August 25, 2009

flying kites into the blue

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

Even though summer is winding down, there is always time to fly a kite.  When I was young, my first kite was a replica of Snoopy.   This was  one of my favorite gifts from my father.  Snoopy lasted for about two weeks until he was caught in a tree.

Last week, I relived my childhood and bought Kai his first kite.   When we passed through Point Reyes Station, I picked out a tie dye octopus kite for our flying adventure at the awesome Into the Blue toy store.

Kids and adults have been enamored by kites for centuries all over the world.  Believed to have originated in China almost 2,000 years ago, every country has unique kites.  In Viet Nam where money is scarce for many families, children make kites out of plastic bags and thin strings.   In India, travelers can find Hindu inspired kites at the festival of Gujarat.  Here in Berkeley, there is a magnificent  festival that welcomes some of the world’s largest kites.  There is nothing like looking into the sky and seeing hundreds of kites flying so freely.

Kite_festival_ahmedabad_india

Whether you’re big or small, make some time for kite flying in a meadow or beach nearby.

Before flying a kite, you can review the  Beaufort Scale to determine wind speed:

From Kiteworks.com

From Kiteworks.com

August 21, 2009

more hot weather goodies

a papayaI recently posted some homemade popsicle recipes, but here are some more things you can make at home.

Sometimes when we are short on time, and it’s a really, really hot day, we just freeze some fruit in a container. I cut grapes in half and freeze them. I used to eat grapes like these growing up and my son also loves them. We also freeze small watermelon chunks. (Just make sure they are small enough — and you can thaw them out a little before giving them to your kid — to avoid choking hazards).

Another idea is just to freeze some juice. Lately my son has been asking for bing-bing (his short phrase for ice cream) all the time, so we try to think of cold things that are not ice cream. One time we just put a little bit of juice in a cup and put it in the freezer, and then gave it to him with a spoon. It entertained him for a good 15-20 minutes. None of these treats are great in terms of nutrition, since it seems to take longer to eat frozen vs. regular fruit, but it is fun on a hot day.

We’ve also been making a lot of smoothies. Smoothies are easy because you can basically put anything in them, including greens. If your kid is like mine and picks out the teeniest piece of green onion from his noodles, fried rice, etc., then this is a good way to get to green leafy vegetables in his diet. We followed a smoothie recipe that includes apples, bananas, grapes, yogurt and spinach and you can’t really taste the spinach at all! (There are many “green smoothie” recipes online).

But my favorite smoothie of all is papaya milk smoothie, or papaya milk. I drank a lot of this growing up, especially during the summers in Taiwan. It’s a very popular drink, very easy to make at home, and yummy.

1 cut up papaya (cut in half, scoop out seeds with spoon, and scoop out the “meat” inside)

¼ cup sugar water (heat up 1 cup water and sprinkle a generous amount of sugar in it; stir until sugar melts, then cool. You can save the rest for later use.)

1 cup ice

1 cup milk (I use whole milk)

Put everything in a blender and drink right away.

My son and I both like this drink a lot. You can prepare the papaya ahead of time if you want, by scooping out the meat and putting it in a container in the fridge. We buy the papayas in Chinatown or other Asian supermarkets because they are usually cheaper there (and according to the Environmental Working Group, papayas are among the fruits and veggies considered “consistently clean,” or low/lacking in pesticides).

My son doesn’t eat papaya by itself, I think because it has a pretty strong, distinct smell (I used to think it smelled like feet). But with milk and some sugar, it tastes divine. Did anyone else grow up drinking papaya milk? What are some other hot weather recipes?

August 20, 2009

An attempt to clash-proof my daughter’s fall wardrobe

ButterflyDressThis summer my daughter Zoe, now 22-months started to insist on choosing her own outfits each day. While I want to encourage her independence and creativity, and I want to get out of the front door with as little toddler-drama as possible, I can’t say it pleases me to take my child out in a bright yellow and orange tank top, blue, green and pink tie dye leggings and green frog rain boots as was the case today (which happens to have been one of the few days this summer in which the skies were completely clear). So as I start to buy her clothes for the fall I am attempting to choose things that even a 2-year-old can’t horribly mismatch.

