Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Like most other homes that celebrate Christmas, I grew up with many holiday traditions. We didn't have lots of money or give or receive lots of presents when we were little, but my parents still managed to create memories that I will always cherish.

On Christmas Eve I would always be awakened by the sound of a running vacuum. Always. That would be my dad preparing 12 hours in advance for the yearly party we would host on the evening of December 24. Once mostly awake, I'd be directed to the Pledge and a rag since it was my duty to clean all the side tables, the coffee table, and pretty much anything with a flat surface so that our house would be dust-free for the party. Sadly, it wasn't till I was older that I realized my mother, who was born on Christmas Eve, would spend her entire birthday in the kitchen preparing the meals for our celebration with 40+ guests. We stopped the December 24th party when she got sick and never resumed it after she passed away, but I think it takes a humble mom to create a festive atmosphere for family and friends on a day that should have been spent celebrating her.

But my mom's humility was counteracted by my dad's antics when it came time to sing Christmas carols. All our party guests would cram into our little living room, which necessitated an open front door for fresh air's sake. The printed list of songs and lyrics would go around, and my dad's show would begin. You see, he felt that caroling time needed an emcee and, as the host of the party, he was the natural choice. I suppose singing these Christmas songs would have been pleasant if they were sung normally, but not so with my father. Things pretty much got out of hand when my mom received a "12 Days of Christmas" bell collection one year. Those bells became props for the song and groups of people (assigned by my dad) would take turns singing their "day" and ringing their bell. But no one could really sing days 4,3, or 2 on their own because my dad would always chime in. Always. Whereas normal people would sing it like this:

"4 calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 Turtledoves..."

my father would sing it like this:

"4 calling cards, 3 French toast, 2 turtlenecks..."

Now imagine those words being sung with a heavy Filipino accent. Now imagine a roar of laughter from the crowd. Now imagine that same show year after year. Yep, that's my dad.

So it's probably been at least 17 years since my family's last Christmas Eve party. I must admit that I miss all the food, the joyous gathering of family and friends, and my dad's unique way of singing carols. Maybe I'll consider starting similar traditions for my own family. I'll have to make due without my mom's bell collection or my dad's accent, but I do have a vacuum and lots of Pledge. And that's how great Christmas memories begin.

[See World Vision's "12 Blogs of Christmas"]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I admit that my kids don't get out as often as they should. As a mother of 4 boys, that means subjecting myself to a bunch of crazed kids bouncing off the walls and screaming as if each was separated from the other by a mile-long chasm.

So I finally decided to change up recess (actually, I decided to GIVE them recess, THEN I changed it up) and go old school. Nope, I didn't play an "80s mix tape". Instead, I grabbed some chalk, an all-purpose rubber ball, and took my two oldest boys outside.

They stood in wonder as I drew a really big square on the driveway and divided it into 4 equal squares. They looked at me as if I was some kind of alien when I declared "Let's play!" It only took a few times with the ball whizzing past for them to understand what they had to do to win - actually, to NOT LOSE against their mother. And despite an unmanned square, we had enough stamina to play for an entire hour.

It was 60 minutes of attacking, defending, and strategizing. It was also 3600 seconds of gloating, pouting, screaming and laughing. I was taken back to the kind of playground fun I had 30 years ago (ahem, yes 30 years). But this time, instead of being intimidated by my opponents, I was relishing each and every move. This game, which required no controllers, no batteries, and no screen, was proving to be a really enjoyable time for all of us. Even Jonah expressed his surprise when he said, "They actually invented this fun game BEFORE you were young??"

Now I don't recall being this sore after playing four square. But I suppose it's worth it, seeing as I've still got my "square skillz" and, now, two very special people to play with. Perhaps in the days to come we'll spend recess playing more of the old school stuff like handball or Chinese jump rope. Or, if I'm really sore, maybe recess will simply involve popping in that 80s mix tape and listening to songs - together.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Passing the Buck

Me: *big sigh*
Jonah: Yes, mom. We KNOW you have lots of stuff to keep you busy around here.
Me: Well, YOUR brothers aren't napping so it will make for a very interesting evening.
Jonah: Yes, for YOU and YOUR husband.

As if my *sigh* was a big long list of complaints.

As if it's Jonah's fault that Jack and Jed are playing in their rooms instead of sleeping.

As if Justin and I are in charge of taking care of everyone. Oh, wait...

