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Sushi!

I started eating sushi somewhat regularly about five years ago. Golden China, a local Chinese buffet/hibachi restaurant, serves sushi alongside their other fare. I’d typically get a plate of veggies and chicken to be grilled and while that was cooking, I’d grab a sampling of the sushi. It was acceptable. Not that I’m any kind of expert where the prepping of raw fish is concerned, but A) the sushi never appeared dried out and B) I never felt ill afterward, so I guess it was prepared correctly. Of course, I made sure to get sushi right around noon, when it was first prepared.

Unfortunately, Golden China lost the use of their hibachi awhile back (and their buffet was never a high-point for me) so I haven’t returned in some time. However, I’d started looking for other places in the Moore area to satisfy my cravings for raw fish, and I ran across a couple of places: Sushi Hayashi at 104th and South Penn (in OKC) and Go-Go Sushi just north of South 19th Street (in Moore) on the I-35 Service Road. The former has been around for a few years and is worth visiting every once in awhile (the prices are rather steep). The food I’ve tried has been good and the place is a relaxing, usually quiet place to enjoy my meal.

The latter seems yearly to be awarded OKC Gazette’s Best in Asian Dining (or at least receives nominations every year) and while I find the prices more affordable—with the inclusion of a lunch-item-only bento box with your choice of a couple of different sushi rolls (from a very short list), house salad, miso soup, rice, and tempura vegetables (which I haven’t developed a taste for anywhere)—the atmosphere is more akin to McDonald’s, a noisy, chaotic, get-in-eat-your-food-and-then-get-out kind of experience. Go-Go Sushi does offer hibachi items as well, but I don’t recall if they are on the lunch menu.

Then about a year or so ago, Volcano Sushi opened. It, too, is located on the I-35 Service Road in Moore, just south of South 19th Street (about a mile or so south of Go-Go Sushi). It’s a small, quiet place. The menu is fairly dense and while the majority of items are of the sushi variety, it has hibachi items also, and I noticed some of those are included on the lunch menu.

I usually visit sushi restaurants alone. None of my friends like eating raw fish,1 and though my wife and son have at least broken down and tried sushi at least once, neither of them cared for the experience. I seem to recall both grabbing (and draining) glasses of Dr Pepper shortly thereafter. But back over the summer, I had a craving for sushi and, since the kids were with me, I had to figure out what to do for their lunch. I remembered the hibachi items on Volcano Sushi’s menu and suggested we go there. After a bit of grumbling from the kids, they agreed and, after ordering the hibachi chicken lunch special, my son decided the place was worth a second visit.

Alas, the second time around wasn’t a good experience for them: the chicken was overcooked and the lo mein was over-saturated with soy sauce. They haven’t asked for a repeat visit.

But last week my wife and I were trying to figure out where to eat lunch, and I had a craving for sushi. So, of course, I suggested Volcano Sushi and after she wrinkled her nose at the thought, relented. Naturally, she avoided the sushi but did order a bento chicken dish along with the shrimp tempura, which she enjoyed.

And today, when we went out for lunch, she was the one suggesting Volcano Sushi.

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1. Except you, Nathan, but you don’t live here, so in this case, you don’t count.

Tennis, Anyone?

My son has been playing tennis for four years now and maintains an avid interest in the sport. Not so much that he spends hours watching matches on TV, but he does go to the courts as often as he can get me to take him and at odd times I’ll find him playing slow-motion “shadow tennis” working on backhand and forehand strokes or “tossing” a ball into the air to practice his serve. He’s never held much interest in baseball or football and finds basketball and soccer only partially interesting. So I spend hours at the tennis courts, watching him practice. True, I could drop him off and pick him up later (as quite a few parents do), but my wife and I feel it’s part of our responsibility as parents to be there for our kids’ sports activities.

So this year, my wife and I decided to do more than just support him in the sport and started taking cardio tennis lessons.

Yeah, I know. That’s the same reaction my mom had.

Cardio tennis is tennis supercharged. In other words, you run a bit more (in our case, run rope ladders to work on footwork, which gives you something to do while waiting in line) and you listen to Really Loud Music while you swat the ball over the net. Or try to, at least. I often strike the occasional bird innocently flying overhead. Or get really close.

After the first class back at the beginning of the summer, my son commented that it “was funny watching old people play tennis.”

I showed him proper backhand technique with racquet in hand.

He nimbly dodged out of the way and laughed his way to the car.

