Confessions of a Non-Stereotypical Asian

So here’s a joke you may or may not have heard of … A pediatrician, an obstetrician, and a scientist walk into an Asian restaurant …

To meet a romance author (me!).

Actually, to be honest, they were already seated and I was the one walking in (because hello, Asian time!). 😉

As soon as I sat down that evening, Sesame Street’s song, “One of These Things is Not Like the Other” began playing in my mind. I glanced at the faces of my friends, all of whom I’ve known since junior high, and immediately started thinking … They have real full-time jobs. They went to school for years and years to earn their Ph.D.’s in order to have these well-established careers. They actually have a title that you can check off on forms that’s more fancy than Mr. or Mrs.

And there was lil ‘ol me, a stay at home mom, with my lil ‘ol Masters degree working in a profession totally unrelated to said degree, who just wants to make enough money to support my boba tea addiction.

Yup. You can tell who’s the non-stereotypical Asian here. 😉

I wasn’t comparing myself with my friends because they think less of me—they are all very down-to-earth gals. I was comparing myself to them because I’ve been conditioned to believe all my life that Asians are supposed to be high-achieving, hard-working smarty pants in school who later on become high-achieving, hard-working adults in the working world.

But I’ve never been “one of those Asians”. Sure, I’m high-achieving and hard-working, but I’ve always been below the Asian standard for nerdiness. I only took one AP/Honors class in high school because anyone and everyone could get in (and I only passed, thanks to the help of some brilliant friends). I got accepted into UC Berkeley, but only for the extension program because I didn’t have the transcript or the SAT scores I needed to officially get in. I have never even taken a Calculus class (I dropped out the first week when I saw the syllabus!).

How’s that for being non-conforming? 😉

Instead, I ventured into the counseling field for a couple of years, even though many Asians shy away from anything having to do with mental health, and am now an author who often times feels like the “token Asian” among my author friends.

It’s taken me a few good years to feel more like a “real” author, someone who actually knows what she’s doing and has a job that is more than a hobby. And because I’m still a true Asian at my core (high-achieving and hard-working!), I want to do well as an author. I want to show people—Asians and non-Asians—that people who look like me and are from a similar background and upbringing can be successful without a Ph.D. behind their name. I’d like to pave the way for and inspire other Asians who don’t excel at math or science to do what they’re good at and what they love. I hope to see more Asians take a chance on being creative and to know it’s okay to not be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Asians can hold a variety of other professions as writers, directors, actors, artists, and dancers—and much more!

It always makes my heart happy to see people being creative, but it makes my Asian heart happy to see other Asians breaking out of the mold to be creative. Which is why I HAD to go support the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, on opening day. I even dragged an Asian friend to go with me. 😉 We are neither crazy nor rich, but we are Asians who express ourselves creatively, and we both truly enjoyed the film. I for one was blown away by the beauty of it all—from the soundtrack (which features Chinese covers of English songs) and the amazing set designs to the gorgeous costumes and jewelry. I also felt a bit nostalgic as I recognized some of the Chinese songs from the movie as ones my parents used to listen to when I was a kid.

The movie truly made my heart–both the creative part and the Asian part—happy, thankful, and proud. Happy because I love a good rom-com and the movie was well-done with just enough conflict, angst, drama, and laughs. Thankful because the older I get, the more I appreciate being Asian and all the craziness that comes with the culture. And proud because even though it’s hard to feel validated—by your family, other people, but most of all, yourself—as someone who is Asian and creative, this movie is living proof that it’s possible.

So, this is definitely a plug from me to go see the movie! If you’re Asian, and even if you’re not, Crazy Rich Asians is good entertainment. You won’t regret it!

In the meantime, enjoy this song from the soundtrack, Katherine Ho’s (no relation, haha) Chinese cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow”.

How does your cultural background influence your creativity?

