In which the bershon might kill me

At dinner I make everyone say one thing they liked about their day and one thing they didn't like. (Why yes it IS a mini examen.) I have transcribed a bit of tonight's conversation. Some pertinent background information: today we went to Jack's well child exam, did some back to school shopping, and spent the afternoon playing iPad while Mommy did the semi-annual Hated Clothes Sort.

EMMA: My good thing is that I went sopping with Mommy! And my SAD thing is that DADDY went to WORK. 

JACK: Welllll... I can't think of any good things right now...

JACK'S PARENTS: Okay, well start with your not so good thing and you can think about good things later.

JACK: Wellll... my bad thing is that today was just .... we didn't have any plans. So it was pretty .... boring

JACK'S MOTHER: What are you talking about? We got new school shoes today. I let you pick out a new backpack! Those aren't good things?

JACK: Shoes just aren't very important to me. 

JACK'S MOTHER: You sure acted like they were important when you didn't like the first fifteen pairs I picked out for you. 

JACK: [heavy sigh/quasi eye roll that would do a thirteen-year-old girl proud]


*later on*


JACK'S FATHER, WITH THINLY VEILED SARCASM: So Jack, tomorrow we don't have any plans either. How can we accommodate your needs?

JACK, NOT GETTING IT AT ALL: Welllll... I like to do things. Like maybe we can go to the Science Center. Or go to a friend's house. 

JACK'S MOTHER, ENTHUSIASTICALLY: You can do laundry. You can do dishes. Oooh, I know! You can clean the toilet!

JACK: [cracks a smile because he thinks his mother is not serious] [his mother is totally serious]

MOLLY: MY good thing is that Mommy got me new shoes! And I got to pick out my own backpack! And I had a frozen GoGurt for a snack! I am happy about everything! All the time! My bad thing is... I don't have a bad thing! I LOVE YOU, WORLD!!!!!!1!!!

JACK'S FATHER: What about doing some of those Lego sets you have half built?

JACK, WITH UTMOST CONTEMPT: Most of those are broken. And the other ones you dumped out in the other bins and all the pieces are mixed up

JACK'S FATHER: ... So. You look for them. 


MOLLY: But the doctor said you had good vision!

JACK'S MOTHER: [falls off her chair laughing]

It's just... I mean, a whole summer FULL of this! And it's getting worse! And most of the time I react by staring speechless because HE IS EIGHT! He is not a teenage girl! I had YEARS to mentally prepare myself for this attitude problem, didn't I? 

Last week I printed out calendars for August and September, wrote down all the big things (appointments, Molly's birthday, weekends away), and listed out the rules for when he can ask me if he can play Minecraft. The Minecraft thing has been better since then, and that's totally my bad for not doing it at the beginning of summer. Master Jackson has always done better with Clearly Defined Structure, being the sort of person who wants to know what we're doing tomorrow, and at what time, and what we'll be doing directly after that. 

[I just heard him ask Molly if they can make their own schedule in the morning where they play chess because 1) I won't let him play the iPad on weekday mornings and 2) "otherwise I get bored".]

I feel like I could have done a little better maybe, figured out some Pinteresty projects for him to work on, gave him something to investigate over the summer and make a book or a report or something. He LIKES stuff like that. But no, instead I decided we would go to the library at least once a week and we would have at least a half hour of reading each afternoon and OH, this is not how he would like to spend his time. 

If the little girl on our street is around, both big kids will spend the entire afternoon and evening riding bikes and hanging out with her. But she's on vacation until school starts. I FEAR FOR OUR LIVES, INTERNET.

I want him to quit being such a butthead about EVERYTHING. All the time. About our whole day. The sighing, the almost-stomping, the almost-eye-rolling - enough to make us think he's being a butthead, but not enough to warrant a shouting throwdown. (Although I did send him to his room at 7:08 this morning. I think I'd been awake all of two minutes.)

So yeah, I want to respond better too. Tonight I was sarcastic and snippy and laughing at him, which wasn't satisfying since he didn't realize I was laughing at him. But that's not... I don't know. The part of me that remembers being a kid doesn't want to totally disregard him like that. 

And when we DO regard him... like right now my sainted husband is playing one of his giant silly board games with all the kids and Jack is ENGAGED. He is happy and into it and likes us again. When I spend an extra 10 minutes chatting with him before I turn out his light at bedtime, those are well spent 10 minutes. And when we DO have plans, it almost doesn't matter what the plans are, he's good. Yesterday his main companion was a 10-year-old with Down Syndrome and autism who says only a few words, and Jack was awesome with him! Included him and had fun with him. He is not the horrible, unfeeling, apathetic, super selfish BUTTHEAD he sometimes acts like. 

BUT DUDE. I am not his cruise director! I am not his teacher! Or his grandma or his babysitter or any of the other people invested in making sure Jackson Cheung has a good time! Man, some days just making sure he eats three meals is the best I can do. There are nine million toys in this house, not to mention piles of paper and art supplies, a garage full of bikes and scooters and balls, a backyard with a FREAKING SLIDE. Make your own fun, eight-year-old boy! Quit talking to me like my main function is to make sure you are entertained all the livelong day!



Okay. It might be out of my system. For now. I'm going to hide in the bedroom while the rest of them are having this little family moment. I think everyone will be happiest that way. 

