In Downtown LA, Little Tokyo offers a trip into Japanese American culture all within a 4 acre area of the city. With little shops full of treasures, kid friendly eateries and a couple of cultural museums, this is a perfect day trip for little who love to explore.

Parking is tough in this area but Little Tokyo Village has its own parking structure which makes it a great place to start. For a quick immersion into the culture, a stop at Nijiya Market, a mix between a convenience store and Japanese supermarket, offers Japanese snacks, drinks and ready made food. They also carry Popin Cooking kits for under $5 a piece, which a steal for kids that have picked up on this trend.

While at Little Tokyo Village, make sure to stop into Mitsuru CafĂ© for fresh made red bean cakes, takoyaki and other delicious traditional street food on a skewer. The Sanrio Shop nearby houses the wonderland of stationary, toys and collectibles for anyone who has fond memories of Hello Kitty or new memories of Gudetama. There’s also Foot Land Sports shop with the best news styles of Nikes and other beloved kicks for sneakerhead moms and dads. Every store in this shopping plaza is curated specifically to stay on theme, making it perfect for a slew of niche businesses.

Kids love to make a stop at the Wish Tree where people share their greatest hopes on a colorful sheet of paper and tie it to a tree that is now more paper and ribbon than leaves and branches. Perfect for those who have newly learned to write their names or kids who dream big and like to share.

Across the street houses the Japanese American National Museum as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art and monument to the Japanese American soldiers of World War II. This block of culture alone is enough to spend hours on, talking about the complicated history of the world with older children or simply enjoying the interactive exhibits and creativity of artistry with younger children.

Little Tokyo is also home to some of the most kid friendly but excellent restaurants in Los Angeles. Not only are the restaurants welcoming to children with staff happily engaging with kids, but the food choices tend to be very kid friendly to begin with from ramen to sushi and mochi to yakitori, everything is perfect for a kid’s palate. Most restaurants even offer culturally appropriate kids meals so great, I would order them for myself. I recommend Daikokuya for ramen and Komasa for sushi, but this area is chock full of great hole in the wall options.

There are a couple of Japanese Gardens worth visiting, like the Kyoto Garden at the Doubletree and the James Irvine Japanese Garden at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center but my little ones are a little too loud for that tranquil scene. It is highly recommended, however, for calmer children who love plants and quiet walks through nature.

Sanrio's Gudetama. He's a lazy egg.
Though a visit to Little Tokyo would be fun at any time, the community hosts a number of festivals throughout the year, though highly concentrated in the Summer, that are worth visiting. Remember to wear comfortable shoes so that you can walk through where your curiosity takes you.

Visitor Information
Japanese Village Plaza to Park
335 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: (213) 617-1900

(Originally published in the Gateway Guardian.)

I am so excited to be going to the Great Big Family Play Day on Sunday. Some of the top southern California Mom Bloggers and my favorite brands join up together at this event to create a fun day for parents and kids! 

Here's a link to more information:

Are you going? If so, drop a line! I'd love to meet members of the Swell Mommy community in person! 

At BB's Montessori preschool, there is a theme for every week. Parents receive an email with homework that details what the kids are learning about so it can be reinforced at home. Recently, we had a blast doing ladybug based activities at home!

1. Video Research: We started by looking up a time lapse of the life cycle of a lady bug. You know, for those of us who may not remember how an egg turns into a larva into a pupa and then into a beetle. This video is the best one I found on Youtube. There is something really mesmerizing about these little guys/gals.

2. Layout the Lifecycle. Using Insect Lore Ladybug Life Cycle Stages, I asked BB to show me what order the phases went. The school had sent a cutout worksheet that allowed the kids to do the same without needing to buy the toys. Surprisingly, BB got the order and the names right very quickly! I think it's his love of what he calls "beetle bugs."

These were a hit with preschool aged BB and 1 year old ET.

3. Draw the Stages. There's nothing like art to solidify a lesson. The art supplies came out and BB and I spent some time drawing the ladybug lifestyle toys. Right now it's more about identifying colors and fostering a love of art and creating. BB likes to draw his then draw on mine.

Can you tell who drew what?
 4. Ladybug Snacks. There's a field down the street from us and we invited a family whose kids go to school with BB to come over for a playdate and hunt ladybugs. No playdate is complete without snacks so I made the following treats (some were even gluten free). Yes, I am aware they are not accurate representations of the insect with 3 body segments, 2 antenna and 6 legs. 

