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Thursday, July 29, 2010

As My Guitar Gently Shrinks

For a few years now, I had been trying to teach the boys how to play guitar. It turned into me sitting there for thirty-minutes while the boys strummed haphazardly and sang "IRON MAN!!!" or "HULK!!!!" at the top of their lungs like it's some new Death Metal song. They hadn't really progressed as far as playing goes because they just wouldn't sit down and learn how to play.

Then a friend of ours showed up at the park the other day with a kid-sized violin. The boys were enamored. An instrument that actually fits into their hands! What a concept.  I'm being sarcastic, here. Of course I knew there were kid-sized instruments - I just always thought it was a rip off.

I don't know why I thought that - perhaps because kids grow up so fast? But unlike ballet shoes or ski boots, at least you can still play an instrument even after they grow out of it.

So, the entire family - the boys at forty dollars each from their savings and us parents for the rest chipped in for yet another addition to our guitar collection.

We purchased a Yamaha CGS102A. It's a half-sized guitar which is best for children ages five to about eight. Older children, from ten on up, should look into a 3/4 size guitar. I like to start them on nylon strings because it's easier on their fingers. It builds callouses without shredding them to bits. I learned that the hard way.

I haven't found an instructional DVD for kids that I like, yet but when I do - I'll be sure to post it. God, I love Netflix!

If you are thinking about buying a guitar for your little one and are not quite sure what to do, feel free to send me your questions and I'd be happy to give you my advice as a professional moron.

Look at this very happy boy! Backpacking his new guitar on Music Row in Times Square.

And for the record, he's been practicing - yes, practicing every chance he gets.

Not doing to good on the share-it-with-your-brother part, however...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

9/11: Baby Steps

While I was waiting for my son to finish class, I read this article in the Village Voice about the Mosque  being planned to be built near Ground Zero. Although the article leaned towards self-righteousness in singling out New Yorkers who are socially intolerant towards Muslims, I must admit that the sentiment is common. Whether it's right or wrong is not the question - it's how we deal with it.

You can't rightfully ask a person to trust someone who is trying to kill them. And that's what it boils down to.

Yes, it's ignorant. How could discrimination survive without generating fear? But it's always different when it hits close to home.

I saw the Twin Towers after they were attacked and it was...disturbing. Despite the crowds of people - the streets were uncommonly silent. In essence, it was a wake - that strange ritual Western culture has of viewing a dolled up corpse. Only, there was no fixing up the carnage of the World Trade Center. So typically New Yorkish - it is what it is.

As a Japanese American, I too, have had my share of dealing with racism, discrimination and just ignorance in general. It sucks but what can I do except try to be a bigger person and learn how to deal with it? In school, I had to deal with people taunting me about Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor!

All I can say is, people need time to forgive. The bigger the atrocity - the longer it's going to take. And as wrong as it is for New Yorkers to be wigging out over a Mosque and to be judging all Muslims on the acts of a few fanatics, you can't deny them their fears.


One day the time will come where we won't be labeling all Muslims as terrorists. Until the destruction of the Berlin Wall, all Communists were...well, Commies. Now, they are allowed to exist in peace and even make our toothpaste and fill it with lead but you know, that's just me saying it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Flower Pickin' Bandit

By now, I'm sure my neighbors are wondering where all their pansies are. My three-year-old, Samu loves to pick them to give to me. No matter how many times I tell him that it's better to let the flower live and leave it where it is, he seems to believe I'd be much happier having it wilt in my pocket.

Up until now, he's left the bigger blooms alone. But the other day, we were in Walmart's nursery shopping for a birthday gift. As we were walking up and down the aisles looking for a plant, Samu runs up to me with a Zinnia bloom that was so big, he had to cradle it in two hands.

"Holy Shit, Samu! You can't pick the flowers in here." I told him.

"But it's to make you happy," he answered.

How could I get mad at that? So, I quickly hid it between two plants after making sure no one saw - then I thanked my lucky stars that Walmart's nursery is understaffed on Sunday.

Next time he fights me about picking up his toys, I'm going to tell him to imagine that they're flowers in full bloom waiting to get picked. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

But Texting Is QUIET

It's called regressing but I want to get rid of my iPhone and go back to those ancient flip cell phones. Why? Because I never get my calls. And when I do - the other side can't hear me. I could be standing outside in my front yard with nothing blocking me but Zuki's zinnias and still get no signal.

The only reason I keep the darn thing is because of unlimited texting. As much as I abhor the keypad on the iPhone, it's still a heck of a lot easier to text than a regular phone's keypad - I could never get the hang of it. As a result I never texted until I got an iPhone and no, I still don't use Emoticons or end every bitchy sentence with "LOL".

