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Habit 6: Stretch Daily

Sun, 07/07/2013 - 00:31
I have not attempted a new habit for over a year.  This is in part because I am still attempting to maintain previous habits, and partly because it's hard to make a new commitment.

But I am going to try anyway.

So my new habit is to stretch every evening.  I am going to start with right splits, left splits, center splits and touching my toes.  For each position, I will stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds.  Hopefully I can up this time to 1 minute in the future, but I'll start slow.

Here's to flexibility!

Potty Insinct

Sun, 05/19/2013 - 07:57
I frequently take our 2 month old son 'potty'.  This means that first thing in the morning (and sometimes during the day), I pull his legs up to his tummy and let him poop.  The picture below demonstrates the correct position, although a toilet would be preferable to a garden in the middle of the city.  (Picture courtesy of Yaya).

This is very useful and beneficial for many reasons.  First, one less poopy diaper to deal with.  Second, he feels more comfortable.  Third, he is maintaining an innate knowledge of his bodily functions.

When I put my breast in his mouth, he know it's time to eat and immediately starts sucking.  How does he know how to eat?  He just does.

Likewise, when I put him in this position, he knows it's time to poop.  It's instinctive.  Also, there is not much room in there, so the pressure from his legs will push out whatever is in.

At this early stage I do not take him potty for every single poop.  However, the morning one is easy and as he goes less frequently, it will be easier to make sure that he goes in the potty, not in his diaper.

How come this is not practiced in the West?  It is a valuable tradition that has been lost.  Perhaps due to a lack of knowledge of child-rearing in other cultures, perhaps due to most parents being overwhelmed, or perhaps due to the influence of disposable diapers, a very profitable industry.

Mamma Tip: How to have enough milk

Sat, 05/18/2013 - 05:37
I am very fortunate to have a steady supply of milk.  Here are some tips that have helped me:

1) Feed your baby immediately after birth (or within the first hour at most).

Your body produces colostrum, a watery yellowish fluid. during the first few days.  This is all your baby needs, so don't expect to see the white stuff until the 4th day or so.

2) Seek help if your baby is not latching on.

Hospitals should provide breastfeeding support.  Some babies latch on right away, others do not.  It takes practice, so don't get discouraged!  Here is more information about trouble latching.  According to this article, many problems with latching are associated with the drugs in epidurals, so if possible, opt for natural birth.

3) Refuse formula and bottle feeding in the hospital.

These interfere with baby's ability to latch and Mamma's milk supply.  Make sure that the hospital staff know that you are breastfeeding exclusively, i.e. no formula or bottles.

4) Do not go by the clock.

Your baby knows when it is time to eat.  This may be several times an hour at first or once every several hours.  The more often your baby eats, the more milk you will produce.  Going by your baby, not the clock, will optimize your supply.

5) Introduce pumped milk in a bottle later.

Unless if you can be with your baby every second of every day, it is probably good to introduce a bottle.  With our kids, I waited until late in the 2nd/3rd week after breastfeeding was established and they were good at it.  This way, if I needed to run out, someone else could feed them.  However, introducing a bottle any sooner will probably result in baby wanting bottle, not Mamma.

Mamma tip: Choices

Sat, 05/18/2013 - 05:09
For discipline, three things that have worked for us are:

1) choices
2) consequences
3) focusing on what they CAN do

This post is about choices.

I have found that giving my 2 1/2 year-old daughter choices is extremely empowering for both parties.  It puts her in control while still coercing her to comply with certain rules.

My recommendation: Choices, not Commands.

For instance:

Don't say: Put your toys away!

Say: Do you want to put your toys away or do you want Mamma to put them away?

Ironically, the idea of me putting her toys away is unappealing because it takes away her independence.  The question empowers her to decide to put them away rather than just listening to whatever I say.  Of course you can manipulate the choices based on what you think your child will decide.  Some other examples:

"Do you want to finish your salad or do you want to go straight to bed?"

"Do you want to get in your car seat by yourself or do you want mom to force you in?"

"Do you want to wear this pair of pants or that pair?"

"Do you want to go the park and play or do you want to read some books?"

"Do you want me to turn off the lights and close the door right now or do you want ONE story before bedtime?"

