Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Power of Power

Electrical that is. I am talking about electricity. The storm that swept through Southern California last week left most of San Gabriel valley (and other Los Angeles areas) without electricity for a few days. Some cities were able to clean up their streets and fix up their wires within two or three days, and for some it took up to a week. Sides of many streets are still lined with chopped up branches of trees, palm leaves and broken tree trunks.

It is in times like these when you're left without electricity in your home that you actually come to realize just how dependent we all are on this modern convenience and how great all those days are when you have lights and warmth and are able to use your wireless internet. Those days are taken for granted until something like this storm comes along. A home without electricity feels so lifeless for some reason, so quiet and sad. Another thought that comes to mind is how being dependent on one resource is so dangerous - no power and there's chaos on the streets, in the stores. What we most rely on nowadays, all our technology is powered by electricity. Take it away and everything lies in ruins - a bunch of useless, lifeless stuff. Isn't that crazy?

Sitting in a darkened room lit only with candles made me go back in time and think of those people who did not have electricity in their homes, the times before it was even invented. Thinking of those people made me sort of jealous of them: they did not know such thing existed therefore they did not need it or missed not having it. They were really able to enjoy long evenings with family and friends, sitting near a fireplace reading or conversing with others. Life was so much simpler back then.

And while for two days we've been struggling to keep our refrigerator cold by stuffing it with ice (finding which was no easy task, after all the whole valley needed it!) I did manage to see some positive sides to this whole ordeal. For one thing - this was a wonderful opportunity to take a break from our busy lives overfilled with digital media, information and oh-so-many-things-to-do, and just enjoy the moment. I finally got to finish reading the book that I began reading months ago. We got to enjoy two evenings of simply talking by the fireplace, sipping on hot tea and taking our time to relax. No emails, blogs, computers or browsing internet, just sit and talk. Lots of candles everywhere and lots of hot tea! Our heaters are electric so the only source of heat we had was our fireplace. Two days of romantic atmosphere and relaxing (to a certain point, it was rather cold which im my mind makes relaxing sort of complicated). It was good, I suppose, but I'm glad it was over soon.

So I guess, my point is, taking a break once in a while is great. Sometimes, life just makes you take a break when you think you're way too busy for that. And that's good too. Now, however, the romantic time is over and it's time to dive back into the holiday rush, preparing and fussing and doing things: those Christmas cards are not going to send themselves! So off I go, catching up on all the things I missed in the two-day break:)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Much to be thankful for

There was no time for blogging with all the preparations and planning that came my way in the past two weeks. With the birthday party and Thanksgiving I ended up hosting two big events in less than one week! I still don't know how I pulled it off... Either way, both events turned out great. You can read about my daughter's birthday party from my previous post.

Out of all holidays we celebrate Thanksgiving has become my most favorite. It is so important to take time to count your blessings, think of all the things you can and should be thankful for. This is how one comes to realize that there are so many reasons to be happy. And if you think of it, what is happiness if not the ability to appreciate what you have?

A grateful heart is a happy heart. It is amazing what these two simple words can do. If you think you could use some positive changes in your relationships, try showing people how grateful you are, say 'Thank you' more often. Things will change, you'll see.

What else is great about Thanksgiving? Oh, the food! Gatherings like this are always around good food. The dinner table - that's where the conversation flows best. There are so many wonderful recipes to work with for this occasion and the variety is amazing. Since I love to cook nothing makes me happier than cooking up a big meal and then watching people enjoy it.

A few years ago I cooked my first traditional Thanksgiving dinner for our extended family and the event turned out so great that I definitely wanted to do it again. The whole family seems to enjoy these dinners so who's to say we won't turn this into a family tradition? It seems like a great opportunity to get together and enjoy each other's company. Now that most of us are married and have their own families we don't get  to spend time together like that very often.

So in this year's menu I decided to go with a lot of vegetables as side dishes. We had roasted butternut squash, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus. All these were of course in addition to the traditional Thanksgiving staples like turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. All dishes turned out extra delicious and I was very excited to see that there was plenty of leftovers! This really is the best time of the year.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Have a cupcake party second to none!

Time goes by so fast. I cannot believe my little girl is already one year old. It seems just a few days ago I held her in my arms, this tiny helpless creature crying for attention and food every two hours. And now she's about to start walking. I guess, we never realize how precious some moments in life are until they are gone. The time passes by so quickly and soon all we have left is memories. Sometimes I think that one of the reasons we have kids is to remind us about that, make us think and cherish those life moments.
Anyhow, sad and philosophical thoughts aside, we have celebrated our girl's first birthday and the party turned out to be a blast! At least I thought so :) Looks like this post is going to be more of a photo report of the event. Since a picture is worth a thousand words I'm including lots of pictures and I sure hope you find this is the case.
When I was planning the party I wanted to have some kind of fun gifts for kids. We did have 10 kids attending with their parents and I wanted to make this event fun for them too. It always seems like they are so bummed out that this one birthday child is getting all the presents! I didn't want to just give them candy, it's too cliche and too unhealthy :)

