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Last week I took the two older boys out on a theater date to see the musical production of James and the Giant Peach. First of all, let me just say that I absolutely love live theater, especially musicals. There’s just something so magical about watching a story unfold on a live stage without the help of any special effects or editing. The talent and skill of those involved in a live theater production, from the actors and actresses to the people who design the costumes and props,¬† never cease to amaze me. In my opinion, a good musical is really entertainment at its best.

For many years this kind of entertainment was usually something we’d reserve for “special occasions,” since most of the time it involved expensive tickets and making the trek out to the city. That’s why I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered the Berkeley Playhouse a couple of years ago. It’s a small community playhouse (designed by Julia Morgan) literally walking distance from our house. They always have a production every season that’s geared more toward children and families. It’s a small theater so no matter where you sit, you’re guaranteed a good view of the stage, and they also provide booster seats for kids so that they can see better. And they have an actual orchestra in the pit! The first production we took our boys to was The Little Mermaid a couple of years ago. They absolutely loved it, and I did too. The quality of the productions that this little theater churns out is truly amazing.

On top of that, for every production they have at least two shows that are “pay what you want” nights. They’re usually on a Thursday and tickets go for a minimum of $5 each. So even though it is a school night, we usually take the kids on those nights when we can. Just to give you an idea of how easy and accessible it was, last Thursday after we ate dinner, I put Ezra to bed around 6:30pm, had the boys change to their jammies, drove to the playhouse at 6:45, parked, got tickets, and we were seated ready for the 7pm show with time to spare. All for less than the cost of 3 happy meals! I had them back and in bed by 9:30pm, both dreaming of singing bugs and giant peaches.

So how was James and the Giant Peach? I have to say I was a little skeptical; it’s not exactly a story that lends itself to an easy musical rendition. The main characters are bugs after all, and it is set mostly inside a giant peach. But as with all the other shows I’ve been to, this one did not disappoint. The musical interpretation of this classic Roald Dahl story was creative, endearing, and hilarious! My favorite scene was earthworm singing, “Plump and Juicy” to tantalize the seagulls. The boys got such a kick out of the show that afterwards the man who sat behind us remarked to me that he had more fun watching CC and Turner than the actual show.

James and Giant Peach will be playing until May 6th. Go see it for yourself and bring any kids in your life. I’m sure they will enjoy it as much as mine did! #supportcommunitytheater

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A friend reminded me the other day that I used to write and I thought to myself, “Oh yeah…what happened to that?” My last post was about a year and a half ago and Ezra turned 18 months this week, so if you do the math and put two and two together, you’ll find who to blame for my long silence on this space.

In all seriousness, I’d love to keep writing, not because I think you’ve all missed me (do people even read blogs anymore?), but because it is therapeutic and it gives me a way to actually use my brain, which isn’t working as well as it used to due to lack of sleep. It’s just been hard to find the time or energy when I spend most my days now following around a toddler who likes to climb on tables, walk off the tops of bunk beds, and throw hard objects, sometimes at people. I feel like his private bodyguard, except I don’t know who I’m protecting more, him, or the people around him. His poor big brothers both bear the scars of battle wounds on their faces, inflicted with little baby nails sharper than claws. And just yesterday I was too slow in fending off a matchbox car which Ezra threw and it unfortunately found my eye as its target. Ouch.

Ezzy the menace (that’s what I like to call him) is thankfully napping right now, and even though I know that I should probably be doing the same, I wanted to see if I could still get my writing juices flowing after such a long pause. No promise that this will happen regularly, but just wanted to get my feet wet a little.

I thought I’d share with you all some of the things that are saving my life right now, and boy does my life need saving. These are some of the small things that have helped me to get through the day, in no particular order.

