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Baby, Life

Family Dinner

One family habit that I want to get started as early as possible is sitting down at the table together every day for dinner. Not just for the food (but the food is oh so important!), but to make time for our little family unit to tell each other about our days and really get to know what’s going on in each other’s lives. At this point, all Nora has to contribute to that conversation is “Gah! Gah! Gah! Gurgle!”, but that’ll change soon enough, and I want to make family dinners a priority even when long work hours and soccer practice or whatever threaten to steal all the time we have together.

Nora has been eating breakfast with us since she was six months old (we skipped purees and went straight for the good stuff – baby-led weaning), and last week we decided it was time for her to join us for dinner, too. This required some changes on our part since we used to eat dinner (in front of the tv, cough cough) after Nora went to bed. Now I have to be a total 50s housewife and have dinner on the table when JK comes home so we have time to eat together as a family before bedtime. It’s been going well so far, with a bit of planning and prep work, but I spy more challenges in the future when Nora not only becomes mobile, but also drops her afternoon catnap.

The food itself hasn’t been a problem so far. We just avoid honey and salt – I don’t add any salt while cooking these meals, but JK and I will add some at the table. I also make sure Nora’s food is easy for her to pick up and eat without being an obvious choking hazard, but otherwise, she is just getting used to our family’s food culture…minus chocolate, which makes up 80% of my diet. We’re enjoying her openness to try everything now, before she has the will to become picky.

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Nora’s first dinner was Crispy Blackened Tofu with broccoli and root mash (mashed potato, carrot, and rutabega). We don’t eat soy that often, we have tempeh or tofu maybe once or twice a month, so I’m not worried about Nora getting too much of it. I will say that the tofu usually looks better than this, but I was trying to use less oil than I normally would when cooking them, so I kind of messed up the blackened part.

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I was wondering how she would be able to eat the mash, but no worries, she just picked up fistfuls of it and started chewing. So cute.

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Next up: Creole Hoppin’ John from Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry. We would normally eat this with smoky collard greens and mushrooms, but I didn’t think Nora would be able to chew that properly, so instead I chopped up a bunch of kale into tiny pieces, snuck them into the food near the end of the cooking process, and served some roasted zucchini on the side.

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Success!

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The weather was amazing last weekend, so we spent our time working in the garden, relaxing on the deck, and – huzzah – barbecuing with Nora for the first time! She had a Lentil-Mushroom Burger served with zucchini, red pepper, and a fresh tomato.

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When I say “fresh tomato”, I mean “gross, watery tomato and ugh, we should just wait until summer when our own tomatoes start popping up in the garden”, but Nora seemed to like it anyway.

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Eating dinner together like this gives me all sorts of feels. Nora is growing up so fast! I’m currently reading Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan, and this part struck a chord:

The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending.

The thing is, she’s teaching me a thing or two at the dinner table as well. She takes her sweet time eating, living totally in the moment, inspecting each piece of food and seemingly savoring each bite (of whatever actually makes it into her mouth and not onto the floor). It reminds me of our restaurant meals in Rome, where a dinner could take hours of eating, talking, sipping wine. There’s such a different food culture over there – we were encouraged to stay at our table all night, while here in the U.S., the waiter usually brings you your check the second you’re done shoveling in your food, sometimes even before, because someone else needs your table and they want you out of there. Nora, it seems, was born a Roman.

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Oh, and the cleanup? It hasn’t been as awful as I thought it would be – whatever Nora doesn’t eat – provided it’s safe for dogs, of course – ends up being, uhm, composted via Wellie and Basil. Nora starting solids is pretty much the best thing that ever happened to them…and it’s pretty damn fun for us, too.

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Travel, USVI

#TBT: St. John | Waterlemon Cay

This week’s Throwback Thursday post is a little late (at least it’s still Thursday!) since a certain someone has decided that naps are for weenies. Maybe I should start scheduling these things in advance (posts, not naps, although that would be awesome).

Waterlemon Cay (pronounced “key”…and no, that’s not a typo, it’s not supposed to say watermelon) is the best-known snorkeling spot on St. John, for good reason. I’m very emotionally attached to some other spots, like Salt Pond Bay, but that doesn’t mean Waterlemon didn’t blow my mind. Actually, most snorkels on St. John blew my mind – most of my previous snorkeling experience comes from Maui, and the reefs around St. John are just so much healthier and more vibrant. (I still love you, Hawai’i!)

Caribbean hiking views

The fastest way to get to Waterlemon Bay is to hike the 0.8 mile Leinster Bay Trail, but if you have time, taking the Johnny Horn Trail from Coral Bay is a cool alternative that offers excellent views of the bay. You could always just hike up a ways from the bay to find some good views and old ruins, too.

