keeping pace with our kids

Our kids are growing and changing so much this year.  Peanut can identify all body parts (in vietnamese), and say Ba Oi, Me Oi, Daddy, Down, Bad, No.  He loves to dance to Charlie Puth and Baby Shark.  They are the only songs that can put him to sleep.  I was hoping for quiet times and rocking him to sleep with vietnamese lullaby (like the girls) but nope, he likes to sleep to dance music, and no rocking.

vancouver island getaways

We headed to the island for a week and a bit celebrating our anniversary.  There's something about the island that makes me want to come back every year.  I like the vibe here.  We walked aimlessly most days, with 3 kids in tow, and most always find some interesting things !  a small alley, a hidden garden, a used book store, a tasty bakery, a heritage house with hundred of roses in bloom, etc !  There're so many nooks and crannies here to explore.  The only complaint I have about Victoria is the crazy expensive hotel prices.  Food and admission costs around here are fair.

Vietnamese Bo Kho beef stew with carrots


2 lbs boneless beef chuck (any type of stew beef cut is ok), cut into 1.5 inch cube
2 stalk lemongrass, but into 2 and bruised the white part,
1 tablespoons fish sauce
1 table spoon of organic sugar (white or brown should be ok, use about 3/4 of tablespoon)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
1 cup of tomato sauce (250-300 ml is good)
4-5 medium carrots, peeled, cut slanted into 1 inch pieces
2-3 star anise
3 cups water
1 cup of coconut water (omit if doens't have any and up the water to 4 cups.  There should be just enough water to cover the meat in the pot)

1 1/2 tablespoon of fish sauce (I used the 3 Crabs brand)
2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder (or 1 table spoon of the packaged Bo Kho powder)
2 teaspoon of paparika
1 teaspoon of salt
2 1/2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 1/2 table spoon of minced shallot
a dash or two of pepper

Thai basil

Mix the marinating mix, 1 1/2 table spoon of fish sauce, 5-spice powder, paparika, ginger, shallot, pepper together, pour over beef cubes and marinate for at least 3 hours, preferably over night.

Over high heat, in a non stick pan or pot, heat the 2 tablespoon of oil and sear the beef pieces (in batches) quickly then remove and put into a slow cooker.

Using the same pan or pot, add 1 tablespoon of oil, cook the coarsely chopped onions until translucent then add tomato sauce and lemon grass and star anise.  Add in a teaspoon of salt.

Pour this mixture over the beef cubes in the slow cooker then add the water, coconut water, and 1 table spoon of fish sauce and the sugar.

Let it cook on low for about 5-6 hours (longer is ok, if you plug in before heading out to work).  1-2 hours before serving, add the carrots to the slow cooker.  The beef and the carrot pieces should be tender, they should fall apart when cut in !  Before serving, taste and adjust by adding more fish sauce or sugar (if you like it sweet)

Remove lemongrass and star anise before serving.  You can top the dish with cilantro or basil.  Enjoy with french bread, baguette or over thin rice noodles or even eat with rice !

If you don't have a slow cooker, cook the stew in a pot and let it simmer on low for about 3 hours, or until the beef is tender.  Add the carrot an hour before the beef is done.  You don't want to add the carrot in too early because it will get too soft and mushy.

I like the sauce thin, the way it is, but if you like it to be thick, like stew thick, you can achieve that by adding in a LITTLE mixture of cornstarch or tapioca starch (starch mixed with water).  If you do this, remember to add the mixture in a bit at a time, don't pour all in at once because it might thicken up the sauce way too much and will taste starchy.

Words of gentleness

I'm a straight as narrow type of person.  What you see is what you get, no agenda, no game, no anything.  I am not malice or cunning.  If I come across as one, then you're giving me way too much credit !!!  I have a hard time fibbing, even white lie, and never would you see me sucking up to a person.  Not that I don't want to ;-)  the thoughts and desires are strong, it's just the Spirit in me would whisper, "don't do it !!! it's not who the Lord made you to be", and I listened.

