Lotsa Veggies Spaghetti

This one was a hit last night! Spaghetti is usually a popular meal with toddlers, but this version is one that you definitely won’t mind serving. The long list of chopped veggies means there is ample opportunity to get the kids involved in preparing the sauce. Give them a chance to explore the vegetables – how they look, smell, feel, and taste – while chopping them up. Then, toss them all in the sauce and have the kids watch as the appearance and smell changes as they cook. My little guy loved picking out the mushrooms in last night’s dinner and exclaim how he helped mommy chop them up!

Lotsa Veggies Spaghetti

  • 1/3 pkg Spaghetti, prepared as per package instructions (I have been using multigrain pastas these days. They are made from lentil and whole wheat flour so they’re higher in protein and fiber when compared to the regular starchy version! There is a slight difference in texture, but the difference in taste is negligible.)
  • 1/3 cup starch water (don’t throw out the pasta water!)
  • 1 cup Marinara Sauce (Use your favorite recipe, or a bottled/canned one will do too)
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 cup button or portobello mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1/2 zucchini, finely chopped,
  • 1/3 cup carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 cup spinach, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup broccoli, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp each of dried basil, oregano, and chili flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan Cheese

Instructions:

  1. Heat skillet with olive oil on medium heat. Then, add chopped garlic and saute for a minute.
  2. Add all chopped vegetables. Cook until vegetables are soft. It won’t take more than a few minutes because they are finely chopped.
  3. Add in salt, pepper, and spices.
  4. Add in marinara sauce, sour cream, and water.
  5. Simmer sauce to let the flavors of the vegetable medley marry with the sour cream and marinara sauce.
  6. Add in cooked spaghetti, and top with Parmesan. Serve with a fresh salad for a healthy and delicious meal.

Want more tips on how to involve your kids in the kitchen? Check out my Bay Area Parent article: 10 Reasons Why Your Children Should Spend More Time in the Kitchen

 

Lotsa Veggies!
Lotsa Veggies!
Plated Spaghetti and Salad
Lotsa Veggies Spaghetti served with a mixed green salad. Strawberries, walnuts, chopped dates, mixed greens, tossed in a light balsamic vinagrette.

The Joy of Sleeplessness

Every morning, my husband and I engage in the most unromantic of pillow talk conversations: who’s getting up with the baby. I have a history of bad luck when it comes to winning contests. This is the one exception. Nearly every morning, my name is pulled out of the metaphorical hat. I have the good fortune of spending a few extra early morning hours with my son.

In the last 476 days, I have slept in past my son’s 5AM wakeup call a grand total of 22 days. It’s a well known fact about being a new mother – sleep becomes a very valuable commodity. But, this is not a rant about how dreaded the feeling of sleeplessness can be, nor is it a long-winded post about the traumatic effects of a baby’s erratic sleep schedule on his parents.

Not at all. It is about the joy of sleeplessness.

I mean it. No sarcasm, I swear.

I’m not going to lie; it isn’t easy dragging my lifeless limbs out of bed each morning. My back and arms are usually aching from carrying my toddler during the day. Even after 15 months, the 7 hours I do sleep are rarely continuous, and frequently interrupted with bottle warming, feeding, singing, rocking, and holding. I manage to pry my eyes open and catch a glimpse of my animated alarm clock.

Every morning, a little boy breathes life into this empty corpse.

I am greeted with a wide-eyed grin that stretches from tiny ear to tiny ear. As of late, his high-pitched “Hi!” is accompanied by “mommymommymommy.” I can’t help but laugh out loud and give my little monkey a morning kiss. I can feel my cheeks flush and my eyes shine.

Sometimes, I bring him into our bed and we snuggle for a few minutes. I am reminded of just how small he really is when he is sandwiched between two grownups. The few minutes of laziness are brought to an abrupt end when he loudly proclaims it’s time to play, at which point we have no choice but leave our warm covers behind. He wanders around the living room a little disoriented at first, looking around as if he’s seeing his toys for the very first time.