  • COFFEE – okay, so maybe I lied when I said in no particular order, because of course coffee comes first. I use a French press because I’m the only one in the house who drinks coffee. Some friends who stayed over recently gifted me a stainless steel French press because I mentioned that my glass one broke. In fact, I’ve gone through two glass ones. I was so happy to receive this sturdy steel one which I can just pop in the dishwasher and not be worried if Ezzy gets his hands on it by accident.
  • Podcasts – I’m a latecomer to the whole podcasts thing, so I’m still trying to explore and find ones I like. Most of my day is filled with mundane household chores, so it’s nice to have something to listen to while I’m doing the dishes, folding the laundry, etc. I choose the podcast based on what I’m in the mood for at the time – to be entertained, to learn, or to get some spiritual nourishment. They really do help the time go faster and sometimes I feel like I’m just listening to a couple of friends chatting at my kitchen table while I’m cooking or cleaning. Here are some of the ones I enjoy and have started subscribing to: Life-study of the Bible with Witness Lee, The Simple Show, What Should I Read Next?, Up First (for news), and Read-Aloud Revival. If you have any you’d like to recommend, please share!
  • 7 minute work-outs – Larry recently introduced me to an app that gives you short customized work outs you can do at home. Both of us have membership to the Y, but the extent of our use of it so far has been taking the kids to the indoor kindergym. It was hard for me to find a time to go to the gym regularly, but doing these short routines at home has made regular exercise a lot more feasible. Sometimes I do them at night after kids have gone to bed, or sometimes in the morning with Ezra puttering around me. Often he will sit on me while I’m doing the plank or push-ups for added weight.

What’s been saving your life recently? I’d love to know!

 

 

Party of Five

This post is long long overdue, but I thought I’d try to squeeze it in while it’s still 2016. So I said awhile back that I’d post when #3 was born? Well, he’s here! Ezra Timothy Chen arrived on October 24, 2016, four days before his due date. He came out fast and furious, sporting a full head of hair, much like his two older brothers. I’ve been a mother of 3 for all of two months now and so far the transition has been okay. We were only able to survive the first few weeks because of so many dear ones who were there to help. Big shout outs to all the people who brought us food, watched our kids, did school pick ups and drop offs for CC and Turner, and got us enough diapers to last the rest of this year and beyond. Big big shout out especially to my awesome mother-in-law, who stocked our freezer with meals, entertained the boys with science projects and Chinese lessons, and made sure I didn’t have to cook, wash dishes, or do laundry for two and half weeks. If I was too sleep deprived to tell you all a proper thank you at the time, please forgive me. Every act of kindness to us, big or small, was much appreciated and our family of five couldn’t have navigated through these last two months without them. So I’d like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

I had hoped to get my act together in time to send you all a nice family photo card, you know, the kind you start getting from people right before Christmas. Every year, when I start receiving those cards in the mail, I tell myself, next year we’ll take a nice family photo and send one back. But every year without fail I forget and before you know it, the year has ended. I was really hoping to get some photo cards printed in time for this year, but we have yet to take a family photo of all 5 of us that I feel is nice enough to print copies of. But then again, who says family photo cards can only be sent out in the month of December? I might still try to get some photo cards out, so don’t be surprised if you receive one from me sometime in March that says, “Happy New Year from the Chens!” (I’m half serious, so if you’d like one, email me your address!)

In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for some pictures from my phone. Larry got me a new iphone for my birthday, so I finally got around to uploading all the pictures from my old phone to the laptop so I would have space on the new phone. The boys and I sat down and looked through all the pictures and videos from this past year and it was fun reliving all those memories. So in lieu of our family photo card for now, please enjoy some of the most recent pictures from my iphone photo dump.

Happy new year from the Chens!

A short update

I know I said I would try to blog more this summer. Yeah…that didn’t quite happen and now it’s October?!? Just to give you all an update on how the prego and cripple are doing –the cripple is now not so cripple and the prego is very very prego. Larry’s ACL surgery in June went well and with regular physical therapy and the exercises he does at home, he’s pretty much back on his feet. It’ll be a while before he can be back on the ultimate field, but at least now he can manage to walk quickly after our two boys on their scooters. The one highlight from his whole recovery process was that he was able to get a temporary handicap parking permit. It was nice to be able to park in those nice big handicap spots and at any meter without having to pay for as long as we wanted. We got spoiled all summer driving to the library instead of having to limp and waddle there. But alas, the permit expired at the end of September, and now all I can do is look longingly at those handicap spots as we drive by looking for parking.

