Thursday, December 31, 2009

my brother, the amazing chef

My "baby" brother, Michael Noyes, is the executive chef at Westside Cellar. If you enjoy wine and California fusion cooking, you will love his cuisine! He loves to play with different textures and flavors from Italy, Spain, France and Asia to create playful, yet sophisticated and exciting courses that pair beautifully with his wine selections.

Signature dish: L’harmonie de Fruits de Mer. “It’s a filet of Chilean sea bass, pan roasted with sundried tomato garlic beurre blanc. It’s simple, a perfect example of my style of cuisine,” Noyes said.
I highly recommend his signature dish--I have had it several times! Delicious!
Tonight, he is the host site for a wedding reception party. Happy New Year!

Michael is such a talented chef and he always helps my mom cook at our holiday gatherings.

If you are ever in the Ventura county area, go check out his restaurant!

222 East Main Street, Ventura, CA 93001
Telephone: (805) 641-3500
Hours: Tues-Thursday: 4:30pm-10pm; Fri-Sat: 4:30pm-11pm;
Sun: 4:30-10pm

BONUS: From 4:30pm-7pm wine is 1/2 off!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Roberto Cani

Over this holiday break, I was lucky enough to meet up with my old friend, Yuko, and her boyfriend, Roberto Cani. I knew he was a violinist, but I didn't know how accomplished and brilliant he was until I met him. Yuko was kind enough to send me a CD of some of his work and I was just amazed by his exquisite talent, to say the least. I have never been in the presence of a professional classically trained violinist before! His work is quite extensive, including the Pixar Cars soundtrack (which Josh happened to be watching when he walked into my mom's living room)! His latest artistry includes the Avatar musical score.

During our visit, I pretty much regressed to behave like a googly high school girl; Yuko and I even looked him up on Wikipedia and myspace, where we could listen to some of his music online!

Today, Josh and I listened to Roberto Cani and we both loved his music. It sure made doing housework a lot more enjoyable and way more peaceful--who knew classical music could be so calming during manic-mommy cleaning bouts?

simple, but great advice

One of the simplest, but best piece of advice that I got about Josh was from my sister-in-law, Debbie. When Josh was a baby, she told us that we should just rinse his head off in the bathtub by dumping water over his head and not worry about it getting on his face. I am so glad we tried that (despite some initial protest from Josh) because now he is so used to it and I don't have to worry about shielding his eyes with my hands or using a shampoo visor like some people do.

Every time I give Josh a bath, I think of Debbie and her wise words of advice because I probably wouldn't have known to do that with Josh in the bathtub. It's that kind of small, but important detail that only an experienced mother, like Debbie, would  know to pass on, and I'm so grateful that she did! Now, Josh isn't bothered by water on his face and that has paved the way to making showers more enjoyable and feasible for him as well!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Moment

One of the most flattering things I will take with me into the new year is this great compliment I got at the park months ago: someone thought I was Josh's sister!! (Is that a good thing or a bad thing to be mistaken as my son's sister instead of his mother?) WOW, talk about making my day! It made me laugh and smile to hear someone say that and it made me feel years younger.

We may be starting 2010 soon, but at least no one can take away my moment as Josh's "sister" in 2009!

Monday, December 28, 2009


My husband got the Kindle for Christmas this year. So far, one of his favorite features is the built-in Dictionary. I have to say that the screen is pretty impressive and the technology is outstanding. You really can read it outside in the sun and the words are easy to look at, just like the pages of a hard copy book.  After playing with the Kindle for a little bit, my husband passed the it around for everyone to look at. The next day he discovered that someone had inadvertently purchased an e-book and charged it to his account. I suggested that he call Amazon and explain that since it was a new Christmas present, other people were fiddling with it and someone accidentally bought an e-book without realizing it, and see if the charge could be reversed. Sure enough, after he spoke to a representative, the charge was reversed and within half an hour, the e-book was removed from the Kindle.

Now, that's what I call good customer service!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Career Diary of a Pastry Chef by Yuko Kitazawa

I was roommates with an extraordinary girl, named Yuko Kitazawa. Even back then, she was an exceptional chef! Our apartment always smelled good with baked cookies, homemade gnocchi and lots of other gourmet treats that I was privvy to! She was the first person to introduce to me ratatouille and expose me to true Japanese sushi and sashimi. Earning a degree in Philosophy at Cal Berkeley was not enough for my friend--she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a chef. She decided to go to Culinary School in New York at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

I am so inspired by her for reaching her dream of becoming a professional pastry chef. Yuko is now a published writer as well (which I think is an amazing accomplishment!!!). If you, or anyone you know, are interested in starting a career in pastry, or if you are just passionate about food and baking, I have the perfect book to recommend: Career Diary of a Pastry Chef by Yuko Kitazawa.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Beak to Beak, Please

A few years ago, our friend gave us Korean wedding ducks when he returned from Korea. He explained the significance to us, since I was unaware of this Korean tradition. One duck represents the husband and the other duck represents the wife.  They are supposed to be facing each other, nose to nose or beak to beak when the marriage is in good harmony. When there is marital discord, the ducks are supposed to be turned, so that the tails are facing. The ducks symbolize peace, many children and no separations.

I am so grateful for these keepsakes from Korea, and I am always reminded of our friend when I look at these ducks. It's a little piece of Korea sitting on our mantle.

One of my New Year's wishes is for these ducks to be beak to beak as long as possible, or at least more often than they are tail to tail!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One New Year's Resolution...

