December 31, 2007

A Homesick Home Family Tradition

L. from The Homesick Home is one of my favorite bloggers. She is often so refreshingly honest in her writing that you really feel for her when she’s going through a rough stretch or want to celebrate with her when things are going well. In addition, before I did this introduction I checked out all the comments she’s ever left on this blog and you gotta love a person who is willing to share with the world that she left her kid sitting in a grocery cart once. (See! There’s that honesty thing! And to be fair, I was in such a sleep-deprived coma my first year of parenthood that it is an absolute miracle that I didn’t do the exact thing same thing.)

Anyway, another reason I love reading Homesick Home is that she is raising bi-racial, bi-lingual and bi-cultural children. I love reading about how language and culture collide and I was eager for L. to share a Family Tradition that revolved around her family’s Japanese culture. She didn’t disappoint. So, without further ado, please welcome L.


In our house, no matter where we’re living, Christmas is just the runner-up to the Japanese New Year celebration.

When we were in Tokyo, the kids had to go to school on Christmas Day, and my husband and I had to go to work. We put up a tree and decorations, but otherwise, it was a pretty ordinary day. I took the kids to mass on Christmas Eve, and we usually had a nice dinner, which included a Japanese Christmas cake. But sometimes my workaholic husband couldn’t even get home in time to eat it with us. Hey, it just wasn’t his holiday.

Now, New Year’s, or “Oshogatsu,” on the other hand, is a very big deal. Most Japanese are off for a whole week from late December until Jan. 4. Every year, we would go to his parents’ house in Kyoto, where his mother would cook all the traditional foods. And then one day we would all walk to Kitano Tenman-gu , a Shinto shrine near their house, to do our “hatsumode“.

Although Oshogatsu is considered a serious holiday, more for reflection and atonement and quiet time with loved ones than revelry, kids still have their fun. They receive “otoshidama” — envelopes of cash — from all their relatives. The entire country shuts down for a few days, but most toy stores, from big chains to mom-and-pop shops, are open for business, so that kids can spend their holiday loot.

Now that we’re in America, of course, Christmas is a very big deal, but I’ve managed to keep it low-key in our house. My kids are conditioned to not expect very much, which I’ve recognized is a very good thing. They get one big present (this year they got a Wii) and a few stocking stuffers, and that’s it.

There are a couple of Christmas traditions that we brought over from Tokyo:

We still make a Christmas cake (from a mix in a box, of course) and I let the kids decorate it themselves with lots of gooey white icing and candy.

We decorate a live, potted pine tree. Cut trees are hideously expensive over there — a friend of mine once paid the equivalent of $200 for one. I didn’t want to go the artificial tree route because we always lived in tiny apartments in Tokyo, and I just didn’t want another damn box to store. So I bought a small tree growing in a pot. It lived on our balcony 11 months of the year, and every year I put it into a larger pot, so it got a little bigger. We used the same tree for our seven Christmases in Tokyo. In San Francisco, an Afghan pine I bought in 2005 for about 50 bucks at Home Depot has just been decorated for its third year, so I think I really got my money’s worth.

However, there are a few problems: I have to clean the dead leaves and spider webs off the tree before I bring it in, and I’m always afraid some creepy crawlies are going to hatch out of it and infest the house. This year, I sprayed it with Raid, but then after that I worried about exposing us to pesticide.

Also, as the tree grows, it looks less and less like a Christmas tree, and more like a potted shrub. I try to prune it into a classic shape as best I can, but I am no bonsai artist, and every year, it looks a little more scraggly, and worse for the wear. Of course, when the decorations are on it, it still transforms into something really lovely.

Moving on to Oshogatsu, every year when we’re not in Japan my husband makes a few traditional dishes, which never fails to astound me. To say that he is not a cook is a bit of an understatement — to say that he has a serious case of “kitchen aversion” comes closer to the truth. Therefore, I am always amazed to see him standing over pots on the stove. Fortunately, the only two dishes he makes are “soba” “ozoni” soup with “mochi” , all of which only involves boiling. And even someone with serious “kitchen aversion” can boil stuff.

There’s a saying in Japan that was popular when I first arrived there in the mid-1980′s, that “Unmarried women are like Christmas cakes –no one wants them after the 25th.” So if you were 26 and unmarried, you were compared to a stale cake that had missed its moment. (Note: Imarried my husband when I was 25, but I want to assure everyone that had nothing to do with any fear of being compared to stale baked goods.)

I’m happy to report that I have lived long enough that this is now referred to as an “old” saying, and no longer seems to apply. I think the average age for women to get married is now around 27 or 28.

