In New York

My brother had the superb idea to gift my mom with a trip to the U.S. Open for her 70th birthday. We grew up with tennis fanatics who cheered on the greats through decades of grand slams. My fond memories growing up include our family doubles matches, and my mom continues to play weekly with her tennis ladies. Because my brother and I married the most selfless spouses ever, we were able to join my parents on the trip while Peter’s wife Robin & my husband Mike stayed back with our kids. (We obviously married the most awesome spouses in the universe.)

Mike even let me go early to spend time with one of my dearest friends, Lisa. We spent the first day walking around the city. I loved just being in the big metropolis; it made me realize how much I miss the urban scene. Some may think the concrete jungle is a place where they could never live, but I was soaking in the city life with deep appreciation. I breathed in the constant activity, the wide diversity of people where every walk of life can feel they can fully be themselves in a city large enough to handle it, the extensive public transportation, the countless choices of restaurants and the reminder that your life is but one of millions.

We walked across the iconic Brooklyn bridge, a beautiful structure with picturesque views:
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We passed Lady Liberty in the distance. May we not forget her timeless words:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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Street dancers doing their thing:
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My 3rd cup of caffeine to combat the effects of a red-eye flight was from Blue Bottle Coffee. I loved these windows along the High Line park (former elevated tracks converted into public park space). I especially loved the iced coffee on tap.
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I miss impressive architecture like this Lower Manhattan building by Frank Gehry:
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We walked EVERYWHERE which was possible due to hidden parks like these whose soothing fountains and random violinists provided a welcome respite for our tired feet:
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After a full day of exploring the city, we headed back across the bridge and enjoyed this evening skyline view:
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My family arrived the next day and we met up near Broadway for dinner and a show, Motown the Musical. It was probably the most fun musical I have watched, and the highest review one could give it was that my dad did NOT fall asleep.
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Yes, we were dripping with sweat from the hot sun beating down on us during mid-day matches, but being at the U.S. Open to watch my mom’s favorite sport live and in person was a great experience. We got to see the top players in action: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilifred Tsonga, Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, and Victoria Azarenka. As amazing as it was to watch these athletes dance on the court, my favorite match was on the smaller court 17 with the unseeded American mixed doubles team. We wanted to cheer them on especially 18 y/o Taylor Townsend who hails from Chicago’s south side. It was such an intimate setting that I am pretty sure she heard me shout, “Chicago in the house!” :) The crowd was fully invested in this match, and one lady nearby spontaneously nicknamed our girl Tay-Dawn which caught on with other spectators in our enthusiastic audience. They won a close match, and my brother Peter caught one of their autographed tennis balls Donald Young hit into the crowd. Our fellow Tay-Dawn fans joked with him that he deserved it for cheering well but if he was done with it they would gladly take it from him now.
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Our family stayed near the tournament in the Flushing/Queens area which meant we were in little Asia. Not only were we surrounded by our peeps, but we also had a multitude of glorious food options none of us have in our own towns. We ate delicious Korean food twice. We had Chinese-Korean style food including this cold jellyfish salad with hundred year egg that I photographed for my husband who would have loved the availability of less common foods:
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We had a dim sum feast that started with these staples:
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We also had our fill of Asian style bakeries:
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The last day my parents left after breakfast, but Peter and I headed back to Manhattan. We would have liked to have met up with my friend Eddie who unfortunately was sick, but were glad to have followed his suggestion to eat at the quintessential New York deli, Katz. We had the famous pastrami and the Reuben. IMG_6148

We went to the World Trade Center and visited the new 9/11 Memorial Museum.
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In the midst of the hustle and bustle, I was able to see extended family (my cousin Bomyee) and precious folks I knew from college (Lisa), from St. Louis (Sunny), and from Chicago (Linda & Christine). Life has blessed me with so many treasured friendships over the cities and years, and it is always great to catch up in person. It made me even more thankful that my parents were able to do the same with their friend, Mrs. Jo, whom they have known since before I was born. As my friend Lisa and I were reflecting that we have known each other for 21 years of life’s ups and downs, my mom and Mrs. Jo have been sharing that bond for double the time. It was lovely listening to them reminisce and have Mrs. Jo tell Peter and me that there are very few people about whom she can say she feels completely comfortable with and my parents are among that cherished handful.

