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!  


Sticking to my Parenting Philosophy

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When our dog Pesto was younger, we enrolled him in a training camp that came highly recommended. Supposedly, Pesto would become a well mannered pup, able to walk beside me without a leash and never jump up on people or other dogs. I enthusiastically enrolled him, and was surprised to see how harsh the methods were.  Pinch collars, loud German commands, with lots of negative reinforcement were used.  After a few months of this training, Pesto's behavior was worse.  He bit when cornered, became possessive of food and toys, and spent most of the day hidden under chairs.

When I finally realized that this training class was harming our dog, I cried big tears and we pulled him out. Cavalier King Charles are a sensitive companion breed, and this course was not speaking his language. We hired a miracle worker to undo the damage.  His strict boundaries (never let Pesto on furniture unless he's invited, make him sit and wait for his food, etc.) paired with lots of love and positive reinforcement produced the results we wanted, without any of the harsh punishment. Pesto learned that he was actually a DOG, not a human, and that he could trust our authority.  I swore then and there that I would never make a mistake like that again.  Hiring experts to help is sometimes necessary, but never hire someone whose philosophy is so vastly different from your's.  That's just a recipe for trouble.

Well, I'm sad to say that 5 years later I made this same mistake again, only this time with my 3 year old daughter. Lured by the idea of making her "water safe" (I fell into a pool as a toddler and still remember the trauma) I enrolled her in a "swim boot camp" where she was guaranteed to swim after 10 minutes a day, 10 days in a row.  The assumption, which still makes a lot of sense to me, is that all children instinctively know how to a) hold their breath under water, and b) kick to move in the water.  Other programs that spend months "teaching" children what they already know are wasting time and possibly confusing the children. Case in point, I know many kids who have taken traditional swim lessons for months or even years who still cannot swim, and I didn't want to get stuck paying for years of "useless" lessons.  So this swim boot camp seemed like the miracle answer for us.

Here's the problem.  The instructor states his "philosophy" on the website, which is that children cry to manipulate and show who is boss.  The teacher will ignore this crying and make the child do swim drills, no matter how much they protest.  Supposedly, after a few days of crying, the children undergo a magical transformation where they start to like swimming and enthusiastically participate in the class. He has a ton of videos on youtube demonstrating this very process, from crying on day one, to joyful swimming on day 10.

RED FLAGS GALORE.  I don't believe crying is always manipulation.  Sometimes crying reflects fear, anxiety, confusion, grief or overstimulation.  I don't believe in ignoring, distracting or suppressing a child's cries. I believe crying is normal and healthy and even therapeutic, so I let my child cry or tantrum if she needs to.  This doesn't make me a pushover parent.  Actually, I have very firm boundaries.  But these boundaries are never arbitrary, and I always try to explain my reasons why.

Another red flag- my child is highly sensitive. For the most part she is very cautious, easily-overstimulated, and she likes to take things really slow. I've done my best so far not to push her into things before she is ready. For example, at 3 years old, she *just* started enjoying some slides at the park. Not all slides, just some. She still won't even touch the swings.

This swim boot camp was a fast paced, sink-or-swim style that should have made me run for the hills.  Even if a ton of kids on youtube did well on this program, I should have known that this was a bad fit for us because it is totally contrary to my philosophy of respectful parenting.

But I signed the check and took her anyway, justifying it by saying that swimming is an important safety skill that she needed to learn as soon as possible. I prepared her a month in advance, telling her exactly what would happen, showing her the videos so she could ask questions about why the kids were crying.  I hoped this would help, and it probably did prevent some major emotional damage.

I won't go into detail about what happened in those 10 minute sessions because frankly, I'm still a little too upset to relive it fully.  Let me just say that it didn't go as I had hoped.  She never had that magical turnaround that I saw on all the youtube videos.  She cried and gulped water all the way up to day 9. After a few days when she realized that the instructor would just ignore her crying, she tried to rationally negotiate with him ("Can I have a rest? How bout just one lap? Can I try back stroke instead? Can I swim to mommy?") and was baffled when he ignored her requests, which to her were perfectly reasonable.  In a panic, she often swallowed big gulps of pool water that made her sick.  "Just smile, mom!  Even if she's crying or throwing up, just smile," was the instructor's advice to me.  Ughh.

He kept telling her how to feel and how to interpret the situation.  "Don't cry, you just swam great!"  "You're not scared!"  "Swimming is fun, isn't it?"  But my strong and very emotionally aware toddler  wouldn't let him define her feelings, "No, I'm actually sad.  I want to cry.  I'm scared. I don't like swimming under the water."