Daily Tea is always a favorite of ours and Zoe has had at least 2 mix-and-match outfits each season. These somehow always get worn as outfits and so she’s always stylish as long as she’s in her Daily Tea. I’ve decided that this fall Zoe’s non-Daily Tea clothes will have to consist of a lot of neutral bottoms –navy blue leggings, Tea’s Yoshi denim pants, and other choices that can be mixed with most anything. I also plan to look for patterned and solid dresses that can easily mix with the solid leggings. Jackets, sweaters and shoes will definitely have to be neutral as well.

Another key point to consider is that everything in her wardrobe must have at least two coordinating pieces. For example a shirt must go with a few different bottoms. The reason for this is that if Zoe sees this shirt in her drawer and insists on wearing it there had better be a pair of pants available that are not a) in the laundry b) uncomfortable and c) just not what she had in mind for that particular day.
Hopefully this won’t result in too boring of a selection –it does seem I will be shying away from any sort of bright color. I am really hoping that this plan helps to keep Zoe in better style than she has been this summer. Before I start shopping any suggestions of things that have worked for clash-proofing your child’s wardrobe would be greatly appreciated!

August 19, 2009

where everyone is bilingual

bilingualToday our son Jack turns 5!  He’s been waiting for this day for at least 9 months.  It’s amazing to see how much he’s changed in the past year.  Besides the potty jokes and name calling that come with turning 5, he is very compassionate with his 2 year old sister and treats every day like it’s an all day party.    He’s very social and adventurous like his dad.

I realized today how much exposure Jack gets to Mexican culture.  We live in the San Francisco bay area and Spanish is all around us.    We speak English natively at home, but there are deep roots in Mexico and Spain in our family.  My father, Jack’s grandfather, grew up in Mexico City and has a Mexican grandmother.  His family is mostly from Irish heritage and from California but moved to Mexico to so his father could work with a global engineering firm.  I remember the first time I noticed that my dad could speak Spanish.  I was 8 and we were in a cab in Puerto Vallarta and he was talking to the cabbie.  I was fascinated that my dad could speak in what seemed to be secret code.  I vowed to learn it myself someday.

I studied Spanish in high school, lived in Mexico for a summer before college, then minored in Spanish Literature and lived in Barcelona for a year in college.  Maybe it was in my genes but I always had an ear for language and could eventually pass for a native speaker.   I went on to work for a global manufacturing company in my 20s.  I would visit customers and conduct technical training in Spanish in Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, and even Brazil.

I often take my Spanish speaking skills for granted.   Our nanny, Ana, is from Mexico and prefers to speak Spanish with me.  We speak Spanish every day in front of the kids, discussing the day’s plans, etc.    Jack often plays with the nanny’s daughter who speaks a combination of English and Spanish.  Jack has picked up a lot of Spanish as younger kids do.  One of his first words was “jugo” for juice.  Some of the kids shows on TV also feature bilingual characters.

I suppose that to a 5 year old Californian, especially a third generation one, it just seem natural that everyone is bilingual.  I’ve been impressed with his ability to absorb Spanish and I’m sure he’ll be a fully fluent speaker just like his dad and his grandfather before him.  Feliz cumpleanos, Jack!

