Exactly one year ago, I vowed to spend 2020 pursuing and practicing gratitude. At the time, there was so much to look forward to: a new job, a few trips to Disneyland, the wedding of one of my dear friends and all the festivities that come with it. I thought it would be a breeze to find something to be grateful for every day.
But the universe knew better. The universe knew I needed a challenge. Shortly after January 1st, it seemed like something went wrong in big and small ways every day. I was forced to do for a year what I had once considered emotional torture. Before this year, my worst day was a day spent at home. How was I going to find gratitude for a house that seemed to be falling apart, unemployment, sick family members, isolation? Little did I know at the time, focusing on gratitude would not only be possible, it would be the thing that saved me.
It’s never all bad just like it’s never all good. Even though it seemed like the world was unraveling around me, there were moments of pure joy and contentment in each day. What will I remember most from the last 365 days? The decadent meals, slowly and lovingly prepared; the giggle of an infant and a toddler; making eye contact with the love of my life when our child does something so cute my heart wants to burst; a leisurely morning with no plans that turns into a water fight; cozy movie nights cuddling under an oversized blanket; spontaneously blasting the music and dancing around the living room; making a mess while baking on Saturday mornings; impromptu FaceTime chats with friends and family at random hours of the day; cheese and bread made from scratch that we would have normally bought at the store; my kids becoming best friends little by little.
Maybe deep down in my core, I knew this year would be different and that is why I didn't make a list of goals like I usually do. Because I now know that any resolution I had made would not have been fulfilled. The expectations were low so the chances of failure were also low.
But oh, how I failed! This year broke me down into a million raw pieces that I sometimes didn't recognize. I felt like I failed as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a friend, as an employee. Too many evenings, I looked at the clock hoping it was my kids' bedtime. Too many nights, I slept alone in bed because my husband was awake to take care of our infant, and too many nights, I dozed off during our moments together trying to reconnect. Too many dinners, we ate frozen food or take-out because I was too burnt out from cooking every meal. Too many times, I forgot to answer a text or wish my friend a happy birthday because the day slipped away from me. Too many hours wasted being distracted with anxiety, doom scrolling the Internet, expecting to find a glimmer of hope. Too many hours my kids spent watching TV so I can catch up on laundry or use the toilet in peace. And at nights when my babies were dreaming and the house was quiet and I had plenty to do but nothing to do right now, came the Great Exhale.
Breathe in deep and count to ten. Exhale. Repeat. Repeat. The pit in my stomach eases. We made it through another day, another week, another month, another ten months. We survived.
I can’t believe my daughter is turning one tomorrow and I will have two toddlers. Plus, it officially feels like winter in Los Angeles so I’ve spent the past few weeks working on her winter toddler capsule wardrobe, documenting the process and now I’m ready to share it!
Why Curate a Toddler Capsule Wardrobe?
I’ve personally been wearing a capsule wardrobe of about 30-40 pieces for five years and can sing its praises high and low--less stress getting dressed, less laundry to do and put away, better for the environment. So when I had children, I applied the capsule wardrobe approach to my kids; I’ve done an infant capsule wardrobe for my son and daughter and a toddler capsule wardrobe for my son and now my daughter.
What do I mean by "a realistic toddler capsule wardrobe"? Too many capsule wardrobe guides for toddlers include about 15-18 pieces total (one I found had 18 pieces total, four of which were shoes and one of which were sunglasses). Other than that, they include only 3-4 shirts, 3-4 pants and 3 pajamas and assume that parents will do laundry every day. That is so not me or any other working mom or dad I know. I am able to do laundry on one day a week, two if I’m lucky, and my kids’ clothes need to last until laundry day.
On top of that, toddlers are messy humans. They get food everywhere, they find and play with water any chance they get, they pee or poop through their clothes. In our house, my younger toddler goes through about 3 outfits a day plus pajamas. My older toddler is good with one outfit a day, sometimes two if we go on adventure to the dog park or beach, and a pair of pajamas. We are potty training our son and he’s been doing amazing but we’ve still allotted him two pants per day just in case.
