Monday, March 23, 2015

One Year in Austin

A year ago today, we arrived in town late in the evening after driving over eight hours on the second leg of our journey here from Chicago. It was nearly 9PM, and the sun had set nearly two hours ago, making it impossible for us to see anything but the road ahead and the neon signs that we occasionally passed.

We found the apartment we would call home for the next two months and set up for the night after some takeout from the nearby Noodles and Company. We were too tired to venture further than what was right by us, and because we were there right at closing, they even offered us free cookies. Bonus!

I’m not sure who was more excited about getting out of the car - the cats or us - but we managed to spend a few more minutes exploring our new fully furnished, very neutral, very brown and beige apartment before succumbing to the fatigue that came with three days of traveling. What an anticlimactic end to six weeks of wild anticipation.

Except I was wrong, wasn’t I? It wasn’t the end; it was only the beginning.

And the thrill and majesty of this beginning didn’t hit us until we decided to go out for breakfast tacos at Torchy’s the next day, a quintessential Austin thing. We took a right on the Capital of Texas Highway, going south, and our jaws dropped at the sight of the hills that lined both sides of the highway. For two people from pancake-flat Chicago, any undulation was a big deal. When we drove here the night before, we couldn’t see any of it - we had no idea we were surrounded by such pretty scenery.

That was the first thing that struck us about Austin - just how green the city is. Between pockets of neighborhoods are large swaths of greenbelts that afford us a quick reprieve from urban life, and I find myself drawn to them despite my city-girl prissiness.

Then it was the tacos. Well, not just tacos, but food in general. This city enjoys its food, but because we have access to year-round growers, there is also plenty of Texas pride in food sourcing.

Speaking of Texas pride, there’s plenty of that going around here, naturally. It’s unnerving to a newcomer like me because what’s so damn great about a state full of guns, Republicans and the religious right? But over time I realized that this pride isn’t just reserved for those people. It’s in how the people in this state preserve nature, bottle their own spirits, build a local business (hello, HEB), grow their own...everything, cook their BBQ, treasure their place in history and pass it down to the next generation - not just the story of Texas but also the pride of belonging.



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It doesn’t get anymore Texas than bluebonnets and UT-Austin
 


For transplants looking to plant roots, there’s just something about it that works for me.

And the weather. Oh the weather. We moved here to get away from the harsh Chicago winters, so we knew to expect a more temperate climate, but what we didn’t expect was just how glorious it would be from Fall to Spring. Sure, we’d have some cold days in the winter, which was perfect for snuggling by the fire, but we’d still experience 60- to 70-degree days every couple of weeks, which was a far cry from always fucking frigid for weeks and weeks at a time for at least four straight months up north.


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Summer can be brutal, but then again, it’s also pool season so who cares?

Today we met with who we jokingly refer to as the Original Friends - the three families we got to know within the first month of our move here - to celebrate our Austiniversary. It was at a restaurant with a playground, where our kids were either playing with each other or with other kids. The grownups sat at two tables outside under a giant oak tree with one eye on the kids while we chatted about our spring break and what not.

Topics ranged from vacations to cars to SXSW to sickness to a Taylor Swift concert road trip (don’t ask) to school to work to the amazing weather. Then we said our goodbyes and made plans to meet at one of the Original Friend’s homes for a BBQ next weekend before rushing home for the bedtime - bath, books and songs - ritual.

While the girls played in the tub, I walked out to my yard and laughed at the sight of the dandelions in my yard that sprouted from this last spell of rain. I never knew they could grow that tall.

Then I turned and spotted our “Yellow Rose of Texas” by our front window and stood there in awe of it - how the plant survived the frosty winter nights and my lack of attention was beyond me. But it’s native to this region; it would naturally make it here.

 

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Unlike us. Even as the movers hauled our belongings into the truck, even as we drove 1,100 miles towards our new life, I wasn’t too confident that this would be the place for us. After all, three out of the four of us had never even been to Austin before we arrived with our worldly possessions.

But despite the brutal summer heat, the minor setbacks, the homesickness for Chicago, the lack of snow, the fact that we’re in Texas (but hey, Austin really isn’t Texas-Texas is it?), the abundance of wildlife just in our neighborhood, let alone the area, we made it.

