But We Already Read an Asian Book

At our Book Club meeting tonight, a woman said something that I can’t seem to shake off. Now, before I get into it, please understand that I’m not mad at this woman herself. I’m annoyed at the comment she made. Also – I don’t think she is any more or less prejudiced than I am and people in general. She is funny, a wonderful human being, and I really do love her. I don’t think the less of her and will continue to enjoy her company.

Ok. So enough disclaiming.

Tonight, we were throwing out books to consider reading for the second half of 2014. We all contributed several selections and I mentioned the book, When My Name Was Keoko, from my last post. “It’s about two Korean kids during WWII and the Japanese occupation of Korea,” I said.

“But we already read an Asian book!” my friend replied.

In shock, I exclaimed, “What? We’ve read hundreds of books about white people and I’ve never complained! But we can’t read two books with Asians in it?” I tried to keep my voice light and easy. Teasing. I wasn’t really mad – but I also wanted to get my point across.

“I read stories about white people all the time! I’m surrounded by white people! Hapa Papa’s half white! I don’t complain! Sheesh! But we can’t read more than one book about Asians? I also recommended a book where the main character is half black. Is that too many books about colored people?” We all laugh at this.

Realizing the pickle she got herself into, but also joking along, my friend says, “Well, we did read The Help a few years ago, so I think we’re okay.”

“Besides, it’s about the Japanese occupation of Korea during WWII. I never knew about that, did you?”

Another woman said, “No, I didn’t. That sounds interesting.”

“Well, I’m sick of reading about WWII, too,” muttered my friend.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I’m sick of reading about the Holocaust.” (We have read a LOT of books about the Holocaust in recent years.)

From there, we moved the conversation along. The whole time, no one was offended and there really was a lot of laughter and gentle poking fun. And to be fair, this woman has recommended several books with people of color in the past. But the incident still bothers me because it is indicative of our culture at large.

As much as I appreciate Asian American History month or Black History month, I often feel as if it lets folks off the hook. Like, “Oh, we have a separate month where it’s an anomaly to talk about people of color. But when that blip is over, we can go back to our regularly scheduled programming and talk about real people and real stories. You know, about white people.”

Stories about people who are not white should not be relegated to some “colored” or “very special episode” ghetto. Just because we’ve heard one “Asian” story doesn’t mean that we’re done with our quota for the year. I mean, for crying out loud. How many times have we heard the good girl meets bad boy story? Like, at least a million times. No one is claiming that we shouldn’t have any more of those. (Although, maybe we should.)

Look. Are white people’s imaginations so utterly pathetic that they can’t possibly imagine identifying with a character that is not the same race as them? I mean, millions of black, brown, red, and yellow folks do every single fucking day. Just because we’ve had more practice doesn’t mean our imaginations wouldn’t like a break now and then.

I know we’re always given complete bullshit marketing answers about how white people don’t consume movies/books/shows with POC main characters. I get that companies are in the business to make money. But seriously? Aren’t there billions of non-white people in the world? Have some gumption, story tellers. PLEASE.

In the meantime, I will go out of my way to actively buy and purchase stories with people of color. It’s the least I could do.

Spring Break Fun

Every year, we pack up the whole family in our Swagger Wagon and make the trek down to LA and San Diego to visit family and friends for about 9-10 days. By the end, the kids are super homesick and we’re exhausted, but it’s always a good time. Here are some of the highlights from this year:

1) I used to stress out about when we would get to see Hapa Papa’s family but I don’t anymore. If they have time to see us, great. If not, well, we made an effort to drive to LA – they can make an effort to see us. And they do! It’s great. Once I stopped stressing out about it and started setting up meetings with my own friends and then just letting his family know our availability, things were much better. I was far less grouchy.

2) The house we rented this year was FANTASTIC!! 2 bedrooms (KEY when you have an infant), 1 bath (with tub), full kitchen with dish washer, a living room, dining area, washer/dryer, spacious front yard, and plenty of free and easy parking. WONDERFUL.

