Thursday, April 30, 2015

How to Make the Perfect Bento

Hi. You don't actually expect me to teach you how to make the perfect bento, right? I mean, surely you've been reading long enough to know that the only thing I feel qualified to teach you is that life is hard (but fun) and we are all a little imperfect.

That said, I DO make a lot of bentos, so I thought I'd offer a photo essay.

At the start of any given week, I am usually much more ambitious. This often leads to the creation of wiener animals.

This is a stock image. My wiener animals never look that good.
Wiener animals separate the good moms from the bad ones when it comes to Japanese o-bento. The possibilities are endless, and there are an infinite number of guides to help you perfect the art of making them.

The "Decorative Wiener Cutting Classroom" guide to making wiener animals and fish. This is all starting to make me wonder whether we should initiate a diplomatic action to properly explain the colloquial use of the word wiener in the English language....Nah.

The last time we were in Japan, I tried to improve my skills by buying a handy wiener cutting tool. Alas, it turns out that not all wieners are created equal. American wieners are larger than Japanese wieners. No matter how hard I try, I can't get my wieners to fit. This greatly hampers my wiener cutting ambitions.

One size does NOT fit all.
As a result, my wiener bentos look more like this:

Wiener octopus, chrysanthemum, and squid; broccoli, carrots, apple, and rice with furikake.

My favorite bento-making days are the morning after nights when Ren made dinner. Those days, I send the kids with some serious swag. And, the best part is that I don't have to do much work.

GF homemade meatballs in teriyaki sauce and tomato sauce, broccoli, lettuce, rice, grape tomatos, and grapes.

Money shot.

GF pork cutlets on rice, lettuce, carrots, and apples.


By the end of the week, Ren and I are spent, and I resort to more desperate measures to make sure the kids have something to eat come lunch time. I'm usually scraping the bottom of the fridge at this point, particularly if we forgot to go to the grocery store over the weekend.

Hummus, carrots, cucumber, corn chips, and grapes.

Celery and carrots, Snapea Crisps, blueberry pancakes with jelly, and fruit snacks.

Making bentos every morning is a lot of work. But, thanks to the kids' allergies and to the fact that they just feel and act better when we limit their processed food intake, there doesn't seem to be a better option.

The payoff, I guess, is that the kids instinctively eat pretty well (and, also, I get to make wiener jokes on my blog). Another bonus is that because we tend to only have things on hand that they are able to eat, when they cook for themselves, it's pretty healthy. Sky made this for dinner one Sunday a couple of weeks ago when Ren and I were both sick.

Rice with furikake, corn chips, carrots, hummus, green beans, mini-pepperoni, and clementine.
Ironically, as is true with many things when your kid is on the autism spectrum, all this healthy eating can be a major problem. Sky has been known to lecture his classmates on the perils of junk food, and when the new boy in his class (who happens to be from Japan) came down with the stomach flu, before walking his sick classmate down to the nurse's office, Sky proclaimed, "He'd be a lot better off if his mom made bentos instead of letting him eat hot lunch!"  It turns out that, while I seem to have figured out how to deal with the grind of the daily bento, I still haven't managed to turn Sky into a flexible thinker.

Ah, well, you win some. You lose some.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Rain Rubble Earthlings

A friend ask Sky to draw a picture of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow with a monster on it. I suppose you could say it was his first commissioned piece. He'd never seen a picture of St. Basil's, so I showed him one on the Internet. Within an hour, he'd drawn this:

Ren and I thought something this violent might jeopardize any future political ambitions, so we suggested he tone it down a bit. Thirty minutes later, he'd created this somewhat tamer scene: 


Not to be outdone by her brother, Pink created her own version of a monster attacking St. Basil's only her monster was a cute "bat monster," and he was met by a giant bird, a unicorn, and a pegasus:


My kids are always drawing, and a lot of times their ingenuity their ability to communicate so clearly with their art kind of blows my mind. Today when I went to tuck Pink into bed, I found this:

Pink P's guide to calming down when you're sad. Have you ever seen sadder people? She proffers all sorts of advice in her book. In this illustrated guide, she suggests hugging Mom, kissing Mom, playing with a beloved toy, watching a favorite TV show, and even screaming into your pillow.

