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Yesterday we had an early celebration for CC’s birthday. My not so little boy will turn 6 tomorrow. For weeks I’ve been hemming and hawing about whether to throw him a birthday party this year, not because he had asked for one, but because for some crazy reason I thought I’d be less of a mother if I didn’t. It seemed like ALL his little friends got birthday parties and I didn’t want him to feel left out. In all honesty though, we are not birthday party people in this house. Things like that tend to get me stressed because I feel like I have to get everything perfect and pinterest-worthy. Kind of like when I tried to bake the fire engine cake when he turned 3…I don’t need to remind you all how that turned out.

So Larry finally put an end to my hemming and hawing and put his foot down and said we would just celebrate CC’s birthday as a family. I complained for all of 5 minutes but was inwardly relieved. I told CC we would go out for dinner for his birthday and he can pick the restaurant. Just as I predicted, he picked Homeroom, a very hipster joint in Oakland touted to have the best Mac and Cheese this side of the bay. So yesterday afternoon, before heading out to Homeroom, we let CC open his one present from us (more on that later) and Face Timed briefly with his grandparents. The place was super crowded, even at 5:45, but we scored a table outside relatively quickly. We ordered two kinds of Mac and Cheese, a side of buttery minty peas and a Limeade for me, and watched my soon to be 6 year old son chow down more calories than he probably ordinarily gets in a week. He was happy as a clam, and I was too, knowing I didn’t have to frost any cakes or fill any goodie bags.

After dinner, the boys of course asked for dessert. Larry, thinking ahead, had printed out a coupon for a free birthday scoop from Ben & Jerry’s for CC. We asked CC in the car what he wanted for dessert and he said ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s. Score! Isn’t it great when what your kids ask for is actually the same as what you plan? So we made a stop at B&J and even though we were planning to get Turner his own scoop, CC very graciously said he would share his cone with his little brother. So we walked out with free ice cream and two very happy boys.

When we got home, CC had about half an hour to play with his birthday present before he had to get ready for bed. For his birthday, we got him a box of 125 Zoob building pieces. Recently he’s really been into Legos and can spend hours by himself just building things. So we wanted to get him something similar – open ended creative building toys. The Zoobs are pretty cool, basically ball and socket type pieces you can fit into different configurations. It also comes with guides with instructions of different things you can build. CC got into it right away, and for half an hour we all joined him in building things. Definitely quality family bonding time.

We got the boys ready for bed and CC thanked the Lord for his new present. I thanked the Lord for giving us such a simple yet wonderful day. My son will only turn six once. I’m glad I didn’t miss it because I was too busy planning a party he never asked for. When he looks back on his 6th birthday, I hope he’ll remember that we had mac and cheese and ice cream and that his mommy and daddy sat down and built Zoob robots and animals with him. I know that’s what I’ll remember. 🙂

Happy birthday CC!

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A couple of weeks ago I got to visit my family back East and of course as I expected, my mother made comments about me being too skinny. It wasn’t the first thing she said when she saw me, but I could tell she was holding it in as she sized me up with her eyes. It finally came out on the last day as we were saying goodbye – she gave me the gentle admonition in Chinese “tai shou bu hao” (translation: too skinny, no good).

I was ready for it so it didn’t bother me too much. My in-laws had made the same observation the last time we visited them. They all seem concerned that my apparent loss of weight means that I’m not eating enough, that I’m too tired and run-down. Okay yes, sometimes lunch for me consists of toddler leftovers and yes, my energy could use a boost on most days. And yes, sometimes I’m so focused on feeding the boys that I forget to feed myself. But I think I’m doing a pretty good job of eating three square meals a day in addition to snacks in between and sometimes late night desserts. I’ve just been cursed with fast metabolism which I’m sure will eventually catch up with me sooner or later.

Apparently my father-in-law has the same problem. He’s been trying to gain weight for years and has tried all kinds of things. His latest diet scheme is to eat lots of good quality dark chocolate as a high calorie snack. Larry was down in So Cal last weekend and guess what he brought back from his parents? Yup, that’s right, bars and bars of dark chocolate for me so I can gain some weight. I don’t know if it’ll work, but out of respect for them, I guess I should just bite the bullet and give it a try? I guess I can live with comments about me being too skinny if it means I can indulge in free dark chocolate. 🙂

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I never understood people who bake for fun. I love to cook, but for some reason to me baking desserts is anything but fun. It’s stressful and leaves a big mess in the kitchen. And it’s expensive because you have to invest in all these special gadgets and equipment. Maybe it’s because my mom never baked. I grew up in a home where the oven was only used as a storage place for pots and pans (along with the dishwasher, which we never actually used to wash dishes).