I make my way to the kitchen to warm a bottle for him, and put a pot of coffee on for myself. I peek over the kitchen window and watch him mimic my actions by shuffling things around in his own Sesame Street kitchen.

“What would you like for breakfast?” I ask.

He almost always screams “eggie” in response. He pulls the plastic egg out of his mini oven and proudly shows me.

And, so, it’s become a bit of a morning ritual. We make breakfast together, and when we’re done I plant myself on the living room floor. Regardless of what he’s doing, he’ll come running over to sit on my lap. It makes no difference to him what is in the plate; he runs with same excitement and fervor.

In the silence of the morning, before the sun has risen, before the birds begin singing, and before we can hear the city streets hum through our window, my little boy and I sit and eat breakfast together.

It is the best part of my day.

before-sunrise-perse-rock_l
Photo credit: Foter / CC BY

The End of March

As February turned to March, my mind is flooded with memories of this time last year. The end of March is not a birthday or anniversary that I have been celebrating for years; it is a first anniversary. This time last year, my husband had accepted a job offer in San Francisco. I developed an incredible sense of admiration for his willingness to swap our cushy lives for ones that would inevitably be more challenging and filled with uncertainty. We accepted that uncertainty with the hopes that the experience would facilitate his professional and our personal growth, and perhaps even bring us closer together. With that, we frantically began packing the belongings of our suburban Toronto home.

At the end of March last year, we left our family, friends, and entire lives behind to embark on this adventure. An adventure that will surely shape our lives for years to come, regardless of what the future holds. We knew just one person in the city and he has proven himself to be nothing less than family over the course of the last year, lending a hand whenever needed.

My 16-hour days were spent seated on the floor of our downtown apartment furnished with nothing other than the five suitcases we deemed essential to our day-to-day living. My four-month old filled the empty rooms with his coos and cries. My days may have been spent in solitude, but never in silence. The blank walls that encased us served as a cold reminder of a home we left behind. I had my work cut out for me. I would be spending the next few months filling my kitchen cabinets with pots and pans, my living room with cozy furniture, and my walls with artwork and photos. With baby on hip, I would be rebuilding a home in this new city.

Every day was a challenge. Every day was a triumph. I was desperate to tell someone about my days in excruciating detail; the little things that made my baby giggle uncontrollably, the way he hated to be in the stroller, the way his eyes were filled with so much wonder, and how difficult motherhood really was. But, my words would have no ears to fall on.

So, I started to write. I blogged as an avenue to share my new life, to share my adventures as a new mom in a new city. I wrote at night, after putting the baby to bed, cleaning up the aftermath of the day, and making dinner. Every time I sat down to write, I found myself in tears. My heart was overflowing with emotion, and I was taken aback by what a relief it was to let it all out.

I wrote, and you read. The last year has been filled with so much words of encouragement and love that I am left wondering what I did to deserve such awe-inspiring and supportive family and friends. Your likes, shares, comments, and personal messages gave me the confidence to continue. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Many people go through their lives never having discovered their true passion. I’ve found two.

Less than one year ago, I wrote a simple blog post describing our eventful flight with a four month old.

Last week, I received a simple two-lined email inviting me to blog for the Huffington Post. I have a strong urge to write back to them saying, Are you sure?! I think you may have me confused with someone else. Miraculously, they don’t have me confused with someone more qualified and talented. Like you, someone somewhere thinks I can do this.

The events of the last year have shown me that adversity is another word for opportunity; an opportunity to learn, an opportunity for personal growth, and an opportunity for self-reflection and discovery. I accept the challenges ahead with open arms. I have been fortunate enough to take a seat in the classroom of life, and I have every intention to make the most of it.

Our home away from home.
Our home away from home: I caught this beautiful sight on one of our evening walks last week.

In the Shadows

Doggies are king in my home these days. “Dada,” my son calls them. Whether it’s a fussy diaper change or refusal to wear his pants, all it takes is a reminder that we can’t go out and play with the doggies without either, and, instantly, I’ll see his eyes light up. We’ll be out the door in thirty seconds or less.

