Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bath time

Bathing is one of my favorite daily rituals.  Most days Mayumi and I take a bath together before we get ready for bed, and it is one of those activities that helps us to unwind, relax, and bond.  Who doesn't love a long, hot bath at the end of the day?  When we were in Japan one of our favorite outings was to go to the public bath house where one can enjoy the abundant hot springs and the communal act of bathing together.  Sound strange?  Maybe to a westerner, but in Japan and other countries around the world, not only is it normal, but it is an integral part of many familial and friendly relationships.  You get nekkid with the people you love!

I recently discovered an Asian-style bath house just outside the city.  It is called Spa World and Mayumi and I went there last night.  We stripped down in the locker room with dozens of other women and headed to the shower stalls to sudsy up.  We washed each other's hair and got ourselves squeaky clean before heading into the various hot tubs.  I was worried because most of the tubs were too hot for children, but they had one little tub specifically for kids that was kept at about 79 degrees.  Mayumi loved it.  She made friends with a five year-old Korean girl and they just talked and splashed around for about an hour while I enjoyed the jet massage and hot tub. 

Besides loving the hydro-therapy, I loved that Mayumi was being exposed to women's bodies of every size, shape, age and color as if it were the most natural thing in the world (because it is!).  Some of my American friends have worried that they would feel to self-conscious in such a setting, but for me it is the complete opposite; I feel so comfortable and un-concerned about my body.  I am reminded of what "normal" is and that those unattainable bodies that we are bombarded with on TV, magazines, and other media are not necessarily what we should be striving for as women.  The public bath house is such a beautiful, peaceful place and I was so happy to share the experience with my daughter.

After our bath we got dressed and enjoyed dinner in the spa's restaurant.  Once we had leisurely eaten, we headed back to the bath for round 2.  We left around 8pm and Mayumi immediately fell asleep on the ride home.  It was the perfect way to spend an evening.  I kind of want to do this more often, so... if you're ever in the area and want to join us, we'd love an excuse to go back!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

3 Things: Books That Have Rocked My World

When I say "rocked my world" what I mean is that they had such an impact on me that I consciously made some major changes in my life because of them.  I think they've made me a better mama and a more conscientious human being,  I've stuck to non-fiction here (otherwise I could never narrow it down to three!) and avoided religious texts (scripture is a different thing altogether), so here goes:

I have to admit I am not quite finished this one, yet, but already I am begging my husband to read it and to consider quitting his job and moving to a farm to live off the land with me.  Okay, I actually don't really want to move from our lovely little rowhouse in the city because I love it here.  But I am doing some major soul-searching and reconsidering of my role in our extractive consumer culture.  I am convinced now that a consumer economy is NOT the best thing for this country or for its families and I am re-dedicated to urban homesteading and trying to be a productive household.  It starts with our little front yard vegetable garden and our elementary forays into canning and on my to-do list: start sprouting, fermenting and learning about top-bar bee-keeping.  But not only that, I am trying to review every single one of my purchases to see if there is anyway I can do without, get it second-hand, or barter for it.  Why?  It's not just about homemaking, it is about reclaiming our true purpose here.  It's about focusing on the most important things: working with and strengthening your family, re-establishing meaningful community relationships, nurturing the creative spirit, and avoiding the distracting and anesthetizing affects of materialism.  You NEED to read this book.  If anything, it is thought-provoking, but I posit that it is life-changing.

2. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Have I praised this book enough?  Michael Pollan breaks down our American food culture and re-enforced my decisions to eat organically-grown, local produce, grass-fed, free-range meats, and home-cooked (homegrown, if possible) meals.  I must admit that this book didn't necessarily change my life, since I've been essentially striving to eat this way for years, but it distilled all this interesting, amazing information about why it is so important to do so.  Even my dad, lover of SPAM and fast food and cheeze whiz, read this book and grudgingly admitted that it was interesting (though I believe it failed to convince him to abandon his naughty food habits).  I firmly believe this is information everyone should have, and then they can make their food choices accordingly.

3. Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto
I am a product of public education and I was a little skeptical when my friend Ginger thrust this book into my hands, urging me to read it (she also did that with Radical Homemakers, but by then I had learned to trust her recommendations).  In this collection of essays from an award-winning teacher in the New York City public school system, I learned about how our education system is set up more to train robots to conform to corporate needs (like cogs in a machine) than to encourage true, internalized learning.  He points out how the curriculum is imposed on students, with no regards for their individual strengths, interests or needs and how students learn that following directions is more important than thinking critically, and that grades and test scores are more important than knowledge and life-application.  It is the book that essentially convinced me to seriously consider homeschooling my children, and though that is not a realistic option for most people, I think that the information presented in this book would be helpful to any parent navigating the waters of childhood education.

And because I'm a cheater, I have two runners-up.  I won't go into details, but I also highly-recommend these reads to every parent!
Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid Bauer
The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby by William and Martha Sears

And share with us what books have impacted you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meditation: No Regrets

Your past is always going to be the way it was. Stop trying to change it.
Have you ever wished you could go back in time knowing what you know now and change things in your life? I've actually spent hours brooding on this - wishing I could turn back the clock and fix things, or undo mistakes that I made. Of course, it is a futile endeavor, and even harmful isn't it? Regret is a horrible feeling and I'm constantly finding I need to train myself to accepting my past as what has made me who I am today (for better or worse) and focus on the future and how I can make better choices from here on out.

As a parent, though, do you find yourself hovering over your child, wanting her to avoid getting hurt? You don't want her to make the same mistakes you did, right? You don't want her to suffer! But I suppose that is part of living and becoming a wiser, kinder, more empathic human being. She needs to learn things for herself and grow into the person she chooses to be (not who I choose her to be!).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oishii: Tofu and edamame stirfry

I'm not a huge meat-lover, so I sometimes have a hard time getting enough protein. One reason I love this dish is because while it is vegetarian, it is packed with protein power foods: tofu and soybeans. This is based off a Test Kitchen recipe, but I've added my own little twists. And you can add yours (that's the great thing about stirfries!).

Tofu and Edamame Stirfry:
1 14-oz package extra-firm tofu, patted dry and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I find the smaller the cubes, the easier to fry without them falling apart)
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 c. matchstick carrots
1 1/2 c. edamame beans
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tbsp. grated fresh ginger

Orange-Sesame Sauce:
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tsp. cornstarch

1. Toss tofu with soy sauce. Heat 2 tsp. of oil over high heat, add tofu and cook until lightly browned. Remove tofu from pan.

2. Add another tbsp. of oil to pan, return to high heat. Add carrots and edamame and cook for about five minutes so carrots are slightly crisp.

3. In center of pan, add remaining 1 tsp. oil, garlic and ginger and cook for about 30 seconds. Add tofu and orange-sesame sauce. Cook for a few minutes until sauce thickens. Serve over sticky rice. Eat and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

VBACs are back

Somehow I missed the news that back in July, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued new guidelines on vaginal birth after cesarean sections, or VBAC. According to ACOG:

"Attempting a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) is a safe and appropriate choice for most women who have had a prior cesarean delivery, including for some women who have had two previous cesareans."

This is great news. Why? Many doctors have long used fear of uterine rupture and other serious complications to sway mothers into electing for C-sections a second (or more) time(s). But ACOG admits uterine rupture happens in only about one-half of one-percent of VBACs. 

It's also great news because vaginal births are better for mom, as outlined by ACOG:

"A VBAC avoids major abdominal surgery, lowers a woman's risk of hemorrhage and infection, and shortens postpartum recovery. It may also help women avoid the possible future risks of having multiple cesareans such as hysterectomy, bowel and bladder injury, transfusion, infection, and abnormal placenta conditions (placenta previa and placenta accreta)."

Vaginal births are also good for baby, as they allow immediate bonding and breastfeeding time with mother. 

So if you've had a C-section and are considering a VBAC, know that they are officially safe and be sure to find a birthing professional who will support you in achieving your goals. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Meditation: Life is Tough

Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.
~Marie Curie
I'm inspired by strong, intelligent women, like Marie Curie. I often need to be reminded that life is not easy for any of us.  Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself or whenever I find myself making unfair judgments and assumptions about other people, I try to remember that everyone is suffering somehow.  We're all just trying our best to survive and find some happiness in this life.  When I focus, instead, on my blessings and all the good stuff then I'm able to muster the strength to persevere.  The confidence part, I'm still working on...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lunch Appeal

My little one seems eons away from being in school (although it will probably come quicker than I can imagine right now) but I hope that I can be as ambitious and creative in preparing her school lunches as this mom.

Just take a look at her fantastic blog, Another Lunch. How adorable is that!? The food itself is actually pretty simple but the presentation of it is fantastic.

I guess that I could start practicing at home using muffin tins like this other blogger, Muffin Tin Mom. My once "good eater" baby is turning into a "picky eater" toddler. But who wouldn't want to eat food presented in such a way?

The rational side of me may have thought at one time that it was a waste of time to make a meal cute. But the wiser adult (and mother) in me can see that food represents so much more than just the function of obtaining calories; it creates memories.

And the aesthetic appeal of food is incredibly important. I think that we all can appreciate when food looks really, really good, whether at a restaurant or at home or in a picture from a blog or magazine. But for those whose practical side always win, think of it this way: the practicality in taking the time to make your food more aesthetically appealing would result in your picky little ones actually eating the food you prepared!

I also love that for the school lunches, using a bento box (or similar container) reduces the waste of using ziploc bags or washing a million little containers. So there are so many pros to all this - you can have the control to provide nutritious meals to your children, made with love and creativity ('cause seriously, you would be the most awesome mom or dad if you did this) all while reducing waste. I guess the only con is that it takes up a little extra time in your day.

But aren't these little ones worth it!?

I totally remember the wonderful lunches that my mom used to make for me all the way through high school - always with a sandwich (with the lettuce, tomato, and avocado wrapped separately so as not to make the bread soggy), fruit (always peeled or cut up for easy eating), veggie, and some treat. My friends would actually be envious and when my mom found out, she made an extra lunch for one of my best friends so that she could enjoy it too!

I guess I better start investing in some cookie cutters!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oishii: Veggie quesadillas

I love quesadillas. They are easy, cheesy goodness. And these are no exception. But instead of using meat, they call for veggie burgers. Any brand, any flavor will do. I used four Boca Burger patties and mixed with three bell peppers (red, yellow and orange), a third of an onion, 1/2 cup of Pepper Jack cheese, 1 cup of Monterey-Jack cheese and 1 cup of salsa. (But really, you can put anything you want in them. I suppose beans, corn or avocado would be good additions, too.)

I just mixed the ingredients together, filled whole wheat tortillas and heated (sauteed? fried?) in a frying pan with butter. It really doesn't get any easier, people. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Just one of them days...

Last Friday was a bit of a mess.  I kept thinking about Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and that I was having one of those days, too. 

It all started with a trip to the doctor's office.  No one likes to be poked and have blood drawn, especially first thing in the morning, but there you have it, that's how I started my day.

Afterwards, even though I was not feeling well, I decided to walk from the doctor's office to the Einstein Memorial at the National Academy of Sciences.  I snapped some photos of Mayumi playing on the statue and then decided to walk to the Metro via the National Mall.

I was sore and tired, so I had to stop to rest by the duck pond where Mayumi and I had a snack and admired the mallards.  We continued on slowly towards the Washington Monument. Despite how I was feeling, it was a beautiful day and I decided to snap some more photos of Mayumi against the backdrop of the memorials.  I started searching through the stroller to find the camera.

Have you noticed that there are no photos to accompany this post?

"Where is the camera?" I grumbled to myself.

Mayumi looked at me happily and announced, "I took it out."

I stopped cold in my tracks.  Did I mention that I was already feeling pretty awful? Now I had to stop myself from losing my patience.  "Where did you put it, Mai?"

"I hung it on the bench."

I hobbled back to the duck pond (it felt like it had taken forever to get to where I was and now to have to turn back?!).  No camera.  I stopped at the concession stand - "Has anyone turned in a camera this morning?" 

No.  Tried at the Information Kiosk at the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial.  No luck.  The Information Desk at the Lincoln Memorial.  Nope.  At the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  Nothing.

I fought back tears as I retraced my steps back to the Metro, trying not to think about how this is the THIRD camera I have lost in my lifetime (the other two are a story for another time).  I endured the train ride, just wanting to get home to crawl into bed, feel sorry for myself and sleep. 

But guess what happened when I got to my front door?

I had forgotten to bring my house keys with me.

I still did not cry.  I called Mr. Q and let him know I was hopping back on the Metro and meeting him at his office to pick up his set of keys.  He did not chastize.  Instead he took me to his work cafeteria and fed us (by this time it was two and we hadn't eaten lunch yet).  Then he took the rest of the day off and escorted us home.

It had been a crummy day.  But you know what?  It could've been worse.  And at least I finally got to go to bed...

But alas, my camera is gone, despite multiple phone calls to the Park Police.  Mr. Q suggests that maybe for Christmas we'll be able to get a new one.  So until then, dear, sympathetic readers, forgive the lack of  photos!

Friday, September 10, 2010

{this moment}

A Friday ritual (inspired by soulemama). A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Playful weekending to you all!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

And the winner of our Aveda giveaway is...

Comment #9: Katie!

Katie said...
I'm now a follower!
September 1, 2010 7:05 PM
Congratulations Katie! I'll get you your product soon!

Oishii: Washoku & the Five Principles

I recently borrowed this wonderful book from the library: Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Kitchen by Elizabeth Andoh and I think that this may have to be one I invest in for my own cookbook collection.  Besides the incredible recipes, Andoh explains the philosophy and aesthetic behind the cooking.  Washoku is how the Japanese refer to their own cuisine (as opposed to western-style food), and it literally translates as "the harmony of food." In traditional Japanese cooking there are is a "set of five principles that describe how to achieve nutritional balane and aesthetic harmony at mealtime."  Over the next five weeks, I plan to explore these principles and share what I'm learning.  Please join me in this adventure!

Every meal should include foods that are red, yellow, green, black and white.  This makes sense nutritionally, as we know that the more colorful fruits and vegetables tend to be the most nutritious.  Aesthetically, this also makes for a beautiful (and delicious-looking) presentation. Ever since I read about this concept in Andoh's book, I've been more mindful about the balance of colors in the meals I make.  She points out that this is something that works in all cuisine, not just Japanese cooking.

Let me know your thoughts and how this element is reflected in your own culinary endeavors!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Garden Joys and Woes

Gardening in the city has been a learning experience - lots of trial and error.  With little space in our urban neighborhood, I've had to build raised beds in my front yard.  I've tried to make it pretty with flowers, trees, and shrubs, but there's no hiding the fact that we're urban homesteading here.

I may have been a bit zealous in my planting; we've tried everything from radishes, peas and arugula to bell peppers, Japanese cucumbers, all sorts of tomatoes and even a renegade cantaloupe that must've grown from seeds in the compost.  Some things have grown well (like the cantaloupe) and others, not so much (partly due to guerilla squirrels that steal every almost-ripe tomato).

We recently had a rainbarrel installed - not the most beautiful feature of our front yard but I figure that I can find some big shrub or viney-type thing to camouflage it...

I've also taken over the tree box on our front sidewalk.  It's a bit haphazard now, but I'm contemplating planting a fig tree there next spring...

The best part is doing all of this with my little gardening hand:

It truly is a learning process.  Plans for next year include planting some dwarf fruit trees, a row of raspberry bushes and maybe even some more corn (we got three ears this year before the squirrels decimated my stalks).  Some books I'm devouring right now: Fresh Food from Small Spaces by RJ Ruppenthal, Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman, and The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen.  It has been a wonderful obsession for me this year - I'm a bit addicted to the effort of provident living.  Though we have a few setbacks, it is so empowering and satisfying!
Let me know how your garden is growing! 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Meditation: Mental Cleansing

The minds of people are so cluttered up with everyday living these days that they don’t, or won’t, take time out for a little prayer–-for mental cleansing, just as they take a bath for a physical, outer cleaning. Both are necessary.
~Jo Ann Carlson
This quote made me pause and realize that it is true; I would never go a day without taking a shower, but I often forget (or stubbornly refuse to) pray and/or meditate.  On NPR the other day Diane Rehm interviewed Dr. Herbert Benson about the power of the mind over the body and the important role prayer and meditation play in healing.  I think this is one of the reasons I gravitate toward yoga - I crave the integration between physical, mental, and spiritual development and after every single practice, I feel stronger and cleaner and rejuvenated. 

Like you, I'm always running around, trying to get as much accomplished as I can.  I feel extra pressure as a stay-at-home mom to prove I am being productive (even if it is only to myself).  But what is the point if I am running myself ragged and catching myself losing my patience with my daughter?  Mental cleansing is a must, and if I must constantly be analysing the to-do list in my head, the least I can do is put "prayer and meditation" at the top of it.  How do you cleanse your mental faculties and find peace?

Friday, September 3, 2010

{this moment}

a friday ritual (inspired by soulemama). a single photo capturing a moment from the week. a simple, special, extraordinary moment. a moment to pause, savor and remember. if you're inspired to do the same, share a link to your 'moment' in the comments!

wishing you a lovely weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Oishii: Enjoying the Harvest

Last week we did some blackberry and raspberry picking at a local farm (and picked up some other fresh produce as well!). 

Besides eating as many fresh berries as we could squeeze into our bellies, we made some treats:

Summer fruit crostata from a Barefoot Contessa cookbook.  Plums, peaches and blackberries... and lots of butter and sugar!

Blackberry and peach preserves.

Some kind of raspberry almond braided pastry and, because I had extra dough, some brioche with chocolate ganache just for kicks.
My kitchen has been busy and full of enticing aromas.  Hope yours has been as well, and if not, stop by my place for some treats!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September Giveaway: Aveda Color Conserve Hair Treatment

If you don't live near Azalea Spa and Salon in Pleasant Grove, Utah, you are missing out. The Aveda salon offers facial and body treatments, hair cutting and styling, hair removal and more, all using products from raw, organic and sustainable pure flower and plant essence. I have personally used Azalea for haircuts, massages and pedicures, and I've been more than pleased with the results.

Now you have a chance to experience a small piece of the spa with an Aveda Color Conserve hair treatment package, including shampoo, conditioner and strengthening treatment, valued at $56.

The three products work awesome together on colored hair. The shampoo is plant-infused with 100% organic aroma, while the conditioner seals hair cuticles to help lock in color and shine. Both do what harsh cleansers can't do: resist fading and keep hair color vibrant longer. The strengthening treatment uses sunflower and macadamia nut oils to seal the cuticle to illuminate color with reflective shine, strengthening hair from the inside out. It's also infused with naturally-derived sunscreens to help protect color-treated hair from UVA/UVB fading. Each product is approximately 250 ml. 

To enter to win this great package, just leave a comment letting us know you'd like to participate. For another chance to win, become a follower (or let us know if you are already a loyal follower) and leave a separate comment letting us know. This giveaway will end on Wednesday, September 8 at midnight, so leave your comment before then.

And for you locals, check out Azalea's Facebook page. They are always running awesome specials!

Thanks Azalea for sponsoring this month's giveaway!