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We keep our kitchen and bathroom clean out of necessity (and, yes, my profound hatred of cockroaches… which, as it turns out, come in three our four distinct sizes in Texas, and also FLY. A clean kitchen is my first line of defense). Otherwise, honestly, we let the mess of toys, clothes, books—and whatever else finds its way to where it shouldn’t be in the course of daily life-- slowly escalate elsewhere until we can’t take it anymore. Then, every few weeks, we set a morning aside for a thorough “deep cleaning” endeavor: pile-purging, floor-mopping, rug-beating, surface cleaning… the works. I always wonder afterward why we don’t make a more regular routine of this exercise. It’s satisfying! I far prefer our clean, organized home to a messy one. It makes for a more uplifting, inspiring environment, and for a less cluttered state of mind.

That being said, this routine is yet to make its way into a weekly timeslot. This month has been particularly full, and while we’ve done some maintenance-sorting along the way, I decided today that it was time, if not for floor-to-ceiling scrubbing action, then at least for an all-around wipe-down. I discovered soon afterward that our trusty all-purpose cleaner, which we go through at about the same rate as we do coffee, or diapers (awesome made-from-corn, biodegradable diapers, of course), was gone. Empty spray bottle. No more cleaner.

Rather than drop ten bucks on another, I decided to refill the empty bottle with all-purpose cleaner that I made myself. That way, I know it’s natural and effective-- baking soda and vinegar, natural cleaning standby’s, can do anything. And Tea Tree oil has natural antiseptic properties. To sweeten the deal, it’s custom scented with pure essential oils (I seriously might make an OCD about-face, this stuff smells so good. I want to clean everything. Throw that food, Kaspar! Track that mud! Bring it!). And, yes, it’s way cheaper than the pricey—albeit pretty-labeled— store-bought stuff. Which means I have money left over for lotto tickets and beer.

Just kidding. More like coffee and diapers.

And my label’s pretty fly.

Want to make some Greener Cleaner, too? It takes five minutes. Ready? Go!

Click Read More for the what and the how.


 
 
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Between off-hours freelance work and all-hours baby-raising, I frequently lose track of what day—or even month—it is. So far the seasonal cues here in Texas, too, have run along the subtle lines of less-summer, more-summer, way-summer and autumn (with exactly one snowfall in February that lasted an hour, left nothing behind and brought the city to a spellbound halt). I’m still learning to tell the difference between them, and thus have to stop and think, now and then, about whether August has happened yet. The calendar’s cadence is comforting, though, and I love me some holidays— I’ll take any excuse for some extra ‘special’, and feel it’s important, somehow, to make little marks along our lives’ winding paths, leaving signposts in the cyclic subconscious: December smells like orange and clove; we lie on the beach in July. It’s important to pause every once in a while and celebrate where we are, whatever month it happens to be.

Parenthood involves a running roster of Things To Do, making pauses elusive, at best. And while Aaron and I have gotten the juggling act down to a science, we realized at some point a ways back that we weren’t differentiating between our week days and weekends much at all. So, we’ve made some minor adjustments and brought the extra ‘special’ back to the weekends: we take turns on morning Kaspar-watch and allow each other one day each to sleep in. We prowl for seasonal produce at the farmer’s market on Saturdays. We do things out in the community, or with our friends, and take time to clean, or cook something fancy. Sometimes, when we're lucky, we get out for a date night. Though we still rarely score a work-free weekend, setting some time aside in the office with a cup of tea, a treat and something to accomplish can feel surprisingly like special Me-Time on a Sunday afternoon.

I try to take a little bit of Me-Time during busy weekdays, too. Kaspar’s naps are unpredictable in timing and duration, and it’s tempting when I finally get him down to jump headfirst into cleaning food off the floor, responding to emails, and taking a shower… all at once. But I find it’s actually more productive—in my role as a parent, and as a busy person—to take a break, come back to the present moment before racing on to the next, remember what day it is in the first place, and discover why this day merits celebrating. Food on the floor and all.

And what better way to celebrate Me-Time today than with a warm cup of tea and a scone?

I whipped these up yesterday to make my Sunday work-spurt special. Success. Then I had another scone mid-morning today, with some tea. Kaspar’s nap lasted exactly as long as it took me to make the tea (Aaron always gets the big hour-plus naps out of him in the afternoons… I am yet to experience this), so I had my snack while reading Curious George books with a baby in my lap. I’ll make my Me-Time later… My tea-time today was as special as it gets.

