband and two active young boys, our life is bound to be chaotic and crazy at times.

There are some things I really do need to change in my life:
- focusing on my physical and emotional well-being
- doing more fun things with my family and friends
- prioritizing projects that are important to me

Besides those changes, though, I've decided to accept the fact that I'll often feel frazzled, sleep-deprived and guilty that I should be doing more, better, different. I'm going to stop talking about pursuing the mythical work-life balance, though.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Year of the Ox

Happy Lunar New Year!

This year is the Year of the Ox. We celebrated the New Year with more fanfare than we typically have in previous years. Right now, my parents are in Taiwan celebrating with our relatives there, so without them, I felt a deeper obligation in making sure the boys felt connected to an important part of their cultural heritage. Without my parents here to guide me, I tried to follow many of the traditions I remembered from growing up in a Taiwanese American household.

Last week, Nico and I went to Asia Plaza to buy some Chinese New Year decorations. We hung the red and gold banners, paper lanterns and ornaments on our front door, our entryway and in our living room. We displayed a bowl of oranges with their stems still attached, along with a red and black Chinese candy box filled with Chinese sweets. Nico was really happy with the results.

Then, Vic and I followed the tradition of cleaning the house from top to bottom. The idea is to sweep all the dust and bad luck from the previous year out the door. We didn't quite get the whole house in order the way we would have liked, but we made good progress. Some parts of the house look great; others - not so much.

On Sunday night, we celebrated with a Lunar New Year's Eve family dinner at Li Wah restaurant in Cleveland's Asia Plaza. I was interested in the special banquet menus the restaurant offered that evening, featuring dishes including:

Assorted Seafood, Bamboo & Shark's Fins Soup
Sauteed Assorted Seafood & House X.O. Sauce
Lobster w/ Ginger & Scallions
Steamed Fish
Chinese Sausage & Diced Vegetable Fried Rice
Fresh Oranges Fruit

Since it was just the four of us, though, with three of us (i.e. not me) being unaccustomed to Chinese banquet dishes and two of us being picky kids, we ordered from the regular menu. The food was OK, but we mainly went to the restaurant so the boys could see the lion dance. Nico was excited about putting a red envelope inside the lion's mouth, and was thrilled when the lion rewarded him with a peppermint. Nolan didn't really understand what was going on, but he was alert and attentive.

This afternoon, Nico and I gave a Lunar New Year presentation at his school. We had done so last year too, for his kindergarten class. Like last year, it was fun! Nico has been really fortunate. Last year and this year, he has had fantastic teachers. We loved Nico's kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Miracle. This year's teacher, Mrs. Polanco, is awesome too - she is really attuned to Nico's interests and needs.

When we gave our presentation, Nico and I sat next to each other in little chairs in front of the class. Nico read the book "Dragon Dance" to his class, as he had last year, and we talked about some of the traditions associated with Chinese New Year. We talked about the significance of the color red and the Chinese Zodiac animals. We answered questions and afterward, Nico handed out Chinese candy and lucky red envelopes containing gold foil-wrapped Chinese coins to his classmates.

During our presentation, Mrs. Polanco asked Nico to teach the class some Chinese words he learned in Chinese School. After writing the characters on the blackboard, Nico led the class in counting to 10 in Mandarin. I was amazed that Mrs. Polanco was able to convince him to do this so easily, as Nico has been rather reluctant to acknowledge his Chinese background. He was so happy, though, when the class was receptive to his lesson and when Mrs. Polanco called him "Professor Nico"!

I'm really proud of Nico for being brave enough to get up in front of his class to share his cultural heritage, something he been very shy about. The timing is perfect because this Saturday, he will have to step onto a larger stage. Nico will be in a lion dance parade when his Chinese School class performs in its annual Chinese New Year Celebration. Nico is proud to be only one of two students in the class with the honor of holding the lion head. Now he just needs to memorize the song!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Of pride and presidents (and poetry and potlucks, too)

What an incredible, historic day.

