Category Archives: We Love…

March 13, 2009

bento box: a new way to bring lunch

Courtesy of Happy Home Baking

Ditch the bags and go for a box. I’m not talking about your regular American lunch box. The bento box is an option that kids will love for its unique style and cool factor. Your kid doesn’t have to be Asian to carry one either. I know you’re use to eating sushi and teriyaki out of restaurant bento boxes, but sandwiches and veggies work in them too. Each compartment will keep sandwiches, fruit, and cookie in their spot without the use of Ziploc bags. What an easy way to go green!

Bento boxes are a common way to eat lunch around Japan whether in school, on transit, or on a family picnic. Most boxes are beautifully lacquered while others are printed with popular Anime characters.

You can also wrap a furoshiki (pretty small cloth) around the box that can act as a place mat or napkin too.

Where to get a box:

Lunchboxes.com

Cooking for Monkeys.com

Any Sanrio Store

palaces and playgrounds

Does it get more difficult to travel with kids as they get older? Are there certain ages that are more difficult to travel with than others? How much more difficult will it be to travel with two kids than with one? Since our first fabulous trip to Europe with a then 9-month-old Zoe (which I blogged about here several months ago) we have been asking ourselves all of these questions. On that trip some friends told us that we should enjoy it while it lasts because once she started walking she’d no longer be happy to go along with our activities and travel would become much more difficult. But we haven’t found this to be the case. We’ve found it nothing but pleasant to travel with our now 18-month-old. Now people are telling us that our travels will end this summer when we add another little one to our family. Yes there have been challenges (mainly the flights and the time changes!) but overall we look forward to more trips with Zoe this summer and after that with Zoe and her sibling.

Zoe’s second trip to London was a success. We all had a fantastic time. The main purpose of our trip was to go to a wedding but we also got in a lot of time with Zoe’s Great-Grandma Nita, saw lots of other family and had a lot of fun around London and some great dinners out. There is a lot to be said for traveling East with a baby -she didn’t get cranky at our 8pm dinners because to her it felt early and I got to sleep late for the first time in nearly 18 months!

For our last day in London we had gorgeous weather. It was in the 60s and sunny. We started the day at Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards because this is one of my greatest memories of trips to London as a kid (granted I was a little older than 17 months so we’ll have to take her back in a few years). After the guards we went to St. James Park which was absolutely gorgeous. We found a great playground which Zoe thoroughly enjoyed.

At Trafalgar square we took a replica of the picture we took last year of Zoe held up in the air with her belly exposed. We saw a great Picasso exibit at the National Gallery which Zoe napped through. One of the great things about traveling to a city with a baby that still needs sleep during the day is that we never had to worry about how to get this sleep in -we just went to a museum or other activity that she wouldn’t mind missing while she slept in the stroller. When we took Zoe to Costa Rica we spent a lot of time in the hotel rooms while she napped and her naps often dictated our day’s activities.

I often hear that kids don’t usually eat as well while traveling as when they are home. We have definitely found this to be the case. I have wondered why Zoe doesn’t seem to eat much on our trips since we always find her favorite foods and she eats well in restaurants at home. I just try to remember that kids will always supposedly eat enough to get the very minimum of nutrients that they need. The only meal Zoe actually ate on the entire trip was at The Rock and Sole Plaice which is the oldest fish and chips restaurant in London. We couldn’t blame her as it was excellent!

The next day we headed out to Waddesdon where the wedding was. The wedding was beautiful. It was in the dairy at the Waddesdon manor which is an amazing house built in the late 19th century for the Rothchilds. In England it seems to be pretty common to bring kids to weddings and Zoe had a great time playing with her cousins and soaking up lots of attention at the wedding. For me it was a bit exhausting running after her in heels and I prefer the New York way of hiring a sitter when going to a formal event!

Stay tuned as we find out if travel gets more difficult over the years.

February 27, 2009

wabi sabi

cover to book Wabi SabiWabi sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that is really more of a feeling than just an expression or description. It is beauty that is simple, unrefined, natural, ephemeral. It is the feeling you have when you find a leaf in fall that is shades of red and orange and yellow and maybe even has a little hole edged in brown; or holding a piece of handmade pottery in your hand and taking that first sip of warm tea in the morning that stirs your senses and warms your soul; or when you look out and see in the distance a peaceful gray mountain with a foggy mist clinging to the top and hear unseen geese honking. Many of tea’s designs evoke a sense of wabi sabi. That is probably one of the reasons I was initially drawn to tea clothing for my son. I appreciated the colors, softness and straight-forward designs that are uniquely tea and uncommon in the world of children’s clothing.