Leinster Bay

Waterlemon Cay

For the shortest swim, keep hiking past the beach and enter the water in the rocky area (watch your step so you don’t hit any coral or impale yourself on a sea urchin) and head straight for the cay. The current can be very strong on the outer edge of the cay, so pick a route where you won’t have to fight it, or, if you’re not a strong swimmer, sit this one out unless it’s a calm day.

Waterlemon Cay

The swim over from shore takes you across a deep, sandy channel full of turtles and rays.

Southern Stingray

We saw this same barnacled turtle both years we went to St. John – it was being serviced at the Shell station (har har har) by sharksuckers both times! In 2013:

Turtle, now with more Remora

…and 2014:

Reunion

Big, beautiful Spotted Eagle Ray:

Spotted Eagle Ray

Sea cucumber!

Sea Cucumber

The underwater landscape gets progressively cooler as you near the cay and swim around the outer edge (we’ve gone counter-clockwise every time). Take your time exploring all the nooks and crannies of the reef.

Underwater hiking

Waterlemon Cay

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It's gorgeous down here So many pretty colors
Flamingo Tongue Waterlemon Cay

Duckface

Waterlemon Cay

Once you’ve swum around the cay, I highly recommend walking up on land and taking a breather on that sweet strip of sand. We saw an iguana sunning itself on the cay once. I really don’t know how it got there.

Turtle, meet Stingray

If you want more snorkeling once you’ve crossed the channel back to shore, try cruising eastward, I found some very cool coral along the rocks there. If you swim in toward the bay, you’ll be in starfish heaven.

Love love love this

On your way home (if you came via the Leinster Bay Trail), stop by the Annaberg Plantation (and then drive by the sign that says WARNING! MANCHINEEL TREE and think “huh, what’s a manchineel tree”, look it up on Wikipedia, and then spend the rest of your trip thinking you’re seeing manchineel trees everywhere).

View from the plantation

More St. John next Thursday! Man, we really need to take Nora there. Maybe the sound of gentle waves will be so soothing that she’ll actually nap.

Flowers @ Annaberg

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Goals, Life

Six Week Challenge

I got a migraine yesterday. Bizarrely, it only lasted half a day (rather than the typical three days, thank Jebus), but it was definitely a migraine…and taking care of a baby while vomiting and being partially blind from an aura sucked just as much as I thought it would. I assumed I would be free from migraines as long as I avoid gluten, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t ingest any rogue glutonium yesterday, so now I’m freaking out that they might be returning. Hopefully it was just a freak hormonal thing, but I might as well use this as a wake-up call to start living healthier.

Beyond not eating gluten, the things I assume might help ward off migraines are the old oh-so-important cliches: Eat well. Move more. Get enough sleep. I currently kind of suck at all of these, so I need something to keep me accountable. I really enjoyed being part of tumfit earlier this year – it motivated me to squeeze in short but very efficient workouts during naptime – but I totally fell out of that habit when the challenge ended. The solution (I hope)? Join another challenge! I signed up for Adventure Baby Boost, which starts next week. I’m hoping a group of fellow outdoorsy mamas is just what I need to keep going.

75 degrees today. Can it just stay that way until October, please? Woodland baby

My main goal for the six weeks is simply to create a habit out of taking the time for myself to exercise – beyond the walk I take every day with Nora. This will help me Beat the Blerch come September, too…and hopefully make me feel the good sort of tired that will end this stupid insomnia (and the consequent chocolate binges).

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Hiking, Travel, USVI

#TBT: St. John | Salt Pond Bay & Ram Head Trail

I’ve gone on quite a few vacations and hikes that never made it onto the blog. Since our biggest adventures are happening at home these days, I’ve decided to highlight some of those old trips for Throwback Thursday. First up, one of my favorite areas of St. John, USVI – Salt Pond Bay.

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We first read about Salt Pond in St. John Off the Beaten Track by Gerald Singer – the guidebook for St. John – and it quickly became one of our most cherished snorkeling spots. Places like Waterlemon Cay might have more diverse snorkeling, but Salt Pond has a much better beach on which to relax between underwater explorations, and it also accesses what I think is the best hike on the island.

We stayed in Cruz Bay on our first visit to St. John, so it was a bit of a drive to get to Salt Pond Bay, all the way over on the south end. It’s a beautimous drive, though…

Coral Bay

…with potential donkey delay! (And yes, you drive on the left side of the road.)

Traffic jam

It was raining when we first got there, so after walking the short trail (more like an old dirt road) down to the beach, we kept walking to Drunk Bay to wait for the sun to return. There’s a fairly creepy collection of rock people in Drunk Bay, made even creepier by the gloomy weather we had.

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The sun is never gone for long on St. John, so back we went to Salt Pond Bay.

Salt Pond Bay

Gorgeous white beach and endless Caribbean blue. Heaven.

