Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seeing Eye to Eye

It's finally happened. Nathan is as tall as his Grandma Chase. He's been just a hair under five feet tall, and when he finally crossed the line, he had to call her up and brag. I would have reprimanded him for being rude, but he was so full of delight at finally catching up to one of the adults in his life that I couldn't help but giggle. Sorry Grandma. But you do still have three grand kids that are shorter than you! For now anyway!

For the Birds

When I was about 7, my Grandpa Rose let me go in his workshop and make a wooden journal cover. I got to cut, drill, and stain the wood. You could add regular lined binder paper to fill it up, and I remember it was my first "diary" of sorts. It's also my only clear memory of my Grandfather, who passed away shortly after. My father takes after his father, and has a workshop filled with woodworking tools as well. I really wanted my boys to have a memory of building something with their Grandpa. When we were up at his house recently, my Dad took each boy into the workshop and let them design and build their own birdhouses using some of his scrap lumber.

Nathan's on the left, Ben's on the right. The little painted one was a kit that Ben put out for the pic.

I love how my Dad let each of them make their own designs, while at the same time giving them a lesson in angles and tool safety. My first thought was to bundle these up and keep them safe forever. But lately I've realized I have way too many things in boxes that never get to be used or enjoyed. What am I saving them for?

So we put them on the patio and we've watched as they've started to weather a bit through Winter and the rainy start to Spring. Instead of putting bird food inside them, we put some on a plate in front. It's been fun to see all the birds stop by for their breakfast each day. Ben had to do a unit on birdwatching for Cub Scouts, so he's been meticulously recording what type of birds come when. We've seen lots of sparrows, a robin, and many hummingbirds who like to drink from the flowers in the garden. Speaking of which, it's time to add more birdseed for our feathered friends!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A birthday for Chris

If you google "Happy Birthday Chris," this blog comes up first. I'm not kidding. You'll get an image of the word Chris, surrounded by french fries. Go ahead and do it, I'll wait.

See? Weird, right? That post from two years ago gets about 30 hits per day, every single day. I guess people are just drawn to the name Chris written in ketchup! I just feel bad for all the poor Chrises out there who are getting that image posted to their facebook pages on their birthdays...

Here we are again, another year, another birthday for our adopted "son" Chris. This is his first birthday as a father. We don't get to celebrate it with him, since he's down in San Diego and we're too broke to make the trip down. So instead, his brother Tommy came over and we baked a cake and made a little video for Chris. The cake was good. We're sad Chris didn't get to sample it!

Happy birthday anyway, Chris! Here's your video:


Monday, March 21, 2011

Welcome Spring!

The first day of Spring has brought rain, rain, and just a little more rain. We have a loose tradition of inviting friends and family over and welcoming Spring with a vernal bar-b-que, but there was no way I was going to suggest Michael go stand in the pouring rain and thunder just so we could eat some grilled chicken. So this year, I used the Duchess and put together spicy White Lightning Chicken Chili. Because when it's chilly and miserable outside, it's nice to have something hot and spicy inside!

I have to admit that when I woke up this morning to dark clouds, pouring rain, thunder and lightning, and even a quick blackout, I felt a bit grumbly. We live in Los Angeles! We're supposed to have beautiful weather, year round! That's why we pay so much in rent, right? And this afternoon I had to drive up the 405 freeway in such intense rain that no one could go over 10 mph because the visibility was so poor. The sound of the rain was so loud! Again, I felt grumbly. While sitting in traffic my mind wandered to what I saw on the front page of the Sunday paper this morning. The headlines were screaming with terrible news about Libya and Japan and the many, many people who have lost everything in the last week, who have no shelter from the weather, and face very uncertain futures. Suddenly my van felt cozy instead of claustrophobic as the rain pounded the roof, and I was so grateful that we had a warm, safe house to go home to. In fact, I was so grateful, when we got home I baked a cake.

Dark chocolate cake, cream cheese frosting. Hooray for Spring!

Now if you have known me for more than a day, you know I don't need a special occasion to consume cake. But I tried to make a special occasion out of thin air (my specialty). Michael, Nathan, Benjamin and I sat at the table, eating cake, celebrating all we have to be grateful for, and sharing our hopes for the new season.

