The Organic Panic

I loved this Q&A on Offbeat Mama today.  It’s so true; I feel like I spend half my time dodging lobs and volleys from the super-natural police and the other half justifying my choices to the remainder.  But I started thinking about why we make some of the choices we make.  Surely I’ve accepted that “perfect health” is not attainable; it has absolutely not swayed me from swinging through the drive-thru now and then.  So why else do we do what we do?

Fortunately, today was Mom and Baby yoga class and the answer kind of gelled for me.  We do cloth diapers, right?  I haven’t bought diapers in ages and we are well past the point where the savings have kicked in vs. buying disposables.  We also go to the yoga co-op; it’s donation-based with no flat fee so you can pay what you feel the session is worth.  The last studio I went to had a drop-in fee of $10, so that’s what I usually pay per class and it works out to about $40 a month.  We budget ourselves very tightly, partially from necessity, mostly from good old-fashioned tightassed frugality, but really just so we can dump as much income into our travel budget as humanly possible.  At any rate, I don’t have much of a line item in the way of treats for myself.

That’s where the cloth diapers come in.  Forty a month for yoga class with Maggie instead of forty (or however much else) for disposable wipes and diapers?  Sold.  That’s a class a week where Maggie can play with other kids, explore a new place, and bond with her teacher (whom she’s known since five weeks old and adores).  In essence, it’s more time being with my daughter and less time buying things for her.  It’s memories and time and activities that we both enjoy, and one less trip to Costco to hang out in line to buy something that will literally be shat upon and thrown away.

So organic is good.  I like cloth, it isn’t for everyone and that’s cool.  We’re not going to spend time obsessing over every little bit of our lifestyle to achieve an impossible ideal.  But the things we are doing?  Oh, so worth it…and usually it’s not for any of the reasons people usually toss out.

Born to Hand Jive

Forgive me if I’ve been all about the random and not so much the travel. My brain has been stuck on “Oh! Shiny!” since we got back to Hawaii.  A few minor-but-taxing baby and daddy illnesses, lots of long dinners with Tom’s coworkers, some molars popping through and the like are causing our attempts to get back on our usual schedule to die the death-by-a-thousand-papercuts way.  So you get a story instead!

My high school was big on international travel. Well…sort of. The two longest-standing members of the English department were big on international travel and tied it into the senior AP English lesson plans, so if you were in AP English you got first dibs on a spot that year’s EF Tour over April break.  The trip my senior year was called “Shakespeare, Dickens and Scott” and was basically an excuse to drink your way from London to Edinburgh and back down to York and everywhere else in between. Pub ho!  Pass the cider!

Two other things bear mentioning before I continue further.  One: there was an exceptionally high concentration of theater types in class that year, and thus most of us performed in the spring musical: Grease. (I was a stage manager, my best friend was Kenickie, and most of our friends were in the lead and/or chorus and/or dancers.)  Two: the week after my 18th birthday and perhaps a bit later than my peers, I had discovered the myriad joys of cheap vodka on a college tour and shared what I had learned at that year’s New Year’s Eve party.  I had not yet learned moderation or gotten over the novelty of a buzz.  My parents sensibly signed the waiver absolving our chaperones from any stupidity on my part, and thus I was legal, mere weeks from graduation, and liability-free that lovely week in the UK.

Aside from some drinking here and there, I mostly behaved myself until we arrived in Edinburgh.  Perhaps it was the company, perhaps it was the fear that all the alcohol in Scotland would go bad if we didn’t drink it immediately, but I got rowdy.  I’ve since learned first-time drinkers go one of two ways: straight to the cheap keg/rail liquor and do shots to get drunk, or order one of every exotic-sounding cocktail they’ve ever heard of and always wanted to try.  This is how I ended up mixing Tequila Sunrises with Screwdrivers with Sex on the Beach with Screaming Orgasms with White Russians with even more Screwdrivers and liberal chugs from a 3-liter bottle of hard cider.

In short, I was lit up like Vegas on fight night.  But that’s no excuse for what happened next.