And we didn’t just survive our first year here, we’re loving it. My girls are blooming where they’re planted, and I feel our roots growing deeper into this once foreign soil with each passing day.

 

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I would’ve stayed outside to enjoy a few more moments of my reverie had it not been for a certain three-year-old who walked out naked in search of her mother. After one last look at the expansive coral tinged Texas sky, I followed her back into the house for the rest of our Sunday evening.

 

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Best laid plans

I don’t know why SXSW thought it was a good time to have the event right at Spring Break, but what can you do? The powers that be have spoken, and we’re stuck in the city because My Guy has been dying to attend SX (Southby to us locals, apparently) ever since I’ve known him. That also means I’m solo parenting. That, in itself, isn’t so daunting. Nothing I haven’t done before, and without the frenetic school schedule, it should be fun!

I planned on hiking a low-key trail with my girls on a sunny 70-degree day (because there would be a few of those during the break - yay!). I hoped to use our membership at the Thinkery one morning, and then a jaunt to the contemporary art museum, Laguna Gloria, for the free art day so the girls can explore the different media available at the art school there and the beautiful grounds that offer hiking trails, river views and interesting sculptures along the way. 


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screen printing


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Ta-dah!

 


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weaving



LagunaGloria Pickle playing coy behind me


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I had also hoped to watch the third installment of the Harry Potter movie series with Little Miss and take her to the movie theater to see “Song of the Sea” on another day. It will be a “Mommy and Me” special.

In between those, we’d have playdates with friends, and since our gym has family yoga and family Zumba during the break, Little Miss and I would be going to the gym together every day. By the end of the break, it would’ve felt like a proper Spring Break - Fun! Sun! Family!

That was the plan anyway. It’s Wednesday now, and so far, of the things I’d listed, we’ve done one - Laguna Gloria - because what I had hoped for us was one thing; what actually unfolded was quite another.

You see, sickness happened. 103-degree fever happened. For both girls. Then croup happened, for one of them. It’s also their first time being sick together, when they’d usually take turns after one infects the other. All this while My Guy goes out for 12 hours every day for Southby, while we also host two guests staying with us for the event, and while I juggle my freelance work deadlines.

Naturally, plans were derailed. My Guy had to take time away from his highly anticipated event to help me care for the girls because of my deadlines, and because sick kids are also extremely needy. Not quite the fun and exciting spring break I had in mind for us.

But we’ve been parents long enough to know what happens to best laid plans when kids are involved. We learn to create Plans A, B, and C, just in case. We learn to suck it up and deal with it.  Easier said than done, of course, because it can also be stressful and upsetting.

Yet, what choice do we have? We can sit around and mope or we can choose to make the best out of a shitty situation, which is why I am resolved on focusing on the things that make me happy.

I make healing, comfort foods - chicken noodle soup, pork and ginger rice soup - for my babies. I allow myself to be flanked by my girls on the couch as we read or just cuddle. I’m grateful that my girls like each other enough to play well with one another. But that also means sometimes they make mischief together. Like when I found them grinning at me suspiciously here - they had emptied out a couple of drawers of clothes and hid them under blankets to make the mound on the bed. For jumping. Like it’s so safe. (No one got hurt! See? Another bright spot to our week.)

 

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Why are you guys smiling at me like that..?



I also get to spend time in the yard collecting a crapload of live oak leaves that, unlike its regular oak cousin, sheds in the spring. Sure it’s an arduous task, but it feels oddly therapeutic. It probably has something to do with the warm sun, the bird songs and fresh air.


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 Leaves, be gone! (Except there are now more on the ground again. Ugh!)

 

One of my favorite parts of the week was watching Little Miss spend six straight hours re-reading Harry Potter one day. Granted, I was a little jealous. Oh the joy of being able to dive into a good book uninterrupted for hours and hours in the middle of the day. When I do that now, I’m often sacrificing precious sleep.

 

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And Pickle did what she normally does - raid our pantry every two hours (yes, even when sick, this girl doesn’t ever seem to lose her appetite) and decorate everything with glitter glue. Because you can never have too much glitter. Don’t ask me why it’s even within her reach; sometimes I astound myself too.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, even in sickness my three-year-old tries to avoid napping. One afternoon, I found her passed out on the floor after she spent most of naptime playing in the room. As much as she loves fighting naps, she doesn’t always win.


