Tricks and Treats

Tricks and Treats

Today was Ethan’s big Halloween Birthday Bash.  I obsessively planned and crafted for it the entire month.  Twenty costumed little kids decorating orange plastic plate “pumpkins,” signing Ethan’s birthday poster, making their own button pins, getting stick on tattoos, taking a turn at the bean bag throw and shooting marshmallows through Frankenstein’s mouth.  All that in two hours and I decided it I really needed to spin cotton candy.  I’m exhausted.

Wish I had pictures of our party to share with you.  Unfortunately, I was too distracted supervising activities and passing out food to stop and take pictures.  Instead, as my last Halloween post, I’d like to share some of my favorite tricks & treats.

 Other Mother and Me
Inspired by Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline”
Other Mother.  I am Real Mother and she is my alter ego.  She spent the entire party standing near the refreshments and creeping everyone out.  When we go trick-or-treating Monday night, I will don the wig, hat & trench and become Other Mother. 

 Finger Food
Found in Disney Family Fun Halloween Edition
Hot dogs and string cheese become bloody bandaged fingers (or toes) and zombie fingers.  Simple to make and a fairly good chance the kids will actually eat this food.  I also offer bowls of grapes, strawberries and baby carrots on the side before I set them loose on rice crispy treats, cupcakes and a giant bowl of candy.
 Gummy Worm Jello
I like Gummy worm jello because it looks impressive but is super easy to make and can be prepared well before the party.  All you need to do is this:  Make one batch of jello and fill clear plastic cups halfway.  Let this batch set in the refrigerator.  Lay one or two gummy worms into each cup of jello and then fill the remainder of the cup with a second batch of jello.  Chill again.  Garnish with one last gummy worm on top and serve. 
 Milk Jug Lanterns
Found in Disney Family Fun Halloween Edition
Before you recycle your milk jugs, give them a short second life as ghost lanterns.  Just be sure you rinse and dry the jugs thoroughly and cut a big enough hole in back so you can stuff the Christmas lights through.  I used one string of lights for all four jugs.
No Carve Pumpkins
Last year we did the ultimate quick pumpkin decorating session.  Ethan pulled out his Play Doh potato head kit and we discovered they work perfectly on pumpkins.  Lots of goofy fun and absolutely no mess.
Happy Halloween!
A Tale Dark & Grimm

A Tale Dark & Grimm

This week, Simon, Ethan and I gobbled up the book “A Tale Dark & Grimm” by Adam Gidwitz.  We read it before school, on the subway en route to gymjitsu, after dinner and long long past our bedtime.  I read aloud until my voice was hoarse, but we were so eager to know what happens next we just kept reading.
Wait!  Before you rush out to buy this book:  Know that this is not a blandly safe version of fairy tales you are  accustomed to finding on the children’s bookshelves these days.  Nope.  In this book, children are murdered (and brought back to life), souls are ripped out of young girls’ throats and Gretel cuts off her own finger to open the door to Crystal Mountain.  Definitely not watered down.  If your kids spook easily or you feel too weirded out reading this stuff aloud to them, this may not be the book for you.
I had a bit of a moment on the subway myself.  We were utterly engrossed in our book.  The handsome young serial killer with lips as red as blood was hacking apart his latest victim to make stew.   Both boys were hanging onto every word.  Suddenly I notice an unusual silence in our subway car.  I look up to see all our fellow passengers watching us intently.  Admittedly, it was awkward.  But the boys demanded to hear more so I just shrugged and kept reading (louder so our growing audience could hear the story too).
There are also some truly hilarious parts in the book.  Our favorite is the chapter about the baker woman (not witch) with a taste for small children.  “Are you cooking yet?”  She asks Hansel.  He answers no.  “That smell was just some chocolate cake I’d stuffed in my undies….”  Ethan is still wandering around the house quoting that line.
Gory.  Scary.  Haunted.  Funny.  Delightful.  We loved this book.
Costumes of Halloween Past

Costumes of Halloween Past

Ethan as a Pumpkin 2006

You know what I miss about having little-little kids?  I miss orchestrating our annual Halloween costumes.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a complete sucker for Halloween.  And when the boys were babies, I’d decide what that year’s costume theme would be.  Sometimes it worked out great, sometimes it didn’t.  The year Simon & I were Stitch and Lilo, he paraded about in a Stitch hat-head and  I simply threw on 2 fake leis and a grass skirt.  One year I wanted to dress up as a princess and have the boys be my knights and Jin be the dragon; but my plans fell flat because I couldn’t find a princess dress that wasn’t trashy looking and I didn’t complete the dragon costume.  But here are some costumes that worked out better:

 2006 Pirates
We went trick-or-treating at the Winter Gardens.  Jin reluctantly donned the pirate gear I handed him and let me drag him with us.  He was shocked to see how mundane our costumes were compared to what some of the other parents were wearing.
 2007 Ninjas and ?
This was the year the princess / knights idea completely flopped.  We ended up at our favorite costume store where the boys decided to be ninjas.  Don’t ask me how Jin & my costumes are supposed to tie in.  In a moment of complete insanity, I actually bought that Japanese silk kimono-robe in an over priced boutique for a price I can’t repeat because I’m embarrassed I actually slapped my credit card down for it.  I have hopes to unload it on ebay one of these days.
 2008 Teen Titans
Ever heard of the Teen Titans?  My boys have been fixated on the series for years.  Ethan insisted on wearing that Robin costume for two Halloweens in a row which meant I was stuck as Raven.  Simon agreed to be Cyborg but we never were able to find the green tights we needed if Jin was going to dress up as Beast Boy.
2010 GI Joe Guys?
Alas, we are past the age where I can talk my family into a costume theme.  Last year the boys were big enough to want to trick-or-treat with friends.  Jin donned his Willy Wonka costume and I slapped on my Mad Hatter hat and we followed our GI Joe fighting guys and their buddies through multiple lower Manhattan high rise apartments.  Still having loads of fun.  And maybe I’m silly to feel a little sad, but I see losing the say-so on our costumes as just one more sign that we have left baby-hood behind.
Button Party Favors

Button Party Favors

Buttons made by Val
(2.25 inch buttons, origami paper, stickers & rub on letters)

I have long wanted to experiment with making my own buttons and Ethan’s upcoming birthday party is all the excuse I need to splurge on a button maker set.

Here’s what I’m thinking:  Kids love party favors; they don’t really care what the favor actually is.  They just want to collect things to take home.  Parents hate junk; especially the stuff that is manufactured to go straight from the party favor shelf at the store directly into the trash once everyone goes home & the kids go to bed.

So this is what I’m going to do for E’s party favors next weekend.  As each guest arrives, he/she will receive a small canvas bag (that can be reused or textile recycled) with a personalized button pinned on it.  The kids will play games & have a chance to win “prizes.”  These “prizes” are “generously donated” from Simon & Ethan’s toy bins.  At the end of the party, our little friends leave with a mini trick-or-treat bag jammed with candy and 2nd time around toys.  It works out perfectly – kids have the loot their hearts so desire, parents feel less guilty if they toss the stuff out because it didn’t come straight from the store the day before and I am thrilled because I made my boys purge some junk.  We are all happy.

By the way parents – you don’t have to throw the junk out.  Just make your kids clean out their unused plastic toys and toss them into a big bucket.  Put it out on Halloween along with that bowl of candy.  Watch the neighbor kids go wild because they can choose a toy and a piece of candy.

But I digress.  What about those buttons?  I think the buttons elevate the whole thing from bag of junk to… uh, I guess bag of junk with nifty original name tag on it that kids may even pin onto their backpacks and wear for a while.  So can we say the real party favor is the “made by Val” button?

Making the buttons is surprisingly easy.  The hardest part is figuring out how to get the actual pin on the back aligned horizontally.  Otherwise, it’s just cut the paper (with a circular cutter), stick, rub and clamp-clamp, done!  Of course, I was using stickers today it so I could quickly combine the right colors to get that visual punch.  I plan to make a series of super hero buttons – this will be a much slower process since I will actually draw, ink and color each paper disk. 

The party favors are ready.  Next on my list is “other mother” inspired by Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline.”  If I can successfully construct her this weekend, you’ll definitely be meeting her next week….

Really the Perfect Health Diet?

Really the Perfect Health Diet?

Last month, I decided to modify my diet using the “Perfect Health Diet” as my template.  I have to say I’m feeling amazingly good – so of course, I need to share this with you.

