Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Empathy for Our 3-Year-Old

Last summer my son befriended a girl at our local park who was one year older than him.  They played nicely together, so the mother and I exchanged contact information and met a few more times before school started back up.  One day, the mother was trying to leave the park and sweetly asked her daughter to put away her sand toys.  The girl paused and gave her mother a piercing cold look, then went back to playing.  The mom giggled softly and whispered to me, "This is what you can look forward to at 3 years old: the big middle finger."

I've been looking back on that moment a lot lately!  The beginning of parenthood was pure joy for me and passed quickly in a blur.  My son is a blessing, but my husband and I are finding that parenting is becoming more difficult as he gets older.  At 3 years old, he is dealing with a flurry of emotions as he explores his world more, is starting to separate from me a bit, and wants to have more control over his experience.

It's easy to fall back into my old reactive ways when he and I clash and I'm in a hurry or only thinking about MY needs.  Though I may not completely understand why my son is not going with the flow as he used to, I am determined to try and understand.  It's important to stop myself and see clearly how I'm feeling.  When it's anger and frustration, the seeds of rage, I must stop before losing my cool.  When I do go off and start yelling it can be scary for both of us, so I've learned to at least pause and let my emotions diffuse a bit before communicating my needs.

With a daily meditation practice, it is easier to achieve a clear frame of mind quickly.  Then I am able to shift my perspective and connect with my son on a deeper level.  Here's some questions I may ask myself next to reestablish our empathetic bond:

What is he doing right now and what may he be feeling?
How does he feel when I ask him to do something else?
How does it feel to be his size, with his communication skills and physical capabilities?
How does it feel to always have to comply with my wishes?
Does he feel heard?

The book "Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids" by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson has been very helpful in providing me with tools to reconnect with my son during tense moments and finding a middle-ground where both our needs are met.  This book is also my introduction to Non-violent Communication, which I find very intriguing and hope to learn more about.

Empathy is the key to building, then maintaining a close relationship with our children.  By fostering it, I am able to refrain from being too authoritarian, a parental position that I feel is not fair for my son and not aligned with my authentic nature.  Instead, I can remain the loving, respectful, and nurturing mother I always hope to be.  And most of the time, my son looks like this:


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sourdough Bread Making: A Labor of Love

I've always enjoyed baking from scratch.  It is hugely satisfying when I create something grand from just a few basic ingredients.

I thought making sourdough bread would be no different than making a cake.  After all, haven't people been baking with sourdough for thousands of years?  How complex could it be when many mastered the technique before Kitchen Aids?  Well, I can say after several attempts that it's certainly not easy.

I recently tried making sourdough bread with a wild starter for the 4th time.  I am proud to say that it was a success!  The starter is robust and really sour.  It's my new baby; one that I only need to take care of a few times a week!

The starter was cultivated with the bacteria and yeast present in my kitchen, and based on instructions from Mike at Sourdough Home.  I thought the starter was ready after a week since it was bubbly, even though it wasn't doubling in size.  The bread that resulted from the first bake was small and dense, but nice and sour.

Cultures for Health provided more information and answered many questions that I had.  If anyone is  interested in making sourdough bread, I suggest going to this site first and watching their videos.  First timers may actually want to purchase one of the several starters that they sell instead of cultivating it from scratch.  Following the Basic Sourdough Bread instructions from one of the videos, my bread dough did not double during the proofing, but resulted in a bread that was less dense than my previous attempt once baked.

I tried the recipe again a week later.  Since I keep my starter in the refrigerator, I have to feed it 3 times, 12 hours apart, so it takes 1.5 days just to get the starter ready to bake with.  This time, it was as bubbly as ever and doubled within a few hours during the feedings alone.  After adding the flour, salt, and water, the bread dough rose nicely while proofing and baking.  It was light and sour: the consistency and flavor our family desired.

I suspect that it has taken 3 weeks for the starter to mature, which is why my first couple of batches were not impressive.  So please, if you do embark on this journey, DO NOT GIVE UP!  Be patient and persistent!  And with a mature, well cared for starter, you can make sourdough bread for years to come.  (I'm trying not to think about the previous 3 times I tried baking with a week old starter - I threw them out when not satisfied with the loaves.)