For my New Year's Resolution, I have actually been working on it already, gradually...I am trying to wean myself from Diet Coke (specifically, Diet Coke with Lime). While I love Diet Coke, I have been told my several people about the controversy surrounding how bad aspartame/artificial sweetener is and I am reluctantly trying to give it up. I found Diet Coke with Splenda at the store, which is supposed to be a better choice. My mom has already switched to drinking this and I have one pack at home for an occasionally splurge, but I still miss my Diet Coke with Lime!

To get my "bubbly" fix, I have tried switching to sparkling water:  Jarritos Mineragua and Crystal Geyser. It's definitely not as good as my old favorite, Diet Coke with Lime, but it's a start in the right direction and I'm getting used to it. I am proud to say that I have stopped buying Diet Coke with Lime and I am even trying to eliminate Diet Coke with Splenda, but that's a slower journey--I still need my Diet Coke fix every once in a while! But for now, I try to reach for sparkling water to treat myself to something different from the normal tap water that I drink.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pilot's alphabet fun!

Josh's grandpa has a pilot's license and he flies a Bonanza aircraft (N7745R).  Josh had his first ride in it over Thanksgiving, and he did fairly well. The headphones finally fit him and his ears were well protected (major relief for me, since I was worried about the potential for acoustic trauma).

At dinner tonight, I thought I'd try to teach Josh the pilot's alphabet, so he could learn the code words that stand for each letter of the alphabet. Normally, pilots have to say the code word for each letter, since their letters can get scrambled or misunderstood over the radio. I thought it would be a fun experiment to see if Josh could understand the concept of a code for the alphabet. So far, he is having fun with it. We ended up spelling family members' names with the code and he got a kick out of that! The first one we tried was "Mommy" = Mike, Oscar, Mike, Mike, Yankee. He just cracked up with repetition of "Mike, Mike" for "m, m."

(By the way, this is how to say the name of the aircraft: "November 7-7-4-5 Romeo." Cool, huh?)

So here's the Pilot's Alphabet for you to teach your kids, if you are interested:

Pilot's Alphabet


































X ray







Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Blind Side

I just saw The Blind Side, the story of Michael Oher.  I was a little hesitant about seeing this movie and I actually got sick to my stomach when I saw the preview trailer for it months ago...and then I realized it was based on a true story of a real football player. (Ok, so I am a closeted sports movie fan; I loved the movie, Rudy. It gets me every time right in the gut and I well up when everyone starts cheering, "Ru-dy, Ru-dy, Ru-dy!")

So this is my take on the movie...some of my gut reactions, unfiltered, if you will:

1. It was way too Hollywoodized and things were kept a little too scriptish to feel raw and real. There were so many moments where I wanted to know if that really happened or if it was just scripted. I just kept going back and forth between believing it and questioning it.

2. I was surprised they kept some of the more obvious racist and racial concerns in the script. That made it a little more realistic, but they tried to play down the racial tension and racial stereotypes at the same time. For example, the first night Michael stays with the Tuohy family, Mrs. Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) says something to her husband about whether or not he thinks Michael is going to steal anything from them.  That scene closes with Mr. Tuohy saying, "We'll see in the morning," as though he doesn't want to really be concerned with it, but at the same time he acknowledges that the possibility is there. Now, in one way, it was accurate and honest to keep this conversation in the movie script, but it just underscores how people can act one way to someone's face so as not to appear racist, and then have doubts behind closed doors. (They just assumed that because he was African American, he would steal from them? Come on!!)

3. The one thing I did appreciate about this movie was that the Tuohy family actually ASKED Michael if he wanted to be adopted and if he wanted to be part of the family. I, myself, was curious how that topic came up in the movie and why the Tuohy family would adopt Michael on the brink of adulthood. I guess I appreciated that scene because adoptees rarely, if ever, get asked that question. Adoption is usually a one way street only; most adoptees are just adopted. End of story. I was glad to witness in this movie that the adoptee had a say in the whole process--that was refreshing and quite surprising, even though the scene itself was cheesy.

4. Personally, I don't think they got gritty enough in this movie--it was Hollywoodized to attract and audience, let's face it. And, what I mean by that is that I don't think enough was portrayed from Michael's point of view. Sandra Bullock was the headline actress in this movie--she was the golden goose that Hollywood wanted to attract ticket buyers.  I have nothing against Sandra Bullock (I actually like her), but I think it would have been more gripping to have another, lesser known, even perhaps, an unknown actress, play Mrs. Tuohy. But then, who are we kidding? It is a movie and Hollywood wanted to sell tickets. That being said, I think the young man, Quinton Aaron, did a superb job at playing Michael Oher (not that I know Michael Oher), but he portrayed him as a "gentle giant" (I hate that phrase) or as Sandra Bullock called him, "Ferdinand the bull."  I think what was disappointing for me was that we didn't get to see as much of what Michael was going through internally, except through quick flashbacks for dramatic effect. What Quinton Aaron brought to the screen was a lovable, endearing soul that audience members could take pity on, while at the same time admiring his resilient spirit. Let's get back to the "Ferdinand the bull" reference. Mrs. Tuohy uses that as her ultimate metaphor for Michael. She likens him to that black bull who does not want to fight, but would rather look at the flowers in the field. Now, I don't know if this was intentional, subconscious, coincidental or not coincidental, but I found it particularly interesting that this parallel was drawn between a black bull and Michael Oher. Was it done to point out how racially type cast people can be? Or, was it used to show that there should be no such thing as stereotypes and we should not judge based on appearance, category of animal or in this case, someone's race, ethnicity and size. What is remarkable in this film is that Michael Oher wasn't initially good at playing football (which I didn't know) like the coach and the administrators assumed he would be based on his tremendous size. He wasn't inherently aggressive on the field like the coach imagined that he would be. Instead of approaching football with aggression, Michael Oher was taught to play defense by virtue of protecting his team as he would protect his family. After Michael sees football as a means of protecting, instead of attacking, he plays successfully. This is a very good example of how there are multiple ways of seeing or doing something to achieve the same goal. Moreover, this is also something that subtly reminds the viewers that not everyone learns the same way and we, as a society, have to remember not to harness one cultural bias for teaching and learning.