Speaking of sharing... I'll share something with you. My recipe for White Lightning Chicken Chili. Quite appropriate with all the thunder and lightning we're having!

White Lightning Chicken Chili

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped (feel free to use less, we're not big fans of onions)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 four ounce cans chopped green chile peppers
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
28 ounces chicken broth (2 cans or make your own)
3 chopped, cooked, chicken breasts
3 fifteen ounce cans of white beans drained, rinsed

Directions:
Heat oil in Dutch oven (or large saucepan). Slowly cook and stir the onion until tender. Add garlic, green chile peppers, cumin, oregano, and cayenne. Continue to cook and stir the mixture for another three minutes. Mix in chicken broth, chicken, and beans. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with toppings such as: cheese, sour cream, crushed tortilla chips, avocado, etc.

Makes enough to fill eight bowls, easy to double for a crowd. You can reduce the spice by omitting the cayenne pepper and using mild chiles, but what fun would that be? Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Japan Stories, Entry 2

In 2001, my husband Michael and I put everything we owned into storage and moved to Japan for just shy of a year with our newborn baby, Nathan. Since this happened before the age of blogging, my records of that time consist of emails I sent to the few people we knew who had email, and the journal entries I kept. In light of the recent events in Japan, my thoughts naturally turn to our precious time in that country. For the next month I'll be posting various highlights of our time there. Thanks for coming along with me on this international stroll down memory lane!

In Michael's words:

Sent: Mon 2/19/2001 3:23 AM

Subject: Yes we made it OK

All,

Just a quick note to let you all know we are alive and well!

Nathan was wonderful on the flight and didn't scream once! Just about 1 minute of fussy-ness. All my coworkers who were on the same flight were disappointed that they didn't get a chance to hold him. They kept checking to see if he was crying so they could take him for a walk... nope! Our boy likes to be on the go!

Nathan's first flight: 11 hours in Business Class! He got his own seat. No lap sitting for this little prince!

Please just give me back my pacifier and get that light out of my face so I can go back to chillin'. I'm fine!
Our apartment is GREAT and is only about a 3-5 min walk to the train station, grocery stores, and shopping center. Heather is loving Japan (so far) and has decided the American people here in Japan are complete snobs compared to the Japanese. She tries to smile and converse with the Americans she sees at the train and bus stations and they always turn their nose or avert eye contact ... hmph!

This is what Jet Lag looks like on an 11 week old baby.
 I have been incredibly busy at work, the project is moving at a pace I can barely keep up with (considering we haven't REALLY settled in yet). So, a lot of late/long hours for me ... that Heather isn't too thrilled about (someone's got to take Nathan off her hands for a little while, you know).

Nathan, we believe, has started teething (or at least cries and drools as though he has). So he has been an additionally pleasurable bundle of joy lately.

We spent the day at Tokyo Disneyland yesterday and had a good time (I'll let Heather fill in more details soon).

When we landed in Japan, there was snow on the ground! We weren't prepared for the weather at all. So we just put layer upon layer on Nathan. Brrrrr-ito!
Our shipment of clothes and personal effects has just arrived in port today. It takes about 5+ business days to go through customs, so we won't have our computer set up until sometime mid next week (at the earliest). So, please be patient and Heather will start writing MANY emails to everyone giving the play by play of what she is experiencing here.

We love you all and hope you are all doing well.

Michael (and Heather and Nathan)

My Reflections:

I could not believe our luck at being able to fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo without a peep from our baby! I sat next to him and Michael sat across the aisle from us. I'd feed him, and then Michael would take him to the bathroom to change his diaper, and then back he went into his car seat (you could still take a car seat on the plane in 2001). Whenever people ask for advice on flying with kids, I can only say, "The younger, the better!" based on our charmed experience.

I had to go several weeks without my computer because it was sent via boat with all the rest of our belongings. I guess it wasn't as big a deal then as it would be now... after all, without Facebook, Twitter, and very few people to email, what could I possibly have wanted to do on the computer, right?

