Friday, October 26, 2012

Dear Cuppa Joe


Dear Cuppa Joe,

Without a doubt, you are an indispensable daily requirement that starts off my mornings on the right track.  Which is all fine and dandy, except I've just recently stumbled into a cafe named Coffee Snobbery, and it seems as if I may never be able to voluntarily walk out of there, ever again.

I fell in love with coffee in college.  All those cafes around campus weren't only great places to study, but they also exuded the enticing aroma of coffee beans.  These were the places where I learned the differences in the concoction of cappuccinos, lattes, espressos, mochas, and cafe au laits.  It was also the time in my life where I became lactose intolerant (my despicable Asian curse).  Which is why now I just stick to coffees.  And good ones at that.

There were short periods in my life where I went cold turkey on coffee--during the years of trying to conceive (with our IF issues, I didn't want to take any chances), pregnancies, and subsequent months of nursing.  Those periods of sleep deprivation made it even harder to stay away from the caffeine, but I managed.  And since I've been done with the baby stuff, I've been back on caffeine addiction, red carpet style.

Over the years, I've done the drip, the single serving machine, and the 3-in-1 packets.  I've done whole bean (to grind fresh), ground (cuz I got lazy), and sometimes even instant coffee crystals (made with evaporated milk to replicate Asian bakeries' coffees).  But I like my good coffee beans and always bought decent brands to satisfy my taste buds.

Until recently.

I purchased a bag of Really Good Coffee because it was on sale, and subsequently could not stop talking about its bold flavor and smoothness.  I wondered how I'd even go back to my regular brands.  I enjoyed it for a week and took the conversation onto Facebook.  After a really long discussion about coffee, one of my dearest college friends offered to send me some Blue Bottle Coffee from her neck of the woods.  First, I was floored with her generosity--we hadn't seen each other since college, but we still held our friendship back then dear to our twenty-years-later hearts.  Then, because she mentioned a different method to prepare this excellent coffee, I did some research and learned about the 'pour-over' method in coffee making.

I had heard of this method a few months back at a coffee shop where it charged more to have it prepared this way.  At the time, I didn't try it, since I'm cheap I didn't believe how hand dripped coffee could be that much better.  But because I had a gift card, I was able to purchase a ceramic dripper, a quality manual coffee bean burr grinder, and a swan neck kettle to prepare this extraordinarily aromatic coffee beans I received in the mail.  I watched some videos on the preparation and made my first cup of coffee with via the pour-over method.

I'm pretty sure I heard the Coffee Angels sing in perfect unison to the reaction of my taste buds.  

I don't know if it was the quality of the beans or the method by which it was prepared--and I'm sure it was a combination of both--but the it was so good that I knew there was no going back.  I am officially a Coffee Snob. 

Every morning, between the time I wake up and send the kids on the school bus, I have one thing on my mind.  I think about my heavenly coffee--the one that takes a lot of time to make just a single cup.  The desire for this cup of coffee is what gets me motivated to get the kids out the door.  It is my reward after the Morning Madness.

But more than just the taste of the coffee, I'm also in love with the entire experience in the preparation of it.  Much like a tea ceremony, the pour-over method requires similar time, skill, and patience to make one single cup of coffee.  I boil water.  I grind the coffee beans manually by hand-cranking a burr grinder.  I drip hot water over the coffee grounds with a swan neck kettle by hand.  It takes a few extra minutes, but it is so worth the effort

I am on my second bag of Giant Steps coffee from Blue Bottle.  It is organic coffee beans freshly roasted just weeks before you receive it in the mail.  It is described as "dark and chocolaty" and "delightfully fudgy."  Even without these words, I can smell it and taste it in my mind any second of my waking hours, and probably in sleeping ones, too.  I think I've even gotten Dear Husband hooked on this coffee.  He has shown me a number of articles written about Blue Bottle Coffee since his first cup, and every single one of them mentions a form of the word, "snob."  Couples that coffee snob together, stay together, right?

Which makes me a proud Coffee Snob.  A girl's gotta have her coffee just the way she likes it. 

