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Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

My neighborhood holds an annual cooking contest the Sunday before Labor Day.

The stakes? Bragging rights and cheese knives.

The contestants? Everyone on the block.

The outcome? My Chinese American husband dominated for years. Then I started entering chocolate baked goods and crushed him. The hostess finally created two categories, one for “Savory” and one for “Sweet.” Andy vengefully jumped categories and destroyed me with caramel pear ice-cream.

Two years ago, we tied. Last year, the contest was canceled because of COVID.

Two weeks ago, this showed up in my mailbox:

I cheered and immediately hounded Andy, “What are you gonna make? What are you gonna make, huh?”

“What are YOU gonna make?” he countered.

“Maybe cookies. Except cookies just aren’t that pretty, and you get judged on appearance, too. Maybe red velvet cupcakes? Except if it’s super hot, the cream cheese frosting will melt.

“You know, if it’s hot, people would probably really like ice-cream…” Andy mused.

“Don’t you dare! Stay in your own savory lane, mister!”

Andy opted for chicken wings.

Andy’s wings and dressing.

Once upon a time, Andy only made wings for the Super Bowl. Recently, our picky little prince lost enough taste buds to like spicy food. Baby D began demanding wings during the Pandemic. Andy obliged. He became skilled at homemade blue cheese dressing, too.

I agonized over my dessert all week. I’d been working on a new cookie recipe (oatmeal, coconut, toffee, and chocolate) that tasted fabulous, but wasn’t especially attractive (i.e., flat and lumpy).

I settled on cupcakes, strictly for the edge pretty piping would give me. Taste is very subjective; pretty piping isn’t. I perused frosting recipes in my Cake Bible to see if I could find a buttercream that would hold up to the heat.

I found a maple buttercream variation and a maple cake modification.

Score.

I made the cupcakes on Saturday. The biggest challenge? Keeping Baby D from eating them before Sunday. I’d made exactly 24 cupcakes, enough to perfectly fill my cupcake carrier and display case.

Every so often, I’d hear a plastic burp as Baby D tried to stealthily open the Tupperware.

I’d run for the kitchen. “Stand away from the cupcakes!”

Baby D would sprint out of reach, giggling, only to try again five minutes later. I did my best to deter him by snapping at him with a dishtowel (possibly the most useful thing I learned on the swim team).

Baby D was undeterred.

“Capture the Cupcake” was his new favorite game.

I was sure I’d thwarted him, but on Sunday morning, only 23 cupcakes remained. I jury-rigged one of Baby D’s school art projects (a pincushion in a glittery pot) into the requisite label and ingredient list in order to fill the missing spot—while scolding my child.

Maple Cupcakes

“But I didn’t take it!” Baby D protested. “You caught me every time!”

“You’re not going to blame the dog again, are you? He lacks opposable thumbs for opening Tupperware. Same as he lacks opposable thumbs for drawing the ion canon that still graces our living room floor,” I retorted.

“You know, it’s the cat who is pretty sneaky about stealing food,” Andy mused. “She steals the egg yolks from the mooncakes every year. And she ate out the center of your maple cream pie that one time—”

“Again, Boss Cat has no opposable thumbs! I can’t believe you would even suggest—OH MY GOD IT WAS YOU! YOU ATE THE CUPCAKE! SABOTUER!” I howled.

Baby D dissolved into hysterical giggles as I chase Andy from the kitchen, rat-tailing him with a dish towel.

******

As I placed my cupcakes next to a key lime pie—with piping!—it was clear that some of the new neighbors had upped their game this year. There was an apple pie with a flakey crust, as well as homemade mochi. Andy had to contend with other chicken dishes, including wings with a white sauce.

Thai Vegetable Rolls in Rice Paper

There were even Thai vegetable rolls wrapped in rice paper.

There were also a lot of little kids. I watched one take one bite of a cupcake, make a face, and hand it off to her mom.

“Damn it,” I complained to Andy. “Those kids are used to frosting made of powdered sugar and vegetable shortening. They have no appreciation for real buttercream.”

“The kids aren’t allowed to vote, are they?” Andy asked worriedly. “Because my hot wings have already made two of them cry.”

“Babies,” our child scoffed, chowing down on his seventh wing.

I eyed the desserts and sighed. “There are still uneaten cupcakes and the key lime pie is gone. This doesn’t look good for me.”

“So it doesn’t matter that I ate one, after all,” Andy suggested hopefully.

There was a surprise as our hostess handed out ballots. This time, there would be two winners in each category: one for taste and one for appearance.

“So she’s giving out four prizes?” Andy asked. “Didn’t it just used to be two?”

“And before that it was just one. This is her newest gambit to make sure we’re not the only winners again,” I whispered.

“No chance this year,” Andy grumbled. “She’s giving that two-year-old a ballot! He can’t even read!”

The winners in the savory division were announced first. A corn dish won for taste, while the spring rolls won for appearance.

“That corn was sweet!” Andy muttered. “It wasn’t even in the right category!”

