L at Three

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  1. I have to stop referring to him as “the toddler” since he clearly isn’t a toddler anymore. “The preschooler” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, especially since he’s not going to preschool. “The three year old” may just have to do.
  2. He loves dragons. And dinosaurs. And looking for Komodo dragons (“Komo drai”) in the forest. (Note that any arrangement of two or more trees constitutes a forest.) And peeking into holes in trees to look for a baby dragon’s nest. And reading books about dragons. And seeing dinosaurs and dragons at the zoo. And correcting us about dinosaur names. (There are soooooo many dinosaurs.)
  3. He is crazy good at jigsaw puzzles. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given his laser focus on his pattern blocks earlier in the year – he would literally spend the entire day precisely placing the blocks on the patterns or making patterns of his own – but at 3, he is doing puzzles that are supposed to be for kids aged 6+.
  4. He can consistently identify upper case letters and most lower case letters, though he gets turned around by the lowercase magnets for b/d, u/n, d/a, and h/n, all of which are pretty understandable. He likes to sing a version of the ABC song. He can also count to ten, thanks to a lot of practice with a homemade acorn game.
  5. He is absolutely spoiled with educational riches in our neighborhood and our city. They go to storytime at the Museum of Science and Industry (“robot museum”) and at the wonderful 57th Street Books (“bookstore”) every week. The staff at the Oriental Institute know him by name (and he knows about pharaohs, ankhs, and the lamassu). They regularly go to the Field (“dinosaur museum”) and the Shedd, and we like to make a weekend afternoon of a visit to the Nature Museum and North Pond, especially on Cold Blooded Weekends, when he can hold snakes and dragons on his lap thanks to the Chicago Herpetological Society.
  6. Our long national nightmare of broken sleep seems to finally have resolved itself, in part thanks to night weaning back in June. Naps remain a moving target – sometimes he naps, and sometimes he doesn’t, and sometimes that’s fine, and sometimes it’s terrible.
  7. His language and conversation skills have absolutely exploded. It’s wonderful and funny and also exhausting because now that he can actually communicate well, he never stops talking. When he notices us laughing at something he’s said, he will repeat it again (and again, and again) for even more laughs. He was absolutely delighted by us singing Happy Birthday to him, and has been singing it to himself at random moments for the last week.
  8. He has started to test boundaries and assert his will. Sometimes it’s funny:
    – I asked if he wanted to nurse before bed. He said “LISTEN! Numbers first.”
    – I was seasoning my food with soy sauce. He asked for “more sauce?” I pretended to season his food. He said “No! Lid off!” Busted!
    But a lot of times it isn’t:
    – He wants his independence while walking, but doesn’t always listen when approaching crosswalks. Or he will want to hold hands, but then go absolutely limp, making us stop multiple times in a block.
    – We took a little vacation for his birthday. He screamed and kicked in the car for an hour straight. We had multiple sidewalk conversations about how he needed to be quiet (or at least not screaming) and listen (because we were in a strange place) and not hurt people (no kicking, no hitting, no jerking on arms). And then he would do it all again, and then I would stop and talk to him again. “Do you remember what we talked about?” “Quiet, listen.” “What else?” “Don’t hurt Papa.” “OK, can we try again?” Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat until everyone is exhausted and in need of a pintje.
  9. He loves tofu and overnight oats and raisins and fruit and bread and tiny amounts of decaf coffee in a demitasse cup. He loves helping in the kitchen, and I’m learning to slow down and delegate tasks that are safe for small hands. We’ve done a little baking together recently – plum cake when plums appeared in our $1 bag from Open Produce, a banana cake for his birthday, topped with vegan dark chocolate ganache and rainbow sprinkles.
  10. He thrives in nature. He loves playgrounds, but he especially loves just playing outdoors – whether it’s walking his little wooden dog or collecting acorns for chipmunks (“make a little burrow” or foraging at the Garden of the Phoenix (“Japanese garden”, “See the waterfall?”). A summer full of outdoor play has made him healthy, adventurous, and strong.

So that’s three, or parts of it: delightful and exhausting, frustrating and hilarious. We’re constantly grateful and humbled by the work of parenting and the great gift of this little weirdo.