Let’s do the math for my one year old’s capsule wardrobe: 3 outfits per day x 7 days + 1 outfit so she has something to wear on laundry day = 22 outfits (this can be any combination of tops, pants, rompers, etc.) and 7 pajamas. You can even do fewer pajamas if some of your every day clothes are comfortable enough for sleep. For fall and winter capsule wardrobes, we also need to think about outerwear. I usually include three sweaters, one raincoat, and one warm jacket.
Keep reading to learn about the process of curating a toddler capsule wardrobe.
Why Is It Important to Shop BIPOC?
While we make our shopping lists and begin making purchases, it's important to remember that marginalization of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals and cultures can still be found in every aspect of society and it was painfully obvious as I was working on this gift guide. I saw cultural appropriation of authentic Indian spices and traditional Japanese tea sets. White people selling Boba Tea Kits. I also saw a gross number of companies whose stories included traveling to Rwanda/India/Guatemala, falling in love with what they found there and bringing that ‘knowledge’ back to America to start their business. That is the very definition of cultural appropriation.
The problem is that if consumers are not actively, intentionally seeking out shops owned and gifts made by BIPOC, they likely won’t find any. I spent hours researching companies to include in this guide and unfortunately, most people do not have that kind of time. A Google search for “leather dopp kit” yielded zero results for BIPOC-owned companies, at least on the first five pages. Virtually no one ventures past the first page of Google results and the #1 result captures over 30% of the clicks. In fact, only 0.78% of Google searchers click on something from the second page.
To further compound this issue, major gift guides from Buzzfeed, New York Times, Today.com, Good Housekeeping, etc. are sorely lacking in diversity. Most of their picks were from major brands on Amazon with a few small businesses sprinkled in. But this year, Amazon and Jeff Bezos don’t need any more money--during the pandemic, while small businesses are suffering and shuttering left and right, Amazon doubled its profit from $2.6 billion to $5.3 billion.
This holiday season, let’s support small, local and BIPOC businesses. When you purchase from a small business, a real human being smiles and does a happy jig.
Nothing says, "It's autumn!" like the arrival of pumpkin drinks at Starbucks and all pumpkin everything at Trader Joe's. While the Pumpkin Spice Latte and Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew at Starbucks have grown more in more in popularity over the years, it wasn't until last year that I tried and fell in love with the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew.
What I didn’t love was how costly it is and how much sugar is in a 16 oz Grande serving. Now with quarantine, I want to leave my house as little as possible but still want to enjoy that festive fall flavor. So I created this super easy to make (no milk frother needed!) Pumpkin Spice Cold Brew using just three ingredients, four if you count the ice.
Not only is this Pumpkin Spice Cold Brew delicious, it has less than 10 grams of sugar in 16 oz (compared to Starbucks’ 31 grams).
Before March, my days were full of a buzzing noise of all the places I had to be, things I had to do and people I needed to see. In fact, in March, I had a social commitment every day of every weekend, sometimes even two commitments a day.
I was feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin, but I had no idea what to do about it. I have an impossible time declining invitations because I feel an immense sense of loyalty to my friends and family. Not only do I enjoy spending time with others as an extrovert, but I feel a huge amount of guilt at the thought of letting people down. On some level, I believe that if I don’t show up for my friends’ events, they won’t want to attend mine or be my friend anymore and I cherish my friendships too much to let that happen.
For that reason, I was a “yes mom” for as many brunches, parties, play dates, dinners and birthdays as was physically possible (and sometimes even more than was truly physically possible). I didn’t realize how stressful it was and what a toll it all took on my mental and emotional well-being until it was all stripped away.
My nonstop days of going to the park, to the zoo, to the library, to get coffee, to go shopping, to grab lunch with one friend and dinner with another were replaced with lots and lots of nothingness at home. The days got slow and quiet. One day melted into another until six months had passed by.
For months, I've been dreaming of an apple spice cake that has the same rich flavor and texture of a moist carrot cake but with the floral sweetness of apples. I searched high and low for such a cake recipe, but came up short. I tweaked and combined a few carrot cake and apple cake recipes, and the result is this incredible, crave-worthy cake that's a favorite in our family. It even has less sugar than every other recipe I've found and is also delicious without the caramel drizzle or ice cream.
