Category: Discovery and Exploration

babymoon with a toddler?

I’ve always liked the idea of a “babymoon.” One last trip before the exhaustion of third trimester hits and before life gets a lot more hectic when a new baby arrives. A few months before my daughter was born my husband Jeff and I had a great time traveling to Belgium and London. During my second pregnancy my husband, our 21-month-old daughter Zoe and I took a trip to New England. We had a lot of fun on this trip despite it being the rainiest June in a couple of decades. Of course, the trip was not as relaxing as our first babymoon had been but we did get a little R&R in between running after a toddler.

Jeff has wanted to go to Maine for years so I had promised that the first summer that we were living on the East coast we would go. But last summer we ended up making so many trips for weddings and family visits that there was no time left for the Maine trip. This summer we figured that because of the pregnancy we are exempt from such family visits which involve long plane trips and we’re missing the two weddings we are invited to because they are too close to my due date. So we decided to take advantage of a summer off from travel obligations and take a 2-week road trip to New England.

The biggest challenge of the trip was that we did a lot of driving and Zoe (a real city kid) has spent very little time in the car and absolutely hates even a short drive. We tried to plan our drives around her nap time so she’d sleep for most of the trip though a few of our drives were just too long for her to nap the whole time. Long drives aren’t much fun to begin with but with a screaming toddler in the back seat being stuck in the car is even less fun!

In Maine our protein-shunning daughter was introduced to (and couldn’t get enough of) lobster, clams, muscles and scallops. Zoe also learned about another culinary love on this trip –ice cream. We introduced her to hiking in Arcadia National Park which she also loved though she only walked a short bit of the way on her own. For most of the hike Jeff carried her in a backpack which we figured put us on about even ground. Other highlights were the beaches in Maine and Martha’s Vinyard (when we had nice weather) and the Andrew Wyatt museum and Olsen house near Camden, Maine.

All in all the trip wasn’t as relaxing as our first “babymoon” when we had no kids but it was a wonderful family trip and it was well worth doing before we become a family of four.

Summer in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz has more to offer than the beach boardwalk. Even if you can’t do an overnight, it’s possible to do a bunch of fun stuff on a day trip. When we visited last weekend, I noticed lots of families hanging out everywhere. Definitely a kid-friendly beach town!

Here’s a quick itinerary:

-A must see is Natural Bridges Beaches. It’s not as widely known as the Boardwalk beach or even Seabright Beach.  NB is small and sweet. There are literally rock formations that create bridges in the water. Even better, there is a visitor center and a trail that is home to monarch butterflies in the winter.

For the gardener in you, visit the arboretum at UC Santa Cruz. Their land has a world class living collection and their garden store always has plants for purchase at excellent prices.

Marianne’s ice cream is a locally owned parlor with original and homemade flavors like lavender and ginger. In a big group, try the giant sundae that comes with over 10 scoops!

Skip the Borders and head over to Bookshop Santa Cruz on Pacific Ave. has something for the whole family. It’s one of the best independent books stores around and still thriving. They have an extensive children’s book collection with books from many cultures. There’s a cute play area for the young ones too.

-Ride the Giant Dipper. You can still stop by the boardwalk for an hour to get in line to ride the big dipper. Just buy tickets and enjoy!

Snack on fish tacos! Local fish make tasty tacos and they’re real easy to find. I recommend snapper and salmon tacos at Taqueria Santa Cruz

-The kids will love Pizza My Heart. They have plenty of veggie and vegan options for the super health conscious!

Let us know if you have any favorite Santa Cruz spots to share.

let them eat cake! (with pureed vegetables of course!)

puree vegetableMy three year old seems to be developing new food aversions by the day.  As a mom, I’m trying to figure out ways to make healthy food fun for her, or perhaps even sneak a bit of veggies or extra fruit into her meals without her knowledge!  As a child, my parents introduced me to foods of multiple cultures and ethnic backgrounds.  I want to provide the same experience for my child, but she is beginning to voice her own opinion more (a good thing), and with that comes the typical ‘I don’t like that!’ (not such a good thing).  In search of ways to help my toddler become more open-minded towards healthful cuisine, I found some interesting tips and techniques that I would like to share.


A few tips for Moms

Determine ‘why’ your child dislikes a specific kind of food.

1.       Does he or she have an aversion to certain types of texture?

2.       Does he or she have an aversion to a specific flavor or spice?

3.       Is he or she afraid to try something new?

4.       Does he or she enjoy the food unknowingly with other flavors present?


Knowing what the ‘aversion’ is will actually help you to re-create the same food in a more appealing light.  Below are a few specific techniques to recreate the dish that your child dislikes.

1.        If your child dislikes nuts, but you want to include some healthy omega 3’s in his or her diet, simply pulse walnuts in a food processor until they reach a flour-like consistency.  Then mix your nut puree into the dry ingredients of your favorite recipe.   They can replace some of the ‘bad fat’ in a cake, muffins or even dessert bread.