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The last few months in food

While I’ve stuck to my resolution to try at least four new recipes each month, I’ve done a terrible job of sharing them here. Since I have neither the inclination nor the data to figure out everything new that we’ve cooked since, oh, April, here are some highlights:

The Best Lentil Salad Ever – My New Roots
YOU GUYS, we ate this one to death over a couple of weeks of Sunday night picnics followed by several weekdays of lunches. The ingredient list is long, but that’s because the dressing is complex and wonderful and only improves the next day. If you are open to the possibility of a lentil-based salad, get you to the kitchen (and maybe the spice aisle to stock up) and make this right now.

Secret Ingredient Frozen Hot Chocolate – My New Roots
Let’s get this out of the way: the secret ingredient is frozen cauliflower. But I assure you that you won’t taste it at all. Really. This was delicious, especially with a dollop of coconut cream. If you’re less strict about refined sugars or dairy products, I bet you could doctor this up to be sincerely wonderful while still containing sneaky vegetables/fiber.

Roasted Cauliflower Tacos with Chipotle Romesco – Minimalist Baker
This romesco will blow the socks off your Taco Tuesday. This recipe requires relatively little effort unless you are like me and think that making tortillas from scratch is a reasonable thing to do on a weeknight with a broken finger.

Quinoa Cauliflower Tabbouleh – In Pursuit of More
Oh hello, another grain salad obsession. The combination of herbs, fruit, nuts, and a citrusy dressing is perfect for summer.

Vegan Banana Cake – Imagelicious
$1 bags of bananas from Open Produce sometime mean that we make a spontaneous cake. This was simple and delicious and will likely be revisited for the toddler’s birthday in a few weeks. I omitted the walnuts because: why.

Spring Cabbage Wraps with Couscous, Za’atar, and Spicy Tahini Dressing – My New Roots
The toddler likes saying “couscous”. I like that this took about 20 minutes to put together WITH the toddler from start to finish, including making the couscous, the spice mix, and the dressing. The red cabbage we used was a little too tough, but otherwise, this was a winner.

Red Earth Beet Burger – Harvest & Honey
I’ve been fumbling around trying to find a recipe for homemade veggie burgers that I really like. We had leftover beets and lentils from the Beet Party (see below), so I used this recipe as a guide. Good stuff.  This burger recipe from Blue Apron was somewhat less successful.

Fairy Tale Eggplant and Mozzarella Pizza with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes and Summer Squash – Blue Apron
We had two really solid pizzas in our Blue Apron boxes this summer. The flavor of this eggplant was really superb. This pizza was also nice.

Sundown Carrot and Grilled Corn Salad – My New Roots
One of many solid picnic dishes from this summer, especially with in season Midwest corn.

Watermelon Fattoush – Blue Apron
Another great picnic dish, though unfortunately this yielded a ton but didn’t keep all that well.

Beet Party – My New Roots
Another solid picnic dish, though I made all kinds of substitutions with what we had on hand. The recipe is vegan, but crumbed feta is an excellent addition for non vegans.

Poke-Inspired Beet Bowl – My New Roots
We eat fish, so I can tell you that this is not a substitute for actual poke, but it was a nice weeknight dinner. I like composed bowls of things, even if they require a bit more prep up front, in part because everyone can take as much of the things they actually want.

Summer Tian with Chermoula – Harvest & Honey
While I didn’t make exactly this, I made something extremely similar to this, and while it was gorgeous, it was also hard to serve.

Sweet & Savory Korean Rice Cakes – Blue Apron
This was interesting! I didn’t know what to expect from the Korean rice cakes, so it was a nice opportunity to try an ingredient we never would have worked with on our own.

Cod & Tomatillo Salsa with Summer Squash & Sweet Potato Hash – Blue Apron
While we eat fish, we rarely buy it, so this was a nice treat – an easy fish dish complemented by a really nice vegetable hash. N doesn’t tend to like sweet potatoes, but he liked these!

Sesame Soba Noodles with Gai Lan, Mushrooms, & Ginger Lime Peanuts – Blue Apron
A nice stir fry, but nothing to write home about. This dish sort of exemplifies my dissatisfaction with Blue Apron – the meals are generally good, but definitely not worth the $10 per-portion cost.

Blueberry Cardamom Chia Pudding – My New Roots
This was nice, but the volume did not work with our Vitamix. Alas.