4 Keys to a Sustainable Lifestyle

I’m going into my fourth year as an author, and while it’s not a full-time job (I’m still employed as a chauffeur, referee, and chef by day, haha!) it requires a lot more of me than I expected. Or, it could be that I tend to go “all-in” when I sign up to do something. If you didn’t know, us perfectionists have a hard time slacking off. 😉 So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that I got very sick a few months ago during the month of November. Somehow (I say this sarcastically because no one was at fault besides me) I found myself with 3 book releases in the span of 2 weeks. On top of that, I had some extra family stuff to attend to, and I wasn’t sleeping much. Then … come to find out just last week … I had forgotten to pay a very big and important bill that month. Ouch! Realizing I had dropped the ball like that and then having to tell hubby about it—you can bet I’m not doing that ever again.

Can we say, lesson learned? Not only did I learn I have to write everything down these days (or else I’ll forget about it), I also learned the way I was living was not sustainable. I was barely getting by and my body knew it. Unfortunately, it took going to the extreme side of busyness for me to see this. But now that I know what is “too much” for me, I have a better sense of what is “just right”. And what helps me stay sane and healthy is holding onto these four keys to a sustainable lifestyle.

  1. Sleep enough. I hate to admit it when my hubby’s right, but he’s right about me needing more sleep. I used to stay up until 2AM to work, even though I knew I’d need to be up around 7AM to get the kids ready for school. Now, I make myself turn in at midnight, so I wake up feeling more energetic. More energy also means a less grumpy mama, which my kiddos really appreciate. 😉
  2. Let God in. The older I get, the more I realize letting God into my daily life isn’t about seeming more spiritual or feeling better about myself, it’s simply about survival. Life is hard, and being human is hard. Bible verses I used to skim through when I was younger make so much sense now and bring me peace and comfort in this crazy world.
  3. Ask for help. Eeks. Another thing that perfectionists don’t like to do is ask for help. Why would they when they have everything under control—or so they like to think. 😉 But asking for help is part of being human. And it’s good to give others a chance to love on you.
  4. Admit your limits. You don’t have to do everything. In fact, there’s no way you can do everything. And you’re not supposed to do everything. Even God took a day off. And Jesus rested. If you have any doubts, repeat these last two sentences again. 😉

This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but a practical way to start making some changes toward a more balanced lifestyle. I also highly recommend the following list of 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living. I recently stumbled across it online, and I loved it so much, I got it printed as a poster at Costco. I’m going to hang it up in our bedroom where I can see it every day. (You can click on the image if you’d like to print your own, too!)

Image courtesy of https://leoniedawson.com

The guideposts are a good reminder that we were made to be so much more than workaholics. We are meant to be authentic, compassionate, resilient, joyful, grateful, creative, and calm. So let’s let go of the things that suck us dry and cultivate the things that give us life. 🙂

I know I shared this song before, but it’s something that gives me life. And this particular performance brought me to tears. Here’s Keala Settle singing, “This Is Me”, from The Greatest Showman.

What things do you need to let go and what things do you need to cultivate in your life?

Thoughts on Turning 21 (x2)

It’s November, which means it’s the best month to have a birthday. Any other November babies out there agree? 🙂

I’ll admit I hated turning 40. Thirty didn’t seem so bad (I was also too busy and hormonal being pregnant with my first munchkin at the time to care), but 40 just sounded old. (No offense to anyone over 40!). Now, 2 years later though, 40 doesn’t seem so bad. To be honest, 50 doesn’t seem as scary as it used to be either. The thing is, I’ve finally gotten okay with aging. Not so much with the white hair, wrinkles, and memory loss(!), but other than that, I don’t mind adding another candle to the birthday cake. Because the reality is, aging is a blessing and a privilege. To be able to experience one more year of life is HUGE. It means I get to spend time with the people I love and I get to do a lot of amazing things that I love. It doesn’t mean that each day is perfect or even “new” (’cause dishes, cooking, and laundry get old real quick, let me tell ya!), but over the course of days, weeks, and months, I get better. Better at trying, better at loving, and better at living. My physical body may be sagging and lagging, but my heart feels lighter and stronger and fuller. I’m reminded of these verses:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Yup. Age is just a number. Peace, joy, and love are timeless. In Jesus, we have the hope of eternal life. There’s so much to look forward to that outweighs all the human stuff that bogs us down today.