Since then, we’ve either gone to every cardio tennis lesson or gone to the courts in the evening just to get in an hour of tennis during the week. My daughter took lessons a couple of years ago and knows what she’s doing, so we all can participate to some extent. It’s fun exercise and it gets us outdoors (and away from the TV) for awhile.

Alas, all things come to an end and with the close of summer and school now back in session (along with half a dozen after school activities), the family outings of tennis will come less frequently. But hope remains that I’ll win the lottery and can have a tennis court squeezed into the backyard.

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Note: I was working on this last week and got sidetracked playing video games. Ah, well.

The Smell of Spring

Well, happy first day of spring.

Here in the southern half of Oklahoma things started blooming about two weeks ago, which means I (and everyone else in the family) have been sneezing my head off and going through Kleenex boxes like they were bags of Doritos.

Of course, this being Oklahoma, the weather can’t reach an agreement with itself on what it will remain. The latter part of last week saw temperatures in the 70s, then Sunday we were plunged back into the 40s or so with hard, very cold winds blowing all day long. The last couple of days, the temperatures have been back in the high 50s and low 60s.

This coming weekend a freeze is in the forecast.

Ah, spring.

The kids are out of school all week and trying spend as much time out-of-doors as possible before they get dragged indoors for the semi-annual Cleaning of Their Rooms.

I don’t know why I bother. The rooms get cleaned, and two weeks later they’re trash pits again, never mind the fact that the kids swear they will keep the floors clean of all toys and other debris, etc.

Right.

If I mention any of this to my mother she just laughs and shakes her head.

Since we anticipate having not-so-pleasant weather the latter half of the week (and we really need to get some cleaning done around here and not just the kids’ rooms), we’ve been out for walks in the neighborhood, to the school with the kids’ bikes so they can ride around the parking lot there,* and just out and about.

So all my time outside has meant smelling antifreeze everywhere I go.

The Bradford Pear tree is the most widely planted tree in newer neighborhoods in Oklahoma City and from the time it first flowers (pretty white blossoms, yes) until the blossoms fall away leaving bright green leaves, the aroma it wafts is right up there with week-old garbage. To me, it smells of antifreeze, and old antifreeze at that. Both my son and a friend of mine have said they would prefer that to the stench of rotting fish.

OK, so breathing the acrid scent of old antifreeze for a month or so isn’t so bad.

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*The kids like riding their bikes on the school parking lot—more room to maneuver, and since my son passed his old bike down to his sister, she’s been wanting to ride there. The sidewalks in the neighborhood are typical sidewalks, narrow for someone riding a bike and tilted at crazy angles. The open space of an empty parking lot is much easier to navigate.

Chinese New Year 2013

Happy Year of House Slitherin!

Wait, that’s not right.

Happy New Year (of the Snake)!

Yesterday, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday at the local roller rink, and, yes, I went skating, too (my daughter hasn’t gained full confidence in her ability to get about on wheels and requires daddy’s hand), so I’m exhausted today.*

We met my wife’s side of the family for dinner last night to celebrate her mom’s birthday as well as her nephew’s birthday (both of which are today). The plan had been to go to the temple on the north side of town for the Chinese New Year celebrations since it actually fell on a weekend this year, but the cold, drizzly weather and the fact that I’d been about to fall asleep at the wheel told us the better bet was to go home.

This was disappointing because I know my kids would love it. I haven’t been to a Chinese New Year’s celebration since my wife and I got married (and I think the last had been a year or two earlier when we’d gone), but I found the atmosphere vibrant with positive energy (and I typically hate crowds) more so than I have other New Year’s celebrations. Granted, I’ve only been to the ones here in Oklahoma City (which are fun, don’t get me wrong) but the venues are so spread out and the typical thing is brave the cold from one to the next, popping inside long enough to warm up, see what’s going on, then back outside again (and we have even had a few years when the weather has been in the 60s during the day, so pleasant night temperatures).

But everything at the temple was in one location. The temple is large—not nearly so much as the one being built just northwest of Houston though—but enough that people can pack in tightly and it not feel totally claustrophobic. I’ve never figured out why I’ve always found the Chinese New Year’s celebration more optimistic than the traditional western New Year.**

Ah, well, there will be other Chinese New Year’s Days to celebrate and some of those will fall on a weekend, too.

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*Of course, I’d planned to skate anyway. I’d taken the kids skating the first time over the Christmas break. They loved it. So much so that my daughter decided then to have her birthday party there. That had been the first time I’d gone roller skating since Carter was in office. I’ve been ice skating a bit more recently—as little as twenty years ago—and only recently discovered the ice rink on this side of town is actually open for public skating during the day. Guess I know what I’ll be doing once a week while the kids are in school.