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Mom and Mrs. Jo catching up on the streets of Flushing, NY

Overall it was such a wonderful trip filled with the comforts of city life. It sounds strange to describe crowded, hot subways and tough attitudes as comforting but for me that is exactly what it was. My muscles were happily sore from so much walking around the easily accessible city. Every location has its advantages and disadvantages. It is a gift to be able to experience so many different places and adapt to appreciate all each has to offer. I will always LOVE the large city. New York definitely made me feel brand new. ;) Yet as I type this, I am enjoying the peaceful serenity of the Sandia Mountains. In some ways, I find the comforts of home while simultaneously homesick for what is lacking in every setting. Ultimately no matter where I am, I am thankful that home is truly where my 3 guys are and that God gives the grace to grow us all in whatever setting He has chosen for us in each season.

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“Mourn with Those Who Mourn”

A mother buried her son today;
No words can take that pain away.

Choir voices sang so sweet and strong,
Some preached a figurative call to arms.

All the while she rocked slightly to and fro,
To the quiet rhythms of a mother’s woe.

In their fold she didn’t ask to be
With Sybrina, Lucia, Wanda … Mamie.

In the world outside are raging divides,
Politics collide in hateful diatribes.

Helpless and scared to help most others know
Taboo topics discussed can bring healing, make whole.

Promises to Keep I read to my son
History retold and when Joe Louis won,

A moment treasured when I saw his spark
He gets it a little; it’s a good start.

My hope to fulfill the motherly call:
Raise sons who have understanding for all.

A mother buried her son today;
No words can take that pain away.

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Day Trip to Taos

In the 23 months that we have lived in Albuquerque, our family has enjoyed exploring the natural beauty of our surroundings. Here in town, we have hiked the foothills and taken the tram to the Sandia peak many times, viewed the ancient Petroglyphs, and walked along the Rio Grande. Just outside the ABQ, we have visited Acoma Pueblo’s Sky City, Bandelier National Monument on our first Santa Fe getaway, and Tent Rocks National Monument with dear friends from Chicago. Downstate we have sledded down White Sands National Monument and descended into Carlsbad Caverns. Just across the state borders we have walked through the Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon and red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, as well as climbed the Colorado mountains in Durango.

Jumping for joy at White Sands National Monument

Jumping for joy at White Sands National Monument

Living here has produced in us a sense of adventure that begs to be satisfied by the numerous outdoor options at our disposal. When faced with an open weekend, our restless spirits long for new explorations. No doubt this is a result of living in the Southwest. Had we still been in Chicago, we would have been more than satisfied with staying put. Our adventures would have mostly been in the creative culinary world of Chi-town. Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale alone would have filled this past weekend for me! Much to our budget’s delight, we have traded our shopping and eating for breath-taking views and hiking. This time we decided to head north to Taos.

Saturday morning was drizzly and dreary. We knew we were risking a rainy day that could foil all our outdoor plans. We packed a kimbap lunch and determinedly headed out. Driving out of the city, I took it as a good sign that the bison on Sandia Pueblo’s buffalo preserve made an appearance and the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” was playing on the radio. Mike did not seem impressed that I could still correctly rap 90% of those unwholesome lyrics, but I knew it was going to be a great day right then and there.

As if to challenge that positive prediction, we saw many of these signs the closer we got to our destination:
I have seen those signs before even in Ohio where I grew up. However, interspersed among the many warnings were actual rocks IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. With all the recent rainfall our state has had, there was also evidence of mudslides that we had to veer around to avoid. I found myself talking to God somewhat earnestly. We continued to where all other traffic and signs of life ceased to exist as the pavement turned to dirt gravel and the road was so bumpy that we felt like we were riding on a jack hammer. Not only that, we were climbing up a steep mountainside with NO RAILING. I could not even look out my window at this point and God heard from me A LOT.

Finally we made it to the top and then to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. We enjoyed our lunch overlooking the steel beauty.
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Then we ventured across the bridge.