My mother would like to know what the point of having a blog is if I'm not going to write about her grandchildren so HERE YA GO, MOM

As this is/used to be/poses as a Mommy Blog, I thought I'd throw a bone to at least my mother and write about the kids. I have kids! Do we remember them? This used to be all about them! Now they are... big. They also have absolutely no idea that I write about them on the internet. I suspect all three would be pleased in some way, though the only one who would ACT pleased is the middle one and for sure the oldest one would have some sort of cheek-sucking, "Well, I don't know how I really FEEL about that..." comment. Though the cheek-sucking is there to contain the Secretly Pleased that he can't help but show whenever anyone is paying attention to him. And then the youngest, I mean, she's still trying to color her whole self with pink highlighter, so does her opinion matter much?

But I'm not sure how much longer the Pleased will continue. The oldest is eight. EIGHT. And now he is all tanned legs and knee-length baggy shorts and sports camp t-shirts and "Can I play the Xbox? Can I play the iPad? Okay then, can I play your PHONE? And can we get a new game?" This reveals poor parenting, I know, but I feel that I can blame this particular flaw on my husband, seeing as how HE is the one who had to have one each of the the Xbox, Wii, Apple TV, Roku, Newest Phone, Newest Laptop, ETC. How am I supposed to stem the tide of Screens when I am married to that? 

I have my own screen habit btw, if you hadn't noticed. 

Jackson is going into third grade and while second grade memories are, for me, spotty, THIRD grade is when my real life began. So I am tremendously excited and tremendously afraid. This is when all the reasons he'll have to go to therapy as an adult will start happening, am I right? Now he's going to REMEMBER all my parenting flaws. And these are numerous lately, as I contend with a Jackson who is also not being the best version of himself. This summer we've had conversations on what exactly denotes a dirty pair of shorts, how (and why) to not steamroll one's grandparents, how to move about the house your mother is losing her mind with you (pretend you do not exist), why Reading is Important, how much your mother does not care what state that license plate is from on that car up there (like, so so so does not care), and why saying "please" or a "no, thank you" to something you say does not automatically make it good manners. This is the summer that real and true Boredom has set in, meaning it is the summer I have started saying things like, "You could fold this laundry right here and put it away! You could sweep the deck! Do you want to do the dishes? I CAN THINK OF LOTS OF THINGS FOR YOU TO DO."

He is moody, whiny, and entirely self-absorbed which makes me tremble with fear for his future as a teenager living in my house. He is only eight. Why so much existential angst? How bad can it be when one lives on one's favorite orange processed noodle food, has built approximately thirteen million Minecraft cities, and is continually asked to play by the cute blond girl down the street? Is this such a rough life? 

That said, the key to getting this kid to be a Good and Decent Human Being, one that does not walk about the house like a Freaking Martyr, is not taking away his beloved electronics or yelling or lectures or solitary confinement or early bedtimes. (Though none of those things are his favorite and can often serve to make his parents feel better.) No, it's actually putting absolutely everything else aside and sitting down with just Jackson in his own space and Asking Him How He's Doing. He will tell you (!) and usually at least half of it makes you want to explode with annoyance or resentment or frustration, but really he wants to be Heard and then loved on a little bit. Reading him a story (even though he's EIGHT and doesn't LIKE READING STOP MAKING HIM DO IT) or playing a game or watching him do his magic tricks or talking about what we'll do tomorrow or next weekend. A little one on one time, a little attention, and suddenly I have my sweet little boy back, the one who draws me get well cards and snuggles and cleans up the living room as a "surprise" for me. He beams with happiness, he gets the giggles, he wears what I tell him to wear, he is kind and loving to his sisters, he actually secretly does like reading. 

Molly finds the entire world to be a delight and in doing so is a Delight herself. She has her occasional moments of Devastation, for example when Jackson throws a ball and it glances off her elbow, or when Jackson (again) says something less than completely complimentary about her French braid. We understand - after all, we live with Jackson too - but we can usually find a way to move on from these bits of Crushing Despair and move right back into out of control laughing and going along with whatever anyone else wants to do. 

She's taken to sitting at the table and intently drawing girl upon girl upon girl upon girl, all with different styles and colors of hair and dresses. As I remember doing this exact same thing, I find it enchanting. She makes up stories and her response to Enforced Reading Time is generally happiness for twenty minutes or so, then, "Mommy, can I WRITE my own story?" To which Mommy always enthusiastically nods. (When she is not half asleep on the couch - HER response to Enforced Reading Time.) 

Molly is all tanned legs, too-short skirts and dresses and shorts because DEAR GOD this child is a weed, and hair that WANTS to be Princess Elsa, but is more (and beautifully so), end-of-the-movie Mulan. She is up for anything at any time. As she kept telling me in Italy, "I want to do EVERYTHING!" A former nearly-seven-year-old girl myself, I know that this effervescent cheer does not last, that one day everything will be terrible, that no one will understand her, that her mother, especially, will not care one ounce about her emotional well being or fragile state of mind or the thousands of feelings she will have in the space of one fourteen-year-old hour - so I am VERY MUCH ENJOYING nearly-seven-year-old Molly who seems to have no clue about Mean Girls and cannot wait to go back to school and see all of her favorite people, which is all of the people. 

I suspect she takes after her father, and not because she will often a choose a potato chip over a cookie (although this is because she knows her brother and sister will choose a cookie and then she can get them to share, thereby enjoying both a cookie AND a potato chip - smart). Like Phillip, Molly floats along, not really noticing the not so nice people or comments that could be taken a certain way or unpleasant dynamics. I think this will change as she gets older - she IS a girl - but for now I am in awe of this cheery oblivious-ish personality and the lack of drama compared to so many of my friends' girls of the same age. As long as we are wearing a cute skirt and braid and Mommy has allowed her to pick out her own snack, everything is very very good. 

