What to Do With a Gazillion Art Projects?

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My daughter’s daycare has begun a great pre-k program which teaches them all sorts of fun stuff. Each month they have a theme and each week focuses on a different aspect of his theme. For example, the first month was family. So, they all made family trees and learned all about their family and each other’s families. In conjunction with these themed weeks, there are lots of different art projects to help teach them about these aspect. One day they drew a picture of mommy. One day they made a craft project of daddy. They learned the difference between girls and boys and had projects that defined the different genders, etc. etc. Well, we’re now 4 months into the curriculum and almost every day my daughter comes back with a new craft project. There are so many, which are great, but I’m having difficulty finding places to put them!

When I was growing up, I had done a lot of craft projects myself. I didn’t know what my mom had done with all of them. One day, a couple of years back, before any of my brothers or I had kids, we were all home for the holidays and reminiscing about our childhood. All of a sudden, my mom tells us that she has all of our old craft projects stored away in boxes! What!??!! So we pulled the boxes down and spent the afternoon perusing all of our different forays. Some of them were pretty hilarious. Young kids are so honest and open that when you read some of the things we wrote, it was shocking yet funny at the same time!

This moment flashes before my eyes each time my daughter brings home a new craft. I have diligently been labeling each project with a date and what it is (if it is not recognizable to me) or if there is something of note (such as – she glued all of the items on herself) and put them in a stack on top of our refrigerator. I found that if I leave them in an easy to reach place, she often wants to take them and re-purpose the craft into something else.  So, the pile grew and grew.  I, being a little bit of a neat freak, started to get a little agitated with the growing stack of disorganization above our fridge.  I finally had a bright idea to display all the art and reclaim some of the space above my fridge.  Also, it was a great project I could do with my daughter!

IMG_6316Since her room has a little table for her to do her arts and crafts, I had previously decorated with two simple framed pieces of her artwork.  However, I realized I could put this wall to better use and display even more.  I thought that having two strings with clothespins holding up her various art pieces would be a fun way to display all her crafts.  As she made more crafts, we could shuffle things around and pin more up.  My daughter got very excited with this idea.  I taught her how to use the clothespins and she helped me pin up all of her projects.  I let her decide, for the most part, what order to put them up.  The final result is what you see above!  I think that I’m going to need to think of another idea for displaying these crafts as there is no more room for other crafts and the pile continues to grow on top of my fridge.  Sometimes you just can’t win 🙂

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Happy Holidays from Us to You

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It is officially the holidays! This means decorations, presents, and most importantly, holiday cookies! I try to make holiday cookies every year, but I skipped last year since we spent the holidays in Seattle with my parents.

With the holidays upon us, and my daughter being of an age that actually is conducive to some tasks, I was thinking that making holiday cookies would be so much fun.  Last year, my office holiday party had a room that was dedicated to cookie decorating for all of the kids and it was a big hit with my daughter.  They had prepared cookies, icing, and tons of different sprinkles, candies and such to decorate you cookie.  Then, they had little individual clear bags to wrap your decorated cookie in and take home.  I thought this would be fabulous to try at home.  And, fortuitously, the mommies of the three musketeers, decided that we would all get together and have a cookie-decorating session for our daughters. I (of course) got super-excited and immediately when and bought all the cool holiday sprinkles online at Amazon that I could find (I couldn’t resist).

Well, the big day rolled around and my daughter was very excited to go to her friend’s house to make cookies, but lo and behold, the fates were not with us.  She woke up that morning with a weird barking cough and a mild fever.  The doctor told us she had croup (again).  Bother.  I already had all the ingredients for cookies, icing, and the sprinkles to boot!  Well, I wasn’t going to let a little croup hold me back, especially when my daughter threw a fit when she found out she wasn’t going to her friends house for cookie festivities anymore.  I took it upon myself to do a mini-session a home to appease both of our cookie cravings.

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While this was a little bit messy (I think we’ll be finding sprinkles throughout the apartment for a long while – those things really do travel well across a wood floor!) she had a wonderful time and we ended up with a ton of home-made gifts for friends.  I would definitely recommend this as a kid-friendly and affordable activity to do at home, especially when it’s snowing non-stop outside (like it was when we made the cookies).  Happy Holidays to everyone!

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Life as a (Recipe) Book – Part 2

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There were many ideas and thoughts that went into this recipe book.  Really, when you get right down to it, this has become a document of our family history.  As I read the stories and anecdotes and see the photos included of not just food, but our family, I find myself reminiscing over living overseas and travelling extensively all over the world and what a wonderful childhood my parents made for my brothers and me.