"Do you want to take a shower with Mamma or do you want to stay alone in your room while I take a shower?"

If your child is strong-headed, giving two options may be your best bet for managing behavior.

6 ways to bond with your newborn

Fri, 04/05/2013 - 06:52
Taking care of a newborn is a lot of work.  It's important to take time between diaper changes and feedings to spend some quality time together.  After all, they won't be small for long!

1.  Herbal Bath- Boil some herbs (i.e. lavender, calendula and comfry) and add the strained water to your bath water.  Turn on your favorite music (I like opera, Bach or Juanes) and soak with baby.  Gaze into each others eyes.  This is great skin-to-skin time.

2. Nature Walk- Bundle up baby and put baby in sling.  Take a long leisurely walk.  Explore new places.  Talk to your baby.

3. Dance- Turn on your favorite music and hold your new dance partner close.

4. Read- Get on comfy clothes and cuddle with baby in bed.  Devour a novel or read baby a story,

5. Massage- Get out some olive oil and make your baby smell like a salad.

6. Sunbathe- Lay with baby (preferably mostly nude) on a sun-filled patch of your floor.  Again, music can enhance the experience.

What to eat?

Fri, 03/22/2013 - 12:45
When I was in school, the health teachers 'taught' us how to eat.  They taught us how to calculate how many calories we need, how to reduce fat intake, how to count nutrients.  Unfortunately, following their guidelines made me obsessed with calculating, which made me disconnected with food, which turned into what some may consider an eating disorder-- first too skinny, then a long-time compulsive eater, compensating for intermittent starving.  An alarming number of women in the United States has struggled with some sort of disordered eating.  Is this what I want for my daughter?

There is a better way.

My great-grandmothers lived into their 90's with minimal medications and minimal medical interventions.  And I doubt that they ever counted so much as a single calorie.

So with all of the experts telling us conflicting advice about what to eat, what should we actually eat?  I like Michael Pollan's advice:

Eat food.  Mostly plants.  Not too much.

I think that 'Eat food' is key.  Food is something found in the fresh produce or fresh meat section.  It is not frozen, it is not in a box, it probably doesn't have a label or fun pictures (those are called 'edible food-like substances').  It is something that you probably have to prepare by chopping or cooking (not just heating in a microwave).  It will spoil if you don't prepare it imminently.

Make food that comes from a traditional culture.  Hot dogs are probably off the list.  We like stir-fried vegetables and meat with whole grain rice, or fresh pasta with olive oil and vegetables from our garden.  I have more information about my personal food preferences here.  Limit meat to a side dish.  Add whole grains when possible.  Rather than pure white rice, mix in brown rice and wild rice.  Add barley to your vegetable soup.  If you make pasta or bread, try adding in different flours.

Limit eating out/ordering carry-out to once per week or less.  Most food that is not homemade is highly processed and filled with artificial flavors and all kinds of weird chemicals.  Or else dine out where you know you are eating pure food.

Another guideline that I like is that sweets should be treats.  Avoid coffees that taste like a dessert, yogurts with added sugar, oatmeal that already has been sweetened.  Anyway, those probably are packaged with fun pictures which automatically makes them a less desirable item.  But at the same time, have a piece of cake at a birthday party.  Enjoy pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.  Have a treat when the occasion calls for it.  If it is more than once every two weeks or so, it's not really a treat.

Lastly, food consumption should be a ritual.  Whether alone or with many, it's important to breathe.  If it's a meal or a treat, enjoy it thoroughly.

I think that if I had paid more attention to the general quality of food rather than the calories, fat, protein etc. in the food, I would have avoided a big crisis with food in my life.  I sincerely hope that the education system will start teaching kids more about traditional food wisdom and less about calories and nutrients.

The beauty of birth

Wed, 03/06/2013 - 13:47
This past Monday was my second time giving birth.  Most of the time birth is publicized by the media as some terrorizing, traumatizing, horrible event that women are forced to put up with.  Giving birth is hard, but I would like to offer another side of the story.  The beautiful side of birth.