Cherry Tomatoes and Chived Cheese on Melba Toast Ladybugs
Melba Toast
Chive Whipped Cream Cheese
Extra Large Black Olives

- Spread whipped cream cheese on melba toast.
- Slice cherry tomatoes in half.
- Slice a small sliver off opposing sides of each tomato to make wings.
- Arrange sliced tomatoes on cream cheese in the shape of a ladybug.
- Slice olives in half.
- Spread a small amount of cream cheese on the cut side of the olives.
- Place the cut side with cream cheese down on the tomatoes.
- Serve the little lady bugs.

Salami, Provolone and Olive Ladybugs
Boar's Head Pre-sliced Salami
Belgioioso Pre-sliced Provolone
Extra Large Black Olives

- Place individual slices of provolone on the plate.
- Slice a tiny triangle out of each salami round. Multiple rounds can be stacked and cut at the same time.
- Slice olives in half and place on top of the salami to make a head for the ladybug.
- Serve these gluten free little ladybugs!

Fruit and Almond Butter Ladybugs
Fuji Apples
Almond Butter

- Slice rounds off apples. I was able to get about 3 per apple.
- Cut a triangle out of each round to form wings.
- Slice grapes in half.
- Spread apple butter on the cut side of the grape and place at the top of the triangle cutout.
- Dip raisins in almond butter and attach to the apples on the wings.

5. Ladybug Hunting. The aforementioned field was lousy with ladybugs when we went ladybug hunting the day before playdate but I forgot to bring a container to bring the ladybugs home in. When we went for the playdate, we remembered a container for the ladybugs but there wasn't a ladybug to be found at first! Turns out it might have been the time of day.

The best time to look for ladybugs is between May and October, depending on where you live. They can be found where there are lots of soft grass, fields or flowers. The secret for us was they were easier to find around the time the sun was setting because they only fly during the day and start to land and settle in for the night if they are migrating. Here is more information that is useful in the capture and care of ladybugs.

I also recommend the nifty ladybug habitat below because it's awesome:

The coolest ladybug habitat!

If hunting doesn't work, many home improvement stores sell ladybugs for the garden as they eat garden pets like aphids. Try to pick ones that are already alive and not being stored in a cooler in "hibernation." That's just home improvement talk for "not alive" as we learned the hard way.

6. Counting Printable. We're working on counting and coloring at the preschool age so I made up this nifty printable that BB and I worked on. He colored and drew dots corresponding to the number on the ladybug and I helped him write numbers. Check out the first printable I made! You can have it for free!
The first Printable!

How did you like this ladybug activity guide? Is it something you'd like to see more of?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a commission on the sale. I promise I will never recommend or link to a product that I don't believe will bring you value as a member of the Swell Mommy community. 

I went to pick up BB a couple of months ago with a scratch on his face and he told me some kid hit him! A few days before that, he started being reluctant about going to school, which is unusual since he attends a wonderland filled with tree houses and play structures and a menagerie of animals. We didn't pick this school for it NOT to be awesome to attend every weekday. Turns out, he, along with a number of the other kids, were having issues with the same kid.

I know this kid. I've seen him needle BB from time to time, purposely doing things that he knows will set BB off. Like when I say goodbye at the window, BB gets territorial and doesn't want anyone else to talk to me. This is fine for every other kid in the class because they don't care about saying goodbye to me. This kid will come up to the window and in an annoying voice I can only compare to Nelson Muntz (do people still watch the Simpsons?), will say repeatedly until BB breaks, "Bye BB's mom. BB, I'm saying 'bye' to your mommy!" BB, taught to say "No, thank you" and "Please walk away" when someone is doing something he doesn't like, is left screaming, "NO THANK YOU PLEASE WALK AWAY" in a most impolite fashion. If the kid is doing this purposeful needling in front of me, imagine what he's doing when no one is looking. 

This annoying kid has scratched my kid hard enough to draw enough blood to leave a scabby scratch and I know he's been aggressive with other kids too and the mama bear in me wants to have the kid removed from the school because he's crossed a line. But then I see BB, right there, hanging out with the kid like they're best friends and I get it. They're like frenemies and I want to reach out and tell him to not be friends who someone who has proven he will hurt him because a lifetime of experience has taught me to protect myself from friendships that are more harmful than helpful. And I see the harm because BB doesn't want to go to school anymore, he's more quick to anger (which at this age is a real feat) and started showing signs of aggression and manifesting frustrations physically, even in play with his little brother.

Then I remember that they're preschoolers, barely out of toddlerhood, and the worst thing I can do is have a kid who needs the gentle discipline of a Montessori education kicked out so he ends up at a school with a more aggressive less tolerant disciplinary approach. That might not be exactly how criminals are created but I'm not going to have all of that on my conscience. Plus, I firmly believe and try to teach my kids that we cannot control other people, we can only control how we react to others and what we do with our feelings. 