The other day at the park, he was mesmerized by a pair of beautiful golden retrievers. They were playing with a ball, and he clearly wanted to go and say hi. He took a few steps forward, and stopped. Looking back at me, he held his hand out and said, “Hand. Walk.”

My heart melted.

Of course I will hold your hand, honey. Let’s go and say hi. He grasped my hand tightly, took a few slow steps by my side, and then let go of my hand running off towards the puppies.

How foolish of me to think I had a few good years of walking hand-in-hand with my little boy. It was lovely while it lasted – all of 10 seconds – and he was off. He just needed me there long enough to give him the courage to approach the unfamiliar faces, and once he felt comfortable, I was left in his miniature shadow.

I suppose it serves as a gentle reminder for me. This moment is fleeting. This phase is brief. He won’t be my baby forever. He won’t need me forever.

I look into his eyes and think to myself, I’m okay with being in your shadows. It means I’m always there; sometimes I’ll lead, sometimes I’ll follow, and sometimes we’ll walk side-by-side. When you’re busy exploring this complicated world, you won’t think twice about me. You won’t look back to see if I’m still there. Because you won’t need to. You’ll know. 

And, suddenly, it occurs to me. Being a mother means being invisible and forever in the shadows – no different than my own mother; she may be absent in sight, but her presence resonates every fibre of my being. She is distant in miles, but somehow I feel her warmth on my skin, her hands run through my hair, her scent lingers in the air, and her voice hums in the silence. I don’t look back to see if she’s still there. Because I don’t need to. I know.

Here I am, all grown up. I’ve let go of her hand, and run off. 

If I’ve done a good job of raising you, you, too, will let go of my hand and run. You’ll run far and you’ll run fearlessly. You’ll run knowing that I’m not far behind. But, as you climb those sky-high mountains and swim the depths of the oceans, remember this one thing. If ever there is a doubt in your mind, the slightest inkling of uncertainty, hold out your hand and say, “Hand. Walk.”

No matter how old you get, my heart will melt just the same. 

Apple Cinnamon Bread Pudding

breadpudding

This is the perfect breakfast food – wait, no – this is the perfect anytime food. I challenge you to limit yourself to just one spoonful of this deliciously creamy-on-the-inside, crispy-and-chewy-on-the-outside, dish. My little guy devours this delicious bread pudding in minutes, and I have absolutely no problem with that. After all, it does have all four food groups in one 8″ pan. You can always adjust the sweetness to your dietary needs and preferences.

Ingredients:

  • 6 thick slices french bread, day old works best (cut into 1″ cubes)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup raisins or chopped dates
  • 1 apple, peeled and thinly chopped
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spread bread cubes in 8 inch square baking pan. Drizzle melted butter, and sprinkle dates or raisins over top.
3. In a bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Mix well, and pour over bread. Lightly push down with a fork until bread is covered and soaking up the egg mixture.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or toothpick comes out clean.

Note: Want to enjoy this recipe for breakfast, but don’t want to bother with the prep early in the morning? This recipe refrigerates well. Make it the night before, leave it in the pan, and pop it in the oven when you wake up for a warm, delicious breakfast in the morning! 

He’s Nothing Like Me

There are certain things in life where the truth is better left unsaid. And, if you absolutely must say something, you lie. Plain and simple.

“Your baby looks nothing like you!” is one of those things. If you catch me on a good day, I will politely smile while mentally slapping you across the face. On a bad day, I’ll skip the smile.

When our son was born, I was taken aback by all the remarks about my baby’s physical appearance. It became a quintessential part of the congratulatory comment. Congratulations! He looks just like his dad! 

I know I’m not the only mother who cringes when anyone and everyone nonchalantly mentions my son bears no resemblance to me.

Is it because we mothers need confirmation that our child is, in fact, ours? Is it because we need affirmation of our own identities through our children? Or, perhaps, our insecurities need to be remedied with the help of your empty words?

No. No. And, hell no.

Your innocent statement seems harmless; but, the truth is, when you say, He looks nothing like you, what I hear is He is nothing like you. 

