The Pa’akai We Bring at Clark Theater – the good, the bad, and the ugly with a toddler

This late morning, after her swim class, Kaia was whisked off to the Clark Studio Theater at the Lincoln Center for her second-ever theater performance, The Pa’akai We Bring. Since she enjoyed her first theater performance just over a year ago that was very immersive and catered towards babies and young toddlers, I thought she’d enjoy another theater performance targeted at littles. Unfortunately, as soon as we entered the theater and I saw the regular tiered seating of chairs, I knew it was going to be hell. Because this theater performance definitely had a target audience of slightly older kids, probably elementary school age-plus, as opposed to babies and toddlers in Kaia’s age range. The description on the Lincoln Center site did not specify that, unfortunately. What 2-year-old child was going to sit still for an entire 60-minute theater performance? As soon as we walked in and I saw on the floor in front of the stage, Kaia immediately ran up onto the stage area and started jumping up and down. An assistant had to gently let me know that we weren’t allowed on the “stage” area. We were also supposed to meet my friends with their 1.5-plus-year-old, plus Kaia’s bestie who had recently moved to New Jersey and her mom.

My friends’ kid was quiet and sat almost the whole time. Kaia… did not. She sat quietly and watched whenever all the guitars and ukeleles came out, plus when the four performers sang in chorus. Other than that, she kept crying and yelling that she didn’t want to sit down, wanted to go home, and wanted to see her friend Jacob (who was sitting further back in the seating area). I had to take her out of the theater twice to get her to calm down and not ruin the performance for the others. At least she wasn’t the only kid crying or screaming; a number of parents were coming in and out to calm their own babies and toddlers. Needless to say, this was a bit hellish for me and I was waiting for the performance to be over. I’m sad to say that because the performers were very good — they sang well, and I liked the story line about introducing the cultural importance of salt in Hawaii. Kaia just couldn’t deal with the speaking scenes. Now, if only they had just played their string instruments the entire time and sang for 60 minutes straight, then maybe my rambunctious toddler would have sat still and watched…

You try to expose your child to culture and the arts at a young age, and this is how they repay you… with tantrums, as well as “Don’t ‘shhh’ me!” when you “shhh” them during the show…

Little Egypt in Astoria, Queens

Since I was in elementary school, I knew I wanted to live in New York City one day. The concrete jungle, tall buildings, bright lights, and endless people fascinated me every time I saw photos or videos of this cosmopolitan city. And now that I live here, there really is never a dull moment or day in New York City — if you are bored of this city, it is most definitely a “you” problem, not a problem with New York itself. And when it comes to the sheer variety of cuisines, there’s probably very few cities in the world that could come to compete with the number of cultures represented from a culinary standpoint against New York.

Years ago when I lived in Elmhurst, Queens, I ate at the very first (supposedly first, anyway) Egyptian restaurant that opened on Steinway Street in Astoria called Kabab Cafe. It was a total hole-in-the-wall, and when I went to eat there with my then-roommate and then-boyfriend, there was no menu: we simply told the chef-owner what we liked, and he whipped it all up for us on the spot. It was a little mysterious, fun, and delicious. It was a true eating adventure, especially since I had never had Egyptian food before. Since then, I’ve eaten at Mombar, another Egyptian restaurant completely outfitted in Egyptian textiles and decorations (all hand carted back by the owner and his family themselves) twice. And on Chris’s parents last full day in New York City this time around, we ate at Sabry’s, a cooked-to-order Egyptian seafood restaurant we’d been meaning to try.

Sabry’s was likely one of the most sumptuous meals we’d had in a while. We started with freshly steamed clams in a white wine sauce, plus a seafood soup with shrimp and calamari. We also ordered a mixed seafood tagine and a seabass barbecued Egyptian style (black!).

