Adventures in Christmas Decorating

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Welp, it’s that wonderful time of year again. You know, Christmas and holidays and trees and presents and magic. Which is great to witness in movies, but a PITA to experience.

Ok. Fine. I have a somewhat squelchy heart made of coal. (How can coal squelch? Wouldn’t that require more soggy material? Clearly mixed a metaphor or two back there. I digress.)

Anyhow. The only reason I even care about Christmas is because I want to create traditions for my children. (Ok, not the ONLY reason since I do believe Christ’s birth and its incumbent scandal is worthy of remembering and celebrating.)

I don’t particularly care for decorating and all of that stuff but my kids LOVE it and actually are old enough to remember doing things in previous years. So, because I love them, I force myself to go through with all this folderol.

Also, I am a sucker for making memories. I know. I am just overflowing with Christmas Spirit.

And since we don’t do Santa (I personally don’t like connecting an old white dude who lives in the North and knows if you are naughty or nice and rewards good kids and punishes bad kids with Jesus’s birthday because it sounds suspiciously like a draconian god and when kids find out Santa isn’t real, why would God and Jesus be real and OMG I AM THE WORST BUT MY KIDS ARE STUCK WITH ME SO TOO BAD FOR THEM), nor do I give the kids individual presents (we do communal presents from Hapa Papa and I but they get presents from family and teachers) —

breathe —

So pretty much the only thing we do is buy and decorate a tree and our bannister with a bunch of crappy shatterproof ornaments from Target, cute crafty ornaments made from their hand and footprints when Cookie Monster and Gamera were very little, and make new ornaments and crafts for the tree this year.

I quite enjoy seeing the old ornaments come out even though some are falling apart already. I guess my heart isn’t entirely ossified. (Don’t tell anyone.)

Anyhow, this is all just to say that the tree and decorating it are THE THING WE DO AT CHRISTMAS TIME in the Mandarin Mama household so even if it’s a royal PITA, I suck it up and do it because this is all we do.

Geez. I really am a kill joy. But I tell you what: I am never stressed out at Christmastime and I don’t have to find presents for the kids or anyone else other than my nephews and my mother and my kids’ teachers.

Anyhow, with that preamble out of the way, here is how our yearly tradition went this year.

1) Bought a Christmas tree with all four kids. BY MYSELF.

Seriously. This is one yearly solo with kids tradition I could do without. I hate it. Hapa Papa hates it. I may or may not have passive aggressively texted my dismay to Hapa Papa.

Good man that he is, he cleaned the house and prepped the corner for the tree and brought out all the Christmas stuff from the garage as an apology. (He also washed the cloth diapers.)

Apology accepted.

2) Had to use clippers and hand cut off more branches because I forgot to tell the Home Depot guy to trim 1.5′ off the bottom instead of the usual 8″ they do.

I have a deep stand, ok?

Try not to make that sound too dirty.

3) Put up Christmas tree and had to go out and buy new lights because I forgot that I threw out all the lights last year.

Bought lots of chocolate as a reward. Kids stole half my chocolate.

4) Put up new lights.

Realized I didn’t have the heart to toss the star last year because it is pretty but should have because I forgot it is broken and doesn’t light up so now I have to go out again and get a new star because Cookie Monster insists.

5) Successfully did not yell at kids for their help decorating the tree. After all, nothing makes warm Christmas memories quite like Mommy yelling because you aren’t decorating right.

6) Listened to Christmas music because it is Hapa Papa’s favorite part of Christmastime. I think. Either way, he is a big fan of Christmas music.

7) Last year, Glow Worm’s favorite thing at Christmas time was to take ornaments off the tree and throw them. This year is no exception.

8) My kids can make even Christmas decorating a dangerous sport.

9) Glow Worm also thinks the ornaments are toys (same as last year) and uses them as balls, food, whatever. He has been driving them around in his Little Tikes Cozy Coupe (which he also) did last year. Glad to see that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

10) And despite my alleged dislike for all the effort it requires, seeing the tree and bannister lit up every time I pass by makes me feel happy.

11) Of course, my entire house is littered with scattered ornaments and the little green hooks from which they hang.

These will conspire to trip me as our tree gets barer and barer and our floor gets more and more treacherous.

I could pick them up and put them back on the tree but then Glow Worm wins.

12) I must have succeeded in hiding my actual feelings because Cookie Monster kept commenting how I must love Christmas (or something to that effect). So yay, me!

Anyhow. May your holiday traditions be in full swing and full of joy for you and your families. Happy Wednesday!