Texting should be free - why do consumers have to pay five cents or whatever the price is to receive a text message? If I don't have to be subjected to the conversation between smelly-construction-guy-at-the-bank and whoever it is he's arguing with about fitting in the Lexus, then our nightmares are over.

Texting is the ability to intrude without interrupting. I text my husband all the time during work, "Stella $17 pls replace the $$ in Spiderman bank". Translation: I just picked up a 12 pack of Stella on sale and you need to replace the cash in our beer fund. As my five-year-old loves to say, easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

Nobody else hears our conversation and everybody who needs to get the memo - gets the memo.

So speaking of memos, Apple iPhone, here's my ultimatum - fix the damned bugs you have with your reception and knock off that extra $40 I have to pay for texting and just having it in general.  I may never switch to a PC but I sure ain't squeamish about flipping phones!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Newest Russo

I can't explain why my three-year-old, Samu is so interested in crabs. If we walk past Associated supermarket, sometimes he'll have a fit if we don't go in to visit the seafood department. They have a huge model of a crab hanging in the center of the counter and he feels the urge to kowtow to it.

Like most boys, he's fascinated with frogs and sharks as well but nothing grabs his attention more than crabs.

On vacation, I showed him how to take apart a steamed crab and fed the meat to him. At first he thought it was delicious. Then he realized what he was eating and he grew hysterical when I couldn't put the crab back together again. It was like that classic story about the kid who became attached to a rabbit the family kept in the backyard. Then one day the kid comes home from school to find the rabbit missing and nobody knows what happened but everybody enjoyed the chicken casserole dinner.

I see now it was a little thoughtless of me but we made it up to the little guy. Grammy bought him a hermit crab on the boardwalk at Wildwood, New Jersey. And now we have a new addition to the family.

Meet Frank.


Look how proud Samu is of his little crustacean pet. I just hope he survives longer than the Betta fish...


Personally, I think he's creepy looking. And I hate the way he moves around in his tank and makes me think there's a big fat mouse rustling in the house. At least he doesn't smell or take big poops.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Forty-something

I love celebrating my birthday but I hate getting old. Here I am, not even forty-five and already I can't keep track of how old I am. As if that weren't bad enough, I'm starting to act like an old fart; grumpy and cynical and trying to get more mileage out of a dollar. I even wear socks to bed.

Tomorrow, I turn forty-four and as it approaches I contemplate which way to look - the future or the past? At this point it stretches equally in both directions. I suppose this is the time to go through a mid-life crisis but honestly, my youth was spent working hard, paying off debt and drinking uncontrollably. It was a great deal of fun but once was enough.

In general, birthday posts are supposed to be inspirational - sharing the reiteration of how life should be embraced and becoming a better person, but who am I kidding? My mother still tells me I need to grow up and as I fight with my five-year-old for the last piece of gum, I see her point.

If I took her example, at my age she was partying every weekend adorned with fat gold jewelry and fitting into size one jeans. Meanwhile, her misfit teenage daughters stayed at home and listened to records. That's right...I mean vinyl albums. Talk about ancient.

So yeah, I'm feeling old. Too old to be changing careers, diapers and learning new knock-knock jokes but that's where I am. And if another young person subjects me to their inexperienced optimism with an "you're never too old to have fun" crap, I swear I'm going to puke on them.

I will have a happy birthday, however. How could I not with two little demons wanting to blow out my birthday candles? Afterward, I'm going to put my slice of cake in the blender and puree it so it won't ruin my dentures.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stamp Out Soda

Every once in a while I have a really, really bad experience at the checkout counter. Today it was at Rite Aid on Greenpoint Avenue, which is usually pretty cool with me. The one woman ahead of me held up the line because she wanted to buy three 12 packs of soda with food stamps. The soda was covered but she was having a hell of a hard time understanding that the can's five cent deposit had to be paid in cash.

Yes, it really annoyed me that I had to watch the whole stupid transaction, which took nearly ten minutes but do you wanna know what I found truly wrong with this picture? It's that she bought SODA - Fucking Soda with food stamps!

Excuse my language but that's just Satanic. You shouldn't be able to buy soda with government assisted money, especially when you have the First Lady campaigning her heart out (again with our tax dollars) to fight obesity among American children.

It kills me when I see a kid - a child who still has baby teeth - drinking a can of Coke or worst still a can of Diet Pepsi with it's growth inhibiting saccharine. Don't their parents realize how detrimental this stuff is for children? As I watch the rotund parents shove a bag of potato chips in their face, I realize no..they don't.