The power

Most people who fear birth are afraid of what is referred to as 'pain'.  I prefer the word 'power', since pain to me is a result of something going wrong, not right.  The intensity of labor is extremely powerful and overwhelming.  But it is also magical.  It is a power that will take over your body and mind if you let it.  It is a force that connects us with the rest of the universe, that reminds us that we are part of something that extends beyond human intelligence.  It is a force that reminds of us of our connection to other humans, animals and to nature.  An intelligence that is not intellectual.  In sum, it is the force of God, if you will.

My advice: Give up control.  Let your body do its work.  Feel no shame.  Feel no fear.  Trust that the force of labor is a miracle.

The pushing

There is no other feeling in the world like the end of such intense contractions and your body pushing a baby out.  Never in my life have I ever felt so strong, so empowered, so free.  You mightier than an Olympic champion.  A muscle deep within you, which you never really felt before, does its work without your initiative.  Imagine your legs running a marathon on their own... on autopilot, without any conscious decision on your part.  Amazing!  After working so hard, you finally feel minutes away from meeting your baby. 

The first encounter

All of a sudden, this little person with little bones and limbs and a face is on you.  What looked like a watermelon in your belly was actually your baby!  Need I say more?

The recovery

This is where I am now.  Yes, there is discomfort.  Yes it is long.  But it is also a chance to be meditative.  To stay still.  To enjoy time in slow motion.  To enjoy the smell of an orange peel.  To soak in the sunlight.  To look at the world from a horizontal position.  To write in your journal.  To listen to classical music.   To be thankful and heal.  And above all, to cuddle with your baby.

Thanks to my husband, midwives, parents, sister, daughter, family and friends for supporting me through this amazing process!  Birth is beautiful.

Where do the children play? Part II

Sun, 01/27/2013 - 07:11
In my last post, I mentioned some of the difficulties of living in Michigan suburbia.  People don't walk around outside, and it's not easy to come across other children.  Especially in the winter.

As a temporary stay-at-home mom, here are some activities that I have used to keep our 2 year-old entertained while limiting screen time:

1) Library- Our local libraries have weekly story time.  Sometimes there is music, other times there are puppets.  Story time teaches group participation (dancing, gestures, songs), coupled with quiet sit-and-listen time.  Check out what activities your library has.  It may just be a great toddler hangout.

2) Grocery shopping- This has been a great way for our daughter to get exercise in the winter.  Kids can also have fun learning about healthy foods.  At certain grocery stores (Trader Joe's for instance), they have mini shopping carts that little kids can push around.  I have spent up to an hour with my daughter lapping the store, examining each of the items and letting her pick a few things to purchase.

If you go somewhere where there are no little shopping carts, you can teach your child to hold your hand while walking around.  In the beginning, I told my daughter that if she held my hand, I would buy her a special treat from the grocery store (marinated olives).  That did the trick and ever since, she has been in the habit of holding my hand.

3) Snow- It's fun to get all bundled up and play in the snow.  Try sledding at a local golf course or building a snowman in a local park.

4) Be bold and entertain- If you know your neighbors have little kids, seek them out and invite them over.  If you start chatting with other parents at the library, exchange e-mails and follow up.  Set up a play date at your house.  Find parent groups in your local area online and attend meetings (e.g. has many options).

5) Crafts- Get creative with crafts.  Crafts improve fine motor and spark the imagination.  A simple Google search will come up with lists of inexpensive crafts.  A necklace from pasta, construction paper puppets, play-doh and watercolors are all loads of fun.

6) No-car outings- This may be difficult depending on where you live, but try taking your child on the local bus, or even walking to the nearest store.  Sometimes we walk up to one hour to get somewhere (A stroller and snacks are necessary!).  It's great to get some fresh air and to not be dependent on a car all of the time.

7) Museums- See if there are museums in your area.  We are lucky to have an art museum, archeological museum, zoological society, hands-on museum and others.  Don't assume that your child is too young to enjoy these places.  Sometimes just walking around somewhere new is an adventure.

8) Kitchen fun- I love bringing my daughter in the kitchen and teaching her about food.  Find little tasks that your child can do (e.g. ripping lettuce for a salad).  It's fun to get kids involved in food preparation.  This is not a good thing to do if you are hungry or pressed for time!  Think of it more as an activity than actual cooking time.