Plus, as I watch my kids eagerly devour the leftover gooey cake we made last week, I can assure you, Christmas cake is still VERY much in demand after the 25th.

Happy new year, everyone, from all of us at the Homesick Home.

To read more from L., please visit The Homesick Home.

December 30, 2007

December Photos

From December 1st through Christmas, we documented our days digitally. I imagine looking at these photos years from now and wondering where the time went. Someday sitting on Santa’s lap will be long gone. Jumping off the couch will no longer hold the same appeal. Clambering down the stairs to look for Santa’s gifts at the crack of dawn will someday begin by noon. But for now, I am content to look at these photos and hold onto these memories of my little ones during the Christmas season.

November Photos

As I have been on vacation for the past week I have used that time to get caught up on my photo posting. I have included a bunch of photos for November on Flickr but you can see my favorites here.

December 25, 2007

Christmas Memories

This post was going to detail the past few days leading up to Christmas. Friday was my last day at my old job (I start my new job in two weeks) and I planned on using that as a springboard into the Christmas homestretch. I was going to detail each day with vivid memories of Christmas goodness. But as I sit here on the couch, with a kitchen still full of dishes, I am recuperating from a holiday haze of cookies, eggnog, and good old fashioned consumerism.

But, before the memories fade away like the bells on Santa’s sleigh, I thought I’d take you through a very fragmented Christmas…

Looking For Love
It’s Sunday and we are doing some last minute shopping at chez Target. My beautiful wife and I put each kid in a shopping cart and head in to face the throng of shoppers angling for the last-minute deals on classic holiday fare like candy-caned-shaped Slim Jims.

Eventually, somewhere near the stocking-stuffer aisle, Andrea and I lose sight of each other. The flow of carts carries me down-aisle and I wind up several aisles away and I am forced to fight my way back up stream. As TheMonk and I look for Mommy and Swee’Pea, in that “head craning down every aisle” look, a concerned Target employee approaches us. “Can I help you find something?” she asks.

“My wife?” I reply amid a chorus of laughter from those around us.

TheMonk Repents
We attend an early Christmas eve mass in a tightly packed church. A nice couple doubles up their kids so we can have two seats in the cry room section of the church. TheMonk is armed with two cars that, as soon as the service starts, he begins to deliberately drop on the floor with a resounding clank. It goes downhill from there and at some point, TheMonk hits me in the face. In our house hitting someone earns you an automatic time out. As far as I’m concerned, in the House of The Lord, hitting someone earns you a timeout as well. So there we are – me standing over TheMonk in the corner of the cry room while he sits facing the corner of the room during a reading from the Book of Matthew.

Soon enough it was time to receive communion. We gathered up the kids and held them in our arms. Due to the behavior of TheMonk, we were seriously contemplating getting out of there once we ate our bland wafer. This decision was sealed once Andrea took communion, with TheMonk in her arms. He soon realized he wasn’t getting anything to eat like Mommy and, being TheMonk, he decided to voice his displeasure. Let me just say, it’s not Christmas until you hear a two-year-old scream at the top of his lungs, “I WANNA COOKIE TOO!!!!!!!” while attending church.

We’re gonna get this tradition thing down
Back from church, we get the kids in their PJ’s and climb into the SUV for a brief jaunt around the neighborhood to ooh and aah at 27 different snow men, two Santas on Harleys, and icicles hanging from eaves in 60 degree weather. Upon our return, we realized we hadn’t really prepared a Christmas Eve dinner so I whipped up a semi-homemade dinner of bow-tie pasta, buttered carrots and bruschetta on toasted baguette. We then swigged a cup of eggnog in the kitchen, laid out cookies, carrots and milk for the impending arrival of the Big Guy and his posse, and headed up to put two little ones down to sleep. If they knew what sugar plums were, visions certainly would have been dancing in their head.

Some Assembly Required

Andrea and I debated whether Santa wraps his gifts or leaves them out in the open. I was briefly on the “Wrap” side of this debate until I realized how much less work it would be to let Santa just lay them out. So we extracted all of the toys from their hermetically sealed packages, arranged them just so, and went to bed.

Christmas goodies

Jump Around. Jump Around. Jump… Jump…
We enter the twin’s bedroom on Christmas morning and they are standing in their cribs waiting for the magic that will soon unfold. TheMonk, when asked if he’s ready to see what Santa brought him, begins jumping up and down in his crib, shouting out, “Santa came!” If there’s one thing I don’t want to forget about this Christmas it’s that memory.