So I what came up with was something they could make themselves while having fun. We all know how much kids love stickers, not sure why... maybe it's the sticky part, or maybe the fact that you can affix those little pieces to almost anything and make it hard for mommy to take them off later :) wooden frames and stickers to decorate them. Each kid got one of these and they can be as creative as they want. We also took pictures of the birthday girl with each kid and I am going to mail these pictures to them to put into their frames.
All the kids wore special cone hats and seemed to like them :) And so did the birthday girl. She didn't even try to take it off which was quite a surprise to me because whenever I put a hat or some kind of hear piece on her she loves the challenge of taking it off as soon as she possibly can!
She got lots of presents. A lot of them were toys. It looks like it will be a while till I will have to buy her any new ones. I decided to put some away and give them to her later to avoid new toy overload syndrome. That is not a real disorder, of course, you get the sarcasm. But really how much stuff does a child really need? Sometimes I notice she would pick one thing and carry it around with her all day while all other toys are just laying on the floor. Every day she just seems to have this dig-through-the-basket-till-you-find-the-toy-of-the-day kind of game. I wonder if all kids do that.

I'm not sure how much she really understands and they say the first birthday is more for parents than for the kid, but the fact that somehow all that stuff was for her seemed to have come through just fine. She really had fun opening, or I should say helping me open her presents.

And this is what picture time looks like with a bunch of little ones. Some kept running away, some kept moving and turning. Out of some 20 shots this is the best one we got! Unbelievable!
When it comes to parties, let's be honest, it's ALWAYS about FOOD! I mean, really, would you be happily going to a 'party' knowing there will be no food? Who does that?

The fact that any gathering of people with the purpose of having fun needs to be accompanied by food is widely accepted. It is in our human nature I suppose. Good hosts always try to honor their guests with good food. So did I.

What was on the menu you'll ask. This time I went with the finger food buffet style. So here's the list: a cheese platter with english cheddar, baby brie and stilton with apricots, a veggie platter with creme fraiche dip, sausage and bacon quiche, spinach artichoke dip and a selection of mini sandwiches (barbecue chicken, mascarpone bacon, baba ganoush, salmon & egg, wasabi crab meat). Everything was home made and delicious. I did most of the cooking myself and of course I got lots of help from the closest family, that's what they are for, right?

So all in all the party came out great and even though planning and preparing for it took much time and effort it was all worth it in the end. So, there, happy birthday, my sweet Amelia!
A few people asked me how we got our daughter to show her age with her finger. Oh, I had a good laugh. There is no having her do anything you want, btw, unless she wants to do it. I don't think she knew what she was doing with that finger though :) She likes to point at things, that's her recent thing. It turned out pretty smart though in this picture, I like it. So there she is, our little cupcake.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Conquering the Cold

It has not exactly been snowing in LA but we did get a share of rain storms in the past few days. Some people may not believe it but it does get rather cold in California. It is almost winter, after all. Last night I was quite terrified to see the bright lightening flashes and to hear the thunder roars hitting so close around us. The temperature went down to low 40-s last night and it was barely in the 50-s this morning.

Our northern neighbors got their snow already. So did most of the east coast. Last weekend my friend from Connecticut called with a strange request... She asked me to look up a phone number for her car insurance company. Turned out that they got over 15 inches of snow over one weekend, electricity was cut off in the whole neighborhood, so they had no heat, water or internet for that matter. Then to top it off a tree fell over onto one of their cars. How is that for a disaster? They got their electricity and heat back on only four days later. Poor things had to stay at their friends house those few days.

Speaking of disasters, we have been having our own challenges. The heating system in the house we are renting broke down. Again. This time for good. Last year an electrician came out an fixed it even though he wasn't quite supposed to. Thing is that the actual heater unit has been recalled 15 years ago and the company that made those went bankrupt a long time ago too. The problem with those heaters was that there was some manufacturing defect that made them break often and there was some kind of ignition issue that posed serious fire hazard so that is why all of those units were recalled. Since the one in this house seemed to operate no one bothered to replace it. Well, now that the winter is approaching promptly, as luck would have it, the heater broke. Same thing happened last year with the only difference that the kind electrician mentioned above gave it one last chance. And it seemed to have worked... Until a year later, almost exactly to the date!

Our landlord is going through some decision making times and there are a few issues about this property that have been unresolved and up in the air indefinitely. Because of this situation he is unwilling to invest a solid chunk of funds to replace the heating system. And so we are the ones to suffer the consequences. Another option would be to find another house but it is not that easy to find a suitable place for our needs in a short period of time. Besides, moving right before holidays does not necessarily sound appealing either. So we are sort of stuck. At least for the next few months.