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As beautiful as the beach is, the really good stuff is underwater. We’ve snorkeled in Salt Pond quite a few times now, and our favorite route is a counter-clockwise loop of the bay. Spend lots and lots of time exploring around the rocks that jut up out of the water in the center of the bay, and when you near the end of the loop, cruise through the deeper center of the bay to look for the turtles and rays that like to hang out in the turtle grass and the sandy areas.

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In addition to turtles, we’ve seen beautiful peacock flounders and spotted eagle rays every time we’ve snorkeled Salt Pond. Very cool.

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Peacock Flounder

On our first trip, we were in for a treat – we found this beautiful octopus! We could have watched it forever, but they’re pretty efficient at hiding when they’re done being social (like me!).

Octopus on the move Caribbean Reef Octopus

There’s some beautiful coral out there too, it makes you feel like you’re hiking through underwater trees.

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Mukmuk snorkeled too!

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On our second trip to St. John, JK and I decided to swim all the way out to Booby Rock to see if there was any decent snorkeling to be had. I don’t recommend this at all, because a) it would be much better for divers, the good stuff is down too deep and b) if you’re anything like me, you’ll start vividly picturing sharks all around you and OHMIGOD I’M IN OPEN WATER AND JAWS IS GOING TO EAT ME AND MY FETUS. So just stick to the closer rocks instead.

Longest snorkel evahs

Totally unrelated shark story I just remembered: I watched Jaws when I was way too young, and when I talked to my preschool teacher about it the next day, she told me, in Scottish-accented Norwegian, that it wasn’t an actual shark, it was a robot. For the longest time, I thought someone was rowing a rowboat inside Jaws and that’s how they made the movie. Heh.

Cool coral So fuzzy

After snorkeling, in the insanely dry midday heat, we decided to hike to Ram Head, the southernmost point of the island. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our SLR with us. Or any water to drink. #experiencedhikers

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I think the trail is only a mile or so each way, but man alive, that heat. I was parched. If you’re made of smarter stuff than we are, you’ll hike to Ram Head first, then cool down with a nice snorkel afterwards.

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Still, this hike is gorgeous, with a sad but powerful history. Definitely a must if you visit St. John. Just remember to bring water, I cannot stress this enough.

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Calm seas to the left, rough to the right. (You can see Booby Rock out there on the left, probably circled by menacing fins.)

Wonky panorama

Legend says that if you throw a stone from Ram Head and shout a wish as loud as you can before the stone hits the water, this wish will come true. It didn’t seem to work for us at first…

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…but by our trip the following year, it had definitely come true. Thank you, wishing stone! Unfortunately, morning sickness kept me from hiking in that heat on that trip, but swimming was just what I needed (even though I puked in the water every time I put my snorkel mask on, but, oddly, not when I put in my snorkel).

Since I couldn’t hike it again, that means I never got any SLR photos from Ram Head…which means I’ll simply have to return to St. John. The horror!

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Goals, Hiking, Issaquah Alps, Running

This Shy Bear is coming out of hibernation

When we took Nora to Cougar Mountain to hike the Shy Bear Loop back in February, I really started feeling the urge to run. That loop is one of my favorite lowland routes to run, and as much as I enjoy walking it, I really, really wanted to just gun it along those rolling hills without a care in the world, fueled on by a manic endorphin rush…and then I immediately felt guilty for longing for something that didn’t involve Nora, like I was cheating on her or something.

I realize how ridiculous that sounds, especially since I spend all day every day with Nora and can probably count on both hands the number of times I’ve left the house without her. I’ve always felt that it’s incredibly important for parents to maintain their own lives and interests outside of the kid realm (mommy martyrs are the worst), but now that I’m the parent* in question, it doesn’t feel right. I think it might have something to do with the fact that we wanted a baby so badly, and now that we have that awesome baby, it feels wrong to want some of the things I associate with my old life, when I was desperate to become pregnant.

Coal Creek Falls

The thing is, I know it’s healthier for all of us if I have a life outside of motherhood – especially when that life makes me all happy and chill and fulfilled – so I am going to work on pursuing some goals of my own, starting with running. I want to run some of my old classics this summer, like the Rattlesnake Traverse and the Melakwa Loop, and I also signed up for Beat the Blerch in September (just the 10k, because it’s flat – that means I won’t have any hills I can use as an excuse to walk).

Now that it’s still light out after Nora goes to bed, I can run in the evenings, and I am also going to take better advantage of weekends when JK is home. Also, the next time we visit Shy Bear, I’ll run while JK hikes with Nora…she deserves some good alone time with her pappa anyway.

I need to remember that I’m still me, I just also happen to be a mother now.

On the Shy Bear Loop

*HOLY SHIT I’M A PARENT