9) Just dance- On a sunny winter's day, it's fun to turn up the music and dance around the living room.  Enjoy those toddler moves!

10) Classes- Check out your local Parks and Recreation booklet for toddler activities.  Swim classes, music groups and dance classes are all great ways for your child to get involved and play with other kids.

Where do the children play?

Wed, 01/02/2013 - 08:20
Here in Michigan, people live relatively far apart.  Most people have a single family home, and everybody drives.  This means that if you see someone walking around outside, they are either 1) exercising or 2) walking their dog.

This was a huge culture shock for my mother-in-law.  How can we live in a neighborhood of 300 homes and never see anyone?  Where are all the children?

In China, where people live in close proximity, the kids come out to play in the local square or garden every day.  No need to make a special play-date or seek out mommy groups-- kids are everywhere!

So what are the consequences of suburban life that our kids might face?

1) Toys.  Kids in the US tend to have tons of toys.  Having a big house and few chances to play outside with other kids means you need to entertain yourself with stuff.

2) Fear of people.  Social isolation here may contribute to shyness.  One neighbor's daughter used to be afraid of people, but after spending three months in China, she returned with a friendly and outgoing personality.  Her mom claims that the constant social interaction with unfamiliar people accounted for this change.

3) Lack of exercise.  Walking outside is kind of boring.  There is nobody to see, and at this time of year, it is freezing cold.  We end up driving most places, which means less running around.

4) More screen time.  Since there are not many live people to talk to, kids are spending more and more time in front of the computer, iPad or television.

5) Misbehavior.  Sometimes boredom contributes to misbehavior.  If a kid feels bored, he or she might be more likely to do something destructive, just for the thrill of it.

In the next post, I will talk about some ways to deal with these challenges.


Sun, 12/16/2012 - 10:54
When Nainai (my husband's mother) came here from China in September, she brought about 20 or so toddler magazines that my father-in-law had subscribed to for our daughter.  Before these books, I really didn't know how to read to our daughter.  Now we have a bedtime ritual of reading 5 or 6 stories each night before turning off the light.

How to tell a story to a 2 year-old:
  • Pick books with simple text and a simple story line.  Many of the stories I like feature an animal protagonist getting into trouble (a rooster falling off a chair or a cat getting into Mommy's purse).
  • Pick stories that teach emotions (scared, happy, sad) or states (hungry, tired, confused, hurt)
  • Don't stick to the text.  Talk about the pictures.  If the text doesn't have much, invent and elaborate.
  • Use sound effects.  If there is a picture of a train, make a whistling sound.  If there is a bird, make a chirping sound.
  • Use lots of expression.  Make different voices.  If you want to read the text, read slowly and explain as you go.  (i.e. Text: Then a big wave came and thrust the crab on the beach.  You say: Look!  This is a big wave.  See, lots of water.  Where's the crab?  He's sad.  He wants to go home.  See, he's on the beach.  He wants to go back in the water.)  Make your sentences short and your words comprehensible.
  • Ask questions.  Make a conversation out of the story.  Relate the story to your child's life.  In our case, our daughter loves listening to the same stories over and over and over again.  She knows the storyline in and out.  This gives me the opportunity to solicit the story from her rather than telling her the story every time.  (Who's this?  What does she want?  Where is she going?  Why is she in trouble?)
I am convinced that storytelling is an extremely powerful tool for learning language.  You have an unlimited array of topics to explore and to teach your child about.  It lets your child use his or her imagination and learn about the world.

Unconditional Love

Thu, 11/29/2012 - 10:23
Am I likable enough?  Am I nice enough?  Am I funny enough?  Am I pretty enough?  Am I friendly enough?  Do I make other people feel happy?  Am I too judgmental?

These are all questions that pressure me at certain times.  It's normal to want to be liked.  It's normal to not feel adequate at times… even a lot of the time.  It's normal to wish to be great in every way.  A lot of people struggle with a similar set of questions.

However, these things don't matter.  Sometimes I'm not the nicest person.  Sometimes I'm self-centered, maybe even narcissistic.  Sometimes I make other people feel bad.  I judge myself and I judge others… probably a lot.