We did come up with a temporary solution - portable electric heaters, well, in each room. They seem to do the job quite well. The only problem is... electrical. It is rather an old house and the wiring is not made for a number of powerful appliances all working at the same time. So, if we have the heater on, no tea kettle or dryer or washer can be used, otherwise it blows the fuse. When I need blow-dry my hair, I must make sure the heater is off, otherwise it blows the fuse. If I crank up the heater in the baby's room,  yes, you guessed it - it BLOWS the stinking FUSE!

So it looks like this would be a fun challenge for the winter. I just pray that the weather takes it easy this year. If anyone has any creative ideas as to how we could conquer the cold in our home this year let's hear them! Given the situation I am open to pretty much anything :)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Yarn and Hooks

Today as I was paying some bills online I looked at the calendar and freaked out a little bit. It's November already!  Where did the time go? It is so hard to believe that not so long ago we celebrated Christmas and it's going to be that time of the year again very soon. This week officially begins the turkey shopping season and I am very excited to engage in planning my Thanksgiving family dinner. With my daughter's first birthday party just short of a week before Thanksgiving this month will be a very busy time for me. Exciting too, I believe.

So tomorrow I'm going turkey shopping and it will be a busy day but tonight it is my time to relax. I want to share a little about one of my latest passions which also appears to be one of the most relaxing things for me. I am talking about nothing else than simple old-fashioned crochet.

I have done some crocheting back in high school days as part of home economics class but I never took it seriously. Not until recently that is. When I was pregnant I saw a few crocheted baby items on  that I thought were very cute. To a frugalista like myself paying a pretty penny for something I could make on my own was not an option. That's how my first crochet project was born. It turned out I enjoyed the process even more than seeing the result of my work. So I came up with more projects.

Now as far as ideas and patterns, there are countless books, magazines and plenty of information on the internet. What I found especially helpful was YouTube! Seriously, there is no telling what you can learn just by watching some videos. My most favorite ones are by Teresa. She has her own channel - Crochet Geek. It's all about crochet and it's AMAZING (this is where you sing this word out to give it some emphasis).

I found crochet to be a great outlet for my creativity while being very practical at the same time. This kind of handmade stuff seems to be quite pricey and who knows, maybe one day I can make some side income by doing something I love. Meanwhile, my passion for crochet has served me well because these things make wonderful gifts and the possibilities are endless!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness or Prevention?

October is the National Breast Cancer Awareness month in the U.S. Everyone is bombarded with advertisements and billboards and other media - all with the purpose of raising awareness. Pink ribbons in grocery stores, on products, labels and what not. Who didn't hear the cashier ask at the register 'Would you like to donate a dollar to breast cancer research?'

Seems like such a pertinent issue. So many lives touched by this terrible disease, pretty much everybody knows someone who had been affected by it. Even though God so far spared me this terrible experience I do have friends who had it and those who lost their loved ones in this battle. My good friend Katie participated in last year's Avon Walk for Breast Cancer from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria, CA and I was glad to support her. We walked quite a few miles together as a part of her daily training. She did a LOT more walking than I did, of course, since she was the one who did the actual walk (doh!). Either way, if the question is whether this subject is important for me personally then the answer would be a definite YES.

But what exactly does 'raising awareness' mean? It sounds like such a vague notion to me. And has anyone ever asked themselves what exactly this research is and who is doing it? What about prevention vs. early detection, what is more important? Doesn't it make much more sense to educate people about ways of preventing breast cancer rather than spending money on expensive marketing campaigns simply raising awareness?

From what I have observed (turns out I am not alone) and to my deepest sadness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has NOT become a time of increasing awareness of the preventable causes of this disease. Instead it keeps feeding the whole industry only interested in researching pharmaceutical cures (that's where the money can be made, otherwise, what's the point?) and promoting their view of prevention which is really early detection through mammography. When it comes to difference between these two - it's huge. Would you rather be 'saved' at the early stage of your disease or learn how to make sure you don't get it in the first place?

And did you know that:
  • The rate of 'false alarms' from mammogram screening is as high as 40%, resulting in high rates of unnecessary biopsies and other tests, let alone the stress of not knowing for sure.
  • Clinical evidence indicates that the 'low energy' x-rays used in breast screenings are up to 500% more carcinogenic than previously assumed.
  • The primary causes of breast cancer are nutritional deficiencies, exposure to environmental toxins, inflammation, hormone overload from food and plastics, and other 'wonders' of modern life style. Too complicated? Here's how this gets deciphered: eat healthy/organic nutritional diet (none of that GMO garbage, low fat or sugar filled junk), exercise/keep physically active, avoid as much chemical stuff from your cosmetics and household supplies and you'll cut your risk of getting breast cancer by like 80% Oh, and make sure you get plenty of sunshine or find other ways to get your vitamin D levels in order.
Some pretty powerful facts there, no? And yet, has anyone seen any billboards with any of that information? 

