back on my feet

A few weeks before Cameron was born, I read an article in The Daily Beast entitled, "Why Are America's Postpartum Practices So Rough On New Mothers?" It discusses how our modern culture is so focused on a mother's quick recovery after giving birth, in contrast to hundreds of years ago when family and other female "attendants" would keep up the home and care for the postpartum mother as she recovered physically. This practice of a "lying in" period remains in many cultures, but has mostly fallen by the wayside in the U.S. Many women go at it alone, or with limited help and support from their partner or family. The article points out the pressure put on mothers to be "Facebook ready" in just a number of days. It's no wonder, too, that women feel a need to get back on their feet straight away, given how most American parents are eligible for only a short amount of time off work. There's not really time to sit on the couch for long.

The piece really resonated with me. It made me realize that my mindset has been to recover as fast as possible, but mostly because I don't do that well sitting around for long. I get antsy. It was really interesting, though, to think about our priorities these days. What are we trying to prove?

This being my second child, I assumed I knew what I was in for with the recovery. But due to a small complication with the birth, my recovery was much more challenging this time around. Two weeks in and I still couldn't get around very well. (It really made me wonder how women who have C-sections do it. My hats off to you ladies!) Dan was thankfully off of work for a week and a half (yep, a whole 10 days), but he day he went back, I cried. My mom was due to arrive that evening, but the prospect of a whole day alone with a baby and a toddler seemed insurmountable.

Thankfully, my mom was here for almost two weeks to lift heavy objects, cook and clean, and entertain my wild Willa. Not to mention provide hugs and support when my emotions got the best of me. This week, we've had more family in town for Thanksgiving. But next week, it'll be just me. And managing two kids day in and day out by myself still feels quite daunting.

I know I'll get it figured out. I have most of my energy back. I'm focusing on the good, and lowering my expectations for what needs doing in a day. I'm just thankful to have two beautiful children, a fantastic husband and teammate, wonderful family to call on whenever I need them, and amazing friends who listen to me whine and are always up for a playdate.

Let's end this post with this fantastic picture my mom captured of our family. Willa's just as wild and crazy as she looks, but gosh, I love her so.

the first night home with a newborn

I've always been a concrete thinker. When someone tells me what they do for work, what I'm really wondering is not what their field or job title is, but what they actually do all day. More than once I've asked someone, "ok, so you go into your office, you sit down at your desk, and then what?" I like the details. I could give several other examples of this...Recently, I asked a friend whose house is always super clean, "Seriously. How do you do it? When do you clean? For how long? Tell me your secret!"

It amazes me, then, that despite the 998,230,301,394,720 things you can find on the internet about having a baby and caring for a newborn, there are very few outlines of what you actually do when you first bring home your baby. There's lots of general advice about feeding and sleeping and taking care of yourself and the baby etc. etc. But where's the step-by-step guide?

Both times I've had a baby, the first day home has caused me to freeze a bit. (More so the first time, but this time as well!) Nighttime comes, and we stand in our room with the baby, and say to ourselves, "Ok. Now what?" It doesn't matter what advice you've read or which parenting philosophy you've "chosen." In that moment, you have to do something.

So, if you're one of the 5 people who read this blog of mine, you're in luck! Because here's my detailed version of the ins and outs of a first day at home with a newborn:

1:30pm - Arrive home after an uncomfortable car ride during which you noticed bumps on the road that never seemed to be there previously. Limp into the house hoping the neighbors don't see you. You're not quite ready to be cheery. Have husband carry carseat into house. Set it on the floor for the dog to smell.

1:45pm - Send husband to fetch a blanket to cover the couch. Lots of potential for messes in the coming days, and the last thing you want to worry about is cleaning the couch. Have big sister hold the baby before Dad takes her upstairs for naptime. Take a few pictures, but you're not really feeling "photo-ready."

2:00pm - Attempt to nurse baby. At this point your milk may or may not be coming in, but either way it's important to offer things up. Change your baby's diaper to rouse him, and then he'll likely proceed to poop again while nursing. Rookie mistake.

2:30pm - Find some place to put the baby down. Perhaps back in the carseat, or in a bouncer or swing or lounger or other baby item everyone told you that you "needed."

2:45pm - Have a snack. Perhaps a sweet treat someone sent you, or fresh fruit, which you'll likely be craving. Hydrate.

3:00pm - Take a shower. Hopsital rooms have showers, obviously, but during both my hospital stays they seemed way too daunting. Showering at home, however, improved my overall mood tremendously.

3:45pm - Relocate necessary items from your room and the baby's room to the downstairs. Having the nursey all "ready" always seems like a great idea until you realize you'll be spending most of your time with your baby in the general living spaces of your house.

4:00pm - Settle onto the couch and nurse baby again.

4:30pm - Relax on couch while baby relaxes on you.

5:30pm - Friends visit! If you're lucky like me, they bring you ice cream sandwiches. They hold the baby while hearing some version of his "birth story."

6:00pm - The doorbell rings again while you're nursing the baby again. (Take notes. This detail is a good one!) Out-of-town friend has sent the best local delivery option imaginable. Husband sets the table while you find a pillow or other soft item to sit on. You move the sleeping baby to the bouncer/swing/lounger that you've placed near the table. Take pictures. Eat more than you should have because you didn't quite realize the still fragile state of your systems.

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6:30pm - Move back to the couch. Nurse baby. Overwhelm yourself mentally with questions about breastfeeding that you likely won't even remember in a couple days.

7:00pm - Say goodnight to  your toddler, not moving from couch. Upload a picture of the baby to social media. Nurse baby again in anticipation of visitors at 8pm.

8:00pm - Neighbors come over! They brought your favorite beer! Drink some! But not too much.

9:30pm - Neighbors leave. Nurse baby again. Drink a little more beer.

