In memory of

Many years ago, I came across a talk by Barbara Sher on the local PBS station. I remember being mesmerized by the earnestness of a woman of a certain age, speaking animatedly of not wasting one’s gifts and the importance of doing something about those gifts right away.

It was a revelation to me at the time that dreams can be realized in different ways, big or small, and having trouble choosing a path in life does not equate one to failure. Everything about Barbara Sher seemed enlightened, actualized. When I learned of her passing on Mother’s Day (May 10, 2020), I finally realized that she had been like a spiritual fairy godmother to me.

One of the exercises in her book about Scanners asked the reader to list ten professions/roles in the context that if one had ten lives to live, what would those ten lives be? I don’t recall the full list from years ago, but I know that I am living one of them right now as wife/mother. In honor of Barbara’s life work, perhaps it is time for another visit to this exercise.

This Monday marks the first outing with kids to a friend’s yard for a quick visit, social distancing style. I’m grateful for friends who honor my request for meeting outside in the wind and taking care to play with the kids without too much physical contact. Life certainly seems different these days, and I cherish every day that I can squeeze my babies without reservation because I have minimized my exposure to germs/virus by suspending in-person interpreting for the hospital.

Health in the U.S.A. is earned instead of given the consideration as basic right. I have no idea if and when that mentality will change.

Dandelions 蒲公英

With April rain and sunny afternoons, our yard is filled with vegetation and critters of all sorts. Baobao and Erbao engage in daily dirt-digging and regularly lift the covers of sprinkler controls in the yard to monitor the frog population and other animals.

As usual, we find an abundance of dandelions attracting butterflies and bees to our yard, gracing our fruit trees and bushes with their labor. Baobao lives for the outside and exploration, so she has probably examined every inch of the yard by this point of COVID-19 shelter in place. This year, we are reviewing the theme of dandelions and other edible plants that are overlooked in conventional markets.

Here are a few reference books and materials to get us started:

  • 蒲公英(文/圖 平山和子,譯 漢聲雜誌)ISBN 957-588-027-7
  • Eating on the wild side by Jo Robinson ISBN 978-0-316-22794-0
  • Dandelions collected from the yard (every part of the plant)
  • Disecting tools (scissors, knives) and instruments for observation (magnifying glasses) that are age appropriate

One of my favorite uses of dandelion greens is to sprinkle finely chopped leaves on top of fried rice, adding an unexpected layer of flavors. As stated in Eating on the wild side (pp.22-23), “Dandelions, the plague of urban lawns, were a springtime treat for the Navajo, Cherokee, Iroquois, and Apache. The leaves were eaten raw, steamed, or boiled, and they were added to soups and stews. Compared to spinach, one of our present-day ‘superfoods,’ dandelion leaves have eight times more antioxidants, two times more calcium, three times more vitamin A, and five times more vitamin K and vitamin E. Our modern superfoods would have been substandard fare for hunter-gatherers.”

I am slowly working through Eating on the wild side as I anticipate making changes to how we handle and preserve fruits and vegetables grown from our garden or bought from elsewhere with the purpose of maximizing phytonutrients. This is such an intense read (information-wise) for me, but I swear every page has been a gem that triggers new thoughts and action in dealing with our diet. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more soon!

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Grade 1 bilingual homeschool

Baobao (6Y6M) is on the last leg of Grade 1 “public school at home” though we will continue our year-round bilingual homeschool regardless of conventional school calendar. Since this is the first year working through a “program”, I want to jog down a few notes for future reference.

Balancing public school standards and the spirit of our homeschool has been challenging at times as Baobao seems to prefer (or demand) minimal structure. In general, we cover Mandarin/Traditional Chinese character recognition, English read-aloud/phonics, and math on most days including weekends. Standards for Grade 1 science and social studies seem contrived, out of sync with developmental progress of 6 or 7 years old. A couple of examples would be “American political principles” and “American system of government,” where I had to resort to field trips to polling place and the state capitol building and wrecked my brain to come up with a basic explanation and poster craft of these abstract concepts. Since our preference is learner-directed exploration, ultimately Baobao spent more time learning about ancient cultures and maps for social studies.