My shaping and proofing steps still need to be fine-tuned, and I would like to explore making different shapes of artisan bread.  Linked here is a video from FiveFlourFingers that has been helpful.

One can see, based on my experience, that there are many ways to make sourdough bread and tons of guidance on the web.  It can be very confusing!  I'm getting close to making my ideal recipe though; one that is mine but influenced by countless bakers before me.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Meditative Jump Roping

~swish SMACK thump ~ swish SMACK thump ~ 
~swish SMACK thump ~

Arms and legs move in perfect synchronicity as I jump with a rapid cadence.  I change up the jump skill to vary the muscles used, but other than that, this exercise is extremely repetitive. Swing, jump, swing, jump, over and over and over.  Surprisingly, I never become bored or frustrated.  This is mainly because I have been able to use this movement to experience something deeper: a meditative state of being.

Sometimes I focus on sound, sometimes it's my breath, many times I just feel the power of my feet propelling my body from the floor and lightly making contact with the earth again.  All the while, I am calm & focused.

It is possible to experience meditation with any repetitive exercise.  Running, walking, swimming, and skating all help to keep our bodies healthy while our minds are trained in awareness.  Of course it is possible to "zone out" instead, or rely on the distraction of music while engaging in these sports, and I'd bet that's when most injuries happen.  When we are aware of how our bodies are responding and can distinguish between objective thoughts and those of the ego, it is really hard to push yourself beyond your limits and become injured.

So why do I love jump roping in particular?
  • It feels good!
  • I feel youthful doing it, but with greater skill than my younger self!
  • It only takes 15-20 minutes to reap the same benefits as running or walking for longer periods.  For a busy mom, short exercise routines are a must!
  • I can do it anywhere and only need my trusty rope.
  • It gives my mind space - not to roam, but instead to tune in. 
  • It's fun to do with children.  My son is still little, but he can't wait to learn how so we can jump together.

Here is my beauty, a simple speed rope:

And if you are interested in learning more about jump roping, here is an excellent book written by US Olympian and Master Jumper Buddy Lee:

You can also check out the Jump Rope Institute.

Jump roping is seriously good exercise, for body & mind.  I encourage you to give it a try!  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Remembering My First Experience with Meditation

For many of us who practice meditation, the discipline was adopted during a very difficult period in our lives.  Meditation, especially vipassana or mindful awareness, eventually shows us where disharmony exists in our lives, and gives us tools to pull us up and out of our personal mess.

Here is a brief background on my "personal mess".  My mother raised my sister and I by herself until she remarried when I was in high school.  We never had a lot of money and she did not value education.  She declared one day in my Senior year of high school that I couldn't go to college because she couldn't afford it (without looking into financial aid options or anything else that could help me).  I felt this was so unfair and sad because I loved to learn and had so much potential.  She figured I was self-sufficient and she focused instead on her job, her new marriage, and my younger siblings. So after high school, I sought out part-time jobs to pay for my community college education while I continued to live at home with my family.

After completing my lower division courses, I transferred to the local State University.  Around the same time, I found a full-time job, moved into a studio apartment, and started using financial aid to help pay for my tuition (also incurring major credit card debt).

It was extremely difficult to balance work and university studies.  It did not help, of course, that I chose a very difficult major.  I trudged along trying to complete my Biology degree without really enjoying the advanced coursework.  I had to get through this!  Most of my grades were very average.  Some were really bad (Calculus).  I gained ~ 20 lbs.  I drank massive amounts of coffee to stay awake and smoked cigarettes as a way to cope emotionally.  It was difficult to have meaningful romantic relationships.

Somehow, I was doing really well in my new position at this environmental testing laboratory I was working at.  That is where I placed my energy, and where I received the most help.

My supervisor was the angel who suggested that I attend an "Intro to Meditation" workshop they were having at my company after hours.  I sat among my co-workers, all at least 10 years older than I, and wondered why I had been asked to join the group.

One of the exercises made quite an impression on me.  The instructor asked us to pick up a single raisin from many that she had on the tray.  First we described the raisin to each other.  We noted it's size, it's texture, it's color, and it's smell.  Then we didn't just "eat" the raisin.  We salivated, chewed it, tasted it, felt the change in the raisin's structure as it turned to liquid, and swallowed the syrupy goodness.  Our senses were alive and these simple details became important as we put them in the foreground of our awareness.