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When evening (FINALLY) arrives, I do like that bedtime is a little earlier for ailing girls, which works out nicely for this exhausted mama.

But then we get to do it all over again the next day when one girl comes into our room barking like a seal (hello, croup) and the thermometer confirms the fever that we suspect from the heat radiating from their little bodies. Another day of balancing precariously in that delicate space between hope and disappointment, work and play, light and dark. Wishing that maybe, just maybe tomorrow will be better. Or the next. Or the next next.


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In the meantime, I make a big-ass pan of brownies to try to salvage this Spring Break that has offered neither a spring in my step nor a break from the neverending demands. (*shakes fist at the sky*) My girls probably thought, aww, mommy’s so nice, she’s trying to cheer us up. And maybe it’s working.

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Although, between you and me, once they’re in bed, I’m going to relax on the couch with my feet on the coffee table, the pan of brownies on my lap and a spoon in my hand. That’s the plan anyway. But we all know what can happen to that.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Big news: Nothing happened!

Yup. That pretty much sums up the day when Austin decided to close its schools on Thursday. My phone was buzzing all of the previous day with emails from the school, the preschool, the school district and winter storm warnings. Apparently the freezing rain would only get worse. Even state and federal offices would shut down.

Ice is a problem down here, and with the many hills, bridges, and overpasses in the area, traveling on the road becomes treacherous, especially for school buses. I get that. I want my kids home safe with me too. And honestly, not going out on a cold and blustery morning to drop off my kids was just fine by me.

But when we woke the next day, the day of the supposed winter storm, this happened instead.

 

IMG_0374 Does this look like a stormy winter day to you?

 

Sure, it hovered in the low 30’s all morning, but it reached a high of 43. It was windy and chilly, but the ice that was forecasted to disrupt travel was nowhere in sight. Geez, people, overreact much? Meteorologists, I tell ya. They’re the only people I know who get to keep their job despite being wrong half the time.

The kids were of course over the moon to be home. No school, yay! We can sleep in! (They didn’t). We can stay in our pajamas! (Naturally.) I would’ve shared their enthusiasm except for that pesky little thing called a deadline. Ah yes, the age-old working parent’s dilemma: How do I watch the kids and write the pieces that were due to my client at the same time?

And today, I figured it out - HAVE FREAKIN’ AMAZING KIDS!

Okay, okay, I know, I know, I deserved that eye-roll because every parent says that about their kids. Believe me, my kids are a pain in my ass most days, but today, I have to give credit where credit is due. Last night I said to them: “Hey, I know it’s great to stay home from school, but the only way that it’s going to work well tomorrow is that you find a way to play well together because mommy has to work. I’m sorry that I can’t hang out with you guys, because you know I’d really, really love to, but I just can’t since it’s my regular work day and my client needs something from me. Will you try to play well with each other?”

I threw the words out there, not really knowing if they’d stick. They both nodded, which isn’t exactly binding, so I didn’t keep my hopes up.

But HOLY SHIT THEY DID IT! They totally did it! I was amazed at just how much and how well they played together. Most days, by 9:30AM, someone was already screaming at the other, but today, the stars must have aligned because not only was there barely an argument, they actually enjoyed one another’s company!

I set up shop at the dining table to keep an eye on them, thankful that I could usually tune out chaos, but apart from a few “look at this, mommy” interruptions to show me the results of their various creative pursuits, I was able to immerse myself in work while they did at play. I looked up occasionally to marvel at them: They’re still playing? And of course I had to take pictures. Evidence, ya know.  Because I still can’t believe that it happened.

Naturally, they made a mess, but who cares? They were actually playing with their toys and giggling! (And they happily put these away afterwards.)


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Little Miss patiently explained “Go Fish” to her three-year-old sister, and they harmoniously played a game or two together. (This was about the time I was pinching myself.)

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And their new favorite thing to do together? Clean up their mess to surprise me!

Yes, “for real,” as Pickle would say. Don’t hate me; I don’t even know how this became a regular thing, but you won’t find me complaining about this new “game” of theirs, where they would disappear for a long while together, then they’d come find us, have us close our eyes while they led us to their bedroom, the living room or playroom and yell: “SURPRISE!”