I hope you’ll celebrate each moment you have and each breath you are given. I know I will be as I blow out all 42 candles on my birthday cake (haha, just kidding; I think that might be a fire hazard!).

Here’s a video I’ve been grooving to (does using the word groove show my age? LOL), Kurt Hugo Schneider’s Evolution of Boy Band’s Mashup. It’s fun to see how many songs you know, which may or may not have something to do with your age. 😉

How do you feel about growing older?

Life Lessons from a Wannabe Strawberry Plant

Remember my post a few weeks back (you can read it HERE) about how munchkin #2 waited 72 (I repeat, 72!) days for her strawberry plant to sprout? Here’s part 2 of this epic saga. Saga is the correct term because it means “a long story of heroic achievement”.

So thanks to a green-thumbed friend of mine who saw a photo of C’s plant on my Instagram, we learned the strawberry plant was in fact not a strawberry plant, but more likely a dandelion. When I broke the news to C, her whole body slumped as she wailed, “I’ve been growing a WEED?!”

Poor C. My disappointment was only a smidgeon of the shock and despair she was feeling. In that moment she wanted to give up. She was ready to hand over her bright green shoot of long, spiky leaves and have me take care of it. And quite honestly, I didn’t blame her.

I took a deep breath and racked my brain, trying hard to come up with something redeemable about the situation. I rubbed her back and said, “Sometimes things don’t work out the way we expect them to. You didn’t grow a strawberry plant, but you did grow something! You did a great job watering and taking care of it every day for so long. Now you know what it takes to grow a plant.”

Her answer? “I’m growing a weed!”

Yup. Such is life, my dear. 😛

I wish things were different. I wish one strawberry seed had made it so C could have something to show for her hard work and patience (because to an 8 year old, 72 days is like an eternity!). But in the midst of all our disappointment, I appreciated the life lesson this wannabe strawberry plant reminded me of: Things doesn’t always turn out the way we expect, but that doesn’t mean these experiences were for naught. The disappointments we face, the unexpected detours and U-turns we make, the epic failures we go through—they are what make us strong and resilient and persistent. Nope, they’re not fun or pleasant, but they build something precious and desirable: they build character. And the hard times are what make success and victory sweet.

This experience taught C so much, and I can see how her perspective has changed. Just this past weekend we decided to start a small garden in the backyard. C jumped at the idea and we all went to the store to buy seeds to plant. While C was browsing, she turned to the back of the seed packets to look for the number of days it would take before the vegetable could be harvested. Several times she remarked, “52 days? 66 days? That’s so fast!” I had to keep myself from laughing at her reaction. This was the same girl who had moaned and groaned for 72 days while she waited for her strawberry/dandelion plant to grow. But now? She’s become a pro at waiting. 🙂

So, I want to say thank you to the random dandelion seed who flew into our house and found the perfect place to land. You may be a weed, but you’re a wonderful weed. Thanks for the life lessons you taught my munchkin. But whatever you do, please don’t spread your seeds into our backyard. 😉

Here’s a picture of C’s weed. Next to it is some lettuce she’s growing, too (which is super easy to do; go here for instructions)!

Here’s an oldie but goodie, Wilson Phillips’ song “Hold On”, that talks about holding on through the hard times.

How have disappointments and failures shaped you?

The Art of Waiting

When I walked into the kitchen this morning, I was met with some enthusiastic shouts of, “Sprout! Sprout! Sprout!” I turned to C with a curious look and repeated, “Sprout?” It took me a few seconds, but then I realized what she was referring to … her strawberry plant had FINALLY sprouted!!!

Here’s the sprout in all its glory!

