Just Don’t Call It A Party: DIY Pokemon Non-Party

When Jack’s birthday rolled around this year I asked him what he’d like to do:
“No party.” was his response.
“No party?” (can’t quite compute)
“No.” (adamant)
“Well, we don’t have to have that party” I said.

See I knew what was wrong, no need for him to elaborate. It was the confirmation that yes, I had indeed scarred him over past years with what has been deemed “Birthdaypalooza.”

Birthdaypalooza started out innocently enough back in preschool when a group of us parents with October birthday kids pulled together and threw one big bash. Brilliant! Four b-day kids, ONE party! Done.

We pulled this off in various forms for four years in a row. It got so big after the first year that we had to move subsequent years to a park. It swelled to a point where last year there were 40+ kids, 40+ adults, a jumpy house, a Pirate who did magic, twisted balloons and painted faces, a pinata so big you could shove a small child in it (we went with 10lbs of candy), lots of BBQ. We had to hire a backup face painter.

I loved this party. Loved prepping with the moms. Loved making the favors. Loved watching the kids have so much fun. Loved catching up with all the parents we don’t get to see too often. But after the last one, I knew it wasn’t really Jack’s thing. Don’t get me wrong, he had a blast every year, but I knew it wasn’t the birthday party he would choose for himself.

And this year he chose the opposite. NOTHING. It’s official: I scarred him for life.

So let’s rewind a bit:
“No party.” was his response.
“No party?” (can’t quite compute)
“No.” (adamant)
“Well, we don’t have to have that party” I said.

And at this point I threw out some options:
“Invite a couple of buddies over and play pokemon?”
“Take a small group of friends mini-golfing, to the movies, or to the pinball museum?”
“Is there anything you’d like to do for your birthday?”

The answer was 1) Go with one friend to The Winchester Mystery House & 2) Have our regular neighborhood crew over for movie night + birthday cheesecake. But don’t call it a party.

Pokemon Pizza Night
We’re lucky to live on a block with a group of kids that have grown up to this point together. They are a tight group that hang together often. So we invited them over for a pretty typical movie-pizza night. As it grew closer, Jack started getting into a few “party-ish” elements. He put together gift boxes for them, filled with Pokemon things. He sought out cards he knew his friends needed and put those in their pokeball boxes. He didn’t protest when I brought home some Pokemon decor. And I think he genuinely got excited when the following two things rounded out the emerging theme:

Easy Pokeball Pizza
Easy Pokeball Pizza

Pokemon Pokeball Pizza:
This was a super easy way to integrate some Pokemon power. I cheated a bit and bought a couple of large pepperoni take-n-bake pizzas from Costco. I figured the kids probably weren’t craving the grilled pizzas. I simply took off half the pepperoni, put a slice of onion in the middle of the pizza, then used olives to make the black lines. voila!
cooking Pokeballs
cooking Pokeballs
A little overcooked, cheese got too brown.
A little overcooked


Pokemon Pokeball Cheesecake:

Pokeball Cheesecake
Pokeball Cheesecake
Here’s a funny thing about Jack: He doesn’t really like cheese, he doesn’t like cake… but he loves cheesecake. I was thinking about making him one and turning it into a pokeball but I wasn’t confident in getting the top super white and free of cracks, so I bought one from Costco. I then covered one half with strawberry spread, made the center button with upside down Hersey kisses, then used black cake decorating gel to finish it off.

Pokemon & friends, what more does a kid need?
Pokemon & friends, what more does a kid need?

Jack had the perfect birthday. He loved it. He loved prepping his gift bags. He loved being surrounded by his neighborhood crew. He loved the little bits of a Pokemon theme. But still… don’t call it a party.

Pokeball non-party party favors.
Pokeball non-party party favors.

Adventuring: Mystery Spot

Mystery Spot, SC
Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz

One of the downsides of having so much info at our fingertips is that there’s little mystery left in the world. Everything has been proved, disproved, researched, explained. I’m semi-revolting against this as I fight the urge to google the truth about the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, instead choosing to live in the weirdness of the experience itself.