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Truth and Nothing But The Truth

"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."  John 8:32

So my husband and I are trying our darndest (by the grace of God) to teach our boys about telling the truth - always.  We've studied about what it means to lie, praised them for being truthful and disciplined them for being untruthful.  When you combine a spirit of truthfulness with the inherited trait of candor, this is what you get:

"I know why you eat fast, Mom.  It's because your mouth is big."

Not entirely untrue.  Having 4 sons leaves me a few milliseconds to stuff my face with whatever to appease my hunger so, yes, I eat quickly.  13 years ago I had 8 more teeth than I do now because I had braces put on so apparently I can fit a lot in there.  And I tend to blurt things out before thinking so... fine.  I wonder what would have been said had they known my mouth was even bigger before braces.

"Mom, I like it better when Dad is home with us because he doesn't scold us as much and he says 'yes' to most of our requests."

This I can't deny.  In fact, I often encourage more "daddy time" to spare my kids of my wrath and give them more opportunities to get what they want.  Did I mention that "daddy time" would also give me the opportunity to go to Target or get some coffee by myself or hide in the bathroom so I could hear myself think?  But this is really about what's best for the children...

So, yes, I know sometimes the truth hurts.  But how can I feel slighted if my boys are just exercising obedience from the lessons they're learning?  I can't and I don't - especially when they also speak truthful words like "I love you, Mom."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

The last time I went on a real-life road trip was back in the late 70s. My dad, mom, and brothers drove our yellow Ford wagon and made a round trip to Kansas from California to visit my aunts and their families. Back then, there were no car seats, no DVD players, and definitely no air conditioning - at least in our car. The only entertainment we had was each other, and the novelty in that lasted about a millisecond. I hated having to wake up in the middle of the night so my dad could "beat traffic", hated that the radio was always set to "oldies", and hated the feel of green vinyl seats in the middle of summer driving through the desert. Why, then, would I ever make a similar trip with my husband and kids? Simply because some things don't change.

14 days - We left on a Sunday and returned two weeks later. While the DVD player and iPads (true gifts from God) entertained the kids most of the time, we were still physically together 24 hours a day. Technically, they slept in a separate room at Papa's house and my brother's house, but the frequency with which we had to check on them might as well count as being with them all the time. Have you ever been with someone nonstop? For two weeks? I'm talking all.the.time. "Spending time with the kids" has a whole new meaning now. So does "migraine".

3850 miles - That's a whole lot of driving. But it's also a whole lot of scenery to experience. The boys were amazed at the tiny dust storms along the roads in Arizona. We were in awe at the red mesas of New Mexico. Texas was like driving through one big grey storm cloud. Oklahoma was green with trees and brown with dormant pastures, spotted with the browns and blacks of horses and cows. Kansas was, well, flat Kansas. But seeing it all in person was more amazing and memorable than looking at pictures on Wikipedia.

6 states - How the culture differs outside of California! We heard more "ma'ms" and "sirs" and not so many "dudes", and really got a kick out of the "y'alls". The speed limit is still 55mph in some places. "Traffic" consisted of slowing to 30mph and the major highways had only three lanes on each side. And what the heck is "pop"? It's called a SODA! But the best culture shock of all? Two words: frozen custard.

So with 3850 miles and 6 states under our belt, we're pretty confident we can do it again. We've started looking at the calendar for upcoming holidays and considering friends we can visit. With so much to see and so much more family time to be enjoyed, my next road trip blog will probably be titled "How I Spent My Weekend".

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Have Mercy!

"Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23

When I was younger (a lot younger!) I used to play that game "Mercy" with my brothers. It's the game where two players face each other and grab their opponent's opposite hands and interlock fingers. Each opponent attempts to bend the other's hands back and inflict pain by straining the ligaments and tendons in the wrist. When a player can't stand the pain or overpower the opponent, the player cries out "Mercy!" As the youngest sibling with three older brothers, who do you think always lost??

Now I rarely play that game now, but my cries for mercy still exist. Merriam-Webster defines mercy as "compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject of one's power". Are we not all offenders in the eyes of the Lord? Do we not fall short according to His commands? Don't my four sons send me over the edge? Yet by His mercy He withholds the punishment I deserve for my less-than-perfect antics (Romans 6:23).

Many times this whole "mercy" thing has brought me to tears. Playing the game with my brothers often led to straining and cracking joints followed by tears of pain. But just a few days ago the tears I shed were a result of God's mercy upon someone else. A friend who had been in my daily prayers for a few years opened his heart to Christ. The Lord spared my friend and waited for him to accept Him. God's mercy exuded in His longsuffering and once again I was reminded why His faithfulness is as great as Jeremiah claimed it to be in the book of Lamentations.

