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The Hoarder (#342)

As a child, the conversation at my family dinner table was always better than the food on the table. (I kid you not–Kraft Mac & Cheese was the best meal of the week.) My dad might have political anecdotes from Capitol Hill.  My stepmother might tell us how one high school gang tried to break into her classroom to get at another gang. Or we might get a story about our great-grandfather learning how to swim by diving off a piano in a flooded southern parlor from my mom.

My Chinese American husband’s family was all about the food. I learned the hard way that no one expected conversation at the table. Everyone concentrated on eating. This makes sense when the food is both tasty and served immediately (e.g., dim sum). It also makes sense if you’re eating a dish like chicken feet, which involves considerable mouth aerobics, ending in spitting out chicken toenails.

Young boy grimaces as he bites down on a fried chicken foot.
Baby D meets chicken feet.

Andy’s dad also wasn’t much of a talker, unlike practically every person in my family. My family told jokes, made fun of each other, and competed to get the best laughs. We all also like to show off share information.

Maybe this is why Andy’s a better cook than I am. He tastes as he goes and even plates artistically, believing the food should always take center stage.

I love good food, but I also want to hear about spouse/ spawn’s days. The breakfast/dinner table is the place where I find out what’s going on. I believe that communication is connection and sharing is caring.

Andy, on the other hand, hoards information. And he hoards it as long as he can.

I’d walk into the kitchen and say, “That smells good. Whatcha making?”

“Stuff.”

“Sooo…what’s for dinner?”

“Food.”

“Oh my God, would it kill you to tell me what’s for dinner one time?!”

Apparently, it would. Because not once did Andy actually volunteer to tell me what he was making. I had to piece together clues from ingredients and cookbooks on the counter.

Now, when Andy asked me what I was making for our Christmas party, my response was: “Oh, I’m going to do cream cheese sugar cookies with buttercream frosting with about one-quarter teaspoon almond extract, plus candy cane and chocolate meringues—and I’ll need the food processor for both the candy canes and to chop up the chocolate chips extra tiny so they don’t get stuck in the piping tips and also maple sugar rugelach and did you know that I had to order maple sugar from Ben’s Sugar Shack in New Hampshire this year?! I can’t find it ANYWHERE. Or and I’ll make those chocolate cookies with white chips that are your favorite, do you want coconut in them or not?”

It’s a point of pride that, when asked “why?,” by Baby D, I never once responded with “Because I told you so.”

Instead, I dumped elaborate reasoning and detailed explanations on my child until he either fled the room or could out reason/ argue me into changing my mind.

Storage containers and boxes crammed on wire shelving units.
Andy’s least favorite view

The only information my husband shared freely was how much he hated all the boxes in the garage. We had many boxes. That happens with a house less than 1200 square feet and minimal storage space. Heavy blankets, comforters, and winter clothing were stored in the garage in the summer. Window fans and tubs of light linens got stored in the garage in the winter. There were two bicycles, suitcases, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, the extra refrigerator, extra chairs, an extra banquet table, portable chairs for soccer matches, a team soccer canopy, a team bench, and 8 containers of holiday/ season decorations.

Every so often, when Andy got snarly, I cleaned out/ donated anything we no longer used. Andy’s grumbles subsided, especially when I pointed out we’re one of the only families on the block that actually put a car in our garage.

I kept tabs on all the storage containers with decorations, though.

Not long into the pandemic, packages started arriving for Andy. There were at least a dozen. Some were large. One was very heavy. A few were small.

“Gardening supplies?” I guessed.

Andy said, “Stuff.”

I rolled my eyes and let it go. The following weekend, Andy spent an entire day moving items around the garage. He went to Lowe’s and returned with giant mobile shelves—the kind that you can roll together so they take up less space but then roll apart for access once the car is out of the garage.

Also the kind of shelf energetic offspring will try and ride down the driveway when Dad is carrying “excessive” Christmas decorations to the garbage bins.

After rescuing child, shelf, and decorations, I planted myself in front of Andy and announced “That’s it. You’ve been bitching about the garage more than usual and there all these mysterious boxes. What are you DOING?”

“Stuff—”

“NO! No more bullshit ‘stuff!’ For all I know you’re setting up a fucking meth factory!”

Andy said, “It’s not a meth factory.”

I crossed my arms and inhaled. Deeply.

Andy hurriedly added, “We can’t go to the gym so I’m turning one of the bikes into a stationary bicycle so I can ride it to get cardio because I can’t run anymore on my bad knee and walking takes too long. I’m trying to make more space in the garage to set up the bike.”