At noon, I watched the live, televised inauguration of President (no longer "President-elect" - at last!) Barack Obama with hundreds of people on campus. Faculty, staff, undergrads and graduate students joined with local high school students to fill the Thwing Ballroom where I work at Case Western Reserve University. The energy of the room was amazing. Tears filled my eyes.

The last time I felt such emotion about being an American was, indeed, when I first became an official American. In 2000, at my naturalization oath ceremony, I stood among people from all over the world, all of us united in our desire to seek U.S. citizenship. In watching the millions of people on the National Mall today, I was again reminded of those people who stood with me in San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium years ago, when my voice joined hundreds of others in reciting the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.

I am so proud to be an American today! We did it!

For me, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, it is such a thrill to witness a son of an immigrant ascend to the highest office in the country.

For me, the mother of multicultural children, it is such a thrill to witness a person of multiethnic roots become one of the world's most powerful leaders.

For me, an American citizen, it is such a thrill to witness the realization of a dream deferred.

This evening, I took Nico to an inauguration party in our neighborhood. It was quintessential Cleveland Heights. Coventry Village’s Big Bouncing Inaugural Ball was held at the Grog Shop, a hip concert venue in the area. The party, which benefited the Heights Emergency Food Center, invited attendees to a family-friendly "global potluck".

Potluck? You don't have to ask me twice - I'm all about potlucks! I prepared my signature potluck dish, rice pearl balls. Nico was so excited about the inauguration party he could barely keep it together. The other day, when Vic said to him, "Today is George Bush's last day as president," Nico responded, without missing a beat, "Change we need."

Since the potluck party had a late start time, too close to Nolan's bed time, Vic stayed home with Nolan while I took Nico to the event. Nico and I pinned our Obama campaign buttons to our winter coats, loaded up a bag of canned goods, carried our potluck platter and headed to the party.

When we arrived, I placed our platter on a table teeming with other eclectic dishes: hummus and pita, potato cheese pie, African ground nut stew, spicy black beans and rice, Mediterranean couscous, Kenyan vegetable curry, Mexican popovers, pizzas, various soups and "some kind of chicken salad thing" (that's what the label said). A dessert table held more treats: brownies, chocolate chip cookies, Canadian maple cookies, cheesecakes, cupcakes decorated with "O", a cake featuring a peace sign made of strawberries and blueberries and a sheet cake bearing a U.S. flag and icing with the message "Congratulations President Barack Obama".

I met up with my friend Claire, who had cajoled me into attending the Cleveland Obama rally in November. We greeted familiar faces from the community. We listened to performers. We celebrated with poetry and song. We realized the culmination of a dream we couldn't believe could really come true.

I'm exhilarated but exhausted. I want to sleep with the words from Inauguration poet Elizabeth Alexander on my mind:

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2009 already?

Yikes. I didn't want to start the year off this way, but it's too late. I'm already behind. It seems like Thanksgiving was just here and then, wham - the New Year arrived!

So, Christmas was good. We spent Christmas Eve with Vic's family and the boys really enjoyed it. It's a Thomas family tradition to open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, so after dinner and our gift exchange, by the time we drove home, Nico and Nolan both conked out in their car seats.

The next morning, Nico woke up early and angrily exclaimed, "Santa didn't come! These are the same presents that were here yesterday!" Vic gave me a dirty look since he doesn't like the whole Santa business, so he left it to me to respond. "What are you talking about?" I said. "Your stocking is full, isn't it?" "Oh yeah," Nico said. "And he did eat the piece of chocolate I left for him." Vic rolled his eyes. Apparently, Nico hadn't told us he left a piece of chocolate on a napkin for Santa to consume. Hmm. Good thing there are people* in the house who can't resist chocolate.

Nico and Nolan had fun opening the rest of their presents. They're so spoiled. Nico, in particular, received way too many things. I don't even buy him gifts for his birthday or Christmas any more since I know he will get showered by everyone else, including his dad. Nolan was oblivious, for the most part.

Anyhow, the holidays were a whirlwind and there's just one more to complete the season for us: Lunar New Year in two weeks.

*I love chocolate.