As I said, the prego is now very prego. I’m entering into my 37th week, which is when the baby is considered pretty much close to full term. Turner was born at 37 weeks, and if what they say about each kid coming out faster and sooner is true, d-day (or should I say b-day) can be any day now. We have diapers and clothes and dug out the bassinet and the car seat, so I think we’re ready. I’ve been trying to remember what labor is like. It’s funny, a mom asked me how I’ve prepared for this delivery compared to my previous two and I told her with CC, Larry and I took an 8 week Bradley class. Every Thursday we would gather in our teacher’s living room with 4 or 5 other couples and do relaxation exercises and I would visualize my beautiful natural birth. With Turner, I think I managed to dig out my Bradley method workbook and actually went over my notes. With this pregnancy, the extent of my preparation has been watching the entire season of Call the Midwife (haha just kidding, I think I already watched the whole season before I got pregnant).

So I thought I’d crank out this post before baby #3 decides to come, because you might not hear from me for awhile after he shows up. Truth be told, I’m starting to get pretty excited. Excited to not be walking around with a bowling ball in my tummy. Excited to eat all the carbs and sugar I want (With this pregnancy I technically did not have gestational diabetes, but “gluclose intolerance.” Not sure what the difference is, but I didn’t have to prick myself 4 times a day, which was fine by me). But most of all, excited to meet this new addition, whose arrival I believe will bring about a sense of completeness to our family, at least for me. Maybe I’ll try to blog at least one more time, just to let you all know when he comes. So stay tuned!

Here are some random pictures from our summer –

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Driving down to So Cal right after Larry’s surgery. We took the middle seat out so he could stretch out his leg.

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One of the reasons we went down was to be able to see my sister and my nieces and nephew!

I’m ashamed that my last post was 5 months ago. I’ve been a lazy bum, haven’t I? But here I am again, dusting the cobwebs off my wordpress dashboard, ready to update you all on the reason for my radio silence the last 5 months. Some of you already know, but for those of you who only follow me here, I’ve been gestating the last 5 months. Yup, that’s right, incubating yet another little human being, our third one due to arrive at the end of October. So I’m blaming my laziness on those darn pregnancy hormones, which I also use as convenient excuses for my ¬†grumpiness, crankiness, forgetfulness, overeating, and indulging in ice cream whenever I feel like it. Amazing how a little bump can absolve you from all kinds of guilt.

We found out pretty early on that we will be having another boy. Since I’m over 35, they offered me a brand new screening test that can detect the gender of the baby from a simple blood draw at as early as 11 weeks. Many people have been asking us if we’re disappointed or if we’re going to try for a girl next time. The answer is no and no. Not gonna lie, it would have been nice to have a girl, a little mini me instead of three little mini Larrys. But all truth be told, I think boys are way more fun, and I’m okay with not having to deal with braiding hair, tying pigtails, buying princess stuff and the like. I guess I better get used to being outvoted 4 to 1 in this house.

Other than the arrival of the third and LAST Chen boy, there isn’t much else to share with you all. Life around here has been busy, but relatively uneventful. We plan to have a quiet summer at home. I had hoped to do some traveling this summer before the baby comes, but Larry had to go and tear his ACL and is in surgery getting it repaired right now as we speak (or should I say, as I write?). It could take up to 6 months for him to recover and be fully back on his feet, so we wanted to make sure he got it done as early as possible so he can be ready to be up at nights with the baby come October when it’s my turn to be bedridden. What a lovely couple we’ll make – the prego and the cripple – sounds like the title of a bad feature film.

I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. Back in March, Larry let me go to Boston for a week with the college students on their spring break trip while he stayed home with the kids. It was great and so much fun, despite the fact that I was in the very early stages of my pregnancy at the time. I had forgotten what it’s like to travel without little kids in tow. Amazing how much you can do in a day when you don’t have to stop for naps or deal with tantrums.

So this summer I’ll have to content myself with nesting at home. Hopefully I’ll get around to blogging some more. Feel free to come and visit us if you’re in the neighborhood. You’ll probably find us both on the couch with a bowl of ice cream.

Happy summer!

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A bus ride down memory lane

Yesterday I had the rare opportunity to take Turner to his preschool on the bus. The day before I had unfortunately gotten a flat tire on our brand new minivan after picking up the kids from school. It wasn’t fun having to sit at the gas station for an hour with 3 kids waiting for roadside assistance, but with the car’s DVD player and the one granola bar I managed to find in my bag, we somehow made it through.