August 18, 2009

my new red shoes

my new red shoesHere at Tea we love a good cause, and in the spirit of getting ready for back to school, we wanted to highlight an organization that is doing great things to foster little citizens.  My New Red Shoes is a non-profit organization that works to provide brand new shoes and clothing to underprivileged kids in the Bay Area, and work with the local community to raise awareness and support for homeless children.  Each child gets a new pair of shoes and a $50 gift certificate to go pick out an outfit of their choice from various major clothing retailers.  Caron Tabb, the executive director at My New Red Shoes commented on the impact that their program has had on the 2,500 kids that they have helped since the beginning of the program in 2006, saying that the program can help alleviate a world of stress and anxiety that a child feels about going to school because of the clothes they are wearing.  When kids feel good about themselves and the clothes and shoes they are wearing, they are free to worry about things like learning, recess, or joining a sports team.

Things are starting to get a little chaotic with the end of summer, the beginning of the school season, and that growing list of to-do’s to get everything taken care of.  If you’re looking for a way to introduce your children to community service, looking for a way to stay involved yourself, or want to contribute, then we highly recommend checking out the ways to get involved at My New Red Shoes.  They’ve made it really easy to help out, and you can even involve your kids!  Gift bags are given to all of the children, and you can get crafty and help personalize them, or support the organization through monetary donations or by participating in one of the many programs that they host.  They even have a Teen Advocacy Council where kids can work to help other kids in the community, and inspire change around them.

We love how inspired My New Red Shoes is, and of course support anyone working to foster and cultivate our little citizens.  To borrow their own words, “My New Red Shoes has faith in the power of children to change the world; planting the seed of compassion is the first step toward creating community change. Providing the tools to advocate for and generate change is the second.”

August 17, 2009

The smiles look the same.

When Todd was house-searching for our new home in Delhi, India, there were several things on the list of “would like to have” as he saw flat after flat after flat.

Some sort of space somewhere for the kids to play.  Many times over I’d been told “children don’t play outside during the day … only at night when the heat has passed.”  Even though we figured they knew what they were talking about, we still felt it was important to have green space nearby.

Todd scored in a serious way, with a small park one block away to our left … and a much larger park to our right.  There is even playground!

It looks “normal” right?  JUST like in the States, right? And it’s JUST down the street … walking distance.  We are in heaven.  We had to drive to a playground back home, so this is like amazingly wonderful.

Most days, we find it’s true that children do NOT play outside until much later in the day … close to 6:30 pm or so.  We’re troopers though (either that or we’re BORED) and we go at ANY time of the day, heat or no heat.

We take our cold bottled water and a little package of baby wipes (for cooling our brows) and trek out.

We leave our house and all of the guards snap to attention.  “Good morning (or afternoon) Madam” they say.  We turn the corner and walk past a street cart filled with fruits all displayed just so.  We walk past numerous dogs (street dogs … NOT to be petted) and round the corner near the Dominos and Cafe.  So far, we seem to be the only non-Indian folks out walking and taking strolls.  No matter though, we’re not going to stay “inside” for anything!

We then pass the fresh flowers … dirt cheap and gorgeous, the street cart with icee cones and the man in his normal spot selling baskets … piled high on the back of his bicycle.

It all feels normal to us already.

Guess what else is the same as back home?  The smiles.  We don’t need to know Hindi, and these kiddos don’t need to know a lick of English.

“Fun” looks the same whether you’re in Suburbia somewhere in Ohio … or in the middle of Delhi, India.

I have felt happy tears well up during our outings at the playground.  Watching my kidlets form bonds with these children … who they don’t know and can’t communicate with.  Watching them hold hands with children and take turns on the slide.

[Yesterday, there was a group of street children at the playground.  They seemed to be taking a break from their long day of begging and were simply getting in some playtime.  Out of the 5 that were there, 3 of them were naked … head to toe.  Mia sat down next to the baby (I’d guess 8-12 months?) and just looked intently.  She didn’t say anything except “Hi baby” and then walked away.  Tony also didn’t have anything negative to say about their cloth-less bodies except to ask where their parents were.  Fascinating to me to see/hear the way my children are processing all of this.]