The first thing to come to our table was a big straw basket of piping hot Egyptian flatbreads, which could have been a side in itself. The breads are freshly made and baked on the premises, and the first bite was so hot and delicious that it took a lot of self-restraint to not fill up on this. A salad also arrived with our two starters. The clams were huge, fat, and juicy; the delicious clammy sauce it left behind could have been drunk up on its own with how flavorful it was. These were probably the fattest clams I’ve had in a while; I am still marveling over how large they were and wondering how they were sourced. Kaia especially loved the clams, eating about five of them all by herself, which surprised us since she’d never really had many bivalves previously. She also slurped up the lightness of the seafood soup and even ate some calamari.

The tagine came to the table with a separate plate of brown rice cooked in a rich seafood broth. The tomato sauce it was cooked it was very rich, brothy, and well spiced. While everything that came to our table was impressive, the sea bass is probably what blew me away the most: the server brought it piping hot to our table, served whole with the head and tail on, and it was BLACK! There was some sort of reddish spice paste slathered all over it. And when you cut the fish open, a beautiful, moist, meaty white flesh was revealed that was ultra luxurious. Kaia insisted she didn’t want fish when she saw it, but when I left it on her place mat, she eventually picked at it and gobbled her whole portion up, asking for more.

In addition, Chris’s parents had a freshly blended mango juice each, and Chris and I shared a “lemonade,” which really felt more like an Indian lime juice, which was a bit tart and very refreshing with the flavors of all the seafood we got to enjoy. It was an extremely memorable meal, one I hope we will revisit in the near future. Astoria has other fresh, made-to-order Egyptian seafood restaurants which are also on our list. That’s one of the most delicious things about New York City: even if you cannot afford to travel to places like Egypt, you probably can afford the $2.90 subway ride to a place like Little Egypt, Astoria, plus a full meal there to feel like you visited Egypt. The whole sea bass itself cost only $34, and honestly, it almost felt like robbery because of how high the quality was. I never stop marveling over how great and delicious this city is.

Oversized glasses case – Buy Nothing strikes again!

Sometimes, I still can’t get over how helpful and genuine my neighbors are through my neighborhood Buy Nothing group. It’s almost like whenever you need something, anything, even a unicorn ask, someone somewhere in these boundaries will help you!

I remembered that I’d lost my oversized glasses case for my one pair of designer sunglasses last summer while we were in Baltimore. And with summer around the corner, I wanted to start wearing them again, but I always fear breaking them without a proper carrying case since the arms are so delicate. So I posted on the Buy Nothing group earlier this week to ask if anyone had a spare oversized sunglasses case to spare. Someone replied, saying that she was getting a new sunglasses delivery this week, and she never uses the cases and usually donates or tosses them. So she’d be happy to message me once her delivery arrived.

Well, she made due on her promise: she messaged me yesterday evening to let me know her glasses had arrived, and so whenever I was ready, I could come over to pick up a new sunglasses case. I went 14 blocks north to pick up the glasses today and thanked her for her generosity. And the bonus: these really were brand new! I put my sunglasses into the case, and they fit perfectly.

New Yorkers get a bad wrap, but I’ve always loved how kind and helpful people in this city are. I’m proud to call New York City my home.

Meeting visiting colleagues in person

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over four years of working 100 percent remotely. The pandemic started here in New York in March 2020. I accepted my first 100 percent remote job in late August 2020, starting the last week of September that year. So for over four years, my face-to-face interaction with colleagues has been rare, mostly confined to “seeing” each other via Zoom rectangles on my external computer monitor. I adapted to it pretty quickly since I didn’t really have a choice back then, but to think that now it’s not my “new normal” but rather my “everyday normal” is a bit odd to admit out loud. It’s been over four years of not going into an office regularly, not doing work travel via plane regularly, and not having everyday, casual catch ups and small talk in person with work people.

So when my colleague who is based in Paris, France, told me that he would be here in New York for his wife’s work retreat this week and asked if I’d be free to meet, of course, I said yes. I blocked my calendar for this morning, hopped on the train like a wannabe daily New York City commuter, and took the subway downtown to meet him at Bourke Street Bakery, near where he’d have his next scheduled catch-up. I needed a place that a) had good coffee and b) decently okay-for-Manhattan seating so that I wouldn’t have to worry about fighting anyone for. a table. Bourke Street delivered on both.