I was able to experience a raisin as I never had before!  And I appreciated my body for the pleasure of it's sweet taste.  It occurred to me that if I had overlooked the simple details of eating, what else was I missing?  And I noted that as I "meditated" on eating the raisin, I was calm and focused.

This was the seed that was planted in my consciousness so long ago.  It took much more hardship and many mindfulness experiences to really understand how meditation could help me.  After several years, it become part of my life.

Once I immersed myself in the practice and found my teachers, compassion, patience, and understanding replaced the desperation, self-loathing, and worry that I clung to as a young adult.  And with fine-tuned awareness, I was able to make choices that placed me on this life path that feels most authentic.


Comments are welcome!  I would love to hear how YOU discovered meditation and made it a priority in your life.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nutritional Healing With Pumpkin

Pumpkin Custard, Hold the Dairy by llsimon53 

I wrote earlier about my love of Autumn and how it's necessary to change our activity level, diet, and lifestyle in order to stay healthy through the seasonal transition.  When it comes to diet, I think most everyone in the US would agree that pumpkin is THE food of Autumn.

Pumpkin is also a valuable remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine dietetics.  According to the Tao of Nutrition by Maoshing Ni, Ph.D., C.A., pumpkin has a cool and sweet nature.  Therefore, it can help with many "heat" or inflammatory conditions such as dysentery, diabetes, eczema, and stomachaches.

Our family is fond of roasting sugar pie pumpkins and using the pureé for loads of recipes we've collected over the years.  While canned pumpkin is affordable and very convenient, we try to avoid canned foods due to BPA in the lining.

Here is a super easy way to roast & pureé a pumpkin.  Use the pureé in you favorite pie, custard or pancake recipe.  Or better yet, add it to yogurt, oatmeal, or simply season it with cinnamon & honey and eat it as is!

Roasted Pumpkin
1) Heat oven to 400°F.
2) Cut out a hole at the top of the pumpkin and just like you're going to carve it, go ahead and scoop out the insides, placing the seeds into a bowl of water if choosing to save them for roasting separately.
3) Place pumpkin on baking sheet and cook for 40 minutes.
4) Fit top back on pumpkin and bake for another 20 minutes or until tender.
5) Remove top again and cool until easy to handle.
6) Scoop out the pumpkin and either mash, run it through a food mill, or pureé in a blender/food processor.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Autumn Reflection

Autumn Canopy by -Liyen- 2009

Autumn is here! 

We see tree leaves change colors, we feel the air become cooler, and experience shorter sun-shiny days.   We adjust the clocks, dress warmer, and perhaps we indulge in the local fruits and vegetables that are harvested at this time.  But how do you adjust to Autumn internally?

In Toaism, the philosophy that Chinese Medicine is based on, we humans are considered microcosms of nature.  And if we are unable or unwilling to adjust our activity level and diet to that of the season, we may fall ill. Much is written about this subject and I won't add more repetition.  If you'd like to learn more, this article offers fantastic tips on how we can align with the energy of Autumn:

But what IS the energy of Autumn?  We look at the yin/yang energy in nature (particularly the yang energy of the sun) to guide us.  Yang energy is considered bright, vibrant, light, hot, masculine, motivating, expanding and invigorating in contrast to Yin energy which is darker, duller, cooler, feminine, relaxing, introspective, and introverted.  The energy of the sun is at it's most yang at the summer solstice, often the hottest period of the year.  From there, it decreases until yang & yin are equal at the Autumn equinox.  The energy decreases further until it's most yin at the Winter solstice where it then rises again to find yin/yang balance at the Spring equinox.  It rises again to it's most yang height at summer again.

The energy of Autumn is decreasing, becoming more yin.  Can you feel it?  We naturally want to slow down, turn inward, reflect on what is important in our lives, purge what is unnecessary, gather what we truly need, and store up for the yin of winter where we rest & rejuvenate.  This seasonal transition is the most difficult for our culture because many value productivity & celebration, and assume that energy comes from MORE energy/activity.  Not so, according to nature.  Rest is absolutely necessary.  And yin is just as important as yang because they are dependent on and transform into each other continuously.

