Energy Dipping

It's been more than a week since I wrote my last post here. So much for one post a day.

My goal has been subverted by my low energy levels and the amount of time-consuming activities that have somehow cropped up over the past few weeks.

When I began my ambitious endeavor, I would somehow find time to write in the middle of the day or else I would make time in the evening. But there are times when a lot of things happen all at once: home improvement, celebrations and ceremonies, upkeep, and – how else with a baby – supefrequent loads of laundry, which in turn mean constant ironing, folding and putting away.

Some would say that if I was truly dedicated I would still make the time to write everyday and maybe that's true, but lately during the day I haven't found (made?) time, and in the evenings I'm done for the minute I sit down. Must be getting old.

Of course there's this to consider: that a little over four months ago I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy. In contrast to the months after my lovely daughter was born (the aftermath of the delivery was shockingly difficult), in the first month and a half after my son was born I experienced a surge of energy. I could just keep going, 16 hours a day and a few hours more if necessary. I worked hard, found or made time to have fun, and slept very well indeed. After those first six weeks, though, my energy levels have steadily been dropping back to where they would logically be for full-time a mom of two.

What I need is energy management.

I've been taking steps to take my energy reserves and expenditures back into my own hands because surely there has to be a way for me to be smarter about this, to apply some healthy energy management and to find ways to create space and time for the things that are important to me, such as writing.

My first step in the right direction might sound counterproductive but it will actually help me regain some control over my constitution as well as clear my mind a bit, which is at least as important to fitness as the physical element is: I've started going to yoga/Pilates classes again (though I could still be more disciplined about attendance), and I've recently been given the chance and opportunity to teach my own yoga class – an exhilarating and extremely satisfying experience for which I can never thank my teacher or my students enough. It's a wonderfully empowering and energizing feeling to be able to share the benefits of a good yoga routine with an enthusiastic and appreciative group of people.

I know that initially I will be more tired because the regular fitness and exercise routines are shifting me into a different gear, but the positive effects will make themselves felt very soon.

Until then, I'll just pick up with my resolution to write a post every day. We begin, stumble, get up and start again. That's life.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women's Day. There is still so much to do in terms of equality, respect, appreciation. But there's also so much that has already been achieved.

It wasn't very long ago that women were not allowed to own land, to vote, to earn a degree, to work. Today, it seems ridiculous that it was ever different, and that's a good thing. But there's also still a lot to do. Equal pay is apparently hard, which seems odd to me: same job, same reward, right? Then there's the issue of raising a family. It is apparently difficult for the market to allow for true equality there too. Another strange thing, since most of the fathers I know are eager to play as significant a role in their children's lives as the mothers. Why not allow for that, and adapt business opportunities to these evolving attitudes and demands?

History has seen some very impressive women. Women who have broken barriers, women who have fought for rights we now take for granted in most western nations, women who stepped up and did what needed doing, women who have shown extraordinary intelligence, integrity and courage.

One day, hopefully, we'll finally be in a society that sees people, not gender. It would be great if people were seen, period, but that's another issue altogether.

For now, I would like to leave you with this intelligent and impressive speech by Emma Watson on what gender inequality means for both genders, and how it's high time we rose above these differences to truly make society better for everyone.


Baby Food

How time flies! It seems like only yesterday that our baby boy was born. Soon he’ll be four months old already. He’s sitting up, talking baby talk, smiling, giggling and slowly beginning to get sick of the same old bottles of milk. I can’t blame him. I’d get pretty sick of drinking the same thing every day too. It’s the ultimate in “familiarity breeds contempt”, but it means that he is now ready for different drinks and foods, tastes and textures.

In the interests of both health and frugality I favour home made baby food: I like knowing exactly what goes into what my son eats, and how it’s made. What better way to ensure that I know both than by making it myself? The added advantage: it’s a lot cheaper than buying the bottled or packaged stuff from the supermarket.

Home cooking also allows me to guide the development of my little boy’s palate. I can subtly lead him towards more varied an increasingly complex tastes, which will make it easier for him to adapt to the many different types of cuisine he’ll likely be exposed to over the course of his life. Not only eating these home cooked foods, but also seeing them be prepared has another benefit: there’s a good chance it will create an active enjoyment of so many fabulous flavours as well as generate an active interest in food preparation. This, in turn, may make it more likely that he’ll be leading a healthy lifestyle at least where it comes to food intake. And a healthy mentality towards food intake tends to result in a healthy approach to life in general, but that’s for another time.

