I am a writer and a Mommy. I am a devout Jew. These are the most important books I have read: The Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell translation. Spiritual Divorce by Debbie Ford. Living Inspired by Akiva Tatz. My kitchen would suggest I'm a closet carny, as would my love of Branson.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Cruise

Often when I describe the 7 of us to people for the first time I say we are a Brady Bunch family. How young do you have to be to have never heard of the Brady Bunch?  I'll have to keep that in mind.  We are blended.  Two kids each from our first marriages and one from this one.  A boy on each end and three girls in the middle.  Kids either 1 or 2 years apart in age ... until Jacob.  He is 6 years younger than his youngest sister, 11 years younger than his brother.

Last summer was difficult to put it mildly.  Everyone seemed to be either at a difficult age or at least a difficult combination of ages so that time with all five kids was nearly unbearable.  We are not a family of 7 all the time or even half the time but we are together most of the summer and every winter break. Last year, as summer approached, I changed my work to part-time to help face this change.  We travel to Kansas to have extra adult support to cope with all the kids.  I am happy to say that, for now, we finally got the hang of it.  But last summer was different.

As we muddled through our time with all five kids, I imagined the next time we would have them all in December and I booked a cruise.

Carnival was the cheapest cruise line and the only one with childcare for kids under 3.  They have a fairly bad reputation, so with low expectations, I booked the Carnival Miracle for a 7 night cruise to Mexico from Los Angeles.  The thought of this cruise got me through every day for the four months leading up to it.

No matter what the cruise was like, I knew for certain that each one of the kids would love it beyond anything they had ever experienced.  

As an adult, I'd rather vacation in almost any other way than a cruise.  Even my son, who was 13 at the time, was able to identify the moral problems with taking a cruise.  Isn't this terrible for the oceans and the environment in multiple ways?  Isn't this just wasting an excess of money that we could have given to charity?  Isn't this just a waste of food and a series of incredible indulgences? What are we doing in Mexico where everyone is so poor compared to us?  Couldn't we come down here and use this much money to really help a lot of people?  He had a blast on the cruise but asked that we never do such a thing again because it's just so blatantly wrong.

I booked the cruise because I knew this would be the perfect thing to do with all our kids to avoid having 5 people asking me for something all at once all day long every day for a week.

I hope that most parents reading that are shaking their head and thinking, "um, why don't you just teach your kids not to do that?"  Yes, we finally figured that out.  It took us 4 1/2 years.

We finally figured out that we can make rules like:
You may not ask us a question a second time after we have been answered or you will get a consequence.
Don't ask us when a meal is or what a meal is.  We will feed you enough every day.
Don't ask the other parent what you have already asked one parent.
Don't interrupt a conversation to ask a question.
Help clean up after meals.
Get yourself a healthy breakfast every morning when you wake up.

Etc.  We have a list and there are consequences for not following the rules.  Yes, we finally figured out parenting (by the time our oldest was 14).

Anyway, back to the cruise.

No cooking for a week.  No cleaning for a week.  No asking the kids to do anything for a week.  Just the seven of us, on a boat where we could each eat what we wanted all day long, all night long and do anything we wanted on a little safe space.

Cruise basics: 24 hours a day you can eat something.  24 hours a day you can order free room service. On this cruise there was always pizza, burgers, fries, nachos and ice cream.  At meal times there was a lot of other food choices.  Another cruise basic: you can't get lost on a cruise.  The ship may be big but there are always one of 5 or 6 places that a person will likely be at any given time and that's if you have had zero communication.  There is always an activity happening on a cruise.  And there is always a movie playing on your tv.

By day 3, the pizza place knew our girls and exactly what they would order for breakfast, mid-morning snack and a few other times throughout the day.  I think they were sick of the pizza by day 4.

They could not actually grasp the fact that they didn't have to ask us before getting themselves as much ice cream as they wanted.  Or any other dessert.

I don't know if the kids ate any vegetables or fruits during that week.  I'm pretty sure they did because one day there was fondue.  There was a lot of fruit dipped in chocolate that day.

The plan for the cruise was for my husband and I to have time together.  No work, no work phone, no computer.  Just the two of us enjoying a lot of meals and entertainment and spending time with kids if they were being nice or letting them hang out in kids club if they were not.