A cluster of us migrated to a club.  The drinks were cheap and on a Wednesday night, it wasn’t really packed.  The music was largely songs from the 70s.  And then…oh then…the DJ played the last song he should have ever picked for a group of theater kids drunker than Mel Gibson.  And as the strains of “Born To Hand Jive” rose from the speakers, so did we all.  We taught each and ever Scot in that club how to hand jive.  We bopped and hopped and we hand-motherfucking-jived until our little hearts were about to burst from joy.  Maybe this is why I don’t watch “Glee.”  I’ve lived it before.

Our punishment for inflicting such cultural atrocities on the Scots followed immediately: we had to navigate home through windy hilly streets that doubled and then trebled before our eyes, all while in uncomfortable footwear.  The hotel itself was wallpapered in luridly bright plaid, so terrible that it caused almost immediate hallucinations.  My suitemate found me slumped against the door complaining to no one that the door wouldn’t open and why wasn’t anyone opening the door and I WAS DOT NRUNK, AH SWURR. She immediately ran for reinforcements to help put me to bed.  And so to top off the evening, I made a sodden, groping pass at my boyfriend as he poured me into bed, which wouldn’t have been that big of a deal were it not for the fact that I forgot my English teacher was in the room, helping him.

So let that be a lesson to you, children: on your first trip overseas, you should enjoy yourselves. You should drink if you so choose. But do so in groups.  Don’t mix your tequila/citrus beverages with dairy-based drinks. Try not to molest anyone in front of the people who have written your college recommendation letters.

And do not ever, ever, ever hand jive in mixed company.

Fin.

Odds ‘n Ends

The random thoughts floating around in my head that I am too lazy to make into full posts:

1. How upset am I going to get about Maggie throwing every type of food we offer on the floor? Am I just going to go with my first instinct, which is to shrug and feed her what I know she’ll eat (all good, healthy foods) or try to force the issue? She used to eat whatever I was eating and in enorous quantities, but she goes through phases of tossing it all on the floor.  My philosophy in general is that things tied to such a basic need as eating should not be used in reprimand; i.e. I feel uncomfortable saying “Eat this or go hungry” or “Eat this, or else.” Right now I think showing her that her behavior can provoke an extreme reaction is the erroneous course of action.  So, reprimand when food gets thrown, but circumvent said throwing by offering foods that are usually a sure thing.

2. The sight of a blank word document waiting to be filled with tight, no-nonsense prose lyrical and florid description SEO keyword-based itinerary words and stuff makes me want to do anything else. People, rather than bust out 200 words on Seattle, I washed diapers this afternoon. Desperation is an ugly mistress.

3. I have to start Stroller Strides again tomorrow or I will never work out again. I just won’t.

4. Using the tutorial at Artful Parent I dyed eight playsilks for Maggie with Kool Aid (and some Hawaiian Punch for the blue), all the rainbow colors plus pink and brown. I like how they came out, they have a bit of the gradient/marbling thing from the tutorial but since I like jewel tones and loud bolds they’re much darker.  They’re a cool open-ended play toy, nice and large at 35″x35″, and we’ll incorporate them into the family seasonal nature table when Maggie is a little older. For that I want to get two more, one for basic white and one for cloudy gray, but I’m going to wait until Maggie uses them. For anything. Right now they’re in a basket with all my yarn (which she normally finds irresistibly attractive) and being largely ignored in favor of the DVDs. How I long for a day when we live in a place with 3 bedrooms and a living area: one for me and Tom, one for the kid(s), and one adults-only office/media/guest room so the living room can be used for real, interactive screen-free living.

5. Perhaps it’s because I’m a millenial and not a real Gen Xer, perhaps it’s because until recently I’ve had my nose in parenting memoirs and Neil Gaiman, or maybe just because I’m late to catch on to things (reminder to self: watch “Glee”) but I just started reading David Foster Wallace’s essays. I don’t care how pretentious or cliched this makes me (a Google search for “David Foster Wallace overrated” yielded 24,700 results) but three essays into Consider the Lobster and I wonder how anyone else can even consider writing as a career with this example before them.  I knew nothing of him except for his suicide and the lap-crushing size of Infinite Jest, so it didn’t surprise me to find that his background is both literary and mathematical.  There is a truly symphonic structure to his writing; you can really see the elegance of theorem and geometry in his phrasing.  Even his analysis of the adult video awards was well-written enough to be moving to me; 99% of us on our best days could not write our own milestones and heartbreaks so well.  Laugh if you want, but it was so nice to be genuinely stirred by a person’s writing that I don’t care who thinks he’s overrated.