3) As usual, we met up with a few friends (quality vs quantity) and the best times were had when we were at either their house or ours. Meetings in restaurants tended towards chaos and the utter inability to hold an actual conversation.

4) Seriously, I cannot stress enough how awesome the place we rented was. I didn’t realize how stressful our last place was until we stayed in a stress-free environment this year. Totally worth the uptick in cost.

5) As always, San Diego is my favorite part. It’s the portion where I can actually call a vacation. (Everyone with small children knows that traveling with said small children is NEVER called a vacation. In fact – it is several times more work!!) We stay a few days with my dear elementary school friend, CB, and her family. She plans out all our meals, activities, and all I have to do is show up. It is MARVELOUS.

6) Of course, I also got to see some other friends in San Diego. Our yearly visits are a treasure.

7) What I found most awesome this year was my complete lack of doing anything. We saw friends and family. That’s it. No outings. No zoo trips. No sight seeing. Nada. Just seeing and enjoying people. My favorite. We’ll make a separate trip this year for Disneyland where we will see no one and immerse ourselves with four days with the brainwashing money-making machine known as the House of Mouse.

8) The trip back up from San Diego took almost twelve hours. That’s right. TWELVE. Between the three children (two of which are potty trained), we had five poop stops, (three of which were within the first two hours), two food stops, and one general rest stop. Because they’d been cooped up for so long, we stayed a bit longer at the rest stops to give the kids adequate “airing out” time.

I swear it was easier when the kids were still in diapers but we finally made it home. The kids were all asleep and transferred beautifully to bed.

9) My house was a disaster (which always makes me cranky) but I did some minor cleaning and I feel much better.

10) I picked up some parenting tricks (well, I will be attempting to apply said parenting tricks) and imparted a few of my own. This ALSO makes me very happy.

How was your Spring Break?

How to Throw an Easter Egg Hunt

A few readers have asked for some more details on how to throw our Easter egg hunt and I thought, sure! Why not? But in addition, since I’m a giver, I’ll even throw in my general party plan as a bonus! (Don’t say I never give you anything.)

So without further ado (ado, ado, ado!), here is the basic outline of what I do for a party.

1) Costco for everything.

This includes food, drinks, plates, cups, fruit, EVERYTHING. I buy most of the items pre-made (the freezer section is the best!) but I also make a few of my own things, too. Here is a general idea of what I tend to buy. (As most of the attendees at my parties can attest, this is usually the food I provide.)

– Fruit (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, grapes)
– Cheese (either the pre-cut cheese platter, or I go for the Tillamook Sharp White Cheddar – DELISH)
– Salami
– Azuma seaweed salad
– San Pelligrino lemon and orange sodas
– Crackers/chips/kettlecorn
– Guacamole/Salsa/hummus
– Sandwiches (either the party platter or I make my own)
– Salad (usually one that I make)
– Dessert

Two really easy sandwiches (recipes totally stolen from my friends who put on great parties)

a) Chicken Salad Sandwich

– Costco Torta bread or croissants
– Costco rotisserie chicken salad
– lettuce (if you’re feeling fancy)
– cut in half

b) Pesto/Salami Sandwich

– Costco Torta bread or croissants
– pesto sauce
– salami
– cheese
– cut in half

2) Make it a potluck. (Unless it’s a birthday party. That would be rude.)

3) Turn the garage into a play area for the kids. Seriously, the best idea I ever had in terms of space. (This comes in particularly handy during the cold and wet winter months when the kids can’t play outside in our backyard.) I lay out some foam floor tiles (affiliate link) and old bed sheets that I duct tape to the floor. That way, kids don’t have to put their shoes on and keep their socks relatively clean.

I group together a bunch of small tables (I have even used 18-gallon storage bins) and kid chairs and set up several activity stations. I usually have a play dough station with assorted play dough toys, a sticker and coloring station, and a bead and necklace station. They’re easy to set up and gives the kids something to take home.

4) Invite people over and let the kids run amok. 

That’s it. I mean, of course, Hapa Papa tidies up and we try not to look like we normally do (which is somewhat a disaster), but in general this is what we do. Pro tip: Ask guests to take off their shoes. Makes it a lot less messy!