“Next year, honey,” I said. “If you don’t make the babies cry.”

“Make the babies cry, Dad!” Baby D urged, in between bites of his fifteenth? sixteenth? hot wing. “It means more for me!”

“In the dessert category,” the hostess announced, “the key lime pie won for taste.”

Everyone except Andy clapped and nodded.

“Way too sweet,” was Andy’s whispered pronouncement. “Key lime is supposed to be tart.”

“And for appearance….” the hostess paused dramatically.

I held my breath.

“…the maple cupcakes!”

I pumped my fist and waited for the usual prize of fall-themed pot holders, dish towels, or cheese knives. Instead, the hostess presented me with a bottle of wine.

“This year,” she explained, “the prizes for appearance are all alcohol.”

I don’t drink. The wine meant nothing to me.

But maintaining the neighborhood—and household!—bragging rights for another year?

That’s everything.

Maybe we will break out the wine for our Christmas Party.

Summer Vacation or Summer Purgatory (#324)

I know parents who can’t wait for summer vacation.

“No more making lunches!” a mom of three rejoiced on the last day of school a few years ago.

“We’re totally sleeping in,” said the mom with twins.

Another mom chimed in with, “No nagging about homework for 2 whole months!”

There were moms who had vacations planned, or had already purchased season passes to Disneyland. They were as giddy as their kids about the end of school.

I was never one of those moms. I dreaded summer vacations. My only child NEVER slept past 6 AM. Baby D was a restless bundle of energy (and if you let it build up it would explode as destructively as possible).

Baby D building a moat for his sand castle.

We walked the dogs to the park, ran errands, had Nerf wars, and then hit the beach or the pool before those other, luckier moms ever got up; like that old Army slogan, we did more before 9 AM then most people do all day.

Some afternoons I’d fall asleep on the floor in mid-battle between his stuffed cat army and my dog/bear army. Mostly I woke up before he jumped on me (always knees first) or snuck off to draw an ion canon from Clone Wars on the living room floor.

Mostly.

By the time Baby D was in elementary school, I was planning out as many half-day summer camps for soccer, surfing, baseball, gymnastics, basketball, or swimming as we could afford. In March.

And then came the pandemic. Last year, even the outdoor camps like Junior Lifeguards and British Soccer were canceled. Baby D’s regular soccer team didn’t hold practices until August. The best I could manage was a coach to wear out work with Baby D in private and semi-private lessons (outside with masks).

The only camp available was Mom Boot Camp, which Baby D hated. Mom Boot Camp meant that screen time was forbidden until after Baby D worked on his cleaning, laundry, cooking, dishwashing, weeding, sweeping, and dog washing skills.

Baby D slaving away in the kitchen.

This meant he also sharpened his whining and arguing skills, especially when I called him back to re-wash something properly. (Pro tip for the ruthless parent: this strategy of deterring slipshod cleaning is most effective when you interrupt games of Fortnite or Minecraft Bed Wars.)

This year, soccer camps returned, although most of them were not in LA County. I booked what I could.

When Andy announced that he would take Baby D to Hawaii to visit his mother for a whole week, I did a victory/ happy dance around the house while he checked the calendar and priced tickets.

I stopped mid-fist pump and asked, “You did check with your mom, didn’t you? Do not hit that ‘purchase’ button until you check with her.”

“She said she’s not going anywhere this summer,” Andy told me. And pushed the button.

Which meant that when Andy talked to his mother 10 days later, he learned that he’d booked flights one of the same weeks his sister was going with her entire family and her in-laws (and they were staying with Sunny for nearly a month). Sunny told Andy there simply wasn’t enough room at the inn. Unless he wanted to get a hotel room ($$$$) and rent a U-haul (since there were no rental cars available in Hawaii), Andy would have to cancel the trip.

This is how United Airlines acquired over $1,000 of our money and I lost my chance at a week by myself in the house after a year-and-a-half of Pandemic-Induced Always Togetherness.

I went for a walk until I didn’t want to murder my husband anymore.

It was a long walk.

When I returned, I told Andy that since he wasn’t going to use his vacation days for Hawaii, he could use them to take Baby D to a 3-day soccer camp 3 hours away.

“But it’ll be expensive,” Andy protested. “A hotel and eating out!”

“The hotel has free breakfasts and a kitchenette. Take a cooler of food.”

“But what am I gonna do while he’s in camp?” Andy whined.

“Sit out by the hotel pool and pretend you’re in Hawaii.”

Andy said nothing further.

Last week, the husband, the child, and the giant cooler of food drove away in the early morning hours.

The quiet was immediate.

No child demanded food or attention. No husband played music, argued on conference calls, or banged around in the kitchen.

I cuddled with the cat. I read books, blogs, and articles uninterrupted.

Usually, I made Baby D a big breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, bacon, and fruit. That morning, I opted for the easiest breakfast I could think of: cereal.

Only to find that there was no milk.

I texted Andy: Next time maybe tell me when you take ALL the milk.