I wasn’t sure what we would talk about or how we would get along, but I figured I could use the in-person socialization time since I get so little of it nowadays. We’d only been on two Zoom calls previously, almost completely just about work with very little small talk. We’d had a few Slack communications, and that was really it. But we actually got along pretty well, especially once we started talking about travel, different places in the world, and life in New York vs. Paris. He’s originally from the south of France in a small town near Cannes. His background before tech was quite eclectic and interesting (especially to me, ha): he used to live in Beijing working for a wine business in the mid 2000’s, left after 1.5 years, then came to New York to work in the restaurant industry; then he went back to Paris, worked in the restaurant industry again, and then somehow got suggested for a software sales job and never looked back. To this day, he still has many friends, mostly French, who work in the restaurant industry both here and in Paris, and thus has great connections to get the most sought-after restaurant reservations (he generously offered to show me and my family around next time I’m in Paris, and to get me hooked up with the best restaurant bookings). He gave me some tips for French restaurants in New York and also told me about some of the restaurants he had lined up for him and his wife to go to during their short stay here this time around. It was an hour that was enjoyable and well spent.

After we finished our coffee catch up, he walked me to the train station and we bid each other adieu. And on the short train ride home, I thought about how much I really miss these casual, non-work-related colleague catch-ups. I was really glad I didn’t make up some lame excuse and not meet him; laziness doesn’t have any benefits. Being alone in front of my computer most of the day can really suck. At least I can multi-task with things at home, which is a huge plus when you’ve got a little one in your life. But the social aspect of work is probably what I miss the most about pre-pandemic in-office life (the free printing and office supplies were also a huge bonus, too!). These types of daily social interaction used to be a part of my everyday routine, whether it was random conversation in the office kitchen or hallway, or during a coffee/tea break close to the office. The Zoom fatigue is real. It’s much harder to “connect” with people on a screen than it is face-to-face. Plus, I can’t really blame colleagues who don’t want to do “fun” catch-ups that frequently over Zoom. We would all rather it be in person, and who wants yet another Zoom meeting?!

Whole-Brain Child

I just finished reading my tenth book this year called The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. While I did find it annoying and almost exhausting when they would keep saying “the left brain does this,” “the right brain does that,” and the upstairs/downstairs brain does y and z, I did find a lot of the tips to be very compelling and summed up in easy-to-digest-and-understand ways. Also, I think recent science has debunked the notion that different hemispheres and parts of the brain operate independently, as the brain is far more complex than that: the brain’s different hemispheres are not, in reality, like two separate personas taking turns thinking and processing information. In pretty much every situation, you are using both sides. What does hold water is that as young brains are developing, they are far more emotional than they are rational, and that’s where parents can help guide their children in the right direction. We can help them understand that an emotion is a temporary state and does not define them as people; we can help them understand the importance of things like a routine, sharing with others, and caring for others. Although the jargon and framing was a bit annoying and questionable, I did enjoy the book overall and think it does have a lot of practical applications, especially the last part, which has a “worksheet” you can use to apply their recommended strategies to kids of specific age ranges.

I really enjoyed the ending of the book, too, where the authors say this:

“It’s not how our parents raised us, or how many parenting books we’ve read. It’s actually how well we’ve made sense of our experiences with our own parents and how sensitive we are to our children that most powerfully influence our relationship with our kids, and therefore how well they thrive. It all comes down to what we call our life narrative, the story we tell when we look at who we are and how we’ve become the person that we are … Our life narrative determines our feelings about our past, our understanding of why people (like our parents) behaved as they did, and our awareness of the way those events have impacted our development into adulthood. When we have a coherent life narrative, we have made sense of how the past has contributed to who we are and what we do.”