2.        Puree, Puree, Puree!  Pulse those veggies down in a food processor until your little one has no idea that your pasta sauce has pureed zucchini, broccoli and red peppers within it!  Just be sure that you cook your veggies before you puree them.  They are much smoother that way.  You could even grill the vegetables to add some extra flavor before you puree.  Or puree a banana and some berries to add moisture and fiber to your muffin mix.

3.       Sub ¼ canola oil for the typical amount of butter you use in a muffin batch.

4.       Substituting whole wheat flour can be a bit rough in texture for the typical young palate.  Try whole wheat pastry flour instead in your cakes, breads and muffins.  I like to use a 1:1 ratio of whole wheat pastry flour to white flour.  This adds fiber and nutrients to your baked goods without weighing it down, as whole wheat flour tends to do.

5.       Take your little one to a farmers market.   Make selecting veggies and fruits fun!  They can even pick a few out and tell you what they enjoy eating!

6.        Pick pumpkins at a local pumpkin patch in the fall or go strawberry picking at a local farm midsummer.  Don’t just make healthy foods accessible on your table, but show where they come from as well.   

mom time.

Naomi and has very recently moved with her husband and three kids to Delhi, India.  She has written several blogs about her move to India, and will continue to chronicle her adventures here on our Tea blog.  Check back to read about her exciting adventures!

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

Have you taken any time recently to have a little relaxation?

What I consider relaxation varies from day to day and can take on many different shapes.  One day it might be making an effort to drink my morning cup of coffee while it’s ALL still hot.  Other moments, I crave a pedicure. Some weeks almost demand a massage (please tell me you’ve had one before?). Other times it is simply getting 10 minutes to lay in the grass and stare up into the sky, uninterrupted.  There are times that I run a hot bath, with fizzy stuff and attempt to read a book, but most times I get too hot and crabby after 5 minutes and end up sitting in front of a fan, without having gotten any chapters read from the book.

I think that we all need a break from the go-go-go and the to-do list. It sounds obvious, right? Of COURSE we all need a reprieve from the daily grind … but how often do we really make an effort to do it?  Can you remember the last time you set aside the obligations of the day, of the week and just set aside time for YOU?

I get my best ME time when I’m writing, journaling and listening to music. I often explore or Pandora to educate myself on new-to-me music. When I can think clearly enough to plan ahead, I also very much enjoy pilates or yoga for some head-clearing time to myself.  Since this whole overseas relocation started, I have also taken to more regular pampering exercises, often at the suggestion of my husband.  When I don’t take time for myself, I can almost watch myself fall apart, lose patience with those around me and forget where I should be focused on.

Lots of moms I talk to say that they don’t make time for themselves, because they feel spoiled. They say its wasteful to take that time, get a pedicure and not be with their kiddos. I’m not spoiled, I’m just hoping for a more balanced life, and a happier momma.  I have really needed to make a conscious effort through this process to set aside time for myself. I wish I was able to help my husband – who is currently 8,000 miles away from me – to carve out some time from his busy schedule to get some “DAD time” … we sure all need it! Hoping to have that high on my list of priorities when we finally arrive in Delhi … helping him take time and focus on himself a bit more!

skype is the hype — or is it?

Ooooh, we recently downloaded Skype. My parents and uncles have been using Skype for years now, but to me it was just this weird chat thing.

Now that we have a son, I realized how convenient and fun it is to be able to see our relatives and for them to see our son. We have family all over the country, and all over the world, from Washington to Virginia to Germany. Since we’re all so scattered, it’s a nice way for them to see our son — sort of a day to day window into our lives here.

I recently read a funny and insightful essay by Peggy Orenstein about Skype. She concludes that Skype isn’t for her and her family, and that she prefers the old school way of communicating — well, recent old school ways like emailing photos.

I’m not great about sending photos. By the time I mail or email them, they are months old. So Skype is really growing on me. Plus, our relatives don’t really get to see what our son is really like and what he sounds like. Since our son’s talking a lot more now, it’s fun to see him communicate with his family members from afar. He’s even talked to relatives he’s never met before, or those he’s only met once when he was a baby, and now repeats their names as if they are his best friends.

The thing I don’t like about Skype is that it’s another activity where we end up sitting in front of the computer, staring at the screen. We try to limit our son’s screen time because he is only two. Still, I’m finding it’s a nice way of connecting to family members.

At first, I think our son was a little weirded out by the whole thing — you know, seeing his grandparents on the computer, though they’re not actually here. After Skyping he’d seem all cranky and out of sorts. Now, he will ask to see his grandparents and uncles and cousins. And dogs. He loves my sister’s and parents’ dogs and will ask to see them too.

In the end though, I’m not really afraid of us spending too much time on Skype. Our tot can only sit still for so long, especially if it’s just staring at a person’s face. Doesn’t matter even if that person is his beloved wai po (maternal grandma). He’s so used to seeing stuff on the computer that has a lot more motions, music and colors.