That said, once every year I feel compelled to bake. That compulsion comes without fail every year around October 13th. I suppose I could just buy CC a birthday cake, as I’m sure many parents do for their children, but for some sick reason, I don’t feel like I can honestly earn my good mommy badge unless I bake his birthday cake myself. For his first two birthdays, I went the safe route and just did easy cupcakes. He didn’t have much teeth back then and was more enthralled with the candles than the actual cake anyway.

For his third birthday though, I felt like I needed to ramp up my baking skills and attempt something harder. Why? Because CC was in school now and had friends and was starting to understand what a birthday was. So in addition to making cupcakes for all his classmates and teachers, I decided to make my son a fire engine cake. I came across the fire engine cake idea while pinteresting and it looked easy enough. I watched the how-to video a couple of times and I thought to myself, “I can do that.”

So my plan was to bake some cupcakes on Thursday night so I could bring them to CC’s preschool on Friday, and for his actual birthday on Saturday, I would just whip up the fire engine cake while he took his nap and maybe invite some of our friends and neighbors over to help eat it. For the cupcakes, I used this recipe for Fluffer Oreo cupcakes (I left out the marshmallow fluff because it just seemed criminal to give that much sugar to preschoolers).

After both kids went to bed on Thursday night, I got to work in the kitchen and had the cupcakes in the oven in less than an hour. “This is not so hard, I should do this more often,” I thought to myself. I set the timer and went to the living room to relax. Ten minutes later I smell and see black smoke billowing out of the oven. Not a good sign. I tried to rescue them but it was too late. Of all times to malfunction, our oven had chosen that night  to do it.

When Larry came home, he found me moping and throwing myself a pity party over my burnt cupcakes. He tried giving me suggestions like, “The middles aren’t that burnt, you can just cut off the tops and bottoms,” or “We can just go out and buy some cupcakes.” He didn’t understand that none of those suggestions would earn me my good mommy badge. So he encouraged me to start over and even offered to text around to our neighbors to find an oven I could use (this is why I married him). So instead of throwing in my apron, I began all over again, although now I had to alter the recipe a bit because I didn’t have everything I needed to make the original one. By midnight I had 27 decent looking Oreo cupcakes.

I should have taken my snafu with the cupcakes as a indication that maybe I should just save the fire engine cake for another birthday and quit while I’m ahead…but no, on Saturday, I decided to push forward with it even though by that time I was sick of dealing with cake and frosting. So after CC went down for his nap, I made a yellow cake in three loaf pans as the recipe directed and watched the how to assemble video another two or three times.

After the cakes were done I went to take them out of the pan so they could cool and all three of them had stuck to the pans even though I had greased them. Panic set in, this can’t be happening, I thought to myself. The cakes eventually came out…in big crumbly pieces. I tried to keep my cool. The frosting will hold it all together, I told myself. So I went ahead and started on the red frosting for the fire engine. The problem was that even after dumping in the entire bottle of red food coloring, I still had a bowl of dark pink frosting. Who’s ever heard of a dark pink fire engine? At this point I start to get very frustrated and in desperation enlist the help of my very understanding husband. Together we try to spread the dark pink frosting on the crumbly heap that’s supposed to look like a fire truck. But for some reason, the frosting had become extremely thin and watery (probably from all my stirring) and instead of holding the cake together like I had hoped, it just made things even worse.

CC had woken up from his nap by this time and had come to see what we were doing. The whole scene was so comical that despite my frustration, I couldn’t help but laugh. We decided to just stick the cake in the fridge and take CC out for a walk. We went to the library and then to dinner at an Italian cafe and CC picked out his own dessert. When we got home, I was in a much better mood, and I decided that I was still going to make my son his fire engine cake, even if it wasn’t perfect. So I take the crumbly dark pink mess out of the fridge and CC watches as I spread on more frosting, put on the Oreo wheels and the gumdrop flashing lights. My dear son encourages me through the whole process by saying, “Mama, you’re really good at this.”

At least at the end it kind of resembled a fire engine. We stick in the candles, take some pictures and let CC blow out the candles. He only wants to eat the gumdrop flashing lights and the Oreo wheels and not the cake. I don’t blame him. The poor fire engine cake eventually ended up in the trash can. I know…what a waste of time and money. But I don’t think it mattered much to CC that his cake didn’t turn out perfectly. And now when I consider the precious memories we will have of his third birthday, it was worth all the trouble. I think I deserve that good mommy badge after all.

This was what the cake was supposed to look like

This is what my cake actually looked like

Happy Birthday CC!

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The week before Memorial Day weekend, we took a vacation to Santa Cruz…our last hurrah before we are homebound for the summer preparing for the arrival of Baby #2. CC and my mother-in-law came with us, so it wasn’t exactly a babymoon, but we had a great time and got some much needed R & R. We rented a two-bedroom vacation house right by the beach and it was definitely better than staying in a hotel. We were able to make breakfast and lunch for ourselves everyday instead of having to eat out all the time and we were able to lounge in the living room when CC was taking his nap in our room.