IMG_6364While I love all aspects of the book, I think my favorite part are the appendices.  One of them is dedicated solely to ingredients.  I am second generation Taiwanese and I cannot read the writing, so when I go to Chinese grocery stores, I recognize ingredients, but I can’t read the labels to see if they are the correct types of ingredients (is it spicy?  Does it have garlic flavoring?  etc. etc.)  As for my brothers, I don’t know if they ever paid attention to the ritualistic grocery shopping and the time my mom took to pore over each packaged and canned good.  So, we devised a section to take care of just that.  We have one appendix section dedicated solely to a photo dictionary of all of the packaged, canned and bottled goods that my mom uses in her cooking, followed by a short description of it’s use, flavor, or other pertinent information.  I have already used this section extensively.  Then we have a photo section for all of the various vegetables, meats, and fish found in the Chinese grocery stores and how you can prepare them. I must say I am much more well-versed in the various foods now that I was before.

IMG_6365The other awesome appendix is based on preparation.  Have you ever wondered how to wrap that bun?  How do they get all that rice into the bamboo leaves with the meat perfectly in the middle?  How do you clean a whole squid?  How do you cut up a chicken and re-assemble it on a plate to look whole again?  Well, we have a section with a photo tutorial on all of these questions and more!

For our wonderful family masterpiece, I ended up using an online publishing company called blurb.com.  I found this site through one of my graphic designer friends.  While there were a couple sites to choose from, this one seemed to suit my purposes the best.  Since I started this so long ago, the only option was to use the blurb proprietary software.  Since it was still fairly new, there weren’t many options on customizing layouts, but since I took my sweet time, I was able to upgrade the software 3-4 times, where they built in template customization and other cool tools.  Now they even have an interface with Adobe InDesign where you can import an InDesign file into their program instead of using their software, making customization literally endless.  They have also improved their printing options, offering many varieties of papers to print on as well for the inside face of the book.

Our family recipe book clocked in at a whopping 310 pages.  No wonder it took 10 years!  While I am so relieved that this is done, I…. no… I’m just relieved that this is done!  If you have any interest at all in purchasing a copy, I have included the link below, where you can preview the first 15 pages of the book.  I hope you enjoy!

http://blur.by/1exy1AT

Life as a (Recipe) Book – Part 1

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I have been working on a family recipe book with my mom for the past decade.  Yes, you heard me, a whopping decade.  This is what happens when you volunteer to document a lifetime of good eats from a very seasoned cook.

The whole thing began (a decade ago) when all of our family was home for the holidays, before marriage, kids, and other responsibilities.  We were home and, as usual, my mom was busy in the kitchen, creating culinary masterpieces for us to scarf down without a thought of the time, energy, preparation, and love poured into it.  I don’t remember exactly what got us to talking, but somehow we all concluded that it was a darn shame that none of us knew how to cook like my mom and that when she wasn’t around us, like when we went back to work at our respective cities, we would die of food boredom because we wouldn’t know how to do anything except make white rice from our rice cookers.  This is quite a sad predicament given all the wonderful foods that you witnessed us eating on my recent trip to Taiwan.  It’s like a food purgatory.

This led to the brilliant idea that we should compile a family recipe book that shows not only all the recipes my mom made as we grew up, but should also include a complete visual grocery list and a how-to photo guide on how to make some of the more complicated, traditional dishes.  After much trial and error, a number of conversations with some of my graphic design friends, and some test runs of page layouts, the idea became it’s own beast.  Since we all had full time jobs, the process was very slow.  Also, my mom cooks a lot based on gut so she had never been tasked with actually documenting everything she made.  This led to a painstaking and decade-long exercise in cooking, re-cooking, testing, photographing, and tweaking every single dish she ever made for us that we could remember and ever want to make for ourselves one day.

Let me tell you, this was no small task.  Not only was there the testing, documentation, and photographing of the dishes (we did various stagings, sometimes cooking the dish up to 5 times to get it right!)  Since this was a cookbook that was mainly surrounding Taiwanese food, my mom and I wanted to add some history and background about the more traditional dishes and how they related to our family.  Most of the traditional dishes or the family favorites have little anecdotes or family stories associated with them. Recipes that have been adapted multiple ways have tips and tricks associated with them.  It was a great learning experience for me to hear all of these great stories and tips and tricks my mom learned through trial and error.

After endless documentation, proofing courtesy of my sister-in-law, moral support from my husband, through 3 family weddings and 4 grandchildren, I’m very happy to announce that we are FINALLY finished!  Above is a sneak peek of the final product!  Stay tuned for my next post, which will have more details on the creation of the book, some first glance shots of some of the interior pages, and a link to purchase the book if you so choose!