**Hmmm, dragon dance and fireworks going off as opposed to a mirrored ball rising (or falling as it does everywhere else) and fireworks. The former’s definitely more exciting, but even though the incense burned in the temple does give me a headache, there’s some intangible that the lunar new year brings. Maybe it’s the simple fact that it comes later than the solar new year and isn’t lumped in with the commercial frenzy that is Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s so there’s time to reflect on the old before diving into the new.

Too Many Books

I read too much. I also watch entirely too much TV, but that’s a topic for another post sometime.

I blame my parents, well, my dad, really, for this particular “bad habit” which, of course, I say with a wry grin. My dad reads all the time. When he worked full-time, he’d come home in the evening, watch the news for a bit, then, after dinner, sit with a book for a couple of hours before bedtime. Although partial to westerns and mysteries, he’d read just about anything—except fantasy—but anything else is fair game. My mom reads, too, but not nearly as often. She’s had jobs for years where she spends all day staring at a computer screen. The last thing she wants to do when she gets home is look at more small print. Her other reason for not reading very often is an obsessive tendency to start reading something and not stop until she’s finished, even if it means reading through the night and still having to go to work the next morning, bleary-eyed and grouchy.

Hmmm, I recall doing much the same several times during college.

So as I grew up around at least one parent who read profusely (and had shelves crammed with books), I do the same today. I read just about anything I get my hands on, and it’s a habit I’ve passed on to my kids.

My son started reading in first grade, about the time most kids develop that skill, but by the end of the school year, when most kids in his class were still reading level one and level two easy readers, he was into chapter books, Junie B. Jones and A to Z Mysteries, especially. He had a competition going with one of his friends as to who could read more chapter books that year. Outside of the chapter books he read non-fiction, mostly. When I asked him why, he said it was because non-fiction gave him ideas and details to make his own stories. By the time he reached the latter half of third grade, he’d begun to drift in his reading, no longer interested in chapter books because they were just too short, but still wanting to lose himself in worlds created by other people. He had no interest in The Hardy Boys, Tom Sawyer, or The Three Investigators, books that I read when I was his age. I had a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone which I’d picked up years ago yet hadn’t gotten around to reading.* He asked if he could read that.

He was hooked.

Between the end of third grade and Christmas break in fourth grade, he’d read the entire series and decided that any fiction book of less than two hundred pages long wasn’t worth his time.**

My daughter had decided by the time she was four that she wanted to read at big brother’s level, so she pushed herself and was reading on her own by the time she entered kindergarten. At Christmas that year, she’d received her first chapter book, and she’s continued reading those since.*** However, this year, she found that even though she’s reading chapter books, she’s not quite ready to test on them. A less-than-stellar grade brought her to tears with a vow she’d never read again.

She got over it and enjoys going to the library and the bookstore at least once a week to add to her growing book collection. Both kids do, and we have book shelves crammed to overflowing with books, books stacked on tables, books stacked on the floor . . . .

You know, too many books.

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*Still haven’t.

**He still reads his sister’s chapter books on occasion.

***And she has pretty good recall on everything she reads (or hears or sees). She misses details at times but has a solid grasp on the gist of whatever she observes. She found with testing that  details matter, so she has since slowed down in her reading to pay closer attention to those.

It Looks Like Spaghetti . . . But It Doesn’t

So I cooked spaghetti last night, one of the kids’ favorites, even when I use a pre-made sauce and just toss in extras (which typically happens on days when I don’t decide to fix sauce early enough to slow cook it for several hours). I used a bottle of Prego Bacon & Provolone—specifically chosen for my son who loves both—added a handful of crumbled pork sausage, a double handful of crumbled turkey sausage, some diced onion, diced celery, diced carrots, and a small can of black olives.* For the kids and the wife, I boiled a pot of water and dumped in a double handful of pre-made noodles. I don’t know how to make my own. Never learned.

Anyway, for myself, I prepped a spaghetti squash.

Read any modern weight loss book, those that say anything wheat or gluten-based is bad (i.e., the food of the devil), and the spaghetti squash is held up as the vegetable to pour all that sauce on.** Microwave it. Open it up. Scoop out the seeds. Shred the flesh out with a fork, and it looks and tastes just like spaghetti.

Or maybe it doesn’t.

My daughter walks in as I am wrestling the jumbo-sized, peanut-shaped pumpkin out of the microwave and says, “What’s that?”

“Spaghetti squash.”

She wanders back out to eat her dinner as a reply.

