West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)

In my childhood house of a thousand siblings, there was only one day more exciting than Christmas.

My birthday.

On my birthday, I got to sit at the head of the breakfast table and preside over a plate of powdered doughnuts with candles. Powdered doughnuts might not seem very exciting compared to the Krispy Kremes and Voodoo doughnut delicacies of today, but back then they were a huge treat. Especially to a kid in a big family on a budget.

I also got a pile of presents (i.e., three). If there was a birthday cake later (or brownies, in the leaner years), I got the first piece. And I got seconds.

I got the front seat in the car.

For an entire day, the overlooked middle child was seen.

And I was queen. And it was good.

This is how I thought all birthdays should be. But as Australian-Asian blogger Mabel recently pointed out, every culture and every person is a little different when it comes to birthdays.

My husband Andy came from a Chinese-American family. He was the oldest boy, which meant he got most of the attention and food. As his family actually practiced family planning, he had enough food, too.

But birthdays and holidays? Nope. Andy remembers exactly one shocking Christmas with a tree and a ton of presents. He was sure Santa had made a mistake until his mom told him to open his gifts. Andy’s family never wasted money on pumpkins, turkeys, or Easter Baskets, either.

And birthdays? Andy’s grandmother, Popo, who grew up in China before the Communists took over, told him that it was better not to celebrate birthdays. “If you celebrate your birthday,” she explained, “evil spirits will take notice, realize you are still alive. Then perhaps they will remedy that situation.”

The first year we were a couple, I asked Andy want he wanted to do on his birthday.

Andy shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”

I was aghast. “It matters! It’s your birthday! You get to pick everything we do!”

“Really? I pick sex.”

I rolled my eyes and explained, “No, I mean, do you want to go out for dinner? Do you want me to surprise you or pick your favorite place? And what kind of cake do you want?”

“Uh, any cake that’s not from a grocery store,” Andy said.

“Are you kidding? I would NEVER! Who does that?”

“My mom. For my eighteenth birthday, she called me at work and told me to grab any kind of cake at Foodland on my way home.”

“I didn’t even have YOUR NAME ON IT?!” I screeched.

“Nope.”

My horror was complete. That year, and every year after, I made Andy a cake. From scratch. I even bought a Wilton cake-decorating set so I could write “Happy Birthday Andy” on it in my own icing, rather than the bitter frosting tubes from the grocery store.

Leveling the layers of Devil’s food (about hour 3)

Andy’s favorite was the three-layer Devil’s food cake with poured ganache frosting. For short, we called it six-hour cake, because that’s how long it took to make the sucker. Every year, Andy would say, “No, no, you’re busy, it’s okay, you don’t have to!”

And every year, I’d think of his 18th birthday cake from Foodland and reply, “Oh yes I do.”

Post-crumb coat, mid-pour of ganache (about hour 5)

The first few years, I invited friends over to celebrate. Then I added his cousins and Aunt and Uncle. One year his brother was even in town, and he also joined us.

The following year, when I asked what he wanted to do, Andy asked, “Please can we have a party for just us?”

“You sure that doesn’t seem boring? You won’t get as many good presents.”

Andy snorted and said, “Their presents aren’t THAT good. And last year there was hardly any leftover cake!”

“Wait. It’s the cake? You just don’t want to share your cake?!”

Andy mumbled, “Well, it’s really good cake. And it’s not THEIR birthday. They don’t deserve that cake.”

Now we celebrate Andy’s birthday alone and Andy eats his cake for a week.

And he is king.

And it is good.

Year of the Dawg (#212)

It’s Chinese New Year, and it’s also my third blogoversary! I bet y’all think I’m gonna do an uplifting or informational post about the Year of the Dog today, right?

Nope. Today I’m gonna talk about just how much a new mattress can improve your life. Continue reading Year of the Dawg (#212)

Baby Battle (#205)

My parents procreated like rabbits. Then they got divorced and procreated some more. Given that having children is pretty much the worst thing a regular person – not an Exxon Executive or a Donald Trump – can do to the environment, I figured someone in my family owed it to Mother Earth to NOT have children.