It wasn't until months later that I found out why I was getting the cold shoulder from all the American Expats (I'll share about it when I get to it). Reading Michael's email brought it all back though! And yes, I made Michael promise that our first weekend in Japan would be spent at Tokyo Disneyland. What an experience that was! More Japan Stories coming next week!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mr. Wonderful

When I titled this blog Boy Wonder, it wasn't because I thought my boys were so wonderful. It was more about seeing the wonder of life through their eyes. Although they are pretty wonderful. And they come by it honestly because the truth is, I married Mr. Wonderful. 
Photo by Michelle A. Moreno

And if you don't believe me, then I'll point you to an interview published today on EntertainmentDesigner.com which features my husband and our company, Cedar Stage Productions. Oh sure, the interview is great, but my favorite parts are where he points out that he takes the kids to school every day and that he got the inspiration for a project from doing the laundry. Yes, it's true. My man is a world class Technical Director, and he also does the laundry and takes the kids to school. Good thing he doesn't mention how he also does the dishes... wouldn't want you to be totally green with envy!

Head on over to EntertainmentDesigner.com and read the article by clicking HERE!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Green Day!

It's my second favorite day of the year! So much of my very favorite color everywhere you look! We really don't do anything to celebrate St. Patrick's Day other than wear a lot of green and wish my cousin Josh (currently living in Scotland) a Happy Birthday. Oh, and watch this funny version of Danny Boy by the Muppets. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Loopy

With the economy being what it is (unpredictable/depressing/frightening), and my husband's job suddenly and unexpectedly being cut back to almost nothing, we've really had to tighten our belts. As I've mentioned before, we are aggressively trying to work our way out of debt (we've paid off 47%! Yay us!), so thankfully we are already in the habit of trying not to spend. I hate to use the dreaded F-word, but I'm really trying to figure out how we can be more Frugal (What? You were thinking of a different F-word?).

Wisdom from Dave Ramsey
 I'm almost embarrassed to say it, but I've joined the coupon brigade. I've always dreaded this, as clipping coupons seemed to me a slight waste of time and money. Especially since we typically don't eat a lot of prepackaged, prepared foods that coupons typically hype. I may hate cooking, but four out of four Chases agree that my homemade lasagna tastes way better than the Stouffer's version.

However, after coming across a few blogs with tips on how to squeeze every last cent out of your budget, I figured I'd give it a try. I collect coupons every week from my in laws and several generous friends. We also got an almost-free one year subscription to the Sunday Los Angeles Times. So each week I sit down and clip almost every coupon from the various papers. Then I take the grocery ads for the five grocery stores within a five mile range of our house and match up what is in the ad with what I have coupons for. Then I only buy the things that we actually need, going (if I have to) to each of the five stores to get the best deal for particular products.

I've been doing this regularly since January, and per my register receipts, I've saved almost $800 in three months. Is $800 in three months worth an hour of my time every week? Heck yeah! Also per the receipts, I save anywhere from 55% to 70% on each shopping trip. Considering sales tax in our city is just shy of 10%, I'll take every percentage point I can get! The crazy thing is that I haven't changed our eating habits at all. We still don't have a stack of Stouffer's in the freezer or anything that ends in "Helper" in the pantry. What we do have is a house filled with soap, dishwasher detergent, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, OTC medicines, and a ton of brand name boxes of cereal that I've gotten absolutely free thanks to shopping only the sales and only for what I had a coupon for. And everything else I've gotten for at least 50% off. Far from being something to be slightly ashamed of (after all, we don't want to project that we're saving money, only that we have tons to spend, right?), I'm finding that I can't stop talking about it! No, I'm not going to turn this into one of those blogs about saving money and living frugally (there are a ton out there already), but I did want to share the impact this has had on the boys.

First of all, they see me sitting at the table, clipping coupons while they do homework. They see me with the ads, making a list and matching up the coupons. And both of them have come with me on separate shopping trips to see that I don't buy anything that isn't on sale that I also have a coupon for. When they start saying Oooooh Mom! Look! Fruity Candy Coma Roll Up Sugar Stix! Please-oh-please can I get some? All I have to say is, "I don't have a coupon and it's not on sale." And without whining or complaint, they say alright and walk away. All I can say is WHY DIDN'T I TRY THIS SOONER?

However, kids being kids, they still want their Fruity Candy Coma Roll Up Sugar Stix, and yesterday I won the Best Mom in the Galaxy award from my children because I brought home five boxes of Froot Loops.