I say “semi” because I did actually start to research the truth. Then I couldn’t handle it and closed the browser a paragraph in. I want to believe that this place is really, truly, weird.

Backing up here, we went to the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz this weekend. If you live in Northern California, you’ve seen the bumper stickers. I’ve been seeing them for years, half ignoring/half thinking it a thing of the past (supported by the fact that the stickers are typically spotted on 80’s volvo wagons). Well, turns out it’s still pumping through the tourists! So of course with the kids, the adventuring, etc… it was really only a matter of time that we end up here.

We Love Mystery and Slugs
We Love Mystery and Slugs

And so we did, on Saturday, along with about 300 other tourists. A mystery in and of itself, where did all the people come from? We drove up the quiet mountain road, few cars in site, so how is it once we got out of the car in the parking lot, the place was CRAWLING with people?! Mysterious.

More leaning and also looking a bit like a wax statue.
More leaning and looking a bit like a wax statue.

But that’s obviously not the true point here, it’s the strange events that occur as you tour the small 150ft area in the redwoods outside of Santa Cruz. Water appears to flow uphill, people appear to shrink, grow, and lean in abnormal ways. Not to mention the dizzy, nauseous, uneasy feeling you get standing in this spot. Even my scientist husband found it all to be inexplicable and thought at the very least it would spur an interesting conversation amongst his scientist work buddies on Monday.

More Participation
More Participation

We had fun stumbling against gravity through the rooms of the tiny cabin, participating in a few puzzling demonstrations, and generally suspending our disbelief (and chuckling at some pretty cheesy jokes) for an hour in the redwoods.

Real or not, it’s mind-bending (and cheap) enough to get our thumbs up.

465 Mystery Spot Road
Santa Cruz, CA 95065

Tomato & Bread Salad

Summer. You’re not over yet, and yet you are kinda over. School starts tomorrow, homework too, and I even saw Christmas decor in the aisles of Costco. Which is a kinda WTF early, but, well… you’ll be missed summer.

But before you totally bail on us, I thought it would be nice to hang with you a bit. Enjoy the fruits of your bounty, even if I didn’t actual grow them myself. See, we never quite made it around to the tomatoes this year. Of our micro-garden undertaking, we ended up with a handful of peas and green beans and a crap-load of plums. Though a pesky possum pretty much gnawed through most of the plums leaving sticky, smashed remnants all over our yard.

Our Peas, all six of them
Our peas, all six of them

But I digress.

So tomatoes… we were backup babysitters for our neighbor’s chickens and in addition to some fresh eggs, we also got to help ourselves to some lovely ripe tomatoes. Additionally, I had pilfered a left over loaf of bread from a work event that was too stale to eat but perfect for croutons.

BINGO: Tomato & Bread Salad!

I am not really sure how you make a traditional bread salad. I didn’t even really want to know. I just wanted to make it up as I went and see how it all came out.

(Didn't end up using the olives)
(Didn’t end up using the olives)

Tomato & Bread Salad
– Loaf of day (or so) old bread
– Lots of Olive Oil
– Three finely diced cloves of garlic
– Course Sea Salt
– 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
– Five or so large tomatoes
– Olives (optional, in fact I didn’t even end up using them)

How To:
– Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
– Slice the bread into large cubes.
– Whisk together garlic and 1/4 cup Olive Oil
– Toss together the olive oil/garlic mix and the croutons with your hands in a large bowl.
– Generously sprinkle salt, parmesan
– Toss and add Olive Oil until all cubes have a light coat
– Bake for 8ish mins, then toss them and sprinkle more parmesan and back for another 8-10 mins. They should be a golden brown.
– Remove from oven and put in a bowl, save the little crumb pieces to sprinkle on the top at the end
– Slice the tomatoes into large chunks and, in a separate bowl, toss with a little olive oil and salt
– Then toss it all together with the bread, sprinkle the crumbs on top, and let it sit for awhile before serving


It turned out ok. Maybe a little dry. I wonder if I should have put something like a vinaigrette over it and really let it soak. Or maybe it just needed to sit longer in the tomatoes. My goal was for it to be moist but with some crunchiness. All in all though, it was a super easy summer dish that could morph with varied ingredients like fresh mozzarella, basil, various salad dressings, olives, etc.