He texted back: But you have cream.

I called him and yelled, “Did you just MARIE ANTOINETTE me?!”

I didn’t really mind, though. Sure, I would have to go to Costco later and buy milk.

But for the moment, being alone in my tiny house felt like being in a luxurious castle.

And I was queen.

Post Father’s Day Post (#323)

Compared to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is pretty recent. It only exists because certain politicians got all whiny about how dads in America were bereft of recognition. Instead of self-soothing with their higher wages, or their ability to assault women with impunity, or their success despite white mediocrity, they demanded their very own holiday.

President Nixon signed Father’s Day into law in 1972. Yes, NIXON, the most corrupt U.S. President until Trump demanded Nixon hold his beer.

Mother’s Day, at best, says “thanks for all the unpaid emotional labor of child-rearing, please have this one day off.” Ironically, it often means more work for a person who is already overworked and underpaid.

Father’s Day? Father’s Day is ridiculous. We live in a damned patriarchy. Every day is Father’s Day.

Every day the mom network has stories of moms managing kids, work, pets, and broken appliances while this husband went golfing or that husband was hungover from poker. Moms struggle to recover from things like surgery and childbirth, getting up when they should be lying down because their husbands are shit (and allowed/ expected to be shit) at coping with recalcitrant toddlers and teenagers.

As a society, we allow men to focus on their own needs (be it their career or their Crossfit workout) while expecting moms to always hold down a fort teeming with screaming children–even while they’re holding down their own job. Men’s wages even increase once they have kids, despite doing less around the house, while women get penalized. (The combination of pandemic and social media threw this disparity into high relief.)

The result? Less women are getting married. Less women are having kids. More women opting out of a shit system where even single moms have more leisure time than married ones.

Good call, women.

Now, there are some great dads out there. And we certainly hear about them! In fact, the very first state-wide celebration of Father’s Day in the U.S. was in honor of a widower who raised his 6 kids when his wife died—some 40 years after 200,000 widows had to raise kids alone after the U.S. Civil War.

The media is all over these good dads:

This dad learned to braid his daughter’s hair!

This dad coaches his daughter’s team and not his son’s!

This dad bought his daughter tampons isn’t that fucking amazing!

Seriously. How low is the bar for dads?

I mean, take Andy. No, don’t really take him, my husband is a great cook, can dance, makes decent money, and has solid health insurance.

But…Andy would also give our child 12 hours of screen time a day if I weren’t around so he could play Clash Royale or read the news in peace. Andy wouldn’t have done the work to get Baby D into swim classes, Junior Lifeguards, or any sports. Without my  badgering guidance, Andy definitely wouldn’t have volunteered to coach any sports, or signed Baby D up for Cub Scouts. There wouldn’t be father-son trips to McDonad’s Playland, let alone the beach.

Our kid would also be wearing clothes he outgrew 2 years ago.

Yet my fellow moms shrug off this standard dad behavior. Instead, they are in awe over the fact that my husband goes to the Farmer’s Market and cooks on the weekends. They repeatedly tell me how lucky I am.

Can you imagine being amazed if a mom went to the market and made dinner?

Other women tell me what a great dad Andy is because he goes to his son’s sports games—even though he’s missed a few while injured or out of town.

Meanwhile, my Surgeon Sister works long, unpredictable hours and misses some of her daughters’ events. When Surgeon Sis introduced herself as “A’s mom” at swim meet, a woman blurted out, “You’re A’s mom? I thought you were dead!”

The bar for moms is set so high you’d have to be an eagle to fly over it.

The bar for being a good dad is so fucking low a dachshund couldn’t get under it.

But don’t worry, I’m not a total monster. Yesterday we still celebrated Father’s Day in our house.

I walked the dogs early while Andy had coffee and read or played video games. Just like every other day.

I took Baby D to specialized soccer training while Andy relaxed, as I do every Sunday.

We gave Andy new bourbons to try and a few other gifts, plus his favorite doughnuts and apple fritters. Then I took Baby D and some friends to a pool for the afternoon, followed by pizza and frozen yogurt—handling my kids’ activities and social life like I do every day.

Cuz every day is Father’s Day.

Skirmish of the Sides (#322)

I did not grow up gourmet.

I grew up excited about McDonald’s. This might have been because my parents’ ideas of cooking meant throwing protein and potatoes in the oven for an hour or two. Sometimes we had rice as a side, but mostly it was baked potatoes. With margarine. (I didn’t discover butter until I was in high school. Whereupon I ranted to my parents, “Why have you been keeping this deliciousness from us and giving us MARGARINE?!”)

My husband Andy is Chinese-American. In his family, rice isn’t a side, it’s necessity. The angriest I’ve ever seen Andy’s Engineering Cousin was when her Quite White husband went on the Atkin’s diet. “It’s ridiculous!” she ranted at Andy on Thanksgiving. “It’s all meat and fat! Not a grain of rice ever! How can you have dinner or holidays without rice?!”

