Mommy-Daughter Road Trip

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Like hippies travelling to Woodstock, Sisi and I set forth on an epic road trip from OC to San Fran to see her (our) favorite kids' band, Okee Dokee Brothers.  Normally the trip isn't really epic- it takes about 8 hours to get to the Bay Area.  I used to make the drive up to college in one trip (with an in-n-out break halfway) but when you're 7 months pregnant and have to pee every hour or so, the trip becomes an epic 5 day journey.  We had so much fun travelling just the two of us.  We might make it a tradition!  I've been annoyed with California lately, but this trip made me fall in love with my home state all over again.  There is so much natural beauty and charm beyond suburban O.C.

Our first night in Arroyo Grande, about halfway up the coast, we rented a Tepee on someone's ranch off Airbnb.  It had a full bed and rustic but nice bathroom facilities.  It felt pretty adventurous to be camping (er glamping?) without Joe there to protect us.

Arroyo Grande is so amazing.  Joe and I daydream about moving up there, buying a few acres of land, building a small eco-friendly house from scratch, and surfing every morning.  And when I daydream something, I usually find a way to make it happen :)  It doesn't hurt that my BFF lives there, too.

Next stop, San Jose, where we stayed with my college friend Kim and Sisi bonded with her daughter, Lilybeth.

And the absolute highlight of the trip, the Okee Dokee Brothers concert!!!  If you're a parent and have never heard of this band, I beg you to give it a listen.  It's bluegrass/folk music that kids love and parents secretly love, too.  I looked around at the audience and all the parents were beaming and singing along!

I got to meet the band afterward and tell them about how I started playing the Banjo because of them, and how Sisi and I drove 8 hours just to see them.  I realize now how crazy that sounds.  I'm totally a Okee Dokee groupie.

Using a jump rope as a microphone, Lilybeth inched her way closer and closer to the band until they were actually a trio.

Such nice gentlemen.  I love that they promote getting into nature and minimalism, two of my passions :)

On the way back down South, we stopped at the Monterey Bay Aquarium..  We ate at Sea Harvest Fish Market afterward- 6 HUGE bbq'd oysters for 13 dollars, folks!  Well worth the drive up just for those!

We stayed with my bff and her darling family in Pismo Beach for one night.  Sisi and Olive had somuch fun giggling and playing and singing together.  It makes my heart pitter patter when my daughter plays with my friends' kids.  It makes me realize how grown up we all are, with houses and families of our own.  Gone are the days of watching Napoleon Dynamite in pajamas while drinking boba milk tea in our crappy college apartments.

Angel showed us city folks a good time by taking us to her favorite farm and apple orchard.  

And then we came home and ate boatloads of sushi with Joe.  We missed him so much, but I think it was super special to strike out on our own for some extra bonding time before baby Matteo (90% sure that's his name) arrives in less than 2 months.  

Have you ever taken a mommy/baby road trip?  You should.  


A Paleo Halloween?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Paleo Halloween requires a little creativity and advanced planning, but it is indeed possible to enjoy the festivities without eating a year's worth of high fructose corn syrup in one night.  This year Sisi wants to be a dinosaur and trick-or-treat with her gal pals down the street.  I'm already busy making her semi-homemade costume.  It's lime green with yellow spikes and she's going to look ridiculously cute in it.

In past years, Sisi wasn't all that aware of candy and it was easy to take away the bad stuff and give her some frozen bananas or homemade cookies instead.  This year, she knows what candy is, and she is begging me to let her try a lollipop for the first time. Here are some ideas to make Halloween more paleo-friendly:

1.  Do a Halloween basket:  Let the kids trick-or-treat all they want, but at the end of the night, have a special Halloween gift basket ready and make them hand over the crap in exchange.  Some things I will be putting in Sisi's Halloween gift basket this year:

  • stickers 
  • micro machines or dinosaur toys 
  • dinosaur book
  • homemade cookies
  • stuffed animal 
  • homemade turtle candies (using super dark chocolate, homemade coconut sugar caramel, and raw nuts.) 
  • Trader Joe's honey peppermint patties (these are very sweet so I will be regulating her intake, but they are as healthy as store bought candies get as they are made with only dark chocolate, honey and peppermint oil.) 
  • organic lollipop (trying to find one without sugar but it's challenging!)
  • organic fruit snacks/fruit leathers/raisins
  • 85% dark chocolate bar 
As long as it's personalized and wrapped up all pretty, I can't imagine any kid being too bummed about trading in the crap candy for the Halloween basket!  It's still got sugar and fructose, but whatever.  At least it's not pop rocks and pixie sticks.  

2.  Do a Halloween Store: Instead of putting the items above in a gift basket, you could easily set up a Halloween store with price tags that say "1 candy" "2 candies" etc, and have the kids use their trick-or-treat candy as barter.  