Miso in my sippy cup, tofu in my bowl

The title of this post comes from a board book I grabbed for Maggie on clearance at a yuppie toy shop in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not England) this summer.  My family all but slapped their knees and stomped their feet in laughter and rolled their eyes, but I maintained Maggie would need to know the contents therein.  After all, we eat sushi all the time.  It’d be nice for her to know what everyone’s eating.

Turns out, I was right, although not for the reason I thought.

We’re going on a vacation to Japan.

….

….

I’m back. I fainted, but I’m better now.  Ever since I went to the Japan section of Epcot’s World Showcase as a kid, this has been on my top 5 places to visit.  And we’re going to do it up right: late autumn, Tokyo down to Kyoto-Kansai via a meandering trip through the Japanese Alps at foliage season.  We have good friends who lived in Tokyo for a while en route to Okinawa who have helped us with an itinerary and basic tips for getting around (I just emailed them a message in which I asked the question “What do I do in an onsen?!”) and I am so. freaking. excited.

The biggest drawback that I can see is that Maggie is going to turn eight or nine and be like “You visited all these cool places while I was too young to remember or enjoy them! Jerks!” and welp, yeah. Sorry kid. But you’re still pretty portable so we have to get this trip in while we can and before you’re too heavy to strap to Daddy’s back.  Other minor drawbacks include the massive language barrier, which I think we can pantomime and half-ass our way through, and the thrill of navigating a menu.  Maggie is a pretty enthusiastic eater (we’re waiting for the day when she decides to reject all offers of food in favor of the Toddler Air Diet) so I’m sure she’ll eat just about anything…as long as we supplement with a lot of rice.  I mean, she’s had pork cheeks, so she’s doing better than a lot of adults I know.

[Overheard at a local Hawaiian sushi joint: “Well, I guess I can try the fried fish.” *facepalm*  Just go to Kua’aina Burger, dude.]

Maggie is also doing her part to plan the itinerary, enthusiastically shouting when she sees a particularly pretty or colorful photo in the guidebook.  That’s why we’re not using e-guides on an iPad (also because my iPad fund keeps getting eaten up by necessities, dammit); Maggie loves the photos and pages of the real book.  Tom is taking up the rest of the slack, drafting multipage itineraries and comparison-shopping ryokan in the areas where we can’t take advantage of our hotel points.  I’m doing what I do best, which is coming up with four or five ideas for Tom to research and running with it.  So far I found a free guide service and that there is a yearly geisha performance in Kyoto while we’ll be there, so I did my part.

One destination we decided against was Hiroshima.  Historically Tom and I are both fascinated by the area, but we have a toddler (…a toddler. When did that happen?!) and they are not known for their reverence.  I don’t like taking her to other such grounds for the same reason: a kid just being a kid isn’t always appropriate for every venue.  Someone observing a very solemn moment (like when we went to Pearl Harbor and there were WWII vets on our ferry to the USS Arizona Memorial) doesn’t want to hear my kid being herself.  I don’t think limiting ourselves like this is really detrimental to our travel dreams, but just a necessary part of having kids: know where you can take them, and know when even if you can, you probably shouldn’t.  At any rate, this is going to be a super-packed 12 days.

This is major, guys.  This is a huge check off the life-list.  I am so, so, so excited.

The Shape of Things To Come

One of the hard things about living so far away is that we don’t see the family often.  While I was in Florida I set the family up with webcams and Skype accounts and we dragged everyone into the world of video chat, which will make a huge difference.  But it’s also the reason I chose to leave Hawaii the last few months: sure, I needed the help, but I also needed Maggie to have the same closeness with her grandparents that I had with mine.

My parents are incredibly hands-on grandparents.  My mother in particular would vanish with the baby for long periods of time, and Maggie would return smelling like the pool or just slightly sun-kissed from a good walk.  Throw in some peeled grapes and a glass of wine and you’ve just described my heaven.  She is also a fantastic storyteller.