This Seemed So Much More Fun In My Mind

My father ruined many a family outing/vacation/road trip/whatever for me. To this day, I am not a huge fan of traveling due in part, because of my father’s temper. However, in this one area, I find myself sympathizing with him now that I have children and plan events for us to attend as a family.

My father used to get so mad if we weren’t thrilled with waking up before the sun rose just so we could see the sunrise mirrored at Lake Louise, or if we just didn’t care about seeing stuff in general and just wanted to sleep in and read or whatever on vacation. I mean, now that I know how much food, lodging, and travel costs, not to mention taking those precious vacation days off, I get why he was so frustrated and angry. I get it. I really do. But that still doesn’t mean he was right to lose his temper and scream and yell at us and in general, bully us into doing what he wanted.

At any rate, now that I am forcing my own children to do stuff I want to do, I find myself reflecting a lot on his frustration, which manifested as a grown up tantrum. (How’s that for a convoluted sentence?)

Two weekends ago, I took the family to go cherry-picking in Brentwood. As long time readers know, cherry-picking is one of the things I want to do every year with the family. I remember having a fantastic time picking cherries with my parents when I was little and I wanted to pass these memories along to my children. Plus, I love cherries and when they are 50% cheaper at the local farm vs at the store, it is worth the 45 minute drive!

Sadly, this year did not quite go as planned. I was super excited to go and we went the first week the orchards were open. We packed the kids in the minivan, brought along our covered wagon, prepared a picnic, and off we went! Unfortunately, due to the drought, my favorite farm was already closed – and it wasn’t updated on the website! So, we followed a bunch of cars and parked at a different farm.

Right away, we were told that we couldn’t bring food and eat at the orchards anymore. Too many people were leaving all their trash and food at the sites and making it a health hazard. Then, when we got to the trees, they were already all stripped of fruit. Cookie Monster and Gamera were pretty excited to pick cherries, but since there really weren’t any for them to pick, they got bored. Which makes them want snacks. Which they couldn’t eat on site. Hapa Papa carried Glow Worm in the Ergo for the first time, but Glow Worm wanted me so he kept crying.

When I finally found trees that actually had cherries on them, the cherries weren’t even sweet! As I tried to salvage the situation, Gamera peed all over herself because Hapa Papa, not being used to having a baby on him, couldn’t get Gamera to the potty fast enough. At that point, I was really frustrated and mad. I LOVE picking cherries, but nothing was going the way I planned or envisioned. I wanted to throw things and be angry and snipe at Hapa Papa. I had mentally debated staying, but the kids were complaining (and Gamera was WET) and hungry and it was hot and sticky and Hapa Papa’s allergies were destroying him so instead, I huffed off, paid for the cherries, and calmed down enough to just admit defeat and take the kids home.

It was a good decision.

This past Memorial Day Weekend, I forced the kids to go hiking again (this will be our third time in two months!) and though they had a good time, it was initially not looking good. I had originally suggested we go to a trail that was closer to our house – but the trail overlaps with cows and is mostly uphill so the kids don’t like it. Plus, there are a lot of cow pies on the trail. So much so that the kids call this particular trail, “Poo Poo Mountain.” They begged me not to take them to Poo Poo Mountain. (Sorry, every time I think of this name, I burst out laughing.) Fortunately, I understood and didn’t mind the slightly longer drive to Regional Redwood Park where the trail has plenty of shade and is nice and paved and mostly flat.

I’m glad I listened to my kids and changed venues. Although I will make them go to Poo Poo Mountain again! I will prevail!

Then, on Sunday, I gathered up the kids again for our yearly visit to the local Art and Wind Festival. Every year, I take the kids and buy lots of ride tickets. Every year, I have more than half left over. Cookie Monster will only ride the train and this time, after waiting almost an hour for the train, when he finally got on with Hapa Papa, the train broke down and had to be recharged. Again, every one was hot and sweaty and although the kids initially enjoyed the crafts and stickers and balloons, all they wanted was to eat and go home.

I don’t know why I do this to myself every year. And yet, next year, I’ll do it again. Oh, who am I kidding? We’re going to do it again in June when the County Fair comes into town.

What I am most proud of, other than my dogged determination and hopeless optimism in the face of facts, is despite my utter disappointment and frustration at these less than ideal situations, I didn’t take it out on the kids. They had a reasonably good time considering how miserable they were. And for the most part, I hope that these yearly traditions, despite (or perhaps because of) the suffering I’m subjecting my poor children to, they will have fond memories of doing these stupid outings with their crazy mother.

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?

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.

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.