5. I do feel that Sandra Bullock did a much better job acting than I thought she would have done and this might be one of her best performances yet. She played the rich, Republican wife perfectly! She was a bit two-faced. She kept one face to her family, her friends and to Michael Oher and one to herself. It was as though she wanted to appear fearless and in control, but she was also subject to her own personal racist beliefs; she was struggling to overcome them and pretend they didn't exist, so she could do her Christian duty and help someone she thought was in need. This is exemplified when she is at lunch with her friends, and her friends imply that it is dangerous and worrisome to have a "black boy" living under the same roof as her white daughter (do I hear an allusion to Richard Wright's Native Son here?). Mrs. Tuohy shames them for saying that, but then the next scene cuts to her asking her daughter if she feels safe and okay with having Michael living there with them. I guess in some ways this movie could arguably be more about Mrs. Tuohy's journey and transformation. She was quite exposed in the sense that the audience got to see how sheltered and limited her worldview was before she met Michael. She had obviously never met anyone before who never had his own bed, let alone someone who carried around one change of clothes in a plastic grocery bag. Mrs. Tuohy openly admitted that in all the years that she lived there in Memphis, she never went to "that" side of town, where Michael used to live.

6. Let's get back to some embedded racist remarks that go seemingly unnoticed by the majority of audience members. One particularly disturbing scene was the when Michael Oher gets a new car after he gets his drivers' license. What kind of car did he get? A big, black truck. Now, on the surface, this scene seems harmless enough. It appears to be a rite of passage moment in the movie. It appears to showcase the generosity of the Tuohy's. Then everything goes downhill, in my opinion, when the daughter asks, "He wanted a truck?" and Mr. Tuohy replies, "Michael thinks he's a redneck." I'm sure to most audience members this line was considered funny. If I were a betting person, I'd bet that most audience members laughed at this point. I would also bet that the script writers wrote this intending it to be a funny moment in the movie. Now what is wrong with this statement? Why does it go so unnoticed? Well, it undermines Michael in every way to say something like that. In no way, shape or form, does he think he's a redneck. He is reminded every day of his life that he is not white, simply through the way he is seen and treated by other people. Just because he wanted a truck does not make him a redneck (I hate that term), nor does it or should it imply that he thinks of himself as one. It's almost as though the Tuohy family expected him to want another type of car, something more stereotypical of his demographic. This scene just did not sit well with me at all, mostly because I'm sure it sat fine with most of the audience! I bet no one was thinking there was anything wrong with what Mr. Tuohy said. Even if it was a joke for a joke's sake, it's the fact that something like that could be viewed as funny that bothers me. Why should someone's taste or preference for something be tied to ethnicity or race?

7. What did seeing this movie do for me? It made me want to read more about Michael Oher's real life. I don't want Hollywood's watered down version with cheesy lines and icing on top. I guess I should explain why this movie initially made me sick to my stomach. It just seemed so cliched in the previews. It seemed like another one of those movies where some "poor" African American was "saved" by a generous Caucasian family. The only reason this story was made into a movie was because Michael Oher is a successful professional athlete. Now, if he had become something else, some profession with less national attention, I doubt this would have hit the box offices and I know Sandra Bullock would not signed on to play the mother.

One thing that I found interesting is that if you Google this movie, all the tweets from twitter scroll on the screen in real time. Most people tweet about how they love this movie and it's so great, etc. It has been a tear jerker for many people. I don't think most people see past the Hollywoodization of this movie--they don't know why this movie makes them cry--which is why I decided to write about it. There were some things that I did appreciate about this movie, but there were also some issues this movie that I felt deserved a more critical lense. I don't want to give a generic "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," because it is not that kind of movie. It is a mixed bag. This movie is what it is (forgive the cliche) and I just hope people won't view it blindly, but rather analyze the implications of this movie and the implications of the reactions to this movie.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

All I want for Christmas...

This holiday season has been extra special because Josh has been getting so excited for Christmas. He is old enough, now, that he can do so many things that he couldn't do last year: he can help me wrap presents, he can plug in the Christmas tree lights, he can hang decorations on the tree, he can decorate a gingerbread house, he can open the windows on the advent calendar, and keep track of the number of days until Christmas. One thing that surprises me is that he is not acting selfish about getting presents this year, and he doesn't scream or beg for toys when we browse a toy store. In fact, I am having a hard time deciding what to get him for Christmas this year, because he doesn't really want much. He has trains and that's really all he wants. Instead of talking about what he wants, he talks about what he wants to get for other people. He even asked me what I wanted for Christmas!

Over the last few months, Josh has blossomed in his drawing capacity and has increased the details of his train drawings--he now includes passengers on the trains! It's so wonderful that a simple pen and pad of paper can provide hours upon hours of enjoyment for his little imagination! I love it--
I couldn't ask for anything more!

As a train lover, all Josh really wants for Christmas is a new train to add to his collection and a stocking full of coal! (No joke, that's really what he said he wants!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let's talk shoes...