As for the actual Egg hunt, here’s How to Throw an Easter Egg Hunt:

1) Choose a location. This depends on the weather, how many people you invite, and how big your house is. I usually choose a not overly popular park on a Sunday. (I’m hoping there will be fewer soccer/baseball games and that people are at church.)

2) Make it a potluck!

3) Have attendees bring 20 eggs per participating child. (ie: If you have 2 kids participating in the hunt, bring 40 eggs.)

4) Provide extra eggs. There is nothing sadder (at an egg hunt, anyway) than running out of eggs. I usually provide several hundred for my egg hunts, but that doesn’t mean you need to be that extreme. However, should you go the crazy route, I highly recommend going to Oriental Trading Company (pardon the somewhat sketchy name). They sell 144 eggs for $8. $8!!! That’s RIDICULOUS.

5) If you have it at a park, bring anything you would normally have at a BBQ. Pop-up tents, easy ups, blankets, etc. Those make life much easier – especially if the weather is hot and the park doesn’t have a lot of shade.

6) Have a stated start time and stick to it. I had the party start at 10:30am, but the egg hunt didn’t start until 11:30 because I knew people would be late. However, I warned people in the invite that we would start the egg hunt on time (to respect all the people who are punctual) and I asked participating parents to bring their eggs by 11:15 so we would have time to “hide” the eggs (aka: throw them all on the lawn).

7) Mix up the eggs! Otherwise, your kids end up getting all the same stuff. While that might make the kid who managed to get all candy in their eggs really happy, that might make the other kids who only got stickers sad.

8) Here are some great suggestions (which I got from the person who organized the first egg hunt I attended with Cookie Monster) for things to put in your eggs that don’t involve candy (of course use your best judgment and avoid things that are chocking hazards):

– Money, coins, fake
– Marbles
– Stickers
– Small toy cars
– Dice
– Small Tops
– Decorative shoelaces
– Hairclips
– Beaded safety pin
– Beads
– Finger puppets
– Squeeze ball
– Fun coupons
– Seashells
– Polished rocks
– Doll clothes
– Crayons
– Lip gloss
– Erasers
– Whistle
– Nail polish
– Keychain
– Jewelry
– Pencil grips
– Temporary tattoos
– Video game memory card
– Small action figure
– Small note pad
– Plastic links
– Coin purse
– Pedometer
– Small plastic animals
– Bookmark
– Rubber stamps
– Makeup
– Playdough
– Silly Putty
– Socks
– Bandanna
– Earphones
– Charms
– Lanyard
– Small stuffed animal
– Mini bottle of bubbles
– Body glitter
– Superball
– Fortune teller
– Fidget toy
– Wristband
– Confetti

That’s it! Well, ok. Not really. I usually send out an Evite and ask people to tell me what food item they are bringing in the comments. Now, that’s it. Everyone seemed to think that the party was difficult, but it really wasn’t. All I did really was set a time and place and tell people to come. I only provided the idea and some food and eggs. That’s why it’s my favorite event – so little work yet SO MUCH FUN!

Anyhow, I realize this was a very specific post, so it might not have held much interest for the non-Easter Egg Hunt planners. But hey, if you ever do, this would be the post to reference!

Life is Good

In case you couldn’t tell, I am an extrovert and for the most part, I enjoy and thrive in social situations. Don’t get me wrong. I do need time to recharge and read and be away from people – but in general, I love being around friends and talking to people. I prefer smaller gatherings because they are more conducive to deep and real conversations versus just repeating the same small talk over and over again. However, larger parties can also be fun because there are so many people to talk to (unless I don’t know anyone – that can be a little less fun) and often, that is my only chance to see large groups of my friends together all at the same time. So, bonus points for efficiency.

