Thursday, November 29, 2012

Parenting Anxiety Attack #95234: On Kindergarten Redshirting

Oh no, I'm having a(nother) Parenting Anxiety Attack.

I just finished perusing my younger son's kindergarten class Share Journal, where you can see all the kids' writings and drawings about an item they chose from home to bring to their classroom. Reading the journal supports my belief that we should have waited a year for him to start kindergarten. 

The Jumbo Pencil
Photo credit:
Nolan started this year at age four and has found himself in a classroom with some kids who are seven years old. I was unsure about him starting this year since he has a late September birthday, is small for his age, is quite shy and has significant asthma and allergy issues. (Will he be too shy to speak up for himself around foods he cannot eat?) 

On top of that, academic redshirting seems to be the norm in the area we live in, I've now learned, especially for boys. We live in Silicon Valley, in an area where the majority of parents are Asian immigrants who prize academic achievement. Many parents work at Google, Apple, Yahoo, etc. 

My husband has a late September birthday too, though, and assured me that being small and young isn't a big deal. Besides being the last kid in his class to graduate from the fat pencil to the skinny pencil and requiring extra scissors practice at home, my husband did fine academically and caught up with his classmates in size in a few years.

This year, I made sure to volunteer in Nolan's classroom. I'm there one to two times a week and I have seen how he fits in with his classmates. Once we got past the rocky first week of school, he adjusted well. He's the smallest in his class but he seems to blend in with the others. I think he's the only one who needs his teacher's help putting on and zipping his jacket, but when it comes to the schoolwork, he is OK. Identifying and creating patterns seems to be his specialty.

Still, I started to feel alarmed again when we received a kindergarten-wide email to parents early in the year. It was in regard to Reading Racers, a program that develops children's ability to recognize and read simple words. Here's an excerpt from that email:
This program was not designed to be a contest but to differentiate to our students' individual needs as our students are budding learners at all different levels. Also, please remember that children are listening and watching your reactions to their work. Comparing lists after school with other parents could potentially be hurtful to individual students which could affect their self-esteem and confidence when they see that some students are at a different level than them.

Apparently, some of the kindergarten parents were getting competitive about Reading Racers. (Note to educators: Perhaps consider not calling it Reading RACERS if you don't want to encourage competition.)  

And now we have the Share Journal. I was quite surprised to see that some of Nolan's classmates are practically writing novellas and illustrating their essays with beautiful, complex drawings. Nolan has very faint, wispy penmanship and writes short four-word sentences, e.g., "The dog went home." He draws very basic stick figures, often accompanied with hearts and balloons, no matter what the context.

Look, I really don't want to be a Tiger Mom, but what am I supposed to do when I'm surrounded by them? I was raised by Asian immigrant parents myself, so I know the Tiger parenting style very well. I don't want that for our family. But now I find myself second-guessing myself again. I'm tempted to inquire about Nolan repeating kindergarten next year. 

Am I out of my mind? What would you do?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hello To All the Children of the World

International Fair
Hello, bonjour, buenos dias!
Hello, Bonjour, Buenos Dias
G'Day, Gutentag, Konichiwa
Ciao, Shalom, Dobre Dyen, 
Hello to all the children of the world!

Last Friday, I chaired an event at my sons' school: the International Fair. It was a wonderful celebration of culture and community.

Several months ago, the school PTA president asked for volunteers to help plan the event this fall. I signed up, thinking I'd basically be organizing a giant potluck. (When you say International Fair, I say food: Fair! Food! Fair! Food!)

We moved to California last summer, so we are still relatively new to the neighborhood. At our former elementary school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, we loved the Soul Food Dinner/Multicultural Night that was held every other year. Food was a huge part of the evening, as it was essentially a massive potluck dinner in the cafeteria, flanked by parent-hosted country booths. The soul food selections were always fantastic: fried chicken, mac-n-cheese casseroles, banana pudding, sweet potato pies. The other cultural dishes were wonderful too. Latkes always disappeared fast, along with potstickers.

So at our new school this year, I agreed to chair the International Fair. And then I learned that it was more than a potluck. I worked closely with two other moms to plan the event. Juggling home and work responsibilities, we met weekly for the past month and a half to develop and execute a plan that included recruiting volunteers, lining up food and merchandise vendors, scheduling entertainment and coordinating publicity. Before this event, I had not met these two women, but by Friday evening, we had bonded. For weeks, we dealt with lots of logistical details together. Unexpected problems cropped up. Volunteers dropped out, food trucks broke down, performers needed special accommodations. We worked with some wonderful people along the way: committed parent volunteers and a supportive school staff, including our principal, Amanda Boyce.

It had been years since the school last hosted an International Fair and in the past, the event had been held as a schoolday event only for students. This year, we hosted the event on a Friday evening and opened it to families and the larger community. With these changes, we didn't know if people would respond favorably. An hour and a half before the event opened, I stood alone on the school blacktop starting to worry. What if the food trucks don't come? What if the DJ doesn't come? What if no one comes?

Then, the first food vendor arrived: the charming El Sur food truck. They showed up early to begin baking their incredible Argentinian empanadas. When they rolled up, I was so excited I shrieked and ran up to them like they were the Ice Cream Man. I directed them and the other food trucks to park in a way that anchored a food court area. Then, the custodian arrived and set up tables and chairs, helping everyone all evening. Merchandise vendors came and set up clothing, jewelry and henna stands. Parent and teacher volunteers trickled in and set up various country displays.