So, to get the best deal on Crocs (which I absolutely love!) or any shoe for that matter, I use Shoebuy because they offer free shipping, free exchanges and free returns (bonus!). I really don't have time or the means to go shopping for shoes, least of all with a 4 year old getting antsy in the store. (Plus, we don't live near a Crocs store, so this is the next best thing for me to try out different Crocs styles.) The Crocs Cleo are my favorite and I swear by them! I can walk all day in these and my feet won't hurt a bit! They are so comfortable!! When I bought mine, I waited for a sale (20% off) and got the additional 10% off for members, which made them more reasonable, especially with the free shipping and no sales tax!

The best part about Shoebuy is that they usually ship items pretty quickly and you can try shoes on in your own home and walk around inside to try them out. If you don't like them, you can ship them back with a free shipping return label. No harm, no fuss, no worries, no sales tax!!! They have super great customer service (which is hard to find these days!). They have price protection too, so if you find the shoe at a lower price at another website, they will match that price.

I can't say enough good things about this website! Seriously, they have a great introductory offer if you register as a member, you get 10% off your first purchase and you get 10% off your subsequent orders made within 60 days of each purchase. Now, if you are like me and you don't necessarily buy shoes every 60 days, then you can sign up with a new e-mail address and still get the 10% off. Or, better yet, if you use their refer a friend program, you can refer a friend (use your alternate e-mail address) and give yourself $10 off your next purchase! There are so many loopholes in finding more ways to get discounts and I find that having multiple e-mail addresses really helps in cases like this!

Oh, and it's a great website for kids' shoes too. I find that sometimes when I've taken my son to the shoe store, he might not necessarily be in the "mood" to try them on at that exact second I want him to try it on (does this sound familiar or am I the only one to experience this?), so if I get him shoes online, then he can try them on in the comfort of our home when he's "ready" to try them on and test them out thoroughly.

Overall, I have found Shoebuy to be far better than Zappos or Onlineshoes (which doesn't offer free return shipping), mainly because of the free return shipping, wonderful customer service, the sale prices, and regular discounts for members.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

assumptions are for fools

Here's a clip from yesterday's scene:

SETTING: Costco Wherehouse. (Standing in the checkout lane, waiting to pay for my items.)

Cashier: "Please sign."

Me: "Thanks."

Cashier: "Domo arigato."

Me: (Eyebrows raised) "Thanks." (Cue fake, placating smile. Exit store.)

This is a classic example of how I'm treated in public sometimes. I guess people don't think they are racist or offensive when they do this, and they must think they are being polite or something by trying to speak "my language" to me, but it annoys me so much. (An old manager of mine once said, "Assumptions are for fools" and in a moment like this, I just can't figure out why people feel the need to assume so much without knowing anything!) And, this guy wasn't even Japanese! He was just trying to show off or something, who knows?! It was bizarre. I certainly don't have time to explain to random people that I am not Japanese and I don't speak Japanese. I just have to cue a fake smile--which I hate even more than being spoken to in Japanese or whatever language people assume I can speak--and pretend like I know what they are saying if they keep rattling off more sentences to me.

It was only after I told James about this incident when he got home from work that I realized what I should have said to the cashier: "Mr. Roboto." (Perhaps if I had said that, I could have raised his eyebrows, instead of mine.)

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Perfect Splurge

I admit, even though I am older, I still get a craving for kids' cereals: Frosted Flakes or Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Pops (stop scolding me, I know it's bad, but hey, I'm human!) It just reminds me of my childhood and being a kid (yes, I was one of "those" kids that got "those" kinds of cereals!)  I guess when I was growing up, sugar wasn't as big of a concern as it is nowadays. Or, maybe these days parents are just more health conscious about what cereals their kids eat.

As a treat, I decided to get Josh some Cascadian Farm Organic Kids Cinnamon Crunch cereal. It is a little higher in sugar than his other low sugar cereals, but I thought I'd let him try it to see if he liked it. I don't buy him any of the normal sugary cereals that I grew up eating.  Those cereals have 11 grams of sugar or more per serving.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm not the super strict sugar police with Josh or anything, because even when he eats a cookie (or anything sweet) he'll only eat half or one at the most, and he won't beg for more (which always surprises me in a good way).  I try to do things in moderation, and I certainly don't want him to miss out on childhood treats.  When I saw Cascadian Farm Organic Kids Cinnamon Crunch cereal, I thought it might taste like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and...I was right! It's even better, though, because it doesn't taste so artificial. Even though this cereal is a definite splurge, weighing in at 8 grams of sugar per serving, it's a moderate splurge for me to indulge in instead of buying Cinnamon Toast Crunch or eating a candy bar or reaching for ice cream! As for Josh, he likes it, but he never even eats a full serving in one sitting anyway. He doesn't eat much of anything, for that matter. So, even with this of cereal, I don't have to worry about him overeating it.

He is still quite happy with his Cheerios, Kix and Kashi Mighty Bites (which have the added bonus of having 5 grams of protein per serving!), but it's nice to have a new cereal in the house that we can share together!

Who knew cereal could be the perfect splurge to satisfy a sweet tooth?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

From Football to Fourth Grade Fujita

The New England Patriots: my husband's favorite football team (not surprising, since he grew up in Maine!). A few weeks ago, James had the game on TV and the Patriots were playing the New Orleans Saints. I got excited about this game because I used to be friends with one of the football players on the Saints team, Scott Fujita. I have known him since 4th grade, and he has always been superb at whatever sport he played or whatever subject he studied in school. Scott was and is one of the smartest people I've ever known and his intelligence is only outshined by his kindness to other people, his charisma and his hard work ethic. For me, it is simply beyond amazing to watch him on TV now, living out his dream of being professional athlete. He certainly deserves it and he has worked hard academically his whole life as well--talk about a well rounded person and athlete!