As for the youngest, she is... the youngest. As the oldest I vowed - V.O.W.E.D. - to treat all of my future children equally, to not lay more responsibility upon the oldest, to not baby the youngest, to not ignore the middle, and especially not to let the younger kids do things at an earlier age than I allowed the oldest. HEAVEN FORBID. While that hasn't been a problem yet (no one is quite asking to shave her legs), I have utterly failed at not babying my youngest. I coddle her, I expect less independence of her than I did with Jack when he was her age. I rarely say no to anything - treats, toys, anything that should be special tends to be the norm with Emma. The thing is, I'm not sure I can help it and (worse) I'm not sure I want to. I KNOW. I AM A TERRIBLE HORRIBLE UN-EQUAL MOTHER AND MY KID-SELF IS FURIOUS. 

There is one thing about Emma that drives us positively INSANE and that is the fact that she will be wearing pull ups in college. Oh, also that if she happens to sleep during the day, even for five minutes, she'll be up until the wee hours in her bed, singing the Wicked soundtrack and/or Taylor Swift and annoying the entire house. Some people sleepwalk, Emma Cheung sleepsings. Whether or not Emma took a nap that day is a question the entire family asks, every day. We like to be prepared. 

That said, I have been ridiculously attached to this kid from Day One and that combined with the fact that she is likely our last makes it very very hard to be Objective or Stern. About anything. We find her charming and endlessly entertaining. The other day I found a video on my phone of 1-year-old Emma doing something silly with a toy, and then continuing to do it because it made the rest of us laugh. I suppose that is quintessential youngest child as well? When she's not milking her Youngest Status (and we ALL get suckered by that, her siblings included), she's searching for the thing to say, the thing to do (or sing!) that will make us all laugh. 

She loves Jack, but she wants to BE Molly. One day she'll hate that all of her clothes used to be Molly's, but right now it is the best! thing! ever! Did MOLLY wear this when SHE was three?! THAT IS JUST THE MOST AMAZING THING SHE'S EVER HEARD!!!!!

Emma had just started to bloom - happily leaving me for preschool, playing with other kids on her own - when we whisked her out of preschool and went to Europe for three weeks. Since then she's back to her clingy self, getting out of community center ballet class by whimpering, "I miss Mommy!" She's alternately terrified of and in love with other people's pets, glued to my leg while one hand gingerly pets a furry head. You ask her what she wants to do and nine times out of ten the answer is "Go shopping with Mommy." (I MEAN COME ON.) In the fall she goes back to school, now three days a week, and staying for lunch. It will be wonderful, and it will be sad. The only thing sadder will be kindergarten. Let's not think about it. 

Together they are amazing. As one of five kids, all 1 year apart, I know from fighting and my kids don't do it. Not like we did. Jack and Molly will annoy each other, take each other's thing, accidentally poke or shove or hit, but most of the time they are super tight, two heads put together making up games or shows or the most amazing domino run in the world. They're almost always happy to let their little sister play too, and if Jack can find something better than Minecraft for ten minutes, he's motivating the others and I don't even care that they're destroying the house because ALL THREE ARE OCCUPYING THEMSELVES AND HAVING A GOOD TIME AND I CAN READ THE INTERNET IN PEACE. 

The little blond girl down the street is absolutely devastated every time she rings the doorbell and Jack and Molly aren't home - they're at camp, or out at the pool with their dad, or something like that - and she is SO. VERY. SAD. And my kids aren't ever like that because they have each other and I'm just amazed and thrilled that it turned out the way it did. It is my deepest dearest hope that they are friends when they grow up - good, close friends like they are now. At swim lessons, Jack and Molly are in different classes, but if they bump up against each other in the water, they're like OH LOOK, IT'S MY SIBLING WHO I HAVEN'T SEEN IN FOUR WHOLE MINUTES HEY HEY HIIIII THIS IS SO COOL! And at school when their classes are passing by in the hallway, they throw out a secret sibling wave that everyone can see. And then Emma is on the sidelines with me, not quite old enough to have her own class yet, and shouting, "HEY I SEE MY SISTER!" and that sister will hear and throw a wave to the other one. I could not love it more. 

Still need school to start soon. I'm not THAT in love with these kids that they don't need to spend copious amounts of time away from me each day. LET'S NOT GET CARRIED AWAY HERE. 


Time to sit back and unwind

Last day of school. I cried at the assembly. I mean, I'm a crier, but it was such a good year for my big kids. They go to a small neighborhood public school. It's one billion years old and it shows. Everything in it - the furniture, the walls, the fixtures, the windows - is grimy and worn and unappealing. Everything except the teachers, that is. They are bright in every way, happy to be there, and happy to see my kids. Ever since Jack's first day of kindergarten my mom's been advising me to make myself known in the school, make sure the teachers know I'm paying attention, make sure I have relationships with people in the school. So I'd probably be standing around after school talking to the teachers anyway, but it turned out to be fun. They are fun, creative, interesting people who invested big time in my kids and maybe it's a little weird that Jack's teacher and I made plans to hang out later this summer but OH WELL YOU ARE JUST JEALOUS. 

Like, I'm sad-in-advance for Jack to go to middle school, not only because he'll be a middle schooler (ACK) but he'll be leaving THIS school. Oh, the crying that will happen THEN. 

It was an early dismissal day (honestly, I haven't seen the point of going to school this entire week) so Emma didn't nap and I didn't exercise and I feel like a bloated slug right now, especially after our celebratory ice cream snack and restaurant french fries dinner. But it was a super good day. Jack's class sang Sara Bareilles' 'Brave' as a way to "send" the 5th graders to middle school - when I heard they were doing that I thought it was a bit weird/awkward. Isn't that kind of a grown up song? But of course Jack's teacher found a way to first grade it up, with hand motions and shouting the "SAY WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY!" and: tears. Molly's class sang "Let Us Eat" to the tune of "Let It Go" to honor the lunch ladies. And her teacher gave me a shout out at the assembly for helping him come up with the words (except I'm pretty sure all I did was say, "Do you want me to make Elsa capes?! I can make Elsa capes!" and him going, "Wellllll...")

