Pokémon Go Go Go! (aka: My Super-Fake Video Game Rant)

Dear Nintendo,

What on earth were you thinking? Have you guys completely lost your minds?

I used to hold you in such high regard. Especially back in the days when you churned out seriously cool video games, like Super Marios Bros. and Zelda. It was so clever when you invented the Gameboy, and especially the Nintendo DS. My three kids used to be so entertained, and would sit quietly for hours, punching away at the keypad and fighting Lego villains on the miniscule screen. Your wonderfully simple, mind-sucking products resulted in peaceful family road trips, whine-free visits to the dentist office, and calm evenings between dinner and bedtime as my three munchkins racked up points and conquered digital worlds from the comfort of our living room sofa.

BUT THEN…

You had to go and create a revolution by inventing the Wii, followed by the bigger and badder WiiU. No more were my kids happily glued to their seats, engaged in the gameplay of the peaceful good ol’ days. Now they were on their feet, jogging in place, swinging invisible rackets and golf clubs, and shaking their hips in front of the TV screen. What madness! My quiet family evening dream was shattered by the thumping and jumping of little feet.

AND NOW…

You’ve really gone and done it. Pokémon Go? Seriously!? It wasn’t drastic enough to transform my kids from quiet sitters to noisy movers – now you’re encouraging to go places, too?

The other day, I tried to find one of my teenagers to make him take out the garbage. But you know what? He wasn’t even home! Turns out that he had actually figured out how to open the front door, and walked all around the neighborhood.

“Why would you do such a thing?” I asked him.

“To catch Pokémon, silly,” he told me.

I ended up having to take the trash out by myself.
pokemon-go.gif

If that didn’t take the cake, get this — as my kids have been Pokémon Go-ing, they’ve been meeting other neighborhood families at these so-called Pokestops and training gyms, and holding conversations about their little “adventures.” They’ve also been doing a lot more walking. Yesterday, my kids walked a whole mile in search of Pokemon, then had to text me to pick them up, because it was growing dark. So you know what? I couldn’t just stay at home relaxing. I had to get up off my rump and Pokémon Go Go Go, too.

Thanks a lot, Nintendo. What are you going to invent next — a way to make my kids eat healthier? Yeesh.

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Summertime Dreaming, Part 2

Apparently, I’ve been blogging about life in the cave for four and a half years. Four and a half! That’s a long time. It is interesting now, to look back on what life was like four years ago, and to see all of the ways that things have changed. Our family. Job. Schools. As always, Time keeps marching forward, arm-in-arm with her sister, Change.

I came across this one post, Summertime Dreaming, which I published almost exactly four years ago. It was amusing to read the fun, mostly superficial summer goals I’d set there. Let’s see how I did:

Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Haha…it has been a loooong time since I’ve had a good real-time online battle. A part of me misses the days of Age of Empires or CyberNations. But maybe I’ve outgrown my thirst for virtual world dominance.

Wear a Bikini

I totally did it! So rad, right? At the age of 36, I hit my weight-loss target and spent my first (and last) summer traipsing around the beach in a cute little two-piece suit, like a true California girl. Now I can happily move on with life and not have to wonder what it would be like to wear a bikini.

summer splash 031

Drink a Beer

I’m proud to say that I have drunk a grand total of five beers since I posted that goal. No, not all at once. Yes, I enjoyed it (though I still prefer a glass of good wine).

Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

Yep, did it. Then we moved to a new house.

Write Write Write

I wrote, wrote, wrote.

writing creative stuff

Setting goals does not always have to mean the big, serious plans in life, like career goals, fitness goals, or financial goals. Sometimes, you can take great pleasure in setting small goals that are all about enjoying life, having fun with your family, or growing and learning in tiny ways. Meeting these little goals can result in great joy.

And now to set some small goals for the Summer of 2016. I would like to:

Do a fun programming project

Maybe design a fun new website for readers of Young Adult fiction, or design a relational database of our family’s book library. Okay fine, maybe this does not sound like summer fun to like, 97% of the world, but it does to me.

Try a new water sport

My kids and I already love kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Learning to surf would be fun. Maybe waterskiing or wakeboarding? Even floating down the river in inner tubes is still on our haven’t-tried-it list.

watercraft fun

Learn to do something new with my hair

I’ll admit it. I am pretty dull when it comes to styling my hair. Wear it naturally curly and short, or wear it straight and shoulder-length. Ponytail or no ponytail. A couple of times, I had it highlighted, and years ago, I even wore it in dozens of mini-braids. But now what? Learn to French braid? Try a hair weave? Dye it some daring new color?

Shop at farmers’ markets

farmers-market shopping

Now that I’ve decided not to grow a veggie garden this year, I would like to make a habit of heading to some of the great farmers’ markets we have in our region. The kids will enjoy this one, too.