I hope you’ll make some Me-Time (well, you-time) for yourself today, and every day. Make these scones to go along with it, and you’ll be in mama-heaven. I like to play with different types of flour in my baking, and call for both oat flour—which makes things moist and cakey—and brown rice flour—which imparts more of a crumbly/flakey effect—here. You can use regular wheat flour if you’d like, though, especially if you’re wanting a really accurate scone-like texture. You’ll notice that I added a bit of sweet potato and acorn squash into the mix, too—putting our farmer’s market bounty to good use! You can also use canned sweet potato or pumpkin. These scones are decadent—they don’t taste like vegetables, really!—and delicious. And they hold up well in the fridge or freezer, so they'll be ready and waiting for Me-Time, whenever you make it happen.

Click read more for the recipe.


 
 
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Our family ventured, several days ago, to the original of Austin Museum of Art’s two locations, Laguna Gloria. The primary building on the grounds is an Italianesque villa that houses a permanent collection, as well as rotating exhibits; the current exhibit is called Art and Nature (an apt description of the whole operation, actually). Although the artworks on display are somewhat few in number—we pretty much saw everything that was hung within half an hour of arriving-- they’re well-curated and refreshingly diverse in style and provenance, with deliberate nods toward Texan artists among national and international peers. As interesting as the artwork was, however, it was the villa itself that-- for me, at least-- stole the show… only to be outdone shortly thereafter by its lush and entrancing grounds. It was as if in driving fifteen minutes North of our home, we somehow found ourselves in Wonderland.


Click read more for the rest of the post, and a photo gallery from our visit!

 
 
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These bad boys get the "big fat" prefix because they're usually a bit more dainty than mine when served in Thai or Vietnamese restaurants, where they're also sometimes called Summer Rolls. Whether yours end up bitty or bulging is up to you; either way, they're easy to make and wholly available to improvisation. They'll also impress the pants off of dinner guests or picnic companions. Served alongside my Slow-Cooked Pho, they make for a perfect meal-- light, healthy and satisfying-- and because the Pho essentially cooks itself, you'll have your hands free for stressless fresh roll assembly.

I usually botch the first in a batch, but then muscle memory kicks in and I'm off and rolling. Don't get discouraged by sticky mistakes as you first begin this process. Just take a breath, say "Rice paper is my friend," and get back in the game. You'll get the hang of it, and you'll be glad you powered through. Fresh rolls are simply amazing! I'm really oh-so-excited to introduce them to your summer repertoire.

Click read more for the what and the how.
 
 
I’ve practiced yoga regularly for about five years. I’m by no means a fanatic, but I'm certainly an enthusiast; I’ve attended a wide variety of classes, and have also utilized instructional DVDs at home. There’s been a time and a place for each approach, with some overlap, but whatever the method, I’ve found that yoga has consistently played an important role in my approaching life positively, and generally feeling good, from my stressful young professional start, straight on into parenthood.

I turned to yoga classes as something of an experiental oasis when I first moved to New York. I’d hopped from the Ivory Tower in Western Massachussetts, to India, to the middle of Manhattan in just a few months, faking my NYC way in a slick little pencil skirt suit (pieced together, rather impressively, at Forever21). Once there, I was (newly, deliberately) single, and actively social, but felt uprooted—which I was, though also deliberately—and existentially alone. It takes time to build friendships that offer real sustenance, and to find one’s way around New York’s great terrain. It takes stamina to ride the trains up and down the island, to keep pace with its mad rush. I’d sweet-talked my way into a pretty ballin’ first job—nice title, no responsibility, little oversight—but felt surprisingly sapped by the nine to five scene. I spent my lunch hours wandering the Garment District, and frequently headed directly to a yoga studio after work. I didn’t go there to find a boyfriend or to meet trendy people. In fact, I deflected advances on both fronts; I’m extroverted by nature, but what I sought there was space instead of more interaction. I found a way to plant my feet firmly on the ground in a time when the big, typically ‘familiar’ components of life were all simultaneously in flux. Doing this in the context of classes, too, rather than in my own apartment, made me feel connected to the city and its pulsing, ceaseless activity. Afterward, I’d step back into the noise and the early-evening buzz, open to where my life had brought me—to where I’d brought my life—and ready to make it all really, rightly mine.

A couple of years later, I was living in Brooklyn with Aaron, settled into a more interesting job, and authentically connected to the city through deep, lasting friendships, creative exploits and accumulated personal history. I maintained a semi-regular yoga practice at home, using DVDs, and took occasional classes at the gym (helping to justify the outrageous monthly membership rates I was paying), just for fun. Then, while pregnant, I once again needed something ‘centering’—which I realize is fluffy yoga-speak, but is regardless a very real human need-- in the midst of my busy city life; I did prenatal yoga at home, using a DVD by Shiva Rea, several times a week. It kept me calm, and kept me in shape; I looked damn good through my pregnancy, and felt good, too. By D-Day, I was primed to push like a champ, and to bounce back physically without incident (done, and done).  