“Public school at home” allowed us access to funds that could be utilized in a flexible manner (some restrictions applied), and I was glad of the money to purchase additional resources to add to the home library. One set that we enjoyed in particular was First Little Readers Guided Reading Level A-F and Guided Science Readers Level A-F by Scholastic. The whimsical writing of Liza Charlesworth helped reduce Baobao’s anxiety for independent reading, and for that I am forever grateful and hopefully get Erbao hooked on these little readers soon.

The progress in Mandarin/Traditional Chinese is fluid as Baobao prefers to make the call in tackling character recognition instead of working for a prize. She would out of the blue grab a book and read the whole thing aloud to me, but most days she just wants to be read to. Recently, she made up a story based on her drawing and asked me to record it:

Despite years teaching and working with youth, educating my own children is both blissful and stressful. Baobao threw me a few curve balls like requesting to learn cursive writing and sticking with weekly swimming lessons even though it was hard from my perspective. So my biggest takeaway from this year has to be “expect the unexpected” from these growing bodies and growing minds.

Monday grace

As usual, 3Y4M Erbao was the first to wake. This kid does not see the point of sleeping in or easing into the day. Everyday, Erbao seizes the day with million-watt smiles and energetic assertiveness that I struggle to keep up.

All considered, this really is a nice problem to have.

We are at the start of fourth week of self-imposed “shelter in place” and third week of the governor’s “stay-at-home” order. Based on local news report, community spread of COVID-19 is ongoing. Our household is fortunate that we have the resources to truly stay put, and both Baobao and Erbao have been amazing about suddenly one day we stopped venturing beyond the property line.

Our shelter in place looks roughly the following:

  • 07:30 – 09:00 Wake up, breakfast
  • 09:00 – 11:00 Homeschool
  • 11:00 – 13:00 Indoor play, kids’ indoor chores, lunch
  • 13:00 – 15:00 Outdoor play
  • 15:00 – 17:00 Snack, more open play, kids’ outdoor chores
  • 17:00 – 19:30 Dinner, bath
  • 19:30 – 20:00 Warm milk + cereal, tooth brushing, kids in bed by 20:00

Even though I am not in a position to interpret on-site for clients for the time being, staying home 24/7 means less spending on outside foods and gas. I’ve really had to step up to the plate to come up with three square meals plus snack each day, but stress baking does help.

However long this period of isolation takes to weather the spread of COVID-19, I am grateful that everyone is trying his/her best.

3 go-to recipe sets: main dish and a side

Like many parents, I turn to a few go-to recipes that have passed the test of time and seasons of our growing family. This is the first in a series of what I call “recipe sets” that highlight recipes that work well together in taste and efficiency.

1. Turkey chili and cornbread muffins

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Chili and cornbread muffin

I’ve made many pots of chili over these married years, on stove top or in a slow cooker. The basic building blocks for chili (beans, tomatoes, stock, onion/garlic/chili spice, and ground meat if preferred) are inexpensive and easily stocked at home. Chili reheats well, so it makes a great lunch option for the next day. The kids and I like chili over rice, so what I often do is throw a pot of chili together and let it cook overnight while making a separate pot of steamed rice. The traditional pairing of cornbread was never attractive to me until I came across the recipe below. Ever since the first dozen of these cornbread muffins were made, they have been consistently well received by family and guests.

2. Roasted chicken and mashed potatoes 

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Roasted chicken and mashed potatoes

J loves a good roasted chicken with mashed potato, and the kids fight over the crispy skin of a freshly roasted bird.

  • I consult this online meat cooking calculator and liberally sprinkle salt/onion powder/garlic powder all over the chicken before roasting. I also tend to roast chicken breast side down to get the most tender/moist breast meat for spin-off recipes like pulled chicken sandwich, Asian style chicken over rice, or soups. Depending on your oven and preference of crispiness, you might need to experiment a couple of times before settling on a final oven setting/time.
  • While the bird is roasting, I make a mash of 4-6 potatoes plus 1-2 sweet potatoes. After peeling the potatoes, I cut them into cubes of 1.5-2 inches and place the cubes into a deep pot. I then fill the pot with cold water until the potatoes are covered. I use medium heat and boil the potatoes until fork tender, then drain the potatoes and mash the chunks with melted butter and salt/pepper.

3. Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup

Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup

Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup

This very-last-minute meal can be pulled together within 15 minutes as long as you have the ingredients and know where everything is. A blender of some kind is extremely helpful in making the soup. The following link to recipe is for reference, as I simply dump a large can (28 oz) of petit diced tomato into a blender and add sautéed onion before blending the mixture into purée. Next I pour the purée back into the pot where I sautéed the onion earlier and add cream and seasoning while heating the pot at medium/low heat.

Monday grace

Baobao, Erbao and I have stayed home for the past two full weeks exercising an abundance of caution in light of the spread of COVID-19 in surrounding states. At this moment, confirmed cases are increasing and I suspect many in the area have not had the chance to be tested given kits are limited. J and I discussed plans when one of us becomes infected, and chatted about the social stigma associated with mask wearing in the U.S.

Homeschool looks quite different for us these days with no access to parks, libraries, the zoo, and museums. Even though online resources abound, I miss the weight of large print in my lap and the weekday exploration of museums when brick and mortar schools are in session.

We are incredibly fortunate to have enough yard space for plants, chickens, and humans. This temporary isolation is a first world “problem” that we are capable of handling, in theory. Thankfully, the children have taken this sudden change of lifestyle with minimal pushback. The question of resilience, then, rests on my own soul.

I think I am feeling some relief from chauffeuring mixed with resentment of not feeling safe to carry on interpreting at hospitals plus feeling a bit trapped in the kitchen.

This Monday, beginning of third week in isolation, I hope to pay more attention to the birdsong above all else.

Be well to all.

Currently reading:

  • Le petit prince (Antoine de Saint Exupery)
  • Tales of mystery and imagination (Edgar Allan Poe)
Abundance

Goodbye 2018, hello 2019

First, let me pinch myself. Have I been a married woman for six years already? Do I really have a sassy 5Y3M girl plus a climbing 2Y1M boy on my hand to deal with everyday?

Ouch. It’s quite real!

As I contemplate where we are with Baobao’s homeschooling, I’m reminded of the positive energy teaching gave me in a former life. Even though parenting is much, much harder, I’m grateful that I can transfer some of the most effective techniques to my interaction with Baobao in our homeschool. The bilingual (or multilingual) homeschooling community is small locally, but social media offers plenty of channels to learn from parents around the globe. On the flip side, we now live in an area with robust homeschool resources and 2018 was a fairly active year in bonding with the local homeschool families for friendship and support.

I also got back to on-site interpreting after a year of trying to get Erbao to self-sooth and to sleep through the night as I couldn’t think/interpret due to chronic sleep-deprivation and lack of quality rest. Erbao is a great kid in many ways (for example he is completely potty trained during the day), but sleep is something that we still have work to do. Getting back to interpreting/translating is in a way to recharge my spirit so I can get back to mothering with fresh eyes. The nature of legal/medical/business and industry interpreting is never routine, but I suspect that my brain gets a lovely break by being able to communicate with reasonable adults.

As a family, we managed one camping trip and I more or less survived the experience (it was not fun having to nurse in sub-freezing temperature at night). We played in pristine lake waters, got plenty dusty from the camp grounds, and I think we can do better in 2019 (time to invest in a family tent).

For 2019, I want to get back to taking care of myself in terms of making time to write, to sketch, and to do yoga. I want to learn some new recipes instead of just survival cooking. I want to take the kids to explore new places and try new experiences, while getting more consistent in our rhythm at home now the kids are capable of doing quite a bit.

Keeping the goals and objectives modest and real, and we will sure have room for surprises and maybe even more fun 🙂 2019, here we go!

Three months of K

Baobao turned five back in September and we celebrated the occasion with a park play date with family and friends. Tea was served in the cool autumn air, along with homemade cookies, lemon yogurt cake decorated with whipped cream and peaches from our orchard. We also served Concord and Riesling grapes from our vines, though the kids were more preoccupied with play and painting ceramic creatures or making foam picture frames.

It was also the official start of Baobao’s homeschooling in Grade K, time for me to get serious with documenting her progress in this grande experiment.

I have had to remind myself that Baobao’s love for learning is of the utmost priority in this journey, but there were certainly days that I felt like I wasn’t getting through anyone. The luxury of homeschooling Baobao (plus tag along Erbao) is another reminder that is worth repeating as J endures the grind of daily commute and work responsibilities.