Chilled Hiyashi Chuka Ramen – Blue Apron
This Blue Apron meal was a solid dud. The noodles were stuck together. The eggs popped while boiling. My attempt to make sesame mushrooms with $1 bag produce only sort of worked.

Monday.

I haven’t kept up with the things I’ve been meaning to keep up with here. For example:

  • The new recipes we tried in May and June through the haze and hubbub of downsizing, moving, unpacking, and conference travel.
  • The races I ran back in April
  • The toddler’s latest obsessions
  • The books I’ve been reading (because I’ve actually been reading!)

I don’t have time or head/heart-space to do most of this justice right now, but I can do a quick mid-year check in on my 2017 resolutions:

  1. Eliminate credit card debt.
    Done. We hit our savings back in February to make this happen, and have been paying off balances each month. We’re still using our cards more than I would like, and are repaying our savings more slowly as a result, but we’re making it happen (and earning some travel points along the way).
  2. Take action every week.
    No, and I feel terribly guilty about that. At some point the many-times-daily asks for money overwhelmed me, and lacking an immediate way to prioritize, I shut down. I’m trying to get back in the swing of things.
  3. Finish Brain Pickings book club list.
    This has been so much fun so far! I don’t expect that we’ll read all 16 books, but that’s just fine with me.
  4. Incorporate professional development into my schedule.
    I’ve gone to conferences, but that’s about it.
  5. Finish weaning.
    We’re in the final throes of night weaning right now. We had planned to do this months ago, but it didn’t happen, and then we were moving and didn’t push it, and then it sort of organically happened around my work trip. Progress!
  6. PR at any distance.
    destroyed my 5K PR back in April, then ran a painful half marathon the next morning. A PR at both distances was within reach, but I have no regrets about letting the second one go because the first one was so huge for me!
  7. More regular visits with family.
    This one is happening! We’ve seen my family about once/month, including a trip to Iowa for my grandma’s 99th birthday in May.
  8. At least two blog posts/month.
    I managed to keep up with this until last month. Not bad!
  9. Try at least four new recipes/month.
    We’re still doing relatively well at this one. My parents gifted us with a Blue Apron gift certificate to help take some hassle out of moving meals, so that’s been a nice infusion of ideas. (We have free meal codes if anyone wants to try the service.)
  10. Make time for monthly dates.
    Thanks to the extreme generosity of our friends and my mom, we’ve been able to go out a few times, though definitely not every month. It’s progress!

An afternoon list

Because my brain is melting due to survey analysis, a too-large cold brew, and possibly too much sugar, an afternoon list about our new life in Hyde Park:
  1. This morning I left my house a little after 7, biked to the gym (5 minutes), ran to the other gym to meet my running group, ran around Washington Park, ran 1 km repeats on the track, then ran back to my gym to get cleaned up before work. By 8:30, I was at my desk, fighting off the warm sleepies of a hard workout.
  2. While I was doing all of that, my family walked to Jackson Park to take in the Japanese garden, more properly known as The Garden of the Phoenix, where they looked at the birds and the leaves, and where the toddler ran freely amongst SKYLANDING, Yoko Ono’s only installation in America.
  3. On Saturday, we took a walk to the 57th Street Art Fair,which was a much more pleasant experience than the art-on-sticks onslaught of Ann Arbor’s Art Fair, but perhaps that was because we could dip in and out, our toddler falling asleep in the stroller as we walked down the shaded streets.
  4. The toddler and I attended a “nature playdate” at the pocket park out our back door. The park used to have the typical playground apparatus, but has been converted into a nature playground, with lots of sticks and rocks and tree stumps and a big sandbox for digging and exploration. Basically, it’s toddler heaven.
  5. We’ve developed an (unhealthy?) obsession with Roti, a Chicago-based chain with a location a short walk from our new apartment. Many ways to configure a vegan meal plus delicious non-vegan options for me plus extra pita bread for the toddler makes for a happy family.
  6. In addition to a wonderful independent grocery store at the end of our alley, we’re within a 10 minute walk of two other grocery stores, with other options a short bike ride away. It’s great to not have to pile into the car every time we need something – it’s also much more convenient since a smaller kitchen with smaller (Euro-sized, not dorm-sized) appliances means we have to shop more often.
  7. When we walk up the stairs to our third floor apartment, the toddler says, with emphasis, “New house!”.
  8. My family has been walking me to work, and then heading over to the quad to visit the ducks. We won’t do this every morning, of course, but it’s been a nice change from the mornings where I had to extricate myself from a crying child to get in the car and sit in traffic on my commute (which, while not terrible by Chicago standards, was still a driving commute).
  9. My commute is now a 15 minute walk or a 5 minute bike ride.
  10. I hate commuting, so my new commute is life-changing.