Junk food is cheap, tasty and readily available. Carrot sticks and water don't stand a chance.

I am not a health food advocate and I don't pretend to be. As a matter of fact my favorite foods are beer and salami, but I don't feed that to my kids. Well, salami I do but my boys are half-Italian - c'mon man! The point is, if food stamps are to provide less fortunate families with assistance to eat a nutritionally balanced diet, then I think there's no reason it should be paying for a can of Mountain Dew.

....and...

Good Night, Mr. Steinbrenner.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I Will Remember You

July is a tough month for my family. Both my sister and my father had passed away separately in July. To top it off, my family is forced to deal with me agonizing over being another year older as my birthday is smack in between their anniversaries. But this post isn't about me, it's about the two very special people who went over to the other side - probably having a beer with smoked salmon, grapes and cheese and laughing their butts off at their surviving friends and family.

It's been eleven years since my sister died. She died at a young age, having just turned 31 and she left behind a daughter who was eight and a son, who was five years old at the time. I look at my oldest, Kazuki and realize he is at the same age when my nephew was left without a mother. They are big boys compared to when they were babies, still...they are so small and vulnerable - I can't imagine what Kazuki would do without me.

My little sister, Sono was the quiet storm, as opposed to me who was the raving lunatic. She was definitely more daring and bold but nobody would ever guess that this girl who stood no taller than four foot eleven had the power of the Tasmanian Devil. She played the drums, she made me take her to Scotland - Glasgow of all places, she spent all the cash I saved in my sock drawer on a violin bow and yet I could never be mad at her for long.

She had this way of making people feel like they needed to be around her all the time.

Sono was around 16 here, judging from the U.K. Subs flyer in the background. This was her "drummer" look...















Sono, Jenn, our best friend from when we were kids and me - in all the fashion splendor the Eighties could offer.

Here, we visited Jenn while she attended Colgate University.






Sono as a young mom - she was twenty-five in this picture.












Needless to say, my father had a tough time losing his youngest daughter. Now that I think about it, we were a very close family, albeit dysfunctional. But back then, to not be dysfunctional was dysfunctional and the success of that TV show "Married With Children" just kind of proved my point.

Everything became a mission for him after she died - but he did put up a pretty good fight. He kept up his silent vigil of living without grief for nine years - going to the YMCA, cleaning the house from top to bottom and replenishing Sono's shrine with fresh water every...single..day. Then he threw in the towel on July 17th, 2008. And I knew that all that time, he secretly longed for one thing: for Sono's children to be part of his life again.

 If only life could end resolved like the movies. But I imagine that Sono and our dad are hanging out at their special table somewhere in heaven. I'm not religious but when it comes to the dead - accepting there is a heaven is the easiest way to accept they're gone.

Then again, they may not be completely gone according to my three-year-old, Isamu. He tells me he talks to Gigi (grandpa) all the time. Isamu says that Gigi claims he is not dead and that he's doing fine.

"Oh yeah?" I say. "And what is Gigi doing now?"

"Well...," Isamu says checking to see if I'm really paying attention, "Gigi is trying to tell you that it's time for me to have an ice cream sandwich."

I look at Samu and then I try to detect if indeed my father is trying to send me this important nutritional message concerning frozen dairy. Knowing my dad...it's a distinct possibility.

Sono and Papa (Gigi)

For pictures from the 2010 Memorial service that was held on July 10, 2010 please visit my Facebook Photo Album here.


Friday, July 9, 2010

The Influence of Bad Reviews

Last Father's Day, I scoped out a few places on the Internet hoping to find a hidden treasure. I mean, we love Studio Square beer garden and Bar 43 but I had my heart set on making a new discovery. As I Googled the usual key words for places that were kid friendly and served beer, a couple of suggestions came up. Then I read the reviews.

As a rule of thumb, I don't always take their word for it. If there's five reviews and two of them are bad then I consider it a warning. But if the two bad reviews are harping on the same complaint and it happens to be about the food or the service, then I'll pass no matter how much the "good" reviews rave about the place.

It's our money. It's our time. I'm not risking it on an iffy situation.

As I presented places to go and then retracted them after the bad reviews it made me wonder how businesses, especially restaurants overlook bad customer service. In New York City, there's practically a place to eat every two feet - there's no excuse for less than stellar service. From the Maitre D' to the bus boy, I expect a smile and good manners at the very least. I'll even forgive mediocre food if the place is friendly.

It's the main reason I avoid McDonald's - it's the worst of fast food chains in my opinion. Honestly, I take my kids to Mickey D's maybe once or twice...a year. I hate their food, I hate what they do to food and I especially hate how they try to pass it for healthy.