3.  Take it to the dentist: I've heard of dentists buying Halloween candy by the pound and giving money in exchange.  Pretty cool deal.  Do you think the dentists and assistants chow down on it after hours?  Probably :)

4.  Halloween Fairy:  My chiropractor thought of this one.  She has her kids leave their candy sacks by the front door, and when they wake up in the morning, the Halloween fairy has magically taken them away and left something awesome, like legos or cowboy boots.  This is great for parents who want to avoid all sweets, even "paleo friendlier" ones.   

5.  What to hand out?  Not only do I want to limit Sisi's candy intake, but I can't in good conscience give out crap candy to the neighbor kids. Not everyone feels this strongly, but I just can't pass out fun sized diabetes and cavities.  I just can't.  So Joe thought of a genius idea- let's pass out quarters!  What little kid doesn't love money?  We don't get a lot of trick-or-treaters, so it won't break the bank or anything.  We're also going to pass out mini water bottles for the parents and glow stick necklaces for the really little kids who will just swallow quarters.  Other ideas of things to pass out are the mini Lara Bars, trail mix, fruit snacks, bouncy balls, stickers, balloons, etc.  


Our Life Lately 9.3.14

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I used to post picture updates like this often, but there are so many sweet moments in daily life that I don't capture in pictures.   Partly because I don't have a camera phone (crazy, right?) and partly because we are on a hands-free journey right now. But here are a few!

OUR GARDEN OF DELIGHTS: Every morning, Sisi and I run outside to see how many passion flowers have popped open.  I will always be fascinated by these freakish blooms, and the fact that they only stay open for one day makes them even more special.  Still haven't seen any passion fruit yet.

BABY "SPRINKLE". I helped throw a mellow baby shower for a sweet friend at church.  It's her third baby, so she didn't want a big fuss.  Good food, pretty flowers, and sweet friends were all we needed.

Which one is 8 months preggers?? :) 

Thank you Trader Joe's for the cheap stock, snapdragons, mums and roses.  $30.00 of flowers was more than enough to decorate the whole house.

CAMPING TRIP:  We had our first family camping trip in a pretty remote part of Big Bear.  And about an hour after we arrived and set up camp, a very large bear came super close to us.  He was sitting kind of dopey-like on his haunches, staring at Joe, just hoping he'd share our pulled pork with him. Us women-folk jumped into the truck, and Joe scared him away with a rusty old machete. The first thing I said to Joe was, "You said there were no bears in Big Bear!!!"  I guess there are, but they are more like raccoons than bears.  Still gave this suburbanite a scare!

belly shot, about 22 weeks.  I'm 25 weeks now and feel twice as big as this pic!

Joe's camping coffee setup.

Joe said that this was a more comfortable spot to sleep than the tent!  

He scampered up that rock face in 2 minutes like a squirrel.  My husband is such a stud.

Sheep's milk yogurt with grain-free granola (essentially "nut-ola") for breakfast.  

FAMIILY DINNERS. Lately, most of our dinners take place al fresco, on the patio.  This was a particularly yummy paleo meal- cauliflower mash, almond flour breaded pork chops, and artichokes dipped in drawn butter. 
I am also heeding the advice in the book French Kids Eat Everything by making dinner time special every night.  An everyday dinner is the perfect occasion for candles, flowers, and music.  I even splurged on real cloth napkins yesterday, which is a first.  I am also making an effort to sit still and wait for Joe and Sisi to finish eating before I hop up and tackle the dishes.  This is a tough one, since I'm always the first one done and I am eager to get on with the clean-up duties.  But dinner time is such a special time and should be savored, right?

Not pictured: a major water damage/mold issue in our home, scouring craigslist daily for furniture for baby #2's nursery, and lots of etsy mask orders. 


Something that makes motherhood easier!

Friday, August 22, 2014

camping in Big Bear

How much do you value your child's ability to play independently for long stretches of time?  I value it IMMENSELY.   It's in my top 3 qualities that I want to nurture in my kids (along with empathy and contentment and faith and genuineness- ok, there are lots.)

What is independent play?  It's when your child plays happily in their own little world (without having to rely on electronics). I've heard it described as "deep play"- that zone your kid gets in when they are totally and unselfconsciously wrapped up in play.  Time doesn't exist. You barely exist.  As a baby, it probably consists of manipulating simple objects and toys, gnawing them, banging them.  As a toddler, it usually means toddling around, discovering and rediscovering the space around them.  As a preschooler, it means pretending and imagining new worlds either on their own or with friends.  When Sisi is playing independently, she has a sort of faraway look in her eyes.  She is often talking or singing to herself while creating some melodrama with sticks and pine needles.  Sometimes she's just sprawled out on the grass, talking to the clouds.

