a happy birthday brunch for our three year old!

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Willa turned three last week!

So far, I’m not sure what to make of this age. It’s so hot and cold. Up and down. She’s the cutest little girl EVER and then moments later she is so naughty. But I know it’s all part of her development, and I’m doing my best to take deep breaths and be patient and supportive as she’s learning.

She’s working on being a big sister. She loves her little brother and enjoys having him around. She will say, “Hi little buddy!” when he wakes up from a nap, and if he’s fussing, she’ll say, “It’s ok Cameron!” and then tell him something about what’s going on. She has trouble sharing her toys with him. She often grabs things away from him. But she’ll occasionally bring him a toy to play with, and she loves to share her food with him while they’re at the table eating.

My favorite thing about Willa at this stage are our conversations. She loves to ask me questions. Lately we’ve been talking a lot about “workers” and what they build. She started with, “Mama, did workers build our house?” And now she asks if workers have built other things. The other day we were driving somewhere and she asked me to explain how the workers built our car. You can feel her mind working.

She remembers details and events of things we did so long ago. I am always surprised when she reminds me of them weeks or months later. She can carry on a conversation so well. It blows me away. She is getting so tall and so smart. I feel proud of the beautiful and inquisitive little girl she is growing into. She challenges and delights me each day.

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Her birthday was a wonderful day! We were lucky to have family in town to celebrate and we threw a little brunch shindig with friends, donuts, cake, and an inflatable pink picture frame (Is that what we call it? No idea. But it was fun!).

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DSC07659^^”Mango cake!” For weeks before her birthday, Willa was telling everyone that she was going to have a mango cake. We weren’t sure exactly what a mango cake was, but opted for vanilla cake with mango custard in the middle and buttercream frosting. It was delicious. Willa might have ruined her appetite with donuts, but I certainly enjoyed it. Huge thanks to the pastry chef! ;)^^

DSC07662-001^^Cam slept for the first half of the party, but woke up and put on his party pants. He tried some snacks and was super excited to meet his Uncle Mike!^^

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DSC07549-001^^An inflatable pink frame = possibly the best $1.99 I’ve ever spent at Goodwill.^^

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wastefulness in parenting

I sometimes feel as though parenting, in American society, is an endeavor fraught with wastefulness. Even before your baby is born, “they” (“we”?) hit you full force by making you think you need not only diapers and wipes but also swings and bouncers and bottle warmers and so many clothes and pacifier wipes and bottles and disposable breast pads and milk storage bags and more and more and more…Then, as your baby gets older, you suddenly need individual squeeze packs of baby food and more clothes and boogie wipes and disposable placemats and bright colored plastic dishes and then more individually packaged snacks and milks. And toys! Lots of toys. Plus books. Newly printed books.

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In the toddler years, it’s more than your own choices and the relentless marketing: if your child is anything like mine, once they’re around 2, they take wastefulness into their own hands and want to play with tissue after tissue and use three feet of toilet paper for each pee and squirt out excessive amounts of sunscreen “all by myself” when there’s not even a ray of sunshine in the sky. And don’t even get me started on how much she “washes” her hands with “just a little bit” of hand sanitizer. And here in drought-prone Denver, Willa singlehandedly wastes at least a gallon of water a day between playing with it in the backyard or washing her hands for several loooooong minutes. Ok and now that I write that, I realize that must be much more than a gallon.

As someone with an above average interest in waste reduction, this all drives me CRAZY. On good days, I was able to avoid most of the initial pitfalls. But sometimes those damn squeeze packs of applesauce just seem too convenient. And now that Willa is often the driver of our wastefulness, I struggle with how strict to be. Is it really that big of a deal if she wants to play with 5 tissues for her doll? And all that water play seems like it has some developmental benefits, right? Physics and such? Plus, we don’t have that many toys, so playing with water and tissues and hand sanitizer is cheaper than getting new toys?

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Parenting is a lot of work (shocker!). And the little things that make it easier can make a huge difference. I totally get that. And I agree! But I do think we should all take step back a from time to time to ask ourselves how necessary all the stuff we are buying actually is for our childrens’ development. I might ask these questions a bit too often; aggravating those around me with my constant analysis, but going against the prevalent disposable culture doesn’t always come easily or naturally. I have to constantly remind myself to make what I consider the better decision. And I also have to forgive myself when I cave and buy a ton of individually packaged snacks, wipes, and disposable diapers for whatever reason.

Below I’ve listed are some of the choices I’ve made related to waste and parenting in the past couple of years. Most are obvious, and as with most (all) posts on this blog, they’re really just reminders for me. I completely support everyone making the decisions that are best for their own life and family, but sometimes it’s good to realize the options. So these are the little things I try (key word) to do to reduce our family’s waste, but I also don’t think I’m an extremist. I like a snazzy new shirt or toy or book and I love eating a LÄRABAR when I need breakfast or a snack on the go. Balance is what I’m going for. (Although I’m not budging on the boogie wipes or pacifier wipes. Those are ridiculous.)