So, Dear Cuppa Joe, you are my Day Starter, my Morning Comfort, my Daily Salvation, and my Liquid Happy.  And now with my new stash of coffee preparation equipment and my Bestest Coffee Beans, I can shamelessly indulge in my own little world of Coffee Extravagance in the comfort of my own home. 

Cheers!

Sincerely,
Me

P.S.  This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions expressed here are solely mine.  Actual user experiences may vary. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dear Mummy Jars


Dear Mummy Jars,

Are you ever one of the easiest and coolest Halloween crafts I have ever come across!  And you will look awesome sitting next to a flickering Jack-O-Lantern on the night of Halloween to greet trick-or-treaters!

I came across the idea for these Mummy Jars as I was searching for a Halloween craft for my Chinese Toddler Class.  The great thing about this particular craft is that it is super easy and uses readily available materials (and you already know my love for Googly Eyes).  Although I opted not to use this for my 2 to 3-year-old students for safety reasons, I think this would be a great craft for children ages 5 and up (with supervision for younger children).


Materials:
  • clean glass jars of any size (with labels removed)
  • toilet paper
  • Scotch tape
  • any size Googly Eyes, a pair for each jar
  • craft glue
  • tea light candles (see other lighting options below)
  • a long-tipped lighter

Instructions
  1. Tear a workable length of toilet paper from the roll (about 5 squares).  Fold it in half lengthwise.  Tape one end onto the glass jar and begin wrapping it around the jar.  Continue with more toilet paper until the entire jar is covered (do not overwrap or else the glow will be less noticeable).  Tape end of toilet paper to secure.  (Do not place toilet paper close to or over the mouth of the jar for risk of catching on fire.)
  2. Glue a pair of Googly Eyes onto the jar.  
  3. Place a tea light candle inside the jar.  Light the candle with a long-tipped lighter and watch the Mummies Jars glow!  (See other lighting options below.)
***Caution: Do not leave lighted Mummy Jars unattended.  As with any lighted votive candle holder, the Mummy Jars will become hot.  Place over appropriate surface to avoid damage to furniture or flooring.  Use care when using around small children to avoid burns or cuts from broken glass.


This craft is inspired from Craft reDesigned's Mummy Jars.  Like the original, you can go as fancy as strips of gauze painted on the jars with Mod Podge, or strips of crepe streamer paper and glue like some others have used.  But if you don't have those materials readily available at home, then toilet paper and Scotch tape will do just fine. 

Also, options other than tea light candles to make the jars glow are: a few glow sticks or battery-powered candle lights.  These choices are good for younger children to handle and to avoid fire or burn hazards.

And there you have it!  We have ourselves a set of three Mummy Jars that Dear Daughter, Dear Son, and I made together yesterday.  They glowed beautifully in our foyer for three hours last night, and we were a little sad to blow the candles out.

I'm sure we'll light them again today. 


So, Dear Mummy Jars, I cannot wait to have you accompany our Jack-O-Lantern (one that I still hope to carve) on our door step come Halloween.  I love the look of the flickering glow as the cool breeze gently moves the air about the candle light.  In the darkness, our eyes naturally seek light.  And these lighted Mummy Jars are a de-"light"-ful sight to see!

Sincerely,
Me

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dear Googly Eyes


Dear Googly Eyes,

You are my prized craft material, my inanimate objects personified, and my art projects come-to-life.

Thirty years ago on the other side of the world, we didn't have any Googly Eyes.  To make eyes, we either drew dots or sketched ginormous, perfectly-round Japanese anime eyes that sparkled a little too much.  Those eyes were two dimensional, lifeless, and about as exciting as eating fat-free cheesecake. 

But now, Googly Eyes are abundantly available, in all sizes and colors and styles.  Stick a pair of them on anything and it just magically smiles back at you.  It'll even stare at you, wide-eyed, as if telling you "thank you" for bringing it to life.  Give them a jiggle and watch them wiggle; give them a shake and see them wake. 

Googly Eyes have become a staple in my Chinese Toddler Class.  We use them to make all of our craft projects--whether they are animals or inanimate objects--come to life.  Little ones who are barely verbal know exact what they are and where they belong.