People who don’t “get it” and lack empathy and deep emotional understanding always say, “the past is in the past.” The reality is that it actually isn’t because as the authors say here, the past and your past experiences shape who you are and how you see and interact with the world today and into the future. I personally found pregnancy and motherhood very triggering in a lot of ways because it forced me to reckon with my past experiences as a child with my mercurial, emotionally immature parents. I had to do a lot of thinking about what kind of parent I wanted to be, what I wanted to emulate of my parents, and what I wanted to steer far away from. In the most random moments, I would be reminded of some negative, toxic experience I had with my mom or dad, or that I witnessed between my parents and Ed, and I’d just feel anger and disgust that something so senseless and psychologically damaging could have happened. And I’d think to myself, I never, ever want Kaia to know what that type of treatment is like, ever.

I know why my parents are the way they are: my dad had absentee parents who left him at home as a latchkey kid to fend, feed, and care for himself. One parent was what my aunt called “like Dr. Jekyll and Hyde,” emotionally void and always distant; the other parent constantly criticized everything and everyone because nothing was ever good enough. So my dad became fiercely independent and expected his kids to be the same; he refused to teach us anything and expected us to learn everything on our own (one of Ed’s most painful memories that he used to recount to me from time to time was the morning of his elementary school graduation. Ed had never worn a tie before, but my mom wanted him to wear one for the ceremony. He asked my dad to help him. My dad snorted in response and said, “If you don’t know how to tie your own tie, you shouldn’t even be graduating”). My mom’s dad died when she was young, and her mom didn’t even want her because she was not only the youngest, but a girl. I’ve come to terms with how they are who they are; I’m an adult now, after all. I just don’t think I have to suffer their verbal beatings all the time anymore.

Awareness comes first. Action is in little steps every day. I’m just trying my best to be the best parent I can be, and I hope when Kaia is an adult that she will still want to spend time with me and enjoy it. The book suggests trying to find mutually fun things that you can do with your child as they get older that are fitting for their stage of development/age. Otherwise, they say, your child as an adult may not want to have anything to do with you because they will have nothing to do with you! That could not be truer for me: my parents and I literally have nothing we can do together other than eat, even when I’ve attempted to take them on light hikes and walks. Even a walk is not something they want to do altogether. That’s sad, isn’t it?

When the husband panics over a lack of “fruit”

From the period between March and July, our house is always full of mangoes — ataulfo (champagne) mangoes, to be specific, since here in the U.S., these smaller yellow variety of mangoes seems to be the most reliable when it comes to sweetness, flavor, as well as lack of stringiness. Americans who say they don’t like mangoes generally think this because of previous experiences with sad “stringy” and flavorless mangoes. Ataulfo mangoes are never, ever stringy unless you are extremely unlucky.

Although I love to cook and bake, I rarely do either with any of these mangoes. I usually just peel and cut them for all of us to eat. Occasionally, I’ll make mango lassi, and that’s it. But this weekend for a lunch at a relative’s house, I’m planning to make no-bake mango tiramisu. I got the idea from a popular Indian food blog I follow, and I figured it would be a tasty idea to incorporate our favorite and seasonal fruit. I’m pretty excited about this mini project.

But late last week, Chris got upset when he discovered that I had not cut up any mangoes for his after-dinner fruit. For Chris, mangoes are king, and there is no greater fruit on earth than mangoes (I would agree with these sentiments). He asked if we had run out of mangoes. I replied, no, we have them, but they just aren’t ripe enough to eat yet. I usually “socially distance” the mangoes by the window to prevent them from releasing too much ethylene gas and ripening too quickly. But Chris got impatient; he was not satisfied with the raspberries, grapes, or even pineapple that I had cut and prepared. His “after dinner fruit” NEEDED to include mangoes, otherwise to him, there was simply an absence of actual “fruit.” So he stuck all the mangoes right up next to each other to encourage them to ripen more quickly. He called it the “mango orgie.” Then, in the next two days, he kept checking on them and asking me if they were ready yet. For Chris, asking if the mangoes are ready yet is akin to asking, “Are they ready for you to peel and cut for me to eat?”