And not bad for a leftover loaf of bread and some tomatoes from the garden.

Tomato Bread Salad
Tomato Bread Salad

Restaurant Challenge: Sampaguita Fil-Am Cuisine

Sampaguita Fil-Am Cuisine
Sampaguita Fil-Am Cuisine

Nestled next to a laundromat on a quiet strip in the middle of the island is Sampaguita Fil-Am restaurant. I’ve been wanting to check this place out since spotting it way back. These types of unassuming, out of the way spots always intrigue me in a treasure hunt type of way. So when it got pulled from our restaurant challenge bucket I got excited by the possibilities ahead. Like this could be the hidden gem on the island! The kind of place I’ll kick myself for not having come to sooner. The underdog waiting for it’s moment.

Oh boy… it kills me to say it, but it just wasn’t it.

And it’s even harder to say that after we were greeted so warmly by the lovely ladies who worked there. But I just didn’t really like the food. And I kinda like most food. But not so much this time around. Sorry nice ladies!

BUT there’s a silver lining here… I am just one opinion amongst a family of four. The typically picky one in our group (ahem, Jack) threw a curve ball when he said he would go back FOR SURE and rated his meal with triple-quadrupal thumbs up. Elise seemed indifferent though mowed down her Adobo and Mike said “Yep, just like the cafeteria at our Manila fab.”

So really, what do I know.

our MO, sample a little of everything.
our M.O., sample a little of everything.

My Thoughts:
Everything was lukewarm at its hottest. Cold Chicharones are kinda gnarly. Lots of the dishes were swimming in grease. Overall most of the dishes I tried tasted kinda bland.

Jack loved the Nilagang Baka (Beef Stew in Clear Broth). In typical Jack style, he gravitated towards: beef, potatoes, rice. He gets a variation of this at most restaurants. He liked this version more than most. The Halo Halo dessert was also a hit.

Halo Halo Dessert
Halo Halo Dessert
Pork Adobo and rice were her favorites. She also loved the act of eating the Halo Halo. She kept calling it fishing as she searched the dessert with her spoon for beans and pieces of coconut.

Mike travels to the Philippines often and has eaten many a meal just like this. The choices, the flavors, even the small white plastic bowls used to serve the meal all felt familiar. He liked it ok, a similar feeling he has when eating in the Philippines. It’s ok.

So, and please no offense to my Filipino friends, it did get me thinking why this cuisine just hasn’t taken off like other Asian foods in our area. California has one of the largest Filipino populations in the country yet you rarely see or hear of Filipino restaurants. Why is this?

This isn’t the end Filipino food, I don’t give up that easily. I do want to figure you out. I’ll be seeking out answers (and further attempts) to find what I like about you.

Sampaguita Fil-Am Cuisine
1216 Lincoln Ave
(between Bay St & Sherman St)
Alameda, CA 94501

Restaurant Challenge: Sidestreet Pho

Mike & Elise
Mike & Elise

OK people, dreams have come true this time around on the restaurant challenge. My children actual begged to return to a Vietnamese restaurant we recently picked from the bucket. Never mind that it’s mostly due to a dessert piled high with mango shaved ice, bits of marshmallow, and tapioca pearls.

I love Vietnamese food. I am glad it’s now a part of our regular rotation of restaurants. I am glad that my kids have found new foods they like even if it was a dessert that got ’em in the door.

Overall Thumbs Up
Overall Thumbs Up

Since pulling this from the restaurant challenge bucket we’ve been here a couple time. The restaurant is simple and nicely designed. The food is good and the service is friendly. In our various trips we’ve tried the following:

Pho Ga but with Egg Noodles: Thumbs Up!

mmm, soup.
mmm, soup.