Good source of Fiber! Made with Whole Grain! Sprinkles!

Five boxes of Froot Loops that I got for free, mind you. I had five about-to-expire $1 off any Kellogg's Cereal coupons, and Froot Loops were on sale buy two, get three free. I think I actually made money off this little sale/coupon combo. Which I used to buy fresh produce of course!

Michael did a triple take at the Froot Loops, because I normally forbid food of this kind in our house. Filled with sugar and food coloring, it goes against every instinct I have about how children (or adults that matter) should be eating. But you know what? I really didn't mind at all this time, which won't be repeated. We're all sacrificing, pitching in, and pinching pennies. And it's tough to constantly be saying no to every request that costs money. So surprising the boys with something I would normally always say no to (even if it was always free), was like reassuring them that although times are tight, we're not destitute. At least not yet. Oh no, we're simply a little loopy from our sugar high!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan Stories, Entry 1

In 2001, my husband Michael and I put everything we owned into storage and moved to Japan for just shy of a year with our newborn baby, Nathan. Since this happened before the age of blogging, my records of that time consist of emails I sent to the few people we knew who had email, and the journal entries I kept. In light of the recent events in Japan, my thoughts naturally turn to our precious time in that country. For the next month I'll be posting various highlights of our time there. Thanks for coming along with me on this international stroll down memory lane!

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start... How about we start with how we ended up in Japan to begin with?

In early 1999, Michael started working on what was to be Disney's newest theme park, Tokyo DisneySea. It was a second park for Tokyo, built to compliment Tokyo Disneyland and satisfy the insatiable desire for more Disney magic from the Japanese fans. When Michael took the job as an assistant technical director, he was told that it would not require him to even go on a single business trip to Japan. Of course, as the project progressed, things changed. One by one, almost all of Michael's fellow technical directors found out that their wives were expecting a baby. And one by one, all of them quickly found other projects to work on so they wouldn't have to spend a lot of time away from home and the new babies. Michael was promoted to full technical director, and in early 2000, we found out we too were expecting our first child.


Since he was now a full tech director, a few business trips to Japan were expected. And like his fellow expectant TD's before him, Michael scrambled to find other work that wouldn't take him away from us. When they found out that we too were having a baby (what was in that water, anyway?), his bosses sat him down and laid it on the line: they needed him, and expected him to stay on the project. It was just as well, because there was no other work to be found.

As my due date neared, we found out that Michael was going to be sent to Japan for a 120 day period almost immediately after I gave birth. We were incredibly depressed. This was our first baby and his Daddy was going to miss the first four months of his life. We had three options, none that we were very happy about. One, the baby and I could follow Michael (on our own dime) and stay in his teeny, tiny Japanese hotel room. This was totally unappealing, having never been a parent (or frankly around babies) before. What would happen in an emergency in a foreign country? Two, I could stay in our rented townhouse in Anaheim alone. I would be far from my parents, far from my in laws. This wasn't very appealing either. I was having a terrible pregnancy, had no idea what kind of mother I would make, and had no desire to be left alone for so long. Three, we could pack up the townhouse, put everything in storage, and I could go stay for four months with my Mom and Dad on the Central Coast of California. We'd save the money on rent, and when Michael came back, we could find a place closer to his office in Glendale, saving him from his 90 minute commute each direction. Of the three options, this was ever so slightly more appealing than the other two.

So we started preparing for three things, the birth of our child, my move to my parents', and our separation for four long months. Did I mention that we were very depressed? We were. My due date came and went. We were scheduled to be induced a week after my due date. After forty hours of excruciating back labor followed by an emergency c-section, Nathan arrived.

After a week long stay at the hospital, we finally went home on Thanksgiving with so much to be thankful for.

Michael went on a short trip to Japan when Nathan was two weeks old, leaving me to recover in the capable hands of the Grandmothers. When he returned, we made a trip up to my parents' house for Christmas.

The date of Michael's four month trip to Japan was pushed back until mid-January. We lived up every minute we had together, but I can't fully express the sorrow that both Michael and I were feeling. It didn't stop us from taking a bunch of silly photos with our favorite new "prop."