(I got so nostalgic talking to James about him, and all of a sudden all the memories of Scott came to the tip of my tongue--it's amazing how one event can trigger a landslide of thoughts!)

When we were in the same 4th and 5th grade classes, he and I would always get the highest scores in the class.  Otherwise, we'd alternate who would outscore the other. He was so smart and I always looked up to him for working so hard in the classroom, on the basketball court, the baseball field, the soccer field, the kickball field, or whatever field he was dominating! He was spectacular to watch, even back then, and everyone always wanted him on their team; he was incredibly popular. He was the epitome of cool and has always maintained that throughout his life.

In 4th grade, I remember having to write an essay in class and going over to Scott's desk to see his essay. He was writing about wanting to see his birth mother. (Scott was adopted by a mixed couple: his father is Japanese-American and his mother is White/Caucasian.) I remember being quite impressed by the depth of his writing; we were only in 4th grade and in that moment, whether he knew it or not, he basically taught me the term, "birth mother." I had never heard that term before and I had never used that phrase, but like a proud 4th grader, I pretended to be familiar with that term anyway. He was so sophisticated and I realized how ignorant and naive I was. I was humbled and I felt like I had seen a different side of Scott that I could never have imagined. It was the first time I encountered another adoptee that was so open about his longing to see his birth mother--it was like he erased the taboo to talk about it. I was just so impressed by his mature ability to articulate this so well in the 4th grade!

In some ways, Scott was the complete opposite of me. I never wanted to talk to other people about my desire to see my birth mother, least of all in a school essay. At that young age, I never told people about my experiences. Scott had the opposite experience: he was immersed in Japanese culture and way of life, so he knew more about Asian cultures than I did. He identified with his Japanese side of the family; he embraced it as his own. He stood out in a different way since he had a Japanese last name, Fujita, whereas I had a Caucasian last name. So, while he had to explain his seemingly incongrous last name, I had to do the same. (I have to add that I find it utterly rude and disgraceful to listen to sports commentators poke fun at and mangle Scott's last name, since the spelling looks similar to the Mexican dish, fajitas. Scott's last name is pronounced differently: "Foo-gee-ta.")

Anyway, one of the last times I saw Scott was in the cafeteria at the Clark Kerr dormitory at Cal Berkeley. He was so sweet and still remembered me after all those years. We didn't go to the same high school, but we ended up at the same college! I'm just glad we didn't end up in the same classes together, because I know he would have thrown off the curve and wrecked my GPA!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In addition to ironing...

Here's my little ironing secret: I hate to iron!

But it has to be done! (Sigh)

It is very time consuming and tedious and boring...and that's just for me! What about my poor son, Josh? Well, we have devised a fun, educational game that we can play while I iron all the wrinkly pants and shirts for my husband to wear to work. Basically, I have to buy as much time as possible so I can iron as many clothes as possible.

Thanks to my brother-in-law, I was able to borrow his idea of practicing verbal math with Josh whenever there aren't any toys around or when we are in the car. He has three girls, so he is far more experienced with occupying young minds!

Anyway, while I iron, I ask Josh lots of questions.  I ask him what 100+50+7 equals or what 400+70+9 equals, and so on...the permutations are endless, which is what is so great about this game! It's fun and it's so amazing to watch his face think and think and think and when he comes up with the right answer, he's so thrilled and just wants to do more and more! Now, when we are busy doing things and I want to challenge his mind, I make up other verbal quizzes like what's the capital of each state or what letter comes after "D," or what letter comes before "Z."  He has grown to love these games and now he even asks to play them! (He made up a name for the addition game: "The Answers Game.")

Now, I can get a lot of more ironing done, and it's a lot more interesting since Josh enjoys playing these games with me. (Oh, and he loves to turn the tables and make up his own equations for me to solve!)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Free digital prints

We live in the digital age and as a mother, I am always taking pictures of my son.  Yet, I've never had to pay for my digital prints, because I always get them printed through online services.  When I signed up for a Shutterfly membership years ago, Shutterfly included 25 free digital prints. Now, there's an increased incentive, so if you sign up at Shutterfly, you get 50 free 4x6 prints! Plus, if you sign up at Clark Colorlabs, you get 20 free prints right away! Then, you can also sign up at Kodak Gallery and get 50 free prints too. Oh, and I just stumbled upon another service, Winkflash, where you get 50 free prints on your first order, so I'll be signing up for that to get my holiday prints free this year!

Now, that alone is a lot of free digital prints!  Periodically, Shutterfly will generously offer free prints (like 8x10's, poster prints, cards or photo boooks) to its existing customers and all you have to do is pay for shipping. Now that's a deal!

If you want to increase the number of free prints, you can do what I did. I have signed up at all these sites with different e-mail addresses (I have a "dummy" e-mail address that I use when I sign up for things and then I have my regular e-mail address, and plus our internet provider gives us additional e-mail addresses, so I end up having quite a few e-mail addresses to use for these freebies!), and I seem to constantly be getting some kind of special offer or freebie! With a little patience, I just wait until the offers come out and then take that opportunity to get free digital prints.

Over the past 5 years, I have never paid for a digital print! I have only paid for shipping, which is reasonable.

If anything, the introductory free digital prints offers give you an opportunity to sample each website's quality of service and product. If you don't like the prints, you are not obligated to make future purchases.