Of course, having a baby totally upends one’s ‘centering’ strategies in their previously stable forms—at the very least, it requires modifying those strategies to work within a dramatically new set of circumstances. But making those modifications is essential. Lack of sleep, lack of time alone, and lack of time in general are major stressors, right ladies? Being a mom is the most demanding of jobs—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually—and many of us are juggling other jobs along with it. Yoga with infants is a cool thing; it helps to get post-partum kinks out, and it’s generally fairly slow, and structured so that the babies are incorporated to some degree. I liked it. As Kaspar became mobile, however, I found myself kind of frustrated in mom-and-toddler classes by the collision of my desire to get a real yoga workout coming up against his desire to maintain constant contact with me while crawling under, over and around my moving limbs.

Click read more below to find out how I got the balance right.



 
 
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I tilt my hat today to a hands-on, in-the-game, diaper-changing, entertaining, picture-painting, bread-baking, ever-patient, wholly present, powerhouse of a role model of a man-- my son's father. It's your day, Aaron. I love you, and I'm proud of you. You're doing a bang-up job.    
 
 
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In the evenings, when that large midday sun moves West and the heat lifts just enough, we venture out, as a family, for no particular reason. We function as a cohesive unit by day, of course; Aaron and I alternate on Kaspar-watch, making time and space for work, for appointments, and so on. Meal prep, nap and toddler-tainment shifts are likewise evenly shared (we didn’t really plan it. It just works out this way). We live like this, in this flexible rhythm, coming together for meals and the syncopated changing of the guard, exchanging kisses and updates on when Kaspar last ate, or something funny he did in the pool. Something intriguing we read or thought or saw. Something we need to do later, or now. Adjusting the rhythm accordingly.

But by evening, our business is done. At least there are no more calls to be made, no appointments to appear for (full disclosure: we both frequently work late at night… C’est la vie freelance). Our evening outings aren’t for business, aren’t about functioning. They are solely devoted to play.

We run around in grassy parks, or meet up with close friends at Sno Beach. We linger, we laugh. We chase the babies as they run toward ledges (how do they always go straight for the ledges?), share stories from the week. We pause fully in pauses, and breathe deeply, unhurried.   

And when Kaspar begins yawning, or veering suspiciously to the left, we gather our belongings, part ways with our friends (or the field, or the lake) and make our way—hand-in-hand—home.

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Beets are the bomb. They’re nutrient-rich, serving up credible doses of Folate, Potassium, Magnesium and Vitamin C. They also taste delicious: earthy and comforting, but with more flair than, say, potatoes. Not only that, but they’re multi-talented, too; you can cut them into chunks (peel first), toss with some olive oil and roast them with other root vegetables. You can even juice or pickle them… Or make this delectable quinoa salad. It’s simple and sophisticated: perfect for summer, with dried cranberries for a hint of sweetness, and capers for some kick. But best of all—thanks to beets’ finest feature, their hue—it’s pink. Intensely pink. This ain’t no pastel cutesy stuff. This is visual Boom Boom Pow that tells your taste buds what’s coming. Which is, of course, a very good time.

I served this for dinner alongside apricot-glazed pork chops, but it held its own solo as lunch the next day. Quinoa’s high in protein (as are walnuts, also featured here), which filled us up and kept us going into the afternoon, without a blood sugar surge and drop.

That’s my kind of tasty. Here’s how you get yours:

Click "Read More" below for the recipe.
 
 
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My lower back, living the good life.
Kaspar's first year was, while wonderful and joyful, also—in a nutshell-- really, incredibly difficult for all of us; he had terrible eczema, barely slept, vomited constantly and frequently displayed what I now realize were major histamine/pre-anaphylactic reactions. It all culminated in a major anaphylactic episode just about a month after his first birthday (we had Epi pens on hand, thankfully, but it was a pretty traumatic experience for all of us. I wrote about the event on my Parenting.com blog, here).

We went to an allergist and did extensive testing-- Kaspar is highly allergic to dozens of foods-- but that doctor really didn't offer much beyond avoidance and directives to use steroids and constant Benadryl (I’m talking 24/7) to try to quell our nighttime misery (we'd have to physically restrain a screaming Kaspar from clawing at his skin... We were clocking only three hours of interrupted sleep nightly. It was bad). Steroids only helped for as long as we used them, but since there are serious side effects to long term exposure, and the doctors were clearly unsure of how much was too much, I was just not down for this approach (as much as we all craved sleep). The Benadryl didn't do very much, either.