“That’s…great. But…why wouldn’t you just tell me that?”

Andy shrugged.

“You know, mouths are for more than eating!’ I told him. “They’re for talking! For sharing information! If you’d just explained what you wanted to do, I would have helped you. I could have gotten rid of some boxes, consolidated a few things, figured out how to make more space.”

“Really?”

“What, did you think I’d say no?! To something as important as you being healthy?”

“Uh…”

And that’s when I realized that Andy HAD thought I’d say no. Just like his parents always said no—no sports, no extracurricular activities, no curfew extensions. Andy was so used to his family saying no, he’d learned to never offer information which could result in a “no.” It was maddening…but also understandable.

I consolidated a few boxes of decorations and donated some boxes of older blankets to charity.

Andy’s cardio area, with gardening/ soccer hat on bike.

Andy set up his bike. He rides it several times a week.

Sometimes, now, he’ll tell me what he’s cooking.

The other night, at the dinner table, Andy stopped eating long enough to ask Baby D, “So, little boy, what did you do in school today?”

Baby D replied,

“Stuff.”

Taste vs. Appearance (#341)

My neighborhood holds an annual cooking competition over Labor Day every year (with the exception of Plague Year 2020). Each year has a different required ingredient.

My amazing chef of a husband crushed the competition for years, starting with the salsa competition. Until he foolishly got tired of me micromanaging the presentation of his dishes: “My poutine does not need to in your grandmother’s cut crystal bowl! It’s fine!”

“But the flyer says you get judged on taste AND appearance.”

“I’m using the pie dish! You want to use crystal, make your own contest entry!”

I’m a baker, not a chef, but I figured out how to sneak potato flakes into a chocolate cake and won. Because everyone likes chocolate AND I put it on a pretty crystal platter.

Andy sulked for a year or two while I raked in the wins. The hostess then created two winners: one for Sweet and one for Savory. Andy promptly trounced me with his ice cream.

After that Andy and I dominated in our respective categories. The hostess then decided to have two winners in each category: one for taste and one for appearance. Last year Andy lost out to blander dishes because his hot wings made the neighborhood children cry. I lost on taste to what Andy called “an overly sweet” key lime pie, but my piped maple buttercream cupcakes won for appearance.

Maple Cupcakes
Andy’s wings and dressing.

I shook my head over Andy’s loss and opined, “It’s kind of on you, babe. If you aren’t going to modify the taste to suit the neighborhood, you gotta at least TRY to win for appearance. Those kids have never had real buttercream and some of them spat out my frosting because they expected the usual sacrilegious American mixture of powdered sugar and shortening. But my piping and display were pretty, while you tossed your wings into an aluminum pan and stuck your blue cheese dip into a takeout container. Appearance matters!”

“No one cares about how it looks, Mom,” Dalton interjected, with an eye roll.

“YOU don’t care how things look,” I shot back, with an eye roll of my own. “You don’t even comb your hair. Other people care. If it doesn’t look good, they might not even try it.”

“Good,” said Dalton. “Then it will be all for me!”

Dalton, a growing boy who was growing more ravenous as he played more soccer, now wanted ALL the food. My chocolate chip cookie recipe made about 85 cookies. 24 hours after I made those cookies, they were gone.

I stared at the empty cookie cannister and asked Andy, “How many cookies did you have, honey?”

“I had maybe five yesterday and two this morning.”

“And I had three, meaning…Dalton!” I yelled. “Get your butt in here!”

Dalton dribbled his soccer ball into the kitchen, eyes wide and innocent.

“You ate SEVENTY-FIVE cookies in twenty-four hours, young man!”

“But I couldn’t have, Mother,” Dalton answered. He lifted up his shirt and pointed to his trim midriff. “Where could they have gone? Not in this belly—look, nice and flat!”

“You’re hilarious, skinny boy. Go wash the empty container.”

I began modifying recipes in an effort to slow the child’s rate of consumption. I used whole wheat flour. I added oatmeal. I tried an orange and cranberry modification when we had oranges on our tree. I finally settled on an oatmeal, coconut, chocolate chip cookie with toffee.

It wasn’t the prettiest cookie.cookie dough on parchment paper It was more high maintenance than my other drop cookies, since it had to be baked on parchment paper or the toffee bits would stick to the baking sheets. But Dalton couldn’t eat them all in 24 hours and he declared it his “favorite cookie.”

a container of lumpy cookies
D’s Favorite cookie

******

This year, Dalton had a soccer tournament over Labor Day weekend. We’d have no time to cook before the party started. We probably wouldn’t even get home until after the judging ended on Sunday afternoon.