PS: I totally forgot about Snapfish! They give away 25 free prints when you sign up too!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Borders Rewards

I absolutely can no longer go to Borders bookstore without a coupon!  Once I discovered these Borders Rewards coupons, I was hooked. Signing up for Borders Rewards is 100% free.  What a great idea for Borders to release coupons periodically for 20-40% off items and/or books! If you are going to buy a book anyway, why not use a coupon? I figure it's a great, easy way to save money. Oh and by the way, even though the coupon says one per Borders Rewards Member, you can still print out multiple copies and just go back on different days (or, do what I do and just go to a different register, or better yet, go to the Borders cafe and check out there--there's usually no line!) 

Here's a coupon for 30% off one item, but it expires 12/14/09, so hurry up and use it! Click here for printable Borders Coupon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Free 17 Day Trial Pass at 24 Hour Fitness

A good way to know if you are ready to join a gym is to get a free trial period first.  After all, how do you know if you will like the facility after one visit? Now you can get a free 17 day trial pass for 24 Hour Fitness.

Plus, if you are a member of Costco, you can get deep discounts on a two year adult membership (See the following link for details: Costco 24 Hour Fitness Membership).

Even if you don't sign up for a full membership, a free 17 day boot-camp-type-workout at the gym could be fun!

pluck your vows

pluck your vows
from our garden

i’ll sweep them
to the gutter

no more sun
no more water

i can’t breathe
through love's fodder

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Turkey and Potato Casserole

What do you do with the last two or three potatoes in the bag?

Here's a quick (prep-wise) casserole that you can do ahead of time, store in the refrigerator and stick in the oven when you're ready for dinner.
Or, you can do your prep work and bake it all at once.

This is a super easy recipe and it's good for those days you are too tired to cook, but still want something homemade-tasting. Plus, there's not a whole lot of chopping to do, and once it's in the oven, you can walk away and do other things while it bakes. I think the total prep time for me was less than 10 minutes, and that included scrubbing the potatoes, chopping the onions and garlic and slicing the potatoes.

Here's what you'll need for the basic casserole:

1. Half a pound of ground turkey meat (If you want to serve more than two people, I would use a pound of meat.)

2. 1 onion chopped

3. 2-3 cloves chopped garlic (Optional. If you don't have any fresh garlic on hand, you can use a few shakes of garlic powder.)

4. 2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (I used yellow potatoes, scrubbed and unpeeled, but you can use russet or red potatoes, whatever you have. If you are serving more than two people, then use 3-4 potatoes, depending on the size.)

5. Cream of mushroom or Cream of anything soup (I used cream of chicken soup, non-condensed. If you use a condensed soup, just add 1/4 cup of water or chicken broth to the concentrated soup.)

6. Salt and Pepper

7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (teaspoon or two)

8. Freshly chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish (Optional. If you don't have any on hand, it's okay.)

9. Shredded cheese (Completely optional. I used a Mexican four cheese blend, but sharp cheddar or jalapeƱo jack cheese, if you like it spicy, would work well too.)

Start by browning the ground turkey in a teaspoon or so of extra virgin olive oil.  Then add the onions and garlic. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Drain off any excess liquid that may have rendered during this process.

Layer the bottom of a casserole dish (I just used a small dutch oven) with potatoes.
Season the potatoes with salt & pepper.

Then add a layer of turkey meat mixture and pour half the soup mixture over it. Add another layer of potatoes (season with salt and pepper), turkey meat, and the remaining soup mixture. (At this point, if you want to save it for later in the day, let it cool a little bit and then put it in the refrigerator, covered. It will be ready for you when you're ready to eat at dinner time!)

Bake, covered for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Here it is:  Turkey and potato casserole.

Now, I wasn't too thrilled with this, so I added some cheese and put it back in the oven, uncovered for a few minutes until the cheese melted. You don't have to add the cheese, but I wanted to give it another layer of goodness. (For a crispier cheese layer, put it under the broiler for a few minutes.)

To serve:

Scoop out casserole onto a plate or bowl and sprinkle with parsley.

(NOTE: If you use non-condensed soup like I did, it might come out a little saucier, in which case, I'd just serve it in a bowl.)

This is just the skeleton of the casserole recipe. You can add whatever you want to it during the saute phase: celery, bell peppers, corn, peas, carrots, mushrooms, whatever you have on hand! Of course, this can also be done with ground beef or ground chicken. Basically, you can be as creative or "uncreative" as you like! If you don't have a lot of ingredients around, you can still make the basic version of this and it will taste great. But, if you want to jazz it up a bit, you can add different flavorings and veggies to your own liking.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Can you name this person?

I painted this several years ago for James, when I actually had time to paint! Can you guess who it is?

(I bet not! But it's okay if you can't tell who it is. Brownie points to those who can name this person! Leave your comment below with your best guess!)

I'm just a novice painter, and this was my experiment with black and white acrylics. I'm pretty clueless when it comes to painting, but I thought I'd give it a try just for fun!

I also enjoy sketching quite a bit, but I simply don't have that kind of time on my hands anymore. I am hoping to steal some time here and there, though, to start up with it again, somehow. I miss those creative outlets; I miss fiddling around with art projects. Alas, art is very time consuming, and it takes me a long time to produce anything! Maybe I can convince Josh to sit still for me, while I try to sketch him...we'll see...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Mom's Famous Guacamole Recipe

If you're ever invited to my mom's home for dinner, be prepared for her famous guacamole to make a cameo appearance.  It's her signature appetizer of choice to offer her guests and family.  Since I wrote about my mom's "avocado motto," I thought I should share her recipe. Now, what makes her guacamole so special, so famous? Well, aside from the fact that she always serves it (YUM!), she has her own unique spin on it.