10:00pm - Head upstairs to bedroom. Settle gingerly into bed and nurse baby.

10:30pm - Have husband swaddle baby, because he's basically a professional swaddler and you suck at it.

10:45pm - Place your baby on his back in the Pack 'n Play, turn out the lights, lie down, and cross your fingers.

10:50pm - Baby starts wailing. Husband gets out of bed faster than you can, picks baby up, and bounces him for a bit. Baby is quiet until put down again. Cries.

11:00pm - Husband takes baby downstairs and holds him to get him to sleep.  You sleep, amazed at how much more comfortable your bed is than the hospital's.

1:00am - Husband returns with baby. You take 5 minutes to get yourself to seated in the bed, and then take off the baby's swaddle and pajamas so he'll wake up enough that you can nurse him.

2:00am - Husband swaddles him again, and puts him back in the Pack 'n Play. He fusses for awhile, but doesn't fully cry.

2:30am-6am - Everyone sleeps!

6am - Nurse baby.

6:30am - Big sister wakes up. Time to head back downstairs to your couch. Real coffee awaits!

a night out at union station

After all our travel in August, we are trying to settle back in at home and "get ready" for our baby boy who is slated to arrive sometime around Halloween. There's painting to do, a few furniture pieces to buy, and lots of other misc tasks we "need" to get done. Also high on the priority list is squeezing in a few nights out. Last weekend, we headed to Union Station to check it out. If you live in Denver, you know exactly what I'm talking about, but for those of you from elsewhere: the historic downtown railway station re-opened in July 2014 after many years of redevelopment. The "new" station is a hub for bus, train, and light rail lines, but also includes several restaurants, bars, and retail establishments. There's a great article on the project here.

We didn't have a reservation anywhere for dinner, but of course wanted to first give Stoic & Genuine a try.  It's opening earlier this summer was arguably one of the "most anticipated" in Denver in a while, and seeing what "the best" fresh seafood in a land locked state tastes like seemed like something we needed to do (although, given my pregnant state, it wasn't exactly the best time to go to a seafood place, but oh well).

We lucked out and right away got two seats at the bar, which gave us a chance to taste the food and check out the scene, although perhaps not the same experience in terms of service. The drinks and food were indeed impressive, but our service was a bit lacking. The bartender helping us seemed a bit aloof and when we asked a few questions about the menu the answers we received were short and perhaps a tad condescending. But nevermind that tiny complaint. The food was stellar! To start, I had the grilled sardine with lemon pureé, fennel, and pinenuts. It was quite a generous amount of fish for $6, and the grill and seasoning was perfect. I also had one of their specials: a dungeness crab and mango salad which was phenomenal. It was pricier ($17) but totally worth it. Dan tried some west coast oysters which didn't disappoint (we love you Puget Sound) and a tuna crudo.

The seafood was indeed quite fresh. (Although we did take a few seconds to acknowledge the environmentally unconscious nature of our eating choices that night.) The preparation was impeccable. The menu was a bit difficult to take in: they had three different pieces of paper for us to read, which seemed a bit excessive. There were also "sauces" listed on the menu without prices nor guidance on how to apply them to the dishes (this was one question our serve didn't/couldn't answer well). Also of note, the clientele seemed a notch fancier than what I typically see out and about at Denver's trendiest restaurants. Perhaps that's the Union Station vibe?

The station itself was definitely happenin'. In the main terminal is the Terminal Bar, which has seating inside, on a patio, and also offers drinks "to go" that you can then sip while sitting in the station's main lounge. The grand hall is outfitted with new, vintage-style furniture which I can only presume is on point for a certain chosen decade. There are lots of cozy sitting areas, and in the center there are two shufflepuck tables that apparently you can play for free. Fun!

Before we left, we hit up Milkbox Ice Creamery for some salted oreo (they serve Little Man) and enjoyed the outdoor fountains. It was a beautiful summer night.

I was so happy we finally had a chance go check out the scene down there (always a bit late to the party these days). In the station itself, you can easily see that the redevelopment project has resulted in a space that's trendy and new, while preserving the historic character of the building. As for actual transportation, I've read that the number of passengers coming and going on bus, light rail, and train are increasing every month. But still, being there on a Saturday night, I couldn't help but feel slightly odd as I saw people like me drinking martinis on wooden benches who had likely driven there and parked in a parking garage (like me also, although we found a street spot for cheaper!). The nature of cities and transit have unquestionably changed so much in the last fifty years, and although we're trying to bring it back, it often feels like an uphill battle. Sure, people will come for a drink and a great dinner, but will they stop to have a drink before they get on the bus or train hope? Will I? I hope so.

wastefulness in parenting

I sometimes feel as though parenting, in American society, is an endeavor fraught with wastefulness. Even before your baby is born, "they" ("we"?) hit you full force by making you think you need not only diapers and wipes but also swings and bouncers and bottle warmers and so many clothes and pacifier wipes and bottles and disposable breast pads and milk storage bags and more and more and more...Then, as your baby gets older, you suddenly need individual squeeze packs of baby food and more clothes and boogie wipes and disposable placemats and bright colored plastic dishes and then more individually packaged snacks and milks. And toys! Lots of toys. Plus books. Newly printed books.

In the toddler years, it's more than your own choices and the relentless marketing: if your child is anything like mine, once they're around 2, they take wastefulness into their own hands and want to play with tissue after tissue and use three feet of toilet paper for each pee and squirt out excessive amounts of sunscreen "all by myself" when there's not even a ray of sunshine in the sky. And don't even get me started on how much she "washes" her hands with "just a little bit" of hand sanitizer. And here in drought-prone Denver, Willa singlehandedly wastes at least a gallon of water a day between playing with it in the backyard or washing her hands for several loooooong minutes. Ok and now that I write that, I realize that must be much more than a gallon.