What does independent play look like for me?  As a mom, it means FREEDOM!!!  It means sitting on the couch while reading my kindle. Prepping tonight's dinner.  Scouring etsy for new wall art for baby #2's nursery.  Or blogging like I'm doing right now.  It means a well-deserved break from taking care of Sisi's needs, because she needs nothing but her own imagination, some twigs, and dirt for the next hour.  We are both free.

Sisi is about ready to give up her last remaining nap, but I'm not even worried about it.   In fact, she's been in her darkened room for over an hour, chatting to herself and her stuffed animals.  She's not napping per se, but  we still get our much-needed quiet time to recharge.  And anyway, I get enough breaks during the day because Sisi knows how to play without me (and enjoys it!) I would say I get at least 3 or 4 extended breaks (each between 30-90 minutes) throughout the day where Sisi is doing her own thing in the house or the garden.

Ok, so it probably sounds like I'm just bragging up a storm right now.  "You just got an easy kid!" is what you're thinking.  Or "You have a house with a fully enclosed yard, what would you do in an apartment?"    Perhaps Sisi is on the mellower side, and yes, our home is definitely kid safe and conducive to free play, but I really do believe any child in any space can learn to play independently.  We didn't just hope she'd learn to play by herself, we expected it.  We prioritized it.

In one of my favorite parenting books, Bringing Up Bebe, one image that always pops up in my mind is that of the French mom at the park.  She is calm, relaxed, chatting with a friend, while her child plays happily in the field with a ball.  Just one ball.  Contrast that with the author, an American mom, who has lugged bags and bags of toys to that same park, and who must entertain and interact with her child almost the entire time. She's following the child, saying "Wheeeee~" every time the kid slides down the slide.  The magazine that she brought with her goes untouched, but she didn't expect to read it anyway. Which mom is going to have more fun at the park?  The Frenchie, of course.

I try to channel my inner French mom often.  To do that requires a certain philosophy: that independent play is great for mom.  It's not selfish to expect your kid to play by himself, rather it's necessary to make motherhood pleasurable and sustainable.  It's also super good for kid.  It allows the child to learn about the world at his or her own pace.  In their own little world they can be creative, content, and learn to turn boredom into a spark of genius.  It's an extremely useful life skill, although it doesn't always look like anything mind-blowing.

Here are my top 5 tips for getting kids to develop the skill of independent play.

1. Don't Interrupt.  Today at the children's museum, Sisi played for 45 minutes in the water area, her favorite exhibit.  As I zoned out on the bench people-watching, I noticed how many parents swooped in and dragged their kids away from the water area after 5-10 minutes. "Come on Jackson, all done water, let's go do an art project!"  Their kids had been happily splashing and watching toy boats, and could have probably stayed there as long as Sisi did.  But after a few minutes the parents seemed to get antsy and wanted the child move on to the next thing.  Perhaps they were trying to get their money's worth and hit up all the exhibits, or maybe they didn't want their kids to get too wet, but that is one way to sabotage independent play.  Why can't the kid just splash around for 20-30-60 minutes?  Lots of people compliment Sisi on her long attention span, but I wonder if many kids have actually been discouraged from focusing on one thing for too long???  If your kid wants to do nothing at the park but feel the sand between his fingers, will you just let him be?  Or will you suggest he hit up the slide, swings, and monkey bars to make the trip "worth it"?

2.  Simplify the Play Space.  Another absolutely genius parenting book, Simplicity Parenting, suggests you cut your kids' toys in half.  Then in half again, and perhaps again.  Completely declutter the play space (and the whole house while you're at it) and just watch the kid engage deeply with the few toys they have left.  We learned early to give Sisi simple, open-ended toys that don't light up or make lots of noise.  Babies don't need all the bells and whistles.  We've all noticed that our babies seem to enjoy the gift wrap more than the fancy toy, right?  When the toys are too complicated and there are too many of them, kids get overwhelmed and usually don't want to play with them.   When Sisi was a baby, I often put her in a play pen with just a few toys, and was amazed when she'd play for almost an hour thoroughly exploring that small space. Now, as a preschooler, she has 2 boxes of toys and a small bookshelf.  That's it! Too much choice leads to stress and ambivalence, which are not at all conducive to independent play.

On the same topic, don't assume that your kid needs to do some super special outing each and every day. I think we unwittingly turn our kids into adrenaline junkies when it's good for kids to be bored at home once in a while. I was talking to a hilarious Grandma at the children's museum.  She said her grandkids have season passes to the zoo, museum, amusement parks, trampoline parks, etc.  Every time she babysits, their mom has something spectacular planned for them.  "I don't understand why we can't just stay home and play with all the toys that are gathering dust in their playroom?  Why do I always feel like I have to take them on a grand tour of Southern California when I babysit?"  I hear ya, grams!  