I drop the squash onto the cutting board and notice the skin has split in a couple of places. Grabbing paper towel and knife, I set to work cutting it open.

Ouch. Hot. Fingers burning.

Mind you, I’ve allowed the thing to sit for at least twenty to thirty minutes while I finished cooking the remainder of the dinner, fixed plates for the kids, had them set out napkins and helped them get their drinks and so on. The squash is still hot enough to cook an egg inside.

I slice the thing open and look inside.

It looks like . . . squash. Granted, the stringy flesh holding the seeds in place looks somewhat like spaghetti. In dim light. With my eyes closed.

My daughter walks back in about then and says, “It looks like pumpkin. Ewwww.”***

Now, to scrape the flesh, I take hold of the fork with one hand and the open half squash with the other—and burn my hand doing so.

Gritting my teeth and muttering something about eating healthy being for the birds, I take out the oven mitts, but they’re too awkward, and the squash spins across the counter top. Back to paper towels. More of them.

Scrape. Scrape. Ouch. Hot. Blow on finger tips.

Scoop out flesh into a bowl. Scrape some more.

Twenty minutes later (or an hour, I don’t know, when being tortured time stretches) I’ve managed to remove as much of the insides of the squash as I care to dig for and, truth told, I most likely missed at least a quarter of it. But after I set aside the skin and look at the bowl I’ve scooped the flesh into, I realize that it doesn’t look like spaghetti. It doesn’t look like pumpkin, really, which resembles a glob of orange-colored glue. Shredded spaghetti squash looks a bit like yellow-colored rice.

It tastes rather bland, alone, with a slight buttery quality to the texture. Mixed with the sauce, however, it was worth the effort.

If I can figure out how to get the flesh from the thing without burning my fingers off, I might pick up spaghetti squash again. Otherwise, I’ll stick with evil semolina wheat.

Oh, and we decided that the Prego Bacon & Provolone sauce is a pretty good base (but it smells terrible when it starts cooking).

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*I love black olives. Every time the family and I visit Olive Garden, they give me whatever olives they find in the salad. But my son has decided he some times likes black olives with the pepperoni on pizza.

**Well, OK, so only half a cup of the sauce. Don’t want to get too carried away.

***My daughter is always wanting to carve pumpkins at Halloween. But this is the reaction I know she’ll have, so I’ve never done it because I know I’d be doing all the work.

A Turkey, a Funeral, and a Long Drive in Between

A feast was had.

My brother and his family, whom we had visited back over the summer, came to town last week for Thanksgiving. My nieces spent the night Wednesday evening, something my kids had been looking forward to since they found out the girls were going to be here for the holiday. They flew in rather than drive, which meant they could stick around longer during the week instead of the two days they usually devote to their visits.

The kids played outside all afternoon while my wife and I chatted with my brother and sister-in-law. When they left, my wife went to the Y for an exercise class, while I took the kids to pick up pizzas and a movie. They wound up with Santa Clause 3, a movie I’ve seen too many times to count but one they all thought was funny enough to watch again.

So after dinner, while the kids watched Tim Allen and Martin Short face off over the red suit, my wife and I prepped the turkey and dressing for the following morning—our usual routine. Once that was done, the kids went to the back room to play, and my wife and I sat and watched The Hunger Games.* We ‘d dragged my son’s mattress into my daughter’s room so the kids could sleep in that room, and they were all agreeable to the idea . . . until it came time for bed when they argued over who was going to sleep where—one cousin wanted to sleep in the same bed as my daughter, but the other did not want to stay in the same bed as my son. They’d had no problems with those same arrangements back during the summer, but I guess in the intervening months the girls had decided they were too old to share a bed with a boy.

Ah, well.

My son wound up piling blankets on the floor of his room and sleeping there.

I awoke the next morning to slide the turkey into the oven, get breakfast for the kids, and fix the remainder of the day’s feast: candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, reheat the dressing, clean the grapes, dish out the jellied cranberry sauce and the turkey gravy. My mom and dad were bringing over the dinner rolls and the pies.

Things were moving along smoothly. The kids had dressed and gone outside to play. My wife and I had the meal either in the oven or ready to slide in the moment something else was thoroughly heated.

Then came the phone call from my wife’s sister.

She took it in the other room, came out a few minutes later staggering to replace the phone on its base, looking as though she’d been hit with a bag of cement, only to turn and walk to the back of the house again.

I asked her what was wrong and then it clicked: her grandmother had passed away.

We knew it was going to come. She’d been in and out of the hospital several times over the past couple of years, and a few months back, she’d been diagnosed with cancer and given a life expectancy of six months to a year.