As someone with an above average interest in waste reduction, this all drives me CRAZY. On good days, I was able to avoid most of the initial pitfalls. But sometimes those damn squeeze packs of applesauce just seem too convenient. And now that Willa is often the driver of our wastefulness, I struggle with how strict to be. Is it really that big of a deal if she wants to play with 5 tissues for her doll? And all that water play seems like it has some developmental benefits, right? Physics and such? Plus, we don't have that many toys, so playing with water and tissues and hand sanitizer is cheaper than getting new toys?

Parenting is a lot of work (shocker!). And the little things that make it easier can make a huge difference. I totally get that. And I agree! But I do think we should all take step back a from time to time to ask ourselves how necessary all the stuff we are buying actually is for our childrens’ development. I might ask these questions a bit too often; aggravating those around me with my constant analysis, but going against the prevalent disposable culture doesn’t always come easily or naturally. I have to constantly remind myself to make what I consider the better decision. And I also have to forgive myself when I cave and buy a ton of individually packaged snacks, wipes, and disposable diapers for whatever reason.

Below I’ve listed are some of the choices I’ve made related to waste and parenting in the past couple of years. Most are obvious, and as with most (all) posts on this blog, they're really just reminders for me. I completely support everyone making the decisions that are best for their own life and family, but sometimes it's good to realize the options. So these are the little things I try (key word) to do to reduce our family’s waste, but I also don’t think I'm an extremist. I like a snazzy new shirt or toy or book and I love eating a LÄRABAR when I need breakfast or a snack on the go. Balance is what I'm going for. (Although I’m not budging on the boogie wipes or pacifier wipes. Those are ridiculous.)

Parenting choices to ponder to potentially reduce waste:

Cloth wipes. I really don’t think babies need as many disposable wipes as we seem to think they do. A gentle cloth on the bum or face that then easily gets thrown into the wash seems like a no-brainer. Save the money and the chemicals and the waste! These GroVia wipes are my favorite. They’re so soft and have held up great for over two years. And I honestly find they work better than the disposable ones for cleaning a soiled bum. So that’s something.

Cloth diapers. I was only a few months pregnant with Willa when I decided that we’d use cloth diapers. It just seemed logical. Cloth diapers have gotten all “fancy,” which means they are super easy to use. And for me, the most motivating factor is how much cheaper they are than disposables. Plus no driving to the store to replenish your stock, which is great for someone like me who never seems to be able to keep necessities on hand. I completely understand that there are tons of reasons that cloth diapers might not work for some families. But even if you use just a few cloth diapers in addition to disposables, that can make a difference to both the landfills and to your budget! And there are some diapers that are a hybrid, like gDiapers. Disposable inserts with a cloth cover. So many options!

Reusable Nursing Pads. (Apparently I’m starting with the cloth portion of my suggestions.) I loved using cloth pads during my early breastfeeding days. I had a few of both kinds, and found the disposable pads to be really scratchy and uncomfortable. You’re likely doing a good amount of laundry anyway, and chances are, that laundry already has some milk stains on it!

Eat meals at home. This one is super challenging for me! But, ever since Willa started solids, I’ve made an effort to, at least more often than not, have our meals and snacks at home. I not only think it’s good for her to learn that we should sit down for mealtime rather than continually eat throughout the day (and to be honest I really need this reminder too), but also this makes it easier to feed her fresh, whole foods instead of relying on prepared snack foods which have a lot of packaging and aren’t usually as healthful. This is definitely a goal of mine, not a reality, as I’m sure I could be “caught” several times each week giving her an individually packaged snack. But I try to keep it in mind. (Side note: She loves Nature’s Bakery “fig bars” that you can get at Costco, but I got annoyed of all the packaging. So I found similar ones at the regular grocery in less packaging, but they were 3x the price. Blargh. Lose-lose.) Related: teach your kids to drink from a regular cup by the time they’re one, as recommended by doctors. The sooner they use the same utensils as adults, the less plastic stuff you have to buy.

Buy milk in glass bottles. I was determined not to have a baby who was obsessed with cow’s milk. Better luck next time, because we drink a lot of milk these days. It doesn’t help that once I tasted whole, non-homogenized, local milk, I was obsessed myself. I finally found a local milk that comes in reusable bottles, so I’m not recycling a carton every week.

Buy used. So many people have babies. And all those people buy baby stuff. And then, their babies grow up. They don’t need their baby stuff anymore. They’d love to sell it to you! Or maybe even give it to you. When I wanted to get Willa a Bumbo, Dan shuddered at the thought of millions of Bumbos in a landfill. Just picture that for a second. As a world, don’t need that many foam seats! So I found a used one through our neighborhood parents’ group, and made friends with the gal who sold it to me too! Hit up eBay, Goodwill, thredUp, Kidizen, Swap.com, or borrow from your friends and neighbors!

Go to the library. Books take up space. Printing books uses trees. Kids “favorite” books change all the time. Buy a few you love, and then go to the library for fun new ones. This isn’t rocket science. (You’re all like, “duh!”) But take it to another level and look for a toy library in your area. We have one near us, and it’s amazing to be able to check out toys for a few weeks and then take them back for something else that's new and exciting. I’ve even heard that some cities have babywearing libraries. Awesome.

Upcycle. Yogurt containers make great snack traps. Old baby blankets can be used as wipes or rags. And so many things can be used for craft projects or toys instead of being thrown away or recycled.

Buy gender-neutral. This ensures you can use them again if you have multiple kids. I’ve had this on my mind a lot lately, since I’m having a boy (next month, whoa!). You can accent the greens or yellows by buying more “gendered” items that are specific to that one kid. For example, hair ties or tights for girls. I think this is especially important with bigger items like bikes. Why buy a “girl” bike that your daughter will outgrow and then your son might not be into riding given its pink and sparkly nature. I’d say the boy should just ride it anyway, but we can avoid that issue by just getting a neutral bike at the start.