And, here comes the cringe.

Don’t tell me my son looks nothing like me because I have a lot to do with his existence. Let’s not talk about the nine months of nausea, swollen ankles, backaches, throbbing feet, and sleepless nights. Let’s not even mention the first 4 months of his infancy, which are a foggy memory because of the sheer exhaustion of around-the-clock hourly feedings, diaper changes, and 2-hour long bouts of crying. Let’s ignore the fact that for 14 waking hours a day, my showers, meals, bathroom trips, and household chores are scheduled around the baby. Let’s, for a moment, forget the immeasurable, incomparable, and logic-defying sacrifices mothers make for their children each and every day.

Instead, let’s consider the fact that a part of my heart walks outside of my body. Every little tumble he takes, my heart is thrown down two flights of stairs. Every time he giggles, my heart sings a million glorious melodies. And, on the rare occasion where I find myself without him, my heart yearns to hold him again.

So, don’t tell me he looks nothing like me. He is me

You might have to look past his big, brown eyes, his round face, button nose, and fine strands of chestnut hair. You might not see it in his long limbs, or lean physique.

But, you’re not looking hard enough.

You’ll see it when he dances for joy. You’ll see it when he runs in, full-speed for hugs and kisses. You’ll see it when he shrieks with excitement at surprises. You’ll see it when he screams in frustration and anger.

You’ll see it in his fascination with cooking. You’ll see it in his love for reading. You’ll see it in his kindness towards animals. You’ll see it in his over-the-top dramatic tears, and his stubborn insistence to be independent.

If you can’t see he looks like me, you’re just not looking hard enough.

An Open Letter to Kansas from a Mother

Dear Kansas,

I am not black.

But I love Black History month. I love what it signifies. As a middle-school teacher, I love showing my students that change happens. I love showing them that a bloody battle will inevitably end with good reigning over evil and justice being served. Black History Month depicts the stories of countless heroes far better than any big-budget Hollywood film ever could. February is a celebration of progress, freedom, and, of course, diversity.

This February we will not be celebrating progress, freedom, or diversity. This February we will be mourning regression and the loss of freedom and diversity in America.

This past week, the Kansas senate passed an Anti-Gay Segregation Bill. Inevitably, the legislation was killed later in the week as the Kansas Senate President acknowledged the backlash they were receiving and the damage it would do to the party; however, that does not deter from the fact that the bill was passed with ease by a vote of 72-49. 

What does this mean? This means that the overwhelming majority of Kansas leaders think that it is acceptable to treat a human being as a second-class citizen because of their sexual preferences.

This blows my mind.

I don’t have unrealistic hopes for my son’s future. I understand that ignorance cannot be eradicated. I am no longer shocked by the outcry when a South Asian becomes Miss America or a Black man becomes President. I tell myself that ignorance is tied to misinformation, poor education, and a lack of worldly knowledge and understanding. And, I understand that it is my responsibility as a parent to do everything in my power to ensure that my son grows to be a man who is respectful, open-minded, and accepting. But, when policymakers exemplify ignorance, when it becomes the law to discriminate, even a mother’s hands are tied.

The beauty of democracy is that the beliefs and values of our chosen leaders are a reflection of our own.

So, this is a plea.

Kansas, please choose your policymakers carefully. They are shaping the country that our children are growing up in and forming the norms of our society. They are writing the History textbooks our children will read for decades to come. I want my child to read about a country where progress is made, freedom is a right, and diversity is celebrated. I want to go back to my classroom and show my students that change happens, that progress is being made, and that, today, the world is a little bit better than it was yesterday.

Sincerely,

A Mother

Sorry to Pop Your Bubble List, but…

One of the most amazing things about being a mom is the sisterhood you build with other moms. There is a strong sense of bonding and understanding – we are all in the trenches, day in and day out. We know we can count on one another for support. And, just like any other sisterhood, you make it known when someone messes up.

When I read Emily Mendell’s The Bubble List, I couldn’t help but shake my head. Mendell has formulated a list of skills she would like her sons to have by the time they move out.