Another reason this transition is difficult is that the shift in seasons may not be so noticeable (like in our lovely California). That is my excuse, as our family has had a hard time adjusting too.  My son started his 2nd year of nursery school (just 2 days for 2.5 hrs each, with my participation - not a big deal.)  After the first week, he and I were both down with a yucky head cold.  Thank you Universe!  I hear you loud and clear, and we are now making changes in our household.

We're slowing down.  This is hard to do with a toddler who is letting go of his naps.  When overtired, he spirals up for the rest of the afternoon (as I become more irritable) until he crashes at 7:30pm.  Though we love the early bedtime, the increased activity in the evening can't be that great for my son's immune system without his afternoon rest.  I've been trying to introduce a quiet time instead.  Audio books from the library are my quiet time secret weapon, though it will take awhile for it to become a daily ritual.  At least we're trying...

I'm turning inward.  I've been dealing with my own physical imbalances throughout summer.  My mental chatter and emotional reactivity is creating stagnation in my body and leaving me feeling very uptight.  The loss of my toddler's nap is definitely not helping.  The best medicine for me is yoga, acupuncture, & meditation.  Of course!  I've written about how my practice has changed since having my dear son, but it's time that I make my health a greater priority.  After it is done each evening, then perhaps I can work on my sewing, read the news, or write in this blog.  But connecting to myself through yoga absolutely has to happen each night for the benefit of the WHOLE FAMILY!  I believe healing starts on the inside and this is the perfect season to explore that.

I'm expressing gratitude and asking for forgiveness.  My dear, wise teacher Sarah Powers would often suggest that we start the morning with expressing gratitude for the new day.  Realizing that we may not have another, that life can end at any time, brings poignancy to our lives.  This is important every day, but especially during Autumn where the end of the year can feel bittersweet.  In TCM, Autumn is related to feelings of grief and sorrow.  At this time we may hold on to past feelings and memories.  Sarah also recommends that we end each evening with forgiveness.  We mentally apologize to anyone we may have offended during the day and forgive those who have offended us.  This is a great way of allowing and letting go, then sleep becomes a time where we can become whole again and start the next day with a clean slate.

We're prioritizing and paring down.  This need feels very strong for us right now.  Looking at our finances, our time, & energy level (again, trying to keep it mellow!), something has to give.  (A) I've cancelled my gym membership since I wasn't getting there often enough, and realized that I prefer my personal yoga practice and jumping rope to anything at the gym.  (B) We re-evaluated preschool after some issues arose last week, but we decided to try to make it work since our son loves it so much.  Still, we're prepared to pull him out if he's not enjoying it.  (C) We're donating many of our old appliances, old furniture, and sporting equipment to a charity rummage sale next week.  (D) Also, we may skip some of the indulgent holiday parties coming up and instead spend extra time at our cabin in the mountains.  The tree canopy colors are quite beautiful there this time of year!

Autumn is actually my favorite season on this glorious planet.  It's energy invites  us to create space in our lives for self reflection, family connection, & meaningful friendships.

I would love to hear how you are adjusting to Autumn and what you love about the season!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Best Items & Resources for New Parents

My husband and I live a pretty simple life.  We dwell in a home less than 1000 sq.ft. (one that we can truly afford, so that I can stay home with my son), we have fuel efficient cars, and spend most of our money on good quality food.  Still, when my son came along we had to fight an inner urge to buy more, More, MORE!  Here is a very short list of the things and resources that I've found most helpful.

1. Ergo Baby Carrier

I've watched many parents lugging around their babies in infant car seat carriers.  The babies look uncomfortable with their heads jiggling around and the parent is straining to one side as they accommodate the carrier and what ever else they're trying to handle.  This never made sense to me.  A friend claims that her sleeping baby does not transfer well, so it's easier to just bring the car seat into the house, the store, or wherever. However, these car seats are not beds.  They are hard, plastic contraptions that are only necessary for one thing: protecting a child from car accident impact. Do you realize how many chemicals are in these things? Read here about toxicity of car seats as well as other baby gear/furniture.  We had one of these infant car seat/carriers and it stayed in the car.  If we were to have a second child, we would buy a convertible car seat right away and skip these horrible things.  Sorry for this rant, please read on for my alternate recommendation!

I chose to keep my baby close to me in a cloth wrap/baby carrier instead.  Strapped to me, I still had two free hands that could cook (only if you're careful!), clean, hike, shop, etc.  I never had a problem transferring my son from the car seat to the carrier because he preferred to be on me.  I'd bet most babies would choose a snugly parent over hard plastic.