As we were packing up and getting ready to head home right after New Year's Day, Mike got a call from his boss. Instead of sending Michael to Japan for four months, they were going to send him for a full year. And because of the extra time, the company would pay for an extended relocation package that included bringing the entire family, an actual home to live in, Japanese lessons, and a person on call 24 hours a day who could assist us with any type of emergencies, doctor visits, or anything else we needed. The only catch? We had exactly four weeks until we would board the plane.

We went into crazy mode, calling in favors from every family member within a 90 mile radius and all of our friends. We had to pack everything and put it into storage, and we had to purchase anything we thought we might need for the coming year, including clothing, medicine, books, and baby stuff. I barely knew what a newborn needed... how do you plan for what a six month old or a nine month old might need? And it's true, we weren't moving to a third world country, you can buy baby things in Japan. However things in Japan were up to ten times more expensive than they were in the US. A little planning and foresight would go a long way.

I don't really know how we did it, especially with a new baby. I had a difficult pregnancy, a difficult delivery, and Nathan was a difficult, colicky baby, but I was bound and determined that the one area my baby would excel in would be sleeping. And you know what? From the day we brought him home from the hospital, Nathan never slept less than six hours at night. Of course, we weren't sleeping while he slept... we were packing!

Finally the day came for us to get on a plane to leave. Both sets of grandparents and Michael's youngest sister and hubby came to see us off. Everyone was crying, especially Nathan. In fact, he was crying so hard that all the people in the terminal around us were giving us looks that would have turned weaker people into ash on the spot. Michael and I grew fearful over what an 11 hour flight with a ten week old screaming baby would be like. But we had tickets to ride (in business class no less!), so we bid everyone a fond farewell, and we got on that plane.

Good bye everyone!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Peeps!

There are two kinds of people in this world...

People who love Peeps, and people who don't.

My Dad and I? We LOVE Peeps.

My Husband? He most decidedly does NOT.

My kids? Well, I just don't know. I'm not a very good sharer, at least when it comes to Peeps, so they haven't really sampled them (probably better that way, being 100% sugar and all).

My Dad and I love our Peeps the same way... unwrapped for a week until the sugar has become a stale crust and it makes a grinding sound on your teeth when you chew it up, and the marshmallow is more like saltwater taffy than fluffy marshmallow. Yum!

I saw these little plush Peeps in the store last weekend, and texted this sweet pic to my Dad.


On his cell phone, he thought they were just oversized Peeps and desperately wanted to know how he could get his hands on some! They had the little plush ducky Peeps too. Benjamin, who loves every fluffy small plush creature on planet Earth, wanted these so badly! Alas, at $6.99, they had to stay at the store. Besides, what good are Peeps if you can't eat them?

What about you? Which side of the Peeps spectrum do you fall on? Don't worry, we can still be friends if you hate them. After all, I'm married to a guy who despises them!

Thoughts on Japan


So relieved to report that we've heard from every last one of our friends in Japan! Yesterday was a terrible day for me emotionally, on top of which I'm sick and have been sick all week long. I finally dragged myself into urgent care last night (more accurately is that my husband force me to go) only to find that I've yet another sinus infection.

While the doctor examined me, her cell phone, which was on vibrate, keeping going off. She apologized profusely and said it was her family in India, all calling about the earthquake and expected tsunami in California. She said they didn't quite understand that she was in no danger - it was really the people of Japan they should be worried about. I mentioned that we'd lived in Japan and still hadn't heard from our friends. She asked if I was worried. My answer was to start crying. Which is a somewhat painful thing to do when one has a sinus infection.



Throughout the night, my email inbox filled up with messages from our friends in Japan, all reporting that they were safe and sound. One family has relocated to a shelter. The aftershocks are strong and frightening. Despite all this, they asked if we are okay, if we were hit hard by the tsunami! What a question! There have been reports of minor damage along the coast of California, but it's no comparison to the photos and reports coming in hourly from Japan.

When Katrina battered New Orleans, I felt sorrow. When the earthquake leveled Haiti, I was so sad. But this event in Japan has affected me deeply.