Everything was coming together and I happily ticked off items on my checklists. I was starting to breathe normally again. When the DJ arrived and successfully hooked up his equipment, I felt even more relieved. And then when the martial arts team showed up, looking not unlike the Cobra Kai team from The Karate Kid, I knew everything was going to be OK. (Seriously, I expected their leader, at any moment, to say, ominously, "Sweep the leg.")

Families strolled in, many dressed in clothing from their native countries: China, India, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Phillipines, Romania and more. They practiced slapshots at the Canada booth, folded origami hats at the Japan booth, tried tinikling at the Phillipines booth. They sampled street food from the food trucks and the Indian chaat vendor.

Everyone swarmed the dance and music performances. One of my fellow event coordinators, a dance teacher among other roles, choreographed and led a delightful kindergarten performance that attracted a large mob of overbearing kinder parents (me being one of them). In all the time I worked to plan this evening, I had forgotten that my own younger son would be performing. When he and all the other kinders sang "Hello to all the children of the world", everything about the evening came together. All the logistical details swarming in my head fell away and I just listened to these adorable youngsters singing to celebrate our international community.

It was a memorable night.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Food Truck Facts

This past weekend, I chaired the International Fair at my sons' school and enlisted some area food trucks to participate:

El Sur's menu.
Photo credit: I Left My Cart in San Francisco

1) El Sur
The charming, elegant El Sur food truck showed up 90 minutes before the start of the event to begin baking their incredible Argentinian empanadas. Based on their recommendation, I sampled the Traditional (hand-cut beef, onions, pimenton, hard boiled egg, olives, oregano) and Parisien (chopped prosciutto and country ham, scallions, chives, five cheeses) varieties. They were amazing - savory, melty and complex. El Sur also offered dulce de leche-filled churros, but I didn't sample that. Here's a review of El Sur from I Left My Cart in San Francisco.

Photo credit: Silicon Valley Food Trucks
2) MoBowl
I love these guys! They've been at our school events before and they are always a hit. For our family, I ordered the Five-Spice Pulled Pork rice bowl and the Umami Tofu brown rice bowl to share. The person behind me ordered Cheesecake Egg Rolls. Here's a review of MoBowl from
Silicon Valley Food Trucks.

Dosa Republic.
Photo credit: Dosa Republic
3) Dosa Republic
These guys are awesome. Like MoBowl, these guys have been to our school events before. I was too full to order any food from them but next time, I think I'd like to try their Old Delhi Lamb dosa made with Bombay potatoes, egg and halal lamb. Here's a review of Dosa Republic from K
KQED's Bay Area Bites.

In planning the event, I learned a few things about food truck operators:

1) They are business-savvy. 
Successful food truck operators have carved out a distinctive niche for their offerings (e.g. cheesecake egg rolls) and need to make strategic decisions about when and where to show up. Before committing to your event and location, they need to know how many people are expected, what food preferences there may be and what other food options will be available.

2) They are social media-savvy. 
The most popular trucks have well-designed websites with full menu info, photos and contact information. They are active on Facebook and Twitter. 

3) They are community-minded. 
The food truck operators I contacted were happy to help our school when I told them we required at least a 10% donation of their sales to our school PTA. One vendor even offered 20%.

4) They have technical difficulties sometimes.
One of the vendors we scheduled almost didn't make it to our event; it had to be towed from San Francisco two days earlier. Another truck had problems with its cooling unit and wasn't able to clear health code inspection in time for our event. 

5) They are flexible and creative.
I supposed it's the nature of the business, but the food truck operators I spoke to were very accommodating. Knowing that the event I was planning was taking place at an elementary school, they each offered kid-friendly menu options.

No International Fair is complete without great food, so I'm so glad that El Sur, MoBowl and Dosa participated in our event. I'm already looking forward to the next one!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Food truck obsession: it all started with the Ice Cream Man

The original food truck. 
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
I am a little obsessed with food trucks these days. 

For me, it all started 30-something years ago with the original version: the ice cream truck. The first time I experienced the ice cream truck was the summer before second grade, after my family moved from Canada to the United States. One hot, humid afternoon, a truck came ambling down our street. Music blared - I think it was "Turkey in the Straw". My buddy Audrey grabbed my arm. "It's the ice cream man! Come on, let's go!" She saw the confused look on my face and directed me on what to do: go home, collect all the loose change in the house, beg parents for money if needed and then rush back to the tree lawn to wait for the truck to come by.

I did as instructed and met Audrey on the street curb. When the truck stopped in front of us, I was overwhelmed. Photos of various frozen treats plastered the entire side of the truck. It took all summer for me to sample the various options and determine my favorites: the orange sherbet Push Up, the Strawberry Shortcake bar, the Fudgsicle, the orange Creamsicle and the peanut-crusted Drumstick. (OK, I guess that isn't much of a short list.)

Anyhow, my cheap Asian immigrant parents were not fans of the Ice Cream Truck and tried to dissuade me from developing this new American summer addiction. They bought cheap tubs of Neapolitan ice cream (Three flavors for the price of one! On sale!) from the supermarket and hoped that would cure me. What they didn't understand was that it was the whole Ice Cream Truck Experience that was appealing, not the ice cream itself. The variety. The immediacy. My addiction got worse. Bolting up every time I heard the truck music, I had become one of Pavlov's dogs. My mom refused to give me any money to support my habit. Audrey and I started setting up lemonade stands. We sold greeting cards. We sold pens. We sold our toys. 