I sighed and told Andy, “I guess the Ashbough-Wong winning streak is finally over.”

He shrugged and said, “It’s really too hot to cook anyway.”

Even at the coast, it was close to 100 degrees. On the turf soccer field? 110 degrees. (The players were dumping ice on each other when subbed out.)

Saturday evening, the cooking competition hostess texted the neighborhood: It’ll be 100 degrees tomorrow at noon. Should we move the party to tomorrow evening or Monday?

I texted back immediately: Monday! We can definitely make it on Monday!

The neighborhood voted for Sunday at 5 PM.

“The fix is in,” Andy joked on our drive home.

“I can make something, but it doesn’t give me enough time to make the golden butter cake with the diced almonds and raspberry buttercream frosting,” I fretted. “What pretty dessert can I make in two hours or less? With ground, diced, or minced ingredients?”

“Cookies!” yelled Dalton from the backseat.

“But they aren’t pretty. And they don’t have ground, diced or minced—wait. I do use the stone-ground wheat flour…”

I made “D-Fav” cookies.

picture of a cookie with ingredients listedAndy threw together spicy Thai tofu. We made it to the party with fifteen minutes to spare.

This year, there were more kids at the party than food dishes. Families would bring one entry…and three children. Our hostess was thrilled to see my enormous platter of cookies.

“Thank goodness,” she exclaimed. “So far there is only the one apple-bread-cake thing and some lemon bars on the dessert table.”

Andy’s tofu was competing against Persian kebabs, homemade naan, smoked pork belly, meatballs, caprese salad (with no ground anything that I could see), shrimp ceviche, a chicken dish with shredded carrots, and various other forgettable dishes.

I liked Andy’s dish the best, but he wasn’t optimistic. “It’s tofu. Nobody votes for tofu.”

“Well, at least you brought something. I don’t think there’s enough food.”

Sure enough, almost every serving dish was empty by the end of the judging—including my massive platter (much to Dalton’s dismay).

The teens tallied up the votes and handed the results to the hostess.

She announced, “In the savory category, pork belly wins for taste and the kebabs win for appearance!”

“Told you,” Andy whispered as folks cheered. “It’s meat for this crowd.”

“And for the sweet category,” the hostess continued, “the winner for taste is the D-Fav cookies, and the winner for appearance is—wait a minute. Kids, I told you the same dish can’t win in both categories!”

The teens gave the hostess blank stares. One youngster muttered, “But the cookies won both categories. And they were the best.”

The kid’s mom gave her an elbow in the ribs and said, “You should know, you ate ten of them.”

To the teens, a lumpy appearance didn’t matter. Neither did arbitrary adult rules.

The kids are all right.

Picture of a wrapped gift with a gold bow and a card that says "Congratulations."

But the hostess still wouldn’t give me two prizes.

Power Trip (#340)

I didn’t plan to take the summer off from blogging. Every day, I’d think, “I’m going to write the post about rescuing the cat! Or the one about husbandly information hoarding!”

And every day something would happen. Maybe an ant invasion. Maybe non-stop emails about soccer. Maybe another volunteer organization needed something handled. With the country opening up again (sometimes in very stupid ways), I had more visitors this summer than ever.

It was also summer vacation, which meant Baby D was home. I dread summer vacation. Yes, Dalton is more independent now that he’s older, but also more argumentative about chores. About screen time. About EVERYTHING, actually. Continue reading Power Trip (#340)

A Doggie Story (#339)

Our rescue dogs were very different in temperament. Woofie, the Labrador mix, saw every creature as a potential playmate. If he could have, that dog would have opened the door to any stranger with a ball…or a knife, or a gun.

Fey, our German shepherd and shar-pei mix, saw every stranger as a potential threat, unless they were a white male over six feet tall who smelled like In-n-Out burgers. (You can probably guess who rescued her from the streets of Los Angeles and what food they used to gain a starving dog’s trust.) Fey refused to let the gas meter man near the house, which was a pain in the ass, but she also refused to let burglars break into the house, which everyone except Woofie found heroic.