I like teaching my Chinese lessons with a theme that provides a lot of possibilities for new concepts.  Animals are a good way to introduce colors, numbers, adjectives, body parts and other useful words in a new language.  In addition to reading books, watching related videos, playing games, and singing/dancing, we also make a craft project that serves as a visual aid for children to learn these new concepts and vocabulary. 

Usually, I turn to my friend Google (Images) for craft ideas.  More recently, I've also explored Pinterest as another source for visual inspiration.  I seek out an easy craft where children and their parents only need to assemble the craft by gluing the pre-cut construction paper pieces together.  I spend some time cutting the parts that are easily distinguishable and locatable.  (It does not take too long to cut out the pieces; I fold a piece of construction paper a few times and I'm cutting multiple pieces out at once.)  Here are some examples of our craft work:


Here is a Paper Sack Dog Puppet.  Materials needed for this puppet are: brown paper sacks and construction paper for the cutouts.  The ears, nose, tongue, and bone are pre-cut.  The children and their parents assemble the dog puppet with a glue stick, the pre-cut parts, and the Googly Eyes.  This lesson introduced facial features such as eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. 






This Geometric Elephant is a simple design that consists of a large oval, four rectangles for legs, one tail, one ear, and one trunk cut from construction paper, and one Googly Eye.  The children and their parents piece the elephant together and paste it onto a piece of construction paper.  A variety of colors can be used instead of the classic elephant gray.  This lesson included descriptive vocabulary such as big/small and long/short.





Next, we have a Toilet Paper Roll Duck.  First, a piece of yellow construction paper wraps around and covers the toilet paper roll.  The rest of the parts are construction paper pre-cut wings, webbed feet, and beak; yellow feathers (taped to the inside of the roll); and a pair of Googly Eyes, all attached with glue sticks and tape.  This lesson began the study of colors (yellow) and counting (Five Little Ducks story). 





Finally, we have a Paper Plate Turtle.  A white paper plate is folded in half and stapled around the edges.  The pre-cut construction paper pieces are the head, the tail, two feet, and pieces of scutes for the turtle's shell.  And, of course, we cannot forget our one Googly Eye.  This lesson included the color green, adjectives such as fast/slow, inside/outside, and the word "home" (turtles' shell). 




The kids, and oftentimes parents, too, enjoy making these crafts each and every week.  The little ones' eyes light up when they see what they will make, and are always excited to make their own to take home.  These crafts take no more than 5 to 10 minutes to assemble, and after children put their names on them, they are proud of their very own final product.

All because those Googly Eyes make them come to life.

Children take their animal crafts home and practice the vocabulary they learned in class with them.  They use their crafts as puppets and practice singing songs with many YouTube videos.   I always make one extra craft set in case a new student joins our class, and Dear Son jumps at the first chance of making the "craft of the week" when we wait for Dear Daughter during her badminton class after Chinese class.

As eyes are the most obvious focal point on any given object we look at, they invariably provide an unforgettable first impression.  The three dimensionality and mobility of these Googly Eyes definitely make them more appealing than a simple black dot.  At least in my eyes.

So, Dear Googly Eyes, I will always make sure to have enough of you on hand.  One day we might give some personality to a sun or moon, clothe pins or glass jars, or uni-eye monsters!  So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find my next craft project, and you will be sure to have a part in it!

Happy Crafting!

Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dear Driving Anxiety


Dear Driving Anxiety,

I kindly ask you to take it easy on my poor, fragile heart, as I fear that you will only become more terrifying as I get older.