Since I’d never seen rice served at Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter or 4th of July until I met Andy’s extended family, I could easily imagine holidays without rice. There would be mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or potato salad. Rice had never made an appearance at any Ashbough holiday EVER.

I was fine with that, because rice is boring. Like tofu, it’s great for soaking up the flavor of any sauce, and when it’s fried into crispy rice with some spicy tuna on top? Divine.

But plain rice alone?

“It’s only good for keeping your mouth from burning up after spicy food,” I informed Andy. “Why don’t we have more potatoes? They are healthier than rice, with more vitamins and antioxidants. Plus, you can make a potato into anything: hash browns, home fries, potato skins, scalloped potatoes, potato pancakes, and even French fries! Or you can just have a potato baked with cheese and sour cream.”

“Potatoes are only healthier if you eat the skin,” Andy retorted. “And all the potato dishes you listed are not healthier than plain rice.”

“But way yummier. I miss potatoes. The only time we have potatoes is when I make pot roast.”

With no small amount of side-eye, Andy said, “When you make the food, you can choose the side.”

Not long after that statement, Andy was injured and couldn’t cook for months. Which meant I had to. The only fringe benefit was potatoes. Lots of them. Potatoes went into the oven and the crockpot. (Especially after I burned the rice. In the rice cooker. Yeah, it’s a mystery.)

Our son Baby D was my ally—at first. He liked pot roast potatoes smothered in gravy. He didn’t bat an eye at the little purple potatoes in the chicken rosemary. And Baby D devoured baked potatoes loaded with bacon and cheese.

Andy’s scrumptious eggs Benedict with home fries.

Once he healed, Andy grudgingly added potatoes to the weekly shopping list. He made hash browns and home fries for weekend breakfasts. He would occasionally toss in a potato galette to go with his beef Wellington. He made potato skins for the Superbowl every year.

IT WAS A CLEVER DIVERSION.

At the same time, Andy introduced Baby D to sticky rice and musubi (rice wrapped in seaweed). Baby D would have sticky rice with dinner and then eat a bowl with sugar after dinner if he was still hungry. He’d often beg his father for a quick snack of musubi. Andy would oblige, of course.

All part of his master plan.

Only I was surprised the weekend Baby D glared at his breakfast burrito instead of eating it.

“Not hungry?” I asked.

“It has hash browns in it. Don’t want hash browns.”

“What?!” I practically screeched. “Who doesn’t like hash browns?!”

“I can make it without hash browns,” Andy quickly offered, trying not to smile. “I could even put in—”

“Don’t say it!” I interrupted. “It would be a TRAVESTY.”

“—rice,” Andy finished.

While Baby D declined the rice, opting for an egg, cheese, and bacon breakfast burrito, the hash brown incident heralded the resurgence of rice in our household. With the exception of pot roast potatoes, Baby D had to be reminded to finish any potato dish on his plate. He’d even eat his vegetables first. (Unheard of!) When we had our quarantine/ birthday/ Thanksgiving last year, he was particularly bitter about mashing potatoes.

“Why can’t we have rice?” he whined. Repeatedly.

We might have been physically alone that holiday, but Andy’s family was definitely with us in spirit.

No rice, only mashed potatoes because Baby D’s mother is so mean.

Mother’s Day Musings (#321)

Content Warning: We’ve lost so many millions of mothers to COVID this year that even relentless jewelry-hawkers like Pandora are exercising a modicum of compassion in their Mother’s Day advertising. If you aren’t up for reading about the holiday, skip this post and consider yourself hugged.

My mom died when I was a teenager. I dreaded Mother’s Day every year after that.

I’d’ve liked to ignore the entire day. Or better still, the entire week.

Instead, there were celebrations for the other moms in my life. By the time I left home, I had to remember cards and gifts for my ex-stepmother, my current stepmother, my former stepfather’s current wife, etc. (My family is so complicated that my Big Brother finally made a PowerPoint presentation for those foolish enough to marry into it. My husband is still bitter Big Brother didn’t make it until after we got married.)

After I got married, though, Mother’s Day wasn’t so bad. Sure, I had to add my mother-in-law to the list of card recipients and badger my husband about getting her a gift, but this also served to remind him to start planning a celebration for the other mother in his life. Andy made sure that our dogs Fey and Woofie “remembered” Mother’s Day with gifts for me. He also made me beautiful breakfasts.

Once Baby D was born, every person I ran into on Mother’s Day weekend wished me a “Happy Mother’s Day.” I got cards, chocolates, and sometimes a babysitter so we could go out to dinner. Once Andy even sent me to the spa for a massage while he wrangled Baby D alone. ONCE.

By the time Baby D was three, Mother’s Day had evolved into A Most Important Event. Dozens of adorable, utterly useless crafts came home from preschool in my honor.

A paper plate “purse” with coupons for hugs, kisses, and chores that my child refused to ever let me redeem.