I end up having a conversation with the teachers and director of the school to keep BB and this bully kid apart along with daily check-ins on how BB is behaving because I have a plan on how to deal with his anger and bullying so he doesn't become a bully himself. 

1. Read Bedtime Books About Anger. Whenever we deal with any emotional challenge, in our house, we turn to bedtime books. The process of telling the story and sprinkling details from their own reality to get BB talking and thinking about how he can relate and apply the lessons in his own life is so effective. We really enjoyed the following titles: 

  • Hands Are Not for Hitting: Perfect for addressing behaviors that stem from anger and offers ways to talk about anger and alternatives to work out frustration.
  • Cool Down and Work Through Anger: Everything from this publishing house is quite good and this book is no exception. The back of the book includes really extension coaching for parents and teachers on dealing with anger. 
  • When I'm Feeling Angry: Addresses the fact that anger is not wrong but certain responses to anger are. A board book that is ideal for the younger reader.
  • Angry Octopus: Great for older kids, can actually be used as a distraction and guide for kids to go through muscle relaxation and breathing to calm down.

2. Give Words to Emotions. For a while, every time BB had an angry outburst or aggressive reaction, we would stop everything and calmly help BB find words to express himself and get to the root of the anger. Sometimes he was simply being triggered into being territorial because his little brother had done something  that reminded him of something the kid did at school that upset him, other times he was upset about small things that spiraled into big things as his emotions got away from him. Naming the causes of his anger helped him to calm down. Now, when he starts getting upset, we ask him, "Why are you angry?" and he stops to think and explain instead of turning into a little preschool explosive.

3. Find an Anger Management Action. We all have coping mechanisms when we're angry. Me, when I am particularly angry, I need to step away and take some deep breathes. Big triggers cause me to need to talk or write them out. People without a tried and true anger management outlet are more prone to outbursts and and destructive behavior. Kids are no different

  • Relaxation Focus: Any action that helps a child relax, from deep breaths to counting one through ten, can help take the tension out of anger. 
  • Physical Activity: From dancing, to stretching or simply some jumping jacks, shaking out anger may be as easy and getting a child's body moving and energy burned off. 
  • Move to Safe Space: A change of location, like to a garden or classroom, especially to one that evokes positive and safe feelings, can provide the perfect place for a preschoolers to reflect on their feelings in a calm manner. 
  • Talk to a Trusted Friend: Verbose littles often just need someone to be an ear and a comforting shoulder to cry on while they process their big emotions.
  • Draw or Create: A great emotion management tool used in therapy for children, often using art to get out negative feelings works best for creative kids.

4. Suggest Alternative Play. Since anger and bullying was a problem that effected multiple students, the teachers integrated some lessons into the week's lesson plan to encourage the children to play together while avoiding situations with potential conflicts. They had the kids suggest games they could play together and discussed what it means to be a friend. A few of the games they came up with were "Hot Potato," "Family," and "Duck, Duck, Goose."

Specifically for Parents: It's also important to note that children not only learn from each other but they learn from us as parents from our behavior. I have seen the parents of the kid everyone was having a problem with and the father has a very unpleasant demeanor with a short temper. Other parents noted that at the Conscious Parenting for Emotional Intelligence class offered at the school, his parents explained they are overwhelmed and short on time that sometimes bullying occurs by the older siblings to their youngest and they don't always have time to address it so he's learned to be tough as an explanation for his behavior. I can't tell them how to parent but I do believe we should to address anger and bullying by nurturing an environment of respect for everyone, from parents to children and siblings, while also having a no tolerance policy in regards to violent behavior. It's the only way we raise kids who share those values in the greater community and world.

It's takes a village, ya'll. That's the truth.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a commission on the sale. I promise I will never recommend or link to a product that I don't believe will bring you value as a member of the Swell Mommy community. 