3.  Don't say much.  In addition to cutting out the toy clutter, cut out the verbal clutter.  Avoid excessive praise ("You threw the ball?  Awesome!!!"), micromanaging ("Make the dolly drink from the bottle like this!"), or social direction ("Billy wants the toy, so you should be nice and let him play with it.")

I'm noticing more and more how when I interrupt Sisi's deep play with questions or commentary about what she's doing, it snaps her abruptly out of her little world and she actually looks a little embarrassed, as if I've caught her doing something wrong.  Deep play is such a private, all-engaging activity for her that I realize it's better to just let her be and only speak if totally necessary.

By keeping a respectful distance while they are playing, you are preventing the "Look at me, mommy!" scenario where a kid doesn't feel like he's truly playing unless someone is there to witness and validate him.

4.  Make togetherness count.  I do play with Sisi sometimes.  We have special moments throughout the day when she gets my full and enthusiastic attention.  At mealtimes, we sit together, chat and enjoy the food together.  Before naps and bedtime, we snuggle on her bed and read books and Bible stories (and often sing songs and tickle and act very silly.)  Before bath time, I try to get out her remaining energy with a game of hide and seek, duck duck goose, laundry basket basketball,  or general rough and tumble play.  When I'm on, I'm on.  I make those moments of togetherness count.  That means no phones, no internet.  When you have solid bonding rituals that your kids can depend on, I think they feel free and safe to play on their own most of the day.

5.  Limit electronics and screen time.  This is the one that's hard to hear, isn't it?  We are certainly not electronic-less. I let Sisi watch 20 minutes of Little Mermaid every other day, and sometimes short videos on youtube about something she's curious about (volcanoes, geckos, whatever the hot topic du jour happens to be.)  But that's it.  I've read lots of articles about how technology hampers development in the very young.  I think commercials (and even just shows and movies themselves) make kids want a bunch of crappy toys and crappy food that they don't need.  But most importantly, and contrary to popular belief, I think it makes parenthood HARDER.  We got into a rut a year ago when Sisi was watching a little bit of TV almost every day.  I justified it, saying I needed time to prep dinner during that five o'clock "witching hour".  But what struck me was how much moodier Sisi was after watching, and how much she bugged me to watch more and more and more.  Managing her screen time was taking way too much of my energy, that the few minutes of peace and quiet it bought me just weren't worth it.   Now, I find that 20 minutes every other day is that sweet spot where she is not addicted, and her mood isn't really affected.  My husband wishes she had zero exposure, but now that she's 3 1/2, I don't see the harm in letting her watch just a tad so she'll start to learn some of the cultural references that her friends talk about.

In conclusion, independent play makes motherhood calmer, happier, and dare I say relaxing much of the time!  Hopefully, I can try to encourage the same independent spirit in baby #2.  He's a boy, by the way :)

My favorite resources on the topic:


Waterwise Garden Update

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I'll take a break from parental pontificating to show off how our garden is doing 1 year since planting.

The backyard: all the vines along the walls are filling in and attracting tons of butterflies.  Our banana palm has quadrupled it's height already.  We love eating breakfast in the sunroom and looking out at the bright red kangaroo paws.  Joe's adult jungle gym gets daily use by him and by the neighborhood kids who love to balance and swing like monkeys.  We added a little ship's wheel to Sisi's sandbox to inspire imaginative play.

Front Courtyard:  I can't believe how lush it is after just one year.  Our passion fruit vines seem to grow 6 or 7 feet longer every month.  I'm constantly hacking them down.  But I adore the wild look we have going on in our courtyard.  Our papyrus is also freakishly huge, and needs to be cut down again.  We hire a skilled landscaper to prune everything every 4 or 5 months, which costs about 400.00 each time.  However, this landscape is so low maintanence that we have no need for regular gardeners.

This is my view as I lounge on the couch with my kindle during Sisi's naptime. It's heavenly. 

I am so thrilled with the investment we poured into our yard.  Hiring a real designer to plan out the space and overlook the installation was a smart move.  It cost us a large chunk of money, but almost everything they planted is thriving, unlike my previous amateur attempts.  As the plants fill in more and more, I totally understand and appreciate her vision that much more.  There isn't one day that I don't say aloud or in my head how much I LOVE our garden and enjoy spending time in it.  Sisi and I spend at least an hour each day just bumbling around outside together.  It's also kid-safe, so I feel totally comfortable giving her the run of the yard while I have alone time inside the house.  She can spend a good hour or two picking flowers, digging for bugs, and watering plants.  It's a mom's dream garden!