Japan is a place I have lived and loved. It is inextricably linked with Nathan's babyhood and my own change in identity from being simply a woman and wife to that of mother. Its language has burrowed its way into my head. Its the one place that causes me to regularly say, "If I couldn't live in Los Angeles, the only other place I'd want to live is Japan," and, "Michael knows he doesn't even have to ask me if he gets another job offer in Japan: we're going." I love it in a powerful way that defies description or explanation. But I want to try.


When we lived in Japan, it was 2001. Which was just a decade ago. But a decade ago there were no blogs, no Twitter, no Facebook, and very few websites. Certainly no personal family websites. There was barely even email! Our moving to Japan with their newborn grandson was what forced my parents to finally get an email account! Most people only had email for work. Digital cameras were new, and very expensive (we had to buy one for Michael for work, the cheapest one was over $700). So while we were in Japan, I sent hundreds of postcards. I still have my list in a notebook of all the people I sent a postcard to. I'd work my way down the list of 145 people, and then start back up again at the top. It was my own personal version of Twitter! I also composed an email every couple of weeks to send to a very small group of people who had email. Then I'd print the email and mail it to another dozen or so of my closest friends and family who didn't have email. Just writing this makes me feel like that was a century ago, not just ten years ago! So much has changed!


After we returned from Japan, Michael compiled all my emails, journal entries, and reflections, took them to a printer, and had them bound into a book. It was crazy expensive (well before our current years of being able to self publish a book cheaply!), but incredibly thoughtful and very treasured. Some of the emails are from Michael, and it's interesting to see what his thoughts were. I'm thinking that I'd like to revisit those old stories and post them here, one each day. Maybe through my words you'll see what it is about Japan that has burrowed so deeply into my heart.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Earthquake, Heartbreak

We are in shock over the news from Japan today. We have reached out to contact our friends there and received no response yet. We live right on the coastline of southern California and they closed off our beaches for fear of a tsunami, due to hit here within the next 20 minutes or so. They're only predicting a maximum of a three foot tall wave, so aside from any boats in the harbor, we won't really see any damage. Reports from Hawaii are good so far. But the reports from Japan? The video below is heartbreaking. Hard to believe it is real, and not some CGI footage from a movie about the end of the world. Seeing structures in flames, moving across fields, and cars racing down the roads trying to outrun the onslaught of debris and water are unforgettable images. We're all so fragile, aren't we?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Developmental Discontinuity

I've always purchased shoes for the boys that don't have laces. They either had Velcro closures or slipped on without the use of laces. Our favorites are the Merrell Jungle Mocs, which just slip on and and last until the boys grow out of them. Since we take our shoes off in our house (habit borne of living in Asian countries), it's always been so much easier to have shoes the kids can put on and take off quickly and easily and most of all, without my help.

A year or so ago, Benjamin got a pair of shoes that had laces. I can't remember where they came from... either my parents bought them or someone gave them to him. All I know is that I did not buy them. But Ben loved them! I think the novelty of being able to tie laces was a ton of fun for him. I didn't teach him how, he just figured it out on his own, a fact which he was happy to tell anyone who listened.

This week our friend got new shoes for the boys. Benjamin had been asking for a new pair with laces and he was so excited to pick out a pair he loved. Nathan, on the other hand, was being a lunatic and in the interest of getting quickly out of the shoe store, said he was happy with the first pair he tried on. Which happened to have laces. The first pair of shoes with laces that Nathan has ever had.

Nathan, at age 10, can't tie his own laces! We're trying to teach him, but I know he's embarrassed when he comes out of class with his laces untied and has to ask me to do it for him. Yesterday I tried to have him do it on his own (photo above), and he tied some knots that a sailor would be proud of. Great if you're on a ship, not so great for shoes.

I wonder how many other skills and developmental milestones my boys are lacking because I took the easier way out? I know my parents did some similar things while raising my brother and I. There are big gaps in my own skills. In the areas of cooking and housekeeping, for instance. It was (and still is!) easier for my parents to just shoo us kids out of the kitchen than it was to let us in and learn how to cook. Which meant that when I went away to college and got a tiny apartment of my own at 18, I had no idea how to cook anything. I could make a PB and J sandwich, but couldn't even make spaghetti. Had no idea how to cut up lettuce to make a salad. And housekeeping is a similar story. My only job growing up was dusting. And today, I'm a great duster. My mom is an ace house keeper. Seriously, I've never seen a cleaner, neater house than hers! But she never taught how to hand wash dishes or even load a dishwasher, how to vacuum, wash windows, or scrub toilets. My mother-in-law did a great job of teaching her kids these skills. I'm always amazed at how quickly and perfectly my husband can wash down our stove top. He does in 10 minutes what takes me (no lie) an hour.