View of the Rio Grande from the bridge

View of the Rio Grande from the bridge

The sidewalk was only 2-people wide, but Ethan found himself more often walking closer to the road than the railing. He said, “I just discovered that I’m afraid of heights!” It was definitely daunting being up there; I found myself weak in the knees at different times. Connor, on the other hand, was jumping up and down, sticking his feet through the railing and trying to climb up so that Ethan and I were constantly telling him to stop.

Ethan discovers his fear of heights

Ethan discovers his fear of heights

I felt queasy taking this pic of Mike on the middle lookout

I felt queasy taking this pic of Mike on the middle lookout

From there we drove to Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. We stopped at the Wild Rivers Visitor’s Center where a kind grandmotherly volunteer gave us a map of the area. She pointed out the most popular stopping point, the La Junta overlook. When Mike asked if the kids could do the trail there, she said without hesitation that it would be too hard for them. We decided to stop for the view anyways.

Overlook of where the Red River & Rio Grande merge

Overlook of where the Red River & Rio Grande merge

We went to look at the difficult La Junta trail. It was a steep 800 feet zig-zag descent into the gorge. It starts where we were and ends where the rivers meet (see above picture). The only siding was at the very beginning where a tiny rock wall as tall as Connor’s knees would still not prevent a topple down to death.

At the beginning of the trail

At the beginning of the trail

We started to walk down a little ways until all sidings disappeared and the trail’s danger forced Mike to scout ahead. He returned agreeing with the grandmother that this trail was probably not safe or doable for the boys. Connor and Ethan loudly protested. They insisted they really wanted to hike it knowing it would be difficult. How could we stifle their adventurous spirits? Even with the possibility that we would be carrying them back up, we decided to honor their admirable (or crazy) desire to try.

There were times Ethan held my hand and Mike forced Connor to hold his. There were times each of us slipped a little. There were times Ethan sincerely stated variations of this sentiment, “I hope we make it out alive!”

Just inches away from death off a cliff. The trail ends where the rivers meet.

Just inches away from death off a cliff.

We all had long sleeves and pants in anticipation of a cloudy, rainy day. It was sunny and warm. Ethan was determined to go all the way to the river because he wanted to dunk his sweaty head in it. However, when we got to the river’s edge, I would not allow the boys that dunking. Most parents would probably tell their kids to be careful near the strong current of rapids. My dramatic self had to shout, “IF YOU FALL IN, YOU WILL DIE!!” They had to go one at a time just to wet their hands and wash their faces in the cool water while Mike held firmly onto them. We sat respectfully by the Red River and let the loud sound of its rushing waters quiet our souls while we rested.

The rapids are deafening here and heard even from the top.

The rapids are deafeningly loud yet calming here.

Two GoGurts and apple squeezers later, we started the real challenge of going the 1.2 miles back UP. Staring at the top of the gorge from where we were, I seriously wondered how we were going to make it back. To add to my paranoia, there was no cell service in the entire area so we could not call for help if anything happened. We told the boys that we would stop and take a break at every shaded area. Every other shaded area would be our water break. Some may think the boys slowed us down, but they actually allowed us to soak in the beauty more. Connor was amazed at the roots of this tall tree at one shade stop back up the steep climb.

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Majestic trees like these are less seen in our desert neighborhood.

At another point we saw two soaring birds flying near us. They were probably circling us and thinking, ‘There is our dinner once those losers die trying to get back.’ Even if they were hungry predators, they were gracefully beautiful.

They flew close enough to grant us spectacular views of them.

They flew close enough to grant us spectacular views of their soaring bodies.

With about a third of the way left, we noticed dark storm clouds gathering by the trailhead. At first Ethan thought it would feel great to get rained on until Mike said the lightning would not be so great. Ethan then wondered aloud if it would be better to die by burning in a lightning-induced wildfire or plummeting to death off the side of the cliff. With such pleasant thoughts in mind, we tried to make those shade stops a little shorter.

Finally, we finished! I was so impressed by these little guys who braved against the odds and conquered a difficult trail. That incline up was no joke, and they hardly complained as they breathed heavily and commented on their rapid heart rates.