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Parenting choices to ponder to potentially reduce waste:

Cloth wipes. I really don’t think babies need as many disposable wipes as we seem to think they do. A gentle cloth on the bum or face that then easily gets thrown into the wash seems like a no-brainer. Save the money and the chemicals and the waste! These GroVia wipes are my favorite. They’re so soft and have held up great for over two years. And I honestly find they work better than the disposable ones for cleaning a soiled bum. So that’s something.

Cloth diapers. I was only a few months pregnant with Willa when I decided that we’d use cloth diapers. It just seemed logical. Cloth diapers have gotten all “fancy,” which means they are super easy to use. And for me, the most motivating factor is how much cheaper they are than disposables. Plus no driving to the store to replenish your stock, which is great for someone like me who never seems to be able to keep necessities on hand. I completely understand that there are tons of reasons that cloth diapers might not work for some families. But even if you use just a few cloth diapers in addition to disposables, that can make a difference to both the landfills and to your budget! And there are some diapers that are a hybrid, like gDiapers. Disposable inserts with a cloth cover. So many options!

Reusable Nursing Pads. (Apparently I’m starting with the cloth portion of my suggestions.) I loved using cloth pads during my early breastfeeding days. I had a few of both kinds, and found the disposable pads to be really scratchy and uncomfortable. You’re likely doing a good amount of laundry anyway, and chances are, that laundry already has some milk stains on it!

Eat meals at home. This one is super challenging for me! But, ever since Willa started solids, I’ve made an effort to, at least more often than not, have our meals and snacks at home. I not only think it’s good for her to learn that we should sit down for mealtime rather than continually eat throughout the day (and to be honest I really need this reminder too), but also this makes it easier to feed her fresh, whole foods instead of relying on prepared snack foods which have a lot of packaging and aren’t usually as healthful. This is definitely a goal of mine, not a reality, as I’m sure I could be “caught” several times each week giving her an individually packaged snack. But I try to keep it in mind. (Side note: She loves Nature’s Bakery “fig bars” that you can get at Costco, but I got annoyed of all the packaging. So I found similar ones at the regular grocery in less packaging, but they were 3x the price. Blargh. Lose-lose.) Related: teach your kids to drink from a regular cup by the time they’re one, as recommended by doctors. The sooner they use the same utensils as adults, the less plastic stuff you have to buy.

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Buy milk in glass bottles. I was determined not to have a baby who was obsessed with cow’s milk. Better luck next time, because we drink a lot of milk these days. It doesn’t help that once I tasted whole, non-homogenized, local milk, I was obsessed myself. I finally found a local milk that comes in reusable bottles, so I’m not recycling a carton every week.

Buy used. So many people have babies. And all those people buy baby stuff. And then, their babies grow up. They don’t need their baby stuff anymore. They’d love to sell it to you! Or maybe even give it to you. When I wanted to get Willa a Bumbo, Dan shuddered at the thought of millions of Bumbos in a landfill. Just picture that for a second. As a world, don’t need that many foam seats! So I found a used one through our neighborhood parents’ group, and made friends with the gal who sold it to me too! Hit up eBay, Goodwill, thredUp, Kidizen, Swap.com, or borrow from your friends and neighbors!

Go to the library. Books take up space. Printing books uses trees. Kids “favorite” books change all the time. Buy a few you love, and then go to the library for fun new ones. This isn’t rocket science. (You’re all like, “duh!”) But take it to another level and look for a toy library in your area. We have one near us, and it’s amazing to be able to check out toys for a few weeks and then take them back for something else that’s new and exciting. I’ve even heard that some cities have babywearing libraries. Awesome.

Upcycle. Yogurt containers make great snack traps. Old baby blankets can be used as wipes or rags. And so many things can be used for craft projects or toys instead of being thrown away or recycled.

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Buy gender-neutral. This ensures you can use them again if you have multiple kids. I’ve had this on my mind a lot lately, since I’m having a boy (next month, whoa!). You can accent the greens or yellows by buying more “gendered” items that are specific to that one kid. For example, hair ties or tights for girls. I think this is especially important with bigger items like bikes. Why buy a “girl” bike that your daughter will outgrow and then your son might not be into riding given its pink and sparkly nature. I’d say the boy should just ride it anyway, but we can avoid that issue by just getting a neutral bike at the start.

Read things that support your parenting style. I get frustrated when Willa’s not playing independently “enough,” and I sometimes think it’s because she “needs” more toys. But I don’t truly believe this. So I find articles to support my views, which helps bring me back to reality. Self-serving? Yes. But keeps me sane!