More tears on that one. 

These things make me cry anyway, though. I could never get through even the first round of Pomp and Circumstance as part of the high school band playing at graduation, even when I didn't know any of the graduates. I remember going to the end of year ceremony at the Catholic school when Jack was going to preschool there. It was the most TOUCHING and MEANINGFUL THING and I still want to weep about my kids not going to that school!

Except they're at THIS school, which is wonderful, and we love it so. 

Our chunk of the city is growing the fastest, which means more money for stuff like building a new school (breaking ground 2016! Supposedly! Who really knows!) but also much larger new schools, I'm betting. Our school is one hallway big. I swear all the kids know each other. It's a hallway in major need of structural updates and plumbing from this century, but it's been such a good hallway. 

I spent a large chunk of my kid-free time worrying about the bakery. I'm not going to hash out today's anxiety here, though I am VERY TEMPTED. It feels so good to write out all one's worries! But I tried hard to focus on the big kids today and not let the bakery stuff overwhelm me. We took pictures, we got ice cream, we spent a long time on our school year scrapbooks that I never remember to update until the last day of school. I'm so proud of them. 

Tomorrow we'll sleep in, not get dressed until we feel like it, then drive to Grandma's house where cousins are staying for a few weeks and just... hang out. It's summer. There are no camps, no lessons, just a lot of family vacation time and driving-our-mother-crazy time. And then, maybe next week, a furious looking up of camps and lessons that still have availability...

And now it's just going to be like this for the next twelve, thirteen years. First grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, a whirl of steps up a ladder until one day they're gone OH NO THE TEARS ARE BACK.

Dirtball: A Pictorial

FIRST. The birthday boy.

Jack's Birthday 2014 009

Being shy at school.

Jack's Birthday 2014 018

Sir Jack

Jack's Birthday 2014 020

My mom MADE those felt "knight tunic" thingies. Plus, like, eight more. Anyone want to come over and play Medieval Times? Also, those party hats? I paid Top Dollar for those suckers and NO ONE WORE THEM. (Except Phillip. Phillip wore one all through the entire party. Only Phillip. Who is 35.5 years old.)


All right moving on. The last two days it's been 1) absolutely fabulous weather and 2) empty of bakery tasks. So! I've been working on the outsides of my house. Specifically: The Deck.

The TRUE outsides of my house, ie: the YARDS, fill me with panicked woe. They aren't huge, but they are bigger than anything I know how to handle, and both front and back yards are brimming over with giant overgrown plants that worry me. They COULD be beautiful, but I would have to learn how to MAKE them beautiful and I just haven't yet. Last year I dug out a giant space in the backyard to start a garden, but about two days after I planted all my seedlings, some horrible rotten animal came along and ATE THEM. At least, all the seedlings were TOTALLY GONE. It didn't matter anyway, because we decided to spend the kids' college money on rebuilding the deck and my "garden space" was turned into "the place where the deck guys cut all their boards". 

My plans for the yard, at this point, involve a lot of digging and a lot of spreading of wood chips. My friend's husband has turned HIS backyard into a veritable ORCHARD and I have solicited him for ideas. (They all involve wood chips. Sigh.) 


Okay, so first I told Phillip to let the kids pick out plants for me for Mother's Day. So I started with a couple little vegetable plants and then these beauties:

Photo (16)

Please don't make me turn these right side up. I'm sorry. This shows you how much I care about my website these days. UNROTATED PICTURES OMGGGGGG

Can I keep a hydrangea in a pot?

But I spent most of my time setting up three containers with beans and snap peas against the deck wall (MY DECK HAS WALLS, I KNOW) and filling the rest of the container with flowers. I FEEL SO PINTERESTY.

Photo 5

No seriously, this is annoying. Why are they rotated correctly on my computer? And then not rotated correctly when I upload them. ANYWAY. There is a sideways planter. 

Here is a sideways upside down tomato plant.

Photo 4

That looks super weird. It does in real life too. That planter is $5 at Home Depot and I thought: Why not? We'll see if this little trick is worth it. 

Also, see that little black smudge on the white trim? That would be a caterpillar. I'm going to have to buy some sort of Bug Hellfire Spray for my deck. I am SO tired of all the ants and spiders and creepy crawlies everywhere I look. This is what I get for buying a house in the middle of nine thousand trees. 

Speaking of trees:

Photo 3

This one can BITE ME. I hate it hate it hate it. We have three large trees in our backyard. One is a pretty cypress. The other is a small evergreen. THIS one is a MASSIVE GODZILLA of a tree and it's one goal in life is to drop its @#)*%@(#%*@#(%&@ needles all over my deck. $2K to cut it down. (Another $2K to chop its evil twin in my front yard.) Maybe I should draft a Kickstarter? 

If you are wondering about the slide, the slide is fine. Maybe a little perturbed by the children who insist on climbing IT instead of the stairs to get to the deck, but hey, that is a slide's cross to bear. Building stairs off the deck continues to be a smashing idea, if also a painfully expensive one. When I get super mad at my gross tile countertops I blame the deck. Dang it, Deck! If it weren't for you I could have counters that don't have 25 years worth of grit and grime in its many grouty crevices! 

All right, I have to quit complaining. I'm quite excited about my deck! I have a friend coming over Thursday morning and I'm already planning the deck snacks and mimosas. 