Pilsen, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

We’re moving to Hyde Park this weekend after three years in Pilsen – four years total for me. This is the longest time I’ve lived anywhere since moving out of my parents’ house twenty years ago, and as I write them down, both of those numbers seem crazy to me. For a solid decade, I moved at least every year, and while few of those moves were capricious, this current move has been so exhausting that I can’t imagine what the previous ones were like.

But I suppose things are different now. This apartment is the first that we shared together, and the last place we lived before becoming parents. It’s where we brought our baby home from the hospital. Where I breastfed him in the green chairs by the window while watching the marathon that I had wanted to run. Where he learned how to roll over and crawl and walk and talk and feed himself and use the toilet and draw jellyfish. Where those milestone came on the back of days and weeks and months of broken sleep. It’s where we said goodbye to Pandora, N’s faithful cat companion of many many years.

When I first moved to Chicago, Hyde Park felt like the suburbs to me – geographically far, relatively sleepy, and generally undesirable for someone who wanted to live in the city. I fell in love with the idea of a certain kind of life, and Hyde Park didn’t offer any of those things.

But again, things are different now. Five years ago, I went dancing every week. My weekends involved boozy nights out and foggy headed brunches with friends. I could do my long run, nap all afternoon, and then stay out until the wee hours with few consequences. It’s been almost two years since I went dancing – not since Neo closed. We’ve been trying for almost two weeks to wrangle a night when the toddler goes to sleep early enough that we aren’t too wiped to go out for an hour AND our friend is available to babysit. Long runs are squeezed in between early morning grocery store breakfast dates and trips to the park and the lake and the butterfly garden. Most nights I’m in bed before 10, if not earlier.

When we chose Pilsen, it was because it split the difference between the north side, where we would prefer to live, and my work on the south side. We were three miles from the heart of downtown and two miles from the lake. We could see the Sears Tower and, on a clear night, fireworks over Navy Pier. We could pretend like we were still going to go out, even if the reality was very different.

Pilsen has been our home, but it’s time to move on. Over the last year, it’s become clear that Hyde Park offers us many of the things we value about the north side – for example, access to the lake and museums – but with a dramatically shorter commute. In the years since I moved here, a number of amenities have been added to the neighborhood that have made it sooooo much more appealing – for example, there are grocery options other than the terrible Treasure Island. The wide range of ethnic foods down the street from us (and Jolly Pumpkin!) is a better fit for N’s vegan-mostly diet than the Mexican-mostly options in Pilsen. And I don’t even know where to begin with the parks.

So: it’s bittersweet, but it’ll be good. I will miss our life in Pilsen, particularly our lovely light-filled apartment, but I’m excited to start our new life in Hyde Park as well.

“we don’t pay enough attention to those things that can be catastrophic for women.”

I cried at my desk this afternoon while reading NPR and Pro Publica’s absolutely heartbreaking piece about maternal mortality. In case you don’t have the time or the stomach to read the entire article, the key findings of their investigation are:

  • More American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Only in the U.S. has the rate of women who die been rising.
  • There’s a hodgepodge of hospital protocols for dealing with potentially fatal complications, allowing for treatable complications to become lethal.
  • Hospitals — including those with intensive care units for newborns — can be woefully unprepared for a maternal emergency.
  • Federal and state funding show only 6 percent of block grants for “maternal and child health” actually go to the health of mothers.
  • In the U.S, some doctors entering the growing specialty of maternal-fetal medicine were able to complete that training without ever spending time in a labor-delivery unit.

These findings are presented in the context of the death of a mother – herself a neonatal intensive care unit nurse – in childbirth as her horrified husband – a trauma doctor – tried to convince the attending doctors and nurses that something was very wrong and needed immediate attention.