I read an article by Sayer Ji devoted to the subject of this debate on Dr. Mercola's website today and it got me to rethink my respect of the pink ribbon campaign. I don't know how it is for other people... Whenever I get to a point in my life when certain important facts come out and make me completely change my mind about something or rethink my opinion on a subject I feel somewhat betrayed. So disappointing when you believed in a cause for some time thinking it was the real deal. If you're still wondering what I am talking about, please, read the article and watch the videos.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reinventing the tomato soup

If you read my blog you know that I signed up for Farm Fresh To You deliveries which means that every other Wednesday there's a box of fresh organic produce on my door step. Well, in my last box among all other goodies I found a bunch of ripe heirloom tomatoes and an eggplant. An image of roasted tomato soup popped up in my mind and that's how this idea was born. I never made tomato soup before and figured that it was time to try.

To make it easier to understand my choices, there are some things that should be explained. There are two main benefactors of my cooking whose opinions I take seriously. They are my husband (no surprise there!) and my brother (who is our neighbor by the way and a frequent guest in our home). When it comes to soups, both my guys love to find meat in their bowls. Vegetable soups are pointless, they say, you eat it and you're hungry half and hour later!

Searching for new recipes, some people turn to various cookbooks, magazines or internet. My favorite place to look is FoodNetwork. It's a fabulous resource for those who love gourmet cooking. This time a recipe by Michael Chiarello caught my eye and I used it as a base. I made some significant changes, of course.

First of all, I substituted canned tomatoes called for in the recipe for fresh ones. When it comes to veggies, to me it's always a 'duh' moment - I always opt for fresh rather than frozen or canned if I have an option. So, I cut my tomatoes into 1-inch pieces, spread them on a sheet pan and roasted them in the oven (with olive oil, salt and pepper).

The next change I made was adding the eggplant which I sliced and also roasted in the oven. I chopped it up finely and added it at the end, when the rest of the soup was already blended. Those chunks add some texture which, if you ask me, is nice in a blah, I mean blended soup:)

And the last but in no way the least addition to my tomato soup was MEAT! Before making the soup, while my tomatoes were roasting in the oven, I cooked the ground beef with spices (salt, pepper, fresh marjoram) in my pot which I then used for the soup. When the meat was done I set it aside in a covered dish. I added it to the soup at the very end along with the eggplant after everything else was blended. If it weren't for the meat addition I would never have opted out on heavy cream in my soup, but this time it seemed like a good idea.

So there you have it, that's the kind of soup it turned out to be. It was delicious and I've got a request to make it again soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

All Genius is Simple

I've been wondering for months now how some women do this - take care of their kids (usually 3 or more!), homeschool, keep their homes clean and organized, stay in shape (find time to exercise), cook fresh meals for the whole family... let alone manage their own small business, write books, blog and do a bunch of other creative and crazy stuff. As far as I'm concerned, it takes a superwoman moving at super-speeds to do all that. Well, not really. Turns out, I'm not the only one struggling with staying on top of things. Every mom faces these challenges and the way out is not becoming a superwoman. It's much simpler than that. 

A while ago a friend on Facebook shared a link to an post from SimpleMom blog which I found very interesting. That was how I discovered Simple Living Media blogs. These are a great resource with posts on most of the things that are important and interesting to me as a stay at home mom. I was very excited to find that there are so many moms out there that hold to same standards as myself. All those authors seemed like a bunch of wonder-women to me. That was until I began listening to the podcast of the interviews with the ladies that make these wonderful blogs happen. They all talked about their struggles, regular lives. All of them do what they do step by step, one thing at a time. They get support from their spouses, and help with home and kids when they must focus on work. In other words, far from the superwoman that I imagined it took.

I was encouraged and inspired. It got me thinking. Maybe I don't have to do so many things in one day? What if I stop over-scheduling my days and just go with the flow sometimes? 
After all, looking back into the history of humanity, many smart people lived according to the principle 'less is more'. Leonardo da Vinci always said that simplicity is the highest form of sophistication. Maybe he was up to something there. He was a very smart man. 

With that in mind I decided to change my attitude about planning my days allowing myself more room to go with the flow. That is not to say that there should be no planning! It's a must for busy moms. I just mean a lighter load of things that absolutely must be done. Instead of doing all laundry in one day plus cleaning the house plus cooking on top of watching a wiggly ten-month-old I just plan for cooking some food, enough for the next day so then I can focus on cleaning the house. Then the next day is a load of laundry and grocery shopping, the next day some more cooking, and so on. This way I still get to play with my daughter and enjoy her. And in the evening when she's in bed I get to crochet or to blog or to read.

Well, that sounds like a good plan. I will have to write a follow up post on how this works for me.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

To homeschool or not to homeschool?

That's the question I have been asking myself even before I became a mother. I hoped to be blessed by motherhood one day and I did want to make sure I covered all my bases. I'm sure, many women would be able to relate with me on this one - we want to make sure we know what's ahead of us and we want to be properly equipped. This gives us security and peace of mind, does it not?