Read things that support your parenting style. I get frustrated when Willa’s not playing independently “enough,” and I sometimes think it’s because she “needs” more toys. But I don’t truly believe this. So I find articles to support my views, which helps bring me back to reality. Self-serving? Yes. But keeps me sane!

There are so many more things I wish I could bring myself to do, but I gotta keep it real. We might be on the “rag system” for wiping up messes around our house, but I don’t see myself stopping buying toilet paper any time soon...

party animal

Prior to Willa's arrival in our lives, I could be quoted as saying something to the effect of "I'm not going to be tied down by her sleep schedule." Or, "Kids don't have to go to bed at a certain time." My overall philosophy on this matter remains largely the same, but I now know how quickly things can deteriorate when a tired baby or toddler is in the mix. Those newborns I see sleeping in public places in carseats? Yeah, Willa gave that up when she was about 4 weeks old. When she got really tired as a baby, she'd just cry. And cry and cry and cry. On a plane, I could only ever get her to sleep by nursing her.  "When she gets tired enough, she'll sleep," people would say. Nope. Not this one. Then there was the time she was 20 months and we took her to Costa Rica. She didn't sleep a wink our evening flight down there. She was up for over 12 hours. But you know where Willa does sleep really well? In her crib. Or now her bed. At night. Yep, seven to seven since seven months. She's pretty awesome like that. I'm all for flexibility, but why mess up a good thing? And even her naps have gotten much better too. In her bed that is. On the go? 20 minutes max. If it happens at all.

The point of this ramble is that going into last weekend's familiy wedding, we were a bit nervous about how Willa would do with the late nights a festive weekend required. Plus the time difference put us at a disadvantage. But the part of me who said those things back in the day kept reminding myself that kids need to be adaptable. And everything would turn out okay. Right?

Well, hey! Guess what? It did! Willa proved to be the life of the party. She stayed up past her bedtime three nights in a row, making it until almost midnight on the night of the wedding. She danced and danced and ran circles around her lame-o pregnant mom. She slept in her carseat on the drive home and then barely woke up when I moved her to her crib. She slept in until 9am the next day. And the day after that. And then easily slipped right back into her regular schedule. Score! A toddler sleep machine! Proud parents over here. As a wise family friend has always said, "Add up the pluses. To hell with the minuses." I think that applies particularly well to parenting.

^^photos above from night number two of partying. she was up till almost 10. after eating some cupcake herself, she then decided to distribute it around the room. any guest she could find got a little crumb. "why, thank you crazy toddler," they must have all been thinking...^^

^^"that the moon. means it's naptime. i say bye-bye." she wisely declared.^^

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Sooooo, those are some pictures of our little lady in action! Such a fun weekend. And most importantly: huge congratulations and all the best to the happy couple!

a lost balloon

Last night we went to a birthday party. Willa’s friend was turning two, and it was a beautiful summer evening for a gathering. Willa and her little friends played inside and out while the adults socialized over yummy food and drinks.

At one point in the evening, the kids grabbed a few helium-filled balloons and started running around the yard with them, pulling at their strings and watching them bounce back up towards the sky. Moments after the above picture was taken, Willa accidentally let go of the string on her balloon, and it floated up, just out of my reach. I glanced at the balloon floating up into the sky, first thinking about how we’d lost one of the party decorations, and then about how balloons are probably not the best thing for the atmosphere. But after those thoughts quickly came and went, I looked back to Willa, and immediately recognized in her her face complete disappointment. She looked so sad. Tears filled her eyes as she whimpered, “my balloon...”

Over the next hour, the party saw a few more balloons lost into the sky. At one point a cluster of several balloons floated up, up, up. Willa couldn’t take it. She cried and fussed and told us that she “was sad.” Once home and getting ready for bed, she repeated how sad she was about the balloons.

This is a new stage of parenting. Experiencing the world through a young child’s eyes. Seeing her highs and lows as she learns about all the little things that can make up a day. It’s so wonderful to see her joy, but I’m sensing this is just the beginning of having to also endure her sadness.

i whine

Here's Willa a week or so ago in a photo my Mom took. She got to go to a cool petting zoo with Nana in Fort Collins. Apparently she drove this tractor "through town."

She's looking a bit more disheveled this week. On Monday, she was sick. It was the very first time (well, since she was a few weeks old) that she snuggled with me and slept the day away. Yep, one whole day of a low-energy toddler. I enjoyed the bonding but, man, was she was cranky too. Although who isn't when they're sick?

A few days later, I was still feeling good and thought I'd managed to escape the bug (despite the intimate moment when she'd spit in my mouth after declaring the juice I gave her was "spicy"). But nope, no such luck. Late yesterday I felt a tickle in my throat and by this morning I was couldn't-get-out-of-bed sick. The worst. I see why Willa had been forced to take a break from her usual antics.

When I get sick, I act about 5 years old. I cry and kick and scream that I can't go to my friend's house. Or in this case, playschool at the Botanic Gardens and a Rockies game with my parents. We'd had it planned for weeks! Willa was going to stay up late! Life's not fair!

Good news is that Dan had a light day at work so he could be home with Willa today. Apparently she wasn't as in to lying on the bed with me all day as I was with her. Geesh. But the bad news is my parents are heading back East in just a few days, and the game was supposed to be one of our last hurrahs. Sad face.