To make sure my boys end up being good cooks and housekeepers (and sweep their future wives off their feet!), I've been diligent about teaching them these things. At age 7, Benjamin is responsible for the laundry of everyone in the entire family. He sorts like nobody's business! At age 10, Nathan gets the joyous task of doing the dishes and putting everything away where it belongs. We clean the house as a family, and everyone is proficient with a broom, dust pan, and vacuum. Both the boys are allowed in the kitchen and can read a recipe. Ben is a mini-chef and he would do fine if we stopped feeding him and he had to fend for himself. Nathan... well, he's less interested. That won't stop me from trying to at least get some basics into him.

It's hardest to teach my kids the things that neither my husband nor I have fully mastered. Things like patience, self-control, and staying calm.  I mess up all the time there, but I always sit down with the kids when I blow it and tell them that it's so important for them to practice these things now while they are young, so it will be so much easier when they are grown up.  We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, I've got to google tips on teaching a kid to tie their laces...

I Heart Monkeys

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with monkeys.



I had a plush monkey collection that could completely fill a black Hefty trash bag to the very top. I know this, because I once toted the entire collection to school for show-and-tell. The teacher told me I had to pick just my favorite to show everyone, but each time I pulled out a new monkey, that one was my favorite. So I managed to show them all by saying, "oh wait! This one is my favorite!"


From kindergarten to about fourth grade, I ran track for a local team that practiced and held meets at Moorpark College. Do you know why I loved going to track practice? Well, just above the track, Moorpark College has a Zoo. It's a teaching zoo for The Exotic Animal Training and Management Program. Bet you can't guess what kind of Exotic Animals they had there? That's right, monkeys. Three times a week I got to peer through the bars and commune with the monkeys. I wanted one for my very own. My parents, being practical, took me to talk to one of the zoo keepers. "Monkeys are dirty, mean, and don't make good pets. They will throw poo at you and scratch you up," said the zoo keeper. It did nothing to squelch my love for the furry creatures or my desire to own one of my own.


In fourth grade my class went to the Los Angeles Zoo. I'd saved up my allowance with the thought of getting another plush monkey to add to my growing collection. Two memorable things happened that day. First, I met Ricky Schroder of Silver Spoons fame who was at the zoo filming a public service announcement. Be still my young heart! And second, I found a bumper sticker that said I Love Monkeys. Which I bought. Because it was true, I did love monkeys.


Now before I go any further, let me tell you a little bit about my feelings toward bumper stickers. I grew up in a No-Bumper-Sticker-Family. Which means it didn't matter if I was elected president of the United States, my parents would not be sporting a "My child is President of the United States" bumper sticker. So when I asked if we could put the I Love Monkeys bumper sticker on our car, the answer was NO. Now I'm a grown up and have owned a whopping total of six cars since the age of 15 1/2, and not a single one of them has ever had a bumper sticker. In fact, when my husband surprised me by buying the Mommy-mobile mini van I currently drive, it had a 25th Anniversary of E.T. sticker on the window, part of a cross promtion with Toyota and E.T. My response? I love the van! With all my heart! But the sticker must go!

When I had my boys, I called them my little monkeys. I still do. Because they are just like little monkeys. Adorable, yet still sometimes mean, and they will scratch you if you don't trim their nails. And although they've never thrown poo, they both have a diaper blowout story still capable of making my stomach turn (I'll save them for another day. You're welcome). When it's time to go, I say "Let's go, Monkeys!" When it's after lights out and they are still awake and goofing off, I say "Stop monkeying around you Monkeys!"  They even climb trees like monkeys!