Educational options in America are numerous and that might be confusing to some people. Especially those who grew up in a different environment. There are public schools, private schools, charter schools, oh and homeschool too. I grew up in Russia where approach to education was simple - public school, same level of education for everyone, no options - period. It wasn't until I moved to the US that I even heard of homeschool. I was quite astonished by the idea. It seemed like an almost impossible task to me. Even though I did get my degree in teaching ESL, isn't that ironic? I'm a teacher by profession and I want's sure I was up to the task of educating my own children.

It seemed to me like the idea of homeschool was a bit excessive. It's way too much pressure on the mom, I thought. Having to deal with kids after school is hard enough, dealing with them all day while being their mom and the teacher seemed very stressful. I spoke to some moms who homeschooled their 4 or 5 kids and did very well, and I spoke to those who couldn't handle it after trying for a year or who and were happy with their choice of private or public school. I left the whole search at that point but ever since our little girl was born this question became more pertinent. And even though she's still a baby it seems like a good idea for me to begin looking into options for her education. After all, time flies so fast... In other words, I'd rather be prepared.

My husband and I have recently watched 'Waiting for 'Superman'. This film is a good summary of the current education crisis in the US. It was quite a wake up call for us as parents. For those who have kids and are at least somewhat concerned about their education, it's a documentary that should be on your 'must see' list.

On the one hand, homeschool seemed the stressful and the hard choice. Kids do need exposure to other kids, they need to develop their social skills. But I sending my kids to a public school didn't seem like a great option either. I have worked at a public school, I know what it's like. Having my precious little ones exposed to the peer pressure, naughty kids and oblivious teachers just isn't worth it. I am not saying that all teachers don't care, in fact, there are many great teachers out there. But the chances that there will be a bad teacher or one that simply doesn't care are much higher. I know from my own sad experience that one bad teacher can really discourage a child and do some serious damage to their desire to learn. 

The are a lot of problems with our education system but the biggest one of them all, in my opinion, is the unions. Maybe back in the 1940s unions actually helped and protected teachers. But I don't think that they are necessary any more. In fact, I believe they contributed enormously to the fact that the US education produces poor results despite of being among the most expensive ones. Thing is that thanks to unions bad teachers are still working out there and there's no way for a school to fire a bad teacher. And the good ones cannot be rewarded for their performance either, also thanks to the unions. Anyway, I am going too much into details here and that is not the point. Since I don't want to take the chances of exposing my kids to people who don't deserve to be called teachers teaching them myself seems like a better option. After all, who else would be as concerned about the quality of my kids' education as their mother? 

Having looked at all the options, considered their pros and cons I came to the conclusion that homeschool might not be a bad idea after all. What really gave me some confidence and encouragement was some practical advice from those who have done homeschool successfully. I am glad that there are moms out there who like me decided that educating their children themselves was the best option for their family. I am also glad and very grateful that they are not keeping all this rich experience to themselves and are readily sharing knowledge with others. A series of posts on Simple Homeschool blog was the last thing I read and it did give me so much hope and encouragement. Now I am looking forward to the time my girl reaches school age instead of dreading it :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Freshly Pickled Cucumbers

Anyone who has been raised in the context of Russian culture knows what these are. And by Russian culture I mean the general post soviet union countries. Malosolnie ogurchiki - yum!

I have been craving these for some time now. Their taste is quite unique, not at all like regular dill pickles that can be found in almost any supermarket. I would say the taste is something right in between the fresh cucumbers and those pickles from the jar. These are slightly soft yet crunchy, very flavorful. It is a wonderful addition to mashed potatoes, or, as a matter of fact, any potato side dish.

The recipe is very simple. All it takes is
- 2-3 lbs of fresh cucumbers (preferably persian), halved or quartered lengthwise
- 1 bunch of fresh dill
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, halved
- 1 teaspoon of whole allspice berries
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 quart of hot boiled water

Place half of the dill on the bottom of a dish or a jar you'll be making your pickles in (I used a cast iron casserole), sprinkle half of allspice over the dill, then lay out your cucumbers and garlic tightly. Cover with the rest of allspice and dill. Place a small plate on top and press firmly to keep the cucumbers nicely packed (this will help you make sure your pickles are completely covered with water and not floating around). You can use a paper weight or anything small and heavy over the plate to keep it in place.

In a separate dish dissolve salt in hot water and pour it over the cucumbers. Cover the dish with a lid or foil and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. After that your fresh pickles are ready, just drain them, discard the herbs and refrigerate. They should be good for about a week if refrigerated. Although, I don't think that mine are going to last a week :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Aaaaah, Aromatherapy

I've always been very fond of all kinds of nice smelling stuff, cosmetics, perfume, home fragrance, cleaning products that make everything smell nice, etc. Little did I know that most of those things pose serious health risks because of the chemicals used to create all these nice smells. Sad truth is that most of the products listed above, especially cosmetics which we all love to lather ourselves with, have an abundance of artificially created fragrances and all other kinds of chemicals in them. Add everyday exposure to that and your risk of serious health issues is guaranteed. Just pick up one of your favorite lotions or your kitchen counter cleaner and read the ingredients. Go ahead, read it. What's the problem? Can't pronounce most of the words on that ingredient list? That's exactly what I am talking about. If you're like me, there's very little chance you can remember which of the chemicals are safe and which are closer to toxic when you're barely able to pronounce them.