I also discovered that preschools and kindergartens went all in on “Mother’s Day Teas.” Children sang tear-inducing “I Love My Mom” songs while the teachers handed out tissues. Afterwards, kids served their mothers chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, and lemonade…and immediately ate the goodies themselves while the mommies were still blowing their noses. Since SoCal moms are constantly dieting, most moms didn’t care. Much to Baby D’s dismay, his mother ate her chocolate strawberries RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM and he had to wait until all the moms were served to get his own plate of treats.

Even youth sports recognized what a big deal Mother’s Day was. No games were scheduled on Mother’s Day. Which hardly seemed like a Mother’s Day present; the whole point of my ridiculously energetic kid playing sports was for SOMEONE ELSE to exhaust him on the field so I didn’t have to exhaust him at the park or in the pool or with Nerf gun wars. But instead of playing on Mother’s Day Sunday, corsages or flowers were given to all the moms in attendance at the Saturday games (the coaches warned you in advance to be in attendance).

While I might have preferred to celebrate Mother’s Day with more sports and less obligatory maternal celebrations, other moms relished the recognition. “At least I get this,” one mom told me, sniffing her bouquet.

Aghast, I said, “Your husband isn’t doing anything for you?! No brunch or dinner?!”

“Oh, there’s a dinner tonight—for my mother. I still have to pick up the cake and flowers and make the boys sign her card and get her present wrapped. And tomorrow, it’s a brunch for his mom. She can’t drive, so my husband will pick her up while I’m getting the house and meal ready a second time. By the time he takes her home, I’ll just have enough energy to put in a movie for the boys and retreat to my room with a glass of wine.”

With my mother deceased and Andy’s mother 3,000 miles away, I’d never really thought about Mother’s Day for the “Sandwich Generation” before. It sounded exhausting.

Yes, Mother’s Day without my own mom was always sad.

No, Mother’s Day as a mom wasn’t always what I wanted.

But it was mine. All mine.
Right down to the Nerf Wars.

Running the Numbers (#320)

Everything carries a risk.

Walking outside exposes you to pollution, pollen, an aging population that refuses to give up their cars until they kill people.

Staying inside? You risk depression and poor physical health without sunlight, nature, human contact, and exercise.

Getting married? Well, for heterosexual men it’s a win; you live longer and you’re happier.

For heterosexual women? Your partner is the most likely person to murder you. Even if he doesn’t, your life expectancy is shorter (but that’s okay because you’re more miserable than single women).

I’m apparently something of a risk-taker. I brave the great outdoors on a regular basis. Despite nearly being run over IN THE CROSSWALK by hundreds of old folks in big cars, a dozen moms dropping their kids off at school, and multiple bicyclists.

I’m a heterosexual woman who got married—even after watching the extraordinary marital train wrecks of multiple parental units.  I’m still married (possibly it’s my husband who fears being murdered by his wife and RIGHTLY SO).

I even survived pregnancy. 17 out of every 100,000 American women don’t, which is the highest maternal mortality rate in industrialized nations and a goddamned travesty.

I take birth control pills, which puts me at a 0.03%  to 0.09% risk for a blood clot. (But since I’m not a complete adrenaline junkie, I don’t drink or smoke, which increase the risk.)

Most recently, I got the “risky” COVID-19 vaccine. No, no, not AstraZeneca—that one is super risky, with a .00065% chance of causing a blood clot. I got the J&J shot— which carries a blood clot risk of .00086% (if you round up).

When I got the shot, of course, no one yet knew the Johnson & Johnson vaccine posed that risk. About a week after my shot, the U.S. paused use of the vaccine.

Birth control pills are still being dispensed, as are guns, which increase risk of death by homicide (2%) and suicide (10% for males with guns in the house) .

Despite the above numbers and snark, I’m not opposed to the J&J pause. Treating these blood clots like other blood clots by using heparin can make them worse. All physicians should be made aware of the potential issue and side effects—especially since the clots appear mostly in women. Doctors have a history of not taking medical complaints of women—especially Black women—seriously.

Still, with such infinitesimally low odds, who would worry more about getting a blood clot from the vaccine than dying of COVID-19 itself (.25% to 20% risk depending on age, health, nationality)?

Apparently I would. Last week at 5:30 AM, I was on the floor of my bathroom, certain I had a clot in my left leg. It hurt to move. I was clearly going to die. My child would be motherless. Worse, son and husband would be referee-less! No one would remember to fill the pets’ water bowls and they would die, too!

I reminded myself that if I hadn’t gotten a blood clot when I was pregnant and stupid (.2% chance), I wasn’t likely to get one now. The pain eventually faded.

It was probably a cramp from kneeling on the cold tile floor in order to beat back an ant invasion.

But if it had been a blood clot?

The smart money would have been on my birth control pills.

Vaccination Nation (#319)

I need my vaccination
Want my arm burning
Immune system strong
I need that vaccination
White blood cells learning
That COVID’s wrong…
(Sung to the tune of the Human League’s “Fascination.”)