I feel at this age, almost half of an average of a life span, I am still learning how to communicate effectively.  I assumed people know my intentions, and it proves over and over again that's not the case.  I need to constantly communicate my good intentions in words and actions.  This week, being on the other side of the fence, witnessing some unkind words and twisting of facts, it makes me feel crappy.  I don't know why people do that, they gained nothing, and loose more.  They lost people's trust, respects, and worst, people don't want to be around them, and steer clear of at the sight of them.  While I am no where near their league, it makes me think hard about how I communicate.  Our words are so powerful, more than we even know.  We can put a smile on a person's face or shame and crush their spirit, all with words.   Proverbs 15:1 came to mind, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger".  It is so true.  A great reminder for me to think hard before I speak.  Are my words building up or crushing down ?  It's always always better to encourage and lift someone up because it has a longer lasting effect on them, and it flow to the people around them.  I know this first hand, being the one who received kindness and gentleness.  Dear Lord, oh how I desire to be more like You !


Spectacular Seven

Bee worked with me on this picture, learning to erase and add layer on Photoshop ! 

March brought in a lot of rain this year.  It was dull and cold and blah.  The only thing to look for this month for me is the birthday of our eldest girl.  Weeks before her birthday, Bee asked if we can stay at a hotel for her birthday instead of having a birthday party.  She loves staying at hotel and go swimming.  Subconsciously I know she wants us all to be together, spending time together and do fun stuff.  She wished she doesn't have school and that we don't have to work so our family can just play all day.  I told her, me too me too !  A short getaway is a brilliant idea.  I couldn't agreed more.  No chores ?  Sign me up.

We decided to go to Victoria as it's the only island around here that has hotels with big pools !  We booked the hotel Grand Pacific based on the location and its' 3 pools - large swimming pool, hot tub, and a kiddie pool.  My hotel booking criteria are all about pool temperature and distance to food options nowadays. 

The girls packed their luggage the day before and were so excited we couldn't get them to eat dinner or  sleep.  It was chaotic.  C struggled trying to put all 3 kids to sleep while I was trying to make Bee a birthday card, wrap her presents and clean up the house.  Who wants to return home to a messy house ?  Not I !  Then when all this is done, I still need to pack too, for me and all the kids (I don't think the girls packed enough warm clothes).  Arrrrgggg !!!

1 am on the clock when I slipped into the bed, body and mind exhausted.

Morning came without a bump.  Travelling to and boarding ferry was smooth.  Peanut cooperated while we had lunch.  Yay !  It already feel like an amazing trip.

We stopped by Gonzales Bay before hitting our hotel as check in is at 3.  From the street parking it doesn't look like much, but as we descended down the stairs pathway, the little beach unfolds in front of us and it was delightful.  The kids went into busy mode and run amok while C and I surveyed the area then place Peanut in a safe sandy spot !  He dug right into the sand the moment we put him down.  

Dotted along the border of this little beach are charming heritage houses.  I love myself a heritage (but fully updated to today's code) house with a porch on the front so I can watch the world go by.  C and I talked about perhaps we can buy a little place here and going to walks in the morning and afternoon.  This of course, was before we look into real estate cost around here :)  Baby Peanut entertained himself for over an hour, digging into the sand.  He loves it so much.  I suspected he ate a bit of sand..or maybe a lot..I don't know :-/ but he left some evident on his lips :(

We got to the hotel close to 3 and checking in was a breeze.  The hotel looks nice and grand outside, like its name.  The location is perfect, close to lots of restaurants and close to the wharf.  The inside interior of the suite, the decor is kinda dated for our taste.  The travel agent told me she went there and loved it and that it's a solid 4 star hotel.  We often don't use many of the services so that doesn't really matter to us.  We do like the location so we decided to try it out !  Beside the cosmetic stuff, chairs and beds are very comfortable.  The room is big enough for us, around 450 square feet, and very clean, no dust behind headboard or window sills.  For family of 5, however, I think the Parkside Resort hotel is better for us because of the kitchen.  Not that I would be doing any cooking, but it's more for the convenience of warming up food and/or for breakfast as we all wake up at different time.  However there are lots of restaurants nearby here so there's no worry of starvation.  The hotel also has an 24 hrs cafe on site too.  As for C, he likes the easy access to Starbucks across the street.  

The weather during this trip has spring written all over it !  Sunny and cool with a couple of cloudy periods.  It was rainy back at home (we check our home security camera) so we are quite thankful for the time here.  I thanked Bee for praying for the weather because I forgot to. 