On a recent trip to our local, very rural library, I unexpectedly discovered a children’s picture book called Wabi Sabi written by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young. In the story, a cat named Wabi Sabi tries to find out the meaning of her name. She asks all her friends what wabi sabi means, and then she ventures out further in the world to find someone who can explain the meaning. Everyone she asks replies “That is very difficult” and gives her a tiny piece of the answer in the form of a haiku. She finally discovers the meaning of wabi sabi by experiencing it. And in reading the story you and your child will do the same.

The book has beautiful art collages. Each page has a haiku in haibun form (a short prose passage sets up the haiku). Japanese calligraphy is written in the margins. These are actually haiku that are translated in the back of the book. This is not your ordinary children’s book. But nevertheless, my almost 3-year old was completely absorbed as I read haiku after haiku. Sometimes I mistakenly believe that complex thoughts and art are beyond my toddler. But really I think if we as adults could appreciate art and words like a toddler must, we might have an unanticipated deep understanding of truth. That is, in one sense, the beauty of wabi sabi.

super baby food recommendation

Back in the days when there was just my husband and I, we took turns with “cooking” dinner and by “cooking” dinner I mean walking to the kitchen drawer where we keep the take-out menus. “I’m cooking tonight. Do you want Thai food?”

Nothing like a baby to make you behave in oh so many ways. Luckily for baby Olivia, our granola-Berkeley friends sent over an amazing book called Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. Initially I flipped through it and it looked too complicated and utterly impossible to follow so I put it aside. Somewhere along the line I picked it up again for a quick reference. Our pediatrician told us that she was not getting enough iron so I referenced “the book” and found good food sources. I then found useful information after more useful information. This book is like having an elder at your fingertips. It is chock full of knowledge which ranges from how much should your baby eat, what should a 5 month old eat, a crash course in nutrition, play ideas, homemade silly putty and toddler (and grown-up) recipes…to name a few. Tonight I pulled out “the book” because I couldn’t remember how long to microwave corn on the cob while in the husk. Viola. 3 minutes and turn halfway through. Today, Yaron’s food index is the most valuable part of the book for me at this point in my 5 year olds life.

In the end, I never bought baby food from the store. I followed Yaron’s suggestions to puree, pour into ice cube trays and freeze. It was easy, it felt good and I saved money.

February 19, 2009

the imaginary book

My son, Jude, developed a fun (and challenging!) game that involves reading an imaginary story. He holds up an imaginary book (his hand), and his father or I get to make up a story while he turns the imaginary pages. Sometimes we use familiar characters like Thomas the Tank Engine or something he is interested in like dinosaurs, but inspired by Emily Meyer’s post last week about Brazil, I decided to use one of these opportunities to make the “foreign familiar”.

I re-created a story about Barney going shopping with two pals. Barney Goes Shopping isn’t exactly my pick for great children’s literature, but this is currently one of my son’s favorite books mostly because it is an interactive book which asks questions and has a little car at the top that the child drives to each destination.

In my story, I changed the characters to Isadora, Danilo, and Lia (Brazilian names). I described the rich scenery of Brazil including the highland mountains providing a dramatic backdrop for the city and the open-air market or feira. Isadora, Danilo, and Lia shop at various stalls to buy fruits, spices, and pastels (meat and cheese filled turnovers) for a party. We used our fingers to imagine our new friends walking through the narrow paths between stalls that sell all sorts of handmade items, clothes, baskets, and natural medicines.

Of course, this would be easy to do with any culture. And if your child was older you could make the story more elaborate and have them help create the story. An easy way to get started is to pick a story that you know well, you know the one you have read a hundred times, and use that as a starting place like I did. Change the characters’ names to ones that are from another culture, change the scenery to a less familiar part of the world. Insert activities or objects that might be customary for that part of the world. Try to use some words from the language that is spoken by this culture. Ask your child questions as you go through the story to get them to use their imagination and to keep them interested.