Now, in case you don’t appreciate the magnitude of this news, let me tell you what it took for this little sprout to grow. According to the directions that came with the plant, it takes anywhere from 2 to 3 months for it to sprout. That equates to 60 to 90 days of watering, “sunning” and … waiting. That last part was definitely the hardest part of this journey for C. Every single morning she would wake up, go downstairs and check her plant. Then she’d record what day it was on her chalkboard. Day 1 turned into Day 15, then Day 33, then Day 58. When she reached Day 60, she exclaimed, “It’s been 2 months! Why isn’t it growing?” And I started to see the glimmer of hope in her brown eyes flicker. I continued to encourage and remind her that the instructions said 2 to 3 months (all the while, half-hoping and half-doubting that we’d see any results).

All hope was lost about two weeks ago when C was tossing a ball around the house and accidentally knocked the whole pot over! She called me for help—her voice low and flat—and showed me the damage. Most of the soil remained in a clump on the floor, but some of it had been scattered into pieces and had to be vacuumed up (RIP strawberry seeds!). I tried to keep my tone hopeful as I swept up the pieces and put them back into the pot. “Let’s wait and see!”

And wait we did. It got to the point where C decided to invest in a new succulent plant and transferred her ownership of the strawberry plant to hubby this week. She did still care about it though because she’d whisper to me, “Bob (short for Baba) didn’t water the plant today!” 😉 But all her hard work during the previous days and weeks and months had been worth something because after 72 days, it sprouted. 🙂

AT LAST!!

I told her, “Yay! I’m so proud of you! You persevered!” Her eyes lit up as she took the pot in her hands and gazed at the little green shoot. It was a defining moment in her life, folks. 🙂 And I mean that in a serious way.

Waiting has always been hard for C. She’s just wired differently from my other munckin (who shall not be mentioned on my blog anymore at his request, hehe), and it’s part of her nature to want results NOW. (Hmm, I wonder who she got that from—not me, cough cough!). So when she had first decided to grow this plant, I was very hesitant. All these thoughts ran through my mind: What if it never grows? What if she gives up after a few weeks? What if she’s terribly disappointed? Okay, so I was hesitant and doubtful. But as a parent, I’ve learned that you need to let kids experience struggle because it’s during the hard times that they learn the most. They learn about how the world works (you can’t always have immediate gratification) and they learn about how they themselves work and how they can change and adapt and grow to be more well-rounded people.

For C, she needed (and still needs) to learn the art of waiting. To be honest, we can all benefit from this lesson. Nobody likes to wait. Whether it’s waiting in line at the store, or waiting for your child to outgrow his tantrums, or waiting for the next job promotion, or waiting to find your spouse … there’s a whole lot of waiting going on in life. To master the art of waiting, however, requires 2 parts: hoping and doing. To hope without doing anything, well, you might as well forget seeing any results. C could have hoped all she wanted that her plant would grow, but without watering it daily, it would never have had a chance. And to do without hoping would be a pointless effort as well because it’s the hoping that inspires you to keep going; as in C’s case, her hope in the plant’s growth kept her watering it every single day. So, Hoping + Doing = The Art of Waiting

I admit this world gets me down a lot (especially when I read the news), but I also have hope that something better will come, that this life is not the end. I think this hope must have been what Jesus’s followers were feeling and hanging onto thousands of years ago when all seemed lost on that dark day when He hung on the cross. They really had the ultimate test of waiting it out as they held on to the hope that something would happen, that change would come in three days. And boy, they were not disappointed! When they heard and saw that Jesus had come back to life, that He had defeated death, that must have been an amazing morning. A hopeful morning. An it-doesn’t-get-better-than-this morning. 🙂

I hope you and yours have that kind of a morning this Easter as we reflect and celebrate the significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection in our lives. And may we also come to believe that good things—growth, change and results—do come to those who wait. 😉 Have a Good Friday and Happy Easter!

What have you gone through to help you master the art of waiting?