After my post on my drive-thru vaccination, I’ve fielded questions on vaccine side effects—possibly because I got the newer, less popular Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Here are all the details you could possibly want. And some you maybe don’t.

For the Pfizer vaccine, which both Andy and his mom got, the most obvious side effect was a sore arm. Neither one had nausea for the first shot, just some fatigue. Before his second shot, I warned Andy to stay hydrated; a nurse-friend had told me that she suspected a lot of the fever, headaches, and nausea people experienced with the second shot were either caused or exacerbated by dehydration (especially common in SoCal during our recent, delightful, low-humidity wind events).

Andy stayed hydrated, but he was literally sprinting for the bathroom when he got back from his long drive for shot #2. Not because of all the water he drank, but because he had diarrhea. (Andy insists that he over-indulged in cheese the day before and diarrhea is thus NOT a side effect. I have my doubts.)

Andy insists his only real side effect was being tired for a day or two. His mom just had the sore arm. But since Andy and his mom both have Chinese-American stomachs of steel and almost never throw up, I wasn’t sure their lack of nausea was typical.

I, on the other hand, have a highly reactive stomach. I’m the sympathetic puker and had morning sickness for six damned months (also threw up during labor).

If anyone was going to hurl after being vaccinated, it’d be me.

I’ve also got a delightful vasovagal response when it comes to blood and some shots (i.e., I’m a fainter). I packed ice (for the back of my neck, helps you not pass out) and an air sickness bag for my inoculation road trip.

Andy eyed me dubiously and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you?”

“I’ll be fine. You need to keep an eye on Baby D.”

“I’ll be fine,” Baby D declared. “You’d better drive her, Dad.”

“YOU just want us both gone so you can steal screen time and cookies, mister,” I told Baby D. “I’ll be fine. I haven’t thrown up or passed out since…”

“Since your last tetanus booster? Last August?” Andy offered, with unforgivable accuracy.

“Mom’s gonna faint, Mom’s gonna faint!” Baby D chanted.

“I did not pass all the way out,” I countered. “I just had to lie down and couldn’t see anything. Besides, I haven’t heard about people passing out. Your Engineering Cousin’s husband’s only side effect from the Johnson & Johnson shot was sleeping for two days. Two days! How awesome would that be?”

Sadly, I did not sleep for two days. But I didn’t pass out or throw up after my vaccination, despite the 11% humidity (possibly because I guzzled water all morning and throughout the weekend).

I didn’t get a headache, either. Nor did I get a fever. Yes, I popped some ibuprofen before the shot and several times over the weekend, but even when it wore off, my temperature stayed a degree or two below normal.

My left arm was sore, but the injection site hurt less—and did not hurt for as many days—as it did for other vaccinations (and cortisone shots). I could even sleep on my left side!

I definitely didn’t have my normal energy, though. On Saturday, I let Andy handle the three-mile morning dog walk (which hasn’t happened in years). I wasn’t sleepy, and I didn’t nap, but I was definitely lethrgic.

Sunday the dog and I only made it two miles. Monday morning I was still tired, but we made it three miles.

“So really,” I told Andy, “the only side effects of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccination were a sore arm and fatigue. Which is way better than being unvaccinated and risking a trip to the hospital…or the morgue.”

Still bummed I didn’t get the side effect of sleeping for 2 days, though.

(Note: Andy would like me to tell you all that there was one other side effect. He insists I was super cranky when I came back from being vaccinated. I even “yelled” at him! I would say the crankiness/ yelling was caused less by the vaccine and more by him sitting on his ass for three hours and leaving certain physical chores in the yard for his spouse with a sore arm to do when she got home. You be the judge.)

 

 

When the Drive-Thru Will Save You (#318)

I am not a fan of car culture. I believe in public transportation: trains, the subway, buses. Do not get me started on the lost and lamented Los Angeles Red Car.

But damn, cars came in handy during COVID-19. Cars were a way to maintain social distancing in drive-thru testing sites. There were Ubers and Lyfts for those who didn’t dare brave buses, even with masks. There was Instacart for those who didn’t dare brave the grocery stores. With restaurant dining off-limits, at least you could still pick up a pizza or have it delivered.

Drive-in Theaters became a thing again. Fast-food restaurants brought back carhop service. We went from Escape Rooms to Stranger Things: the Drive-Into Experience. The majority of Americans opted for road trips this Spring Break, rather than risk flying.

Aside from take out, Andy and I mostly skipped the resurgence of car culture.

Until it was our turn for vaccinations.

Andy, being part of some top-secret national defense project, and being asthmatic, was up first. Now, a lot of folks are very pro-Pfizer (the first vaccine out), which requires two shots. But since all the vaccines will keep you from being hospitalized or dying, I’m with the California website My Turn, which says, “the best vaccine is the first one you can get.”

The first appointment Andy could get was the Pfizer vaccine at the LA Forum at the beginning of March. Run by volunteers, Andy drove up on Sundays, three weeks apart. He reported that it was smooth sailing, with minimal traffic and no wait times.

