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.

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.

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.

raising a healthy vegetarian baby or toddler

Here’s to the illustrious, healthy vegetarian baby. Reading the newspapers, even talking to doctors, and certainly talking to my parents you might worry it’s as rare as the three toed astronaut. But vegetarians have been raising healthy babies for centuries, throughout the world. Here’s how we do it in Houston.

The major caveat in raising a healthy, happy, vegetarian baby is that you have to expand the kind of items you put on your grocery list. You need to start buying the exotic goods staring out at you from the bulk bins in your health food store or co-op of choice. The other major caveat is that you have to learn how to cook. No more sandwiches for both of your two meals a day, no more a slice of pizza here and some french fries there. If you can manage both these tasks, you can raise your vegetarian baby just fine.

Grasshopper, our resident vegetarian baby, usually has six or seven meals a day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, snack, dinner, snack. She eats so frequently because she doesn’t always finish a meal, and that’s okay. If she eats three bites of lunch, I operate under the assumption that that old demon hunger will compel her to munch more heavily during her later snacks. (GreenDaddy’s mom — Grasshopper’s Dadi — visited this weekend and told me she’d read an article suggesting that part of the obesity epidemic in the US is linked to people forcing their children to eat every last scrap on the plate…that is, to eat when they’re not hungry. I love studies that support my habits!)

The best thing about Grasshopper’s frequent snacking, I think, is that it makes it much easier for me to ensure she’s eating from the Green Parenting Food Circle (not a triangle because some days she gets more of one than the other): protein, fruit, grains, vegetables, water & dairy daily between snacks and meals.

With all this in mind, I thought I’d put out this list of foods that Grasshopper is inordinately fond of, and/or, doesn’t know she eats but does regularly. I’m certain I’ve forgotten or don’t know about other great ideas, and I’d love any new ideas to widen our range.

Grasshopper’s Favorite Vegan Foods:

Veggie/Bean/Tofu Burgers. We make them at home, usually. None of us like the store bought much. Recipes abound on the internet, and I’ve posted our general recipe on the site.

Tofu. What can’t you do with tofu? We freeze it, bake it, fry it, stir it into homemade veggie burgers, and use it in the occasional smoothie. While I’m not such a huge fan of tofu blocks in food, Grasshopper is. In a pinch, I buy the pre-made teriyaki tofu from the Whole Foods salad bar.

Frozen edamame and lima beans. I microwave them in water for about 45 seconds. A favorite snack of MaGreen and Grasshopper alike.

All the other beans. Since I got my pressure cooker in gear — which means I can go from dry to cooked chickpeas in less than forty minutes — I love buying all sorts of crazy looking beans at Whole Foods. Turtles, Aztecs, Black Beans, Navy, Kidney, Garbanzo. Usually I cook these with greens.

Lentils & Dahls. GreenDaddy has a favorite traditional Gujurati dahl, and I have a few favorites I make. Grasshopper munches them up.

Rice. A quarter of our meals are served over brown or white Basmati. This was one of the baby’s first favorites.

Hot Cereals. I alternate between oat grout, seven grain, and plain old oatmeal from the bulk bins.

Molasses. Grasshopper needs Iron supplements and the iron drops the doctor prescribed taste exactly like you’re eating a pole in winter: metallic and you can’t unstick the flavor from your tongue for hours. After trying many vitamin supplements I listened to my mother and started adding molasses to her cereal: within two months her iron levels were right where they were supposed to be.

Quinoa & Amarynth. Super protein filled seed-grains of the Aztecs. I add them rice whenever I cook it, put a little in her seven grain cereal in the morning.

Noodles. Who doesn’t like a good noodle every now and then?

Sunflower & pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I grind them and put them in food, sometimes I just put them in food, sometimes we just snack on them.

Nuts. Walnuts, peanuts, cashews. No allergies in this house, thankfully. She’s just learned how to chew them well enough to snack on.

Peanut butter. Grasshopper likes it on slices of apples.

Dried, unsweetened cranberries and apples we always have on hand. And I also usually have another sort of dried unsweetened fruit, pineapple if it’s available, or mango.

Veggies. Broccoli, corn, green beans, and carrots are her favorites. I don’t put any sauces on them, except butter on occasion. I remember my dad trying to “mask the taste” of broccoli with melted cheese and just destroying the vegetable for me. I was shocked to discover I loved it when I was twelve or thirteen and my always dieting stepmother demanded he serve the cheese to the side so she could eat hers with lemon juice over it. I believe I told every single person I met for a month about this amazing discovery of lemon juice on broccoli.