My dad is a pretty good storyteller too, but his forte is silly faces and the ability to toss the baby in the air repeatedly, to her eternal delight.  He was also the one who used the living room rug as a training mat to get her more comfortable with walking and who took care of her while I was felled by a terrible stomach flu.  (After eight hours of baby care he all but threw Maggie at my mother when she came in and said “I’m so glad you’re home! She’s so willful.” Taste my pain, Dad.)

Sometimes it pulls at us, having decided to make our home out in the world and not settling down in one spot for the time being.  We think about how we’re denying Maggie what we had: the close family web, grandparents fifteen minutes away and cousins for playmates (me much more so than Tom).  But even if a job for Tom opened in Tampa, we both balk at the idea of living in Florida.  Family notwithstanding, it just isn’t for us.  That isn’t an insult to Florida or Floridians, but not every place is a good fit for every person.  As important as it is to know where you’re going and where you belong, it’s equally important to recognize when a place that you’ve romanticized (family barbecues! free babysitters! swimming in the family pool! absurdly cheap groceries!) is not a good long-term solution. You have weigh that against the potential good, that knowledge that no matter how hard you try to shape it, it just won’t fit.

That said, we don’t know where we’re going next, but we know that sometime around 2020 we are going to set ourselves up in the Maryland suburbs–the mortgage, the 8-passenger SUV (hopefully a hybrid, at least), the bake sales and soccer fundraisers.  That’s another not-so-great fit, but it’s one near Tom’s main office and packed to brimming with old friends in similar industries, much better schools, a climate we can enjoy and planted firmly in the center of Southwest’s eastern corridor–BWI to Manchester, NH or to Tampa isn’t quite equidistant, but it’s close, and cheap enough.  The potential good here–a home base for Maggie (and whoever else comes along) to complete junior high and high school in the same place and to give her a place she can call hers–outweighs our itchy feet and wanderlust.  And with that location, she can still have the relationship with our families that we want her to have.

Until then, we’ll travel.  We’ll still travel after we create a more permanent nest, but we’ll come home to a place of our own instead of making grand plans and trying fanatically to move to other countries or even other continents.  For now, though, I want to record us as we are: exploring, seeking, and moving with the sun.

Book Report: Northwest Kid Trips

In our family, Tom is the itinerary planner. And when I say planner, I don’t want you to think of someone loosely drafting a mental list of places he’d like to see, or being the one to hold on to the vital documents (that’s actually my job). No, Tom drafts multi-page outlines of each day and bullet points of what we will see. We aren’t obligated to stick to any of that if it ends up that we’d rather see something else, but it usually keeps us organized and feeling like we’re sucking every last bit of experience out of a place.

Lazy as I am, you can see why I delighted in our trip to Kauai: at 13 weeks pregnant and in the throes of vicious all-day-not-just-morning sickness, I had the perfect excuse to lie next to the pool, listen to the gentle ocean waves and suck down ice chips and virgin daquiris. (Though I did do a 4-mile hike/kayak trip. Barefoot. Who’s awesome?)

That being said, Tom wasn’t originally going to come with us to Seattle and Vancouver; he was able to do so because some former commitments ended up falling through, but the initial task of trip planning fell to me. Not only that, but planning a trip with a child just straddling the baby/toddler line. So it came to pass that I ordered Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria from Amazon.

YOU GUYS. I am not exaggerating* when I say that this is a vital purchase for any family planning to visit the Pacific Northwest. Though I did not get a chance to use the Portland or Victoria sections, the Seattle and Vancouver sections were indispensible.

Pros: specific itineraries for families by category like “artsy” or “foodie”, other points of interest by age group (babe in arms to surly teen), mention of library locations (a piece of advice I covered in my guest post on Everywhereist), tips for eating on the cheap, and a whole wealth of nifty stores and a kid-friendly slant on the major city attractions. I picked our hotel in Vancouver (more expensive than I had realized but not the book’s fault, prices do vary and it’s the reader’s responsibility to blah blah blah) and Maggie’s first chopstick experience was recommended as a cheap and fun eat with toddlers, to which I heartily concur.