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We would find toys and craft items back in their spots, books put away, beds made, clothes in hampers...it’s the best kind of surprise, and I love that both parties actually derive so much pleasure from this. For me, I’m just so delighted and grateful for their effort, and for them, they’re just so proud of their contribution and happy to see us happy.

Today, Little Miss trembled with excitement as they led me to their bedroom, where Pickle gleefully announced, “Ta-dah! We cleaned our room!” but immediately added: “But don’t look under our beds!”

Fair enough. I didn’t. With six- and three-year-olds, you figure out pretty quickly to steer clear of the gift horse’s mouth.

Here’s another thing that blew me away today. Remember how I always long for them to play outside? Today, after running in circles around me in the afternoon and jumping over hurdles that they had purposely made for themselves in the living and dining rooms, I finally kicked them out of the house. “If you want to run around and play, get your shoes and jacket on, and do it outside!” Like normal kids, I added in my head.

After some minor protesting, they did comply. The clear blue sky was a little deceptive; no matter how beautiful it looked, it was still a little chilly. I expected them to come back in within five minutes, whining about the cold. But they didn’t. In fact, they stayed outside for what felt like hours, and played and played and played and played. Who are these kids???!


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My view of them just hanging out in the front yard from where I was working; don’t mind the phone reflection – I never claimed I was a pro photographer.



In the evening, at their bedtime, they crawled into bed by 7:15PM, and after I shut their bedroom door behind me, no one called out to me or came back outside to use the bathroom, to have more water, to give me one last hug, to ask “what’s that sound?”, to check if daddy’s home yet. On a day where they played hard, they also crashed hard.

I’d like to call this a miracle of a day, but really, if I think about it, a lot has to do with the fact that the girls are getting older. As much as it pains me to see that cute baby part of them go, on days like this, having older, independent kids completely saved the day. They had a wonderful time away from school, and I got my work done.

“I think we’re finally reaching that sweet spot,” My Guy said to me, “The girls are getting to the age where they’ll give us five or six really good years of being pretty cool kids.”

Curious, I asked: “Five or six? Why just five or six?”

“Well, then they become teens.”

“Oh. Right.” Tumultuous, tempestuous teens. Shudder.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. If the next five or six years will give us more days like today, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of them first.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

This lady and her tramp…oline.

trampoline on a cloudy day

 

I have to admit, I don’t know what came over me. I don’t think we’d ever discussed getting a trampoline, but it sure made its way to our house in a hurry once I decided that that was my next get-the-kids-to-go-outside ploy. It might have been my last straw too; I was getting tired of convincing them to leave the house, and I was even more exhausted from having to coax them to stay past their usual five minutes. It’s like they’re allergic to the fresh air and sun.

When it was 75 degrees one winter day here, I remember yelling, “DO YOU KNOW THAT IT’S SNOWING IN CHICAGO RIGHT NOW??!” perhaps in my sad, desperate attempt to shame them for wasting such a precious day. Like that would feel punishing to these girls who claim they miss the snow.

When the colossal thing finally made it to our yard, I was already expecting it to fail. Because you know how sometimes you imagine things going a certain way and somehow reality has a way of completely destroying any romantic notions you had of how things might turn out?

Well…it’s kind of like that with the trampoline, except this time – miracle among miracles - the reality is working out to be waaaaay better than what I’d expected.  Who knew a trampoline could be useful in so many ways?


Exhibit A

trampoline joy     

Grownups get to unlock their own inner child. I’d never been on a trampoline before this, and even I can’t deny the glee that comes from bouncing away like a maniac. Oh, it’s also a great workout – the pounding in my chest after ten minutes of gravity-defying stunts says so.


Exhibit B

 

Kitty's day out

We’re warned against leaving small pets outside because they mysteriously disappear in these parts from prowling coyotes and possibly other large that-which-shall-not-be-mentioned creatures. *shudder* I feel bad that our cats will have to remain as indoor cats, even though I see their longing to be outside as they stare out the window. WIth this? Problem solved. It’s like his very own cat condo. He didn’t jump on it, much to my disappointment, but perhaps he’ll get there eventually.

Exhibit C

Booktramp

Butt to chair is so last year. Plus research says all that sitting is really not that good for us. So why not lounge on the trampoline while soaking up some sun and devouring a few thousand words? It’s ergonomic-ish, right?