If you want to know all the nitty-gritty details, you can read the book “Perfect Health Diet” by Paul Jaminet and Shou-Ching Jaminet.  I have to warn you that the book probably contains more than you want to know since its written for scientists and the medical community as well as regular folk like me.  I’m still slogging through it myself.  It may be enough for you to just go to their blog at

Lots to think about and read about, but in practice?  The recommendation is that our daily caloric intake should be broken out as 20% carbohydrates, 65% (good) fats and 15% protein.  That’s right, 65% of our calories should come from good fats (think nuts, avocado, olive oil, cheese).

We should stay away from grains & grain products (rice is ok), sugar, corn syrup, legumes and Omega-6-rich vegetable seed oils… My first reaction when I saw this “do not eat” list was to think what is there left to eat?  In fact, there is plenty left to eat, but I do need to think a little more creatively now when planning the week’s meals.

Why even try this eating plan?  After all, holiday baking is right around the corner and I make yummy brownies, pumpkin bread & ginger-molasses cookies.  And last year I discovered exactly how delicious real ramen is and I will wait in line for 45 minutes outside of Totto Ramen (52nd street) for a bowl of their chewy noodles in that amazing garlicky chicken broth.  For crying out loud – I’m Chinese and potstickers are in my blood!!  How can I choose to not eat this deliciousness?

Well, it boils down to my achilles heel on how I feel about my physical self… my pot belly.  Yup.  Got one.  And I  figure it’s because I’ve had 2 c-sections or I’m getting older or it’s just in my genes or all three.  But my stomach pokes out.  There it is.  And no amount of boxing, martial arts,  killer pilates sessions or interval training has made a dent on the belly.  Hey, don’t get me wrong, I work out because I love it … but I’ve also been hoping to get rid of the belly…. because I swear, about once a month, someone comes up to me and asks if I am pregnant.  Do you know how annoying that is?  Once, some woman actually stopped me in the middle of my bicep curls set (I had to put down my dumbells & pull out the earbuds) to gush about how I looked pregnant just like she had been – slim everywhere except that my belly was sticking out…. I swear this is a true story.  I had to grit my teeth real hard to keep from slapping her….

Which brings me to 5 weeks ago while I was setting up my bike for spin class.  I am trying to stay “zen” even though some lumpy woman has just asked me the pregnant question.  I overhear the guy next to me grilling our instructor about his eating habits.  Since I have utmost respect for this instructor,  I start listening and when he mentions he stays away from grains and legumes,  I jump into the conversation to ask why.  He gives a list of reasons, but what really catches my attention is the claim that our bodies are actually not designed to digest grains and legumes comfortably and that it can cause inflammation….  Huh?  As in bloating?  Like my belly?

So I decide to take the leap and just try it.  My instructor follows a Paleo diet but recommends the Perfect Health Diet to me since he thinks it’s more accessible.  I read about both plans and decide to go with a modified version of the Perfect Health Diet.  I decide to keep it very simple and not worry about that 20% / 65% / 15% breakout.  I stay away from grains and grain products for most of the week and I allow roughly one cheat day a week (or equivalently, 2 cheat meals).  If there is really something I feel I must have or I will die, then I eat it.  Otherwise I keep a tally of my favorite goodies that I’m passing up on during the week and then I choose which two or three I would like to eat on my allotted cheat meals.

The first week is miserable.  I am very cranky by day 4.  I make multiple trips to the grocery store because I’m eating all our produce.  And I eat myself sick on the first cheat meal.  But the next day, I go back to the no-grain regime & make it another week to the next cheat day.  At first, I live for the next cheat meal, but this changes.  I experience some exciting and unexpected results that make this decision worth the “sacrifice:”

  •  I am more awake when I’m awake.  I.e.,  I feel more alert and less lethargic
  • My blood sugar level seems more stable and I don’t get that jittery shaky “I must eat now” feeling that was so common when breakfast might have been a muffin or oatmeal
  • My joints feel better and I am more flexible!  This one really makes me happy.  I don’t crackle when I move and my standing split in yoga looks much better
  • That bloated feeling is gone
  • The belly is smaller (but unfortunately, it’s still there… patience…)

Now, maybe if I would get similar results by just cutting out processed foods or calories.  But I don’t think so.  I’ll leave you to read up on all the arguments for this diet yourself.  An interesting thing about this eating adventure is that the longer I stay away from all the pasta, breads and other grain products, the less interested I am in eating them.

Yesterday – a friend stops by to visit.  She exclaims I actually look younger than before… how can that be?  I flash her a grin, serve her a portion of my homemade curry chicken salad and start telling her all about my experience with this new eating plan…