[another side note :: I am kind of apprehensive about photo taking. I want to capture dozens of photos, but I want to also respect the subjects of my photos.  I haven’t figured out the appropriate way to ask … or to discreetly snap photos.  Hoping I figure that out soon, because I want to share the images and sights, sounds and smells with you through my camera.]

Look closely … can you see Mia’s little hand poking out from the crowd on that slide?

August 14, 2009

raising our little citizen in the big city

Many (most?) people don’t think of the city as a good place to raise kids. My husband Jeff and I do have our sights set for the future on a house with more space than our two-bedroom rental apartment, better schools than the ones available in our neighborhood, and a yard to relax in. But at the moment I cannot imagine a better place to live with our almost-two-year-old daughter Zoe and another baby on the way than the Financial District (recently called the “diaper district” in the New York Times) in New York City.

One of my favorite things about our lifestyle is we never have to get kids into cars. Zoe just climbs into one of her strollers and we’re off. We have at least four amazing playgrounds in our neighborhood and we’re pretty much guaranteed to run into some of our friends at any one of them on any given sunny morning or afternoon. The neighborhood is also hopping with other activities for little ones such as playgroups, classes, indoor playspaces, gyms with childcare, kid-friendly restaurants, toy and baby clothes stores, preschools and free outdoor activities for children in the summer. When Zoe starts pre-school this Fall her school is literally 10 feet from our building.

ZOE APRIL 033We also have a great network of friends right in our building. We meet for playgroups or in the building’s playroom or pool on cold or rainy days. We leave our kids with each other when we have to run non-kid friendly errands. What could be more convenient?
When we’re feeling more ambitious there are of course many things going on in other parts of the city –museums, zoos, restaurants, concerts especially for kids, etc.

Of course, there are certain sacrifices that we make to live in the city and as I mentioned, in the long run we’re not sure that the city is the place where we want our kids to grow up. Some days we dream of a yard and the convenience of pulling up to the grocery store in a car rather than hauling groceries home in our stroller or waiting around for delivery. That said, if and when we do make the move to a less urban environment we will miss many of the great aspects of living in the city with small children.

August 13, 2009

building confidence in the water for parent and child alike

red, blue, pink, swim vests

red, blue, pink, swim vests

I recently purchased a swimming aid to assist my girls in the water. I had thought about getting them swimming lessons but it has proved difficult since an adult is needed per child. I searched for a swimming aid and after research I settled on the konfidence swim vest. I purchased two and put them to the test at a local outdoor pool. What a sigh of relief. This device gives my girls the freedom of movement in the water so they can learn the proper movements of their arms and legs. It is not a “flotation device” but a tool to aid those learning to swim. Once confidence is built a series of eight interior floats can be removed so the child learns to maintain him or herself afloat in the water.

I will enroll them in lessons once time permits but for the meantime, this vest has given me the peace of mind and enabled me to bring them to the pool alongside all the other children this summer.

August 12, 2009

that sentimental feeling

012As a mother I have formed some very deep attachments to some very odd things. Tiny striped washcloths that I used to bathe my babies are still folded in their top dresser drawers, and I can’t bear to part with my son’s beloved red bowler shoes—shoes that he loved so much as a toddler that we had to buy a second pair when he wore out the first. No object, however, defines for me the first few months of motherhood as does my children’s “funny music ball.”

When my son was seven weeks old, my husband’s parents flew across the country to visit us in Portland, OR. My little baby was already cementing his reputation as a squirmy, discontented infant when my mother-in-law returned from a thrift store shopping trip with The Toy. As soon as she pulled the brightly colored Kouvalias music toy out of her bag, my son was enchanted. He instantly stopped his squalling and reached his scrawny little arm out towards the gently bobbing yellow and red balls of the wooden Greek toy. From that day on, whenever the witching hour hit, all I had to do was settle him on a blanket and wind up the music toy. The swaying balls focused his mind, and the haunting melody emanating from the toy seemed to soothe his restless soul.