My wife had been hoping we would get to see her over the Christmas break.

So the Thanksgiving feast was rather more subdued than usual. But the food was good, the company (my parents, my brother and his family, my wife’s mom and siblings had either gone down to Houston to visit relatives there or were visiting in-laws here in the city) was appreciated and even more necessary this year. Talk centered on what everyone was thankful for, past vacations, what everyone was looking forward to in the next few months. After absorbing enough “grown up talk” the kids raced back outside to play again (we’ve had temperatures in the high 60s to mid-70s off-and-on over the past few weeks, very nice fall weather).

Once the dishes were cleared, the leftovers packed away, and the relatives out the door, I made hotel arrangements and my wife starting tossing things into bags for the trip to Houston. We managed to leave at 9:00 the next morning, earlier than we usually leave the city on a trip out of town. Well, we’d left earlier than that but received a call from one of my wife’s many aunts that the funeral arrangements had been made for Monday morning, so we had to run back by the house to grab a few more clothes, but were leaving the city by shortly after nine anyway.

The drive to Houston is long. And boring. Aside from the thirty minute, white-knuckle slalom of death through Dallas. But the Friday after Thanksgiving, even that portion of the drive was taken at a leisurely pace. I didn’t feel like a chicken walking through a knife factory. About the only real problem we had on the trip down was discovering the front plate on the audio system in the new Venza was hot to the touch. Not just warm. I literally yanked my hand away when I’d reached over to change CDs just north of the Texas border.

After stopping for lunch and getting on the road again, we found the audio system was getting warm with only the GPS plugged in after forty minutes or so. When we operated the CD player or the radio, the unit heated up within thirty minutes and was hot after an hour. Great, something else to get checked out after we return home, I thought. We made it to Houston without the car burning out on us (and through the next several days and the drive back).

The following day started the Buddhist process of last rites involving a whole lot of chanting (in Vietnamese), incense, bells, kneeling, more chanting, and so on. All day Saturday and Sunday, then again Monday morning during the actual funeral ceremony. Though a nominal Buddhist, my wife has taken me a few times to temple, so I knew what to expect. Our kids tired quickly, so I took them outside once I could slip away. The name of the place was The Chapel of Eternal Peace, but after sitting through the chanting for awhile, my son called it The Chapel of Eternal Torture, and my daughter said it was the Chapel of Eternal Bad Singing in reference to the chanting.

Kids come up with the strangest things to keep themselves amused.

My wife didn’t attend all the prayer services (two or three on Saturday, I believe and that many again on Sunday—there were several). Neither did her mother. After the first day, mother-in-law was just too tired to go through it all again on Sunday so took a day off to watch after my sister-in-law’s kids. We all went on Monday morning.

During those three days, I thought about grandmother-in-law, Pham Kim Lieu, and what she meant to us. She raised my wife back in Vietnam. Everyone else in the family worked (slaved away, really under the communist government) to earn enough to live, so my wife’s grandmother was the one who took care of her every day. She was the matriarch of the family. Hardly anything occurred that didn’t receive her blessing first. That was one of the things I’d made sure to address when I asked my then-girlfriend to marry me: I asked her grandmother and mother first. Even though her grandmother didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Vietnamese (still don’t), we managed to communicate. She grudgingly accepted me (despite being told not to by some of my wife’s aunts and uncles) but approved the marriage nevertheless. And when our son was born (the first grandchild and first great-grandchild in the family), she spent a great amount of time bouncing him on her knee and holding him. She did the same with our daughter. She loved the kids. They loved her. She spent a lot of her time walking (around ten miles a day when she was 80) and working in her garden. She also spent a lot of time playing with the great-grandchildren.** She died just three months shy of her ninety-first birthday.

She will be missed.

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*I’ve been told by numerous people I should read this novel, that I would really like it, and it is on my list to read; however, though the book might be good, the movie is little more than a confusing mess. My wife fell asleep half way through and I was tempted to turn it off and go back to reading a Warhammer novel I’m in the middle of, but sat through it anyway. Needless to say, I won’t be watching the sequel.

** One of the things I regret is never learning Vietnamese so that I could converse with her. Not for lack of trying. I’ve sat with books on the language, CDs, computer software, yet it just doesn’t stick for some reason, and I have a fairly good grasp of languages and good ear for picking up how languages sound, but Vietnamese has eluded me thus far. My kids, though, have been able to pick up some and hopefully they’ll be able to master the language one day.

Note: I’d planned on posting this earlier in the week, but I’m rather lost on what day it is, have been since last Thursday, really.

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