Cons: No maps. Those are easy enough to come by, but I did borrow my friend’s copy of Top Ten Seattle and supplemented with a few tourist maps of Seattle and Vancouver from the ferry and our Vancouver hotel, respectively, but it might have been nice to have it all in one package. A minor quibble and not one that should keep you from buying the book.  And for those of you who don’t travel without your iPhone or iPad, I don’t believe there’s an e-copy available. (I like to keep my paperback travel guides and make notes in the margins and doodle. It’s another souvenir, in my opinion. But that’s just me.)

We also lucked out in that the side trip feature location for Seattle was Bainbridge Island, where we happened to be staying. We overslept for the local market and things do close down around 5-7pm, but the ice cream and kid museum recs were a big hit.

In short: I planned an itinerary just like Tom, all by my onesies. And I only used this book and a few minutes with Google to reconfirm some addresses.

*Nor am I being paid, by anyone, to say nice things about this book. I say nice things because I want YOU to enjoy a happy trip, not because I’m getting a cut. Yes, even you. You know who you are. Buy the book.

Wrinkle

These last few months have aged me.

I don’t mean that they’ve taken years off my life, although it’s possible; sleep deprivation at that level certainly can’t extend your lifespan. No, I have a fresh new crop of gray hair and, horror of horrors, crow’s feet. My eyes have taken on a funky crepe-y wrinkle and friends, I don’t like this one bit.

Also, I just stared at those last two paragraphs and thought “What the hell is wrong with you? Nobody wants to read about your proto-wrinkles.” But I’m not deleting it. We aged folk are cantankerous like that.

But I guess you’re only as old as the company you keep, right? So either I have to get a barely-legal pool boy named Paco (and a pool) or I can just keep doing this:

It’s a living. :)

We Ate WA

Grocery shopping in Hawaii for the first time in months today was a deeply unpleasant shock. I had gotten rather used to Florida prices and even though the local Publix had a less-than-stellar selection, they at least devoted half an aisle to tasty organic healthy treats. Not so at our local Safeway and we can’t afford to shop at Times ($7! for milk!), but even their scattered Safeway Organic generics ran us $70 on a list of basics: bread, milk, some lunch meats, and basic produce.  I need to work extra hard at finding local markets and better food source options; Hawaii is certainly bountiful, but I don’t see the focus on local and green options here like I did in Seattle and I think maybe I’m just not looking in the right places.  But boy howdy, those Pacific Northwesterners take their locally grown organic food seriously.

The vendor selling these tasty little morsels in Pike Place had a fresh chocolate linguini to sample and a plethora of oils to try. While Tom stuffed Maggie senseless on bread dunked in truffle oil (and if there’s an allergy risk there, I don’t want to know about it) I tried it–good, not overpowering, but I wouldn’t put tomato sauce on it.

This bunch was only $20, but I was sure we’d have a tough time getting it into our bags and back to Hawaii unharmed. They take transporting vegetables into the islands rather seriously. I also had to sneak this photo on the sly from a tired vendor.

The sampler set at Granville Brewing Company in Vancouver; my favorite was the Maple Cream Ale. But that’s not even what I want to discuss, because Tom flew into Portland and spent a few days bumming around Oregon before he met us. Between his hostel and the few samplers we ordered from local breweries, he had over thirty different types of beer during his trip. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TRAVEL WITHOUT A BABY. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shout. I’m just so…sober.


Equally preposterous are the size of the locally grown berries. In Maine we had black raspberry bushes around the edge of my grandparents’ house and the berries were delicious, but really no bigger than a pencil eraser. These fat bastards were veritable ping-pong balls of fruity delight.

These babies were smaller, but adorable. D’awwww….who’s a good little currant? You are, you ARE.

These might not have been locally made (although their menu stressed when things were) but Guu With Garlic was an incredible spot to take Maggie for her first foray into Japanese noodles. Her intake of the noodles wasn’t exactly a slurp; it was closer in sound and intensity to the pneumatic tubes at the bank. Whoosh!

Obviously, she loved it. She also had one more huge milestone…

Maggie + taro dumplings + chopsticks = An enormously proud day for Team Monkey

Now I’m hungry again, dammit. I’ll just have to enjoy one of my $3 Hawaiian apples and the bananas from Guatemala.