It really takes a village to raise a child.

Three months in, and hopefully many more years out, here is what we have done so far:

  • Established a general expectation that after waking up in the morning/dressing oneself/finishing breakfast, we homeschool
  • At the minimum, we complete practices in languages (English letters/sounds and Chinese character recognition) and math (counting to 100 in both English and Mandarin) on a daily basis
  • We listen/watch/discuss two issues of children’s science magazines 新小小牛頓幼兒版 every week and plenty of free play with encouragement of closer observation of the immediate environment
  • We are also learning about the continents and incorporating discussions of biology, geology, and climate

In general, I am more concerned about Baobao learning to be considerate of others and understanding that her choice(s) lead to consequence(s). She is becoming more aware of her own power of influence but the challenge is to channel that energy in a positive way instead of being handicapped by her other traits such as carelessness.

Meanwhile, Erbao is steadily gaining on his older sister with his own explosion of vocabulary and logical reasoning.

Shoot, I feel like I’m already behind with Baobao and now Erbao is wanting to fly with his sister?!

Baby, it’s time to sleep

Erbao is officially over one-year-old, and we’ve yet to figure out a good sleep arrangement. I’m desperately tired, being woken up several times during the night by wails. I don’t know what to think, really, since Erbao’s crib is literally two steps away from my bed and I already give him tons of attention during the day.

Even though I know Erbao is a different kid from Baobao, my parenting reference point still takes me back to Baobao’s journey to sleep independently. Baobao spent her first days in an heirloom cradle that was so wobbly I moved her out of it as soon as I found an excuse. Then Baobao was in a spacious wooden crib where she hit her face bloody from holding the railing while hopping on the mattress.

I can’t stress how absolutely horrified I was about the cradle and the crib, but I used them out of respect because they were gifts from the mother-in-law.

What ended up working for both Baobao and me was a sleep tent on the floor, providing freedom of movement for Baobao to get in and out of her sleep area and peace of mind for me knowing my baby girl will not fall or hit her body on a hard piece of furniture.

Fast forward to Erbao, who was put in the crib and seemed OK initially except that his feet would get caught in the railing. He also developed the habit of pulling himself up to a standing position when he woke up in the middle of the night. Unlike Baobao, Erbao never quite learned to self sooth with his blanket. Instead, Erbao and I fell back on crying and nursing.

The circumstances of sleep arrangement for the children were quite different considering J was in the same room with Baobao and me because he worked from home and then J moved to another room when he changed job that required significant time for commute. I was alone with Erbao from day one, responding to every whimper and wail, feeling lousy most days from sleep deprivation.

At his 12 month check up, I speculated the many reasons of Erbao’s night wakings (teething, early walker, hunger/thirst, no one else to turn to except for mommy at night) and the doctor kindly suggested moving Erbao to his own room. And that’s what we are doing, letting Erbao sleep alone in Baobao’s room while Baobao sleeps in the master with me. It’s the third night of the new sleep arrangement and I miss being in the same room as Erbao listening to his breathing.

Separation anxiety is a bitch.

給四歲的妳

我的心肝寶貝:

四歲了,最近的妳真是個謎。雖然妳和過去一樣愛漂亮、一樣伶牙俐齒,可是怎麼突然變成一個超級害羞的人呢?

害羞的妳不敢去醫生叔叔那裡做健康檢查,生日當天也不願意和親人合照,讓媽媽有點不知所措。心裡難免有些許的失望,因為我好想和我的心肝寶貝一起好好照張相片。

可是妳現在很會收拾玩具了,這是為自己負責的表現,媽媽為妳拍手!除此之外,妳早上起床後都會和大家道聲早,實在是很窩心的舉動呢,希望妳能維持下去。

妳近期迷上 Anne Marie Pace/LeUyen Pham 創作的 Vampirina 系列故事,媽媽也好愛 Vampirina 學芭蕾的毅力及交朋友的態度。妳是不是也想學舞呢?妳是不是真的會用心持續練習呢?

我知道身為姊姊的妳很想和弟弟一起熱熱鬧鬧地玩,但是媽媽為了安全起見有時得制止妳不知輕重的舉動。這是我們必須一起進步的地方,好嗎?

最愛妳的媽咪