Yuli visits

Such a treat to have Yuli and Ian visit us from Portland! They got more than they bargained for from our smallest housemates, and I don’t know if Ian will ever want to eat out with us again… But they were both such good sports and Joseph loves his Auntie Yuli so much.


What I learned the first month of kindergarten


I was patting myself on the back, thinking I’d done a pretty good job getting my first kid ready for kindergarten. He can read, he can write, and he loves math above all else. We visited the school, practiced opening his lunch box, and purchased everything on his school supply list.

But in this first month of kindergarten, I realized I’d missed a very important lesson: conformity.

Color inside the lines. Every parent does what they think is best for their kid, and for me, I never wanted my kid to color inside the lines. Literally. My son never saw a coloring book, but he went through reams and reams of blank copy paper.

Then in kindergarten, there are suddenly formal rules about coloring (really, it’s outlined on a chart). Color in the lines. Use a color that makes sense. Color in all the spaces. Yesterday, my son brought home a sheaf of coloring pages he’d been assigned at school. I know girls in his class who are coloring geniuses, and it broke my heart to see his haphazard, stray marks.

Cue coloring books.

Max out screentime. None of us had computers in kindergarten, because they didn’t exist. On Monday afternoons, my son goes to his technology special and sits down at a Mac in the computer lab. Up until now, we’ve been an intentionally screen-free house. This kid doesn’t even know what a TV does, much less browsers and URLs.

I get a mouse and sit him down at pbskids.org.

Teach to the test. My 5-year-old has never taken a test before. Now hand him a test booklet and a number 2 pencil. Even if he knows the information stone cold, he won’t know to fill in the answer bubble. A, B or C? This is October of kindergarten, and my son is schedule for his first exam next week.

I order practice tests from Amazon.

Six hours a day, that’s 30 hours a week my kindergartener is away from me. It feels like a very long time, and I’m always worrying, is he cold? Is he hungry? Does he need to poop? I hope he is doing okay, because kindergarten is where he belongs. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of the teacher and the school. But I’m feeling very lucky I graduated from kindergarten in 1987. I remember loving kindergarten, because back then, all we did was play.


Ponies and scooters

Brothers on their rides. Paul was too little to hold on for a pony ride, but he’s always trying to catch up to Joseph. Sixteen months old and he figured out the scooter!

3677_lo 3678_lo Yeah, and that’s how the pony felt about carrying Joseph around. We went to Farrel-McWhirter Farm Park in Redmond for a birthday party. I was expecting it to be, um, rustic, but the farm was just beautiful and super clean.


Making salt-dough ornaments

The key to a stress-free holiday season is to set the bar low. Really, really low.

Growing up, Christmas was never a big deal in our immigrant household. In Taiwan, Christmas is barely a retail blip and the real festivities don’t kick in until lunar New Year. The one year we had a tree, it was only because my ever-practical mom got it for free through her English class. The tree overwhelmed our apartment’s living room, completely bare of any lights or decor, until my mom got tired of the shedding needles and threw it out.

I’m not a Scrooge, but I did inherit some of that practical minimalism when it comes to holiday cheer. The one holiday craft I manage to pull off with my boys is the easiest art project ever. Flour. Salt. Water. If you have those three things in your kitchen (plus a tolerance for a mess), you are ready to make salt dough ornaments.

Let’s get a little more specific: 4 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt and 1.5 cups of hot water. Mix everything together, and add a little more water until you get a good dough consistency. Roll out the dough, punch out shapes with cookie cutters, and poke a hole with a straw at the top so you can hang it. Ornaments can air dry if you have that kind of patience, or bake them in the oven at 325 degrees for an hour. Cool, then decorate. Markers and stickers work well for little kids; bigger kids can get fancier with paint and glitter (if you dare).

I love a shiny, Pinterest-ready tree as much as anyone. But fragile ornaments? Precious heirlooms? Christmas is for kids, not for perfection.

Last year’s creations held up over their hibernation, but salt dough ornaments aren’t meant to last forever. The fun is in making them, not hoarding them. We made a bunch of extra ornaments to give friends. Each time my son handed one out, I told the adult, “It can go in the compost when you’re done.” Less stuff plus lower standards equals happier holidays.

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Secrets of the ID, from a Chinese mom

Maybe you’ve visited Uwajimaya. Or you might have seen a lion dance. But to find the real treasures of the International District, follow a Chinese mom. I’ve spent the past decade eating my way through the ID, half of that with a babe in tow. Let’s chat about fun play areas for kids, free parking spots, the cleanest public bathrooms and of course, the best cheap eats.


First, let’s eat

Jade Garden is the Holy Grail of Seattle dim sum, but I can’t, ahem, stomach the crowd with hungry children. Duk Li was our favorite secret hole-in-the-wall. Word trickled out, business boomed and the dim sum restaurant expanded seven years ago into the space next door. Same brusque service, same 70 cent steamed BBQ pork buns. On our last visit, we sat next to a big group of students who happily complained about how stuffed they were. When it came time to split the bill, one of the girls whipped out her phone and divided the total: $5.30 apiece.

You don’t have to speak a word of Vietnamese to order at Seattle Deli – it’s easy because everything’s wrapped up and laying on the counter. All you have to do is point, and you can never go wrong because everything there is delicious. Here are some of my favorites: banh mi cha (sandwich with cold cuts, $3), bot chien (omelette with rice flour cakes, $3), fresh spring rolls ($2.75), banh bo (colorful rice sponge cakes, $2), banh cuon (wide noodles, $3) and flan ($1.75).