And it is a little awkward sometimes, just sitting and staring at each other. Actually, most of the time we’re not even looking at each other. Skypers, it seems, are usually looking down or at some other point, but not directly into the camera.

Usually within a few minutes of chatting, my son’s ready to say bye and will jump off my lap to practice his dance moves.

revisiting kiawah

Quite often, when one thinks of vacation, one’s mind is immediately drawn to places outside of the United States. This year, my family found our-selves not on vacation, but residing at our home away from home, Kiawah Island, South Carolina. My grandparents on my mother’s side have a home on Kiawah Island. Strange as it is, my husband’s grandmother on his mother’s side also owns a home there. We both feel a bond to that Island. As kids, my husband and I remember the Kiawah that used to be. We remember the quiet beaches, the local roadside vegetable markets, and the wonderful preservation of the surrounding ecosystem. It was a place where people could embrace nature in a pure form without giving up the comforts of home. It was a modern day lifestyle that embraced the efforts of the Kiawah Indians. We brought our daughter to Kiawah this year, and as I watched her play in the surf, I felt a strange melancholy come over me; my daughter would never know the pure Kiawah that I knew. The quiet beaches and no-fuss island life that I knew is slowly disappearing, and in its place stands a ritzier, more glamorous, and much more populated Kiawah. It begged the question: what kind of Kiawah would we leave her?

Even as the island has gained recognition, it remains one of the most carefully preserved barrier islands that exist today; hopefully this will not change. The Kiawah Island of old was owned by the Kiawah Indians, populated with wild horses racing through the waves. In the 1980’s nature tours had to be given in a safari-like automobile while tourists were given a layout of the land in the midst of bobcats, wild horses, herons and alligators. The natural habitat is authentic on Kiawah specifically because of the many laws that protect the wild life on the island. For example, there are no street lights on Kiawah; the community does not want to disrupt the natural cycle for the animals. Not only do the animals have the communities’ respect, but the actual land itself has immense respect from the people of Kiawah. The fact that no building is permitted on the dunes certainly prevents any additional erosion. I hope that my daughter gets to experience the ecosystem of Kiawah. I hope that things do not become too commercialized. Seeing my little one splash in the water made me realize just how simple it is to enjoy nature and how humans are naturally drawn toward natural wonders: waterfalls, beaches, mountains, caverns, lakes and valleys. We all travel to see and experience these things. There seems to be something within nature itself that is innately human. Hopefully we won’t lose that piece of ourselves within nature as these areas that we love so dearly become more and more populated. There is an Indian saying that I really connect with regarding these issues: ‘Mitakuye oyasin!’ Literally translated, it means: ‘we are all related.’ Hopefully we remember these words and treat the land as if we are all related, the ocean, the moon, the stars, the animals, the people; we are all related.

riding the rails

Maybe it’s the haunting whistle at five in the morning or perhaps it’s the gleaming steel curves of the engine, but there is something about trains that taps into a deep corner of my soul. It could be the romance-the vagabond lifestyle, the ease of which one can hop off of a train and instantly be in the heart of a new city. Or maybe it’s the pioneer spirit-looking at the open countryside filled with infinite possibilities. Regardless, as I contemplated the best way to get my family from Minneapolis to Milwaukee on a recent family vacation to the Midwest, I couldn’t shake from my mind the idea of taking the train. Sure, flying would be faster and maybe even more economical, but an airplane would be just one more opportunity for our luggage to get lost. We could have rented a car, but that option would have left us with children complaining of the monotonous views from the windows and wanting to stretch their legs. So, the train it was.

While it was no Japanese bullet train or the Orient Express, my children could not have enjoyed their six hours on the Empire Builder more. From the moment we boarded the train and climbed up a narrow staircase to our seats, the fun never stopped. There were complicated footrests to master and train table charts to look at. There was the observation car with its oval side tables and views of the Mississippi. There was the excitement of the dining car where we sat at a table with strangers and ate ice cream with tiny paddles. Every moment held a breathtaking discovery.

Watching my children embrace the experience of traveling on a train, I couldn’t help but think of the first train trips that I took in Europe and the indelible memories that they have left. How could I ever forget sitting on my pack in a cramped hallway while 70 German teenagers on a school holiday trip chattered the night away? And my heart still skips a beat when I remember the shock of having a border guard in Hungary burst into our train compartment in the middle of the night with his German Shepherd growling at us.

In a world that measures achievement by tasks accomplished or the distance one has gone, traveling by train forces one to slow down. The calming rhythm of the train and the measured pace of the scenery slipping by the window always has a meditative effect on me, and it had the same effect on my children. As we gazed idly out the window, we commented on the birds that we saw or the red barns in the distance. And perhaps that is the romance of the train-this communal experience with one’s fellow passengers and with the landscape, all of which is something that kids seem to be hardwired to enjoy.