Com Tam Bi Bo (Grilled Beef with Rice): Thumbs Up for the rice (as usual). Thumbs medium for the steak, although I thought it was delicious. Thumbs way up for the pickled daikon, cucumber, and carrot salad.

Banh Mi Bo Kho (Beef stew with french bread): Thumbs medium, he liked it ok but not overwhelmed.
Bo Luc Lac (Beef stir fried with egg noodles): Thumbs up, tasty.

Cha Gio Heo Nuong (Rice Vermicelli Salad with imperial roll and grilled pork.) MMM, one of my favorites and this one didn’t disappoint.

Pho Ga: Thumbs Up, the broth was really flavorful and good.

Vermicelli with Pork and Egg Roll
Vermicelli with Pork and Egg Roll

And then there is this magical snow ice dessert…
WARNING: Fingers could get accidentally bitten off during the feeding frenzy this causes.

Mango Snow Ice Dessert.
Mango Snow Ice Dessert.

Sidestreet Pho: Now in our regular restaurant rotation.

Easy Watermelon Cooler


I was cutting up a watermelon tonight and was left with a pool of juicy looking pulp sitting in the rind. Rather than pick it up and drink it down, a light bulb popped. Watermelon cooler.

I grabbed a spoon and started scraping. Of course you could do this with chunks of watermelon but I got kinda excited that I found a use for something I would have just tossed in the compost. Then I gathered a lemon, a bit of white wine (I used a table white but Prosecco would be good too) and some ice. Easy breezy like summer. What resulted was a refreshing, crisp drink with a hint of natural sweetness cut a bit by the lemon.

– Dry White Wine or Prosecco (I used a table white that was 80% Sauvignon Blanc/20% Chardonnay)
– Watermelon leftovers
– Ice
– Lemon

Watermelon Leftovers
Watermelon Leftovers

To Make:
– Take the spoon and scrape down the rind, making as much pulpy juice as possible.
– Fill a glass with ice.
– Fill the glass half way with watermelon juice and pulp.
– Then fill with wine.
– Cut some lemons, squeeze one small piece into the drink and stir. Then drop a couple slices of lemon on top.

Find a porch, kick back, and sip.

Ouch Sun, That Hurt! Weird Sunburn Remedies.

Awhile back I watched a video on the internet with a doctor talking about common household remedies for sunburns. I can’t find it now but I could swear they said that applying tea or vinegar within the first eight hours after your skin gets sunburnt not only soothes the immediate pain, but also stops and even reverses some of the sun damage that nasty burn inflicted on your skin. Could it be true?

This stuck in my head when I found myself, after a day in the sun, looking like a crispy critter. What the heck, might as well give it a shot. So I soaked a paper towel in white vinegar and applied it all over my sunburn. The next day, I swear there was a noticeable difference between the area I easily reached and applied more vinegar to (shoulders), and the area in the middle of my back (still a deeper red).

Shortly after I noticed that my mother-in law carries around a small water bottle with a half water/half vinegar solution to apply after being in the sun… at the suggestion of her dermatologist. I think we’re on to something here!

I’ve since applied vinegar many times to pieces and parts of my family’s skin that have seen too much sun and it always seems to help. At the very least it doesn’t hurt. So, as you head out to enjoy some July 4th fun in the sun, remember your SPF! But should you still find yourself a little pink around the edges, grab for the vinegar asap. Or one of these other household items…

(NOTE: I am no doctor, nor is the internet from which I gleaned this info, this is all just anecdotal)

Apparently there is acetic acid in vinegar. Acid?! on a Sunburn?! Yeah, seems like it helps relieve pain and restore the pH balance to your skin which promotes healing. I go straight-up-hard-core pure white vinegar but you can also mix half vinegar/half water, soak a washcloth or paper towel, and hold on your skin for awhile. Or dab all over the sunburn and repeat a few times. Seems Apple Cider and white vinegar are the best types of vinegar to use.