I read this and cried as all of the scared, scary memories of late pregnancy and childbirth flooded back. How I was convinced that I was experiencing symptoms of preeclampsia which were dismissed by my doctor (but validated by test results). How I was pressured into scheduling a c-section that I didn’t want (and not given any information about alternatives). How there are things that I flat-out don’t remember – like the first time I held my son – because I was so sick after delivery, sick to the point that my partner wouldn’t leave my side, despite our plan being that the baby would always be with one of us. Begging for someone to look at an intense pain in my shoulder that made sleep impossible. Weird questions from the nurse who gave me my first post-surgery sponge bath. My swollen feet squishing like wet socks as I slowly made my way up and down the hall pushing the plastic bassinet where my son slept.

And then I remembered the article about the moral imperative behind my colleague Isabel’s work as a doula to families of color that I’d read earlier in the week and felt proud and angry all over again. Proud of my colleague and friend’s work advocating for the needs of mothers, babies, and families through pregnancy, childbirth, and new parenting. Proud that groups like hers exist to provide support for communities that are underserved by or that slip through the cracks of our healthcare system.

But then angry that it is necessary for doulas and birth worker groups and crowdfunding campaigns to do this kind of work, to pick up the slack, to compensate (and make amends) for our broken social safety net in our broken country. Angry that our system stands to actually get much worse if the AHCA actually happens.

Angry that even with my excessive privilege as a white, middle-class, able-bodied, educated, outspoken, financially secure, and fully insured woman living in a city where I have access to excellent health care, adequate public transportation, and a social safety net, the difficulties that I experienced during my (relatively very easy) pregnancy and my son’s birth clearly still affect me – so how much worse must it be for mothers and families that lack the resources to obtain adequate (primary or supplementary) care, or who experience complications or trauma or loss, or who get one of those doctors who received more training on fetal care than on maternal care, or – as in the example that opens the interview with Isabel – have internalized that the way they are being treated is just the way it is.

This Week’s Reads (Friday, May 5, 2017)

Let’s All Stop Apologizing for the Delayed Response in Our Emails – Science of Us
This is so relatable. I’ve read a few articles in the last few months that have highlighted ways that women’s use of language unconsciously or subconsciously expresses deference. There’s even a browser extension for it. This article takes a different, but still relevant, tack, encouraging us to reframe that ‘delayed’ response as being sent within a reasonable time frame – it also suggests several tools that will help you prioritize your email to (hopefully) minimize the number of apologies. I’ve been using Inbox for this reason for a few months. Of course, it doesn’t help with (or excuse) the long personal emails that have lingered in my inbox for literally years – but it does help me knock out, prioritize, and snooze the ones that require action, especially when that action doesn’t have to be right now.

7 Tips for Donating Old Books Without Being a Jerk – Lit Reactor
I get rid of books every time I move. I used to have hundreds and hundreds, which meant that I used to move hundreds and hundreds nearly every year. I’m tired of moving paper around, and besides, I work in a library that holds millions of books, with access to many millions more. This article is helping me think about ways of getting rid of my unwanted books without burdening someone else. Also, this app is super duper.

How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones – James Clear
I started hacking my morning routine (after, ahem, establishing a morning routine) when I was 21 and working the first in a series of mediocre desk jobs. I was super proud of the fact that I’d gotten my morning down to approximately 35 minutes from bed to door, including a shower, breakfast, and tea. Actually, now that I think about it, I started doing this earlier – maybe in high school – though then it was less about how much I could cram in, and more about how late I could stay in bed.

Having a small child obviously disrupted the perfect flow of my long-hacked morning routines; however, it turns out that small children thrive on routine, so this blog post has me thinking about ways to scaffold new things into the flow of our mornings, particularly once we move.

The Invisibility of Middle-Aged Women – Lit Hub
This was simultaneously wonderful and sad, and made me think of the women in my life as we approach (or are well past) the markers of middle age: “In a world where women are almost always defined by their relationships (daughter, sister, lover, wife, mother, grandmother) it strikes me as important to shed a light on the woman herself. What is she without all these shoes she has to fill? Well, she’s an existence and she’s an existence that either disturbs her surroundings—or is in the danger of retreating from them: like mist.”