So what?

I'm human.  It's ok to have weaknesses.  It's ok to show vulnerability.  We are all vulnerable.  Instead of judging ourselves, why not look in the mirror, think of all of our weaknesses, smile, and say, "Hey, in spite of all those things, I am worthy of love."

Mamma Tip: Potty-training

Thu, 10/25/2012 - 10:37
During the summer, I started potty-training Annamaria.  At that time, she was almost 18 months. Well, we actually started acclimating her to use the toilet from a very young age.  But after that, due to our circumstances (i.e. day-care), I was unable to continue taking her potty.

Anyway, while I was home with her over the summer, I was able to train her fairly well.  The key thing is that she was ready and already was aware of her bodily functions.  These are some tips that helped our potty-training be successful:

1. cloth diapers

My dad despises them, but I do believe that they had a role in making her aware of her bodily functions.  Every time she peed, she definitely knew because her diaper was WET!  Disposable diapers make children oblivious to their pee.

2. bottomless

Luckily this summer was hot enough that she could go bottomless most of the time.  This made going potty hassle-free.

3. regularity

When I peed, I took her pee.  Basically every 35 minutes to 1 hour.  I set her on this routine to prevent accidents.

4. rewards

Every time she peed, I gave her a raisin.  The immediate reinforcement is pure behaviorism.  Just like Pavlov's dogs with the bell and treats.  I also made a big deal every time by applauding, hugging her and praising her.

5. punishment

At first I did not punish her for not using the potty.  Accidents are part of the learning process, and I wanted to focus on positive reinforcement.  However, at a certain point, she was clearly aware that she should go potty, but for one reason or another refused to.  A negative consequence or punishment gave her more incentive to use the potty.

After a few months, she would run to the potty on her own, without me telling her to do so.  Yet, after going back to day-care for a month, there was some regression.

Now she will go on her own about 50% of the time.  The other 50% of the time, I must remind her to go.  Accidents are less and less frequent.  She is just at the point where she will tell me she has to go potty even when we are out of the house.  Yesterday I took her potty in the grocery store and on campus.  She is not perfect yet, but she is basically pretty reliable the majority of the time.  Things that make her prone to accidents are: having too much fun (distracted), being out of her routine (in the car/at the store... although less and less a problem), and simply refusing to go if in a crabby mood.

Potty-training is not hard.  However, it does require a lot of time and dedication.

Blue Zones

Thu, 10/18/2012 - 09:50
Over the summer of 2011 I read a book called the Blue Zones.  It talked about specific populations where people live long, salubrious lives.  These populations have an astounding proportion of centenarians and have low levels of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other ailments requiring medical intervention.  The Blue Zones include specific areas in Okinawa, Sardegna, Loma Linda CA, Nicoya Costa Rica and Ikaria Greece.  Researchers attribute the health, vitality and longevity of the Blue Zones to lifestyle.  Some common lifestyle factors include:
  • Diet- Whole plant foods (a great variety of vegetables, grains, legumes and fruits).  Involvement in food production (gardens).  Homemade meals.  Virtually no processed foods, little meat and minimal sweets.
  • Physical activity-  Walking, housework and outdoor activity.  These people use their bodies constantly.  They spend a significant amount of time outdoors in the sun.  Some centenarians walk up to 5-6 miles per day.
  • Sleep- Plenty of sleep and often an afternoon rest or nap.
  • Social activity- Close-knit relationships with family and friends.  A sense of belonging in the community.
  • Stress- Many of these people enjoy their work and do not succumb to the pressures of modern life.  They make time to relax and unwind.
So what does this have to do with me?  Well, I think that these five points are all very simple in theory, but hard in practice.  I don't think that it is necessary to take these things literally... for example, I enjoy sweets and at times even processed foods.  I do get stressed out at times and often don't get enough physical activity.  That's ok.

The problem is that in our busy modern lives, doing all of these things can clash.  For example, since my job includes a lot of time just sitting or standing, I need to take extra time for physical activity.  Taking that extra time might add stress, limit my already limited time with family or decrease my amount of sleep.  Same with eating.  If I made everything from scratch, I would have less time for social activity or physical activity.  So I don't think that it is reasonable for us moderns to expect to do all of these things all of the time.