But anyway, enough whining. Instead I want to do one of those fun lists where I chronicle some of the little things in my life of late:

Eating :: Lots of berries. Avocado toast for breakfast most days. Summer salads. Drinking :: A cup of half-caff coffee every morning. And a Q or Dry soda in the evenings. Learning :: How to garden. My plants are either exploding (tomatoes) or all done (cilantro). Wanting :: Filson tote Reading :: Breakfast with Buddha Wearing :: Maxi dresses. Working :: A little bit more. Cleaning :: Not as much as I should. How do people do it? Trying :: To let the little things go.

Here's to being less sick tomorrow. Hope everyone's having a more exciting Friday!

denver art museum

I read a lot of blogs. Well, actually, I'm not sure what constitutes a lot. But I like to read blogs. Food blogs, "lifestyle" blogs, parenting blogs, ya know. I didn't read many "mom blogs" before having my own child, but after she was born I felt like it was a good way to put what I was going though in perspective and also to get ideas about how to do things or activities or whatever. However. The blog world is weird. Some blogs are so rosy and cheery you want to puke. Others are so negative and whiney it drives me crazy. Comparison is inevitable, but then again comparison is the thief of joy so we should try to avoid it all costs. Right? Hmmm.

But still, I read some blogs where the author's kids seem to be running around happy all day long, and I think to myself, "what's up with my kid?"

Willa is great. Fantastic. Obviously. But she is certainly not happy all day long. And often, the day I organize a special outing is the day she's happy for the shortest period of time. But stil, we get out there. We do things. We live life! You have to, no? Because the happy is sometimes even less when we're trapped in the house!

Last week, we met up with our playschool friends for a morning at the Denver Art Museum. And while for some the idea of taking kids to a museum might not be the most appealing, let me tell you, it was awesome! Museums these days are so hip. They have activities for kids wherever you look. And sure, some are a ways above the toddler level, but there's so much to see and explore and do. It made for a really fun morning. Most importantly, Willa was completely full of happy! Even when I put her in her swimsuit so we could play in the outdoor splash fountains on our way out but they'd inexplicably turned off. She just jumped in the water next to face-down sculpted man and was happy as a clam. So take that blog-world. My kid is smiling while out and about on the town too!

In other fabulous news, I got to go back to the museum a few days later with my Dad, and he taught me a great deal about all the superb Western art they have on display. The Denver Art Museum really made my week. I look forward to going back again.

P.S. That last picture is Willa air high-fiving the giant cow sculptures. She's pretty much the awesomest.

SOME OF MY FAVORITE BLOGS LATELY
Love Taza
Hey Natalie Jean
Expatria, Baby
Camp Patton
Shutterbean
my name is yeh
The Hot Pot Blog

tofu scramble

I like consuming soy. Soy milk. Tofu. Seitan. Edamame. Soy paper wrapped sushi. But. I've heard a lot recently about some of the potential health drawbacks of processed soy. I get it. It's pretty processed, and when the trend caught on, companies were making an over abundance of products with some sort of soy. But, as with most things, the jury is still out. There are definitely some health benefits to eating soy, but it also has potential risks. This article is a nice quick read about the scientific research on soy. Thankfully, I'm pretty good at summing up these tricky situations with my usual "all things in moderation" mantra. There was a time I ate a lot of soy. Now I just eat a little.

I just cannot give up tofu. It's definitely one of my favorite foods. So versatile! So cheap! Such great shelf life! I could go on and on about all the best tofu recipes but today all I want to share is my simple recipe for tofu scramble. It's one of my go-tos for when we need an easy, healthy, hearty dinner that can come together pretty quickly. Add whatever vegetables you have on hand, and you can of course adjust the spices to your own taste.

^^see that scallion? it's from my backyard garden. i'm pretty proud.^^

Tofu Scramble
Most measurements are approximate, except the spices (and I know that ½T isn't a really a "real" measurement, but I don't always like to dirty a bunch of measuring spoons when I'm making a dinner that's supposed to be easy. ½T = 1½ teaspoons). Add whatever vegetables you have on hand. I've listed my favorite combination, but frozen peas, carrots, and cauliflower would all work well too. Sometimes I add a second block of tofu so that we have leftovers. It's good for any meal of the day.

firm or extra firm tofu
1 block yellow onion, diced
1 head of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
bell pepper, diced
handful of mushrooms, roughly chopped
cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 green onions, finely sliced
olive oil
1T dried oregano
1T ground cumin
½T paprika
½T turmeric
dash cayenne or chili pepper

1. Press your tofu. Wrap the block in a paper towel and then with a dish towel (or just with a dish towel if your towels are cleaner than my towels) and place it under something heavy while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

2. Chop the veggies. Set the tomatoes and green onions aside in your serving bowl.

3. In a large pan or wok, heat a tablespoon or so of oil. When hot, add the onion and cook until softened. Next add the veggies that take longest to cook (peppers, carrots, broccoli, etc.) followed by those that will cook more quickly (mushrooms, peas).

4. Take the pressed tofu and crumble it on top of the cooked vegetables. Use your cooking utensil to break it up more. Sprinkle the spices over top, and cook until everything is mixed well and the tofu is hot.

5. Transfer to the serving bowl with the tomatoes and green onions. Mix well and serve.

All things in moderation!

"two olds"

Today is Willa's 2nd birthday. When you ask her how old she is, she replies "two olds!" I don't even want to correct her because it's so darn cute.

As is always the case with time, it's hard to believe it's been two years, but it simultaneously feels as though so many things have happened since she was born on a cloudy June morning in Seattle. We've all grown so much together. That is really the point of this all, isn't it?

There are so many things about Willa at this age that I want to remember. Some days I wish I could walk around and just record everything she says.

We've been working on potty training for the past while (seriously for a few weeks, casually for a couple months before that) and when we ask her if she needs to go (which I know you're not "supposed to" ask), she replies with a smile "I okay" or "I good."

For a month or two now, everything is an emphatic "do it self!" She's pretty pleased with herself that she can take off all forms of clothing. I personally can't wait until she can put them all on herself!