Duk Li and Seattle Deli are good grab-and-go places. If you have the stamina for a more leisurely meal, try Maneki for Japanese, Green Leaf for Vietnamese and Henry’s Taiwan for, well, Taiwanese. The rule of thumb if you are looking for a new lunch spot is to peek in at a mealtime. Is the restaurant full? Is it full of older, Asian women? That’s how you know the food is very good and very cheap.


Just for kids

The Donnie Chin International Children’s Park is a gem of a playground. Renovated in 2012, it includes a bronze dragon and other sculptures kids can climb, and a big play structure too. The trees at that park bloom in February, well before any other tree in town, so it’s a nice place to visit when you are eager for spring.

Just around the corner is the International District branch of the Seattle Public Library. We love its welcoming children’s area, roomy and clean bathrooms and the fantastic Mandarin story time on Saturday afternoons. Visit on the third Saturday of the month, and pair story time with free admission and a family activity at the Wing Luke Museum.


Shopping and parking

All the Seattle guides direct you to Uwajimaya, but Uwajimaya is the Whole Foods of Asian grocery stores. Real Asian people shop there only when they don’t have time to drive out to the ‘burbs. But Uwajiaya is handy for the decent restrooms in its food court, and for validating two hours of parking with a $15 purchase. Pssst, there are also free 1- and 2-hour spots on South Lane Street next to the playground, and on 8th Avenue South outside the library.

Directly across the street from Uwajimaya is Daiso, a Japanese chain where almost everything is $1.50. It won’t set you back too much to let your kids pick out a tchotchke or two. Think stationery supplies, little ceramic bowls, household items decorated with funny faces to make life that much cuter. I like to buy kitchen sponges at Daiso, of all things, because they come in a 10-pack for $1.50.


The ID isn’t just the place you go for Lunar New Year. It’s where you go any time you don’t feel like cooking. Kids are expected and welcome everywhere, and prices are family budget-friendly. A note about safety: I only go during the day, and I avoid walking near King Street Station or under I-5. But really, use your common sense. Most places, you will only encounter grandparents and kids and plenty of culture condensed within a few city blocks.

i7i4This last photo is from Chris!

Where to take your car-obsessed kid

When my oldest was born, we lived in a condo overlooking Highway 99. The worse the gridlock, the better for examining all the cars outside our window. It’s no wonder my son has loved cars since birth.

We discovered America’s Car Museum in Tacoma last fall, and have been regulars ever since. The museum has more than 300 vehicles on display, from classics to sport cars to just plain unusual (like the Flintmobile from the 1994 “Flintstones” movie). The collection is the legacy of Tacoma’s Harold LeMay, who made his money in the trash removal business and whose passion was for cars. The museum is intuitively laid out: gentle ramps wind down the four levels of exhibits. We fit right in with the crowd, which included a lot of older guys and little boys (I have at least one of each).

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Time your visit for the third Saturday of the month, when the museum puts on a family STEM day. The dedicated kids zone on the first floor has lots of activities even tots can play with. My boys love the pinewood derby car ramp, and the antique car they can climb in and pretend to drive.

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You can try the huge slot car race track ($3), and or for bigger kids, the racing simulator ($8). Don’t miss the photo station, where you can hop into a 1923 Buick Touring car and get a free print to take home. We’ve collected a stack of these photos now, one for every visit, and my son’s obsession with cars is still going strong.

If you go: Admission is $18 for adults, children under six are free. Discounts for AAA, State Farm and Hagerty policy holders.

Driving tip: Tacoma traffic and terrible signage makes Seattle look like a dream. Getting out of Tacoma, take 509, which runs parallel to I-5, until you get to Fife, to avoid the worst of it.


Still can’t get enough of cars?


We’ve gone to a lot of car events over the years, and our favorite is the Greenwood car show, held every June. There are lots of classic cars to see up close, and the street vibe is very family-friendly. Balloons, fire helmets, public bathrooms – need I say more?

car7If your house is like mine with Matchbox cars scattered everywhere, you will win Mom-of-the-Year with a visit to Pike Place Market’s Minature Car Dealership. The tiny shop, located on the DownUnder Mezzanine, is packed floor to ceiling with metal die-cast vehicles. I asked Guillermo Huizar, who was running the store for his brother Jaime, how many cars are in the store’s inventory. “No idea,” he said. “One thousand? Two thousand? Three thousand? Kids’ heaven.” Some of the flashier cars are even featured on revolving displays, just like at fancy pants dealerships. It’s hard to leave without an addition to your fleet at home.

Here’s one to skip: Touch-A-Truck. It looks so good on paper, but the event was a logistical nightmare. Shuttle buses from the packed parking lot, long lines in the hot sun, too many car lovers and too few cars. My husband and I looked at each other and agreed: No, thank you.

Visiting the pumpkin patch

It’s that time of year for a pumpkin patch visit! We totally lucked out on a dry and sunny weekend day, and the farm wasn’t even that crowded. Joseph really liked picking pumpkins and Paul really liked pushing the wheelbarrow.

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Our very first time picking pumpkins here. Joseph was just a little guy!

Easy weekends

They said kindergarteners would be exhausted by Friday, and now I believe it. By the end of the week, Joseph is done. A good weekend is not scheduling too much, trying to sleep in and riding bikes at the playground.

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