We started out with the Moby wrap, which was lovely for my February baby until he was 4 months old.  Then he got big and the weather started getting warmer.  We bought the Ergo carrier after a friend suggested it.  Ah, it provided such great support for my back, with weaker abdominal muscles and all.  I wore him in the front carry position until he was around 10 mo. old.  In this position, I was able to nurse him on demand fairly discreetly.  Mild back muscle strain was the clue that he was ready to be switched around.  I've worn him in the back carry position ever since.

At 2 1/2, my son walks during short trips.  We use the stroller sometimes at the zoo & amusement park when he needs to rest.  But I still break out the Ergo when we want to do a nature walk with some elevation.  He walks as much as possible and then chills in the back pack.  I love the Ergo Baby!!!

2. Weelicious

We took the easy road with feeding our child.  My son exclusively breastfed until he was ~ 7 months old and then we started introducing whole foods.  First banana, then avocado, and we took off on a food-crazed adventure from there!  Of course we used jars of baby food from time to time, but it was rare - just packed in the diaper bag for impromptu snacks or when we were on vacation.

Still, breast milk was his main source of nutrition up until ~ 18 months.  At that point, he started to drop a few feedings, and meal times with whole foods became established.  (Note: he still nurses to this day, but only to induce sleep or for emotional connection.)  It was fun looking for new, exciting recipes.  I was especially interested in learning how to incorporate more vegetables into his diet and wanted to do it soon to fend off pickiness.  This is when I found the best food blog ever!  Weelicious!

Catherine McCord at was my savior!  This site continues to be my #1 go-to resource for family meals.  With her help, my son enjoys a great variety of healthy foods.  Plus, she has fun video tutorials for certain dishes.  My son loves watching them, as they feature her kids helping out in the kitchen too!  Here are just some our favorite recipes:

I have pre-ordered her new book "Weelicious:140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes", coming out Sept. 18!  Most of the recipes in the book are NEW (not on the website.)  We're so excited!

3. Signing Time

We've read a lot about the damage TV can do to a developing mind.  It is NOT recommended for children under the age of 2.  So, we've tried to limit my son's exposure to it, but sadly, have not been able to omit it completely.  I'll be writing another post on this later.  Anyway, we bent our rules to include some educational videos.  We were involved with Baby Sign Language since our son was 11 months old.  He started signing around 13 months and his communication took off!  It was so helpful and we were so impressed, that we started to build a library of Signing Time videos.

I cannot recommend Signing Time enough!  Rachel Coleman, the host, has an incredible story that you should read more about here.  Her daughter Leah (who is deaf), Leah's cousin Alex, and their animated frog-friend Hopkins teach signs through catchy and pleasant songs.  My son still likes to watch the videos, even though he's forgotten most of the signs he knew a year ago.  They continue to be fun and interesting.  I think sign language helped him understand words and concepts very well before he started speaking.  I believe it is one of the reasons why he is so articulate for his age.

4. Melissa & Doug Toys

All toys are fun, but I am very, very picky about them!  I want them to be safe and spark my son's imagination.  I had many rules when our family asked us what to get our little boy:

  • Please, no toys that require batteries and make noise!  Children are less imaginative since the toys are doing the "play work" for them.  And I don't need to tell you how the noise gets to a tired parent.  Grrr...
  • We prefer wooden to plastic.  Wood has a nicer texture, smell, and does not contain polluting petrochemicals. 
  • Non-toxic paints only (you'd think this was standard practice but it's amazing how lead contamination is constantly in the news - it must say "non-toxic paint on the package!)  
  • Preferably made in the USA (as to avoid the previous point and support our economy)
Melissa and Doug toys meet most of my requirements.  These toys are made in China (at least the ones we have), but they have strict safety standards that I trust.

There are many USA made wooden toys out there, but they maybe hard to find.  Luckily, Melissa & Doug toys are available at just about every toy store in our town.

Our relatives do not roll their eyes at our requests, because they are just as into the play food, puzzles, trains, and other fun Melissa & Doug play things as we are.  And my son has been interested in and challenged by just about every item he's received.  These are keepers, perhaps for future generations!