Sitting out on the deck eating some lunch, soaking up the sun and OOPS sunburn! Order an iced tea, soak a napkin, hold it on the burn, move into the shade and lunch on. Tea has healing properties. The internet seems to think black tea works best.

Turn your crispy skin tandoori-style with a little yogurt slathered on. I’ve never done this but people out there online say it’s the best way to heal a sunburn. But there’s evidence to support lots of “best ways” so I say grab what’s handy, slather it on, it’s better than nothing.

On that note, some other items said to help:
– Cold Water
– Milk
– Cucumbers
– Oatmeal
– Coconut Oil

Enjoy your 4th of July, use sunscreen, and keep that vinegar handy.

Adventuring: Aquarium & Dim Sum

The heavy reality of heading back to work hit like a ton of bricks this morning as I spent two hours driving a mere 15 miles to work. Nothing like starting a new job the same day the regional transit goes on strike. And as I crawled down the freeway en route to the new gig, it wasn’t the traffic dragging me down. It was the reality that my freedom has officially been boxed in around work, commutes, and deadlines. Sigh. But I lamented this already in last night’s post so time to get over it and move on.

Elise and I spent my last day of summer freedom on friday adventuring together. Jack was at camp so she got to pick all parts of the plan. She chose: Aquarium of the Bay followed by Dim Sum.

I went online to the local library Discover & Go program and downloaded a free pass to the Aquarium, clipped a Ferry coupon out of the Alameda phone book, and planned our route…

Ferry Ride
Ferry Ride

Alameda/SF Ferry
We dropped Jack at camp and headed for the ferry terminal to catch a boat over to Pier 41 near our destination, The Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. We took a couple of pit stops first 1) The Kite Store bubble machine for some dancing, 2) the Sea Lions but only one lone sleeper lay on the platform, the rest we determined were out to sea and 3) The candy store on Pier 39 with barrels of taffy in every flavor. Try passing by that with a four year old without entering.

Bubble Dancing
Bubble Dancing

Aquarium of the Bay/Pier 39
This isn’t the most phenomenal aquarium, and not somewhere you can spend the entire day. It’s a fairly quick walk through with our longest time spent at the touch tanks. They do have a very cool walk through glass tunnel full of large sharks, rays, and fish cruising by above your head. And recently they added an otter exhibit though they were snoozing away while we were there. They have a friendly staff and even if it’s not as grand as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we enjoyed our time there.

Touch Tanks, Elise's favorite!
Touch Tanks, Elise’s favorite!

I love these cute little Strawberry Anenome
I love these cute little Strawberry Anenome

City View Dim Sum
We walked from Pier 39 to City View Dim Sum via North Beach. A good way to go because there’s lots to see to keep the walk interesting. Elise was in a stroller so she sat back and enjoyed the ride. I got a little exercise to preempt the calorie explosion about to take place.

When I worked in downtown SF, City View was always my favorite Dim Sum spot to hit up for a Friday lunch with coworkers. I love me some Dim Sum and have been known to overstuff myself on numerous occasions. This time around we kept it under control with 4 items, though admittedly I ate most of it. Elise had her favorite: Baked Pork Buns and declared them the best she’s tried to date. Bonus: We ran into some friends at the next table.

Right after this shot, she shoved the entire thing in her mouth.
Right after this shot, she shoved the entire thing in her mouth.

We then walked down through the Financial District to the Ferry Terminal and hopped on a ferry back to Alameda. Another lovely day with my girl, this time luckily without a single temper tantrum.

Financial District Fountain
Financial District Fountain

Lovely Day in the City.
Lovely Day in the City.

Ends and Starts

One of my favorite summer moments.
I’ll miss you Summer.

Well, summer is coming to an end for me, short but sweet. I head into a new job tomorrow satisfied with all I’ve squeezed out of the last few months and a little nervous for new beginnings.