First thing we did after settling in was to surprise Bee with presents.  She thought the trip was a present for her so she didn't expect anything else.  We got her Lego superhero sets (Catwoman, Batgirl, Robin, and Wonderwoman) !  Bee mentioned she needed superheroes to protect her castles and cake shops.  She lovesssss the Lego and the card I made for her so that's a high note for me :-)  I haven't drawn in a long time.

Bee has been such a great sister to Love and Peanut.  Sometime she takes her role so seriously, that she sounds like C, and it's quite entertaining to watch.  She fusses over things that doesn't line up (like me) and gets frustrated when her items get removed and not put back where she had it last (like C).  Bee loves to be tickled everyday and she tells us pretty much everyday how much she loves our family.  Sweet thing ! She also reminds me often to tell Jesus that I love Him and that is so precious.

Bee loves to sing, silly dance and read.  She read everything, from signs to newspaper to books to instructions on a bottle !  She is generous with her smile and are slowing coming out of her shell.  When spoken to, she would quietly answer.  So brave my girl !  Bee can read my brain, she claimed, and that she knows what I like and what makes me happy.  Some night when C and I switched chores, she would whisper to me that she wanted to give me a break !  So she would ask C to help her ready for bed instead.  She said to me "You get a rest now mommy !  Let's tickle me, that's a nice rest right ? ".  Little miss smarty pant :)

All in all, we enjoyed our time away, together, and got plenty of sleeping in.  The best food I had during this trip was at Nourish, a heritage home converted to restaurant, for brunch.  It's cute little place but has no high chair.  We managed as C and I took turn holding baby Peanut.  Not like we have any other option right ?  Food was dddddelicious.  C was like this is totally your kind of place Tracy, all healthy and vintage feel.

Morning Scramble w/ side of bacon:  soft scrambled eggs, roasted shallots, butternut squash, arugula, lentil hummus, seedy toast

No high chair for baby  :-(

The highlight of this trip, as I don't think anything can beat it, are the seals at the fisherman wharf.  I seen them before in San Fran but this was very up close, mere meters away from me.  I can almost touch them !!!  They are so fat, so round, oh so cute !

This adorable sweet thing loves to wave !  I waved back frantically "Hello hello"

Vacation, mini or long, seems to fueled my kids with an extra pack of energy, because they don't seem to get tired at all.  We walked all over town and they never once complained.  Thank goodness Victoria never seems to run out of things to do with kids.  The kids can burn their steam off at the countless playgrounds around here, then there's the vast space at Beacon Hill park, we can walk along the seawall, walk around the fisherman wharf, and going up and down the many steps at the parliament building (guaranteed to burn off some energy).  If you want brain stimulations, there's the bugs zoo, the crystal garden, miniature world, Royal museum, and maritime museum.  

Most evening, at around 9pm, after a long day of walking and running and swimming, the girls seems to calm down and willing to sit around with us.  We would attempt to watch a family movie and before we know it they all fell fast asleep, about 5-7 min in.  When the kids passed out, it's party time for us hard working parents ! We break out the snacks, snuggle on the sofa, we might kissed ! but it's a bit of a blur for me now.  We both fell asleep just as fast as the kids :)  Sleep is wonderful.  We are romantic like that !

We been to Victoria many many times but never really visit the parliament building so we feel obliged to take the girls there this time around.  It's a beautiful building with lots of intricate details.  C gave them a brief 101 on how our government and house of common works, etc.  Bee asked is she can run for prime minister and we said yes.  We ran up and down the stairs there about 5-6 times, the girls think we're playing tag, I was really trying to burn my belly fat :)

If you are planning to take your kids to Victoria, do take a drive out to visit Willow beach and Cadboro park.  You can read about Willow beach here.  As for Cadboro, it's a huge playground with sea creatures inspired play structures. 

Cadboro and Gyro park/beach is a wide open space with all sorts of play structures for babies and grown kids.  When we were there, the park was packed with lots of kids running around and there were also a lot of sail boats on the water.  A hub of activities on land and sea !!!  

Looking for smooth rocks to collect

Super mommy socks !

I am glad for this short getaway, a time to unwind and watch the kids do their kiddies things.  Sure there were some stressful times, it`s not all rosy :)  People often say to me (seeing the pictures) that (where we go) the trip looks great and the kids are so great, and that their kids won't behave like ours.  And I would tell them, just do it, go on mini trip !  We have many not so great moment during out trip, I just don't capture it.  When my kids are crying or screaming, first thing to do is bring balance to the force, not pulling out camera to take pictures :)  I assured you, any trip with kids comes with some stress, but I also find the fun of being away from home and room-service everyday out weight the not-so amazing time.