The first appointment I could get was last Friday afternoon, for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (Andy reported that his coworkers eligible at the same time couldn’t get appointments as quickly as I did, possibly because they don’t get up at 5 AM. At least there’s one good thing about having a kid who wakes up early.)

The vaccination site was a drive-thru at Cal State Los Angeles, run by the California Office of Emergency Services. In practical terms it meant the vaccination site was being run by the National Guard.

It also meant I would have to brave a fifty mile round trip through Friday afternoon traffic. In Los Angeles.

So be it.

There’s an LA-specific greeting card that says, “I love so much I’d take the 10 to the 101 to the 405 for you!”

True love has nothing on inoculation against death. For the COVID vaccine, I took the 405 to the 91 to the 710 (because the 110 had 3 accidents). The 710 was stop and go, because it was, as always, filled with big rigs hauling containers from the Port of Los Angeles. Those trucks can’t accelerate quickly and thus cannot merge for shit.

About the time I exhausted my supply of swear words, I arrived at Cal State LA. There was a ton of signage, plus literally thousands of orange cones to make sure everyone went the right way. For 5 minutes, we literally followed cones around the campus and through two parking garages.

In one parking garage, we stopped in front of a sign that offered translators in every language I’d ever heard of (yes, including Tagalog). Next to the sign were members of the National Guard (who looked like 12-year-olds-dressed up in camouflage uniforms which is probably a sign that I skipped middle-age and went straight to old ladyhood).

The National Guard member checked my ID (which was my license but could have been a library card or a utility bill) against his electronic tablet, filled out my vaccine card, and had me put it on my dashboard. A laminated card with the time went under my windshield wiper. I drove through another parking garage to the actual inoculation site.

The site had tents and about 20 rows of cars. A pair of National Guard members walked down each row, giving shots. 15 minutes after the last injection in a given row, that row was allowed to drive away, following more orange cones off the campus and practically right back onto the 710 freeway. (Spoiler alert: equally awful traffic on the way home.)

You can check out more snippets of my drive-thru vaccine experience on my Instagram account if you are so bored so inclined.

I probably spent less than a half-hour at the vaccination site, but the whole excursion was over 3 hours in the car.

Pretty much a typical roundtrip commute in Los Angeles.

No wonder I’m still a big fan of public transportation.

 

Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

When you marry across cultures, there are bound to be a few differences.

Some differences are jarring at first—like my husband’s Chinese-American family openly discussing money. If you’re open-minded, however, you can learn to embrace coupons and brag about how much money you saved.

Other differences seem insurmountable, especially when much vaunted Western autonomy clashes with Asian filial piety. That’s when it’s important to distance yourself from the issue. I found that 3,000 miles proved effective. Mostly.

But every so often, a practice from another culture makes you say, “That’s brilliant! Why don’t we do that?!”

Like shoes.

*****

Most Asian-Americans don’t wear shoes in the house (no matter what you saw in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before). Multicultural blogger Mabel Kwong has a great post on all the reasons why.

My husband grew up in Hawaii, leaving his shoes outside. I grew up on the East Coast, where the only shoes I took off before coming inside were snow boots. (In rural area with lots of winter snow and spring muck, some North American homes have “mud rooms” for outdoor shoes.)

When I moved into my husband’s townhouse, I left my shoes in the front hallway and never looked back. Sometimes my white guests looked at me askance when I told them to take of their shoes. One even commented, “No shoes? Weird.”

I said, “Dude. Weird is allowing people to track all the dirt on their shoes all over your house. As Vacuumer-in-Chief, I endorse the no-shoe rule!”

When we moved into our little house, there wasn’t a convenient indoor space for shoes. We left shoes on the porch by the welcome mat or at our backdoor.

The first things to make me reconsider the no-shoe rule were our rescue dogs. When ninety-pound Woofie stepped on my bare foot, it HURT. Because the giant goofball neither knew (nor cared!) where his massive paws were, Woofie crushed my toes daily. Even seventy-pound Fey, who was far more considerate with her comparatively dainty paws, could draw blood if she made a misstep, thanks to her strong shar-pei claws. Furry leather slippers with suede exteriorI finally bought super sturdy (super expensive!) slippers and wore those even through the hottest summer.

Problem solved.

Then my old, white neighbors very considerately warned me that thieves in California targeted houses with shoes outside the house. Apparently Asian-Americans have a reputation (at least among thieves) for keeping a lot of cash in the house. I pooh-poohed this claim—until some would-be burglars tried to get by Fey the Fierce. (Spoiler alert: Fey was having none of it.) After the attempt, however, I found the perfect welcome mat/ warning sign to surround with shoes:

Welcome mat reading: "We like big mutts and we cannot lie" with silhouette of large dog.

No one has tried to break in since.

My child and his non-Asian friends, running in, out, and around the house with Nerf weaponry, often neglected to put on or take off their shoes. (The heat of battle has that effect.)  Many times I’d have to remind them that “no shoes in the house” was useless if they ran around in socks outside and then wore those same dirty, debris-covered socks inside.