Fortunately, I am not plagued by driving anxiety on a day-to-day basis.  The trips to the grocery store, after school lessons, or around the neighborhood are quite pleasant and easy-going.  But as life would have it, we venture where the roads take us, whether I like it or not.  Here are my Top Ten driving conditions that make me want to stay on solid ground instead of inside a moving vehicle--as a driver or a passenger:

10.  Speed.  Local roads are no biggie, as speeds that can only cause fender benders do not rattle me.  When the speed limit goes above 50 mph, however, I begin to grip the steering wheel--or anything I can grab a hold of if I'm not driving--harder, where strength of grip is directly proportional to increase in speed.  #SpeedyWhiteKnuckles

9.  Unfamiliar roads.  It's scary to say that on my daily, familiar drives, sometimes I don't remember how I got from point A to point B.  Auto-pilot, they say.  But on unfamiliar roads, all my senses kick into full throttle and my Driving Radar is on high alert.  #LikeAVirginDrivingForTheVeryFirstTime

8.  Junctions.  Those five lane multi-highway junctions where there are more signs overhead than the number of seconds you have to get to the exit lane?  Where if you exit too early or too late you will end up on another entire wrong highway so that you can't just get right back onto your original highway?  #NeedISayMore

7.  Semis.  If I had my way, 18-wheelers should never be able to change lanes and should never be allowed to drive alongside any cars.  Because if momentum equals mass times velocity, then semis are part of the formula that spells Big Trouble.  #StayAwayAtAllCosts

6.  Precipitation.  I seriously believe that people forget how to drive when precipitation--in the form of rain, snow, sleet, fog, or hail--occurs.  All hell breaks loose as drivers suddenly have amnesia.  All the while I only have one word in my mind--"hydroplaning"--the only word I still remember from my very first driver's test.  Of all the things I have forgotten because of my dying braincells, this one stuck just to make me a little more obsessive with the brake pedal than usual.  #SlipSlidingAway

5.  Darkness.  When you can only see as far as your headlights shine, it's not very far.  A bunch of moving vehicles on the road that cannot see each other very well makes me feel like the world is caving in on me inside my invisible vehicle in the depth of obscurity.  #DarknessLikeACancerGrows

4.  Narrowed lanes.  Sudden elimination of comfortable lane spacing due to construction, tunnels, or bridges risk my passing out since I pretty much hold my breath during the entire lengths of them.  #CodeBlue

3.  Tailgaters.  I've noticed that people don't follow the "3-second following distance" rule anymore.  Which is why I stick to the 2.94-second rule.  Which is why when anyone goes below a 2-second following distance behind or in front of me, hyperventilation from my airway ensues.  #WheresMyPaperBag

2.  Steep terrain.  Mountainous, winding roads--whether uphill or downhill--do not fare well with my head.  Working against gravity or gaining speed because of it both make me uneasy.  And don't even talk about those roads with a cliff on the side of the lane.  #MercuryRising

1.  Mad drivers.  No matter how carefully we drive, being on the road means putting a lot of faith in the safety practices of other drivers.  Which is why the existence of crazy drivers scare the living daylights out of me. #<InsertExpletivesHere>


And if by now you imagine me as a stereotypical old Asian driver with the steering wheel on her chest driving below speed limit, I wouldn't blame you.  Because if I actually looked like that, then you'd know I'm a nervous driver and stay away from me.  But, instead, I am plagued by invisible driving anxiety--the silent kind that toys with my mind's ability to separate reality and imagination.  

So all jokes aside, I am starting to come to terms with this uncontrollable anxiety I have about driving and riding in a vehicle.  The commonality of all these undesirable conditions is my fear of crashing.  My mind goes places that are not kind.  Pictures of horrific accidents in my head seem so realistic that they may as well be real. 

When we drove the long distance trip to see my grandmother, I realized how much this anxiety affected me.  About an hour into the drive, I was already feeling really uneasy.  I wasn't sure if it was caused by the last-minute nature of the trip, the uncertainty of my grandmother's health, or the fear of having forgotten to pack or do something before we left.  My chest was aching with tightness, and I was breathing as if I could not get enough air.  It was when we finally got out of the city and onto quieter roads that I realized the discomfort had faded.  Oh, it was this.  I realized where all that anxiety came from.

You see, at one point, we were on a narrowed two-lane highway in the midst of construction, in the rain and in the dark, and there were two semis occupying the space in front of us, side by side.  Dear Husband was driving less than "2-seconds following distance" behind them, and we came up on a curve where the two semis came within a foot of each other.  I just about lost it.  It was a Perfect Storm that included every item on the list above minus one (#8).  I would have been happier unconscious at the moment. 