She is very thoughtful. She gets extremely concerned when something falls off a table or she sees a piece of trash where it doesn't belong. We're constantly taking things to a recycling bin or trash can when we're out and about. Lots of hand sanitizer necessary.

Despite my best efforts to hide my own fear from her, she's very concerned by thunder. Her face wrinkles up as she says "it's thundering." She's also scared of bees. She thinks flies are bees, and given how much she plays in the backyard, flies are always getting in the house, so we're constantly working on the difference between flies and bees.

Her interest in food has waned recently, and she's much more interested in getting down to play than in sitting at the table with us. Her favorite snack by far is "fig bar" which we buy at Costco. Whenever we run out of a food, she quickly tells us to "buy more! grocery store!"

She's starting to have a better sense of time. She'll tell me if something happened "yesterday" or will happen "later." Her counting is coming along, but she often skips "five" and "six." Her memory amazes us. Out of the blue she'll start talking about something that happened months ago. Her favorite memory to recount is about when she met the Easter Bunny at the park. He "waved at Willa."

I didn't start telling her about her birthday until a few days ago, but she got the concept quite quickly. She would exclaim, "mine!" when you'd ask her who had a birthday coming up. She gleefully ripped into her presents this morning and is delighted with all of them.

Needless to say, we love her so much. What a wonderful two years it's been.

"i like that kid."

Today, I rode my bike to the grocery store with Willa on the back. I only needed a few things, so she walked through the store with me, insisting on carrying the basket. Overall, she's a great helper. She likes to put things in the basket, and she'll put things back once I tell her we're not buying them. Occasionally, she wanders. But you know, she's a toddler. That's what they do. Right? Or that's what I tell myself to stay sane, at least. At one point, as we walked by a produce aisle, a man shopping with his partner gasped and said emphatically, "I like that kid!" I said thanks, and, "I do too!" Willa was a there at my feet, smiling, lugging the grocery basket, and wearing her Paul Frank bike helmet. People have said before that she's "cute" etc., but this particular compliment made me feel really good. This guy didn't just think she was cute. He liked her behavior. That meant so much more to me. She's really is such a fun little buddy these days. So kind and sweet and funny. Most of the time.

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She talks nonstop. For awhile she said "yack-ies," but slowly it's becoming "socks." She gets really worried when something that's fallen or is out of place: "Uh-oh!"

She's obsessed with helping me cook: "see, see, see!" Her stool isn't good enough, she wants to be held to really see what's going on. She also demands to "help" or "stir" but mostly she wants to snag a handful of whatever it is I'm making, especially if I'm baking!

She's definitely getting more independent and willful. She wants to walk everywhere by herself and don't even try to spoon food into her mouth! She can't yet put many clothes on herself, but she will get her coat and shoes out when she's ready to go outside. And thank goodness the weather is finally getting a tiny bit warmer because she loves to go outside every chance she gets. Usually we have to insist she put on a coat and shoes otherwise she'd just go out into the backyard barefoot and play with water in 50 degrees. Which she does do on occasion.

Her favorite toys these days are stuffed animals and a toy stroller we got from the toy library. She gives everyone rides all day long and loves to cover them up with a blanket. She really likes her train set too: mostly making cars go down a ramp "really fast."

I could go on and on, but mostly I just wanted to write down a few memories to remember this age. Because I really do like this kid of mine.

no more bottled water.

I'm a rule follower. When someone of authority tells me to do something, I do it. And when I break rules or recommendations, I do so only with intense anxiousness. Before we left for Costa Rica, I called my doctor's travel clinic to talk about our trip. We had all the necessary vaccinations, but the lady I spoke with emphasized that we should not drink the tap water there. I asked a few follow up questions, because what I'd read had made me think the tap water was safe in Costa Rica, but this woman insisted there were serious health risks.

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^^costa rica sunset. february 2014^^

I hate buying water. I hate creating unnecessary waste. Both of these principles are hard to stick to when you're traveling in a place without potable water. I've spent a good deal of time in China, and it's actually not hard there, because boiled water is readily available. When I studied abroad in Harbin in 2003, I'd fill my Nalgene with boiled water and stick it out on the windowsill to cool off. Sure, bottled water was cheap. But think of all the people in China. If they're all drinking water from bottles, imagine how many plastic bottles that is. Where do they all go?

^^woman sweeping up trash at the forbidden city in beijing. taken by my mom when visiting me in december 2003.^^

But back to Costa Rica. While there, we bought bottled water. 6L jugs of it usually, so only 4 or 5 were needed to get us through the 10 days. But still, those bottles made my heart hurt. Especially when an expat in line at the supermarket lectured me about how Costa Rica's drinking water was totally safe. I know, lady, you're preaching to the choir. But I didn't want to risk it with Willa, and getting sick was not in our vacation plans. I didn't want to go against what my doctor had advised.

^^selvatura park. monteverde, costa rica. february 2014.^^

But during our trip, I vowed I'd do something different the next time. Once home, I went through my bookmarks and favorited tweets, and found two fantastic organizations I'd previously heard about: Ban the Bottle, and Travelers Against Plastic. I've been following Ban the Bottle for a few years since I support their mission of: "eliminating plastic bottles in schools, offices and public areas...[so] we can eliminate unneeded waste in landfills." Travelers Against Plastic has a different, but potentially even more important slant. Their mission is to "educate global travelers about the harmful impacts of plastic water bottles usage and encourage travelers to be prepared to clean their own drinking water."

^^GUILTY! penang, malaysia. july 2011.^^

On their resources page, they recommend a few methods: a SteriPEN, which is likely familiar to those who go camping, as well as old fashioned iodine tablets. We used to use those when I went to summer camp, and the water always had an odd taste. But apparently they're more advanced now and you can get neutralizing tablets which elimiate it.