There are so many more things I wish I could bring myself to do, but I gotta keep it real. We might be on the “rag system” for wiping up messes around our house, but I don’t see myself stopping buying toilet paper any time soon…

32nd ave farmers’ market

Thankfully, my annoying sickness only lasted about 24 hours, so by Saturday I was back in action and my parents came down for a re-do last hurrah. There was no baseball game, but we made our own fun. We enjoyed sushi takeout for dinner on Saturday (before they return to the land of no sushi) and on Sunday morning we decided to hit up the 32nd Avenue farmers’ market. We’ve been super excited that a farmers’ market opened in our ‘hood this year, but hadn’t yet had a chance to really check it out. I went down there with Willa and the dog a few weeks ago, but despite their omnipresence at every farmers’ market in the nation, navigating a market with a dog and a toddler is NOT easy. Also, when I was there I’d just had a big breakfast, so I didn’t need anything to eat. And I didn’t have any cash, which doesn’t really fly at a farmers’ market.

So this time we left the dog at home, had plenty of adults to wrangle the toddler, and purposefully went hungry. There were so many good things to try! Lots of samples from people making their own jams and pierogis and whatnot (all “handmade” with “local ingredients” of course!) and several food trucks. There were also a few cool coffee carts/vans/wagons that I’ll try next time. (Reminder to self: must go to the market both hungry and uncaffeinated.)

DSC03867DSC03868^^willa’s in the middle of saying, “let’s go get some food!” and that’s indeed what we were about to do. we hit up the japanese hawaiian truck, pacific bonsai, and it was superb!^^

DSC03874 DSC03899^^top: blackened mahi mahi lettuce wrap / BBQ pork slider. bottom: beer battered fish taco / chicken katsu and egg breakfast taco. my favorite was the lettuce wrap. it was all the right kinds of flavorful: spicy, sweet, and grilled.^^

DSC03872^^a rare family shot!^^

DSC03878DSC03886^^aiko pops for dessert. willa and my mom loved the coconut nutella, but dan and i were partial to the coconut anise. only problem was they melted even faster than the average pop on a hot day. willa didn’t seem to mind though!^^

Overall it was an awesome place to spend a couple hours; lots going on but at the same time not overwhelmingly crowded. And we had a lovely time with my parents.

My only complaint: they need to get recycle bins! It hurt my heart to see so much paper and plastic being thrown away.

no more bottled water.

I’m a rule follower. When someone of authority tells me to do something, I do it. And when I break rules or recommendations, I do so only with intense anxiousness.

Before we left for Costa Rica, I called my doctor’s travel clinic to talk about our trip. We had all the necessary vaccinations, but the lady I spoke with emphasized that we should not drink the tap water there. I asked a few follow up questions, because what I’d read had made me think the tap water was safe in Costa Rica, but this woman insisted there were serious health risks.

DSC02451^^costa rica sunset. february 2014^^

I hate buying water. I hate creating unnecessary waste. Both of these principles are hard to stick to when you’re traveling in a place without potable water. I’ve spent a good deal of time in China, and it’s actually not hard there, because boiled water is readily available. When I studied abroad in Harbin in 2003, I’d fill my Nalgene with boiled water and stick it out on the windowsill to cool off. Sure, bottled water was cheap. But think of all the people in China. If they’re all drinking water from bottles, imagine how many plastic bottles that is. Where do they all go?

ForbidCityLady^^woman sweeping up trash at the forbidden city in beijing. taken by my mom when visiting me in december 2003.^^

But back to Costa Rica. While there, we bought bottled water. 6L jugs of it usually, so only 4 or 5 were needed to get us through the 10 days. But still, those bottles made my heart hurt. Especially when an expat in line at the supermarket lectured me about how Costa Rica’s drinking water was totally safe. I know, lady, you’re preaching to the choir. But I didn’t want to risk it with Willa, and getting sick was not in our vacation plans. I didn’t want to go against what my doctor had advised.

DSC02141^^selvatura park. monteverde, costa rica. february 2014.^^

But during our trip, I vowed I’d do something different the next time. Once home, I went through my bookmarks and favorited tweets, and found two fantastic organizations I’d previously heard about: Ban the Bottle, and Travelers Against Plastic. I’ve been following Ban the Bottle for a few years since I support their mission of: “eliminating plastic bottles in schools, offices and public areas…[so] we can eliminate unneeded waste in landfills.” Travelers Against Plastic has a different, but potentially even more important slant. Their mission is to “educate global travelers about the harmful impacts of plastic water bottles usage and encourage travelers to be prepared to clean their own drinking water.”

DSC06181^^GUILTY! penang, malaysia. july 2011.^^

On their resources page, they recommend a few methods: a SteriPEN, which is likely familiar to those who go camping, as well as old fashioned iodine tablets. We used to use those when I went to summer camp, and the water always had an odd taste. But apparently they’re more advanced now and you can get neutralizing tablets which elimiate it.

As someone who cares a lot about these types of issues, I am mad at myself for not thinking more about this before our trip. It would have been so easy to buy a $50 SteriPEN or pack a few iodine tablets which are even cheaper! But even I didn’t think of it. The only way to make change is to educate people. I’m glad I’ve been thinking about it lately. I hope you, too, will think twice before buying a bottle of water?