I just threw my final red egg and ginger party. A Chinese and Vietnamese tradition, usually held at the one month or 100 day mark, I pushed it out to the 1 year mark for ET's first birthday and combined it with the 1 year traditions because of the following reasons:
  • I didn't want to entertain a few dozen of my closest friends and family while trying to nurse a newborn around the clock. That sounds like a special kind of torture. 
  • Newborns have undeveloped immune systems which means exposure to a few dozen people who may or may not take kindly to an RSVP request that requires immunization records that date back at least 2 weeks before the party but no more than a few years before. Even typing that made me cringe. 
  • Modern medicine makes it less and less likely for babies to pass before the 30 day or 100 day mark so the real milestone is keeping this kid alive until he could turn 1. He happens to be a danger seeking missile so I am pretty proud we hit the 365 day mark without major incident. The kid will climb anything taller than a step if he can manage it with his little baby legs. 
  • I wanted to.
Traditionally, a red egg ginger party was to celebrate the survival of the baby at the 30 day mark with offerings on the altar to the gods/boddhisatvas, welcome the mother coming back to society after the "sitting month" zuoyuezi, guests give the baby red envelopes filled with money, tiger themed apparel, jewelry for girls, red eggs (symbols of happiness, luck and unity) and ginger (warming for the mother) along with roast pork are given to the guests, the baby's hair is either snipped or shaved and the parents announce the name of the child. Before the 30 day mark, it was considered bad luck to name the child because evil spirits want to steal things that are cherished. Instead the babies were given insulting nicknames so the spirits would ignore them like trash. Legitimately a thing, google it for real. 

There's also a 100 party which seems really redundant but probably a good excuse for families to get together again to celebrate the baby one more time. I personally wouldn't do this because that's like having two baby showers, people might start to feel like it's a gift grab. Or a laiseebao grab. 

At the 1 year party, some of the same things happen as the 30 day party. Offering on the altar, family and friends, roast pork, etc. But then a few things are different, like the picking of the profession. Yeah, you think it's hard for a senior in college to pick a major in college, try being a 1 year old picking a life's purpose. That's real pressure. Here are the tradition I held onto when merging the Red Egg and Ginger Party with the 1 year party:

Red (chocolate) egg and candied ginger. Still full of luck, unity and warmth.

1. Giving out red eggs and ginger. With a twist. I mean, the party is literally named after these things. Instead of hardboiled red eggs and picked ginger, I opted for red Lindor eggs (thank goodness for Easter candy) and candied ginger. I thought it would be happier. I also only put one egg in each goody bag instead of two even though ET is a boy and historically it is two for a boy and one for a girl because historically the Chinese were sexist. #oneeggforallgenders

2. Offerings on the altar. This is a custom that I do so my kids will remember it and hopefully do it also. As a child, my mother always put offerings on the altar for the holidays and events that required it. My grandmother did as well. I think about how I am connected to them through these acts of following our customs and sharing them with my kids. 

3. Announcing the name. Armed with a cricut and a supplier of mylar balloon letters, I incorporated ET's Chinese and Vietnamese names into the party decor and used a monkey theme because he was born the Year of the Monkey. These names will be what our family calls him at home, particularly his grandparents, as a regular reminder that he is indeed Chinese Vietnamese.

Chinese name official. Thanks Cricut.

Announcing Vietnamese name up in here. 

4. Selecting a calling. This is probably the most fun part of a first birthday. A variety of items are placed in front of the baby and the baby picks one and that is supposed to indicate what the child will pursue for their career. A ball may mean an athlete, a book could be a scholar, a stethoscope would mean a doctor, scissors indicate a tailor and a parent who is a little too lax about baby safety.  

Many parents put a variety of items, even ones for professions they wouldn't agree with. They are better parents than me. I used what I had available, focused on careers I feel are ideal and avoided any indication of sports. ET went for the calculator, which normally means banker, but it was a graphing calculator which could also indicate computer programming/engineering. He picked the stethoscope after that so the world really is his oyster. 

Calculator, Stethoscope then Book. 
5. A whole roast pig. This ties back to culture and how at major milestone events like engagements, weddings and baby related parties, a whole pig is offered on the altar to ward off evil spirits, bring luck and success and all those other things that we Chinese/Vietnamese revere. Also, it is delicious and a rare treat because most families don't go buying a whole roast pig on the regular. After the offering, the roast pig is cut and served to eat and leftovers are sent home with guests. This might be the last whole roast pig I buy in my life, or at least until I have grandchildren. If I have them. No pressure kids.

Other typical foods include noodles, desserts, chicken, fish, often in a traditional chinese banquet style. Modern mamas do things like red cupcakes too. 

Red Velvet Cupcake with Monkeys.

A few other things I did for the party was use Minted for the invitations to the Red Egg and Ginger party, bought a brand new red outfit for ET to wear, picked up a tower for the red cupcakes, customized with iced monkey decorations, and cut out a happy birthday banner with a Cricut Simply Sweet and Animal Kingdom cartridges for the monkey banner pieces. Little man's hair has not been shaved.

And with that, my last baby is one. All the tears. 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a commission on the sale. I promise I will never recommend or link to a product that I don't believe will bring you value as a member of the Swell Mommy community.