Anyhow, one of the more difficult aspects of being a SAHM for me is how lonely and isolating it can be. If I don’t make a conscious effort to set up play dates or activities, often the only social interaction I have is from texting my friends or Facebook. (Yes, I really am on Facebook almost every waking minute. Yes, I really do read, like, or comment on almost every thing. Yes, I am aware of how that is kinda sad and desperate. Thanks for noticing.) Otherwise, the only adults I speak with in person on a daily basis are Hapa Papa and my mother. Nothing wrong with them (I do love them very much). I just need more.

Because Hapa Papa is awesome and loves me and wants me to be happy, he consents to me throwing a big party every few months because otherwise, I’ll go crazy. Every year, we throw a big New Year’s Eve party for fellow parents and celebrate the countdown at 6pm because hey, we have kids and we’re tired and we’ll never make it to midnight. Of course, there are the kids’ birthday parties which are fun and an excuse for me to invite my friends over. Occasionally, I throw a July 4th party although this year, I think I’ll pass because we’ll be leaving for Taiwan right after. But by far, my favorite event is our annual Easter Egg Hunt.

When Cookie Monster was fifteen months old, I took him to one of the best events I had ever gone to – our East Bay Asian American Parents’ (EBAAP) Easter Egg Hunt. I recall training Cookie Monster at home. We practiced picking up eggs and putting them in his Easter basket and that served us well for the actual event. I saw some old friends and their kids, Cookie Monster had a great time, we got some awesome photos and videos, and I was amazed at how well-run and fun the event was.

The next year, I realized that our annual LA/SD trip would force us to miss the EBAAP event and I was incredibly disappointed. I didn’t want Cookie Monster to miss out on an egg hunt so a few friends and I got together on one of our Mandarin Mommies play dates and threw a small egg hunt in our backyard. It was adorable. Last year, since several of us had more kids and once again, our trip would force us to miss the EBAAP event, I thought, “Why don’t I just put on my own egg hunt?” So, I did.

I blatantly copied all my favorite parts of the EBAAP Egg Hunt and then invited a few families for a BBQ/potluck at a local park and asked everyone to bring twenty eggs per participating kid. I provided another 400-500 eggs just in case people forgot or didn’t have time to bring any. Nothing is worse than going to an egg hunt and getting only a handful of eggs. (Trust me, I know because I took Cookie Monster and Gamera on three or four egg hunts last year and many of them ran out of eggs almost instantly or they had a limit and that was LAME.)

Anyhow, we had so many eggs that the kids got tired of picking them up and just left them on the lawn. We had about sixty people attend and it was a big hit. I decided then and there to have an egg hunt every year until my last kid was too old to enjoy them.

Fast forward to this year. Between inviting Cookie Monster’s preschool class and our Mommy and Me class, in addition to our usual gaggle of friends and some of their friends, we had close to 100 people attend. (After all, you can’t just invite a few people from class. You either invite none or all! Otherwise, that’s just mean.) I can definitively say it was a smashing success!

Even though we had close to 1,000 eggs, this time, the kids descended like a throng of locusts and all the eggs were scooped up within a few minutes. I think it’s because the kids were older and much more efficient. There was plenty of food and drink, pop-up tents and easy-ups, bubble machines, bubbles, T-ball, scooters, bikes, and two playgrounds. I couldn’t believe it was 90% people I knew!

My only regret was that we were so busy having a good time, we neglected to take any pictures of the kids picking eggs! Hapa Papa managed to take a few pics of the scene, but mostly, we dropped the ball and spent all our time running after babies, shoveling food in our mouths, and talking to new and old friends. Fantastic!

Gamera was so tired, she barely finished dinner and fell asleep on the couch by 7:30pm. (That may not be that impressive to those of you with obedient children, but considering she didn’t go to bed until past 10pm the night before, we were thrilled.) I had to take a nap in order to make it through the rest of the afternoon and Hapa Papa passed out around 9pm. Cookie Monster somehow was still standing and only fell asleep at 9:30pm. WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET THIS KID TIRED?

Already, I can’t wait for next year.

What’s the Worst that Can Happen?

So, on Monday, I was very nervous about posting my thoughts on SCA5 because quite frankly, it required facts and citations and I’m terrible at those things. I would make a really shitty journalist. There is a reason I was not in one of those majors that required writing multiple term papers. After all, you can cram organic chemistry and wing an exam (albeit, poorly) but the only way out of a ten page term paper is to write a ten page term paper (even with double space).