During my time off it was my goal to:
1) Dust off my creative side since my last job overpowered it into hiatus.
2) Spend more time with my kids, preferably adventuring.
3) Set up new habits to keep goals 1 & 2 continuing while employed.

I kicked off numbers one and two bootcamp style with my Make Stuff Up Challenge as well as getting this blog off the ground. Sure, there are some projects yet to complete (ahem, basement) and some I never started, and the “daily” was actually every few days, but I crown it a successful jumping off point to keep rolling forward with.

The trick now is goal number three, keeping the creative habit rolling while working. While I am officially laying to rest the daily challenge, I will continue to post on Fumbleweeds once or twice a week with various creative projects, challenge updates (the restaurant challenge continues!), and adventuring reports.

So what’s the new gig? I will be working on Product Management for a small start up making Karaoke apps. A new jumping off point of sorts since I will be challenged to throw my inhibitions to the wind and sing. In broad daylight. At work. Huh, did I think this one through?

fumble and roll.

Summer Sun
Summer Sun

“This is my Pajamas”: Customize Your iPhone Ringtones

My daughter, out of the blue, started to occasionally speak with an accent that sounds somewhere between a southern drawl and a cartoon character. Around the same time, she also started doing this random thing where, while getting ready for bed, she would stand there naked and dramatically point to herself and say “This is my pajamas” in her newly affected accent.

These two things combined always make us bust up in laughter. Surely there must be some way to immortalize this memory. So I recorded her saying it one night with the Voice Memo utility on my iPhone. Then it dawned on me, it must be pretty easy to turn this little tidbit into a ringtone or alert. Why wouldn’t the rest of the world want to hear this soundbite every time I get a text? Totally entertaining, not at all annoying.

Elise’s iPhone Alert

Like back when phones started getting more sophisticated (what, 5 years ago?) and as a joke I changed my ringer to play Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean. Seriously, nothing turns a dead silent workspace or BART car into a chuckle-fest like getting a phone call with that as your ringtone.

Billy Ocean – Carribean Queen. You’d laugh, right?

Back to today, it turns out it’s pretty easy to make your own tones for the iPhone 5. I can’t speak to other phone makes and models but with a little googling, I am sure you could make magic happen on your device.

Step 1: Open the Voice Memo recorder in your phone’s utility folder.

Step 2: Record what you want to use as a tone. I found that 1-2 seconds was plenty for an alert. 5-10 seconds seems good for a ringtone.

Step 3: When you’re done recording tap the “list” button to listen to your sound. If your sound needs to be trimmed, tap into the sounds info and then select “Trim Memo” and a yellow slide bar will appear. tap/hold/slide in the left and/or right side to trim off what you need. When you’re satisfied with it, tap “Trim Voice Memo”

Step 4: On the sound memo’s Info page tap “Share” and email yourself the sound file.

Step 5: Go to your computer and download the sound memo file from your email to your desktop and rename it to something you’ll remember when it appears in your phone’s tone list. When you’re renaming, also change the name of the file extension from .m4a to .m4r. You’ll get an alert saying “Are you sure you want to change the extension from .m4a to .m4r?” go ahead and click “Use .m4r.”

Step 6: Connect your phone to your computer. These are iPhone to MacBook instructions but I assume PC or Mac, as long as you have iTunes the following is universal. Double click the .m4r file to open it in iTunes. This will add it to your iTunes library under Tones.

Step 7: In iTunes, go to View -> Show Sidebar. Then in the left sidebar, open the “tones” folder in your library. You should see your new sound tone listed. Drag and drop this tone down to your phone. This adds it to your phone automatically under ringtones (because of the .m4r extension).

Step 8: On your phone, go to Settings->Sounds and then Ringtone (and/or individual alerts). You should see your new sound listed at the top of the “Ringtones” list. Select it and voila! Then call/text/email yourself to hear your new tone.

It sounds like more steps than it is. Once you have it down it’s quick. Experiment and personalize your phone with your kid’s laugh, your cat’s hiss, or your first ukelele chords strung together… whatever, play around and let me know what you come up with