How I Met The Everywherist

Since I was young, it was my dream to be one of the cool kids. I wasn’t exactly sure how they went about it, being cool; I just knew that it seemed effortless and I was so goddamn awkward that I never quite got there.* Now that I’m older and know better, I know it’s entirely about confidence. Or at least, knowing how to find a common laugh.

Now, Geraldine, on the other hand, actually is one of the cool kids in the travel blog world–her star is on the rise, and deservedly so. I wrote once that she had the sort of travel blog to which I aspire, and it’s true, if only for the posting schedule she maintains and the general level of talented, razor-edge snark masking a fluffball heart. (There. I said it. It’s a thing.)  Imagine how excited I was when we decided to meet while we were in Seattle!  My very own internet celebrity making time to see me and my little family, and she was bringing my baby a present. This, friends, is how a “Squee!” is born.  But then I worried a bit, having never met someone from the internet. Would it be awkward? Would we run through our memories frantically searching for conversational gambits? Worse still, would she be the sort of weirdo who would want to turn my scalp into a throw rug? I mean, the “It’s a famous person, how weird can she really get with publicity to contend with later?” reasoning didn’t exactly work for any of Phil Spector’s girlfriends.

So you can imagine my surprise when we decided to meet at the Pike Place Market in Seattle and I encountered this:

HIDE THE GUNS

Ah, but I kid, I kid. Her hair was WAY better.

See?

First thing: don’t let all the cake talk fool you. She’s actually pocket sized. In fact, that’s where she is right now, in my shorts pocket, editing my hackneyed prose and taking hits from my hip flask. She is also incredibly stylish and I had to resist every urge I had to grab her by the shoulders and say “Hi, I’m wearing Mom Jeans and New Balances. FIX ME.” I would like her to start with my shoes, since I actually am in the market for new boots once we move off-island.

The mushroom is a darling toy for Maggie, and we have taken to calling it the Overlord. It rules all her other toy veggies with daring, charm, and a full swath of facial hair. (Ed. note: I’ve lost my mind.) And it was a precursor for a fantastic afternoon: Pike Place Market, donuts, fresh fried fish, getting to meet her delightful husband whom my daughter instantly adored (seriously, I apologize in 18 years if she Ninja-Lolitas him away) and a walk in the park.

And we laughed. A lot.

While I would love to break into the travel blogging world (and I do need to work quite a bit harder at disciplining myself) I don’t consider this meeting a networking event. Rather, it was a fantastic meetup (even though I did not have a magical horse) with someone whom I never would have had the confidence to meet even five or six years ago. It was a hell of a good time, and a really cool chance to bring one of my favorite internet people up to the status of real-life friend.

Just don’t get her around any lawn chairs.

*ETA: I actually think I am ridiculously awesome. Don’t believe the hype. But I really can’t dress myself.

The Zone

Tonight is our last night on the road; this dispatch comes from my friend’s fiance’s computer on lovely and damp Bainbridge Island in Washington State.  BI is just a short ferry ride from Seattle and guys, I think I’m about to commit bigamy with a location. I want to marry Bainbridge Island, have little yuppie babies raised on local food and sent to any one of the schools in the buyer’s market of Montessori and Waldorf options, name them ironic names like Watson or Asher and then have a very understanding and gentle divorce when our island love turns out not to be.

In short: Ah <3 Bainbridge 4Eva.

Typically when we travel I get a touch of “Why don’t we live here?!” if I’m in one place for any amount of time.  This seems particularly prevalent on the West Coast where the abundance of creative artsy types seem to outnumber the government types that (by necessity) populate our usual living space.  Tomorrow, though…tomorrow I get to go back to a place most people dream of living in and then dismiss as impractical, which is a little fun for me.

Mostly though, after five months of up and down and all around, we’re going to go back to Hawaii and rebuild our home. Rebuild our life; create a nest of our own where our child can have a little routine and calm while we plan the Next Big Adventure.  We’re going to recreate the happy little family zone where we can explore our own backyard and daydream and remember what we’ve done while we think about what we’re doing in the future.

I can’t wait to write about where we’ve been in the last few months.  But I also can’t wait to write about what’s next.