Talk about stress, this trip, meal times was a bit of a pain in the noggin !  Peanut won't sit still in his high chair to eat so C and I pretty much gulp down on our food as fast as we can and get out.  We went to 2 restaurants and gave up !  We opted for Red Fish and Blue Fish for the rest of the trip, our trusty solid go-to place because it's no fuss good food and the kids can run around and make as much noise as they want.  This place and the wharf is great to grab some food to enjoy if you got noisy kids like us !

Some things I learned and take away from Bee this weekend:

- Flowers are not blooming yet because they are in their sleep state
- First there's an egg like an eye, then it become a tadpole, then the arms formed then legs then become a frog.  Then when ready, the frog comes back to where they are born and  leave eggs there.
- She can eat 2 boxes of 6 pieces of McD nuggets for snack !
- She loves just hanging out at hotel suite and play 
- She's creative with making up games
- She tried plain toast and likes it
- She doesn't like whipped cream (I can't believe it)
- She doesn't like cake (what ????? Who's kid is this ?)
- She might be loving C more than me.  She told me "daddy works so hard you know mommy ?  He doesn't take many breaks, maybe just lunch.  His work is very hard so he has to think a lot.  I love daddy so much and I miss him all the time."

Such a daddy's girl (rolled eyes) but I love love that she loves her daddy so much !  I too love him so very much.

When it was time to leave the island the girls weren't ready and wanted to stay 10 more days.  Bee said she didn't like this whole trip because it's so short !  She wanted to stay longer, because she loves going out for breakfast, swimming and playing in our suite.  She loves the bolster pillow so much, she said.  Bee asked that we do the same for her birthday next year but she wants to stay at least 10 days because 4 days is too short.  I am glad she likes to celebrate her special day with all of us.  On the way home, Bee reminded all of us to thank her for her great idea and for all the fun we had, in which we all did.  Now if she pick up all the bills for this trip then that would be awesome :)  

joy in the mundane

The sun shine its' glorious light over our city.  I am thankful for such a beautiful day.  After so so so so many dreadful gray and rainy days, I welcome this sight with wide open arms.

Peanut and Love are fighting a cold so we decided to stay home (instead of attending church) and have an easy Sunday.  We slept in and laze around in our pyjamas until pass noon.  Mr. C started to fidget, a sign to me that he's done with just chilling :-)  I know he can`t stand sitting around, and sure enough, he coerced the girls to go outside and help him with yard work.  If you know our girls, you know how much they love being in the outside, so in a flash, they were up and out.  Peanut ran after them, whined and pointed to their direction, and so with the loudest groan I can uttered, I bundled us up and went to join the gang.

The outside is bright, warm when in the sunlight, and with a bit of a breeze.  The air is fresh and crisp.  Our girls are on their bikes and chasing each other round and round in circle.  Baby Peanut pushed on me to put him down and off he went, with his arms flapping like a penguin.  The first thing he did is joyfully digging his clean hands into the damp soil.  He attempted to eat dirt and wood chips a few times just before I quickly snapped them away from his grip.

The heavy snow fall this year damaged many of our fancy ornamental grasses and the crows just love digging through our front and back yard, ripping up all the grass, chowing down on the fat chafer grubs underneath (European chafer beetles).  These grubs are not native here so getting rid of them has been a loosing battle for us.  We might just fill a large part of our yard with wood chips !  Easier to maintain.

In the span of about 2 hours, we had a hot chocolate party with strawberries, we played store (the girls are shop owners and I am their customer), we chased and watched Peanut stomped around, we went on the swing, monkey bars, slides, and I sat back and watched the girls rolled around on top of giant balls soaking in sunlight.  They're so happy !  I grabbed my camera and snapped some pictures then quickly put it away, out of Peanut's grasp.  Mr. C managed to scrape up all the dead grass, trimmed the ornamental grasses, and cleaned up all dead leaves and falling branches.  We discussed our plan for the yard, what we want to eat for dinner, what we look forward to comes summer, and on and on and on.