Write, write, write

Specifically? Finish something and start sending it off to editors for publication.

Hopefully, whether or not I am still blogging away four-and-a-half years from now, I will be able to look back on this tiny list of tiny goals with a huge smile, knowing that even if I didn’t complete them, I had fun along the journey.

Pompons and Ponytails (aka: High School Cheerocracy)

When I was eight years old, every girl I knew wanted to be a cheerleader. We used to imitate the high school cheerleaders by shaking our cheap dime-store pompons and chanting the only cheer that every eight year-old girl knew:

 

“Firecracker firecracker, boom boom boom!

Firecracker firecracker, boom boom boom!

The boys have the muscle

The teachers have the brains

But the girls have the sexy legs, so we won the game!”

 

cheerleaders cheering

 

I will not even address how that cheer was so wrong in so many ways, although my inner feminist is screaming. I will now duct tape shut the mouth of my inner feminist while I share this next part with the world:

My 14 year-old daughter wants to be a cheerleader.

It’s true. She wants to try out for her high school squad and become a bonafide, short-skirt-wearing, pompon shaking cheerleader. I know. But she has good reasons that, thankfully, are much more valid than sexy legs and popularity. She misses gymnastics.

competitive cheer tumbling

As I shared in another post a few years ago, my kid was once a level-8 competitive gymnast. However, she did not have Olympic aspirations, and I did not have an Olympic-sized budget, and so she retired at the end of a great season. Since then, my daughter has been learning to redefine herself outside of the gym and chalk dust, and exploring new sports, like recreational soccer, cross-country, and track. She enjoys it, but she still grows wistful at the sight of athletes flipping through the air or dancing across the floor. After watching a bunch of high school squads doing basket tosses, tumbling, and scorpion lifts on TV, my daughter came to a decision. She was going to try out for the cheer squad. And so next week, I will join the parents of    other cheer-hopefuls at a meeting, where they will tell us how we will have to sell everything we own just to pay for the uniform and participation fees.

Oh wait, that was gymnastics.

 

cheerteamontrack

 

I once thought I would be more excited to have a daughter interested in becoming a cheerleader. After all, I was once a cheerleading coach.

Oops…my inner feminist just died of a heart attack, I think. Oh well.  Time to free Cheer Girl from my girly-girl closet for a moment and confess to the world: I WAS A MIDDLE SCHOOL COMPETITIVE CHEER COACH! Look, I was in my early twenties, okay? Pre-kids, post-college, teaching Kindergarten at a private school which just happened to need a cheer coach. So I stepped in and taught a group of girls how to do Herkies, and stunt, and do real cheers that weren’t just lame Steppy-Clappy cheers.

(Example of Steppy-Clappy cheer):

“Ready? OK!

It’s hot, it’s hot, it’s hot in here

There must be some Toros in the atmosphere!”

 

This is a Cheerocracy

No, we were much cooler than that. We went to an expensive cheer camp. We competed against other squads who did basket tosses and wore fake curly ponytails. We were the wanna-be middle school version of those snotty teenagers in Bring it On.

 

Cheer stunting silhouette“ONE! We are the Eagles

TWO! A little bit louder

THREE! I still can’t hear you

We are number ONE!”

 

See what happens when I let Cheer Girl out of the closet? Give me a second while I stuff her back in, right next to Elle Woods and the girl from Clueless. But I’ll still keep my inner feminist under wraps until after my daughter tries out for the cheer squad. And maybe until I satisfy this sudden urge to re-watch Bring it On.

Are You Ready for the Summer?

smiling sun on a sandy beach

Sunny Summer Fun

There’s something about this time of year that brings to mind a yellow bus full of happy campers and a chorus of kids singing, “Are you ready for the summer? Are you ready for the good times?” https://youtu.be/USvMWm-ZqvQ

Of course, in reality, I will not be passing away the hot, lazy days of summer engaging in camp color wars with Bill Murray and the North Star CITs. In fact, much of my summer will be spent in front of a computer screen in an air-conditioned office cubicle, where summer doesn’t really exist. (But I’m not complaining, mind you).

When I was a kid, summers seemed to last forever. The days blended together into one long, sunny stretch filled with library books, cartoons, and swimming, with one glorious week at Y camp to break the monotony. Perhaps it is only nostalgia, but it seems that it was those lovely days of boredom and daydreaming that made childhood such a wonderful thing.