Once, on a family trip to Taiwan, I heard a truck blaring music from loudspeakers. "ICE CREAM!" I squealed and leapt toward the door of my grandparents' house. My parents shook their heads. "It's the garbage man," my dad said.

Flash forward. Two years ago, my fabulous foodie friend Gina P. told me about a food truck making a stop near our workplace in Cleveland: Dim and Den Sum. She invited me to meet her there for lunch. Dim sum + food truck + lunch with a friend = no brainer. The Asian fusion selections were yummy and I went back to work happy. 

Then last year, we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, home to a thriving Food Truck movement. At my son's elementary school back-to-school picnic, I was surprised and thrilled to see several food trucks parked on the school grounds. Options included Indian dosa, Chinese rice bowls, Mexican burritos and Kara's Cupcakes. A food truck frenzy! Heaven.

This past weekend, I organized an International Fair event at my sons' school and went with the food truck model. Researching and contacting food trucks in the area, I gained considerable knowledge of area food trucks. For the past six weeks leading up to the event, I often had dreams of them. In one dream, I opened up a Taiwanese food truck called BoPoMoFo (a phonetic Chinese pronunciation alphabet) that offered Taiwanese street food (specializing in bubble teas and steamed sticky rice in banana leaves).

Now I'm obsessed with food trucks more than ever.

Monday, October 1, 2012

To Dad on the day of his retirement

I just got off the phone with my dad this morning. It was the last time I'll dial his work number, as today is his last day of work at Case Western Reserve University. He has had a long career there - 35 years working as a cancer researcher.

Over the years, we've had hundreds of phone calls while he was at work at CWRU. In junior high and high school, Dad would call every weekday afternoon to make sure we got home OK. "Remember to make rice," he would gently remind me and my sister.

For the past several years, Dad has talked about retiring and he would always say it was going to happen in a few months. And then, he'd say it would happen after a research grant ran out. And then after another research grant ran out. And then he'd casually mention that he was applying for new research grants. Finally, we stopped asking about his supposed retirement because we never thought it would actually happen. 

When my dad told me today would be his last day, I was surprised. I asked him if he was happy about retiring and starting a new chapter in his life. He was quiet. I thought he might feel liberated and excited to plan new adventures, but instead, he seemed rather sad. I should have understood why.

Looking back, I think about everything my father's career provided for our family. His job led us to move from Canada to the United States, allowing us a clear path to permanent residence and, eventually, American citizenship. I remember when we first moved to Cleveland, Ohio on a cloudy gray day. My dad's supervisor took us out for pizza at Geraci's, where I tasted anchovies for the first time. We settled into a rented duplex in Cleveland Heights on a leafy street with lots of kids my age. 

Dad and a dinosaur at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Dad's job led us to lots of time spent at University Circle: art lessons and exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art, trips to see dinosaur bones at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, music recitals at The Music Settlement and the Cleveland Institute of Music. My sister and I loved visiting Dad's lab and examining the setup and equipment, especially the Geiger counter, centrifuge and microscope. Sometimes, he would bring home toys for us: test tubes, pipettes, Petri dishes and colored masking tape. 

The most valuable benefit of Dad's job, undoubtedly, was the remarkable undergraduate education I received at CWRU. Admittedly, as a high school senior, I felt a little disappointed knowing I would be staying so close to home for college. I took it for granted how lucky I was to have a free college education. Dad didn't. 

One day during my sophomore year, he called me at my dorm room. Even though we were both on campus, we rarely made plans to get together. He summoned me to meet for lunch in the hospital atrium, where we had a pointed discussion about my subpar grades that semester. All my life, my mom has been the Tiger parent in the family. Dad has been pretty selective about his Tiger parent moments. That was one of them.

It took a while, but eventually, I got serious about my studies as an English major. I found wonderful faculty mentors who encouraged me to become a writer. I took a class, The Immigrant Experience, that deeply resonated with me. I felt blessed to be part of such a culturally rich CWRU community.

On the day I graduated from CWRU, Dad was flying back from a work conference. We were hoping he would make it back in time for him to get on stage to award me my diploma, but it didn't happen. He did get there in time to change into his cap and gown, though, and it was really great to see him afterward, both of us wearing our graduation robes.

Ten years after I graduated, I started working on campus at CWRU. Following my dad's footsteps, I brought my kids to work sometimes and took them to various campus activities. Some of my favorite campus memories are of three generations of our family participating in university traditions. When my oldest son was four, my mom, dad and I took him to Halloween at the Farm, an annual campus event with a giant bonfire, live music, fall foods and pumpkin carving. 

Five years ago, I called my dad and summoned him to meet in the hospital atrium. We had a quick, excited exchange before I had to dash off for my scheduled c-section. Dad went off to work in his lab. At lunch time, he came to my hospital room to meet his second grandchild. And then he went back to work. After work, he and my mom returned again, this time with flowers (and homemade Chinese food).

CWRU is a special place for our family. It's where I earned my undergraduate degree, my husband earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees, and his father earned his graduate degree. It's where I worked for eight years and made lots of great friends. It's home for us. For the first time in 35 years, we will not have a single family member studying or working on campus any more. Dad was the first and the last. 