Greens. The vegetable that one ups all the others. We’re in the south, we get a variety of Kales, Collards, Mustard, Beet, Dandelion, Chards, Spinach…and a few I just can’t think of. For Grasshopper I choose the more tender varieties and least pungent: Spinach, Chards, Dinosaur Kale. I usually cook them with beans or if it’s a tough green, I boil it in the water with pasta. Grasshopper loves them sometimes, hates them sometimes.

Mushrooms. She likes cooked mushrooms.

Berries. Frozen blueberries. Seasonal raspberries, blueberries, strawberries.

Fruit. Apples, oranges, bananas, mango, melons, grapes.

Crackers. Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies or TLC cheddar crackers. But also just regular wheat crackers. Basically, I get what is the cheapest of the healthy (non-hydrogenated oil, baked) crackers.

Catsup. What can you do? She loves to dip.

Non-Vegan:

Quorn. It’s a brand of meat-aping protein consisting primarily of fungus n’whey, you find it in the frozen food, next to the Boc-blech Burgers. I like giving it to Grasshopper because I don’t want to overload her with soy. It comes in fake chicken & fake meatball forms. Whole Foods has it on sale once a month, usually, and I stock up, or I can’t afford it.

Cheese Ravioli. I buy Whole Foods brand, find them in the freezer section. I have also tried Costco’s three cheese ravioli and it was still too complex for her delicate tastes…

Whole Yogurt. Grasshopper eats a few bowls of plain yogurt with honey in it a day. It’s her primary dairy intake.

Honey. She inherited her craving of honey from my mom. For yogurt and cereals.

Milk. In her cereal. On occasion she’ll drink it.

Eggs. She’s on and off with eggs, and we eat them rarely.

Cheese. Grasshopper isn’t a fan of cheese, but some other babies might be.

-MaGreen

MaGreen and GreenDaddy are Houston writers who have chronicled their attempts at becoming “greener” since 2005, on their blog, Green Parenting.

play time

Every day after naptime, my two-year-old and I made the short trek to the local spielplatz (playground). It was a popular time of day for the toddler set. As soon as the castle-like climbing structure came into view, we could see other kids running amok, their mothers holding court at one of the many picnic tables. One particular group of Moms was a constant, a Queen-Bee-type clique led by one of those tall, blonde, perfectly-put-together German mothers. She and I never exchanged more than a “Guten Tag,” my obvious American-ness making me feel too conspicuous to say more.

 

My son, Chet, had no problem ingratiating himself with the local children. Despite the language barrier, as soon as we stepped foot on the playground’s gravel, he’d find himself surrounded by other children, sharing their toys and games. But me? Despite my fledgling German, I always seemed to be on the outside looking in. The lone outsider.

 

Until the day after Fasching, the German equivalent of Mardi Gras.

 

On that day, as we approached the playground, I saw Mrs. Lead-Queen-Bee standing near the swings, holding her small daughter at bay. Once near, we saw the problem. Fasching’s partygoers had visited the playground the night before and left behind a mess of broken glass and party favors. Worse, they had done mischief, throwing dirt and water all over the slide and swinging the swings up out of reach. The other regulars must have seen the mess and turned tail back home. But Mrs. Lead-Queen-Bee and I had two children who would not be dissuaded. They wanted to swing.

 

What else could two mothers do? We cleaned up the glass as best as we could. But that didn’t solve the swing problem. Mrs. Lead-Queen-Bee handed me her daughter and then tried to jump up and dislodge it. But even at nearly 6 feet tall, she couldn’t quite reach. So instead, she turned to me and asked a question.

 

At first, I couldn’t quite make out what she wanted. At just over 5 feet, I had no shot of knocking it down on my own. What could she be asking? I looked at her quizzically and said, “Wie bitte?” She repeated the question, this time with hand motions. She wanted me to climb on to her shoulders. She said we’d have more luck zusammen (together).

 

Our children laughed at the sight of me climbing on to her shoulders. But that laughter soon changed to cheering as, together, we got both swings around and down.

 

As we spent the afternoon pushing our kids on the swings, listening to their attempts at communication. Going by their example, Mrs. Lead-Queen-Bee and I started our own talking. There were a lot of words we couldn’t explain around, a fair amount of topics shut down with a shrug and confused look. But we kept trying.

 

And the next day after nap time, Mrs. Lead-Queen-Bee waved me over to her table and introduced me to as her Amerikanische Freund (American Friend). I was never on the outside again.