Here's what you'll need:
  1. Two or three ripe Haas avocados
  2. Garlic, finely minced into a paste (one or two small cloves or one big clove, depending on how garlicky you like it)
  3. Lemon or lime
  4. Cilantro, roughly chopped (a big handful or less if you don't like it as much as we do)
  5. Green onions, chopped (two or three, include the white and green parts)
  6. Tomato, chopped into small quarter inch pieces
  7. Jalapeno, finely minced (optional)
  8. Salt and Pepper (freshly ground pepper if you have it)
Now,  here's what you'll need if you want to make it like my mom (you can omit this if you want, but this is what makes her guacamole different, and it's worth a try):  handful of finely shredded four cheese mexican blend and 8-12 roughly chopped pitted black olives. 

Combine avocados, garlic, cilantro, green onions, tomatoes, jalapeno. Smash it up with a fork until it resembles something smooth (we like some chunks, so it's ok to have small avocado chunks). Squeeze half a lemon or lime on top and mix it in. Taste it. Add the other half of the lemon or lime if you think it needs it. Stir in the cheese and the olives. Season to taste with plenty of salt and pepper. 

Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy!

(If you want the guacamole to "last longer," then you can put one seed in the bowl and that, along with the lime or lemon juice, will help it stay green.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

bottle of beer

this bottle of beer
the only thing
to touch
my lips

the only thing
to extol my body,
to embalm the
inertia of my mind,
to raze the abscess
of my heart--
a revival of velleity--

this bottle of beer
in my fingertips
the last thing
to touch
my lips.

28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36...who knows???

So, I know I always seem to be writing about birthday freebies and treats, but one thing most people don't know is that my birthday doesn't mean much to me. I no longer get excited and anxious to turn another year older like I did when I was a child. I don't get that bubbly, proud feeling inside me when my birthday month comes. I don't even really like birthday parties. Why?

Well, I don't know when my birthday really is.

Now, what kind of life is that?

Strange. It makes me feel like even more of a weirdo than ever before...

Not too long ago, it surfaced through some strange conversation that my parents did not know my actual birthday. They only went by what the orphanage told them. Basically, my birthday is made up (and this, by the way, was delivered to me in a very matter-of-fact tone, like it was no big deal). Go figure. Not only do I not know anything about where I came from or who my birth mother is, but I don't even know how old I am! So, all this time I've been thinking my birthday was in March, when really, it could be any day of any could be today, for all I know.

I have been struggling with not knowing how old I actually am, and it just makes me lose yet another sense of my identity--and this is something that I thought was a solid piece of me, when all along, my birthday, my own AGE was just a guess! I could be 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36 years old...who knows? Your guess is literally as good as mine!

This is why my birthday is so difficult and meaningless for me.  It's always been an acidic reminder that I was born (but born to whom?), and now it's a reminder that I don't even know how old I am.

It's like, I officially have no birthrights...even to a bona fide birthday.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Huh? What Did She Just Say?

The good thing about Thanksgiving is that you get to be with family. The bad thing about Thanksgiving is that you have to be with family.

One of the worst Thanksgivings ever--one that I wish never happened--was several years ago, when I made the horrible mistake of spending it with my dad, his wife, and her family. At first, everything seemed to be going well:  food was being prepared, the house smelled like the happy turkey in the oven, the table was set, the football game was on TV. Pretty normal stuff.

Then, as we all sat down, we had to say something we were thankful for (still normal, right?). So, when it was my dad's wife's turn, she started going on about what she was thankful for, bla, bla, bla, bla...and then, "I'm thankful for our adopted daughter, Mariko." 

Um...what the f***?! (I'm sorry if that's offensive, but that was my gut response!) There I was, 20-something years old, and this lady had the nerve to say that, like I just arrived fresh off the boat from Korea or something! Like, why in the world did she have to say that? Why did she have to say "adopted daughter"? Like, if she refers to me, then she has to use that modifier. Sometimes it just astounds me at how insensitive and ignorant some people can be. I shot my dad a look, like what the heck did she just say? I was sitting in emotional quicksand, and to say I was angry would not completely explain what was going on in my body at that moment. I was deeply offended in a raw way, and I just wanted to leave the table at that point. It was such an absurd statement to make, and it just blew me away at how demeaning and belittling she could be without even realizing it (and that's the worst part, she didn't even realize it!!!) I don't know why it's so hard for people to understand this, but you just don't say things like that...ever. What made matters even worse was that my dad didn't do anything. He didn't say anything, he didn't pull her aside to talk to her; he did nothing.

In my family, we don't use that modifier. I don't introduce people to my mom and say, "This is  my adoptive mom." I just say, "This is my mom," because she is. She is my mom. I hate it when people ask me if she's my "real" mom. Yes, she is my real mom. She is the one who raised me. She is the one who knows me, loves me, puts up with me, listens to me, yells at me, helps me and supports me. We may not be blood-related, but she's my mom and she's the only mom I've known. I don't call her, "my adoptive mom," and she doesn't call me her "adopted daughter." It just doesn't work that way in our family.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


With the holidays coming up, I would like to pass on this great suggestion offered by my friend, Karen.  She showed me her friend's wonderful website, Soulgems, that raises funds for combatting the trafficking of women and young girls around the world.  By buying beautiful jewelry, designed by the founder, Janelle Gibson, you can give more meaningful gifts this holiday season, because you will be helping to fight crimes against humanity. Soulgems donates 100% of the profit to charities that address this global, inhumane exploitation of women and children.