I don't expect McDonald's employees to be happy - as a matter of fact, I don't even think the customers are happy, they're just addicted. Just because McDonald's has a formula that almost guarantees regulars doesn't mean that the employees should be able to get away with terrible customer service.

At the McDonald's on 39th Place in Sunnyside, Queens, my five-year-old got very upset when a grumpy old custodian violently grabbed the garbage from my hands because I was about to throw it into a can he just lined. I know how kids feel vulnerable when their parents are involved in altercations so I try to avoid them but this was ridiculous.

I told the old man, if you hate your job so much that you need to take it out on the customers, then go work for the Post Office! Because I can understand not being appreciated for buying a 42 cent stamp but I can't see ever, assaulting a customer for simply throwing out trash. I mean, I realize it was a new liner and all but seriously, have your dementia someplace else.

So if my kids never eat McDonald's again, I'd consider it a blessing. And to all those businesses that think customers grow on trees, all I gotta say is, where's the beef?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Don't Be A Barnacle Mom

I remember the day I delivered Zuki to Pre-K and he assured me he was okay - that I should go now. I was proud and yet a little disturbed that my baby was becoming independent. Then came no-joke Kindergarten and it's don't step over the yellow line parents, let go of your kid and get the hell away from the door! The strict divide and conquer tactics were more for the parents than the children.

Although, I wasn't one of those clingy moms creating a Meryl Streep scene with my baby being ripped from my arms - I did wish for a little more drama. Instead Zuki just marched in without so much as looking back or waving goodbye. Sigh.

Two years of him leaving me to go to school - you'd think I'd get used to it by now. But no, today I escorted him to his first class at College For Kids, a summer reading program at the La Guardia Community College. I entered the classroom with the other parents, you know- to make sure everything's okay and gawk at the children. As soon as the teacher told the parents they were free to go, Zuki shooed me away.

Like I was some stray cat hanging around for scraps - a spy disguised as a fly hanging on the wall - an over protective mother cramping a five-year-old's style, as if he had any.

If I'm this hurt now, what's going to happen when he starts going places without me? Am I going to be a barnacle on his side like my schoolmate Nancy Chung's grandmother who walked her to school up until the seventh grade?

I better not! I tell myself to get a grip. Zuki may only be five but he's allowed to have his own little world that I'm not part of. Accomplishing feats of which I will never know the play by play details. Singing songs that I don't know the words to. Having his own inside jokes.

Sob.

Those experts who say that being a parent is never easy were not kidding. From the day he was born, I knew there'd come a day I'd have to let him go - but did it have to start this soon? I figured I had at least another six years before I had to actually get a life. WTF?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Like A South Street Cowboy

Fun and Free: two words that seldom go together. For family outings, however they are two elements that are a must. We kind of got that at the "Texas On Tour" event hosted at the South Street Seaport. Yes, it was free but the fun part came way afterward, at the beer garden. It had nothing to do with the event but it got us out of the house if nothing else.

The draw was virtual kayaking. I know, I thought the same thing: there are so many other activities and stuff that can be associated with Texas, why kayaking? But I figured, what the heck - the kids might enjoy it anyhow.

We got there and were kindly escorted to the "registration" booth where we entered our email to receive an electronic key card. Then we were pushed into a small movie theater to watch a commercial promoting tourism in Texas.

Not anything against Texas but the only reason I'd deliberately go there is to tour the "Tito's Handmade Vodka" distillery in Austin. We sat through the commercial anyhow, just to get out of the sweltering sun. Plus, they handed out free CD's of local music at the end. The boys love free gifts even if they don't know what it is.

Just two steps away from the theater we were lead to the virtual kayaking set up and that's when we decided it was beer o'clock. Although the kids may have enjoyed sitting in a kayak on a stage facing the South Street Seaport, there was no way they were going to put on the headgear to take them on a virtual tour. Instead, we watched Ryan Harkrider perform an acoustic ditty and went on our quest for a cold beverage.

It's been at least two years since we've been to the South Street Seaport. We wanted to avoid the tourist trap food court surrounded by overpriced Mall cuisine. We spotted a big sign for the "Water Taxi Beach and Beer Garden" and became hopeful. The boys are conditioned to feel giddy when they hear the words "Beer Garden" almost as much as their mom and dad.

It took some work finding the secluded spot, but it was worth it. As we sat at the picnic tables facing the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, the boys chowed down the rice balls I packed from home and we sipped our cold beer served by bartender with a hangover. There wasn't much going on, other than a juvenile crew from the New York Film Academy flapping their braces, a group of starch white girls in bikini's sunbathing on the man-made beach and the oyster shuckers creating a sculpture with a couple of lemons and a shrimp.