So while mercy is not anything we deserve, but definitely desire, know that the Lord is much more compassionate than my older brothers, and He is more than willing to bestow His compassion upon us if we just ask. And we won't even have to get our wrists bent way back to receive it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sweet Memories

It's been a few months since my last blog entry and I realize it's because, frankly, my life is boring. Busy AND boring, hence the lapse. Then I also realized that I spend a lot of time searching for recipes online and am always interested in other people's food stories. So, I decided to fill in the gaps between exciting bloggable moments in my life (all eight of them) with blogs about my own food adventures. Although some some of these events happened a while ago, one thing about food that never spoils is the experience that goes with it.

Last summer my aunt came to visit from the Philippines. It had been 14 years since we last saw her and 15 years since my mother passed away. Of her 2 month stay in the U.S. she spent a week with me and Justin and the boys. Usually, when relatives come visit from the Phil., they bring gifts called "pasalubong". But she brought with her much more: a pair of extra helping hands, memories and stories of my mom, and a whole lot of baking expertise! She taught me how to make ensaymadas (pic), a Filipino brioche topped with butter and cheese. I had only eaten the ensaymadas they sell at Goldilock's Bakery and Red Ribbon BakeShop, which I think are pretty darn good. But making them from scratch resulted in the best ensaymadas I've ever had! Was it because of the fresh ingredients? Maybe. Or the fact that I made them myself (ok, with help)? Perhaps. But for certain they were made sweeter because of my time to chat and learn and bake with my Tita. Now I've only made these two times, and that was when my aunt was here. But I do have hopes of making them again soon so I can once again participate in the delicious, highly caloric, memory-evoking experience that they are.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Hey, Bert!"

If anyone ever asked me how I know God exists, I would answer with a list of all the wonderful blessings in my life: Jesus, a faithful husband, awesome sons... and eyebrow threading. I believe that God created eyebrow threading just for me and that all this time other people get to benefit from it.

If you knew me any time before 1991 you knew that I had eyebrows that gave Bert from Sesame Street a run for his money. And it didn't help that I grew up with three older brothers who offered no aesthetic advice to me whatsoever. So it wasn't until I was almost 20 years old that I finally started plucking my eyebrows, which shed a new light (literally, since my hairy eye awnings were trimmed) on the way I thought I should look. To this day I am still in awe that Justin chose to date me during my pre-plucking days.

But it wasn't until very recently that I discovered this miracle from heaven that is eyebrow threading. My first visit was only a few months ago to a place recommended by a friend whose sense of style I trust - plus the place only charged $4.99! I thought I had been doing a decent job with the tweezers myself all these years, but the large amount of time the threader spent on my face made me think otherwise. She broke the thread at least 4 times. She also used scissors (I didn't know eyebrows needed to be CUT, too - maybe just mine?) and I have a feeling she would have used the electric clippers if she had them. Then I think she raked my face to finish the job, and had to sweep the floor when she was done.

But I must admit that the result was amazing. My eyebrows had shape! They were sleek! They were clean and organized! They didn't make me look like I was surprised all the time! They gave my face a whole new look, and at $4.99 +$1 tip I can afford to go back again and again!

So now I can keep counting my blessings... one eyebrow hair at a time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For the Love of Chocolate

Yes, I know Valentine's Day was over a week ago, so I figured I should delay no longer in sharing about one of my greatest loves: See's Candy dark nougats. I received 1/2 lb. of these babies from my husband on Valentine's Day. I had to restrain myself from devouring the entire box that first night, and I'm glad I didn't immediately eat the whole thing for the following reasons:

-The next few days with my kids made me want to drink myself silly and hide in a corner never to be found. But seeing as I don't drink and whisking myself away to a remote location would be considered child abandonment, I drowned my frustrations in prayer and a few pieces of dark nougats. When Justin came home, he'd check the chocolate box to gauge how bad my day had been. Things got better with around 4 pieces left.
-Following those trying days, I noticed my face start to break out. Stress related? Possibly. Chocolate related? Definitely. Oh, my boys have stressed me to the outer limits before. But Valentine's Day comes once a year and, with the arrival of my favorite candy, so do pimples like the ones I had. Just when I thought my problems had been solved by the mass consumption of what I consider heaven in chocolate form, I began to resemble my 7th grade school picture. I don't even want to THINK about what my face would have looked like if I had eaten all of it that first or second day.