So my rule of thumb is the simpler the better. Better yet is if you make it yourself. Some may say it's too much hassle. But no one is talking about making anything complicated. Good things are often simple. It was with that thought in mind that I began learning about essential oils. When I was pregnant I made anti-stretchmark oil for my stomach and hips. This oil blend was based on jojoba carrier oil, included 25 % of rose-hip oil(very rich with vitamin E which improves skin elasticity), a few drops of chamomile oil, lavender and patchouli. The result? I don't have a single stretch mark! For those nay sayers who would object that some people have more elastic skin - I'll tell you a secret - I had a few stretch marks before from losing a few pounds ;) So I knew that could be my problem, that's why I made the oil in the first place! Well, another thing is to be consistent using it daily, once a week won't do most likely.

Since I have a 9 month old who loves to crawl everywhere exploring her surroundings I make sure my floors are squeaky clean. After all, she puts those hands back into her mouth right away. Since I got rid of most of my harsh chemical cleaning supplies a while ago I had to come up with a good enough alternative, something that cleans and disinfects. My solution was 1 gallon of water, 5 drops of lavender oil, 5 drops of lemon oil. I wash the floors like that every other day and don't need to worry about chemical residue that might be licked off the floor by the crawling baby. The reason why I picked those two oils is that they both have a very strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal action. They are also not very expensive and quite safe (some oils are rather toxic and must be used sparingly). The rooms smell very nice for the next few hours as well.

Which brings me to my new take on home fragrance. I've always loved all those nice smelling candles and air fresheners. Again, same danger - they are full of hormone disrupting, cancer causing and immunotoxic chemicals. The safe solution? You guessed it - essential oils. The best part, you create your own fragrance, just the way you like it. For me that is a big plus because I am very picky about smells. Most of those scented room fresheners are too strong for my nose. So a tea light candle in a diffuser and a few drops of oil mixed into water work really well for me.

Another plus of using essential oils is that there's a certain health benefit to their use. It continues to amaze me how many different uses same oils can have, especially if combined with others. Just a few examples:
-lavender oil (my most favorite) is a very powerful antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, sedative. It really works for headaches, by the way. In combination with chamomile and Shea butter it is a wonderful ointment for sunburns - soothes and helps the skin heal.
-chamomile oil is a good immunostimulant, antibiotic, anti-inflamatory, sedative. It helps with insomnia, especially in combination with lavender oil. In combination with myrrh oil in a base of almond oil it works miracles healing diaper rashes, cracked skin, minor cuts and scrapes. I simply love this oil because of how versatile and effective it is. I have also been using it in baths for my baby since she was a newborn.
-eucalyptus oil has strong antiseptic and anti-fungal properties and is very effective with all kinds of breathing problems such as asthma, stuffy nose, coughs, etc.
-ti-tree oil is a great tonic, also strong antiseptic and anti-fungal. It is safe to use undiluted, works wonders on warts, pimples, sores and other yuckity-yucky stuff. I found it very useful for insect bites, it takes off the itch right away.
Again, these are just a few examples. There are so many more and with more useful healthful properties.

Shopping for the oils is not that difficult either. Most places like WholeFoods, Sprouts, local health food stores carry a good selection. And if there's something you cannot find in a store there's always numerous places to order from online. Here are some of my most favorite ones and the reasons I like them:
100% Pure Essential Oils (free shipping option, periodic sale discounts)
AromaLand (free shipping option, email coupons)
Mountain Rose Herbs (very wide selection, periodic sale discounts)

Now as far as cost it might seem like quite a luxury because some oils get quite expensive. When i began creating my selection of oils and the necessary accessories (like droppers, little glass bottles, etc.) I ended up spending slightly over $100. Some may think 'Yikes! Maybe I'll go buy that Clorox after all'... But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Of all the stuff I bought, I still have most of it. In the last year the only thing I reordered was lavender chamomile oils. That is because I use them the most, for about anything. So if you do your calculations, using some oils a few drops at a time does make your supplies last for a long time so in the end it doesn't come to cost you a whole lot. Frankly, I believe over time it comes out to be about the same as if you were to buy any other type of cleaners and cosmetics. Besides, some stores or websites offer discounts, sales and coupons. For instance, right now there's a coupon for

So, go ahead, give the essential oils a try. I can say for myself that I'm not going back to the artificial chemicals and I'm sticking with aromatherapy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Teething Challenge

Amelia's latest teething episode has definitely added to the noise of our busy life. With all the guests and their little ones needing my attention I also had my own child in seemingly a lot of pain. It was what they call the 'good' kind of pain, although, I don't think it really matters for a 9-month old baby. Frankly speaking, it looks like a great many adults seem to struggle distinguishing between those two types of pain either, the good and the bad kind that is.