Baby D, impatient child that he is, hated having to take the time to remove his sneakers when he had to go back inside for a single forgotten item. But as the Vacuumer-in-Chief refused to relax her no-shoe policy, he adapted. He skirted the no-shoe rule by hopping back into the house on one unshod foot—while holding his still-sneakered foot up high. The kid would hop through the entire house at least 3 times a week, hunting for his backpack or water bottle.

More than one coach has commented on Baby D’s extraordinary balance and leg strength. Credit the no-shoe policy. (You’d think the kid would eventually learn to do a mental checklist before going outside and putting on his shoes, but YOU’D BE WRONG.)

There’s one final issue with leaving shoes outside: critters. While SoCal lacks the over-abundance of insect life that characterizes the East Coast, we do have crickets, brown and black widow spiders, and lizards. I always warned Baby D to shake out his shoes before putting them on.

Lizard inside an athletic shoe
Lizard in my shoe. Not an uncommon occurrence at our house.

Unfortunately, the kid has to do things the hard way. Baby D returned from soccer practice last week indignant. “Mom! When I got to the field and put my foot in my cleat, there was a lump! So I reached in and grabbed it and it was a lizard!”

“Guess you won’t forget to shake out your cleats before you put them in your soccer bag again, will you?”

Baby D glared and said, “No, because I’m keeping them in my bag from now on! Inside the house!

And so it came to pass that the Vacuumer-in-Chief granted a special dispensation allowing soccer cleats in the house.

Because next time, it might not be a lizard.

Black widow spider
Black widow found in my watering can.

Celebration Mash-Up (#316)

Holidays were huge in my white family. We wore green, pinched each other anyway, and listened to the Irish Rovers on St. Patrick’s Day (despite being Protestant or atheists). Small gifts appeared on Valentine’s Day morning. There were Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. Our birthdays began with presents and towers of doughnuts. Christmas magic (and excesses) went on for days.

Holidays were not big in my Chinese-American husband’s family. Growing up, he got a red envelope with cash, usually from his Popo, on Chinese New Year.

That was it.

Even though some Wong family members were very earnest Christians, there were neither Easter baskets nor Christmas stockings.

Birthdays might involve going out for dim sum. There wasn’t even a cake until Andy turned 18—when his mom told Andy to pick one up for himself at the grocery store. Andy had a job at that point; I suspect he even had to pay for it.

Since holidays were the highlight of my childhood, I was horrified every time I discovered a new one Andy had “missed.”

You never carved a pumpkin?!” I’d screech. “What did you DO on Halloween, then?”

“Went trick-or-treating.”

“Oh, good. At least your parents let you do that.”

“Of course. The candy was free.”

I was sad for all the fun things Andy missed, but, even though he was the child of immigrants, Andy had a more secure childhood than I did. He was the apple of his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—eyes, the first male in two generations. As the much beloved Number One Son, his mother and grandmother constantly pushed him to eat more. When they went out for dim sum, there were always leftovers to bring home.

I had years on free lunch tickets, plus I had to guard my food from my hungry siblings. My parents were terrible cooks. When we went out to Shakey’s Pizza or McDonald’s (a HUGE treat!), there were never leftovers. Probably the reason we loved holidays was in no small part due to the abundance of food, especially sweets.

Andy, in turn, was horrified that a) I grew up without quite enough food, and b) Kraft Mac & Cheese with Hormel Chili was my favorite dinner.

Over the years, I introduced Andy to holiday fun. He showed me that cooking meals from scratch was tasty (and, when it wasn’t beef Wellington, economical).

Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts.

This year, our child’s birthday, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day fell within days of each other. Piles of candy and gifts accumulated on the dining room table. At that same table, I watched Baby D devour Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts, Andy’s beef Wellington, carryout from Din Tai Fun, about twenty shrimp dumplings from the local dim sum joint, and Andy’s homemade chili and cornbread.

Baby D’s homemade cake.

Meanwhile, Andy watched me make a six-hour chocolate cake and arrange a surprise birthday COVID car parade for our kid. He laughed as I swapped out birthday balloons for red lanterns and lucky money envelopes for Baby D’s favorite See’s Candies so our kid could fully enjoy each special occasion.

After Valentine’s Day dinner, Andy surveyed the accumulated culinary/ holiday debris and said, “Our kid is spoiled.”

“We’re just giving him everything we wished we’d had,” I countered.

“But it’s so much!”

“Maybe you’re right. But there’s one really important Ashbough tradition left.”

“Even your family cannot possibly do anything for President’s Day.”

“Hahaha, no, we’re not celebrating problematic old white men. It’s something else.” I raised my voice and called, “Baby D! Come here! We have one more thing for you!”

Baby D ran into the kitchen. “Is it a giant gummi worm? More hong bao?”

I placed a towel in his outstretched hands and said,

“It’s the dishes.”