Well done, Dad! We are so proud of you!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kindergarten Drop-Off

I'm finally feeling a little better about kindergarten.
Kissing hand heart
The kissing hand doesn't work, Mom!

Today was the first day that Nolan didn't bawl his eyes out during drop-off. Last week was pretty rough. Nolan's first day of kindergarten was emotional, as expected. But the next day, the day after that, and the rest of the week? Even more gut-wrenching. Every morning, Nolan woke up wailing, "I don't want to go to school!" Every night, his last words at bedtime were, "I don't want to go to school!"

Nolan was the only kid in his class who cried at drop-off. His older brother was quite different at this age. Nico never wanted anyone to see him cry. Whenever he felt sad but knew other people were nearby, Nico would quickly pull himself together and wipe his face with his sleeve, saying, "I don't want anyone to see my tears." Nolan, on the other hand, seems to want everyone to see him cry - and the louder the better. Other parents looked at me sympathetically every morning as he carried on, clinging to me.

All last week, Nolan sobbed and said he wanted to stay home with me. When I said I had to go to yoga class, he said he wanted to learn yoga too. When I said I had to buy groceries, he said he wanted to help me. When I said I needed to work, he said he would keep me company. He sobbed until he hiccuped, gasping, "I - don't - want - to - go - to - school. I'm so scaaaaaaared!" I pointed to the tiny heart I drew on his hand for him to look at during the day when he felt sad. "It doesn't work, Mom!" he cried. "I still miss you so badly!" That was the precise moment when my heart shattered.

I started to second-guess our decision to enroll Nolan in kindergarten this year. He was close to the age cutoff and I had seriously considered waiting another year before enrolling him. Some of our friends have delayed their children's kindergarten start by a year, and i thought it might make sense for Nolan too. He's young, he's shy, he's small. Also, we live in an area where academics are highly emphasized and I'm surrounded by Tiger Moms. Are we setting him up to fail by launching him into the den too early?

Just when I started thinking about an exit strategy for de-enrolling him from kindergarten and putting him back in preschool, we hit a turning point. Yesterday morning, Nolan cried, as usual, and his teacher led him by the hand into the classroom. She said they would work on their self-portraits and told him, "Today, we're going to put clothes on them!" She whispered to me, "Don't worry. Once he's inside, he's fine!"

Nolan must have had a great day because after school, he told me, "I might not be sad tomorrow." This morning, he woke up and said, "I'm not going to be scared today." As we walked to his classroom, he reiterated his feelings: "Maybe on other days I might be sad but not today." At his classroom door,  he asked me to draw a tiny heart on his hand, which has now become part of our daily routine, so I colored one on his left hand with a pink highlighter. The bell rang so we ran out of time before he could draw one on my hand. I looked at him to see if he would fall apart. To my surprise, he didn't. He said, "Don't worry, Mommy. I'll draw a heart for you later. I'll give you lots of hugs and kisses and love after school." Then he hitched up his dinosaur backpack, got in line with his classmates and walked into his classroom, blowing kisses at me with both hands. He was dry-eyed. I was not. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kindergarten and kissing hands

Nolan's first day of kindergarten
Nolan holds his kissing hand

My baby started kindergarten this week.

Nolan's first day of school started out kinda shaky. He barely touched his breakfast of oatmeal with fresh strawberries. He was restless and defiant. He had to be pried from the elaborate setup he built of Thomas the Tank Engine tracks and Legos. 

I dressed him in his favorite dinosaur shirt and helped him put on his brand-new dinosaur backpack. I told him what I packed for his lunch, which included a special treat - a blueberry fruit strip. He stared at me stone-faced.

When I asked him to pose for a photo with his brother Nico, who was starting fifth grade, he refused. My husband and I reminded him that he and his brother would finally be in the same school together and how exciting it was! He said he wanted to go back to preschool.

Before we left for school, I sat down with Nolan and reminded him of his first day of preschool. "Remember when I drew that little heart on your hand? So if you were sad and missed me, you could look at the heart and remember that I love you?" He nodded. I drew a little red heart on his left hand. "Could you draw a heart on my hand so I can look at it when I miss you today?" I asked him. He took the marker and drew a little heart on my left hand. We kissed each others' little red hearts and walked out the door, hand in hand.

Surprisingly, we were the first to arrive at his classroom. Nolan's teacher had set up a table outside with nametags of all the students. Nolan found his and I helped him stick it to his shirt. The other kids arrived and then I started feeling anxious too. My little guy was much smaller than some of his classmates, as I predicted. Nolan is small for his age and has a late birthday that just made the age cutoff. Also, there seems to be a trend toward academic redshirting, particularly with boys. 

I've been having a hard time letting go of all the hangups I have about Nolan and kindergarten. I need to accept the fact that Nolan may well be the youngest, smallest kid in his class. I have to let go of the idea that he and Nico are not going to elementary school together in Ohio, as I had long envisioned. He will not have the great teachers Nico had in Cleveland Heights. But it's still hard to let go of these dreams. When Nico had started kindergarten, I was pregnant with Nolan. Nico's teacher was fantastic (her name - no joke - is Mrs. Miracle) and I had hoped that someday Nolan would have her as a kindergarten teacher too.

I need to let go of the idea that Nolan must have all the exact same happy experiences his older brother has had. Besides, Nolan has had his own share of great teachers too. Just like with his brother, Nolan's day care and preschool teachers have all been wonderful and each one has simply adored him. We are lucky that both boys have always had caring, nurturing teachers.