We took a pretty slow pace for our vacation which included 3 hour naps in the afternoons for all of us. That’s just how we roll; we’re not the most exciting people in the world. That was the nice thing about going to the Santa Cruz area, there was enough to do, but not so much that we felt like we had to be on the go all the time. And everything was pretty much a short drive from where we were staying. There are a lot of great places for little kids. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the beach that often, but that’s because I keep forgetting that the water at NorCal beaches are still too cold to swim in this early in the summer.

Here are some of the highlights:

Roaring Camp Railroad – old style open air steam train. You can take a 1 hour round-trip ride into the redwood forest while the conductor narrates interesting facts about the train and the forest. CC loved it. For some reason we always seem to fit a train ride in no matter where we’re vacationing.

The Mystery Spot – basically a little hill where they built a slanted house which mysteriously defies the laws of gravity. A little hokey, but worth going to at least once for $5. Supposedly it’s the most visited place in Santa Cruz.

Seymour Marine Discovery Center – part of UC Santa Cruz. Not exactly an aquarium but just big enough to occupy a few hours in the morning. We took the family tour and CC got to touch a shark and other sea creatures and stand inside a blue whale skeleton. We packed some sandwiches and had our lunch behind the center on a bench overlooking the coast.

Santa Cruz boardwalk – awesome little amusement park on the boardwalk. Free admission, you pay for each individual ride. They actually had quite a few rides for little tots. It was the first time CC was able to go on a ride all by himself.

Capitola Beach – small, not too crowded beach walking distance from our vacation house. CC and I dipped our feet in the water but it was still way too cold. He was happier playing in the sand anyways. Larry attempted to fly a kite. We had dinner that night in Capitola at a Mexican place called El Toro Bravo. I immediately recognized it as the restaurant a friend of mine and her husband had taken me to over 10 years ago on my first visit to the Bay Area. I ordered the same thing I got then – their crab enchilada. Yum! It happened to be “Kids Eat Free” night too, so we got a free full sized chicken quesadilla for CC which we ate for lunch the next day.

 

Other than that, we didn’t do very much except sleep and read. I finished two novels by the time we left and Larry finished one. It was nice to spend quality time with Larry’s mom too and have an extra person around to entertain CC. After a week home, CC is still talking about it. I’m so glad we can give him these memories before his little brother comes to steal all the attention.

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With both my pregnancy with CC and this baby, I’ve had gestational diabetes during my last trimester. For those of you who don’t know what that means – basically the placenta produces hormones that block my body from producing enough insulin. Thankfully, I don’t have to take any medication, but it does mean no sweets and cutting back on carbs and having to prick my finger four times a day to test my blood sugar level. It’s really not as bad as it sounds, and for most women, the condition goes away once the baby is born.

Since this is my second time doing this, I’ve gotten pretty good about knowing what I can and can’t eat. I’m usually able to keep my blood sugar levels in good range when we’re eating at home (I recently found some wonderful GD friendly recipes here). Eating out, however, has proved to be a challenge. I’ve learned that Asian food makes my blood sugar spike really high (I think it’s all the sugar in the sauces) and of course, Italian is usually out of the question. So if we’re going out to eat nowadays, Indian and Latino restaurants are my safest bets. Which is why I’m so excited about two new places we’ve recently discovered.

The first place we kind of chanced upon by accident. After a trip to Costco, Larry and I couldn’t decide on a place to go for dinner and all the places we’ve been to in the area just didn’t appeal to us right then. As we were driving down San Pablo Avenue, we saw a place called Christopher’s Nothing Fancy Cafe. The only reason it caught our attention was because it was named Christopher’s. Nothing in the exterior gave a hint of even what kind of food they served, so we parked in front and Larry did a quick search on his phone. You would never guess from the name, but it’s actually a California Mexican restaurant and it got decent reviews, so we decided to give it try. I wasn’t that hungry so I just ordered one shrimp taco, expecting it to be a small taco taking up maybe half a plate. To my surprise the taco was huge and bursting with shrimp. I don’t remember what Larry ordered, but he was pretty happy with what he got too. The prices were decent and they also use mostly organic stuff. There were also tables outside in the back with a little water fountain which kept CC entertained.

The second place we found is a place right in our neighborhood. It’s an El Salvadorean place called Platano on University and Shattuck. We’ve walked past it many times and heard about it, but for some reason never thought about trying it. A couple of weeks ago though, I happened to overhear a mom at the YMCA tell another mom about how she loves that restaurant and that they have a little play area for kids in the back. Okay, so I’ll admit that’s the only reason I wanted to try it. Just the thought of being able to go out to dinner with my husband and not have to spend the whole time trying to keep CC in his high chair was appealing enough for me. Good food would just be a bonus.