Up until a few days ago our baby seemed to have no serious teething issues - her first 3 teeth came out one by one with no major hassle, just a bit of runny nose and a bit of Hyland's teething gel on her gums. So I thought that's how it goes for her, her teeth come out easy. That's how it's going to be, I thought. I was wrong.

On Sunday (that was day 1) I noticed that she felt warmer to the touch than usual so I checked her temperature: 99.4 F. Then I did what every mom would do nowadays - I googled! Turns out that is considered a low-grade fever, not much to worry about. So we just figured, there's no other symptoms - she's teething that's all. She seemed normal otherwise, just playing the way she usually does, smiley and cheerful. She did seem to want more attention at times, just to be held in my arms, clinging to me like a little chimpanzee to his mama. I do enjoy those moments so it wasn't a big deal. She woke up a few times at night, nevertheless, she looked rested the next morning.

Day 2 passed by with no unusual events. Amelia was a bit crabby, but other than that she played and acted normal. The fever began rising towards the evening. By bedtime it was slightly over 100 F. Then my girl began waking up crying and the fever reached 102.8 F when I began seriously freaking out. I was about to start calling my doctor when I talked to my sister-in-law and she told me about her experience with her baby a few months ago. It was very similar. So we googled some more. This time together. After having read some information on Dr. Sears' website and a few more sources I calmed down a bit. It turns out that many babies have similar teething symptoms and sometimes the fever gets really high. My heart goes out to all those moms who share their experiences on forums and blogs. It is such a tremendous help and encouragement for me as someone relatively new in this role. Really, I don't know what I would have done, probably would have bothered my doctor a whole lot more than I do now. I guess, she should be thankful too for her peace and quiet :)

And so I began thinking how to help my child, how to ease her pain. I am not an advocate for drugs (we don't even have baby tylenol in our home!), I'm more of a believer in homeopathy and natural medicine. So I put a moist towel on her forehead. I also made a cooling compress for her - soaked a receiving blanket in a solution of lukewarm water with a bit of vinegar. I undressed my baby to her diaper and wrapped her into that wet blanket. Another layer with a soft big towel to keep her warm and just held her like that for about 15 minutes. She began falling asleep shortly. When I removed the compress her fever dropped 1.3 degrees and was in the 100 range again. All in all, there wasn't much sleep for either of us that night. I am not sure how my husband got through the day at work! Towards morning the fever went down more and Amelia was able to get some sleep. She slept on my chest. That's something she hasn't done since she was a few weeks old. It was a nice treat, to sleep with my baby on me, breathing peacefully.

In the morning of day 3 the fever was at 99 degrees and kept going down during the day. By bedtime it was normal again and I was very happy. I looked at my daughter's gums to see how her tooth was doing and I saw 3 of them that had just cut through! No wonder she was in such pain. So in the past few days she has been a bit fussy, refusing her food at times. I guess it still bothers her. But she's happier, that makes me happy too. Isn't it funny how your life is so dependent on your child when you're a mom? I never realized that until I became one. This makes me appreciate my mom so much better.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Meaning of Hectic

Past two weeks were a good example of what hectic looks like for me. I didn't even have time to read through my emails, hang around on Facebook, check the article updates from or, as a matter of fact, to just sit down and blog. Even though my head was buzzing with ideas. Oh well, what's a busy mom to do, right?

One of the exciting things was that my brother-in-law with his family came down from the Bay Area for a visit. Their baby-girl is a few months older than our daughter and I was super excited to get to spend some time with my sister-in-law whom I normally see only a few times a year. We had a ton of fun together - went to the beach with the girls, had them play together in a mini-pool in our yard, went for walks and shopping or simply enjoyed some down time while the girls would nap. It seemed like the babies had fun too, squealing with excitement at the very sight of each other and then following each other around the room - looking for ways to get into trouble! Wonderful time and very busy too.

Before I knew Labor day weekend came around and we had a big family get together for an afternoon barbecue. It started out as a few families coming together to hang out and then it grew to include some more family so we ended up with a party of 11 adults and 3 babies. It was quite a chaos, I must say. Being the control freak that I am, especially when it comes to my kitchen, I was stressed out to say the least. It was good that the other ladies were helping. The guys were in charge of the grilling part which was nice of them. Too bad it took them a long time to have the food ready. We ended up eating what was meant to be lunch at 4 pm! I was so hungry that my vision was beginning to get blurry :) Either way, we had a great time, the babies played together in a pool and seemed to have fun too. Although it was hard to say who had more fun - the babies or their parents hovering around them :) The day turned out great.