As someone who cares a lot about these types of issues, I am mad at myself for not thinking more about this before our trip. It would have been so easy to buy a $50 SteriPEN or pack a few iodine tablets which are even cheaper! But even I didn't think of it. The only way to make change is to educate people. I'm glad I've been thinking about it lately. I hope you, too, will think twice before buying a bottle of water?

things i learned in costa rica

We just got back from Costa Rica! (Well, we got back Saturday, but I picked up a cold somewhere along the way, and Bryna got sick at the dog-boarding place, so it took a few days to get back into the swing of things.)

It was a long-planned adventure for us, and a lot of firsts: Our first international family vacation. Our first big trip with a toddler. Our first trip to Central America. The first time we'd been on a beach vacation in a long while. Our first time relying primarily on a rental car for transportation in another country.

We flew in and out of San Jose, and spent the first and last nights of the trip at the Holiday Inn Express by the airport to make arrival and departure easy. From San Jose, we drove to Monteverde for two nights, and then spent six nights at Playa Negra in Guanacaste, just south of popular Tamarindo.

There's lots I want to write about the trip, and many pictures to sort through, but while they're fresh in my mind I want to share a few things I learned on our first international family vacation. These won't apply to everyone, but they're thoughts I want to remember and keep in mind for our next big trip!

It's worth it. Despite the challenges of traveling with a toddler (and there definitely are challenges!), it's totally worth it. The ups and downs and the memories you make will bring you all closer together.

Even if your "worst case scenario" comes true, everything'll still be fine. Our 6-hour flight to Costa Rica left at 4pm, and Willa had had an early nap. I'd told friends before we left that, "worst case scenario," if she didn't sleep the whole flight, we'd arrive at 9pm Denver time. Sure enough, she didn't sleep the whole flight. And she stayed awake until 11:30pm Denver time. But we all made it through in one piece. Everything carried on as planned.

Kids can be better travelers than adults. We were a bit worried about how Willa would do during our three 4-hour drives. She did great, and on one drive, we dubbed her "MVP," because she was happy and content the whole drive, whereas Dan and I got a bit crabby because we needed a bathroom and were hungry etc. etc. And, although this trip was probably an exception, usually Willa sleeps much better than we do while we're traveling!

You might want to splurge on A/C, but it'll be okay if you don't. It was a little tricky figuring out how to get Willa to nap. At her usual naptime, 12ish, our bungalow at the beach was extremely hot. My initial response was to curse myself for not paying the additional money to rent a bungalow with air conditioning. But really, all we had to do was move her nap a little earlier. If she napped around 11, it wasn't yet that hot in the room. This worked well, too, because she woke up at 5:30 or 6 most of the week (ugh!) since it gets light so much earlier there. We also took her for late afternoon walks in the carrier, which gave her a chance to catch a few more minutes of sleep if she needed it. But still, when you have little ones and need to be in your room midday, it could be a good option to have A/C.

Carefully selected toys are key. You can't take many toys on a trip. (Well, I guess you could, but that would just be silly. And we all know I strive to pack light.) So you have to make sure you pick ones that serve many purposes. The main players for us this trip were stacking cups, an AquaDoodle, and a Sesame Street coloring book.

I really like breakfast. The places we stayed for the first three nights had breakfast included. I really like rolling out of bed and having coffee and breakfast treats available at my fingertips. At the beach we bought groceries and had breakfast on our porch each morning. That was also nice, but not the same.

Give things time. When I travel, I sometimes feel a lot of pressure to be having an "amazing time" every single moment. But for me, it takes time to settle in to a new place and to a new schedule. Even when all you're doing is relaxing on the beach, it might take some time to figure everything out. Just let it happen. It will.

thoughts on packing light + useful travel items for little kids

I've been thinking about packing a lot lately. You know, the stuff you have to take with you when you go places. Oh, the stuff. But the places! I love the places.

^^lamma island, hong kong. july 2011.^^

Back in the days before you had to pay to check luggage, I was a serious overpacker. I'd just throw everything I might need into a suitcase and then rejoice once I'd left it in the hands of the airlines so I could walk lightly to my gate.

But a few years back, when the fee for luggage was firmly in place, I made a decision: I would become a light packer. It was right before a week-long trip to Europe, and Dan and I were determined to take only carry-ons for the trip. At the time, it seemed impossible. How on earth could we go to a wedding in France and take just a carry-on suitcase!? But I was both fed-up with paying fees to check luggage and also fed-up with lugging my luggage around. It seemed like having so many belongings was getting in my way of enjoying the destinations to which I traveled.

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^^first trip as a light packer! at seatac airport heading to switzerland, france, and italy. july 2010^^

We all know it's hard to change. But I made the change from over-packer to light packer very well. All it really took was buying the best carry-on suitcase ever as well as a great lightweight hiking backpack.

^^off to southeast asia for three weeks in july 2011^^

For at least 3 years, I didn't pay any luggage fees. Not a one. And then I had a baby.

Everyone tells you that when you have kids you're going to little by little acquire more and more stuff. As much as I've resisted this, it's still happened to some extent. I firmly believe that babies and kids don't need a lot of stuff. They need to be clothed and fed and loved and entertained, but just like with adults, having more things does not result in a happier baby. And yet, when we went to California last weekend, it felt like we had so much stuff. Two carry-on bags, two "personal items," a heavy carseat, and a 20-some pound toddler in a carrier.

^^en route to boston. decemeber 2013.^^

Overall, I think I've been able to maintain my status as a light packer. We travel with more than we used to, but a lot less than many people! It's the carseat that really weighs you down. There's no getting around it. It's the law. Safety first. It's especially hard to get around without one in the US, where public transportation is often not that convenient. But when we go to Europe someday, I will not be taking a carseat, that's for sure! You can also rent them at your destination, but once you've shelled out $200+ for one at home, do you really want to spend more money?