Now, my own three kids are filled with the same sense of excited anticipation that I remember from that age. “One more week of school, and then we’re free!” Free to swim every day. Free to read books and play video games until Mom makes us turn off the screens. Free to chase down the ice cream truck and spend our allowance on overpriced Spongebob popsicles. Free to run barefoot and color on the pavement with chalk and pick wild blackberries until our fingers are tattooed with purple ink. Free!

some things never change ice-cream-truck

I am excited for my kids, too, and happy that they still have this portion of their lives in which they can be relatively free of responsibilities (other than the usual household chores). In which they have the opportunity to try out new recipes, to create new games to play, to learn how to code, and to just be. That kind of free time in life disappears all too soon. Next thing you know, you’re sitting before a computer screen in some air-conditioned office, counting down the minutes until the weekend begins, and you can share some of those golden summer moments floating in a lake with your kids.

Our Family’s Summer Wish List

Camping near Mount Shasta Roller coasters
Summer cooking project San Francisco for dim sum
Reading a ton of books Frisbee/Frisbee Golf
Watching TV (esp. Manga) Picnics at different parks
Play fort sleepovers in the living room Going to the drive-in
Family movie nights The Beach (preferably in SoCal)
Roller skating at the rink Learning how to code with Raspberry Pi
Swimming (in the pool and in lakes) Overdosing on video games
Kayaking and paddle boarding Building a new computer

summer boating fun

The Serial Killer Next Door (aka: I Dare You)

First of all, I am a big chicken. That’s probably obvious, since here I am, writing yet another blog post from my quiet little cave, where I observe the world without interacting. But anyway, it’s true. I could use a trip to see the Wizard about acquiring some courage.

That said, here’s the thing: I have a new neighbor. I discovered this as I was coming home from a soccer game the other night, and to my surprise, there was a car parked in the carport next to mine, and a stranger with his arms full of boxes. He greeted me and explained that he was slowly moving in. Summer Girl With Home Baked Ginger Cookies

“A new neighbor!” I cheerfully announced to my kids. “Should I bake some cookies for him?” My kids were enthusiastic, and for the next few days, we kept an eye on the house next door, waiting for an opportunity to pounce with friendly greetings and home-baked treats. However, the neighbor did not appear. Days passed. No neighbor, no car in the carport. Nope, not even at midnight. Once, we spotted the car and got all excited, but half an hour later, it disappeared.

We began to form outlandish theories. Maybe the new neighbor was a ninja. Or the ghost of someone who used to live there, but died. Maybe he was a psychotic serial killer who was only hiding bodies inside the house every few days. (And yet, I still wondered whether psychotic serial killers preferred chocolate chip or snickerdoodles).

good-neighbor

What if my new neighbor is actually a psychotic serial killer?

Then my son said, “I dare you to peek in the windows to see if anyone’s in there.”

A dare? Oh wow. Suddenly, the urge to do it was overwhelming – the urge to part with practical wisdom and become the crazy stalker neighbor who peeks in windows. Did I dare make such a bold move just to prove that the new neighbor was not Jeffrey Dahmer? The fact that I was even considering it made me think, what is it about dares? What is it about the words, I dare you, that burns away our common sense and turns perfectly rational people into thrill-seeking daredevils with little fear of consequences? Sure, I’ll stick my tongue to a frozen pole! Sure, I’ll go skinny-dipping in the hotel pool! Sure, I’ll play Chinese Fire Drill at the next red light with a car full of people! (I may or may not have accepted at least one of these dares before). Is it only that we give in to peer pressure? Is it that we seek to prove that we are brave and capable people? Or is it that we really want excuses to be wild every now and then, and it is easier to blame our ridiculous actions on an external challenge than on our own dumb choices? Double Dog Dare You

Maybe it’s all three.

No, I did not accept my son’s dare and invade our new neighbor’s privacy. Because yeesh, what a poor example I would set. Instead, I will continue to peer out of my window to see if the car mysteriously appears again. Then, if I do not see the new neighbor dragging any corpse-shaped plastic bags out of the trunk, then maybe, just maybe, I will knock respectfully on his front door and welcome him to the community with a dozen homemade snickerdoodles. If I dare. Gladys

 

 

Out to Sea (aka: A Stranger’s Perspective)

I live in a suburb of Sacramento, in Northern California. And, as I mentioned in a previous post a year ago suburb snore  , I have really never liked living in the suburbs, where I have always felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. I used to imagine my life in a secluded cabin somewhere in the mountains, or an artsy bungalow somewhere in the Bay Area, or a high-rise apartment in some grand city – anywhere but some dull suburb filled with boxy chain stores and look-alike houses. It is when I dwell on those old dreams that I feel the familiar tug of wanderlust. I don’t want to keep standing on the old wooden dock, watching the sailboats head out to sea. I want to be on the boat, sailing toward anywhere but here.

I recently met someone who is a seasoned world-traveler. And while I was hoping to live vicariously through his tales of adventures beyond my own dull suburb, he said something completely unexpected. Sacramento, he said, is freakin’ awesome.

Wait. What?