If none of those work, you can always chew on something:

Though I suggest chewing on something slightly less larger than your head.
Or, take a nap:

With your pink pillow of course.
Mostly, though, she thinks you should just calm yourself down already. I mean, sheesh, you shouldn't need a picture for that.

Here's the thing...Just when I think the hard parts of parenting are about to get the best of me, I stumble across something they've done that's unexpected and insightful, and I am reminded that being a mom is so much more than slogging through the muck of things like early morning bento making and argument refereeing!

Thank goodness, too. Without their quirky creativity, I'm not sure I could keep my sense of humor especially when I seem to spend ALL of my free time writing strongly-worded e-mails to school. [Today alone, I wrote one message to Pink's principal suggesting they find better ways to celebrate Earth Day than by giving toys only to the kids who purchase "hot lunch" (but not to the ones like Pink who can't eat hot lunch due to allergies) and a series of e-mails to Sky's teacher troubleshooting ways to make sure he is adequately supported in his attempts to advocate for himself when he's being picked on.]

So, RAIN RUBBLE EARTHLINGS! There's nothing in this world a few well-placed monsters and a couple of unexpected drawings can't fix.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why I'll Never Be a Good Japanese Mom # I'velostcount

An essay, in pictures:

How many insanely small droppers full of tonkatsu sauce does it take to fill one of these ridiculously miniature truck-shaped holders? I don't know. But, the guantlet, it has been thrown, so I'm about to find out.

The answer is 12. Twelve droppers full. I'm pretty sure that if I was a Japanese mom, each drop would contain a little piece of my heart and overflow with love for my children. But, love? Love was not what I had in my heart when I undertook this particular exercise. #whyi'mabadjapanesemom

Goodbye little truck. May you inadvertently be disposed of with the trash.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to Refill a Bean Bag Chair


No, seriously, just buy a new one.

What? That wasn't enough how-to advice for you? Do you mean you clicked on the link because you actually though I could help you with this?!?  

In the interest of full disclosure, I present exhibit A:

See the "beans" making their way up the wall?

This is what happened the FIRST time we tried filling our bean bags. Did you know about this? You open the bag of filling and the beans come to life. They spread out all over the carpet; they climb the wall; they stick to every crevice of your body. Sometimes they even float in mid-air, centimeters away from your fingers, propelled by static electricity.

Pro-tip #1: Don't just throw open the bag. Contain, contain, contain.
Pro-tip #2: If you find yourself surrounded on all sides by rogue styrofoam beans, a Japanese fan (Exhibit B) used with short, rapid strokes, is the only conceivable way to to gather them back together again. 
Exhibit B: Kitty-chan fans are perfect for gathering beans.
This all started--as these things usually do--with Ren's desire to cut costs. We're a five-bean-bag type of family, and excessive use by grown-ups (hem hem) had left us with some depressingly flat bean bag chairs.

After haphazardly looking for filling in town, I decided my best bet was to shop online. The bag(s) (Yes, I bought more than one) were each 100 liters. In case you're wondering (because I was before they showed up on our front step in three large boxes), a 100 liter bag of filling is slightly bigger than Stow and but not quite as tall as Pink.

Ever wonder what 100 liters of bean bag beans look like? Now you know.

Once the huge bags of beans arrived, I did what any half-way sane parent would do; I decided we should never ever open them. (I envisioned 300 liters of styrofoam beans spread throughout the house.) Instead, I put the bags of beans into our walk-in closet. And for several days, neither Ren nor I could find anything to wear because the bean bag beans took up the entire space. 

That's when Ren, bless his heart,***decided he would just fill the chairs himself. Photographic evidence of the results of his one-man efforts are above.

It took him two hours to figure out how to contain the beans and get them into the chairs. In the fourth hour, I decided it was time to help (because by then, the kids were in bed). When I got there, I found the most bloated toddler chair on the planet.

Despite my best effort, I couldn't convince Ren that none of the chairs needed as many beans as he thought they did. So, we ended up with chairs that look like these:

My favorite, though, is this one: 

We're now the proud owners of the biggest darn fugu (blowfish) on the planet. It's so full of beans, that it's impossible to sit on. In fact, it seems that the only thing the bean bag is good for now is rolling down the steps (at least, Stow thinks so), and we ALL know how that's going to end. 

** And, by 'bless his heart," I mean "sucker."