We are a family of mango lovers… even if Kaia is currently on a mango strike. I swear she must be doing this to spite her parents.

Women are bearing children older – age 35 is the new normal

I think if my mom had it her way, I would have graduated from college at age 22 (done), gotten married between ages 24-26 (that was never going to happen), then have at least one kid by age 30 (yeah, right!). She always said that you should have one child before age 30; if you want a second kid, then it’s okay to wait until a little after 30 if you need to. Having children after 35 was a definite no-no in her book. But when I got married at age 30, she changed her tune: have kids ASAP — it’s okay. You could hear the desperation in her voice for grandchildren as soon as possible.

When we couldn’t get pregnant after trying for a while, she predictably blamed me, even after I told her that all my tests came back normal. It’s almost as though she couldn’t imagine it wasn’t her daughter’s “fault.” The truth is that my mom and a lot of other mothers in her generation don’t seem to understand is that having kids… is not necessarily easy (as in conception) to do, nor are the costs that we’re looking at similar to what they faced when they were in their child-bearing years. So it’s no wonder that when I went to see my OB-GYN yesterday, she told me that the averages they are seeing at her practice is that women in New York City are having their first kid at age 35 (hey, that includes me!). Childcare is too expensive; not everyone has the luxury of nearby grandparents who are not only able and willing to help, but actually able-bodied… and able-minded.

Once upon a time, the medical industry would label any pregnancy of a woman age 35 or above as a “geriatric pregnancy” (frankly, I’m sure that in many parts of this country and world, they are still labeled the same way). I poked fun at this and told her that I heard the cutoff for this derogatory label had increased to 40+, and I asked her if this was really true. She sheepishly admitted that yes, the label has changed to 40+, but insisted that they do not use that term in their practice. She has said that for women who want to bear children that her own recommended cutoff had changed with the times: finish having children by age 45, latest, she advises.

I told my friend this, who had his child at age 44 when his wife was 40. He responded, “Just because it is physically possible to be healthy definitely does not mean it’s easy!”

Well, if you want what you want and get it…

Corelle: my preferred dinnerware in my 30s

When I was a young child, I used to have (very riveting) fantasies about the future fancy china I would own. I wasn’t sure if it would be English or Japanese or Chinese, but I did know that they would be handcrafted, in some cases hand-painted, and very beautiful to look at. Back then, I never thought about important things that adults would usually think about when making a big ticket purchase on something like dinnerware… such as, is it durable? Is it dishwasher-safe (most bone or fine china absolutely are not)? If I knock it against another dish, will it be quick to chip? So when I finally became an adult and actually looked at how much these things cost (a lot) and how durable they are (not very much — AT ALL), I started rethinking how important a beautiful, fancy set of dinnerware really was to me. And I got to this point where I realized that I would rather spend more money on better ingredients for the food I put into my and my family’s bodies than invest thousands of dollars on a bunch of plates and bowls… that my child would likely break someday sooner than I’d like, or (gasp) I myself would break because of general wear and tear and the occasional clumsiness.

I had moments when I was in Taiwan, salivating over some beautiful hand thrown pottery that was hand painted (most definitely not dishwasher safe. And if I remember the price, a single tea cup from that set was around $80-100 USD). The tea sets and teeny tiny serving bowls and plates in Japan enamored me both times we visited, but both visits, I knew I was never going to buy any — they were merely eye candy. Then, when we were in Portugal, which is world renowned for beautifully crafted ceramics and tiles, I gazed longingly at all the shiny azulejo ceramic bowls and plates, all hand painted. And while the prices for ceramics in Portugal were relatively reasonable, nowhere as frightening as they were in Taiwan or Japan, I just thought of the hassle of carting them back to the U.S. (not to mention the luggage space they’d require, plus the anxiety I would have at them potentially breaking en route), and I quickly decided – nope — not coming home with us.