Okay, when I think of this place where I live, a dozen descriptions come to mind. And not one of those is freakin’ awesome. You don’t know what you have, said the stranger, along with a few other things that made me ponder. And ponder. And…you get the idea. What on earth does this little part of the world have that an outsider would see as something special? Like the INTJ that I am, I analyzed it and made a list:

Ways in Which My City Rocks

  1. Affordable housing. (Yes, well, there are some serious hole-in-the-wall places around the country with cheap housing, too. So maybe that isn’t so special).
  2. The river! (Because that means wildlife, and wild places for hiking and water activities)
  3. The Kings and the Sacramento Republic (NBA basketball and, well…MLS hopeful team)
  4. Some of the most beautiful autumn foliage out there (Seriously. You should see it).
  5. Everything is just a 2 hour drive away. Want snow? Two hours north. Sea? Two hours southwest. San Francisco? Two hours. Giant redwoods? Two hours. Mountains? Two hours.
Midtown Autumn

Fall foliage in midtown Sacramento

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t exactly count, because it is not about being in Sacramento. But it is still a huge plus for a wanderer like me. In fact, just yesterday, my kids and I drove two hours away to Point Reyes – one of my favorite Northern California destinations for its wild, rugged coastline, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We enjoyed a great hike through the wilderness and a perfect day on the beach. Then we reluctantly said goodbye to the fresh, salty air and headed toward home.

As we neared Sacramento, I had to rub my eyes a few times. Where our city began, the clear blue skies ended abruptly in a thick, brownish-grayish haze of smog. My kids and I stared in dismay. “Does our city always look like that?” asked my son.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope not.” The smog was so incredibly thick that it obscured our view of the downtown skyscrapers and crept inside our car, burning our throats. Nope, I decided. Sacramento was not freakin’ awesome. In fact, I wanted to freakin’ turn the car around and drive back to the Bay Area.

“Oh look, there’s a fire over there!” my daughter pointed out the window, where, sure enough, a plume of smoke rose from an urban area wildfire, filling the skies with smoke. Aha. So the thick haze was not how Sacramento usually looks. That was a relief.

community summer gathering

There’s something to be said about those events where the community gathers together to celebrate and have fun together.

After returning home, we gathered our portable chairs and joined a few thousand neighbors in the park across the street from our home. My kids raced around to inflatables and puppet shows with friends from school and soccer teams, and then we sat back and enjoyed the big fireworks show. And as I sat there, content by my children’s side, I realized how good it felt, after a long day at sea, to have returned home again. To have a safe park and nice kids for my kids to play with, and warm summer nights to sit with the community, watching a fireworks show. That is freakin’ awesome – and one of those things that chips away at the concrete barriers, exposing the earth and letting the flowers bloom wherever they’re planted.

celebrate fireworks

Mochi & Rice Noodles (aka: A Visit to the Asian Supermarket)

Asian Food Shopping ListDon’t you just hate it when you are planning to make pad thai, but you’ve run out of rice noodles? Or when you are seriously craving a steaming bowl of chow fun, but you don’t like to pay high restaurant prices? For me, there is only one logical solution to problems like these. A trip to my friendly neighborhood Asian supermarket.

Okay fine, these days, you can often find a lot of great ingredients for Asian cooking at your local chain supermarket. And really, there is no Asian supermarket in my neighborhood. But I am always happy to have an excuse to drive 30 minutes across the city to shop at one.

Shopping at the Asian market is a very different experience from shopping in a typical American chain grocery store. Although you can find a number of familiar products, you can also find many foods which you’ve probably never seen or tasted.

Dragon Fruit at Asian Market

Dragon Fruit, anyone?

Jack Fruit at Asian Market

Just how does one eat Jack Fruit, anyway?

Yummy Frogs at Asian market

Froggies? Is this a grocery store or aquarium?

Foods are also packaged or presented differently. For example, the fresh fish looks like – well, like fish, instead of the pre-boned and filleted slabs we are accustomed to buying. fresh fish And if you prefer your seafood very, very fresh, you may find tanks teeming with live fish and crustaceans – or even, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, live frogs. Yum-yum.
Fresher seafood

The prices at the Asian supermarket are generally quite reasonable, especially for seafood and produce. But it is easy to go overboard and spend more than you had intended. For example, just yesterday, my kids and I went shopping with a nice little list of foods, but also ended up buying several types of mochi, a ton of ramen noodles with cool flavors, shrimp chips, and chicharrones (wait…what?). And then, upon leaving the store, we could not help but stop at the café and load up on hot dim sum (which my 12 year-old ordered in the Mandarin language).

Lots and lots of Mochi

Mochi Heaven (This time, we bought mango, red bean, lychee, and hami melon)

Naturally, our menu for this week is filled with delicious Asian meals and snacks – thai curry, miso soup, stir-fries, spring rolls, and my personal favorite – pad thai with shrimp. Nope, no frogs for us. At least, not this time.