"Your cake was amazing, so juicy," my friend said. "I took a bite and was mind blown."
Yes, this IS a mind-blowingly good cake and I make it every chance I get. You should too!
For many people who practice intuitive eating, joyful movement and gentle nutrition are the intuitive eating principles that we have the most difficult time with.
At least for me, exercise has been a sore spot for most of my life. I swam competitively starting at age seven until I was 17 and most of my weekends were spent at swim meets. In high school, I was on the swim and water polo team which meant I was in the water or at the gym from 5:30 am until 7:30 am and again from 2 pm until 5 pm. If we had a game, I didn't get home until 8 pm. I was exhausted and ravenous all the time--I couldn't physically eat enough calories in a day to sustain myself and my teachers forbade me from eating during class. The week before homecoming, I lost so much weight, my strapless dress wouldn't stay on. And I still vividly remember the guilt I felt (from my parents and teammates) when I chose to call in sick from one game during a tournament so I could attend my close friend's birthday party.
In senior year of high school, I quit the team because my body and my mind had simply had enough. And since then, I've had a complicated relationship with exercise. For most of college, I didn't "exercise" much at all unless it was a Zumba or Hip Hop Class and walking around the Santa Cruz Mountains for class. After college, I continued to brew in diet culture, using exercise as a form of punishment and means for weight loss. That lasted until I got pregnant with my son and didn't have the energy to move in the first trimester.
Fast forward a couple of years, I discovered intuitive eating and the anti-diet, Health at Every Size movement in September 2018. I was able to quickly and easy adapt almost all of the principles immediately, except for the joyful movement bit. Because I had been forced for so long to exercise to the point of exhaustion and use exercise as tool for weight loss, even the slightest sore muscle from working out triggered me. My muscles had PTSD. And that took almost two years to heal.
I still feel uneasy when I feel tight glutes or thighs from slightly overexerting myself, even if it is from moving happily. But what has helped me the most with this intuitive eating principle is redefining what exercise and movement mean to me in addition to defining my health and fitness goals that have nothing to do with weight loss. I'm done with the days of running on a treadmill or forcing myself to do push-ups and sit-ups for the sole purpose of burning calories. There are many non-weight loss benefits to exercise, but the one that resonates with me the most is being able to play with my kids for as long as possible, be strong enough to continue to pick them up and have enough endurance to run around with them. With those goals in mind, these are my expressions of joyful movement, the types of physical activities that truly make me happy and don't feel like exercise at all:
Last year, after doing a bunch of fun stuff with our son that many people discouraged us from doing, I decided to start a series called “Take Your Baby” that debunks commonly held misconceptions about what activities parents shouldn't do and places parents shouldn’t go with their babies. I firmly believe that parents shouldn't feel forced to relinquish their interests and passions when we have babies, because giving up parts of your identity can only lead to resentment. Instead, parents should try to find ways to introduce their baby to their world as much as possible.
My last article, Take Your Baby: European Dining, focused on Michelin-starred restaurants, afternoon tea in London and the Parisian Grand Tasting. This time, I want to talk about music festivals, like Coachella and Bottlerock Napa.
With many of these music festivals rescheduled for the fall, there is still time for parents with tickets to decide whether or not to take their little ones.
I've been obsessed with polenta lately. It takes just minutes to make and comes out so creamy and delicious. Plus, it's fun to experiment with sweet and savory toppings, like this breakfast version with parmesan, crispy bacon crumble and a fried egg.
For me, rice pudding has always been one of the most comforting foods. My mom used to make a huge pot of it growing up when our milk was on the verge of spoiling. Since we've been at home and the weather has been cold, I've been turning to more comforting dishes. That was my inspiration for this custardy oatmeal pudding that's creamy, perfectly sweet and has way more protein than regular oatmeal, making it a more filling option for breakfast than regular rice pudding or a bowl of oatmeal.