A few days later our guests went home, the house got cleaned up, things came back to their usual way and I sighed with relief. Not that I didn't enjoy these past two weeks, no, that's not what I am saying. It just seems like after so much going on, lots of people around it feels really good to go back to normal. Maybe I'm an introvert? They say extraverts are those who get their energy from associating with other people while introverts find it within themselves. I have noticed that lately the latter is more true of me. Being around many people drains me, I feel tired after. It used to be the other way around before, back before I was married. Maybe that's because I am getting older?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Community Supported Agriculture

Have you ever wondered how fresh your produce is when you buy it at the supermarket? My grandparents had a small farm when I was a kid and I remember how good the freshly picked fruit and vegetables tasted. Someday I would love to grow my own vegetable garden. But for someone who lives in large metropolitan area like LA it is not really an option, at least not for me anyway. So, I had too look for other options.

With that thought in mind we decided to try out the fresh produce delivery from a local farm. This is what they call joining a CSA. I've been thinking about this for some time, talking to people who've done it and just comparing our options online. A number of my friends signed up for Farm Fresh to You deliveries and have been more than satisfied with their fruit and veggie boxes. So I thought why not give it a try? It's all organic produce delivered to your door directly from the farm so it is much fresher than stuff at the stores and the prices are quite reasonable as well ($25 for the small box and up).

I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to navigate my way through their website. They offer a variety of options and the information on all of them is very clear. Another thing I like about FFTY is the flexibility you get. There are no commitments, you can cancel any time and you don't get charged until your box is delivered. You are able to customize about anything - the size of your box, its contents, how often you want it delivered, and even pick the day of the week when you want your delivery. With your account on the website you choose which fruit and veggies you don't want to find in your box (and that can be changed whenever you want). They also post a list of produce for each week so you know what you're getting and can plan ahead. This definitely helps when planning meals for the week.

Now about the value. I made a rough cost comparison for what I got in my box if I were to buy all that elsewhere. And again, I was pleasantly surprised. At FFTY I paid 31.50 for a medium sized box and it would have cost me around $40 to buy all that produce at the local super market. Besides, most of it would not have been certified organic so I am pleased with the value. As far as quality, the fruit was ripe and yummy, veggies fresh and crisp. We really enjoyed our farm produce box.

One more thing I wanted to mention is the 'community support' part of our decision to join a CSA. Let's say you don't care whether or not your produce is organic, maybe you're very good at finding deals so the price margin is not your problem and let's assume that in your mind the supermarket fresh is as fresh as the produce can get... What can you get out of this whole farm delivery program is you support local farmers. To some people (including myself) this is a big deal.

The bottom line is that I found myself in a win-win-win situation: fresh local produce at a good price delivered to your door and support to the local farmers. It doesn't get better than this :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Child training anyone?

I saw a video on (Video: Couple says spankings must hurt) which made me very angry. Angry at our society which supports the complete lack of personal responsibility. Why bother keeping people accountable for their own actions when it is so much easier to blame someone else?

So, the story goes like this. There is this book 'To Train Up a Child' which teaches parents to train their children to obey, and the authors clearly differentiate between training children and physically abusing them. There is no instruction in this book that parents beat their children up, the main focus is on teaching them how to behave and obey, not hurt them and discipline bad behavior out of them. So this couple of crooks with a lot of children ends up beating one of them to death (others have vivid signs of abuse as well), they are arrested and stuff like that. Guess what's next… The above mentioned book is found in their home and used as evidence against them. So now the district attorney blames the book author for the insane understanding of 'discipline' that this family had! In what universe does this logic work? To follow this chain of logic - if I knit a scarf and sell it, the person who bought it uses it to hang themselves - I am the one to blame for their death! That is outrageous on so many levels. I am filled with so much irritation at this whole victim mentality that I can't type fast enough to get all my thoughts out.

Anyway, just needed to rant. I am astounded at mass media's partiality as well. They are so quick to promote the victim mentality in our society. This annoys the heck out of me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Blogs and personal accountability

Bloggers beware, here I come! I decided to start blogging. Being a newbie at this I'm not sure if I'm doing it right, if there's even a right or wrong way. Oh well, this is my blog and I can make it to be whatever I want it to be, even if it resembles a diary more that anything.

Staying home with a baby is a lot of fun. Sleep deprivation kind of gets you in the beginning, when dealing with a newborn, you both learn how to go about things. But as time goes by the baby starts sleeping better, mommies catch up on their sleep debt and things seem to be getting into their places. As months passed I began noticing that laziness creeps up my door step day in and day out. It's so easy to just let yourself dose off here and there, especially when the baby is napping and the house sort of switches into the sleep mode. So I decided to get myself a little more disciplined and start panning my time. This blog seems like a wonderful way of keeping me accountable, well, to myself. That's why they call it personal accountability. Not a very popular notion these days. Same as common sense which as some say is not that common any more (sigh...).

So, here we go! I commit to trying out new things, finding fun stuff to do for or with my baby, saving money while staying healthy, and share whatever I find useful in enriching our lives. In other words, the plan is to get busy, in a good way, to be a blessing to my family. If you think of it, purposeful people are happy people.