To learn more about Soulgems, please visit the website:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Korean-Style Turkey-Stuffed Zucchini

The big question on everyone's mind at the end of the day seems to be, "What's for dinner?"  I admit that I get stuck in the same menu rut sometimes, because I am usually just too tired to try to learn new recipes--the main goal is to get food on the table, sometimes. I don't plan ahead as much as I should, but I do get inspired by fresh ingredients that I see at the grocery store. A couple days ago, I picked up some zucchini, but I had no idea what I was going to do with it (I tend to do that, which I know isn't the best game plan, but I'm more spontaneous about what I'm in the mood to eat and I can't always tell that two days before each meal).  

So anyway, last night I decided to make stuffed zucchini. Originally, I was going to make Italian-style stuffed zucchini, but then I thought I'd try to make an Asian version of that. I Googled: "Asian Stuffed Zucchini Recipes."  I only found one hit for Korean Beef-Stuffed Zucchini.  I clicked on it and I thought it sounded good. 

PROBLEM: I don't eat beef! (UH-OH! What kind of Korean am I? Koreans are generally big beef eaters! But, I don't eat beef and neither does my husband.)

Nevertheless, I decided to put a California spin on this recipe. It might not be 100% authentic Korean cooking, but that's okay. It'll just have to be Korean-inspired. So, here's my journey through a quasi-Korean recipe:

I gathered the ingredients for Korean Beef-Stuffed Zucchini, but I decided to omit the mushrooms and almonds (my husband detests mushrooms and almonds, so I have to leave them out of every recipe). I swapped the beef broth for chicken broth and I substituted ground turkey for the beef chuck.  I decided to chop a small handful of finely pre-shredded carrots instead of using mushrooms. Oh, and since I love cilantro and ginger, I decided to add some (about 2 tablespoons) finely chopped cilantro and about an inch of finely minced ginger.

I didn't realize this step would be this important, but it is. After you cut the zucchini into 2" pieces, you must sprinkle the tops with salt to draw out the water and soften them, so they will open up later when you are ready to stuff them. Depending on how thick your pieces are, this process may take up to 45 minutes at room temperature (I think mine were ready in about 30 minutes). The recipe calls for 4 zucchinis and I only had 2, but that was enough for two people. 

Now comes the fun part: mixing! Combine the turkey, green onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, egg yolk, garlic, ginger, carrots and cilantro. I used about a half a pound of turkey, which is about half a package. Since I only had 2 zucchinis, I had some meat mixture left over (but it's okay, because I'll just use it to make some meatballs tomorrow).

This is a great recipe because there is no need to put oil in the wok! Just put the onions in, a teaspoon of sugar and a cup of broth.  

Stuffing the zucchini proved to be a little challenging, but I just took little chunks and used my fingers to wiggle them into the slots as carefully as I could, adding more meat mixture until a small mound was created.  Then, I gently added the stuffed zucchini to the wok, meat side up.  If you like it spicy, remember to sprinkle some red pepper flakes on top (it wasn't that spicy for us and plus, it looks pretty on top!).  Bring the broth up to a boil and then lower it to a simmer; put a lid on it for about 10 minutes, or longer depending on the thickness of the zucchinis and the amount of stuffing. 

Some of my zucchinis broke during the cutting and stuffing phases, so I just stuffed them as half pieces, and they still came out fine.  The recipe says to take the zucchini out with a slotted spoon, but I just used tongs and gently lifted each one out of the sauce.  

I like thicker sauce, so after I took out the zucchinis, I mixed two teaspoons of corn starch with two teaspoons of cold chicken broth and added it to the sauce. I turned up the heat to bring it to a boil and it thickened up in no time!

Here's my culinary experiment: Mariko's Korean-Style Turkey-Stuffed Zucchini served over white rice:

To serve:
1. Scoop rice into a bowl or onto a plate. 
2. Spoon plenty of sauce with onions over the rice.
3. Gently place the stuffed zucchini on top.

This is also a good low-carb meal! Just omit the rice and place the stuffed zucchini over salad greens or pre-shredded cabbage with Korean-style dressing.

(PS: My husband liked this meal, so it's a new menu item for our household now.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Best Toys...

The best toys toys! When left to his own devices, my son, Josh, will turn anything into a train!

Now, what do I mean by "anything"? Well, he has dragged around a piece of toilet paper on the floor and called it a train (my personal favorite); he has lined up our laundry baskets to create a train to ride in; he has lined up chairs and boxes in the house to make long trains; he has lined up juice boxes to form a train; he has coupled up scraps of paper to form trains; he has used his pillows as trains; he has scrunched up blankets on the bed and sat inside to drive a train; he has dug lines in the dirt in the backyard to make train tracks; he has used his spoon and fork as trains; he has made trains out of play-doh.  His first drawing consisted of train tracks and, later on, he drew a train! He even scoots or shuffles his feet through the wood chips at the park to create two lines in the form of, yup, you guessed it, train tracks! 

(And you thought I was kidding when I said Josh was obsessed with trains?)

I remember one of my high school teachers saying that it's good to be bored. It lets your mind expand. It allows you a moment, or two, or three just to exhale and think of something new or think of nothing at all. In some ways, being bored is like letting your imagination breathe. I am all for giving toys to kids and seeing them enjoy them, but sometimes, it's just as amazing to watch them play with "nothing" and see what happens with their imaginations...