There was just one problem. My husband wanted a kid. Continue reading Baby Battle (#205)

Winner, Winner, Olive Dinner (#185)

My Chinese-American husband and I live in Los Angeles. Since my husband is an excellent cook, we don’t go out that often. But when we do go out? There’s always a new Japanese, Indian, or farm-to-table restaurant to try. Andy’s up for anything, which is nice. Most of my white girlfriends won’t even consider sushi. And my friend JM will only go to one restaurant — the Corner Bakery.

When my in-laws visited, my husband and I cooked for them for weeks. Near the end of their visit, Sunny announced that they would take us out to dinner.

I cheered. “Yay! What kind of food would you guys like? A new bistro opened in the Village, or you could try our favorite sushiya in San Pedro.”

Sunny said, “Is there an Olive Garden nearby?”

I sighed. “Of course.” Continue reading Winner, Winner, Olive Dinner (#185)

When the Cavalry Sucks (#181)

You know those big, dysfunctional but lovable white families you used to see in television and film? They were all about siblings being super shitty to each other. Yet when one member of the family was threatened, the family closed ranks and fended off the attacker.

I grew up in a huge, white, broken, dysfunctional family.

I thought those stories were bullshit. Continue reading When the Cavalry Sucks (#181)

Hostess with the Mostess…Dysfunction (#179)

I’ve had a lot of comments from incredulous readers over the last few months. Apparently, no one believes that I have not lost my shit yet with my provocative Chinese-American in-laws. Not even when they nearly burned down the house and never apologized.

Spoiler alert: I have, indeed, lost my shit. In as spectacular fashion as any of you could want. It just wasn’t on my in-law’s first visit, the one I’m blogging about now. (Yes, my reward for surviving the first visit was a second visit! Whoo-hoo!) If you’re waiting on the East Dates West version of The Real Housewives, check back in a few months. Continue reading Hostess with the Mostess…Dysfunction (#179)

Doggone In-laws (#177)

These yogurt-covered almonds don’t look like they produce a deadly gas, do they?

Our rescue dogs learned a lot of commands and tricks — sit, down, stay, roll over, etc. Their favorite command was  “vacuum.” Woofie, our Dane-Lab mix, would eat anything — even rocks. (He couldn’t digest rocks — or cabbage, or corn cobs — but he’d still eat them. And then throw them up, of course. Preferably on the nice carpet. Or my shoes.) Continue reading Doggone In-laws (#177)

Pets Versus Dinner (#176)

Christmas Bunny, just prior to attacking a confused cat.

My family has always had a multitude of pets. I grew up with dogs, cats, turtles, rodents, and more. We even had a very special Siamese rabbit named Christmas. Yes, Christmas. Normal people have bunnies named Peter, but, hey, my little sister was only five when she found him in a New Jersey parking lot. Christmas was a New Jersey street tough masquerading as an adorable bunny. He spent ten happy years terrorizing the family Labrador and several cats while eating the antique Italian Provincial dining room set. Continue reading Pets Versus Dinner (#176)

Rules for Shopping with Chinese-American In-Laws (#174)

My Chinese-American husband loves Costco, the giant shopping warehouse. He had a Costco membership when I met him. Every Sunday morning, he did all the bulk-buying. I went with him. Once. Even though he insisted “it wasn’t that crowded, cuz church” there were still hordes of meandering, food-sampling shoppers in my way. I hated it. I’m a military shopper – my mantra is get in, get your objective, and get out. I revel in weaving among supermarket shopping carts with only a hand-held basket, like a sports car weaving through traffic. (And, like those sports car drivers, I probably get flipped off a lot.) Continue reading Rules for Shopping with Chinese-American In-Laws (#174)

A Tale of Two Immigrants (#173)

My maternal great-great grandfather was the most recent immigrant in my family tree. Enraged and disgusted by the rise of German nationalism in the late 1800s, the German patriarch came to the United States. He was so angry with the Fatherland, in fact, that no one in his household was allowed to speak German. Ever.

It wasn’t until recently that I understood exactly how he felt. Ever since the Inflated Tangerine Fascist took office, I’ve regretted not learning Cantonese. It appalls me that such a vile, morally bankrupt cretin is not only human, but American.

Maybe I’ll start speaking in pig Latin. Continue reading A Tale of Two Immigrants (#173)