But if New York went on tour to Texas to promote tourism, I suppose this scene would be typical enough to be featured in a virtual walking tour.


A rice ridden Samu at the Water Taxi Beach and Beer Garden.



















They're too clueless to understand that this photo booth requires 14 quarters to snap a picture, so I took one for free.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I Feel A Celebration Coming On

Sometimes I get the gist of the modesty thing and other times I'm like screw it - toot my own horn! People pay big bucks for marketing and promotion as long as there's something to promote and to me,  a short story that came in second place in a writing contest is a big thing.


Agatha The Thirteenth is a story about two friends who audition for a part in a soap opera. It's a bit humorous and authentic because I based it on the experience I had auditioning for movies and television. Although, the ending is truly fictional - the character is a concoction of various oddballs I've known.


It's under 1800 words and should take about three to five minutes to read. I discovered with this contest, that's the key. Tell the story in about 1780 - 1800 words and you have a chance. Unless you're already a pro, stories over 2000 words are really a challenge to keep a reader's attention.

Hope you enjoy it and if you do, please share it - First Line Fiction makes it easy with a facebook and Twitter button. Better yet, leave me a comment and tell me what you like or don't like about the story.

Happy Fourth of July, folks! And don't blow up your fingers.

Friday, July 2, 2010

June Milestones

It's happening again - June is gone and the rest of the summer threatens to be gone in a flash. I have a theory why the summer feels like it's only three weeks long. It's because summer is the only season where you actually live in the present moment.

You don't spend it thinking about last Christmas or the snow or even the first spring day. At the same time, you don't waste it living in the future either because nothing else seems important. It's Fun-in-the-sun-time! The sprinklers are waiting (can you tell we live in the city?). The sidewalk tables at Bar 43 are breezy and inviting. Spontaneity is in the air and about the only preparation a person needs is remembering to slap on deodorant.

Now that the weddings and graduations and recitals are done, here's a little recap of events gone by.

My Sister-In-Law's Big Catholic Wedding:

From left to right: Mr. Joe Peters & Mrs. Rachel Peters and Mike (Rachel's brother/My husband)

Because their father passed away, Mike walked Rachel down the aisle and gave her away. What a brother, eh? He even wore his Red Wing boots to give him some height and man, did he look spiffy (it's still legal to use that word, right?).

Although, this is Rachel's second marriage, Rachel and Joe have been best friends like, forever. So even if he's new to the family he's not exactly new to us - we're thrilled just the same.

And as far as relationships with Rachel's first marriage...



This is Rachel and Mike doing a shot with the former hubby, Kenny. How often does this happen, ya think?

Rachel & Joe are happy and we're happy that they're happy and happy that we still get to see Kenny - cuz we like him a lot - and the boys are even happier because they get two uncles.

Auntie Rules!










After School Final Showcase:
No, these guys aren't mini hit men, they're the Kindergarten graduates performing in the final show organized by the Sunnyside Community service.

As much as my little guy loved the After School program he was brimming with joy that it was all over. Unfortunately, it may not be around next year as the program's funding was cut. Looks like it's back to hangin' out on the streets and latch key kids for our school. Hey, I grew up like that and I didn't turn out that bad...

It's A Small World, After All...

Kazuki, on the left and his buddy Louis are the only two boys in their ballet class.

While the girls cleanly executed the recital number, the boys looked as if they were getting ready to moon the audience.

They were adorable nonetheless as only boys can be surrounded by lots of pretty little ballerinas. Women think men who can dance are irresistible and I guess it applies to five-year-olds as well.


The Graduate ...okay, so it's Kindergarten but so what?


Tell me this pose isn't hilarious. I'm thinking about sending it to Dr. Heckle.

This is Zuki on Graduation Day. Despite the fact that it was just Kindergarten, families were only allowed two tickets to attend. And to add insult to injury, children counted as one person, which meant siblings needed a ticket, too.

For college, even high school I can understand the limitation but for Kindergarten? Think of all the grandparents who couldn't attend because mom and dad wanted to attend.

Well, there's always YouTube.



Zuki with Daddy and the Last Hairbender.



The Future Rat Pack? Atlantic City, here we come!












Zuki with his teacher, Mrs. Mifsud.

She's nothing short of a miracle worker. He learned in leaps and bounds and she kept his wackiness in order...who else could do that, Jesus?





And speaking of wackiness...Here is K4 of 2010!

Good Luck In First Grade!
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