NEWS REPORT: I am meeting with the Food Processor License Lady, the person who gets to decide whether or not I am legal, TOMORROW MORNING. I'm a little nervous because the coffee shop owner (whose space the inspector will be inspecting!) will not be there, and because she's not so hot with email, I'm not even sure if her employees will have a heads up! I really do think it will all be okay, and if there are any problems I'm expecting them to be small ones that can be figured out that day or this week. The licensing lady gave me absolutely no reason to think we wouldn't be approved that day, but still. It hasn't been my experience that anything in this process is easy and I would still appreciate some good thoughts sent my way. THANK YOOOOOOOU

My seven-year-old can't even get his own birthday post without me yammering on about the bakery

There are a bunch of Young People sitting in the backyard adjacent to my backyard, with a pile of takeout between them, and beer bottles, and they are laughing loudly and all right, fine, maybe I'm a smidge jealous of their evening. 

Although I bet none of them have a seven-year-old. I do. We threw him a fairly large shindig on Saturday, his actual birthday, and I'd post pictures except they all have Someone Else's Child in them and that just doesn't feel right. So, hey Mom? Can you email me some pictures? 

Because they're pretty freaking cute. Jack asked for a castle cake and from there I thought we'd do a little, you know, medieval theme. Except we had a pretty crazy bakery week and I was hanging on by my toenails and my mother pretty much did all the work. She made these little knight tunics for all the kids (who didn't wear them, of course) and found a whole bunch of toy swords at three different stores AND bought the dragon pinata. I... ordered some stuff off Amazon. It was the first Jack party we've had that wasn't nice enough to really play outside, so the party itself felt more crowded and chaotic than I'm sure anyone wanted to deal with. But I think people had a good time? I hope?

Jack's birthday is right when the weather starts to get nicer and we haven't HAD any parties in a while by the time his birthday comes around, so it's always an excuse to invite all the grandparents and aunts and uncles and all our best buddies and HEY, THE CHEUNGS LIKE TO HAVE PEOPLE OVER. And you guys know that I prayed and prayed for the biggest house we could afford in Seattle and we GOT it so I just feel like I have room for everyone! Invite all the people! WE'LL FIT!

We did. It was just... I don't know. I think I had a hard week. I did not feel so confident in my making-people-comfortable abilities. But whatever, the birthday boy, who the party was FOR, enjoyed himself immensely and got some pretty great presents and holy cow he's SEVEN. I know I do this every year. I have a FIVE year old! I have a SIX year old. But PEOPLE. Seven seems old. Officially not Little Boy anymore. More like... Boy. ACK.

After several weeks of bakery insanity (good insanity! we're just not used to it!) we have a week of NOTHING. Which is half depressing and, honestly, half a relief at this point. I need to get my bearings. But then today something happened. 

I already had a meeting planned for tomorrow morning with our Coffee Shop Owner, the woman we're renting space from. We're going to sign some little printed-off-the-internet contract and I am going to haul in my 9000 pages of liability insurance documents to prove I bought it and then we will have a Real Live Actual Factual Kitchen! Woo! Too bad we don't have anything to bake there!

BUT THEN! This morning I got a phone call while I was driving and when I listened to the message I about dropped the phone. The OTHER department at the WSDA, the one that reviews and approves Food Processor permits (which is how we are classified), was calling to make an appointment with me to, and I quote, "getcha licensed!" 


I called her back and she said she could do the inspection this week, did we have time, and I was all, UH YES, and so we are meeting at the coffee shop Wednesday morning (if that's okay with the Coffee Shop Owner, fingers crossed) and I'm supposed to bring a couple examples of labels we will use and she'll poke around the space we'll be using AND THEN SHE WILL ISSUE US A PERMIT. LIKE THAT. 

I said, "Are there any corrections we need to make to our application? Anything we left out? Anything we need to do?" And she was basically like, "Uh, no?" Actually what she said is that if there IS anything awry we'll just discuss it Wednesday morning, no biggie. 

The fine print said 4 to 6 weeks. She called us back in 2. It cost $55. Total. She's going to give us a permit. We will be legal. THIS WEEK. WE COULD BE LEGAL THIS WEEK. 

(If she's cool and we hit it off, I'm totally going to ask her about the cottage food nonsense. Not her department, but still. Totally asking.) 

Katie and I are both kinda apprehensive. We've been trying to figure this out since October. OCTOBER. Sure, we could have decided to rent a kitchen from the get go, but even the process of FINDING the kitchen and then figuring out what sorts of permits we need for THAT was long and confusing. To have someone call us up and say we can get it done this week feels surreal. We are suspicious, but I'm also just sort of... you mean we don't have to deal with this anymore? WHATEVER WILL I DO WITH ALL MY TIME?!

What this DOES mean is that we now have to figure out to make money. Like, on a regular basis. Enough to cover our overhead. BECAUSE WE HAVE OVERHEAD OMG. I'm all YAY EXCITING MUPPET ARMS!!! and also oh dear God what have we done. 



Oh yeah, I used to write about my kids

ALL RIGHT. Things are looking up. There was a sudden influx of capital to Thumbprints Baking Co., for which the owners are terribly grateful and over the moon. We have picked a kitchen. We have insurance. The next step is formalizing the agreement and the step after that is (OH GOD) going through the county health department food business application process. I am guessing I will need to restock the liquor cabinet. 

But I want to exercise my mommyblogger chops tonight and write down a few things I've noticed about my kids. Before I forget. So you can leave now, it's okay, I totally won't be offended. 