Squeals of Delight
I hold their hands as we descend the stairs to begin our Christmas morning. We don’t make it down the entire staircase, however, before Swee’Pea breaks free from my grasp, hurdles the last few stairs and sprints towards the cornucopia of Chinese-made mound of plastic toys. If there’s another memory I don’t want to forget, it’s this one.

Dinner with Rachel Ray
We sit down to a Christmas Dinner of pot roast, carrots, mashed potatoes, gravy and salad. TheMonk can’t get enough of everything. He devours his salad, pot roast, potatoes and carrots in record time. Swee’Pea, on the other hand, decides she’d rather work on her presentation skills. (It should be noted that Swee’Pea is a big Rachel Ray fan. She loves to watch her show. To play off that passion she received 101 pieces of plastic food along with pots and pans from Santa) As the rest of us eat, Swee’Pea carefully loads a dollop of mashed potatoes onto several round carrot discs on her plate. Once her carrot and mashed potato “cupcakes” (her words) are done, she dutifully shares them with the rest of us. If she ever has a career in cooking, let it be known this was her first Christmas dinner.

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
After dinner, we snuggle on the couch to watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas on TV. Swee’Pea, in between playing with her princess dolls she received from my Aunt Irma, looks up to see The Grinch absconding with Cindy Lou Who’s Christmas Tree. Upon seeing this, Swee’Pea exclaims, “He’s being naughty. He needs a time out.”


It’s now late on Christmas Day and a glance at the counter reminds me I still have some cleaning up to do. Let me just say that to all of you who have followed our story here, Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Christmas Card

December 21, 2007

A Cynical look at Family Traditions

In this ever-growing Daddy Blogging community, there are those who were part of my original group of dads that I consider to be “old school” friends from “back in the day.” Chag, aka Cynical Dad, is one such daddy blogger. I was thrilled when he agreed to share his Family Holiday Tradition. In fact, I like it so much, we just might adopt the first part. Without further ado, I give you Cynical Dad.


Our Christmas tradition revolves heavily around our car. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve toyed with the idea of putting the Christmas tree in the backseat or telling the kids that Santa shimmies through the exhaust pipe instead of down the chimney.

On Christmas Eve, we drive around and look at people’s Christmas decorations while listening to Christmas songs. Then we come home, put out milk and cookies for Santa, and put the kids to bed. My wife and I spend the rest of the evening watching Christmas movies while eating Santa’s cookies, wrapping a few gifts, and assembling the kids’ toys (because it is so much easier doing this the night before; assembling a toy in front of your kid doubles the time and the frustration).

On Christmas morning, the kids wake up early, open presents, and have breakfast. We then drive thirty miles to my mother’s house for lunch and more presents. We then drive back to our house, drop off the kids’ loot, and then drive two hours in the opposite direction to see my wife’s parents, eat another meal, and open more presents.

I think we need a AAA card for Christmas.

You can read more of Cynical Dad by clicking here.

December 20, 2007

“Starbucks” to go

I start the day like I do almost every day. I make myself a cup of coffee at home and take it with me in a travel mug for the morning commute.

I usually make myself a poor man’s mocha with some instant coffee and cocoa powder. Sometimes I’ll add a little raspberry syrup. I’m a gourmet like that.

Today, I decide to make a poor man’s eggnog latte. I figure the eggnog will be sweet enough to counter the bitter coffee so I don’t taste it before heading out the door.

I drop the kids off at daycare before I have my first sip. It is bitter. Very bitter. It will be a long commute if I have to drink this bitter eggnog concoction.

There’s a Starbucks that I frequent often just down the street from where I live (Probably from where you live too. Perhaps we’re neighbors.) and I pull in to rectify this bad coffee morning.

I walk in, smile and nod at the barista who is cleaning a nearby table. I walk straight for the area where the milk, sugar and napkins are held. I grab two organic sugar packets from the caddy. I also grab a wooden stirrer and a napkin.

I, once again, nod at the barista and then I head out to the car to sweeten my homemade eggnog latte.


Is that wrong?

December 18, 2007

What’s really important

Getting ready to go today, I got out the twins’ shoes and proceeded to sit the kids down to put the shoes on.

Upon seeing his shoes, TheMonk declared that he wanted to wear his sandals. Since it is cold outside, I told him that we were going to wear his “big boy” shoes today and that we’d wear the sandals another time. (It should be noted that I let him wear his sandals yesterday – with socks on – but felt it was better if he wore shoes today)

Hearing the bad news, TheMonk proceeded to cry and all the while I put on his shoes, he kept yelling out through the tears, “I DON’T WANNA WEAR BIG BOY SHOES! I WANNA WEAR MY SANDALS!!”