October 2007: Ben age 4, Nathan almost 7
 When we moved out of our old house and into our current one, I was sifting through old boxes in the garage. And guess what I came across? My old I Love Monkeys bumper sticker. It was like being in a time machine... I was suddenly transported back to the 4th grade in my room full of plush monkeys in our house in Simi Valley, California. It was still in perfect condition, having never been stuck to anything in all these years. I was so excited! I showed it to my husband and to Chris and his very-pregnant wife, Alyssa, who happened to be there helping us pack up to move. Actually, Chris was helping, Alyssa was sitting and trying to stay hydrated in the August heat.

An hour later we all hopped in the van to get some lunch at the air conditioned mall. We had a nice meal with lots of refills of lemonade. We walked back out to the van, and this is what I saw:



My van, with an I Love Monkeys bumper sticker permanently affixed to the bumper. Not just any I Love Monkeys bumper sticker, but the actual one from my childhood. My husband had secretly pulled it from the box and affixed it to the van. I'm not proud of what happened next.

I flipped out.

In front of the boys, my husband, Chris and Alyssa, and a whole bunch of other spectators in the mall parking lot. I totally let Michael have it. "I do not come from a family who puts bumper stickers on their cars! And now I'll be driving around town with a bumper sticker that proclaims that I Love Monkeys!You have ruined my sticker, which I have saved all these years in perfect condition! Even if we remove it, it will destroy it! And it will probably destroy my bumper too! Everyone is going to ask me questions! What were you thinking! Gaaaahhhh!!!!"



I cringe thinking about it, because honestly, Michael and I rarely fight. You'd think that wouldn't be the case, since we're both intelligent, passionate, strong willed, and have deep convictions about things. The potential for us to fight about a dozen different things is there every single day. But we don't fight about those things. No, we (and by we, I mean I) just fight about stupid and inconsequential things like bumper stickers.

Michael just stood there, looking sheepish and perplexed by the firestorm being lobbed in his direction, while everyone else stared at me with wide open eyes. Of course, my amazing husband totally diffused the situation by looking at me, taking my hand, and saying, "But Heather, you DO love monkeys. It's true." And then the boys sweetly spoke up, "Yeah Mom, you love monkeys."

I sighed in defeat. The sticker is still there, proclaiming my love of monkeys for anyone lucky enough to get behind me. And yeah, people ask me about it all the time. But there is a wonderful, silly, and sweet thing that came out of all this.  When Chris and Alyssa had their beautiful baby boy, Eli, their nickname for him was.. you guessed it... Monkey. So yeah, I love monkeys. I even have the bumper sticker to prove it. What 'cha gonna do about it, huh? Huh?

My Monkey Boys meeting Alyssa's Monkey Boy Elijah for the first time, October 5, 2010


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Iconoclast

I picked up comic book-sized drawing tablets with thick paper at the local Japanese market, Marukai. Originally, I just got one for Nathan, since he's on a comic kick and there are loose papers all over the house covered in his sketches. I wanted him to have a single place to do all his drawings, and what could be better than a tablet especially created for manga for my comic loving boy? But considering the price (98 cents), I figured Benjamin would appreciate one as well.

Picking up the living room after the boys were in bed, I came across Ben's tablet and flipped through it. Like the excellent student that he is (he's so different from the other 3/4ths of the Chase family!) he's used his tablet to create a homework reminder guide, telling him that he has to do spelling on Mondays, math on Tuesdays, etc. And then I came to this page:


Rehearsal, Breakdown, Iconoclast

I was puzzled. Ben is 7 and in the second grade, and his spelling words are things like Circle, Doubt, and a bonus word, President. I never shy away from using big words with them, even when little ones will do, so the boys do have rich vocabularies. But I've never seen either of them make a list like this. We work in entertainment, so he's heard the word Rehearsal. A lot. Breakdown? Well, that's a common word. Cars break down, rides at Disneyland break down. But iconoclast? He's a voracious reader, but I can't imagine that's a word used in Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants.

Iconoclast, noun. 1: a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration. 2: a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions

For several days I kept forgetting to ask him about his list. When I finally did, he was totally nonchalant. "Those words? Oh they're from a vocabulary game on my DSi [handheld video game device]. They looked interesting so I wrote them down."

Benjamin is an iconoclast when it comes to my settled beliefs that video games simply rot your brain and don't have any redeeming qualities beyond a good leveraging tool when I want the kids to behave a certain way or do a certain task.

Carry on, my sesquipedalian boy. Carry on.