I understood that this was a systemic problem and really wanted to do more than stick an insufficient and hazardous band-aid on it. We tried homeopathy, but that didn't work, and since our circumstances were so extreme, I didn't feel we were able to really experiment with it (under a practitioner's care) enough to find our magic remedy. I called a good friend, Colleen, one afternoon, in tears. I was exhausted. I’d bought every product on the market that claimed to help with eczema. I’d spent every day at work with one hand in professional doings and another sifting through information on this stuff. We'd found a new family for our two cats, and purchased a crazy powerful HEPA air purifier for our bedroom. We weren't getting anywhere. Kaspar’s eczema was obvious, but we’d been living our lives during this time (returning to work in NYC, then moving halfway across the country, immediately picking up with work and freelance/creative pursuits in Austin, and— significantly— truly enjoying all that is new-parenthood; Kaspar has a perpetually delightful disposition in spite of these challenges). Few of our friends and family really understood the extent of what was happening.

“Oh my God, Taylor,” Colleen said. “You guys need help. This has to change.” She had an idea, too: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Lots of people had offered ideas, and I’d tried every natural remedy known to man, so I wasn’t deeply invested in the suggestion when Colleen brought it up. I was, however, willing to try it. I’d received acupuncture several years earlier, with fantastic results, but I’d done recent cursory research on baby acupuncture and deduced that children need to be able to stay voluntarily still before they become eligible for acupuncture treatment (Kaspar wasn’t there yet). I’d assumed Chinese herbs were simply supplementary to the needles, so hadn’t considered that they might constitute a course of treatment in and of themselves. But when I called the local Acupuncture school here in Austin, which has both professional and intern clinics, the woman on the phone relayed the doctor’s assertion that we could, in fact, treat Kaspar. With herbs. Click "read more" below and prepare to have your mind blown.


 
 
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I’m a big fan of rotisserie chicken, though it took me a long time to try it. I harbored images of lab-grown, headless chicken bodies (punctured with tubes and produced by the billions in cavernous, locked-down dungeons located somewhere in the American Midwest) that needed working through before I put one of these puppies on my table. Lucky for me, organic, non-dubious roasted chickens that definitely once had heads are widely available to discerning (slash paranoid) American consumers. These are good chickens to know; they're always punctual for dinner, and arrive warm, aromatic, fully roasted and ready to party. They are the ultimate in affordability and convenience, and yet they’ll leave you feeling fancy and well-fed on a harried Monday night. If you're not on this bandwagon yet, climb on up.

Or, roast your own damn chicken (instructions follow), as I did this past weekend. Also a reputable bandwagon, as it turns out.

My roasting experience began as a fluke: the rotisseries weren’t ready at the store yet when I was out shopping mid-morning on Sunday, but Kaspar (my son) was clearly ready to wrap our errands up. He was shouting baby-nonsense at the butcher, actually, as I asked how exactly one goes about roasting a chicken (put it in the oven) and if I’d need any string to go with it (nope, already tied). I’m not a slacker cook— rotisseries are my single culinary sleight of hand—but I learned my way around the kitchen as a vegan, and although I returned to meat-eating over ten years ago, I’ve always purchased it in pieces. This was new territory.

I discovered, some hours later, that roasting a chicken is arguably just as easy as driving to the store to get one someone else made. I stuffed my chicken full of good things on Monday morning before work, then left Aaron (husband) with instructions to put it in the oven later that afternoon. I could smell it from fifty yards away when I returned.

It was perfect. Do try this at home. Then make Pho.

(A note on Pho, before you get messy):
I had an unquenchable taste for Tom Yum soup while pregnant, but—no longer under the influence—my heart really belongs to Pho. 

Our current apartment is impossible to find, even for English speakers given clear, written directions. Food delivery can therefore be kind of an issue. Thus, I’ve spent this past year dipping in and out of cookbooks and blogs like this one in search of the perfect home recipe. I’ve mixed and matched a bit and come up with one of my own. It’s a rule-breaker—it’s not beefy—but it’s super easy, crazy tasty, and seriously satisfies. I’m not gonna say it’s the ‘real’ deal, per se, but as a die-hard Pho fan (read: that soup is my crack), this version does it for me. So I’m pretty sure you’ll love it.            ...Want the recipes? Read on.