Exhibit D

Trampoline zzzz

When you spend three hours raking and filling nine yard bags with leaves, this is what happens. You can’t even make it to your sofa in the living room to rest. But hey, look at that! A trampoline is great for some post-hard-labor siesta too.

 



Exhibit E

TrampolineKids 

As you can see, the trampoline can be quite versatile, but this is still by far my favorite of its utility. It’s hard to tell, as I didn’t zoom in on the girls, but this was my view of them from my kitchen window, playing beautifully together after school – without my prompting, might I add. They were bouncing, they were toppling over one another and giggling, they were playing tag, they were sitting together and inventing games, and they were imagining a whole new world just for themselves.

I was so grateful for such glimpses as I cleaned the dishes and prepared the evening’s meal. It was just like I’d hoped before procuring the trampoline. The best part? Instead of begging them to stay outside a little longer while I finished preparing their meal, I had to call them in for dinner. It’s the kind of thing I’d (naively) romanticized about having a family before I actually had a family – parents doing grownup things inside the house while kids enjoying kid-like things under big blue skies, and then they would all converge at the dining table together after the mom calls out: “Kids! Come inside for dinner!”

I cannot tell you how happy it made me to actually be able to do that today. It’s a little ridiculous that so much pleasure could be derived from something so simple, but you know what they say about the little things… Although, I’d argue that a 14-foot trampoline really isn’t all that little is it?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Year of the Sheep begins with eyes of the fish

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As you may well know, I’m proud of both my Chinese and Indian heritage, and I try to share some of the traditions with which I was raised with my daughters just so they get to experience diluted (as in watered down to .02% concentration after having lived in the States for the past 20 years) versions of them. They’re part Chinese and Indian after all.

But it wasn’t until yesterday, when we were having a celebratory Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner (two days early because My Guy has a work thing two nights this week) as a family, that I became convinced that Little Miss, my six-year-old, may be more Chinese than I thought. More Chinese than me even.

You see, while we were shopping at the Chinese grocery store, I explained to Little Miss, who wanted to know why we didn’t just go to the regular H.E.B. (a Texas-based grocery store, also one of my favorite things about this state), that we were there to get a whole fish, specifically the white pomfret, because it’s an auspicious dish for the Lunar New Year, and it would be impossible to procure it anywhere else.

At my response, her eyes widened: “A whole fish? You mean the head too? Yaaaaay! Yes! Yes! Let’s get the whole fish! I want to eat the eyeballs! Mmmmm….eyeballs!”

Since then, until one such eyeball actually made its way to her mouth, she wouldn’t stop obsessing over it for the rest of the day.

At the store:

“Yes, yes, pick this one - let me see the eyes. Oooh...look at that. I like that one. I can’t wait to eat the eyes!”

At home:

She sauntered into the kitchen and asked: “Where’s the fish? Is it ready yet?” Then she turned to her sister and excitedly announced, “Pickle, we get to eat the eyes! It’s going to be sooooo gooooooood…”

Actually, she’s never had fish eyes.

“Can I see? Can I see?” Naturally, Pickle caught the fever since whatever her sister does, she must too. “I want fish eyes!”

I don’t even know where this obsession came from. But Little Miss has had fish eggs (salmon roe nigiri is one of her favorites), ox tail, cow tongue, chicken heart, pork liver - and they were truthfully introduced to her as such -  so I suppose eyeballs didn’t seem odd to her.



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Ah, memory lane…

 

The thing is, while I’d enjoyed every part of the fish as a child, I was never into the eyes, which made her fervor even more amusing to me. Even I, the one who’s technically more Chinese, who grew up immersed in a culture that consumes all kinds of animal parts, whose favorite part, as a child, of helping my mom cook was to wash and gut fish (yes, really), would gladly avoid eating the eyes.

When we finally sat down to eat, we, of course, went straight to the business of eyeball consumption.

“Mmmmm…..this is delicious!” declared my big girl.

As for the little one, who got to try the other eye (thank goodness most fish come with two), this was her only comment after some chewing, “Can I spit this out?”

Hah! That’ll teach her to blindly follow her sister. As for the rest of the fish? We ate it all up. Everything except the bones, of course.



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Kung Hei Fatt Choy everyone! Wishing you luck, joy, and prosperity from our house to yours.

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