Now in my 30s and as a parent, I’m a lot more pragmatic about dinnerware. Sure, I want the dinnerware we have to look good, but I’m more focused on cost, durability, and the ability wash them in a dishwasher. And that’s when the oldie-but-goodie Corelle comes in: it’s what I grew up with (along with many other practical Asian families), and it’s so durable to the point where if you drop them, they may not even break! They’re all dishwasher safe! They don’t scratch or get bent up easily! They’re well-priced! And they’re very lightweight, so if you’re suffering from even temporary carpal tunnel, you will still be able to hold them and carry them to the table! They basically tick all the boxes. So when we returned a holiday gift back to Amazon in January and I remembered I wanted to replace two of our broken bowls from last year, I didn’t even hesitate: I immediately did a search for “Corelle bowls,” and I found a simple white bowl in the size I wanted. It was six bowls for $24 — where else are you going to get a deal like that…?! I ordered them, and I never looked back.

The oldies are oldies for a reason — they are goodies.

Homemade soy candle from candle-making kit is tunneling

A couple months ago, I used the soy candle making kit I ordered for a holiday team building event. I spent an afternoon melting wax, mixing in essential oils, and hand pouring into my candle jars with a glued-on wick in each jar. I made four candles and gave three of them away, keeping a lavender-sage scented one for myself. I was especially excited about mine because I added some extra pure lavender oil that I’d gotten during a New Zealand trip back in 2013, when we visited a vibrant lavender farm and I purchased a tiny vial.

Unfortunately, as I burned the candle the last couple of nights, I quickly realized that the candle was not of the highest quality: the wick is not big enough for the diameter of the jar (which really isn’t that big!), and so even when you burn it as long as you should, so 3-4 hours, it’s impossible for the wick to burn the wax fully and evenly to the ends of the jar. I went back to the Amazon listing and saw that only one reviewer noted this and posted a photo for proof. It looked exactly like my candle tunnel! The only plus side is that the scent definitely does carry well.

I spent last night using the foil method to try to reduce the tunneling; it helped a little, but not much. And today, I finally took out my heat gun that I use for heat embossing to lightly blow heat on the candle to even out the wax buildup on the sides of the candle jar. While the heat gun was far more effective than the foil method, now, my issue is that my wick is fully covered. So my next step, once this wax fully hardens, is to carve out some of the wax (that will unfortunately mean wax and essential oil waste!!) and burn the candle as evenly as I possibly can. These are definitely first-world problems.

Diner food, with a Thai spin

Growing up, I never really understood the obsession with American diners. I hated that Mel’s Drive-in was always so popular for meals. I disliked that I would even go there with friends as the “no-brainer” place to hang out and eat a relatively affordable meal (while in middle and high school). I was never excited by the generic food with the generic decor and okay-to-subpar service. I had no idea why anyone would *love* a diner.

Then, Chris found this place called Little Grenjai in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, which we visited today. It’s a Thai-style diner that recently opened in Bedford Stuyvesant. It’s kind of all the fun, quirky parts of an American diner, from the booth seating to the bright lights, with delicious Thai-inspired food. The kaprow burger is the go-to for lunch, which we got with a Thai-style fried duck egg. And it was kind of the perfect burger: a thin, pork-based meat patty, spiced exactly as pad kaprow is, with a lingering heat at the end and slightly crisp edges; fresh Thai basil inside in lieu of boring, flavorless lettuce, two fluffy sesame buns, and a perfectly deep-fried Thai-style duck egg with super crisp brown edges and a yolk that literally exploded all over my hands after I took a single bite. Pookster was even amused, as we ordered a side of fries, which to our surprise, came out in a pouch of large coin-shaped potato disks. Pookster happily ate almost the whole bag while people watching in the diner.

If diner food were this good at Mel’s Drive-in, maybe I wouldn’t have disliked it so much growing up in San Francisco.