However, I also think that these five principles are good basic rules to live by.  These are core values that stand at the center of well-being.  So when you are feeling off-balance, going back to these and starting with getting enough sleep or eating well will help you get back on track.

I did enjoy reading the Blue Zones.  I felt that the author was able to transmit the wisdom of people who have been on this planet for a century.  He also gave vivid descriptions of their lifestyles and environments.  It was a great source of inspiration for me.

Getting mad

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 05:45
It's normal to get frustrated with your kids, especially when they misbehave.  However, it's also important to remain conscious about what you say and what you do when anger strikes.

If you are persistently angry or irritated, it may be because you feel out of control as a parent.  In this case, it may be time to read more about assertive parenting (a great article anyway).  Otherwise:

  • Get out of the situation.  If you are burnt out and someone is there to take over (i.e. your spouse), get out!  You deserve a break.  Gently explain that you need a break and then go somewhere to get some alone time.
  • Address the behavior.  If your child is misbehaving, explain that their current behavior is unacceptable ("Mamma won't listen to you when you are screaming.  Will you ask nicely?").  Be very careful to refer specifically to your child's behavior and not to generalize.  Avoid insulting your child.  Saying things such as, "You are naughty" or "Mamma won't like you if you keep doing this" is hurtful.
  • Obviously avoid screaming, hitting or anything that models bad behavior.  You are trying to model how to deal calmly with negative emotions.
  • If you are really out of control and no one else is there, perhaps it's time to leave your child in a safe spot and go to another room to calm down.  Explain to your child that you are feeling angry and you need a minute alone.  When you return, try to change the scene.  Maybe a walk outside will be enough to release your energy.
  • Don't pretend like you are not angry.  Ignoring emotions almost never makes them go away.  They will just get pent up until the next time you explode!

The secret to Chinese success

Tue, 08/07/2012 - 22:57
It is a stereotype that Chinese people in the United States are academically, mathematically, musically and technologically successful.  While there are many reasons for this stereotype (highly skilled immigrants, strong math education in China, general cultural emphasis on academics), I think that there is another reason why many Chinese people are able to excel in many areas.


Based on my experience with Chinese people, there is a much greater emphasis on health than in the greater American culture.

Americans do not seem to hold health or mental well-being as a core value.  Take my typical university students for example.  They are pulling all-nighters left and right, drinking coffee or Red Bull any time of the day, smoking, working double shifts all of the time, eating junk food for meals and partying (i.e. getting drunk) on the weekends.

Don't get me wrong, I know that university students of Chinese descent do this too.  I am making bold generalizations.

However, I have noticed that Chinese parents (not just my in-laws) consider sleep an ultimate priority and would be appalled at the idea of drinking highly caffeinated drinks to pull frequent all-nighters.  Taking time to eat a hot meal with vegetables, meat and rice is essential and even a sandwich would be a disappointment, not to mention a sugary candy bar or potato chips.  There is endless discussion of which vegetables help you concentrate, which fruits boost your iron, which will aid digestion, which will cleanse your system.  Some especially dedicated parents will bring their students bananas and hot water while they are studying, to make sure they stay nourished and hydrated.  In Chinese, the phrases 'pay attention to your health' and 'health comes first' are so commonplace, they are almost cliche.

So what do Chinese people gain from these beliefs?  Sure, maybe a caffeinated beverage will make you smarter and more efficient for a few hours, but not without side effects like additional stress or anxiety.  Eating junk food will give you quick energy, but it will also make you feel gross and could cause weight gain or other health problems.  Drinking and partying might relieve the stress for a while, but not without a headache (at best).

We are hooked on 'quick-fixes'.  But the true path to long-term success is rooted in the ancient tradition of caring for your health before anything else.

Mamma Tip: Punishment

Sun, 07/22/2012 - 01:09
Recently my husband and I have had to experiment with some methods of discipline in order to try to 'correct' bad behavior, and these are some of the things that we discovered.