So there's this huge amazing CRAZY thing I've been more and more aware of lately and that is the fact that my two biggest kids seem to be best friends. This is wild to me. It's not that they never fight (they always fight) but they also really really like each other. They don't really want to do anything without the other. We keep asking them if they're ready to stop sharing a room (when are a brother and sister too old to share a room?) and neither of them are interested. Well, they're very interested, just not right NOW. Even when I make a point of reminding them that Molly would share with Emma and we'd move the girls into the room next to Jack's so he wouldn't be alone downstairs. No no, they don't want to do that yet. 

And they play with the same things and play the same way. They would both choose to do an art project over almost anything else (except perform Let It Go in princess dresses for their parents and all their parents' friends.) They make up plays. They build elaborate forts in the living room and pretend that Emma is their kid or their pet or just some random baby they get to boss around. They squabble constantly and accidentally hurt each other all the time, but I'm not sure either of them has ever been purposefully vicious to the other. 

My brother and I are the same number of months apart as Jack and Molly. I suppose it's possible we liked each other when we were very small? But my main memories of my brother are of him barging into my room (which was 1) not allowed and 2) totally unnecessary, no I am still not over this and have refused to "just ignore him" for 34 years), messing up my stuff, and being mean to me. Always! My whole life! Not that I was a total peach to him - I remember my dad telling me, many many times, "Some day he'll be bigger than you, Mag! Watch out!" So yes, I shall grudgingly admit that I possibly beat up on him too. I sort of remember playing outside with him, making mud soup and charging through the patch of forest across the street from our house and riding bikes. My mom is probably reading this and thinking, "You did TOO have fun together!" Maybe it wasn't until we were a little older that he became my main reason for wanting to hurry up and go to college already. (Like 5th grade older.)

But I don't see that with Jack and Molly. Really. I suppose it's possible and I'm sure one day they won't want to do the same things all the time and play with the same kids and feel bad that having a "boys only" birthday party means Molly can't come. (Jack is turning 7 next month. Omg.) But still. They really really like each other, they look out for each other, they give each other heads up when their mom is on the warpath. I'm starting to wonder if they're going to be the kind of brother and sister who are buddies growing up. Who don't have to turn 30 and live in separate houses before they finally tolerate each other. (You may think I'm being snotty about my brother, but I bet you anything he would agree. Also, he called the other day to talk about the bakery and wanted to give me some feedback and he had to say, "Look, I'm not being a jackass like usual, I'm really trying to help." SEE? EVEN HE SAYS SO.)

And you know what, I'm writing this on April 1, which is basically my brother's personal holiday, the day on which he switched out my morning cereal for dog food, shortsheeted my bed, and set my alarm clock to go off in the middle of the night. HOW APT.

So yeah, my heart IS warmed over by the affection my two oldest show each other. (Ask me again when they're teenagers.)

Emma, however, worships the very ground on which her brother and sister tread. All day long I am reminded that something is Molly's, something is Jack's favorite, something is what Molly wants, something is what Jack did. Everything - EVERYTHING - relates to her two favorite people, some way or another. She will play any game they want to play. The big thing right now is "putting Emma to bed" - in the middle of the day, for whatever reason, and she gaily goes along with it, climbing into her bed with her stuffed cow and her pacifier and staying there however long they require. She's the baby and she has her manipulative moments, her fickle devotions, her sudden wails of distress. But for the most part she's all about being where they are, doing whatever they are doing. Including homework. Emma does lots and lots of homework. 

I just think they are the neatest. I could have never dreamed them up. My creative, sensitive, sweet little boy. My absentminded, giggly, kind little girl. My utterly charming, delighted by everything two-year-old. They are just perfect.




A former overachiever stops projecting onto her own kids. (For now.)

To hear my mom tell it I was reading Nancy Drew mysteries by age two. (No.) But "reader" has been part of my identity as far back as I can remember. And for someone who thrives on Nice Things People Say About Her, In Particular Her Teachers And Parents, it's been super important to me to be a GOOD reader. Of course, being a "good" reader loses nearly all of its meaning as you realize there are no special points for learning to read before you go to kindergarten, and then instead it's about how many books you read, what kinds, whether you can nod superiorishly when someone excitedly tells you about a new author they've just discovered. 

(By the way, I think I've completely dropped the ball on Being A Good Adult Reader. I don't read super fast, the only new books I keep track of are British and Italian murder mysteries, I've only read a handful of the books everyone raves about on Twitter, and more than two thirds of the books on my Kindle (and ALL the books on my nightstand) are 20th century history books. I am no one's idea of Well Read. Sigh.)

ANYWAY. All that to say it was important to me, to the point where I just naturally ASSUMED, that my kids would also be Good Readers. 

(Let us pause while I roll my eyes at my own self.)

Oh yes, I ASSUMED, in fact I EXPECTED, Jackson Cheung to be reading chapter books by kindergarten. And I'll just say right now that I did absolutely nothing to PREPARE him for such a feat. Along with the assuming and expecting was, I think, the presumption that reading Nancy Drews in preschool was something that just came naturally. It wasn't something I THOUGHT about. It wasn't something that I was consciously waiting for, even. I just thought one day it would happen!  Like out of thin air, one day my kid would just start reading. 

Other things I assumed:

  • He would opt to read over, say, play Subway Surfer on the iPad.
  • He would beg me to go to the library. 
  • Once at the library he would provide me with a two-foot high stack to check out. 
  • He would never EVER groan or make an Unpleasant Noise when asked if he would like his mother to read to him. 
  • He would have Favorite Books.
  • We would BOND. Oh the BONDING! Over BOOKS! Tra la la!

So yeah. None of this happened. We always read books before bedtime, but otherwise Jack never showed much interest in reading on his own or wanting to be read to. Molly seemed to like listening to stories a little more than her brother, but again, I pretty much stopped going to the library with them because they were such pains. They were barely interested in the books and when they discovered that you couldn't just sit down and play a game on the computers they were all, "Can we go to the playground now?"