My son’s first foray into actual food will be carrot-pumpkin mash. Carrots are relatively easily palatable where taste is concerned, and the pumpkin lends a subtle and slight sweetness to this mash. Add to this the fact that both vegetables lend themselves perfectly to pureeing once well cooked and we have the perfect introduction to “real food”.

You’ve probably guessed it: the rest of this post will be a how-to.

I cooked 500 grams of raw carrots and 400 grams of cubed raw pumpkin flesh until soft – the carrots need to cook slightly longer than the pumpkin, so I started cooking the carrots first, then after about 3 minutes I added the pumpkin.

pumpkin carrots cooked

After approximately 18 minutes they will be cooked well enough that pureeing becomes a piece of (carrot?) cake. Simply drain the vegetables and begin pureeing in small portions. (I have a very small hand blender, but if you have a big one just dump as much vegetable in there as your blender can handle.)

pumpkin carrot mash in tray

Of course, if you cook in these quantities, you’ll have a lot of carrot-pumpkin mash. And here is the great part: this stuff is perfect for freezing in small portions. I transferred my mash into a silicone tray which, coincidentally, makes little pumpkin shapes and then placed the whole tray in the freezer. (A normal ice cube tray will do just as well, or a mini-muffin tray.)

After a few hours you have ideal baby-sized portions of healthy, home made frozen mash ready to defrost for eating or drinking. For the moment we are still make this stuff for use in a bottle, which is actually a pretty speedy process: simply add freshly boiled water to defrost and water down each cube.

frozen cubes carrots pumpkin mash

I’ll be mashing a lot more over the next few months, but whatever gets mashed and/or pureed it’s all pretty much the same process, just different ingredients – and little to no boiling required for fruit mashes.

Honestly, I had forgotten how much fun it can be to make mini dishes. Yay, I get to play kitchens again!

World Book Day UK

Today, the UK celebrates World Book Day. This is a bit odd, considering that it’s World Book Day and the rest of the world celebrates on 23 April… It should really be UK Book Day then, but I’m not going to let that little detail bother me. Any excuse to celebrate books, I say!

modern fiction 2 As I mentioned a few posts ago: we really, really like books in our house, and we, umm, well, we have one or two lying around. Okay, fine, we have tons and tons of them. They’re everywhere. There’s literally only one room in the house that has no books, and that’s the shower.

On our shelves (and our windowsills, and in little nooks here and there) we have all sorts: mythology, fairy tales, children’s books, young adult fiction, history, biographies, autobiographies, philosophy, fantasy, science-fiction, literary classics, modern fiction, essays … you name it.

fairytales and mythology

Besides the “classic” format, we also own a bunch of audiobooks (I’m a fan of the Dresden Files, read by James Marsters), and I have a Kindle loaded with titles – mostly modern (romantic) fiction.

modern fiction

The kids’ rooms are also packed with books – some they can read or from which they can be read now, some our daughter has read or has had read to her and can’t bear to part with, and some for them to read later when they’re ready for them.

books YMA books LMS

To me books are magic. Between their covers they contain worlds and galaxies, perspectives, ideas, philosophies, life lessons, the chance to be someone, anyone anywhere, just for a few hours. Books are like time travel, teleportation and transformation all rolled into one.

I’m grateful for the various digital formats because we’re running out or wall and shelf space and going digital means I can keep collecting books since all these titles only take up the space of my e-reader, but if I ever make enough money I’m buying or building a house with a library for “real” books: one of those high-ceilinged ones where you can’t see the walls for the floor-to-ceiling shelves. And of course one of those ladders-on-wheels to get to the high-up volumes, and reading tables with reading lights, and high-backed cushy seats that you can crawl into and lounge in for hours.

One day…

For now I’m very happy with our bookcases – they hold a lot of books – and with our new couch arriving any day now, I foresee many happy hours of reading.

Happy (belated) birthday, Dr Seuss

Yesterday was Dr Seuss‘s birthday, as my sister reminded me today. It got snowed under, I’m ashamed to say, by chores and deadlines and planning for events. When it comes to significant days, March is actually pretty full of them: Thursday the 5th is World Book Day, Sunday the 8th is International Women’s Day, and Saturday the 14th is Albert Einstein‘s birthday (1879).

But let me get back to Dr Seuss. I grew up in the Netherlands and never went to an international school. I never lived anywhere other than Holland. While Dr Seuss is an intrinsic part of growing up in the US, and I imagine the UK as well though I can’t be sure (see previous), in the Netherlands his work is not nearly as well known. And that’s how I lived to the ripe old age of 25 before ever reading a Dr Seuss book.