But closing my eyes during such a drive is not an option, either, since I cannot help but want to keep an extra pair of eyes on the road.  To be fair, DH is a very good and safe driver who only occasionally needs a "2.94-second following distance" reminder for my comfort's sake.   So a lot of my anxiety rests in the fact that I don't have control over the car; yet I do not want to be the one driving on the highway next to semis while changing interstates either.

So.

Finally, seeing how crippled and uncomfortable I was in those first four hours of the drive, I decided to accept the help of anti-anxiety medication for the next day's eight-hour drive.  After the Voices in My Head battled it out, they concluded that for everyone's sanity, Xanax was going to get me the calm I needed to make it to our destination.  So the next day, I ended up drifting in and out of sleep, thus missing out on those winding, mountainous parts of the highway and too many semis and construction cones to count.  I survived the remainder of the drive with minimal worry and discomfort. 

As such, I am starting to become more aware of my anxieties that I have always had, but are more prominent now due to different factors, such as age and being a parent.  I know that medication won't always be the right solution, but it is an option for a case like this.

So, Dear Driving Anxiety, I am glad that you are not a frequent visitor.  I know that my greatest fear rests in the fact that there is Precious Cargo in my possession.  When my backseats are occupied by little people who share my DNA, driving becomes a much more serious matter.   If my overactive imagination makes me a better driver, then great.  If it gets the better of me, then I'll take the passenger seat and take a chill pill.   

Quite literally.

Sincerely,
Me

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dear 24-Hours


Dear 24-Hours,

We just spent the equivalence of your time on a round trip drive to see my grandmother.  The trip on the road gave me a lot of Time to worry, panic, think, ponder, wish, hope, and be thankful.

My 92-year-old grandmother was admitted to the hospital about two weeks ago.  Her health declined rapidly since then, even after the discharge, as any illness is hard on the body of a frail, elderly person.  She had lost some memory and was at considerable risk for falling.

Last Thursday, Dear Husband and I went out for a rare breakfast date, as he is between engagements and not working at the moment.  Having just realized that the kids don't have school on Columbus Day, he suggested that it would actually be a good time to drive down and visit my grandma.  After some contemplation over my egg skillet and coffee,  I realized that we would have about two days to spend with her.  It seemed like a doable thing--my only obligation was teaching Chinese School on Sunday, while the kids would miss one day of school and their Chinese class.  If I could take care of my lesson and tie up some other loose ends, we would be able to start the 12+ hour drive that very afternoon.

Literally six hours after our initial discussion, we were packed and on our way.  You can say it took superpowers to do that.  The kiddos were excited to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house, and the drive down was pretty uneventful (save my driving anxieties, but we'll save that for another post).  We arrived Friday night and saw my recovering grandmother.

She was happy to see us.  She couldn't remember a few details--where we drove from or what city she was in--but she knew who we were.  And in just the short time we were there, she showed visible improvements.  She eventually remembered all of our names, gained noticeable appetite, and chit chatted away during short spurts of energetic moments.  While it was difficult to see old age rob her of her strength, mobility, and wakefulness, it was encouraging to see the small progress she was making with her vulnerable, fragile body.

During those two days, I was able to hold my grandmother's hand--it was soft and full of sheen and color; she showed me the lines on her palm that indicated good luck, and then studied the lines on mine.  I was able to wrap my arms around her small body, give it a tiny squeeze, and offer her some Granddaughter Magic.  I was able to kiss her weathered cheeks and tell her goodnight.  For this, I am thankful.

Moreover, I have endless gratitude for my DH who offered to be the sole driver of this trip, taking care of all the travel details, and making it a reality for all of us to see my grandmother.   I am grateful for the kiddos who sat through all the hours in the car with minimal "are-we-there-yets."  I am so extremely thankful for the parents of my Chinese Toddler Class who pulled together to carry on my lesson in my place.  In just over four days, we accomplished something that can only be described as "valuable, good, and memorable."

Sometimes, a sunset is laced by wisps of colorful clouds that complete its grandeur.  I believe that Grandmothers are sunsets of the sky, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of my grandmother's cloud ensemble.