Thankfully, they do make great items for traveling with little kids. I'm convinced a main component of parenting is the never-ending process of deciding which items fit your lifestyle best. Because there are so many options out there! And they're all pretty expensive! The most useful things we've found so far are:

phil&teds Traveller Crib I wanted this crib when I was pregnant, but decided not to get it because of the high price tag. Instead, we got a Pack-n-Play. Once we were traveling places by plane and needed a crib, I found a used one on eBay for around $120. I'm so glad we have it, since it's pretty much the smallest option out there (comparable to the Baby Bjorn model). But it still takes up a good amount of room. It won't fit in a carry-on, and annoyingly airlines don't gaurentee they'll check it for free (as they do with strollers and carseats), so you pretty much have to check a bag if you're taking it with you. But it's still very convenient. Although, I am also glad we have the Pack-n-Play. It was great for the first 6 months when Willa was sleeping in our room. It just wasn't great for travel. It's big and doesn't have a handle.

Diono Radian convertible carseat We just got this carseat for Christmas since it was clear that W was almost too big for her infant seat. I picked this one because it's the only foldable carseat on the market, and it is also the narrowest. Additionally, you can keep your child rear-facing up to 45lbs. in this seat (most are 40lbs.) and it's also a seat you can use from birth to 120lbs. Plus it's FAA approved so you can use it for flying.

totseat I just bought this recently, and am really excited about it. At home we use a phil&teds portable chair, and while it's come in handy at a lot of restaurants, it's a bit big to carry if you want to pack light, and it's also not compatible with some tables. I'm a big believer in kids eating at the table, and Willa is still at an age where she needs to be strapped in (I know that's debatable, but that's my opinion!).

Beco /ergo carrier I love both these carriers. The Beco was ideal when W was little, but now as toddler I find the Ergo to be more convenient. But either way, the carrier is the way to go. I do not believe in traveling with a stroller. Too big! Too much!

tegu blocks travel set I got these blocks from a dear friend when Willa was born. They're my favorite toy to bring along on trips, and people are always asking about them. The magnets in the blocks not only make them fun to play with, but stick to any metal structure. This comes in handy on planes and in restaurants! I recently took them to a Super Bowl party, and I totally lost it when one block went missing. (Perhaps I am too consumed by things?) Not to worry though, the party host found it. Phew.

^^trip home to new york. may 2013.^^

Despite these useful items, my back and shoulders are still always sore on a trip...perhaps I should just accept it, but I'm going to keep striving to be the lightest packer possible! And if you have thoughts or tips, please share!

costo. + thoughts on bulk shopping

Breaking news: I joined Costco. Yep, bulk city. The Kirkland Empire.

One of my dearest friends is a huge (HUGE) fan of Costco. Ever since I met her, she's told me about all the amazing things to be found at Costco. From jeans to snowmobiles! (Ok, I might be making up that snowmobiles part, but you get the point.) Anyway, I'm pretty weirded out by giant box stores, but I'm also a huge fan of a good deal. So today, we made a trip west (to the 'burbs, obvi) and entered the store along with 500 of our closest friends. (Honestly, wouldn't you think 2pm on a Thursday would be an off time? Apparently not.)

Here are my initial thoughts, to be amended and contradicted in the future. I probably once claimed I'd never even join Costco, so clearly I'm a complicated lady.

Pros:

  • Organic items. Organic blueberries are a staple for us, and they're SO EXPENSIVE everywhere else. We'd been hoping they'd be cheaper at Costco, and indeed they are. $8.99 for a 3lb bag, which is phenomenal. I also snagged a good deal on organic soymilk and organic tofu. Word on the street is you should keep your blueberries and soy products organic, so I try to do just that.
  • Free samples. Why yes, I have indeed been wondering what raw hemp seed taste like. As well as whole grain pancakes. So I'll take one of each and dip my pancake into the hemp seeds (that was Willa's approach).
  • Double child seats in the cart. Uh, genius. I always wondered where the second kid was supposed to go. And, for a change, Willa actually sat in the seat. It could have been the free samples, but perhaps it was also the ample room?
  • No bags. I like what they're doing with the no bags at check out thing. But they certainly make their environmental footprint elsewhere...

Cons:

  • Bulk. Obviously this is what Costco is all about, but come on, who can drink 2 gallons of milk before it goes bad!? I guess if you have a large family, but couldn't they sell an individual gallon somewhere in the store for those of us with just one milk-obsessed toddler? You need an extra fridge and freezer not to mention pantry to shop there. Some of the products just seem to be too bulk-y for anyone's good. Which leads me to point number two...
  • Waste. As someone who's borderline obsessed with thinking about where waste goes, the amount of packaging found in Costco made me incredibly anxious. I wanted to buy some dried seaweed, but why do they have to individually package every 10 slices? And the bananas need to be in a plastic bag? And those two bottles of oil need to be attached by a plastic ring AND coated in plastic wrap? I could go on an on. Costco's target market is individual consumers (right?) so why so much packaging? Moreover, there were no recycling bins to be found and all the free sample PAPER cups were going into trash bins. Come on, Costco, don't you know that Denver is only capturing a fraction of recyclable materials? And as a Seattle company, I expect more. And this doesn't even consider the amount of items consumers are probably wasting once they leave the store. No one needs everything in bulk.
  • Payment options. You can apparently only pay with a debit card, or one of the credit cards that partners with Costco. So no Chase points for me. Boo.

I will definitely be back to Costco occasionally. And I'm pretty sure I'll be able to make up the $55 annual membership fee. Perhaps on blueberries alone. But I'd love to hear from others - what do you think about Costco or bulk shopping in general? Do we actually save, or do we just buy more?