Hiking champs!

So proud of these hiking champs!

While we were driving out of the park, the ominous clouds delivered their promise and water drenched the whole region. We were thanking the Good Lord for the perfect timing. During the drive into downtown Taos, the boys were completely silent having no energy for their usual lively banter. At Doc Martin’s inside the historic Taos Inn, Mike and I rewarded ourselves with a draft pint and glass of red. I inhaled the entire plate of my blue corn crusted chile rellenos platter. It may have been my first time wearing yoga pants and workout clothes out to dinner, but that elastic waistband sure came in handy. Mike devoured his rabbit and rattlesnake sausage dish. The boys’ reward was their after-dinner apple-blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream. We drove back to Albuquerque fully satiated. During the vast open stretch between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Ethan was psyched to see the Big Dipper brightly within reach outside his car window.

Doc's blue corn-crusted chile rellenos

Doc’s blue corn-crusted chile rellenos

Mike summed up the day by saying we almost died several times. Our bodies were exhausted. We bonded with nature. We surprised ourselves with what we could endure. We saw gorgeous new sites. In other words, it was a great day.

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Intentional Reading

One of our cherished summer rituals is the boys’ and my weekly trip to the public library. They get their reading logs stamped for a new prize. Ethan quickly gathers an armload of books whose heavy weight challenges his walk back to the car. Not wanting to struggle in the same way, Connor only grabs a short stack. I dutifully supplement with a handful of my own choices for him and maybe one for his brother that covers subject matter other than Star Wars and dinosaurs.

This summer I have been much more intentional about what I choose for them. Last year it came to my attention that only 6 percent of children’s books published in 2012 featured diverse characters. For our first trip to the library this summer, I went equipped with a list from NPR’s Mind Shift blog post: “25 Books That Diversify Kids’ Reading Lists This Summer.” Ever since then, I have found myself following the same pattern almost without thought. I really did not need to have a proposed list in hand. The books are there; I just needed to be a little intentional in my search.

Over the past month and a half, the boys and I have enjoyed numerous books that have broadened our horizons in subtle but sure ways. The kids may not recognize it, but I sense the widening of our minds in the stories that are authored by marginalized voices or feature characters that are less represented in mainstream society. It is especially heart-warming to be able to read a story that resonates into our personal experience. When we read Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan, we could think about making mandoo with Grandma Kim and hear Korean words in the landscape of that activity. What may seem strange and awkward to the many peers around them was validated and normalized by virtue of the printed words and illustrations on their laps.

We do not just get books by or about Koreans. First of all, we would have probably been finished by now in terms of how many are out there and readily available. More importantly, I want the boys to read about ALL cultures and perspectives. It’s the world we live in and the one I want them to be able to navigate with comfort, familiarity, and understanding.

When Ethan was born, we lived in a high-rise condo in downtown Chicago. Living there for his first two years of life definitely shaped him. He could sleep peacefully undisturbed in the constant cacophony of sirens and nearby L train tracks. He did not know how to climb stairs when visiting friends in the suburbs because he rode an elevator every day to go up and down. When we visited his grandparents in Michigan while he was finally walking on his own, he froze on their grassy lawn. The boy was freaked out by the texture and unsure of how to navigate on such an unfamiliar surface when he was usually surrounded by concrete. Adjustments came through our move out of downtown and natural exposure to other settings. Had he remained strictly in the confines of the urban jungle 24-7, his life experiences would have been limited. We love that he had that start for many reasons, but we also love that here he can see the stars on a clear, dark night and find countless creatures in the yard to observe. Books are just one means to expand the boys’ minds to life outside of their own somewhat broad but still limited experience. I feel a deep commitment to expose them to the beautiful stars and interesting creatures outside their current realm.