Looks good, right?

Take a close look at the list. Buy clothes? Take the Subway? Call a doctor? Oh, boy. If children are being raised with such low expectations, I fear for the future.

Come on, mommas, let’s raise the bar a little. 

I think one of the most basic and essential parenting lessons is to teach your children to be self-sufficient. That encompasses shopping for and feeding himself, cleaning soiled clothes, maintaining a living space, and, of course, personal hygiene. This the bare minimum, for basic survival in a society where interpersonal relationships are commonplace. If kids can be potty-trained, they can be taught any one of these basic skills so long as the expectations are in place.

That’s the problem with parenting today. We’re not teaching our children how to do without us. We are holding on to every last hug, and cherishing the warm, fuzzy feeling of being needed. And, why not? A few short years ago our little babies needed us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And, then, in a blink of an eye, we’re lucky if we catch a glimpse of the back of their heads.

We will be doing a major disservice to our children if we spoon feed them and hold their hand through their formative years. A society of leaders and innovators cannot be built on a foundation of people who are getting gold stars for doing their laundry. Teaching your children to be self-sufficient is a start. But, let’s not make that the end goal. Let’s hope our children leave home understanding the importance of family, the value in failure, the role of perseverance, and the sheer satisfaction of hard work. It’s in our hands: let’s build a generation of innovative thinkers who will grow to be productive members of society.

How I Met Your Father

Son, the story of how I met your father is a very mundane one, yet it defines our lives. On a crisp September evening in Toronto, a Biology major and a Computer Science major found themselves surrounded by hundreds of English majors in an elective class they had both been dreading. His eyes were kind. His voice was shaky. He talked me into skipping class and took me for Bubble Tea. I hated the tea, but I loved him. I did then, and I do now. We are worlds apart, and exactly the same. He is my sense of adventure and my strength. I am his voice of reason and the hand on his shoulder. We are stubborn and critical; always challenging each other, always pushing each other a little further and a little higher. We don’t do fancy outings. There are no grand gestures. Just simple acts of love. I pick the tomatoes out of his salad, and he sips my Coke. He tells me I’m being a know-it-all, and I say so are you. We’re so far from perfect. But, so perfect for one another. We thought we had everything, and then we met you. And, then, we knew we had it all.

This post was featured in the Huffington post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/14/how-we-met-love-stories_n_4790386.html

In A Girl’s World

After my little brother was born, I very politely asked my mother when she would be giving me a little sister. I had two brothers, and my seven-year-old self was just plain tired of boys. My mother simply laughed in response.

Understanding her laughter, I made the best of the situation. I painted my baby brother’s nails, put his hair up in ponytails, and had tea parties in the living room, all whilst hoping one day I’d be mother to a little girl.

Two decades later, things have changed quite drastically. Every single day, I silently thank God I have a son. Don’t get me wrong; I am still very much enamored by the notion of raising a sweet little girl. But, the thing is, I’m seeing things with a different pair of eyes now. And, the fact is, raising a girl is just… too damn hard.

I could spend every minute of every day teaching her that it’s her heart and brain, not her body, that determines her worth. I could shower her with so much love and affection that she would never need the approval of others to validate her own existence. I could show her that true beauty lies in her words and actions, and not in the mirror.

But, then, one day she’d notice her mother stepping on the scale with a look of disappointment on her face. She’d step out into the world and be bombarded with images and words that would slowly tear down her confidence, bring on feelings of inadequacy, and distort her self-image.

What then? 

How would I console my sweet little princess if she came home crying because that boy said something mean to her? How would I mend my baby’s broken heart if that boy didn’t appreciate just how beautiful she really was, inside and out? How would I summon the strength to restrain myself from ripping that boy into a million little pieces for making my sweet little girl feel this way?

While I mull over these questions in my head, I know two things for sure.

First, if you are a mother of a girl, I don’t know how you are doing it. I sincerely applaud your efforts.

And, secondly, I am determined to do everything in my power to make sure that my son doesn’t grow to be that boy.