So I am pleasantly surprised that I still have two pieces of dark nougats left one week after Valentine's Day. They are tokens of how much my husband loves me, and a reflection of how my vanity has motivated my restraint. And, as long as they last, they will be reminders that it is better to be zit-faced than to leave my children at the curb. Ah, the things I do for love.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Morning Dance

Like many of you, I look forward to my morning cup of coffee. Unlike many of you, I have four sons who also have their morning needs so, more often than not, I don't get to enjoy my coffee freshly made, nice and hot. I have a mental schedule of everything I need to do for them in the morning and somewhere at the end I have "eat breakfast" listed for myself. If I told you this schedule your eyes would probably pop out of your head, and if I told you what has to happen daily I'm sure your head would explode.

Well, today is momentous because not only did I get to that "eat breakfast" part for myself, it worked out like a beautifully rehearsed sequence of events. First, I heated up the water for my coffee (I use a French press). Then, while the water got hot, I washed out the press (I have a bad habit of not washing it after I use it) and scooped into it the coffee grounds. I sliced my bread and put it into the toaster oven. I turned on the stove to heat my pan. The water boiled so I poured it into the press and set the timer for exactly 4 minutes. I scrambled my eggs (whites only) and put it into the pan. I poured milk into my coffee mug and put it in the microwave to heat (1 minute 15 secs to be exact). I cooked the eggs till they were done and turned off the oven. "Ding!" went the microwave to indicate the milk was heated. I put two teaspoons of sugar into my mug of hot milk. "Ding!" went the timer, so I poured the pressed coffee into my mug. "Ding!" went the toaster oven and out came my toast. It all came together, my exquisitely choreographed meal of the morning.

Now with one son on the potty, another running laps up and down the hallway, another reading the numbers 1-100 at the top of his lungs and another asking questions related to equivalent decimal numbers, the morning dance is gradually turning into noontime freestyle. But I certainly relished my 7 minutes of order and trust that I will get through the afternoon's mental list with the help of another cup of coffee - even if it is lukewarm.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mr. Potato Head

[*WARNING: The following blog entry contains detailed descriptions of bowel movements and bowel movement products and may not be appropriate for those with weak constitutions.]

I am having the darndest time potty training Jed - I started in August and he's only mastered peeing in the toilet, and even that is only when he's reminded to go or I catch him dancing around trying to hold it. Everyone knows children learn by example so I tried that whole "oh read this book and use the baby doll and the baby doll potty and show how the baby goes and doesn't need a diaper anymore and he'll learn by the end of 24 hours" thing. Um, NOT! That was one of the most tiring days of my life! But, I do agree with him "learning by example," so I have let Jed watch his older brothers poop in the potty. And, yes, I let him watch me go, too (sorry if that's tmi), but that hasn't been working, either.

So, enter Mr. Potato Head. No, no, I'm not talking about what almost comes out of Jed every time I sit him on the potty. No, Mr. Potato Head has become Mr. Incentive. Jed got MPH as a gift at Christmas, and seeing how excited he was to play with it, I (being the cool mom I am) put it way out of his reach on top of the fridge and told him he couldn't have it until he pooped in the potty. So, weeks went by, until finally it happened. I don't know who screamed louder in excitement between Jed and me when Jed let out a big one in the toilet, but MPH got to come out of his box and Jed had a grand time playing with him. But, since we all know good things don't last forever, MPH has had to retake his spot on top of the fridge when Jed decides to let the poop out in his underwear and all over Lightning McQueen. There are even days when Jed hasn't gone and I want to say to him "Look at Mr. Potato Head! I want YOU to make something that looks like THIS come out of your body and drop into the toilet!" But I don't. I get REALLY close, but I don't.

Today was a good day. Jed went poop in the toilet this morning. MPH has been out and about all day and I really pray he gets to stay out of his box and off the top of the fridge tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. And for weeks after that. Because, friends, I still have to potty train Jack, and Mrs. Potato Head wants to come down off the fridge, too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Top Ten 2011

Top Ten Reasons I Will Start Blogging Again:

10. Twitter only allows up to 140 characters per tweet which is SO not enough.

9. This is the 3rd year in a row I've vowed to "start blogging again" so why break tradition?

8. I can now turn my back on my kids long enough to type at least two sentences.

7. I love to write almost as much as I love to talk, but since I'm with 4 boys aged 9 and under most of the day, I have better conversations with my keyboard.

6. How many husbands do YOU know who want to stay up all night listening to their wives vent?

5. I'm one of the few who doesn't play "Angry Birds".

4. I need to shamelessly plug my new side business:

3. My sons have lame baby books (if any at all) so I reason that they can come back to this blog to see what they were like as babies.

2. Typing makes me look AND feel productive.

1. The whole world should know how hard it is for me to potty train my children.