There's nothing spectacular about today, except the wonderful Mr. Sun, everything is pretty ordinary, very mundane.  But my heart, my full heart, is very content and joyful.  As my daughter Bee would say, "Jesus made me like that!".  Joy and peace are 2 of the fruits of the spirit !  These are the byproducts of my walk, following Jesus.  Woo hoo !  I am secure in Christ, secure in His promises and faithfulness.  Jesus' love, peace, joy, and goodness can be experienced in all things, in all situations, and they can be found in all the mundanes of the day.

Here I am in my PJ, wrapped in a scarf (maybe it's a blanket ?  I am not sure, it's huge, but was sold as a scarf is strange), listening to my kids competing with each other for my attention, competing to tell me their stories.  While I go about my mommy duties, I can feel my soul and spirit being embraced by my almighty God.  There are so many things to be thankful for.  To be here, under this sun, safe in this place, watch my family going about their ways, and to witness the changing of the season is simply beautiful.

 Spring is a time to sow.

Color of the rainbow birthday party

Love and Peanut shared a birthday party together this past weekend !  One is turning a big 1 and one is entering the fabulous 4.  Having each kid born in January, February and March, someone's gotta give and share, and this time it's baby Peanut !  Our justifications ? first, he doesn't know it's his birthday, and second, he has no friends :-)  Lovebug puts on her VIP hat and weeks before the party, she reminded all of us the two most important things to her - balloons and jelly beans.  We try to avoid Jelly Belly because they stick to teeth (=cavities), but, since it's her birthday we decided to get Jelly Belly.  Then I thought of some sweets I haven't had for a long time, like peach rings and Twizzlers, so I grabbed them !  Bee saw me so she asked if she can have some worms, then C saw us and asked for Skittles !  Once the candy gate opened, everyone rushed in ;-)

If you've been following me, you know how much I love diy decorations and setting up kids party !  I am sad to report that it's not so much the case anymore :-(  I am quite busy now juggling work and kids and activities so I got no time for home made decorations !  It's all recycled decorations and dollar store items from here and onward friends !!!

The night before the party, Mr. C, Bee and I spent a good hours blowing up about 40-50 balloons.  C filled our mantel top (which is set about 3 feet back from the front) with different sizes of balloons.  He's going for the "balloons spilling out" look.  I know I can always count on him for carrying out the work !  He likes party as much as the kids and I :)  I would sketch out my ideas and Mr. C would take it and make it into reality.  He's good like that !!!  

For party favor, I went with something I personally would like to receive, a take-and-toss container filled with different types of crackers, and a small takeaway carton filled with candies.  This give the parents options, if they don't want candies they can take the crackers for their kids.  The container can be re-used so it's all good !!!  I also bought a whole bunch of rubber balls from Old Navy, $0.25 cents each (there's a ball vending machine in my local Old Navy (Metrotown) store).  Love really like those bouncy balls so she asked us to ensure that her friends get gifted one when they come to her party.  I also was planning on having playdough making station after cake but the kids seem to be happy playing with each other so I left it.  That's another easy and fun activity to do !

I've heard stories of kids getting upset over their goodies bag (O)_(O)  That's just crazy !!!  I feel goodies bag/party favor is NOT a "must have", and it can totally be forego.  There's enough work hosting a party !  I don't know about your kids' friends but my friends' kids are not finicky.  They pretty much just like to play with each other and eat cake, so the goodies bags are just extras .  Even if we don't have it, I am pretty sure no one would notice or care.  My girls never ask for party favor when go to parties, and my friends or their kids never once ask about it either.  I very much appreciate low maintenance, easy to please kids !  My friends are great parents !

All in all it was a fun party and like always, our lunch party always lead into dinner together with our friends !  We went out for dinner then the kids passed out in the car on the way home, a sign of a well spent day.  Sure their mouth are full of sugar, which is OK because my kids can sleep through flossing and brushing once home :-)  They would let us do all that and change them into their PJ, all the while sleeping away.  No fuss, no complaint !  We feel blessed for our kids.

Happy happy day 'Peanut' and 'Love' !

Two-bite brownies with home made frosting !  So good, so fast and so easy :)

Love eating shark gummy and brownie !  She's been waiting for this for a long long time !
(drawing on the white board are done by Bee for her sister)

Candies galore for big and small kids !

Some home made vietnamese food by me, my mom and my mother in law !

Nolan's getting his sugar fix !  Enjoying it while he can because the next one will be a long while.

Got a quick hug with this girl before she ran off to play