When Adulting Is Hard

Hubby and I had a brief moment to chat this morning. Usually our conversations are light and breezy—and mostly about the kids—but today it was a bit heavier and profound. I think the older we get, the more of these latter talks pop up from time to time because, as I’m sure you know, adulting is hard.

What is adulting anyway? It’s not even a real word (I don’t think) since that red line keeps showing up under it as I type. But it’s a real condition or stage, however you want to call it. And with each passing year, it seems like this thing called adulting gets harder and harder to manage. Life becomes more complicated and responsibilities add up, and you face things you were never prepared for.

Adulting includes the big stuff like watching a dear friend struggle for her last breaths in a hospital bed; not knowing how to help a family member fight mental illness; attending four funerals in a year; and losing a baby to miscarriage.

Adulting also includes the everyday stuff of taking care of your family even though you are bone-tired; figuring out how to support friends going through crises; working hard to pay the bills; and juggling the care of your young children as well as your aging parents.

Adulting is a lot of things, but the one thing it isn’t is easy. This morning when I was sharing my frustrations with hubby, he said just what I needed to hear: The most important thing in life is honoring God. Through whatever we go through—the ups and downs—we can’t lose sight of the reason why we’re running this long and windy race. And even though we may not understand why things happen the way they do or how to make sense of disappointment or pain, the one thing we can hold onto is the fact that we’re not alone. God is with us through it all.

I was reminded of a song by Rich Mullins, “Hold Me Jesus”. I had the chance to see him in concert in college, and hearing him sing live was such a moving experience. You could tell from his lyrics that his relationship with God was honest, raw and sincere. He hadn’t figured everything out yet about life, but it was okay. He just wanted Jesus to hold him through it all.

Well, sometimes my life
Just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small

CHORUS:
So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees

And this Salvation Army band
Is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin

I hope that whatever you’re going through right now, you’ll keep your head up and your heart open. Even when adulting gets hard—and it often does—God’s grace is big and deep and full enough to see us through. Let’s remember to hold onto Jesus as He holds onto us.

What’s the hardest part of adulting for you?

The Benefits of Crying

When the munchkins were younger, there was a lot of crying in our house. Actually, there was a lot of crying outside the house and in the car, too. Let’s just say that if we had collected all those tears they shed (as well as the ones I shed during their tantrums and meltdowns!), we could’ve helped out our drought-stricken state of California. 😉 Thankfully, we’ve had a lot of rain in the past weeks to fill up those reservoirs and the kids are able to process their emotions a little more calmly these days.

I personally have a hard time staying calm when E or C gets upset, but hubby has the patience of a saint. Not only will he look at their red, open-mouthed faces with adoration, he’ll also tell them, “It’s okay, just cry!”

Just cry?! (Does that include me, too? LOL!)

But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years as a parent, it’s that one, kids cry a lot, and two, crying can be helpful.

Having been raised by my strict, no-funny-business grandma, however, I learned not to cry. I learned it was safer to stuff my emotions inside rather than show them. Which is why I struggle so much when the kids need to cry. And I use the word need because sometimes we just need to cry.

If you Google “benefits of crying”, you’ll find countless articles (here’s one) touting the physical and emotional benefits of tears. Crying releases toxins, helps you deal with stress, and makes you more mindful of your emotions and experiences. Moreover, shedding tears in front of people you feel safe with helps build your connection with them. So it’s a good thing to cry by yourself and with others! Crazy idea, huh?

But boy, does it feel good to turn on the waterworks once in a while, especially if you tend to be more of an uptight and anxious person (if you are, welcome! you’re in good company here). 😉 The thing with crying though is that if you don’t allow yourself to do it regularly, you can get out of practice. And no amount of sheer willpower can force the tears to fall (unless maybe you’re an actor). What do you do then? Watch a sad movie or TV show or read a sad story or listen to a sad song. I stumbled upon this solution recently when I started watching NBC’s This Is Us. If you haven’t heard of this show, you need to check it out. I guarantee you will shed a few (or more) tears each and every episode. Just make sure you don’t watch it right before you have to pick up the kiddos from school—I learned this lesson the hard way! 😉 This show is now my regular “therapy session” where I tell myself, “It’s okay, just cry!”