Using the imaginary book game to enlighten your child about other cultures will stimulate their imaginations and help them appreciate differences and similarities between their own lives and those of children living in other parts of the world. Believe me it is definitely more fun on my end as a parent, when I can offer an imaginary book as an alternative to the 123rd reading of Barney Goes Shopping!

kid-friendly sf foodie tour

Who says San Francisco is only for DINKS (Double Income No Kids)? For those of us with little ones there’s plenty to eat around town during our staycations. For a low-budget foodie tour, follow the itinerary below, it’s been kid-tested:

Little Saigon, Tenderloin—If you can handle the gritty neighborhood, the Tenderloin is the place to visit for authentic, healthy, and cheap Vietnamese food. For a $2 lunch, stop by Saigon Sandwich (560 Larkin St.) for hearty and fresh banh mi (viet-style baguette sandwich) At dinner time, I highly recommend Pagoloc (655 Larkin St.) Back in the 80’s, only local Vietnamese knew about this delicious family run restaurant. Now everyone will wait in line for a table. Try the seven courses of beef that includes making your own rolls with grilled beef. No worries, there’s plenty of veggie dishes too.

Clement St. (between 2nd and 9th Avenue)—Considered the mini-Chinatown of the City, this charming street is full of good treats minus the tourists. Look for Good Luck Dim Sum (736 Clement St) with all their tasty dumplings and baked goods displayed in the window. Kids will love the coconut buns, sticky rice, and shrimp dumplings. To satisfy a sweet tooth, walk a few blocks and visit Genki’s Crepes at 330 Clement St. The store offers made to order dessert crepes, Japanese snacks and toys, and international drinks.

May’s Coffee Shop, Japantown—Sure you can visit J-Town for sushi, but there’s something sweeter waiting for you. Only locals know about the fresh baked Taiyaki offered at May’s Coffee Shop (1737 Post St). It’s basically a pretty fish shaped waffle filled with sweet azuki bean paste. Hot ones come out every 10 minutes and they sell out before the end of the day.

Joe’s Ice Cream, Inner Richmond.—I grew up around the corner from this classic family owned ice-cream parlor located at 5351 Geary Blvd. It’s complete with hot dogs, grilled cheese, waffle cones, and chocolate covered bananas. Any scoop of ice cream can be hand dipped in chocolate. Joe’s is unpretentious and made for kids. Be sure to take a seat on the stools along the windows and people watch while enjoying a sundae.

February 11, 2009

rock on with alphabet rockers

For urban parents and toddlers who can’t connect with folk singers, you can now wave your hands in the air and dance to kid-inspired music.

A few months ago, I took baby Kai and my niece to watch Alphabet Rockers at La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley. When we walked into the performance area, we noticed that the soulful hip- hop style of a show attracts a very diverse crowd. The group rocked it with a beat boxer, DJ, and two vocalists. The ABC’s and 123’s come alive with groovy beats that gets everyone up from their chair to dance. Don’t miss them on February 15 in Berkeley at Ashkenaz, skip the Baby Einstein DVD and head on over.

detox your toys

Is your house being taken over by giant plastic toys that sing and squeak and talk? Are you worried about mysterious chemicals and potentially toxic paints? Are you curious what it may be like to live without them? Yes, it’s possible! We made a decision to buy only wooden toys made with non-toxic paints and lacquers for Moushumi before she was born. This was prompted by the scary news that even long-trusted companies such as Fisher-Price have had recalls due to lead in recent years.

We have let our friends and family know that we prefer these sorts of toys, sometimes by saying just that, and in other cases more subtly by saying “check out these great toy sites: oompa.com and moolka.com!” Those are great sites for non-toxic toys and there are others as well – you just have to research a bit. A particularly nice feature of these sites is that you can see where the product is made as well as the safety criteria it has met. In fact, both sites have ways for you to actually pick the country of origin. There are Haba and Kathe Kruse from Germany, Vilac from France and Green Toys from right here in the U.S. among lots of other unique brands from around the world.

We also feel like we are making some progress towards being more “green” by using toys made from environmentally friendly materials: wood rather than plastics. For example, one of our favorite companies, Plan Toys, uses only non-toxic materials, recycled and recyclable packaging with soybased inks for printing, synthetic free rubberwood, formaldahyde free glue, and so on.