  • Choose your battles wisely.  If you discipline or criticize your child for every little thing, they are not very likely to take you seriously.  Figure out what is really worth discipline and what you can let pass.
  • Reinforce positive behavior.  Spend more time telling your child all of the great things he/she does, rather than how naughty he/she is.
  • Do not discipline out of anger.  Getting angry is ok.  Letting your anger out on your child is probably not a great idea.  Although it might seem powerful at first, your child might come to one of two probable conclusions: 1) I am powerful because I can make my parents angry, or 2) Mommy and Daddy are angry at me and therefore don't like me very much.
  • Choose immediate, relevant consequences.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  Of course, this all must be within reason based on your child's developmental level.  You know your child best and what you should and shouldn't do as a parent.
  • Leave aside the attitude, sarcasm or resentment.  When implementing a punishment keep cool and calm.  Gently explain that the punishment goes along with their behavior.  If they choose such behavior, there will be specific consequences.  It's not about picking a fight with them or a power struggle.  You are doing this out of love, care and respect.
  • Do not yell or lecture.  Both of these are annoying and relatively useless because there is no true consequence.  You can yell at your child all day for wasting too many hours on video games, but until you take the games away (or donate the computer), they are probably going to keep playing them.
  • Always reassure your child how important they are to you, regardless of their behavior.  Indulge them with quality time spent with you and other family members, tell them you love them, cuddle with them at bedtime and take them on special outings.  Your children should know that you will always be their for them, no matter what.

Mamma tip: Getting your child to eat right

Tue, 06/05/2012 - 09:01
So far I think that my daughter is a pretty good eater (knock on wood!).  So I thought I would share a few tips that worked for us to have her eat well.

  1. Breastfeed as long as possible during the first year.  I know many kids that do not like taking their formula.  Besides, formula is virtually processed food for babies.
  2. Eat a variety of foods while breastfeeding.  I ate a lot of greens, garlic sauce, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.  This, I believe, helped acclimate our daughter to a range of flavors.  Avoid sugary, sweet or processed foods.
  3. Avoid feeding juice or sugar water.  Many people will tell you to add sugar or honey to your child's bottle.  Don't do it!  Of course they will love it, because humans innately prefer sweet things.  But they will also get used to it and refuse unsweetened options.
  4. Feed your child what you eat.  No need to buy special baby food.  Just feed what you eat.  It will taste better and hopefully be a healthier alternative.  Stick it in a blender or chop it up.  I did not really modify the flavors, so my daughter loves salad with vinegar, garlic and onions and other strong flavors.
  5. Let your child go a little hungry.  If they absolutely refuse to eat something that you offer, they must not be that hungry.  Let them wait.  Do NOT give them what they 'prefer' to eat.  Just let them take a break and play for a while.  Then come back and try again.
  6.  Act like your roasted chicken is a double fudge brownie.  Eat a bite and act like it's the most delicious thing you've ever eaten.  Then pretend to offer it to your child, but eat it instead.  Make your child BEG to eat the food you give them.
  7. Occasionally eat dessert together.  Cake, chocolate and ice cream are delicious, there's no doubt about it!  Share your indulgences with your child.  Let them know that it's ok to eat this things on occasion. 
 To see some pictures of my daughter delighting in food, please click here.

Aiming for sustainability

Wed, 05/30/2012 - 08:01
We live in an era of excess.  We buy new things and throw away the old.  We buy too much food and then forget about it and toss the leftovers.  We drive everywhere and use gasoline.  We use plastic bags, paper bags and ship stuff across the world every day.

This is our world.

The lady across the street, a 68 year-old from Henan, China sees me as the most wasteful being ever.  And I consider myself a conservationist.  But you see, when you have lived in a time when 70 of every 100 people starve to death and there is NO food, and you have to make all of your own clothes and shoes by hand, and there is NO craft store to help you make all of that stuff, well, you DON'T waste anything.

One day two of our blinds broke.  Our immediate reaction was "No good, gotta throw them away."  But the lady across the street was over and suggested that we just poke a hole on the other end and hang each one upside down.  Two less blinds in a landfill.

Another time, she salvaged a broomstick (no broom, just the stick) from the neighbor's garbage.  Then she proceeded to give it to me so that I could tie my tomato plants to it.  And the next day she asked if she could trade her stick with mine--She really valued this thing.