The same goes for their mama. I have also gone searching for my summer reading along the library shelves with intention. Anyone who looks for reading in public libraries or used book stores knows that finding something may not come easily. It can be like combing through the clothing racks at Marshalls. Many days you may leave empty-handed, but once in a while you find a gem. This summer the library has been a treasure trove for me. I started with Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth written when women were expected to play hostess not win Pulitzer Prizes in literature. Then came Susan Choi’s American Woman whose Asian American authorship and main character resulted in a refreshing voice with whom I felt a kinship. Today I just finished Sharon Robinson’s Stealing Home. She shares the story of Jackie Robinson not just as the baseball legend but as her father in the intimacy of family. After personally encouraging the nine Little Rock teens who were being integrated into previously segregated high schools amidst harsh opposition, he explained this to his children.

“I suppose we all fear the unknown–the strange, the different. The natural fears of parents are made worse by ignorance, and unfortunately they pass them down to their children. In the process, the stories get more and more distorted and eventually become fact in the minds of the storyteller. The sad part for everyone is that prejudice prevents people from sharing their talents which could benefit the whole community. The only way racial discrimination can have a hope of being erased is through exposure. The more people understand each other the less they will fear the differences.”

It has been a pleasure exposing my kids to the relatively unknown and making it less different and strange in terms of their own contexts and the contexts of many others. Alone it may not bring complete understanding but joined with varied sources of exposure I hope my children will not only have that precious understanding but be the bridges to understanding for every community of which they are part. Tomorrow is library day. We are so excited to discover the treasures awaiting us.

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Neurotic Thoughts at the Amusement Park

What NOT to think about when spending the day at Cliff’s (Albuquerque’s local amusement park) with your family:

- Do you think they use clean water or recycle used water at the splash park aka Watermania? How many kids have peed going down the slide?

- Do you think they ever clean or sanitize the rides or slides? Wow, look at all the hundreds of hot, sweaty people with a wide variety of personal hygiene habits getting off and on the rides.

- Why can’t they get the ride Mike and the boys rode repeatedly last year open today? For some reason, try as they might for hours, they cannot get it to work the proper way. Just meditate on that for a minute.

- Why does the teenaged ride operator look very puzzled while trying to start the ride in which we are sitting? Should I feel worried that she has come over and unsuccessfully leaned into the main contraption that connects Connor and me to a drop of death? When her final lean of many somehow gets the ride in motion, should I be happy we are finally off or sad that we are now closer to death? Will my fake smile and forced, “WOOO!”‘s be convincing enough to keep my 6 year old from noticing his mother is scared out of her mind?

- Since Ethan got motion sickness on his very first ride and subsequently refused to ride most others out of grave fear of queasiness, does this mean he will live his entire life missing out on fun because he is paralyzed by the fearful negativity of one quick moment? Will he be a teenager still hanging on tightly and teased by a toddler whose hands are raised up because his cautious spirit never finds release? Where does he get this paranoia from, really? ;)

- Are the guaranteed prizes even worth the extra price we paid to play the games? By playing a game without a guaranteed prize, are we like those who spend the night in the casinos deceived by the hopes of winning that one in a zillion jackpot? Are the chances better at the slot machines than this elusive ring toss? Even the game operator looked genuinely surprised when one extremely lucky person actually ringed a bottle and perpetuated the draw of the impossible for all passersby.

- How safe are these rickety rides anyway? Is this considered high-risk behavior? Fortunately this day was BEFORE a roller coaster jumped the track in California. Thanks to CNN’s report on that incident, I now know that from 1990 to 2010 there were 92,000 children injured on amusement park rides. Lovely.

- Did this slow train just go around the entire park in a short 15 minutes? Is that really the entire park? Did we just pay $25 for a park smaller than the super Wal-Mart? No, thankfully, we did not. There are always discount coupons out there, and we used one to get 50% off. But I do think the local Lowe’s is slightly bigger. Maybe the kids can just ride a forklift there for free next time.