Because it is so okay to cry. Crying is good for our body, mind and soul. So give it a go sometime soon. And take comfort in the fact that your tears do not go unnoticed. As it says in Psalm 56:8,

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

This song gets me every time. Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Heaven is the Face” is a song about the passing of his daughter, but it also speaks of our hope in God to one day be with Him in a place where we’ll no longer have a need to cry.

What were you taught about crying? What do you believe about it now?

When NOT to Let It All Hang Out

Grr. I struggle to write this post because although I know I’m not a perfect person, I don’t like to think about it too much. 😉 Anyhow, this blog is all about change and the process of change, so there’s no hiding the fact that I am a work in progress. A messy, dragging my feet, don’t wanna change work in progress.

First of all, a shout-out to my dear hubby who called me out on my messiness and didn’t let me stay in my rut. The other day he commented in a disapproving but calm way that “you’re not the person I married”. Ooh, I bet you’re wondering if he spent the night in the doghouse after that remark(!), but alas, no, we no longer have a dog (RIP Sparkle), therefore we have no doghouse, so no worries there. 😛 My response to his comment? Well, I had two: one in my head which shall remain safely tucked away there because if you ain’t got nothin’ good to say, it’s better to not say anything at all, and the second was something like, “I’m not the same person! I feel like a servant!” Eeks. Long story short, I’d been feeling way overworked and way under-appreciated and was letting it (ie. my anger, frustration, resentment) alllll hang out.

You know how when you first start dating, you make sure you’re dressed your best and you’re on your best behavior so you don’t scare your date off? And then once you’re engaged or married, you start feeling oh-so comfortable and doing all the stuff you never would’ve done before in front of your significant other (ahem, passing gas!) and essentially, you just “let it all hang out”? Well, yep, that’s what I’d been doing. Not the passing gas part exactly (that’s old news, haha), but giving stinky faces and a bad attitude and using my indoor voice with the kids (the kind you use only at home because you would never speak that way to strangers!). It was not a pretty sight. That’s why hubby said what he said.

And he was right. I’m not the same person he married. That old me (well, actually the much younger me) wasn’t a mother of two kids who’s trying to juggle multiple roles as a wife, mom, and a writer. That me was able to sleep in, do what I wanted most of the time, and not have to deal with meltdowns, sibling rivalry, picky eating habits, and 5+ loads of laundry a week*. So yeah, a lot’s changed in 15 years. And so have I.

And because I’m older and a tad wiser now that I’ve been on this life journey for 40 years, I was able to swallow my pride and think about hubby’s statement. I let it simmer in my head and heart for a while and consider the effect my actions and words have been having on the kids. How my yucky attitude has been affecting my mood. And how it makes NO sense for me to yell, “Don’t yell!” at the kids and expect them to do the opposite of what I was doing. Grr. You get the idea.

So I had to really make a conscious decision to NOT let it all hang out. I had to stop giving myself permission to treat my kids and hubby so poorly (because in my head I was telling myself it was okay to do so). And I had to remind myself to reel my emotions in and change my perspective.

Quite honestly, there’s a lot of things I have to do on a daily basis that I don’t want to do (*see the examples above!). But I’m choosing to do them because I love my family. And loving people means dealing with the messy, not-so-fun stuff sometimes. It requires looking beyond myself and caring for the needs of others. It means putting on my big girl pants and being a grown-up and doing grown-up things.