So anyway, as the other kindergarteners and their parents arrived, I saw that they looked nervous and excited too. There were lots of fancy cameras and iPhones on the scene. We buzzed about taking photos and introducing ourselves. Finally, the bell rang and the teacher came out. I had heard great things about her already and if I had to conjure up a dream teacher for Nolan, it would look just like her.

The teacher had the kids line up to enter the classroom. As they walked toward the door, Nolan waved and blew kisses at me. All of us parents tried to follow the kids into the room and had to be shooed out. 

I cried and had to look at the tiny red heart on my hand.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Birth(day) of a blogger - and a short diatribe about Comic Sans

Today, my first-born child turned 10 years old. Happy birthday to my amazing son, Nico! 

Nico's 10th birthday brunch
This blogger loves pancakes
The past decade has flown by and I can't believe my shrieking baby has grown into a thoughtful tweenager. Who is this long-limbed, floppy-haired, iPod-toting guy who now wears deodorant? What happened to my hippo-toothed chunk-a-lunk? 

For the past several weeks, Nico felt anxious about his impending birthday. He was dreading his birthday (except for the gifts). He was really sad about leaving the single-digit years. This week, though, he perked up and decided to embrace the double-digit milestone. 

Today, Nico started his own blog with his first post describing his favorite memories from the past 10 years. People, including my husband, assumed I helped him write it. Actually, I didn't, really. I gave him some very minor proofreading notes (e.g. spelling "tumor" instead of "tomber"), but kept my comments spare. Nico has always enjoyed writing and has had great teachers who have nurtured, supported and challenged him. I wanted to encourage him too.

If anything, my biggest suggestion to Nico was changing the font. Originally, he had used Comic Sans, and if you know me at all, you know I couldn't have let that go. So I went into a little thing about Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and his unfortunate use of the font. And I may or may not have spouted a wildly distorted version of C.S. Lewis' quote: "When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." My version was more like, "When you become 10 years old, you put away childish fonts. Period." 

Anyhow, enough about Comic Sans. I am so proud of Nico for launching his blog and sharing his views with the world!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Deodorant for Tweens: The Decision

It is time. A mother knows. Her nose knows.

So I took my rising fifth-grade son to Target to buy him his first stick of deodorant. I tend to get overwhelmed when faced with too many choices (why does Baskin Robbins need 31 flavors? That's ridiculous - five should suffice). A wall of men's deodorants stood before me. As expected, I started to panic. It was not as bad as the time I tried to find a certain kind of moisturizer, but it was still not good.

My son was looking to me for wisdom and guidance and I was starting to sweat. (Good thing we were in the deodorant aisle.) Frantically, I called my husband at work. No answer. I texted him. 

In the mean time, Nico was sniffing all the different varieties. He wanted to know why all of the choices said "Men" and not "Boys". The marketing was not working for him - he didn't like the packaging colors or the names of the scents. 

Finally, after a few tries, I got hold of my husband. "Remind me what deodorant brand you use?" I asked Vic, who sounded like he had more important things to worry about. He told me. Nico was hesitant. "What about Gillette Clear Gel?" Nico asked. Vic was annoyed. 

Finally, my cheap Asian mom instincts kicked in and I settled the issue. I found a two-pack for both of them; it had that Target red sale sticker I can't resist. The winner? Speed Stick Ocean Surf deodorant.

Can I smell a bargain or what?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hungry Ghost artist talk in San Francisco this Saturday

Today is the last day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the end of a jam-packed period of wonderful cultural activities in the San Francisco Bay Area. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to curate an art exhibit during this time featuring the work of 38 Asian American women artists.

This Saturday, the Asian American Women Artists Association will host an artist salon where several of the Hungry Ghost artists will join me in discussing their pieces and the overall exhibition.
  Hungry Ghost exhibit
Artist Salon:
Saturday, June 2, 2012, 4 PM
Free event - donations gratefully accepted! 

Exhibition Dates:
Monday, April 23 - Friday, June 8, 2012
9 AM - 5 PM

Thoreau Center for Sustainability
The Presidio, Building 1014
Torney Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94129

Join us for the Hungry Ghost: Yearning for Fulfillment Artist Salon to engage in an intimate discussion with artists from the dynamic exhibition. This is an opportunity to hear about their art making process, learn about how they interpreted the culturally rich metaphor of the "Hungry Ghost" and understand how they personally addressed the questions: How do we crave acceptance and fulfillment? What feeds us?

The Artists: Octavia Baker • Mitsuko Brooks • Jennifer Cheng • Karen Chew • Linn Chiu • Wei Ming Dariotis • Ganga Dharmappa • Stephanie Han • Khay Hembrador • Julie Huynh • Jaimee Itagaki • Zilka Joseph • Rosie Kar • Leslie Kitashima • Susan Kitazawa • Julia Kuo • Amy Lam • Lucy Liew • Elaine Gin Louie • Grace Hwang Lynch • Wei Ma • Mia Nakano • Choppy Oshiro • Cat Chiu Phillips • Michelle Salnaitis • Linda Shiue • Leah Silvieus • Sokunthary Svay • Elizabeth Travelslight • Cynthia Tom • Vivian Truong • Solongo Tseekhuu • Cat U-Thasoonthorn • Nancy Uyemura • Susan Lien Whigham • Pamela Ybanez • Stephanie Yu • Leslie Zeitler

The Curator: Lisa Chiu is a Taiwanese American writer and food fanatic. Her interest in curation stems from a desire to cultivate creative opportunities that foster cultural awareness. She conceived Hungry Ghost as a forum to amplify Asian American women’s voices and showcase their art.

Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA)AAWAA is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to ensuring the visibility and documentation of Asian American women in the arts. Through exhibitions, publications, and educational programs, we offer thought-provoking perspectives that challenge societal assumptions and promote dialogue.

Emerging Curators Program: AAWAA’s Emerging Curators Program provides a platform for curators residing in the San Francisco Bay Area to develop their vision and encourage curatorial expertise in the Asian American Art. Support this project by donating to AAWAA.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Student newspaper memories

It's fitting that I'm writing this on a Wednesday night (and Thursday morning). Seven years ago, I spent many Wednesday evenings with a dozen or so college kids in the basement of a university building.

Today, I had a wonderful chat with a friend who was one of those students I met when I was the adviser to The Observer, Case Western Reserve University's student newspaper. We reminisced about those Wednesday production nights where we ate pizza from Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood and the students put together the weekly campus newspaper.

Serving as an adviser to The Observer was among the most rewarding experiences in my career and led me to write about it for the CWRU alumni magazine. I went to work at CWRU, my undergraduate alma mater, 10 years after I earned an English degree there. It was exciting being on campus again and I loved my job. The university used to be known mainly for science and engineering, but now attracts students from all over the world for its arts, humanities and social science programs as well. When I was a student there, there weren't any any journalism classes. Today, the English department offers classes taught by faculty including Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jim Sheeler and bestselling novelist (and former journalist) Thrity Umrigar.

The student body has changed dramatically too. It used to be that CWRU students were perceived as nerdy academic overachievers and little else. The students I got to know at The Observer were also supersmart, but they were multidimensional. Predictably, they fretted over homework assignments, research papers, exams, lab reports. But they also packed their days full with student leadership roles, Greek life activities, sports, performing arts, volunteering. They were bright, inquisitive, conscientious and committed. I adored them.

They enriched my life by sharing their lives with me. They welcomed me and my toddler son into their domain and didn't seem to mind that he ate the most pizza week after week. (It should be noted that the copy editor was exceptionally gracious when Nico powerfully filled his diaper while sitting in her lap.) Nico was two years old then, right at the midpoint between my age and that of the newspaper editors. So while these students were developing as young adults, they could still relate to my little boy. Sometimes, the sports editor would take a break to play with my son and his Thomas the Tank Engine toys. The cartoonist drew a special dinosaur illustration for him to color. The photography editor played movies on his laptop to keep him entertained. I loved that Nico was surrounded by so many caring, positive influences. 

Where are they now? Some of them are married and have kids. One former editor-in-chief, who was a first-generation college student, finished a Teach For America stint. Another is an internal medicine resident. The features editor is a pediatrics resident. The sports editor graduated from law school. The cartoonist is studying geology in graduate school. The production manager is a software developer at CWRU. One of the photographers is a Facebook engineer. (Thanks to Facebook, it's been easy to keep tabs on everyone after they graduated!) They are leading active, full lives and finding their way in this world. 

They inspired me then and still do today. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Starry Skies

This essay was published in the Final Exam section of CWRU, the magazine for Case Western Reserve University, in Spring 2002. 

Starry Skies

After several sweaty trips between our car and my dorm room, the last of my boxes and suitcases were finally stashed into my new home in Michelson House at Case Western Reserve University. It was a hot August afternoon, and my parents dumped me off (their firstborn child on her first day of college) without so much as a hug or tearful goodbye. I offered to take them on a campus tour, but my dad scoffed. He had been working at CWRU for years and already knew his way around the university.

The campus was nothing new to me either, after countless visits to the lab where my dad, Song-mao Chiu, worked, dozens of piano recitals at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and seemingly endless trips to the orthodontist at the dental school. Still, even though my family lives just a few miles from campus, I hadn’t anticipated that CWRU would open up a new world to me – a rare, diverse international community.

By living on campus, I developed friendships with people from all over the globe. I lived on a floor with students from Sweden, Vietnam, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. In the first week of school as we all got to know each other, I found myself struggling to find an easy answer to the question: “Where are you from?” Did this mean where was I born? Or where do I live? Or what is my ethnicity? I didn’t know how to offer a succinct answer without providing a long-winded explanation: I was born in Canada to Taiwanese immigrant parents but grew up in Cleveland.

Spending time with a close circle of international students introduced me to other cultures, while crystallizing feelings about my own. It also helped me better understand and cherish the idea of living in a multinational community. Sometimes our political discussions lasted all night. Ethnic differences were not always celebrated. One time, a group of American-born freshmen grilled a Middle Eastern student, accusing him of being associated with terrorists. They questioned what his father did for a living. Surprisingly, the student remained calm and joked that his dad was a farmer. When pressed for details on what was grown on the farm, he replied with a straight face, “Ravioli.”

Overall, though, living in a multinational community proved to be positive and enlightening. One night, a Swedish graduate student, after decorating our suite in blue and yellow streamers, threw a “Swede party” for all of us. Muslim students explained Ramadan. An Iranian student described the dazzling sight of stars lighting up a desert sky.