I didn't sleep much that 10 days.  I kept waking up in a sweat dreading the next day. Why did I keep coming day after day?  Am I stupid, masochistic, sadistic?  No. The instructor played upon my anxieties of water safety, and assured me that she, just like the other 3000 kids he had instructed, would be a happy swimmer by the end. It would all be worth it, but we had to finish what we started. I let him interpret the situation for me, and suppressed my own motherly instinct.  I was determined to finish that 10 days to at least give her closure.  Weirdly, she would say things after class like, "I miss the teacher," and "I swam great!", which made me believe she was handling it ok. I never had to drag her to class, but she did confide in me in the car on the way how nervous and scared she was.  I thought that by talking it out and reassuring her that the teacher would keep her safe, I was doing enough to protect her.

Sure enough, all the other kids I witnessed in the class did have that turnaround early on.  I watched, sunglasses hiding my tears of envy, as the kids jumped into the pool on their own volition, and happily swam the length of the pool.  Why wasn't this happening for my daughter?  What was wrong with us?

Thankfully, on the last day, when I was allowed into the pool to help coach her, she did a lot better. She even smiled some, and didn't swallow any water.  She made some jokes with the teacher and even pretended to be a frog.  She can indeed swim about 10 feet on her own, which I realize is amazing for a 3 year old.  After it was all over, the teacher once again tried to define the situation for us.  "Wasn't it worth it mom?  Some crying and spitting up pool water is nothing compared to being in a hospital on a ventilator, or worse- a coffin- if she ever fell into a pool. You should be so happy."  I shook hands, feeling manipulated, conflicted, and anything but happy.  I prepared to do a big debriefing session for my child (plus I scheduled a session with my therapist for myself!)

Thank goodness my child does not appear to be traumatized.  We went swimming the other day and she did great in the water, although declared that she still feels scared to dunk her head in.  I do believe his method "works", but at what cost?  I still have so many mixed emotions about it.  My therapist, after listening to me cry for an hour, suggested that even though Sisi didn't appear to be traumatized, probably in part because of our open communication and the fact that she did trust me all along, I appear to be very traumatized.  I have to agree.

After the Pesto incident and the swimming nightmare, I do hope I have finally learned my lesson.  Stick to my parenting philosophy, even if the "experts" tell me not to.  If my child is trusting me, I better trust myself.


Paleo and Pregnant?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Edit:  I wrote this 2 months ago, but am just posting it now!

fresh caught seafood in Mexico.  
paleo crab cakes, salmon and sushi!
me, 7 months preggers with Sisi. picture by Trista Lerit Photography.

As I write this, I'm 8 weeks pregnant and dying to vent a little bit! I know this won't be posted for at least another month or two because we are being extra secretive about this pregnancy, but I needed to get these words out.

I'm writing to say that being pregnant and paleo is extremely hard.  For me, it's been impossible.  I consider myself pretty disciplined when it comes to food.  I've been mostly paleo for almost 3 years and plan on sticking with it for the rest of my life. I love the way I feel on this diet and don't want to go back to the bloated, sluggish feeling I was so used to before.  BUT between nausea, hypersensitive gag reflex, and the most intense food aversions ever, my standard fare of eggs, meat, salads, veggies, and protein shakes is just not gonna happen right now.  Just typing out those words makes my stomach turn.

For those who have never experienced food aversions, let me just say there is no way to just buck up and overcome them.  This article says it shouldn't be called food aversion, it should be called "food aww hell no!!!"   

My aversions change daily, but right now these are the things that make me want to vomit:
  • any herbs and spices (especially basil and cumin!  yuck!)
  • cooking oil (especially coconut!)
  • fish, shrimp, and most meat, including bacon
  • red wine, even the faintest smell of it
  • coffee, chocolate, cocoa butter
  • coconut milk and coconut anything
  • eggs 
  • cooked veggies 
  • sweet potatoes and squash
  • salad, especially kale salad 
  • anything I cook myself 
  • sweets and paleo pastries
What does that leave me with?  Not much.  

I'm trying so hard to stick to two mostly paleo meals a day.  I make a breakfast smoothie with fruit, heavy  cream, and raw egg yolks so I'll at least start the day off with some fat and nutrients.  I end the day with a paleo dinner (relying a lot on tuna salad and Paleo-on-the-go frozen meals, although sometimes I really have to force them down.)  I take breaks on the couch if I'm feeling nauseous while I eat, and then return to try to eat a little bit more.  

But for lunch, I'm usually starving and desperate.   I can't stand my own cooking, so I eat out.  I find that if someone else makes it, I don't have time to get grossed out.  I order it, it appears before me, and I chow it down without thinking about it too much. One time it was just chipotle chips with guacamole. Another time in-n-out protein burger and fries.  Some days I crave rubios grilled fish tacos. Thai soup with a big mound of rice.  Sushi rolls.  On really bad days, I 've had to resort to gluten-free bagels (the ingredient list is filled with processed crap), rice crackers and gluten free bread.  Something about early pregnancy just makes you want bland carbs.  When I carried Sisi, I lived on mini-pretzels.  

I am trying really hard not to be too liberal with my eating.  Pregnancy is a precious time when you are setting the foundation for your child's lifelong health.  But at the same time, I honestly believe food aversions cannot just be ignored.  For me right now, telling me to eat salmon is like telling me to eat poo on a plate.  It's just not going to happen.  I probably sound annoying and dramatic right now, but the first trimester (and for some unfortunate mamas the whole pregnancy) can feel intensely awful. Getting enough to eat becomes this big burden.  Sometimes I lie in bed in the morning and dread the day because I know I have to eat but don't want to.

My advice to pregnant gals trying to stick to the paleo diet:

  •  Be gentle with yourself.  Know that the food aversions will probably pass, and you will eventually want healthy food again.  Please don't feel guilty if you have to reach for something you normally wouldn't eat.  
  • That nauseous feeling is made much worse by an empty stomach, so you do want to get something in your belly. 
  • At the same time, do try to stick to your diet as much as possible.  If you already know you don't do well on gluten or dairy, try not to go there.  It's not worth making yourself sick or inflammed. 
  • Most pregnant ladies are okay with fruity smoothies, so try to pump them up nutritionally with high quality whey protein powder, or egg yolks, or MCT/coconut oil, avocados, greens, whatever you can handle.  You basically have to sneak it in, plug your nose, and gulp it down.  
  • My husband is way stricter with his diet than I am with mine, and I could tell it made him uncomfortable to see things like bagels and bread in the fridge.  It did hurt my feelings at first when he seemed so disapproving, but communication is the key.  I sent him this article explaining in detail what a food aversion feels like, and tried my best to explain what I was going through.  After that, he kept pretty quiet about it.  
  • This article has some more really great tips about surviving food aversions! 
UPDATE:  I'm 16 weeks now, and am back to the paleo diet.  I think I'm one of the lucky ones, because my aversions and nausea went away at about 10 weeks, never to return.  I feel almost silly for agonizing over the fact that I couldn't stick to the paleo diet that first tri.  I was so worried that I'd ruined 3 years of careful food consumption in one month, but that wasn't the case.  I woke up one day and eggs and bacon sounded good again.  The next week, I could drink coconut milk in my smoothies and eat roasted veggies for dinner again.  Now, all the things on that aversions list are the things I eat with joy (still don't want coffee though- ick).  

ALSO, IN CASE YOU'RE WORRIED:  You may be wondering if a paleo diet is safe during pregnancy, since it contains so much fat, protein, and so few carbs (here is a basic overview of what paleos eat during pregnancy).  After a ton of research (this book is great!), 3 years of glowing health on the diet, plus regular blood tests that reveal my HDL cholesterol is sky high (a good thing), my triglycerides super low (a great thing), and everything else in in tip top shape, I am absolutely sure this is a wonderful way to nourish myself and my growing baby.  I'm getting all that I need, minus all the stuff I don't need.  My midwife agrees with me and suggests the paleo diet to all of her clients!  My Naturapathic Doctor is also on board; she's not paleo, but gluten free/processed food free, so we're basically on the same page.  Feel free to contact me with questions!

bacon crust pizza and arugula salad.


Pin the tail on the Sisi

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

We are all a little dog-obsessed in this family, but Sisi takes the cake! 
Sisi made some artwork for Pesto.

For the last year, Sisi has worn a tail almost every day.  It's the first thing she asks for each morning.  Dude, toddlers take this pretend stuff very seriously.  If we call her any other nickname- bunny boo, little monkey, chickadee, she corrects us, "No, I'm a dog. My name is Kona (or Tinkerbell, or Pesto, depending on the day.)

She likes to place her water bottle by the doggy water bowl so she can drink with them.

She sometimes scratches her head with her feet.

When I comb her hair, she asks me to pretend I'm a dog groomer.  She makes whining sounds and then thoroughly shakes after I'm done.

She only wants to wear pigtails (doggy ears.)

She barks at the mailman.

She eats grass and then pretends to hack it up.

She has adopted my old "Return to Tiffany" necklace as her dog collar.

She pretends her toothbrush is a rawhide.

She insists on doing tricks for her snacks.

She plays fetch with her very own dog toy.

She licks my legs at the most unexpected times.

I want to remember every detail of this phase, even the annoying bits, because I know someday it will pass.  Maybe sooner than we know.  Just the other day, she asked to remove the tail (GASP!) and put on butterfly wings instead.  Then the next day she was back to being a dog.