The other reason I found it hard was because it is such a polarizing topic. I was prepared to be called a race traitor or naive or whatever. In particular, I was worried about alienating my Asian friends who were against the measure. I didn’t want them to think I thought they were bad people or cause any trouble. After all, people are allowed to disagree with me – and when they do, they are not always crazy or insane!

I admit, I didn’t even know what SCA5 was about until I saw a friend post about it. Because I learn a lot about the news and the world through Facebook (I find that my friends are endlessly fascinating sources of information), I wanted to see what SCA5 was all about. Once I did, I realized that I very much wanted to vote for it. However, as I am usually wont to do, I didn’t say anything about it on Facebook because in general, I dislike talking politics because I hate arguing issues (see the first paragraph re: facts).

But, after seeing an ever increasing number of friends posting “No on SCA5,” I just couldn’t stay silent on the matter anymore because I firmly believe that SCA5 is a good thing (just like some of my friends firmly believe that SCA5 is a bad thing). Furthermore, I didn’t want my black and Latino friends to think all Asians were against SCA5 and that I was among that group.

Now, before I started Mandarin Mama, I tended to post solely on neutral things. You know, pictures about my kids, rants about my day, funny comments, etc. I purposely avoided posting anything that would even contain a whiff of the controversial. In fact, I’m one of those people who absolutely HATE changing my profile pic to support things. I think it’s the internet version of peer pressure and refuse to do it even when I agree with the issue. (This is just my personal baggage. I am aware people are perfectly capable of changing their profile pic to support issues for completely valid and non-conforming reasons.)

But after regularly posting my opinions here, I realized I was sick of being “neutral.” I was sick of being afraid what other people would think of me if I actually voiced my opinions. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to have opinions about Real and Important things (even if my two cents were just a mere pip in the surrounding cacophony of voices).

I wanted to step away from fear. Fear that my friends would drop me. Fear that I would look stupid. Fear that I would be wrong in public. Fear that I would muddle facts. Fear that I would actually have to research facts. (Funny enough, that didn’t kill me!) Fear that I would have to write in a different style than I was accustomed to. Fear that I was becoming more and more myself – and if people rejected me, they would be rejecting me versus some carefully crafted version of me.

It is scary to put my thoughts on controversial issues out there – particularly since I keep telling myself that I am bad at research and facts. But you know what I discovered? Thanks to the internet, facts are pretty easy to find and check. Also? I am capable of writing something that is not just “slice of life.” And the best part? My friends are a lot more gracious and a lot less petty than I am.

Grief on the Side

An old co-worker and friend of mine died yesterday morning. He would’ve been 44 in less than a month and leaves behind a wife and two teenage children. Although I knew it was inevitable (he had been in a painful struggle with cancer for a long time), it is still a shock to my system. (Obviously, my grief is nothing compared to his family and closer friends.) 

It’s a mixed bag, right? When people we love and care about die after suffering so much physical pain. On the one hand, we do not want them to be gone – for death seems so final to me (although the thought of a Heaven and him being in it brings me comfort). On the other hand, we do not want to prolong their suffering and pain. So though I am sad he has left us, I am relieved there was an end to his pain.

I must admit though, part of my grief (despite losing a friend who was a person who drew others in with his fun and positive personality – geez, even my attempts to describe him fall so flat, as if reducing him to a caricature of himself) is the thought of this happening to ME. I am sad for his family who are left behind, and I cannot stop thinking about ME. How I am so grateful that this is NOT happening to ME.

I am a selfish ass.

When I consider the possibility of my babies in a life without Hapa Papa, I can’t breathe. Not to mention just the practicality of WHO WILL PROVIDE FOR US? and OMG IT WILL HAVE TO BE ME!

Of course, my mind veers to the practical, daily providence side of things. Because to think too hard or too long of an actual LIFE without Hapa Papa, I just can’t. I feel an ache in the back of my throat and eyes just thinking about all the things that my kids (and by extension, my friend’s kids) will miss and all I want to do is cry.