We spent most of our time with the kids.

I think everyone's favorite activity was going to the fancy dinners, ordering whatever they wanted without fear that they wouldn't like it, knowing they could go to the buffet after if it didn't work out.

It was really just about the most fun we have ever had all together.

We had pretty good weather but didn't spend too much time in the pools.  We loved all the shows. The comedy club was fantastic.

One night after dinner we were so exhausted that we told the four big kids to go to the family show while we put Jacob to bed.  We told them we would meet them there shortly.  We lay down on our bed, fully dressed to have a short nap.  When we woke up it was 1 in the morning.  In a panic, we ran next door and found all four kids sound asleep.  The next day we discovered that they had waited a short while before heading to the front row where they watched the family show and stayed for two 18-and-up shows until our oldest made them go to bed because he didn't want to stay up anymore. I'm fairly sure that was their favorite night.




















Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Black Lives Matter

I'll begin at the end.

We must stop identifying each other by the color of our skin.

This is the color white
This is the color black


People do not have white colored skin and people do not have black colored skin.  

So let's agree that these words are factually wrong and let's stop using them.

You can't have a thought without words.  Words create your thoughts and therefore the reality that you experience.

Since I was taught from birth to identify people as different races, I see people with a different shade of skin from mine as other.   

I can't stop this.  I can't erase the words that are in my vocabulary and that I think when I encounter people.  These words inform me about who is not like me, who is not in my group.

But I can change this for the future.  When I had children I decided never to use skin color or "race" to describe people.  They never heard people described by the color of their skin until they went to school.  I saw proof of how profoundly the absence of racist language impacted the way a child sees the world, time and again.  I saw my kids describe people by their clothes, hairstyle or actions but never by the color of their skin because this was never modeled for them and they had no language to do it.

Don't let people identify you by the tint of your flesh.  Don't answer people who ask you to identify yourself by race.  

No one wants to be identified by their physical characteristics.   I don't want to be talked about as the "short American."    I don't like blonde jokes.  I don't want to be labeled and categorized by the way I look.   I hear someone described on the radio as an "African-American" man and I think of someone describing me as frizzy-haired, Jewish-American woman.  No!  It's preposterous.  

Words have power.  Use your language carefully.    Do not perpetuate racism by speaking its language.  

The Black Lives Matter movement is waking people up because this phrase inadvertently conjures how wrong it is call people white or black.  And it reminds us all how wrong it is for people to feel afraid because of the way they look.  

If you don't like the idea that black lives matter please read Between the World and Me.     

Or, if you don't want to read a book, just think about this.  If you don't understand why there is a Black Lives Matter movement, then the answer is to try to understand.  Look into it.  Find out what is going on.  

Recognize that you have never needed to cry out to the world around you to proclaim that your life matters.  Unless someone has beat you and abused you.  And then maybe you had to find a voice to say that your life matters.  

There are people in the United States who have suffered here for hundreds of years and they still suffer because they are seen as "black."  This is what Black Lives Matter means.      

What I love most about the United States is the freedom we have.  We have innumerable diverse cultures and communities and we are tremendously different from one another.  Here we are free to be as we are.  We enjoy all the flavors of the cultures we have in this great nation.  We have freedom but we struggle to have equality.

The path to ending racism is quiet and subtle.  We change our thoughts by changing our words.

We have to listen to each other and hear when someone is hurting and be honest about why.  We have to hear people when they say black lives matter.  It isn't random or hateful or racist.  It's a pained cry for equality and for an end to abuse and each of us must answer this cry by seeking to understand it and then saying yes black lives do matter and we have to mean it.

We must also stop labeling ourselves by the shades of our hides and we must reject the idea that our body informs which group we belong to.

We can do this quietly with our own speech and our own individual commitment to end the use of language that creates racist thought.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Zombie Apocalypse Horse Cake

A few weeks ago I found an excellent book at the middle school book fair.  It's called Cake My Day.

I bought it because my son was going to turn 3 and I saw directions in this book on how to make a horse cake.  I also thought there were a lot of neat recipes in here so I got it.