In the classroom too, I developed a broader perspective on international cultures and traditions. In my senior year, I took an English class called the Immigrant Experience. We read literature from Asian, Russian, and Mexican writers, among others. We wrote and shared our own stories, which illustrated how each of us found our way to the United States and to CWRU. We wrote about how our families arrived in the country, the reasons we came, and the reasons we stayed. We wrote about living between cultures, among languages, within religious customs.

I began to sense that being American does not preclude coming from an Asian, Arab, European or any other ethnic background. In fact, in many ways, the immigrant experience is uniquely American. Coming to this realization helped me in my decision to formalize my commitment to this country. I decided to become an American citizen.

Considering how much our world has changed since September 11, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an American today. I’ve been thinking about the situations that bring us together and the conflicts that drive us apart. I’ve been thinking about the friends I made during my freshman year and in that remarkable English class. I’ve been thinking about the Iranian student and wondering if he still looks up at the stars. And I’ve been hoping that we are looking at the same sky.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hungry Ghost exhibit opening reception in San Francisco tonight

Tonight is the opening reception for the art exhibit I have been producing with the Asian American Women Artists Association

Opening Reception:
Thursday, April 26, 2012, 5 - 8:30 PM

Exhibition Dates:
Monday, April 23 - Friday, June 8, 2012

The Presidio, Building 1014
Tourney Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94129

Join us for the opening reception of Hungry Ghost: Yearning for Fulfillment, a dynamic exhibition featuring the work of 38 visual and literary artists. The Hungry Ghost, a concept based in Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, is a lost soul that roams burdened by unmet needs. Driven by insatiable greed and intense desires, the Hungry Ghost wanders, searches and feeds. Hungry Ghost: Yearning for Fulfillment asks Asian American women artists to interpret and illuminate this powerful, culturally rich metaphor. They address the questions: How do we crave acceptance and fulfillment? What feeds us?

These artists responded through essays, illustrations, mixed media installations, paintings, photography, poetry and sculpture. Their works express themes of food and family, identity and isolation, consumption and compulsion.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hungry Ghost: Asian American women artists visual and literary arts exhibition

The art exhibition I am curating opens in less than three weeks! 

Asian American Women Artist Association's
Emerging Curators Program presents

Hungry GhostYearning for Fulfillment
a visual and literary art exhibition featuring 38 artists
curated by Lisa Chiu

Opening Reception:
Thursday, April 26, 2012, 5 - 8:30 PM

Exhibition Dates: 
Monday, April 23 – Saturday, June 9, 2012

Thoreau Center of Sustainability
The Presidio, Building 1014,
Tourney Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129

Join us for the opening reception of Hungry Ghost: Yearning for Fulfillment, a dynamic exhibition featuring the work of 38 visual and literary artists.

The Hungry Ghost, a concept based in Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, is a lost soul that roams burdened by unmet needs. Driven by insatiable greed and intense desires, the Hungry Ghost wanders, searches and feeds. Hungry Ghost: Yearning for Fulfillment asks Asian American women artists to interpret and illuminate this powerful, culturally rich metaphor. They address the questions: How do we crave acceptance and fulfillment? What feeds us?

These artists responded through essays, illustrations, mixed media installations, paintings, photography, poetry and sculpture. Their works express themes of food and family, identity and isolation, consumption and compulsion. 

The Artists: Octavia Baker • Mitsuko Brooks • Jennifer Cheng • Karen Chew • Linn Chiu • Wei Ming Dariotis • Ganga Dharmappa • Stephanie Han • Khay Hembrador • Julie Huynh • Jaimee Itagaki •  Zilka Joseph •  Rosie Kar • Leslie Kitashima • Susan Kitazawa • Julia Kuo • Amy Lam • Lucy Liew  •  Elaine Gin Louie • Grace Hwang Lynch • Wei Ma • Mia Nakano • Choppy Oshiro • Cat Chiu Phillips • Michelle Salnaitis • Linda Shiue • Leah Silvieus • Sokunthary Svay • Elizabeth Travelslight • Cynthia Tom • Vivian Truong • Solongo Tseekhuu • Cat U-Thasoonthorn • Nancy Uyemura • Susan Lien Whigham • Pamela Ybanez • Stephanie Yu • Leslie Zeitler

The Curator: Lisa Chiu is a Taiwanese American writer and food fanatic. Her interest in curation stems from a desire to cultivate creative opportunities that foster cultural awareness. She conceived Hungry Ghost as a forum to amplify Asian American women’s voices and showcase their art.

Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA): AAWAA is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to ensuring the visibility and documentation of Asian American women in the arts. Through exhibitions, publications, and educational programs, we offer thought-provoking perspectives that challenge societal assumptions and promote dialogue.

Emerging Curators Program: AAWAA’s Emerging Curators Program provides a platform for aspiring curators residing in the San Francisco Bay Area to develop their vision and encourage curatorial expertise in the Asian American community.

Presenting Organizations:

For more information, contact                         facebook-30x30youtube-30x30twitter-30x30 3blogger-30x30

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Haunted by art

Jade suit for corpse (male).
Image from A Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization
by Patricia Buckley Ebrey
When I was four years old, my parents owned a book of Asian art they displayed on a bookshelf in our Toronto apartment. I thumbed through the pages of this gorgeous volume and gasped when I saw the image of a Chinese jade burial suit. Who was this man lying down so stiffly? I was struck by the figure's facelessness and stillness. It frightened me. I dreaded walking near the bookshelf and shivered any time I thought about the jade burial suit.