My first one was Green Eggs and Ham, and it was my husband who introduced me to it. After he had finally recovered from the shock of realizing that I had no idea who Dr Seuss was nor why his stories are so amazing, he promptly handed me the book and I was immediately hooked.

After reading Green Eggs and Ham, I felt like I had some catching up to do so I read one book after another. Suddenly I became aware of a whole world of missed references. For instance: in Patriot Games, when Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is reading to his daughter Sally (Thora Birch) in the hospital he is reading from The Cat in the Hat. Duh! And I suddenly truly understood what it meant when I heard someone called a Grinch.

Dr Seuss was very creative and innovative with the language, but his books are more than just tongue-twisting fun: they are wise and compassionate and optimistic. Having read quite a few of them by now, my daughter and I have one particular favourite: The Sneetches & Other Stories. Every time we read the tale of the Sneetches, she bristles with indignance on behalf of the plain-belly Sneetches at the beginning, then dissolves into uncontrollable giggles when Sylvester McMonkey McBean introduces himself and sends all the Sneetches running through his clever machine. The names Mrs McCave would have given her sons in retrospect in Too Many Daves crack her up, and the pale green pants get all her sympathy at the end of What Was I Scared Of. And those Zax, well, clearly they’re missing more than just the point. They’re missing everything!

But it’s Dr Seuss’s compassionate wisdom and energetic optimism that really get me every time, even as he simultaneously manages to appeal to my somewhat misanthropic side. And in addition to the delightful mischievous nature of his stories, often his observations have a remarkably bolstering effect. Take this one, for instance:

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!” What a wonderful way to be reminded that just being yourself is already a pretty good thing to be. No need to worry about constantly competing.

And of course: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” I can’t help it: whenever I see this quote I just become happily motivated and, at least for a moment, I feel that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Nothing I say about Dr Seuss could do justice to his wit and wisdom, so I’ll leave you with some of the best advice I’ve ever read; by the man himself, of course:

“Life’s too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right, forgive the ones who don’t and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it’d be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.”

School-Life Balance

I did it again! I skipped a post. In my defence, we’ve just come out of a week-long school vacation, and we try to have as much time together during vacations as we can possibly get. That means that my blog took a backseat this last weekend of the vacation.

School vacations are always a balancing act. It’s wonderful to have my daughter home with me – she’s a lovely girl and I have a great time hanging out with her and doing things together with her that we both enjoy, like baking cookies, playing games, doing projects.

Of course, just because it’s vacation that doesn’t mean that the household will suddenly start doing itself. This naturally means that the necessary chores need to be done either in our “spare time” (read: when we should be sleeping), or that I will have to find some way of making my daughter complicit in my activities during the day. Happily, this works about half the time: she doesn’t mind joining me on grocery shopping trips, or helping me catalog books, or dust (she loves dusting; it’s a little odd, but you won’t hear me complaining!). For other things, such as sorting laundry, I have to catch her in the right mood.

But I digress.

I feel strongly that school vacation means taking a break from school – period. We do plenty of activities with her that allow her to pick up some knowledge, but I will not do any school curriculum work with her at home when she should be relaxing. I know some people feel that school is not so stressful at the age of seven and that a little work during vacations is fine, but right now while she’s still so young, I disagree. She’ll have to get on the treadmill soon enough as it is; I’d like her to enjoy being young and relatively unencumbered while she can.

What seems small to us is pretty impressive to a child, and school is to children what work is to us. It comes with both satisfaction and frustration, it takes energy and commitment, and – as is the case with work – the results sometimes exceed expectations, and sometimes they aren’t what they expect or would hope for. So when the vacation rolls around, my kid gets a break. That way, she can return to school rested and able to study and learn with fresh energy.

It’s Monday morning now, and my daughter is back at her desk in her classroom. Luckily, there are lots of little breaks coming up, what with Easter and Pentecost around the corner, so we’ll have plenty of chances to balance out the intensity of school with the relaxation that comes with the pressure being off for a few days.

I hope that my approach teaches her that work is work and play is play, and that it’s okay to draw some lines. Establishing a good balance between work and relaxation makes for a productive and happy life. I do hope she’ll end up being better at it than I am. I still haven’t quite found the off-switch when it comes to work but as my daughter learns that balance is important, she might teach me a thing or two.