So anyways, Larry wanted to take the car in to the dealer early in the morning so he wouldn’t have to deal with waiting in line, which meant I would be car-less for morning school drop offs. I borrowed a car from a friend to take Christopher to his carpool ride and then decided I would take Turner to school on the bus so that I could go straight to the car dealer afterwards to retrieve our car. Turner couldn’t be more excited to go on the big public bus. For the first few weeks of school he would look longingly at the yellow school buses parked in front and always ask me if he would get to go on them. Berkeley public transit may not be the same as a yellow school bus, but in the eyes of a 3 year old, it’s just as exciting.

We walked the couple of blocks from our house to the bus stop and waited for only about 5 minutes before our bus pulled up. I instructed Turner before getting on that he should say “Good morning” to the driver, and he did just that as we ascended the steps. I asked him where he wanted to sit, and he said, “in the caboose!” so we marched to the back of the bus and plunked down in two empty seats by the window. As the bus pulled away and as we watched the streets of the city flash past us, I was suddenly transported back to my childhood. I did most of my growing up in New York City and taking public transportation was a huge part of my life. I think as early as 4th grade I was already taking the public bus to school on my own and in junior high and high school, I had to take two buses everyday to school. I have fond memories of me and my friends gallivanting all over the city with our free school bus passes. It’s a little shocking to me now as a mom to think of how much freedom I had back then as a kid.

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Waiting at the bus stop

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Sitting in “the caboose”

 

As the bus curved its way through downtown Berkeley, I looked out the window with my son and noticed things I had never seen before. Turner and I took turns pointing things out to each other, people we saw walking down the streets, things we saw in shop windows. Before we knew it, we were at our stop. I pressed the stop requested button and both of us hopped out the back door and took our time walking the four blocks to his preschool. He was as happy as a clam…and I was too. I don’t think I would trade in the convenience of a car for taking public transportation every day, but it was nice not to be the one behind the wheel for one morning. And it was also nice being able to share a slice of my childhood with my son.

 

 

 

 

 

Chore Pad App Review

I’m usually not one for reviewing, much less promoting apps, but when I find one that actually does make life easier (instead of just helping me to waste more time), I’d like to let others know about it. In this case, the app I’m about to review hasn’t just made life easier, but helped me to parent more effectively. It has helped my kids learn healthy habits and be accountable. All that for a mere $2.99? Larry and I normally never buy any apps, but I think this one was a $3 well spent.

For awhile I’ve tried to get my kids, especially my older son, to regularly do their chores. We’ve tried all kinds of ways – physical chore charts with stickers, rewards, penny jars. Those things would work for a week or so, but eventually the novelty would wear off, and I have to confess I wasn’t that good at consistently adhering to whatever system I had started. So in the end the system would go out the window and I would go back to nagging them everyday and they would go back to ignoring me.

Well, a few months ago, Larry, believing that there’s an app for everything, did some research and downloaded some chore chart apps. There are so many out there, but the one he eventually decided on was Chore Pad. It’s relatively easy to use and you can customize chores for each child. There’s a simple reward system of checks and stars and you can decide what rewards they get. My kids love it. We’ve been using it for a few months and the novelty still hasn’t worn off. They have been consistently making their beds, folding their pajamas, cleaning their room, etc. with much less nagging from me. And I don’t have to worry about printing out anything or getting any stickers or pennies, all I have to do is whip out my ipad and have them check off their chores themselves. It has become part of our nightly ritual and both boys will often remind me if I forget to do their chore chart before going to bed.

I’ll walk you through it real quick –

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Each child gets his own page that he can customize. My boys decided to go with the snowflake theme for the winter.

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Then you assign chores for each child and how often they must be done. This is CC’s and…

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…this is Turner’s.

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You can also decide how many stars each chore is worth. The kids use their stars for payouts. So far the reward that has worked to motivate them are minutes for playing video games. CC also has the option of converting his stars to money, which Larry keeps track of in a different piggy bank app.

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As they accumulate checks, they also earn trophies for their virtual trophy shelf. There’s also the option to give them a bonus on each check, if they did a really exceptional job, or a minus, if they did their chore but not such a good job.

We also included a box for daily behavior which we check off at the end of the day if they behaved well. Many times if they’re misbehaving, all we have to do is threaten not give them their behavior check and they’ll change their tune right away.

Anyways, this app has worked well for us so far. It’s so easy even 3-year olds and non-tech savvy mamas like me can figure it out.

What apps have you found useful for parenting? Please share!

 

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