Now I'm a 40-something mom and I'm finding myself once again haunted by art. 

I'm curating a contemporary art exhibition in San Francisco this spring: Hungry Ghost: Yearning for Fulfillment. Even though I conceived the exhibition premise and instinctively knew that it was a powerful concept for artists to embrace, I was still taken aback by the incredible assortment of literary and visual works the call for submissions yielded.

All of this came about when I answered a call for proposals for the Asian American Women Artists Association's Emerging Curators Program in December. I was thrilled when I was selected and it has been an incredibly enriching experience developing this exhibition.

In reviewing the submitted artwork, a number of the pieces affected me profoundly. I asked artists to address their demons. And they did. They responded with powerful essays, illustrations, mixed media installations, paintings, photography, poetry and sculpture. Some of the pieces stuck with me and stayed on my mind for days, weeks.

This is what we expect from art, right? It is meant to stir us, to challenge and stimulate us. Some of the works submitted for this exhibition covered intensely emotional topics: abandonment, incest, suicide. Yet, somehow, these artists found a way to transform their pain into amazing art that resonates and reflects the human condition. It is inspiring and awesome.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Call for Entries: Asian American women artists visual and literary arts exhibition

Spread the word!
Submission Deadline: Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 11:59 PM PST

Note: This is a revised announcement, current as of Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Hungry Ghost
Yearning for Fulfillment

A Visual and Literary Art Exhibition,
at Thoreau Center for Sustainability
Curated by Lisa Chiu

Submission Deadline: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 11:59 PM

Notification of acceptance will be on or before March 14, 2012

Proposals, including size and sketches, will be considered. Please send samples of your current work.
Exhibition Premise: The Hungry Ghost, a concept based in Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, is a lost soul that roams burdened by unmet needs. Driven by insatiable greed and intense desires, the Hungry Ghost wanders, searches and feeds. In Chinese folk religion, families prepare food offerings for deceased relatives to keep ancestral hungry ghosts at bay.Hungry Ghost: Yearning for Fulfillment asks you to interpret and illuminate this powerful, culturally rich metaphor. How do Asian American women artists express deep emotional and physical desires? How do we relate to the idea of isolation and alienation? How do we reconcile our Asian backgrounds and American surroundings? How do food and family shape our identity? How do we deal with consumption and compulsion? How do we crave acceptance and fulfillment? What feeds us?
Eligibility: The exhibition is open to Asian American women literary and visual artists 18 years and older.

Visual art
Original 2D and 3D works of any medium completed since January 2010 will be reviewed. No greater than 50 pounds, no larger than 7' x7' x 2' wide.

Installation work
Freestanding, no fragile installation, no wider than 3 feet. 7' x 7' x 2' deep

Literary art
poetry, fiction or nonfiction completed since January 2010 will also be reviewed. 2 pages or less in length, 12-point type, double-spaced. Submit as a word doc.

Work will be selected by curator, Lisa Chiu and AAWAA's Curatorial Team.

Venue: Thoreau Center of Sustainability, Building #1014, Tourney Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129

Submission Deadline: Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 11:59 PM
Proposals, including size and sketches, will be considered. Please send samples of your current work.

Delivery of artwork: Sunday, April 15, 2012, 11 AM - 5 PM

Dates of exhibition: Monday, April 23 – Saturday, June 9, 2012

Opening reception: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 5-8:30 PM at Thoreau Center of Sustainability
Entry details: Applications will be accepted until Tuesday, March 6, 2012 11:59 PM PST. Incomplete or late applications will not be considered. Information submitted may be used for publicity purposes.
Entries must be submitted online via EntryThingy 
An $8 entry fee must be submitted via PayPal Here
Insurance: Provided by Thoreau Center for Sustainability while artwork is onsite.    
Drop-off and pick-up: Artist is responsible for transit of accepted works to and from Thoreau Center. No storage is available.

Sales: 10% commission of sales goes to AAWAA’s Emerging Curator Program.

LisaChiuCropAbout the Curator: Lisa Chiu is a Taiwanese American writer and food fanatic. Her essays appear in Cheers to Muses: Contemporary Works by Asian American Women (2007) and Who's Your Mama?: The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers (2009). Coming from a background in literature, journalism and marketing, she is fascinated with myth, metaphor and the craft of storytelling. Her interest in curation stems from a desire to cultivate creative opportunities that foster cultural awareness. She conceived Hungry Ghost as a forum to amplify Asian American women’s voices and showcase their art. She writes about family, food, culture and community on her blog, Rants, Ravings and Ruminations.

Emerging Curators Program: 
AAWAA’s Emerging Curators Program provides a platform fo
r aspiring curators residing in San Francisco Bay to develop their vision and encourage curatorial expertise in the Asian American community.

Presenting Organizations:
Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA) is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to ensuring the visibility and documentation of Asian American women in the arts. Through exhibitions, publications, and educational programs, we offer thought-provoking perspectives that challenge societal assumptions and promote dialogue.

Thoreau Center For Sustainability: Operated by Tides, Thoreau Center for Sustainability is a green nonprofit center dedicated to social, cultural and environmental sustainability, Thoreau Centers are named after the American writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. As American’s first notable naturalist, Thoreau believed in the importance of democracy and advocated living in harmony with nature.

Send questions to (415) 722- 4296

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