After I heard the news this afternoon, I just stumbled about, letting my kids zone out on the iPad. All I could think about was how grateful that we were all healthy and alive and that I loved my kids. Of course, fast forward to this evening right before bed when I reached new heights (in terms of volume) of screaming and yelling at Cookie Monster and Gamera (POOR Glow Worm!) and I feel even more like a giant piece of turd.

I don’t know why the juxtaposition of these two events sits so heavily on my heart. I suppose it’s some trite message about how we never know when we’re going to die so we need to cherish the moments we have with our children.

Mostly, I just feel guilt.

But since I already wrote a post on being a monster, we can skip that guilt-fest for now. I think I am just going to chock all that yelling to misplaced grief, stress, and the sad fact of life for the moment. I’ll make better choices tomorrow.

At any rate, I miss my friend. We had somewhat lost touch in the past few years, but that did not dampen my love for him.

Rest in Peace, Nellie. My heart breaks for your wife and two beautiful children. You are with Jesus now and we are without you. Seems a bit selfish of Jesus if you ask me, but that’s just me feeling sad. You were one fucking awesome guy and it sucks that you’re gone. You are loved.

Family Traditions

Every family has their traditions and mine is no exception. When we were growing up, without fail, every Thanksgiving, we would have all this awesome Chinese food and a neglected, dry, sad turkey. No one in the family (or in the families we celebrated with) knew how to make a turkey. Every year, we would say, “No turkey!” but inevitably, every year, a new family just from Taiwan would join the group and insist on having a turkey in order to have an “authentic” American Thanksgiving.

It was never very good.

As a result, I have never enjoyed turkey. However, one year at a Thanksgiving Part 2 (the attack of the leftovers), my friend JL brought out his turkey, gravy and stuffing. It was amazing. I thought it was a fluke, but year after year at our TG2 parties, the turkey was delicious. I decided it was because JL had a white mother (he’s half white and half Chinese) and she knew what she was doing.

So, the first year we moved into our current house, I really wanted to make a Thanksgiving turkey. I saw it as finally growing up and becoming an adult. The only turkey/gravy/stuffing I have ever enjoyed was my friend JL’s so I begged him for the recipes and he kindly emailed them to me. Since then, I have made his mother’s turkey, gravy, and stuffing every Thanksgiving. They are always a hit.

One of my traditions at Thanksgiving is to invite all family and friends who have no nearby family to our house. There is nothing sadder on Thanksgiving than celebrating with just yourself or a your spouse or your own small family. What’s the point in making a turkey for four people? So, I always invite folks who I know have family far away and won’t have anyone else. Makes the celebration much cozier!

Hapa Papa’s cousin also lives in the Bay Area so they come over when they are in town. It brings me great joy. Besides, the more people who come, the more people will take home leftover turkey. I swear I was still eating frozen turkey from last year only a week or two ago. (I freeze the turkey into small bags and use them in soup.)

Anyhow, having a Thanksgiving turkey is one of the traditions I want to pass down to my kids. Plus, sometime this weekend, we will pick up a Christmas tree and decorate it with the kids and it will be so much fun! I LOVE IT.

Here are some other traditions I hope to start or continue:

1) Yearly trip to LA and SD
2) Cherry picking
3) County Fair
4) Christmas Tree (which seems stupid, but our family hadn’t had a Christmas tree since 1995 – we fixed that in 2010)
5) Yearly trip to DC to visit my brother
6) Joint vacations with family friends to a bunch of national parks
7) Playing cards (Napoleon and Chinese Hearts) and mah jong
8) Game nights (and we’re talking super geeky games)
9) Easter Egg hunts (until the last kid is too old to care)
10) New Year Eve parties (which are overrun by kids and adults and awesome when we ring in the New Year at 6pm)

Obviously, this is not an all-inclusive list, but a nice start. What are some traditions you are hoping to continue? While you’re thinking of them, I will leave you with one of the first records I remember hearing.