Of course I determined that I'd done something hugely wrong in their first years. I encouraged and offered and hunted for books they'd enjoy, but no one ever wanted to read them and after a while it was like, "Why am I doing this to myself?" 

Then last year, in kindergarten, Jack began learning to read. And it was... kind of crazy. 

I am surrounded with friends who have precocious little girls reading Jane Austen at age five. I'd just accepted the fact that I was going to have one of those kids who didn't like books and we would have a Hard Row To Hoe (is that the right expression?! NOT WELL READ.) and we would struggle and whatever. Fine. And because Jack wasn't terribly interested, Molly didn't seem to be interested either and FINE. We would deal. I felt certain it would all turn around once they were old enough to read The Westing Game, but for now, FINE. FIIIIIINE.

But Jack started learning to read. Slowly. Hesitantly. Uncertainly. And it was like a miracle. This thing that I'd been trying to do with him for SO LONG was SUDDENLY HAPPENING. At this magical place called school! Where he seemed to be MUCH more motivated! And I wasn't in charge!

He still didn't want to read much at home, but whatever, I was pleased. It was fantastic. 

But then THIS year. THIS YEAR IS NUTS. 

My kid can REEEEEAD. I am so freaking amazed at how far he's come just from the beginning of the year. And Molly? Based on what I attempted to do with Molly in preschool I didn't have any expectations, but that kid can read levels and levels better than her brother did in kindergarten. She is always surprising me with what words she already knows. Right now they're in their beds reading to themselves before I turn out the lights - my absolute favorite thing in the world to do, they are doing it, and they didn't make a single groan or whine about it. They said, "Well can you get me a few more books?"

It's just so exciting. There are ten million things I want to share with them, ten million things that I'm all HURRY UP SO WE CAN READ THIS! This part of being a mom is so good, you guys! I get SO SNIFFLY about my kids getting bigger and how they're all elbows and knees and no more pudgy cheeks, but now they can READ. And I think they're beginning to LIKE it. And it doesn't matter at all that they didn't want to sit and listen to books when they were little or had no interest in sounding at words at age four or that neither of them are in the highest reading group like I was (BECAUSE THERE ARE NO READING GROUPS, GAWD MAGGIE), it's happening and it's SO COOL. 

We planned this trip to Disneyland a few months ago. We wanted to take Emma while she was still little and my mother-in-law is retiring this year and we thought it'd be a fun celebration trip and, well, whatever I do not need any reason to go to Disneyland. But we didn't tell the kids until well after Christmas and then we told them we could only go if they each read 20 books. That's probably a silly number to a lot of you (I'm looking at you, friends with Precocious Girl Readers!) but it was a HUGE one for us. They could only put a point on their chart if they found a book at the right level and read the entire thing out loud to us. 

We are ALMOST at 20 books. And there has been NO complaining. Only "what book should I read you tonight, Mommy?!" I think this calls for a Squee.

In which I learn my child has an alternate (and better behaved!) personality when he's not around me. (OBVS)

Had parent teacher conferences tonight. Pretty much the only thing Jack's teacher wanted to talk about is how much he reads, how much he likes reading, how well he's doing, how he talks about what he's reading with his reading partner, how cute they are when they're reading together, etc. etc. etc. So. Also the part where she said that he's such a great direction-follower and probably knows what to do in the class better than she does - are we talking about the same kid? 

(Also: my projected fears about J increase with every teacher conversation. If he's so much like First Grade Me, what sort of terrible psychological disorder will he have at age 22? I'm sorry, Jack! I will pay for all the therapy!)

Molly's teacher knows that my parents are former teachers. Tonight he said to me, "You know, sometimes I think you're reluctant to talk to me because you don't want to be THAT PARENT, you know, the ones you heard your parents talking about. So let me tell you: don't worry. You are NOT that parent. Please come talk to me about ANYTHING."

So obviously he's now my favorite person in the world. He understands my psychological disorders and showers me with affirmation. 

We had all three with us for conferences, which I would have rather DIED than do last year, but this year it was just a necessary evil. Jack and Molly alternately showed off and kept busy. Emma talked. And talked and talked and sang and shouted and barked orders at her siblings and I wondered aloud what her first parent teacher conference will be like. "She's a great kid, but she has to sit in this tiny plexiglass cage by herself because no one can hear themselves think."

What's the other thing I was going to tell you. OH! Katie and I are through with the recipe and label misery! Mostly! There are a few things we're missing, but for the most part, all of the recipes and labels have been typed and edited and YAY. It took me half an hour to write up the packaging process for all of our items and Katie is working on the list of what equipment we will use and how we will clean it. (YES.) Basicaly we're 99% done with the hardest part. The rest of the application will just be writing up some processes, printing everything out, putting it together, and writing the check. And I will be super excited until our packet is returned with a bunch of corrections. SIGH. But I'm feeling motivated and optimistic for now. So motivated that I started working on our bakery website and it just feels REAL! 

Things that stink: I am a terrible web designer, I have no graphic design skills, and it takes me forever to do really simple things. However, I do work for free and at this point that's the only job requirement. Also I have a basic grasp of English so people who use our website will at least have the right information. Other things that stink: I really want to start advertising what we can do for Christmas and I'm almost certain we won't be legal by then. More things that stink: wondering if people will actually order stuff from us. I DON'T KNOOOOOOW! NAIL BITING!!!!!!



Impromptu history lesson in the Cheung playroom this evening (alternately titled: do you have ideas for books for little boys?)