As we drove away at dusk on the last day, I looked up and saw the most beautiful light in the sky.  The gray sky was lit up in one area where the rays of the sun shone through tufts of bright, orange clouds.  The light rays blazed in all directions, as if bidding us farewell for a safe drive.  Its magnificence felt like my smiling grandmother lighting our way out of the city and wishing us a good return trip home. 

So, Dear 24-Hours, you were time more than well-spent.  You proved that last minute plans are worth the effort, that time spent with loved ones is a Gift, and that Years-Months-Weeks-Days-Hours-Minutes-Seconds are Blessings that we cherish.  You helped bring to light my gratitude for these few days of meaningful gathering.  I may not know what the future holds, but I am grateful for what I have now--being able to have had the chance to hold my grandmother's delicate and lovely hand. 

Sincerely,
Me

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dear Scabs and Scars


Dear Scabs and Scars,

You play important roles in our skin's amazing ability to heal itself.  What's left after the healing process is the reminder of "once."  This happened.  You're the present to that painful past.

I have scars from skinning my knees.

The injuries happened a long time ago, over a period of quite some time.  They have scabbed and scarred.  Over and over in the same area.

I had once heard that if you pick at a wound over and over enough times, that the injured skin can turn cancerous.  At the time, I totally scoffed at the theory, thinking it was medically and scientifically impossible.  But a medical student friend assured me that it was possible.  I never found out if this is true or not--whether repeated skin injury can actually cause defect in the skin cell's DNA--but I never thought I'd really need to find out.

Long time ago, I'd walk down the path that I knew.  There would be certain obstacles--sticks and stones--along the way.  I'd trip, fall, and skin my knees.  I'd cry, gushing tears of pain and self pity.  Then I learned how to clean the wounds and allow them to heal.  But my falls happened often, and the scabs came and went.  Finally, the remaining scars reminded me to watch out for those sticks and stones while I walked my familiar path.

Later, I was able to find new paths that sported fewer objects to trip me.  Every now and then, though, the sticks and stones would show up and I'd stumble, scrape, bleed, scab, and scar again.  The stinging became less surprising and less traumatic--as I had resigned to expect it--though still just as painful.

The scars--which turned thick and rough--became "cushions" to new wounds.  The damaged nerve endings in them acted as desensitized barriers to the asphalt ground.  It took harder falls for the scrapes to actualize as the tougher skin became harder to cut.  Yet, in the battle between ground and skin, the penetrable loses; the living flesh tears; and the inanimate object always wins. 

Finally, I learned to wear "protective gear" to prevent the injuries even if I fell.  I discovered the possibility of preventative measures.  I can still fall, but I would be protected from breaking skin.  The fall would jolt me, but my knees would not sting.  I would not scab and scar.

I found a way to protect myself.

If I run my fingertips over the uneven scar tissue on my knees now, I feel a phantom sting.  In my mind, I see a helpless little girl crying over her poor, bleeding knees.  And all I want to do is tell her to put on long pants for all her Walks of Life.  No, I want to take her hand, and walk alongside her, so that I can guide her to newer, less bumpy paths.  I want to keep her from falling with my firm grip of her smaller hand.  I want to give her a big hug and tell her that she will be okay.

That those scabs will heal.

That her scars will be a living reminder of her past, should she decide to remember.

That they'll always be a part of her cautious and weary nature.

That they will eventually help her protect herself from future falls.

Now, I wear pants for two reasons: to keep from scraping my knees again, and to hide my scars.  I don't want any more pain, nor do I need reminders of what "once happened."  My scars are perfectly happy behind clothed fabric.

And I'm keeping the possibility of cancer the hell away from the skin on my knees.

Which now brings me to wonder: is it selfish of me to keep my scarred knees covered at all times?  To hide them behind protection so they'll never see the light of day again?  I don't know.  But what I do know is that wherever I go, I'll tread carefully.  

So, Dear Scabs and Scars, even though I had to endure you, you gave me knowledge in the wisdom of hindsight.  One day I'll stroll leisurely on a smooth, safe path void of any sticks or stones.

But probably not in this lifetime.

Sincerely,
Me