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I saw this meme on Facebook this week and I was like, ouch, okay, yeah, I get the message! I think a lot of times I forget I’m the adult or I wish I didn’t have to be one. But well, I am, and because I want to give my kids the best possible lessons on “adulting”, I’m going to keep on learning how to be the best adult that I can be.  I used to think it wasn’t fair that childhood’s so short in comparison to adulthood, but now that I think about it, it makes sense. Adults need way more time to mature and grow up. 😉 I know I’m still working on it. How about you? 🙂

Check out Maati Baani’s amazing cover of Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World”, performed by a bunch of cool kids!

Confessions of a Non-Chef (+ Some of My Go-To Recipes)

My dear mother-in-law had knee replacement surgery back in August, so I had been cooking dinner twice a week for her and my father-in-law (she’s now recovering quite well, thank God, and able to cook for herself). At first I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to make a little extra food, except that a little extra food turned out to be a lot more food that required a lot of planning and cooking. You see, hubby’s family loves and enjoys eating, while mine basically eats to survive. 😉 Whenever we eat with my in-laws, we can expect to sit at the table for up to two hours, eating and chatting the day away. Eating with my parents on the other hand is more like a fast food experience; you get your food, you eat it, and you go. So, knowing how much my in-laws enjoy food, I had to up my game and really put some effort into cooking.

Grrr.

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/freedigitalphotos.net

If you can’t tell by now, I dislike cooking. Why? Maybe because it involves coming up with a meal that you know (not just hope) will taste good, buying the ingredients that are needed to make the dishes, and lastly, but most tiringly, cooking it. Which is why when hubby came home from work the other day and saw me standing in front of the stove with one spatula in hand, an oven mitt on the other, with a stream of sweat running down both sides of my face and asked me, “You don’t enjoy cooking, do you?”, I put on my best You’re kidding me, right?! face. I thought he would’ve realized this little fact when I made instant noodles for our first dinner together as newlyweds. 😉

So, no, unfortunately, I don’t enjoy cooking. Which makes feeding my family on a regular basis (why, oh why, do they need to eat three meals every single day?!) a difficult task. Throw in one very particular munchkin who always asks me, “What’s for dinner?” and then makes his best Aw, man face when he hears my answer, and you’ve got one frustrated, fed-up non-chef. But thank God for my other munchkin who will eat practically anything I serve her as long as there’s rice and meat in it. 🙂

But thanks to my recent stint as a chef for my in-laws and some serious soul-searching (haha), I’ve had some breakthroughs with cooking. Here are some things I’ve learned that I hope will help you if you’re a non-chef like me or you live with one.

  1. See cooking as a privilege. Okay, maybe privilege is taking it a bit far, but I have come to realize that there’s a lot of responsibility involved with feeding a family. I have the power to shape my kids’ eating habits, demonstrate healthy attitudes toward food, and provide the fuel they need to survive. I get to introduce them to different foods, flavors, and styles of cooking. What I feed them today is essentially paving the way for how they will eat and what they will eat for the rest of their lives. How amazing is that? And cooking in a first world country is seriously a luxury. There’s so much fresh, good food to choose from at the supermarket. Reminding myself of these things helps me not to take cooking for granted.
  2. Find ways to enjoy the process. Let me tell you a secret—I love looking at recipes more than I like cooking. 😉 At with the internet these days, recipes are everywhere. You can search for recipes with specific ingredients or cooking methods or styles (ie. gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, whatever-free) and find a gazillion choices to choose from. And the best part are the before and after pictures. I especially love when there’s a series of photos from the “ingredients picture” to the “mixing picture” and all the way to the beautiful “posed food picture”. (Cooking videos are pretty cool, too, except you need to realize that there’s no fast-forward button in real life and a dish may take more than 30 seconds to make.) 😛 So, to make cooking fun, I take time to look for recipes that I know I’ll enjoy following (aka. easy, simple and fast). Having the right recipe makes for a more enjoyable cooking process.
  3. Make it easy for yourself. I used to wonder why stores sell already-washed and pre-cut veggies or fruit. And why there are sooo many online businesses popping up that deliver meals or ingredients for a meal to your door. It’s because there are other people out there who also don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have the time/energy for it. (Whew, it’s not just me!) I am so, so thankful for anything that makes cooking easier. If you ever see my grocery cart at Trader Joe’s, you’ll find a lot of frozen veggies and some pre-washed ones. If you find me at Safeway or Costco, you can bet I’ll have a rotisserie chicken with me. Finding these “shortcuts” can literally chop the cooking time in half and allow me more time, energy, and sanity to help the kids with homework, work on book stuff, or keep the laundry basket empty for ten minutes.