So we decided to go to Platano last night for dinner and it did not disappoint us. The play area is nothing fancy, just a small couch and some chairs with a small coffee table in the back of the restaurant with some toys on it that they probably got from the Goodwill next door. But it kept CC happy and quiet for the 10-15 minutes that it took us to order and wait for the food, which by the way, was delicious. Larry and I split a carne asada and then ordered two pupusas. Dinner entrees are a bit pricey, but the portion was definitely big enough to share. During dinner, the owner actually came over and chatted with us…very pleasant guy. He gave us a dessert menu, all of which of course I would have loved to try but sadly couldn’t. By the time we left, he must have shaken hands with Larry at least 3 times. We promised to come again and I told him that after this baby is born, I would come and order the steak medium rare, some coffee, and dessert.

Even after all the rice and beans and corn tortillas I ate, my blood sugar that night was still fine. The 15 minute walk home might have helped too. I have a feeling we’ll be going to Platano a lot in the next two months.

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Once in awhile someone I know will comment to me how I’ve lost weight. And they don’t say it in the way of, “Wow, you look great. You’ve lost weight!” No, by their tone it’s more like, “You look wasted and haggard. Are you eating at all?” It usually comes from older women around my mother’s age, and they usually say it in the exact same tone my mother would use. Whenever I see my mother (and I don’t see her that often now being that she lives on the other side of the country), her first words to me would undoubtedly be about my weight. If she said that I gained weight (usually with a happy grin), that was her giving me her stamp of approval. It meant that she thought I looked healthy and happy. If she said I lost weight (usually in a serious tone with brows furrowed), that meant that she was worried that I wasn’t taking care of myself and that I must be overtired. For those of you who have Asian mothers – you know what I mean.

I know that people sometimes tell me I’m losing weight out of motherly concern, so I’m by no means offended (so don’t worry if you were one of those people). It’s just that I never know how to respond to a comment like, “You’ve lost weight.” Should I say “Thanks”? But it obviously wasn’t meant as a compliment. Maybe I should say “Sorry,” but that makes it sound like I lost weight on purpose to make people worried. How about “I’ll try to eat more?” But if they only knew how much I already do eat. Since CC was diagnosed with failure to thrive, our entire household has been on a full-fat diet – whole milk, whole milk yogurt and cheese, butter galore. Do you see my dilemma? I usually end up just saying, “Yeah” and then changing the subject.

I think both my husband and I have fast metabolisms, a genetic disposition that we’ve probably passed on to our little son. No matter how hard we try and how much we eat, we just can’t seem to put on the weight that will make our doctors or mothers happy. Maybe they should have diagnosed our whole family with “failure to thrive.” I guess being an underweight family is better than being an overweight family. I wonder if there’s a weight watchers program for helping you gain weight.

My parents are due for a visit next month. I’ve got three weeks to pack on the pounds to make sure I get my mother’s stamp of approval. Wish me luck…or better yet, send me some cheesecake.

 

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I was chatting with two (Caucasian) moms at the library today and one of them complained how her son doesn’t eat anything except bread. The other one chimed in and said that her son refuses to eat any kind of fruit unless it comes out of those baby food pouches. I sheepishly piped in and said that CC is actually a great eater. How ironic, I thought to myself as I watched the three boys playing. The other two Caucasian boys were taller and bigger than CC though they were all about the same age. CC has a great appetite, but for some reason has managed to stay petite…enough to warrant the doctor to diagnose him as failure to thrive when he was about 15 months old.

Our pediatrician sent us to a GI specialist, but after a battery of tests, they found nothing wrong. So they had us switch CC from milk to pediasure (basically a muscle milk for kids) and the nutritionist advised us to add butter into EVERYTHING. And they also prescribed an appetite stimulant for him though his appetite has always been good. Thankfully, after months of pediasure and having everything buttered (even his goldfish and cheerios!), CC’s growth curve is finally on the upward trend, enough at least to make the doctors happy.

I have to admit that for a while I was worried and mealtimes became stressful for both of us as I tried to cram as much food as I could into CC’s little body. Now, I just try to let CC enjoy his mealtimes. He doesn’t eat a huge amount, but like his mother, he knows how to enjoy his food. He’s never met a fruit he didn’t like and is willing to try basically anything I put in front of him. His favorite phrase these days is “Feed self,” now that he’s learned the art of using a fork and spoon. As I see it, CC’s thriving just fine. He’s inherited my adventuresome palate and his father’s fast metabolism, which makes him a pretty typical Asian kid.

Here’s a short video of him drinking soup to the soundtrack of Lion King. Yes, he always needs background music when he’s eating. 🙂

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