Of course, two blinds and stick do not amount to much.  That is, of course, unless EVERYONE started to think this way.  Imagine how much less we would waste if we all did this together.

So here are some tips to try to create a more sustainable world.  I am not suggesting that you do everything (I'm not), but every way in which we reduce will help keep a cleaner world for our children.  Let's try to be a little more like the lady across the street.

  • Buy less
  • Throw less away
  • Bring reusable bags to the fruit market/mall rather than using plastic
  • Recycle bottles and containers
  • Buy from bulk food stores and bring your own containers (they will weigh the container for you so you are not paying for that as well)
  • Hang your clothes to dry on the line rather than using the dryer
  • Cut your vegetable and fruit peels and bury them in the yard/garden
  • Walk or take a bus/train rather than driving
  • When you need something new (clothes, shoes, kitchenware, furniture), check a second-hand store first
  • Use a reusable water bottle rather than buying a case of plastic
  • Buy local when possible (reduces resources used in shipping things across the world)
  • Reduce use of chemicals and fertilizers around the house and in the garden
  • Save and EAT leftovers.  Or make just enough food to eat for each meal.
  • Buy more fresh food and less packaged food (your body will thank you too)
  • Avoid buying items that are individually wrapped or disposable.
I think that it's time that we start educating and modelling a more sustainable world rather than teaching our children that recycling is not that important.

Mamma tip: Get out and have fun

Sun, 04/29/2012 - 07:33
I enjoy going on walks, playing catch and building towers with our daughter.  And all in all, I think that motherhood is quite fun.

However, that is not the kind of fun that I'm talking about right now.

The other night my husband and I left our daughter with my cousin so we could have a date night.  Our date included a long stroll along the river holding hands and stopping to take pictures, wandering into a used bookstore and bringing a few treasures home (used children's books in Chinese and Italian), stopping in a teahouse and flipping through the magazines together and best of all, having a drink or two and dancing the night away at a friend's wedding.  This was the second longest date that we have had since our daughter was born.

That is the kind of fun that I'm talking about.

Getting out and seeing the world, holding hands, watching the river, exploring, dancing the night away, forgetting about the world and just thinking about yourself and your significant other.

I think that it is important to do this (probably more than once or twice a year), because like going to work, it reminds you of who you are when you are not assuming the 'mamma' role.  It lets you and your husband focus on each other.  It lets you feel youthful and energetic.  It also lets you forget the more serious, responsible side of mothering and just hang loose.

On previous allotted 'date nights', we typically just crashed and fell asleep, which is also great.  However, I think that going out and enjoying an activity like dancing is particularly invigorating and exhilarating.  It is good for your heart, good for your mind and good for your soul.  It makes you feel light and carefree.  That was the most non-mamma fun that I have had in a while.

Mamma Tip: Children and Chores

Tue, 04/03/2012 - 18:28
No matter how young your child is, I think that you can involve them to some extent in chores.  From a young age, they have a sense of responsibility and pride.  It can also lighten your load, since you don't have to keep them out of trouble AND do the chores at the same time.

Here are some examples:

  • Have your toddler hand you the silverware from the dishwasher as you put each item away.
  • When making a salad, break the lettuce and then give it to your child to put into the bowl.
  • Hand the laundry from the washer to put into the dryer.
  • Insist that your child clean up his/her toys .  Hand each item to them and direct them to put it in its home.  Or have your child hand each toy to you.
  • Give your child a broom and let them sweep the floor.  Give them a cloth to have them dust.
  •  Have them hand you clothes from the laundry basket to fold.
  • Let them pick weeds and put them in the compost bucket.
And for infants:

  • Let them lay near the kitchen in their favorite bouncy chair or buggy.  As you prepare them meal, explain each step.  ("First we are going to chop the onions real fine.")
  • Put them on your back in a sling as you vacuum or clean up.
  •  Take them outside as you work in the garden.
Try to be encouraging, even if they don't do things as well as you.  The point is to have them involved and learning.

Do not worry about how boring the task may seem to you.  Your child will love helping out and will love the extra attention from you.   To a child, any type of activity can be fun if they have a special role.