Rather than dwell on the 4,000 ride-related injuries a year and risk fulfilling the worries I have about my older son missing out on fun due to living in fear, I will most likely go back with another discounted ticket next year. Maybe Ethan’s queasiness fears will have subsided by then. Maybe the image of blackened water when I washed my hands and feet after we got home will have faded away. Maybe I will recall that the chances of ride-related serious injury are really 1 in 24 million. In other words, I have more chances of winning an oversized unicorn at the ring toss than falling to my death at the hands of a teenager-operated ride. Plus, in the end, we enjoyed quality family time having fun together with all the other hot, sweaty germ-infested people there. I (think I) was glad that I decided to spend the day with my Beckett crew instead of shopping or going to the spa or reading in my cozy (safe) chair. Everyone should engage in something that makes them slightly queasy, shouting “Woooo!” and taking a one in a million chance. Everyone should live a little, especially with the people they love the most. I can guarantee I will again but probably not for another 11 months from now. :)

Their joy is healing and contagious (in a good way).

Their joy is healing and contagious (in a good way).

 

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Summertime Soup

For the kids and I, summer means sweating at tennis, cooling off at swim, drinking fruit smoothies, extending imaginative play time, and eating naengmyun. Naengmyun is a Korean cold noodle soup that I grew up loving. I could eat it every day. Unlike some Korean dishes, it is relatively simple to make. Boil the noodles for 3 minutes, rinse them with ice and cold water and place in bowls. Make a soup base either by boiling beef beforehand for broth which you refrigerate and thinly slice the meat for the soup or using the powdered packet that comes with many noodle bags. I often do the latter because it is easier (I LOVE EASY PREP), and I can live without beef. With the base, I add some rice vinegar and a touch of sesame seed oil plus ice water. Slice up some cucumbers, Asian pear and hard-boiled eggs and a refreshingly light summer meal is ready.

Since we’ve lived in Albuquerque, I have had a hard time finding Asian pears. These pears are usually bigger, crunchier, and less sweet then the regular pear. The texture allows for it to hold up nicely in soup. When I was little, I remember my folks planted two pear trees on the top of our hill. They somehow got real Korean pear tree branches that they grafted into these trees so they could enjoy fruit from the Motherland. Years later, we also ended up burying our beloved Springer Spaniel near those trees, where the hybrid pears grow (oh, dearest Madam). Last time I made the soup with regular pears (maybe Bosc?). This week I checked out Sprouts for the first time and found some Asian pears! YAY! Check out the sticker:

"ASIAN PEARS - Produce of Chile" ;)

“ASIAN PEARS – Produce of Chile” ;)

In my carelessness of buying the cheapest option, I realized yesterday that I had bought the noodle bag without the soup base packets. No big deal since I still had old packets saved up when I had used beef broth in the past. However, it also meant that the bag of noodles was without the little hot oil packets you can add to your soup for some delicious heat. Even as a little girl, I would want a few drops and now as an adult I want more than one packet. A brilliant friend suggested I use some green chile. Does this make me a bona fide New Mexican now? I not only had the beloved state product readily available, but I added it AND I liked it. I liked it a lot.

Korean - New Mexican fusion: green chile in naengmyun

Korean-New Mexican fusion? Green chile on naengmyun

And what’s dinner with kids without some fun? We noticed that Ethan’s bowl inadvertently looked like a smiley face.

Happy soup

Happy soup

So then Connor decided to make his an angry Darth Maul face.

Angry Darth Maul soup

Angry Darth Maul soup

It still makes me happy to see my boys gobble down Korean food. I made myself kimchi fried rice for lunch. Connor asked to eat it as well instead of the almond butter and jelly sandwich I made for his brother. That boy ate his SPICY bowlful and only needed an extra half-glass of milk. What a champ! This Korean Food Thursday was extra Korean today. :)

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Carrot Cake Catastrophe

When we lived in Chicago, we were spoiled. Our dear friend Sarah faithfully provided us beautiful, delicious professional cakes on every birthday. She still works at the Lincoln Park staple for old fashioned desserts, Sweet Mandy B’s. Now that we live in Albuquerque, we have had to fend for ourselves. For Connor’s birthday in May, I ordered a dozen baseball cupcakes for his T-ball team but was astonished that I had to shell out big money for them like normal people without bakery connections. After that shock, I attempted to bake a cake myself for his actual birthday. His big present was a basketball hoop and ball since he had been using his little kickball for a never-ending NBA game. He even named his ball, “Bally” and probably put it in his will. I dedicated my entire Friday night to that project foregoing my usual exciting night life of painting the town red (aka handing out snacks to the downtrodden on the streets or watching “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on the couch). Thanks to Pillsbury making it manageable, it turned out great!