Right from the start I knew I could have an entire years worth of blog entries showing my cake fails if I attempted the recipes in this book.  In fact, the first thing I did after picking out all my favorite recipes was to scour the Internet for cake fail pictures from attempts to recreate the impossible cakes in this book.

I figured the horse cake would be doable even though I planned to alter the horse.

I took this idea:
I thought I'd simply frost it and make a brown horse.

This was a great idea on my part.  There was no reason this would not work.  

But when I assembled my cake it looked so disturbing that I felt it more resembled a zombie horse than a regular one.
The side you can't see has a big chunk missing from the side of its face.

The best thing about my kids is that they are always totally impressed by my efforts to make them cakes.  This was my biggest cake fail yet but my son loves it so much.  He was so happy with it.

He thought it was odd that I let him take the front off and eat it along with an eye and an ear.  I don't think he even had a bite of the cake after that.

My husband went for one of the Oreo stack legs and nearly toppled the entire beast.

I don't know why but my favorite part of the specialty cake process is destroying it after it's done.  

In any case, I think I get what's happening in this book now with the shapes and whatnot and I'd like to try again.

Not with the horse cake though.  

Unless I decide to attempt every cake in this book.  It would provide a lot of laughs.  

More cakes to come in a month...

Friday, February 19, 2016

Taking a Very Genki Two Year Old to Japan

I have so many blogs to post!  More fun vending machine stuff, aquariums in Tokyo, different food experiences we had... but I wanted to get out my thoughts on taking our very, very active son to Tokyo.

He will be 3 in a few months so he isn't a young two-year old.  He is the kind of little one who wants to do everything for himself even though he can't.  He will not sit in a stroller unless he is about to pass out from walking for miles.  He is too heavy to carry.  He loves yelling and screaming instead of talking in a normal tone of voice.  He will run into traffic or in front of a train if he is not physically restrained at all times.

Before we came to Japan I was very lucky to find so many helpful tips on what to do with him while here.  I even found an amazing babysitter who was able to come in the evenings and many afternoons so that I could work, get breaks and have time alone with my husband, who was working around the clock for the most part.

First, let me tell you what I had planned for us to do in the two weeks.  Mostly it was do something in the morning and let Jacob nap in the afternoon or if I had a babysitter, take him somewhere in the morning and go somewhere alone in the afternoon and then fun dinners at night.

Mon
Pintokana Sushi
Lego Brick Park
Tokyo Tower
Teppanyaki ten

Tues
Home visit lunch
Shinagawa aquarium


Wed
Cup Noodles museum
Anpanman museum
Home visit for lunch
Hakkeijima aquarium
Thurs
National Children's castle
Department stores


Fri
Tokyo Station
Sat
Kamakura
Home visit for dinner
Sun
Daikanyama
Mon
Museum of Science and History

Tues
Tokyo Fire Museum
Takeshimaya dept store

Wed
Ueno Zoo
Shinjuku station department stores
Thurs
Tokyo Dome
Asobono
Fri
Niko Niko park
Tokyo Sea Life Park

Sat
Ghibli Museum

But guess what? It is very hard to do anything with some toddlers.  Amazingly, we did a lot of the things I planned but we also did not do many of those things.  For example, I didn't even visit one department store!

Let me describe what it was like to take our very active toddler to Tokyo.

First there was jet lag which meant he was up at 3:45 for 4:45 for the first couple of days.  Boy is it hard to start your day that early!  Even once he was over jet lag and getting up at a normal time in the morning, at least an hour was spent trying to convince him to get dressed.

Once dressed I would get out the door with him and start our day which involved either getting in a taxi or getting on a number of trains.

I like taking the trains in Japan but it is excruciating with a small child who will not listen.  First there is the screaming when you want to hold his hand so he doesn't jump onto the tracks.  Then there is the throwing himself on the ground.  There is the laying on the ground and rolling around.

It got especially crazy on the trains because he wanted to stand on the seats or run around in the cars or even roll around on the filthy floor.  He was always covered in filth by the end of our train trips.

Taxi rides were easier but he often refused to be buckled in and wanted to run around the back of the cab so a lot of our outings were spent with me trying to find ways to physically restrain him while he screamed and tried to kick, hit and bite me.

Toward the end of our trip he took to licking everything.  He wanted to lick the glass as he rode up the escalators.  He wanted to lick the posts in the road.  He wanted to lick us.

I think it might be an understatement to say this travel was very hard on the boy.  I found that days when we did nothing more than go to the park by our hotel, have a quick lunch and a nap were easiest on him.

As much as I wanted to show him different stuff for little kids, traveling around was hard on him and he took it out on everyone around him.

If I knew of some way to put him in a pre-school environment every day I'm certain that would have been the best thing for him because he would have had friends, toys and a regular schedule.

So if you have to travel to Tokyo with a toddler, do get a babysitter or set your child up with some kind of daycare situation so he can have a simple daily experience with toys and playing to counteract the total unfamiliarity of a new language and a foreign place.

If you have to be with your toddler the whole time, plan to take a nap in the afternoon with him.  You will need it.

Either way, plan to go to bed early every night.  You will need your strength!

If your child will use a stroller, bring a stroller!!  I would have loved to have one - it would have made our entire trip different because there was a great deal we could have walked to but the few times I tried to walk around with him were entirely spent trying to keep him from getting run over which meant having to carry him kicking and screaming.

Also, and I read this beforehand but didn't really listen, bring snacks from home.  Our boy will eat anything so I didn't think food would be an issue and sure enough he loved the food in Tokyo but he was homesick for everything and could only express that by saying over and over the list of people he missed and asking for goldfish crackers.  I should have brought goldfish crackers.  I did bring a huge bag of cheerioes and he ate them every day until they were gone.  On the other hand, we found some fun Japanese snacks that he loves and that might not have happened if I'd brought a bunch of goldfish crackers.

I found great babysitters through the Tokyo Mother's Group - http://www.tokyomothersgroup.com/apps/auth/signup

And I loved meeting wonderful people through Nagomi visit http://www.nagomivisit.com/ and The Global Families http://www.theglobalfamilies.com/

Nagomi visit lets you sign up to eat lunch or dinner in someone's house.  You say where and when and people apply to host you.  We did that three times and each experience was really wonderful. However it isn't for the faint of heart. It was so challenging to bring our son to people's homes since he basically tried to destroy everything and beat up their kids and steal their kids' toys.  It was unbelievably stressful and embarrassing but the people who hosted us were so nice and I'm so happy we did that.  It would be great to do with older kids for sure.

The Global Families might be a better option because you just meet up with people but I liked doing both things and would do both again.

I'd love to hear other people's stories about traveling internationally with a toddler.  I guess I should start interviewing people.  The pictures alone would make a hilarious book.

Here are some of Jacob's "I just can't" pictures, but I didn't get the most exciting ones of him licking things or kicking me or beating up other little kids.

You can't exactly tell that hundreds of people are going by in Shinagawa station where Jacob just parked it.


One of the escalators he surely licked.

A very crowded train with no room - he is sitting on my feet.




I briefly pondered what would happen if I just got off the train...










Licking the floor of  train.






I realize these pictures don't even come close to capturing the screaming and chaos and exhaustion that toddler wrangling is...



Saturday, February 13, 2016

Vending Machines

Someone please tell me why we don't have vending machines everywhere in the U.S.?  And more importantly, why don't we have awesome ones?
I want to get ice cream out of a vending machine on Main Street in Half Moon Bay, 24/7.
I'll admit this is an uncommon one, but if it can be done I want it in my town.  French fries, hot dogs, yaki onigiri...
I really just want 20 vending machines lined up in a row.
Some people want to get a waffle from a vending machine.
To be perfectly honest, I have a dream to open a space on Main Street in Half Moon Bay with a bunch of Japanese vending machines.  I actually think it's possible to execute this dream soon but I'm a little embarrassed - what kind of dream is that?

Let's just say, if you have this dream too or you want this, please let me know!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Japan

Where do I start?  
I guess here:
I have known since 1995 that the future is in Japan but some things are just not catching on in the U.S. 

I need a Japanese toilet.


And this thing to clean the toilet before I sit on it in McDonalds.
This toilet magically opens when I walk in the room.
I need a toilet seat that is warm and I like a toilet that makes pleasant loud noises like a waterfall or plays music while I use it.

What the heck America?  Get with it on the toilets!