Woofie shook off criticism like water. “Bad dog!” meant nothing to him. So did “no!” and even, “Jesus fucking Christ, Woofie, how did you dig up an entire bougainvillea in two minutes?!” Continue reading A Doggie Story (#339)

What Bugs (#338)

My Chinese American husband doesn’t see dirt. At least, not in our house. He’s got a whole dirt manufacturing thing going on in our yard with multiple compost piles, but can he spot an errant leaf or Lego on the floor and pick it up? Haha, no. Not even after he’s experienced multiple late-night Lego fire walks into our son’s bedroom.

Back when we were dating, Andy would get mad about his roommate leaving crumbs on the kitchen counter.

Now that we’re married? Andy leaves crumbs on the kitchen counter. Continue reading What Bugs (#338)

The Once-ler Next Door (#337)

As usual, March has not been a great month. Fellow blogger Mark suggested I hunker down at home.

I tried. Things got ugly there, too. Literally.

The city decided to chop down all seven mature trees that form a canopy around our house. These trees are on the city property that border the street; even though homeowners water them, they belong to the city. Homeowners aren’t allowed trim the trees without going through an arduous permitting process, but city didn’t trim the trees for about fifty years. Their massive roots raised and cracked the sidewalks.

Older folks are likely to trip and fall. Folks in wheelchairs have a hard time getting through. The city was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The specter of lawsuits loomed. Continue reading The Once-ler Next Door (#337)

Miserable March (#336)

In The Wasteland of T.S. Eliot, April is the cruelest month.

In my world, it’s always March.

Once upon a time, March was the best month.

March was my birthday, back when birthdays were awesome (and even if they weren’t, I got cake). It was my mother’s favorite season, which always put her in a good mood. She’d exclaim over crocuses and forsythia while we flew kites. There was St. Patrick’s Day, on which you were allowed to pinch annoying siblings (biting would have been better, but I made do). Sometimes Easter occurred in March, which meant egg dyeing and chocolate bunny rabbits.

Back then, even the annual horror that is Daylight Saving Time didn’t occur until April. Continue reading Miserable March (#336)

I Heart Competition (#335)

In BC times (“Before Child”), my Chinese American husband never missed a gift-giving occasion. Flowers were delivered on my birthday, or sometimes, “just because.” There were platinum earrings to match my engagement ring at Christmas. An emerald necklace was mine on Valentine’s Day.

It took me a while to realize part of Andy’s motivation was to overshadow—and in some cases replace outright— all gifts from previous boyfriends.

In AD times (“After Dalton”), Andy’s gift-giving prowess deserted him. One year he completely spaced on stuffing my stocking (a huge family tradition) or giving me any Christmas presents. Since that was the first year we didn’t spend Christmas with my family, that meant I had nothing to open on Christmas morning.

Our son actually stopped stuffing his face with gummy worms, looked over his giant wall of toys/crumpled wrapping paper, and said, “Mommy, you must have done something terrible.” Continue reading I Heart Competition (#335)

Cold Wars (#334)

My Chinese American husband grew up in tropical Hawaii. When he moved to Los Angeles, his mom sent him with an electric blanket.

Years later, I laughed over that blanket before donating it to charity. I grew up on the East Coast, spending many holidays in New Hampshire. “Southern California is not cold,” I told Andy.  “Twenty below on a chairlift is cold.”

The disparity in our experiences was highlighted during vacations. I ignored Andy’s advice and ran up a sand dune barefoot on the island of Kauai, yelling, “How hot can it be?”

Answer: “Hot enough that you wind up whimpering with ice packs on your burning feet.” Continue reading Cold Wars (#334)

Christmas Cat Attack (#333)

I refer to the time between the end of November and Christmas as “Baking Season.”

It starts with my husband’s six-hour birthday cake (although sometimes he asks for a giant éclair or a chocolate pie), then segues into Thanksgiving desserts (pumpkin cheesecake and maple pie). After that, I make literally hundreds of cookies for Christmas. There are tins for teachers and heaping piles for my familial horde when we travel.

I also bring cookies to parties, carefully arranged on holiday themed platters. This is actually my favorite part—making my project pretty. I’m the same way about preparing my house for a party or dinner. Vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms are a miserable chore. Putting out the gorgeous old tablecloths and fine china? So fun.

My fun became more of a chore once Boss Cat, feline marauder extraordinaire, joined our household. The rescue group made us promise to put the obese Boss Cat on a diet.

Boss Cat after losing a lot of weight.

Boss Cat thought diets were bullshit. Once she lost enough weight to be able to jump onto the dining room table, she was relentless.

If you turned your back for two seconds, she’d snag a strip of bacon from your plate. Or a piece of chicken. Or even TOFU AND RICE. Continue reading Christmas Cat Attack (#333)

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