These are just a few tips I’ve found to make my life as a non-chef doable and enjoyable. And here are some recipes I’ve found that are my go-to meals:

  1. Chicken noodle soup (Ă  la Mamaho): Dump a carton or two of chicken broth, frozen or fresh veggies, and one cut-up rotisserie chicken into a pot and let simmer for an hour or more. Before serving, add some pasta and cook until done.
  2. Asian-style pork chops (à la Martha Stewart): http://www.marthastewart.com/339846/asian-style-pork-chops
  3. Roasted veggies (à la Mamaho): Take some chopped up veggies (ie. zucchini, carrots, potatoes, yams, mushrooms) and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil, add salt and pepper, and bake at 350-400 degrees F for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the thickness and size of the veggies.
  4. Korean beef bowl (à la Damn Delicious): http://damndelicious.net/2013/07/07/korean-beef-bowl/
  5. Salmon fried rice (à la Just One Cookbook): http://www.justonecookbook.com/salmon-fried-rice-recipe/ (I also add chopped pineapples when I make this.)

I’d love to have more recipes to choose from, so my family’s not eating the same meals over and over. 😉 Please share yours with me!

When Taking Care of Others Means Taking Care of Yourself

If you can’t tell from reading the title of this post, I’ve been feeling a little burned out. No, actually, let’s make that an extra crispy, black-as-charcoal kind of burned out. Like these poor pieces of toast.

Image courtesy of flickr.

Image courtesy of flickr.

Between getting the munchkins ready to go back to school and the release of 2 books, it’s been one crazy, busy month! And September’s not even over yet. Aiya. :O I’m not complaining though; I am very, very thankful (especially about school starting again, haha). But I have to admit that I’m tired … and when mama’s tired, she can get a bit grouchy. Okay, make that very grouchy.

I found myself getting impatient and frustrated with the kids more often recently and had to ask myself, Is it them or is it me? Sure, there are plenty of situations when they push all the wrong buttons and squeeze out every last drop of long-suffering juice I have left in me, but lately it’s been more a matter of me already feeling dried up with nothing to give. Especially last week when I was overseeing an all-day Facebook party and discovered that due to some technical glitches I couldn’t leave the computer for more than a few minutes at a time. Which meant I even had to bring my laptop with me when I went to pick up the munchkins from school (don’t try that at home, folks!). When we got home, I was running around like a mad woman trying to cook dinner for ourselves and my in-laws (the tables have turned ’cause my mother-in-law had knee replacement surgery) and check Facebook and help the kids with whatever they needed help with. Whew, I’m tired just remembering that day. 😉 Thankfully, the party went well and everyone was fed and in one piece by the end of the night. 🙂 But boy, was I pooped the next day … and the next and the next. And because I was pooped, I was not feeling my best or being my best. So yes, it was definitely me.

Lesson learned: I need to take care of myself in order to take care of those around me.

A friend commented recently that she realized she needs to drop one of the balls she’s been juggling. When I read that, I was like, Wow, I wish I could do that! But the truth is, I can. And I should. For the sake of my family, but also for my own sake. ‘Cause no matter how amazing a juggler I think I am, my arms need to rest once in a while. And most of all, my heart needs to recharge and refuel so I can be the best juggler wife, mama, sister, daughter and friend that I can be.

Here’s a verse I take comfort in when I’m weary.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

And here’s a beautiful, calming song for you when you’re feeling weary: “All is Well” by Voctave.

How do you know when you’re juggling too many balls?