When he didn’t get his way, he proceeded to hit me – which promptly earned him a time out. All through the timeout he kept crying about his sandals.

When his two-minutes were up, I brought him out to the car to go to daycare. When we arrived at daycare he had calmed down and we walked into the daycare provider’s house I explained to her that he wanted to wear his sandals.

And that’s when she told me a story that broke my heart.

Apparently, TheMonk loves wearing his sandals because he can take them off and put them on his feet all by himself – just like the the bigger boys and girls at daycare. All day yesterday he kept taking off his sandals and putting them back on and was so obviously proud of himself for being able to do this all by himself.

As I heard this story, I looked down at my son’s tear-stained face and I asked, “Is that why you want to wear your sandals, Monkey?”

He somberly nodded, “Yes.”

I knelt down to his face level and I said, “Daddy didn’t know that’s why you wanted to wear your sandals, buddy. I promise you can wear them tomorrow, okay?”

He smiled and gave me a hug.

And I left reminding myself that there are worse things than letting your son wear sandals on a chilly winter day.

December 16, 2007

Princess Dresses

Something has happened to my baby girl lately.

I am not sure how it happened or, exactly, when it happened but is has happened, nonetheless.

My baby girl is now a little girl.

Almost overnight she has become a miniature person. She tells me what she thinks (“How about we put the pillows over there, Daddy?”), she helps me find things (“It’s over there, Daddy. It’s in the green bucket.”) and she has become a fashion-conscious little girl (Holding a yellow cup up to her yellow dress, “My cup matches my dress, Daddy.”).

In fact, it is her fashion sense that has jolted me the most. Our morning schedule is such that I’m usually the one that dresses Swee’Pea and TheMonk. Up until recently, it’s been pretty easy to pick out their outfits and get them dressed. Now, however, Swee’Pea has ideas about what she wants to wear. And lately it’s been all about the dresses.

Each dress is not just a dress. Each dress is a “Pink Princess Dress” a “Yellow Princess Dress” or a “[Insert color of dress here] Princess Dress.”

And she wants to wear them all. Pants are no longer the clothing of choice. She doesn’t care if the temperature is hovering in the 50′s (a certifiable cold spell here) she wants to be a princess, darnit. Luckily, she’ll wear tights so we do manage to keep her legs warm and toasty.

But the cutest thing about Swee’Pea wearing dresses is that not only does she transform into a princess, she often transforms into a ballerina princess, doing pirouettes around the room on her tippy toes, hands held together over her head.

And you know what? While I miss my little “Baby Swee’Pea”, I’m even happier to be living with my little girl.

After all, how many of us get to live with a real, live Princess?

December 7, 2007

Rain Drops keep hitting me in the head

It’s raining today.


I mean, this has to be the third time this year.

I might actually have to find an umbrella and one of those jacket things.

December 5, 2007

Family Traditions: Honea Express Style

So for the past few years now, I’ve been trying to create Family Traditions here at the Childsplayx2 household. The problem is, we’re not very creative. And I KNOW just someone out there has some kick butt family tradition that they’re ready to share. So, every year – especially around the holidays – I contact a few of my fellow bloggers and ask them to share something that they do that will be with them for a long time. In essence, I hope to steal some good stuff here. Of course, many who I do contact scream, “What?! Family Traditions?! Me?!” But others jump in and share. And so it is with Whit from Honea Express. He has agreed to step away from his plethora of paying gigs to hand down a little wisdom here. Enjoy.


Tradition is a funny thing. In theory it has been set and is practiced as such, but the reality of the matter is that nothing is constant and even the way we do things on a regular basis is slowly evolving.

That’s my take anyway.

When I was a kid there was never any doubt as to how we would spend the holidays. We knew where we would be, when we’d be there and who would be joining us. It was Christmas by rote.

Yet, even then it was tweaked- babies were born, relationships ended, people moved, people died. Suddenly I’m an adult with children of my own and living in a different state than the traditions I left behind. And still they continue.

This year I’m taking my children back there. We will enter a machine that has been running for nearly 40 years and while the gears have kept turning our arrival will add much needed grease to the wheel.

Is this our tradition now, a moveable feast? Are we set to wander like so many Yuletide gypsies? Perhaps. It is too soon to tell. Ours is still forming and the only constant that we’ve carried thus far, besides brown paper packages tied up with string, is the happiness of two small boys and the love they spread wherever they go.

Tradition is a funny thing. We’re only making ours now.

So far, so good.

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