The wooden toys from these companies address our safety concerns, but they also look great, and never seem to take over the way plastic ones seem to. They often come in modern, chic styles and win awards for design. It’s a far cry from the quaint craft-shop look (nice in its own way, of course) that you might ordinarily associate with wooden toys. Many of the toys are so cool that adults want to play with them, too!

While at the beginning we were a bit daunted by the thought of avoiding ubiquitous plastic toys, it has turned out to be quite easy, and rewarding to do so. We look forward to using these durable and healthy toys for our next child, and even perhaps passing them on to our grandchildren.

January 28, 2009

sweet lullabies

The other day I realized Radiohead is great for babies. I think it’s the combination of Thom Yorke’s distorted lyrics, dreamy melodies, and the white noise that accompanies the music often. Kai fell asleep instantly to “Hail to the Thief

J got his hands on these two great finds that will also help your baby fall asleep:

1) Lullabies for a Small World (compilation by Ellipses Arts):

Great for the baby and you. My favorite track is number 3- Flor E Estrela – Teresa Ines. This song is so magical and puts the whole family in a deep slumber.

2) While roaming around at the Ecology Center in Berkeley, he stumbled upon this children’s book: Talking Walls Written by Margy Burns Knight and Illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien.

It’s the perfect multi-cultural book that illustrates how walls around the world may unite or divide communities around the world. I guarantee that you’ll learn some history as well.

friluftsliv – scandinavian spirit for outdoor life

It has been an especially cold winter here in the Midwestern United States. Weeks have passed without the temperature rising above 20 degrees, electricity has failed for hours or days at a time, some schools have surpassed their allotted number of snow days… and we’d best wait three more months before we send our parkas to the drycleaners! Adding to the chill are our worries about the economy and outbreaks of violence around the globe.

It takes great character and fortitude to carry on in the face of challenges and to establish new patterns of behavior or thought. Tackling whatever special challenges you face-solo parenting, job loss, diminishing investments, getting a grip on your personal health-takes a positive attitude and the courage to name and pursue your goals every day.

One of the first places where we in climates of such extreme weather can build these characteristics of strength is right outside our doors, where we can learn to experience and enjoy outdoor life no matter what the weather. Sunshine, fresh air, and exercise are imperative for good health, and the benefits of nature do not wane in winter. Outdoor enthusiasts will tell us that there’s no such thing as bad weather-just bad clothing.

For inspiration, we can look to the Scandinavians-no strangers to the adversity inherent in a part of the world that sees such harsh cold and little light during its long winters. Their term Friluftsliv, defined as “free time outdoor life” and the spirit for partaking of such in all weather, is especially celebrated in Scandinavian countries and is credited with being the source of the well-being enjoyed by much of the region’s citizens, young and old.

In fact, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden ranked among the top five countries of the world’s twenty-one richest countries for children’s well-being, according to UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Center. Aspects considered included material wellbeing, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviors and risks, and young people’s own subjective sense of well-being (see unicef.org).

Julie Catterson Lindahl, author of the 2005 book On My Swedish Island: Discovering the Secrets of Scandinavian Well-being and the mother of school-age twins, provides great inspiration for living a healthy lifestyle through her book and her continued writing at Nordicwellbeing.com and JulieLindahl.com. She encourages us to seek the outdoors as a new life habit (to promote our own health and that of the environment), as a setting for social activities, as a way to be a good role model for our children, and as a wellspring for creativity and productivity.

Just as travel sends us to distant lands and shakes up the thought patterns we’ve settled into, Friluftsliv also takes us “out of our everyday lives [and] gives us the space and perspective to develop our identities,” according to Swedish historians that Lindahl references. The curiosity and sense of wonder that both travel and the experience of nature stir in us can be found at any time in life, nurtured, and grown.

In this rough economy that we’re experiencing, when plans for travel may be placed on a back burner, nature and its gifts can be both a balm for the soul and new terrain (literally!) for us and our children to explore.

I encourage you to read On My Swedish Island for further inspiration, bundle up, and venture out! Your kids are just waiting to be invited to go sledding, build a snowman, skate on a frozen pond, or simply snap some pictures of the winter scenery. Cups of cocoa all around afterward… Cheers!