Holy shnikeys. Okay. SO! I just finished reading my first grader a first grade-level biography of Abraham Lincoln. But I somehow neglected to consider the fact that reading my first grader a first grade-level biography of Abraham Lincoln would STILL involve discussion of slavery and war and assassinations and DEAR GOD I'M GLAD THAT'S OVER. 

I am tired of Jackson telling me he doesn't like to read. Not like he's said that a LOT or anything, but just the once or twice was enough to make me think OH NO YOU DON'T and develop a Plan. The plan is basically to bombard him with books he can 1) read himself and 2) ARE OF INTEREST. He is moderately interested in the Star Wars early reader books (GAG) but was MUCH more interested in our collection of books about the human body or freaky animals or volcanoes. A while back I was talking about learning to read with my parents (not about Jack necessarily) and my dad said that many little boys appear to be uninterested in reading, but the truth is that they're just not interested in they're offered. He suggested biographies for gifts for my nephews so I marched myself to Barnes & Noble yesterday to look for... biographies a first grader could read. 

Guess what! There aren't many! Well, I suppose there are if you have an especially advanced reader, but Jack isn't and I didn't want to frustrate him with books that were too hard. Almost all of the biographies and nonfiction early readers were at higher levels (and sometimes I think even level 1 is high!) I ended up buying two readers about George Washington that I thought we could read together, one easier one about Abraham Lincoln and one about storms, both National Geographic readers. Oh, I also bought a book about the First Thanksgiving because guess what! My kids have yet to hear Thanksgiving mentioned in school! I intend to ask why at conferences. Anyway. We've been reading that before bedtime and they seem to be pretty interested AND learning a thing or two! Well done, Me! Parenting Gold Star!

But anyway, he wanted to read about Abraham Lincoln tonight. And of course I got all excited because HE WANTED TO READ! And he COULD read it! And then we got to the page about slavery and UGH. 

I don't particularly want to or feel like I should shield him from Very Bad Things That Happened. Not anymore. (Molly, at this point, had taken herself to bed, her being much more interested in books using the words Fancy and Nancy.) That said, I didn't quite feel PREPARED, you know? And I felt sad that I HAD to explain what happened. And wondered how it was going to sit in his brain. What pieces he would remember and what he would think about and it did not help when he said, "oh, so like slavery is like being a kid." OMG YOU GUYS. I might find this funny later on, but I did NOT FIND IT FUNNY THIS EVENING. He was all, "You know, because you have to clean up and obey your parents and do what you're told." (LIKE HE EVER DOES WHAT HE'S TOLD.) And I said, "Oh no. No no no no no no no. NOOOOO. It is NOT like being a kid." And that is when I chose to go into great and terrible detail about what it might have been like to be a slave and how it was not at ALL like being a kid who lives with his nice mommy and daddy and no no no NOOOOO.

I think he got it. It takes a lot to chasten Jackson Cheung, but I think I achieved Satisfactory Chastening.

And that was before we even got to the Civil War and the assassination.

So! Lotsa learning in the Cheung household tonight! I do feel it was appropriate, seeing as how today is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Best of all, Jack was interested. He asked questions. He wanted to read the whole thing. He correctly answered all the"questions for review" at the end of the book (which HE wanted to do btw, I didn't make him do it.) I wondered if I have switched to reading mainly nonfiction because somehow my subconscious knew that my kid would prefer it and I would want to be excited instead of bummed.

He DOES like Nate the Great. Not all is lost.

And Molly will read anything with a pink cover.

I am starting to feel anxious about what they are learning (or NOT learning, rather) in school. But that's another post. I'll save it for after my conference interrogations. (Ha. Like I actually have it in me to interrogate anyone.) (NO.)

What books do your little boys enjoy? I need things to tide us over until we're ready for chapter books.  

Quick bakery update and J. Cheung makes the newspaper

Hi Internet. Have you been wondering why I haven't written anything about the bakery lately? (Or maybe you haven't. Maybe you're all, "Oh thank GOD she stopped talking about THAT", in which case you might want to click over to something else right now.) Well, I haven't been saying much because what we're doing right now is the Height of Boring. There is really no good way to make paperwork interesting. 

But that's what's going on: paperwork. We actually finished typing up all the recipes and matching ingredient labels (we have 60+ so far). Katie's been through them once and I will do the final edit and print everything out. It feels great to be so far into the process! It is totally discouraging to think about how much we still have to do! The next step is to write out any processing steps that weren't included in the recipe AND the packaging steps. As in, "Using gloved hands I take two cookies and place them inside a food grade plastic bag" type description. That's the example they give you in the application packet. Okay, I'm quoting from memory, BUT STILL. For EVERY RECIPE. And while I am doing that, Katie will be typing out how she plans to clean and sanitize every piece of equipment we plan to use. 

Aaaaand... okay, it's probably not a wise idea to further express our feelings in such a public forum. Ha ha ha. I'll just say that Katie does a lot of grumbling and I do a lot of "yes, but we have to do it anyway!" and then we both bang our heads against the table and swear at our computers and give up and make cookies. I am under no delusion that we will have this thing done in time to sell Christmas cookies. MAYBE Valentine cookies. 

Oh, but I have I told you about the friend who is also attempting the CF application, even though she has the option of using a commercial kitchen, because the commercial kitchen is so DIRTY? Yes. That. Can you see where I'm going with this? 

SO ANYWAY. The bakery. The online version. It is going. Slowly. I feel like maybe this is good practice for jumping through all the additional hoops of opening a storefront? Maybe? When I'm feeling optimistic and generous? 

I'll cap off this super boring paperwork post with a link to a news article featuring a picture of none other than Jackson G. Cheung, Esq. A reporter visited the first grade and EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS!