Monthly Archives: October 2008

October 17, 2008

zoe does europe

Our friends and family are not surprised that at one-year-old our daughter has already traveled more than many adults. With a great-grandmother in London who was anxious to finally meet her first great-grandchild, a trip to England within Zoe’s first year was a given. We decided while we were over there why not make an adventure out of it. So, as a friend of mine put it, at nine-months-old Zoe “did Europe.”

Our first stop was London and of course introducing Zoe to her G.G. Nita for the first time was truly amazing. Of course all Zoe knew was that she was getting lots of attention from a lot of people in London who had been waiting to see her.

We moved on to Vienna where we visited an old friend of mine and her Austrian husband and their 22-month-old son. They live in a house with another family with two small kids and have a steady stream of friends with little children coming and going. Zoe had a blast playing with all of the “older” kids. Best of all we got to see Vienna not only with locals but with local babies. The Vienna zoo and the kiddie pool were not only highlights for Zoe but for us too. As New Yorkers with a baby it was great to see how Austrian babies spend their days.

In Prague we realized some of the limitations that go along with travel with baby. After a long lunch in the main square during which Zoe sat in her stroller for a little too long we attempted to take a tour of the Jewish quarters. I don’t know what we were thinking! No more than five minutes into the two hour tour Zoe made it clear that sitting in her stroller inside a temple with nothing to entertain her other than an old lady telling the history of the Jews in Prague was just not going to happen. We left and gave ourselves the abbreviated version of the tour –basically we walked in and out of a few of the temples and museums.

Considering how young she was, I don’t know how much Zoe got out of the trip. But for her mom and dad this trip was a major step in reclaiming our sense of adventure post-baby. The trip was the proof we were looking for that we can still get out and do the things we love to do –at least many of them. Not only is travel with a baby possible, it was even enjoyable. We plan to continue to take family adventures and know that each year Zoe will take a little bit more from the trip.

Friends with older kids have told us that we lucked out because Zoe was at an age where she happily sat in the stroller –that travel will only get harder (we’ll let you know if this is true later this month when we take her to Costa Rica). But the way I look at it travel was never about easy –staying home is easy. So why not grab the umbrella stroller, throw some diapers (and Daily Tea clothes) in a suitcase and get on that plane!

easy and essential safety measure for your child

Have you ever “lost” you kid? Maybe you haven’t admitted it publicly but it happens to many families. It happened to us at Disneyland last weekend. I was parking the stroller and asked our daughter to hop out and get in line with Dad. A cast member told me I would need to move my stroller to “stroller parking.” I followed a path to stroller parking far removed from the ride which we were waiting. I quickly parked the stroller and did a brisk walked back to the Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland, almost a jog. I was unaware that my daughter had followed me. I returned to the ride with my husband in line. We looked at each other simultaneously saying, “Where is Olivia? I thought she was with you!” Quick expression of panic and we both take off running.

This is the part that saved us. Every time we go to a public place like Disneyland, Del Mar fair, Legoland, Sea World, San Diego Zoo, San Francisco zoo or any of the other places we would never had been found 6 years ago….we take pictures of our daughter on our cell phones. Front, side and back view pictures AT the site. This would allow us to show a picture of her in the outfit she was wearing and the hairstyle she had on the same day if she got separated from us. We always figured if we had a current picture on our cell phones we could easily show it and forward it to others if needed.

And we needed. Within seconds of missing Olivia at Disneyland, I showed the picture to the man who made me move the stroller and he began pointing and saying “Ohhh the little girl with pigtails. She is right there with another cast member!”

Slump of relief.

She did all the right things, found a “manager” and stayed put once she felt she couldn’t find us. But having the picture expedited the situation. Once back at Astro Orbiter, another family asked us if would like our place back in line and confessed they had a stomach ache too from the sympathy pains. I told them how I found Olivia and they immediately took out their cameras and took a picture of their 7 year old. I am sure that will become part of their “public place” routine. I can now personally recommend it to all parents.

a chic state of mind

I never was one to obsess about my style of dress, or for that matter, care if I even matched. My perspective on clothing certainly changed after a trip to Greece. From the picturesque side-streets to the amphitheater, everyone seemed to have a certain air of elegance about them. From time to time I could imagine ancient Greece around me in the very way the Greeks used to simply drape fabric around the human frame. Those ancient garbs certainly had an impact on modern day Greek style. The dresses and skirts that women were wearing seemed to float upon their bodies; the very clothes themselves had a life of their own. It seemed to be infused in the very air. I even got a whiff of it!

While in Greece I purchased an item of a stylish quality that I shall always remember. There was this pair of shoes that distinctly reminded me of the stylish icon Audrey Hepburn. They were these black, ballet inspired, backless shoes with just a hint of heel to entice the wearer. When I wore them walking around the streets of Athens, I felt divine, empowered. They had a certain understated romance about them that I adored. Perhaps it reflects the hint of confidence in Greek clothing that I had observed in the locals, understated, without airs, but decidedly striking at the same time.

It was at this moment that I saw the connection between art and fashion. Just as a painting can have an impact on the viewer, so can a beautifully draped dress or a fabulous pair of shoes have an impact on the wearer. Fashion is a state of mind, reflecting the very thoughts and beliefs of the one who wears a particular style. To obtain clothing from diverse areas of the world is to begin to have an understanding of those areas. Dressing our children in clothing inspired by styles around the world is a wonderful conversation starter about diversity, breaking the stereotype that one particular group of people must dress in a uniform fashion. Perhaps I cannot afford to take my daughter to exotic locations as of yet, but I can certainly bring some of it back with me via Tea Collection.

incorporating diversity

We strive to incorporate diversity into our children’s daily lives. Our family is African-American and we know how easily others can make assumptions about people based upon cultural stereotypes. At the beginning of this year, our children started taking Tae Kwon Do. In addition to going to class twice a week, we teach them about Korean culture with food, books and cultural events. Our little citizens (ages 3 and 6) can now count in Korean and know some basic Korean phrases. They have even attended a traditional wedding.

The wedding included a ceremony during which the couple bowed down to their parents and grandparents to show their respect for their elders. The gesture was a powerful cross-cultural moment and one we explained to our kids. The continuity and value of family in Korean culture and the commitment of younger generations to take care of and respect their elders is an idea we are trying to incorporate into our own family, and where better to see it than in another culture’s ceremony.

The best part of our learning experience as a family so far, is the knowledge that our little citiznes now understand Asian culture is as diverse and varied as American culture and that there are things we can learn if we open our minds to those who appear different from us.

October 10, 2008

a weekend at my parents’ house

A weekend at home with the parents has definitely turned into an interesting concept. My dad is outside in our garden growing eggplant, string beans and bitter melon- the main ingredients for Pinakbet, a traditional Filipino dish. When we’re not eating Filipino food, my mom covers the table with Kimchi, rice, and seaweed- all necessary side dishes for a Korean feast. As a 7 year old, I remember complaining and wondering why we couldn’t have macaroni and cheese like other families? Who would have known that 17 years later I would finally appreciate this unique home my parents created?

As always, my parents add to this home, but this time, they’re adding in a new way. A couple of years ago, my parents opened their home to foster children. For the past 11 months, they have been caring for 7 year old Ben and his 2 year old sister Grace. It’s quite amazing to see how much a child can advance with a stable home and support. I spent this past Saturday listening to my mom and Ben review new words for school- spelling the words out and reading out loud to display comprehension. She tells me the Foster Agency expresses such gratitude- they notice an immense improvement in Ben’s education. My mom’s secret? “I spend three hours a day helping him with homework and then one day each weekend- he is finally starting to catch up where he needs to be… it takes time.”

What my parents are doing is not an easy thing… initially I also had such a difficult time with their decision to become foster parents. Now, it only seems natural. I am thankful for my parents- they have truly raised me to be a citizen of this world and now hopefully will be doing the same for others.

forging curiosity

Schmiedetag forgeLate summer brings with it the beginning of the Fest season for Germany. Though most are familiar with larger gatherings like Munich’s Oktoberfest and Bad Dürkheimer’s Wurstmarkt, it’s the smaller festivals that happen weekly throughout August, September and October that are great for kids. Across the country, there are dozens of festivals where you can avoid the crowds, learn more about local history and participate in more family-friendly celebrating. For example, every year in the small agricultural where we live, they have a weekend festival called Schmiedetag. The literal translation is “forge day,” and, historically, it was a village market day each August. On Schmiedetag, local farmers would congregate in town to sell berries and summer produce. They’d get together to organize and prepare for the coming harvest. And an important part of that organization was a trip to the forge, where horses could be shod en masse before fall’s hardest work began.

Today, Schmiedetag, is all that and more. It’s a market that sells local handicrafts and produce. It’s a forum for local artists to show their work. It’s a place to taste regional beers and wine. It’s a place where the local children perform a play about the town’s centuries-old traditions. And yes, it’s an excuse to have a big party. But mainly, it is a great opportunity for kids to learn about feudal Germany.

My son loved a visit to the old (and still operational) forge in town, where he sat rapt with attention as blacksmiths demonstrated not only how to shoe horses, but fashion metal tools and modern sculptures. A beekeeper brought not only fresh honey but a live hive. And for a three-year-old, we learned firsthand that my kid is a pretty good basket weaver. These fests offer the opportunity for kids to not only try their hand at the old crafts and skills that were necessary for survival hundreds of years ago but also puts them in their proper historical context in a really fun way.

Whether my son will still show prowess at basket weaving past the toddler years, I don’t know. But I do believe that the curiosity and the desire to try something hands-on that come with an event like Schmiedetag will stay with him for a long time to come.

October 7, 2008

i believe in compost

The February morning that my water broke, signaling the two-week early arrival of my daughter, Lauren, I wasn’t resting on the couch as the delivery room nurse had suggested, or taking a moment to practice my breathing technique for the labor ahead. Rather, I was restless in my backyard tending to my original baby: my compost pile.

Really.

Sure you could call it a hormonal pregnant woman’s wild nesting instinct at work, but composting is a habit for me and on this day– the day I was to give birth– was no different.

I believe in compost, that organic wonder that makes a garden’s ecosystem sing by boosting the soil’s fertility, enriching it with needed nutrients, and helping it to retain the moisture for growing roots.

Sure, composting allows me and other green-minded gardening types to dispose of household biodegradable waste in an environmentally conscious way. But for me, my pile always has been so much more. Composting lets me create something out of seeming nothingness; something organic, sweet-smelling, and of the earth. It makes me feel productive. And in a way, it has always satisfied my need to nurture long before Lauren arrived.

My husband, Jim, naturally thought me crazy when I told him where he could find me awaiting my ride to the hospital. He laughed even harder when I threatened to deliver our daughter out at the compost bin if he didn’t hustle.

Now, fast forward three years, Lauren is my constant companion and my composting prodigy so to speak. Together we head out to the compost bin hand-in-hand for the weekly turning, a long handled shovel resting over my shoulder. My compost pile is housed simply in a black, bottomless, lidded plastic bin that keeps neighborhood critters out while allowing essential heat to build thereby speeding the decomposition process along. As always, when I open the bin’s lid, I am awed at the handiwork of the hundreds (or is it thousands?) of worms, bugs, nematodes, and microbes who have replaced last week’s scraps with the dark earth that will soon dress my garden. I am just the lowly servant that feeds, turns, and aerates the pile while trying to keep in happy balance the ratio of nitrogen to carbon.

“Yucky,” my princess-obsessed, tutu-wearing toddler proclaims but then lurches forward on tiptoes so that her head clears the bin’s highest tier for a better look. I dig in, incorporating my eggshells, coffee grounds, vegetable peelings, and yard leaves. When Lauren believes she spots Slimey, Oscar the Grouch’s earthworm companion, nose-diving deeper into the rich blackness, she gleefully giggles. It’s then that I know that the compost bug has bitten her too.

The pile lets me know instantly when things aren’t right. Too many green, nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps and an unmistakable sour smell emanates; too many brown carbon-rich leaves and pine needles and the pile composts glacially. Thankfully, the pile is forgiving, and with a little tweaking and an occasional squirt of water from the garden hose, the pile chugs along once more.

Now Lauren makes demands as she shoves into my hand the remnants of an afternoon snack — be it banana peel, apple core, or plastic mozzarella cheese stick wrapper. “Mom, compost this!” she says and I can’t help but smile. Lauren knows that it’s Mom’s compost that helped produce the sweetest cherry tomatoes that she plucked all summer long like candy. She gets that composting is a good thing. And she, like me, wants to do her part.

As I stand here with Lauren, does she realize that she was this close to being delivered at the compost pile? No matter. The compost pile is where I can pass along my love of gardening and my desire to replenish a better earth for my daughter with her at my side. It also serves as a valuable backyard lesson on the cycle of life and how living things eventually turn back to their essential properties. As I see everyday with my daughter, magic can happen with just a little caring and attention and it is the same in my backyard garden. One compost pile does and will make a difference.