My son and his younger sister have moved on to other toys and pastimes—we are building towns out of blocks, baking muffins in the kitchen, and making up silly stories for each other. The little music toy, however, still sits on my dresser, and whenever I look at it, I have to smile a bittersweet smile. This little wooden toy not only reminds me of how mysterious and challenging and absolutely puzzling motherhood was at the beginning (and still is), but it also reminds me of just how far my children have come. While it takes a little more than some dancing wooden balls to fully capture my children’s attention these days, the music toy still has the power to make my children smile and laugh. And when I hear my son idly humming the wistful melody of the music toy while he plays with his wooden trains on the dining room floor, my heart soars and my eyes start to tear up just a little bit.

August 11, 2009

and the mommies loved them too!

arabian friendsRecently I enjoyed an afternoon at our house with my friends and their daughters. We were 5 girls and 3 mommies.  That afternoon is now fondly refered to as Wig Stock.  The girls revved up slowly by trying on every dress-up outfit, accelerated quickly with each girl donning a crazy wig, and hit maximum velocity when the girls offered us a Jackson 5 tribute performance in full drag while the mommies drank wine and laughed hysterically.  It was adorable, discordant, silly, and fun.  When the girls returned to Olivia’s bedroom after several standing ovations their energy became very different and the silence coming from the bedroom was… how should I say… intriguing.  We mommies decided to investigate.  The 3 of us snuck on tip-toe to the door and tried not to get caught spying in the room only to see the girls were all seated on the floor quietly playing with Olivia’s souvenirs from Saudi Arabia.

I had purchased dolls from the countries we traveled in an effort to create a long-term memory of Olivia’s travels at 4 years old to some spectacular places.  I figured if she played with these dolls from time to time she would think of the experience or it might allow me an opportunity to jog her memory about her travels.  Not to mention the added very important benefit of having dolls that represent the worlds faces, clothing and cultures.  Saudi Arabia had the most wonderful dolls called Arabian Friends. One night in Jeddah we were locked INSIDE Toys R Us during the long evening prayer time (archive post sept 12, 2008) where Olivia and I were elated to see a doll named Dunya that actually looked like my friend named Donya.  We had to have it!  Needless to say, before we left Saudi Arabia we had been back for the entire set which included Dunya’s friends Amal, Ahlam and Muna.  The dolls came with fabulous outfits, shoes, purses and most uniquely important the fancy Abayas and headscarfs.

Our girls were all gathered on the floor with the 4 Arabian Friends dolls and also the Fula doll, a very popular Arabic version of Barbie with a decent outfit.  Olivia’s friends loved the dolls with their Abayas.  When I told the mommies about the dolls they had to get an up close look at them too and jumped in with the girls to the play circle that had formed.  Once I began talking with the Moms about the dolls, it offered opportunity to discuss Saudi culture with the girls in a simplified way.  I was able to hold up the dolls clothing and tell our girls that by law in the country of Saudi Arabia every woman must wear the Abaya when they go outside their home and that I thought I personally would really dislike it but found it to be no big deal, it was much like putting on a light jacket and I didn’t mind it at all.  I was able to explain the Abaya is part of their strong religious belief and that many women want to wear the Abaya regardless of the law.  I wouldn’t have had those views if I had not traveled to that country.  I also explained that in Egypt it is not the law to wear the Abaya but many women wear it there also out of choice.

Many people I have spoke with have such strong negative opinions of the culture of Saudi Arabia.  They have never been to Saudi Arabia.  I love to be able to discuss the culture in a positive way and share the cultural knowledge I gained by having the rare and wonderful opportunity to travel there, see for myself and have amazing conversations with women of all ages.  The dolls may feel fun and familiar to my daughter, but they give me a great opportunity for me to share these women’s views.

In the end my mission to expand my young daughters memory, cultural acceptance and cultural diversity extended itself to the four young daughters of my friends.  Each time the girls get together their Arabian friends join them.  And the mommies loved them too!