Connor's basketball cake

Connor’s basketball cake

After that encouraging victory, I got the idea that maybe I could do it again for my husband’s birthday yesterday. Mike’s favorite cake would probably be one with foie gras and shaved truffles but seeing that he maxed out on those in Paris two weeks ago, I decided to go with his usual flavor of choice, carrot cake. My present to him was going to be a delicious dinner using the squid ink pasta we brought back from Rome and a made-entirely-from-scratch carrot cake. It was going to be scrumptiously fantastic!

I dedicated the entire day to this ambitious project. Plus, my boys wanted to help me with the cake. I love having them help in the kitchen for so many reasons (see Kids Can Cook). However, at the rate they were grating each carrot, I thought we might have the needed 3 cups by Mike’s next birthday. Fortunately, two carrots each and one hour later, they decided pretending to be wrestling ninjas was much more fun.

I faithfully followed the recipe I had written down 15 years ago from a talented baking roommate in St. Louis. I have a feeling this recipe had not seen the light of day since that very moment. It was for a 3-layer cake but having only 2 pans I poured the batter twice and added extra baking time. I guess I didn’t add enough or my paranoid opening the oven door to check translated into two sunken cakes. No worries, I was not fully panicking…yet. I found cake-saving tips online and returned the cakes for more baking time. That might have raised one center a half a millimeter. Then I decided that I could always add more frosting or try cutting the cakes level. Frosting can help hide many things and who doesn’t like more frosting?!

Then after letting them cool slightly, I tried getting them out of their pans to begin planning the frosting repair work. Those bad boys were stuck. Although I had greased the pans, they were seriously stuck. PANIC.

Not your typical Pinterest picture

Not your typical Pinterest picture

What to do besides affirm that fact that I will never have a Pinterest account? My perfectionist side wanted to throw it all away and spend the boys’ inheritance on a last minute bakery-made dessert. However, it felt criminal to throw away cake! Never! I found biscuit cutters that have probably been as neglected as my cake recipes and found the 2 inches of non-ruined cake in the center. At least the birthday boy would get something that sort of resembled a carrot cake.

Mini-cake is better than no cake.

Mini-cake is better than no cake.

That still left a lot of ruined cake. I was able to make two even smaller mini-cakes for the boys and the rest became a pseudo-trifle dessert.

Deconstructed carrot cake, the fancy way to say, ruined.

Deconstructed carrot cake, the fancy way to say, ruined.

Fortunately, there was only one snafu with dinner. While getting fresh basil out to rinse for the caprese salad, I deafened the boys by my shrieks when a fat green worm fell out. There was a split second when I thought I might still use the basil because fresh is SO much better than dried. I thought a good rinsing could suffice until the boys pointed out what looked like worm poop everywhere. What’s up with your package of fresh basil, Trader Joe’s?! The cause of my cardiac arrest was also the source of the boys’ great pleasure until I flushed their new friend down the sink. Dried basil it is.

Prosciutto & melon, squid ink pasta with shrimp and truffle oil, and caprese salad. Viva la Italia!

Viva l’Italia birthday dinner: Prosciutto & melon, squid ink pasta with shrimp and truffle oil, and caprese salad.

The ruined cake results were still graciously accepted by birthday boy. After all, it is the thought that counts. Or at least it usually is for those of us who often face disasters in spite of our best intentions. I have no doubt that Mike enjoyed both homemade cards from the boys. Ethan’s was an impressive 3-D pop-up city card telling Mike that he is the best dad in the world. Connor’s was a basic folded card with “Haqqy Birt day” and “I hoqe you have a grat Birthday.” Not perfect but no less heartfelt and appreciated. I learned not only to try to flour after greasing my pans, but to focus on the love behind my presents even when the presents themselves look like Pinterest rejects. I will keep that in mind next time I make that carrot cake recipe another 15 years from now.

Happy birthday, husband!

Happy birthday, husband!

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