A Personal Guide To Road Tripping and Camping With A Toddler

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Growing up, I never went camping with my family nor did I know any Asian family who did. The closest I ever came to camping as a child was at sixth grade camp, which aside from the timed three-minute showers and the short hikes cannot be properly classified as camping.

My husband is an outdoorsman by nature and camped regularly before he met me. It’s safe to say he was disappointed when he learned that I was one of those urbanites who loved nature but did not love being in it. Pit toilets, pajamas covered in campfire ash, and getting swarmed by mosquitoes are not exactly my idea of a vacation. The most camping we did together were one night stays at a campground in Idyllwild, a small mountain town in South California. Those I was able to survive—as long as the pit toilets were not filled with a year’s worth of feces (yuck!).

But I hypothesize that maybe—just maybe—being a mother has made me more gutsy and more willing to do uncomfortable things.

Because miraculously, our family just completed a 15 day road trip from Southern California to Oregon and back!



To be a bit more precise, that’s 2800 miles on the road, 56 hours in the car, 7 nights of tent camping at 3 different camp sites, 4 different AirBNBs or homes of friends/family, and sleeping in 40 degree chill. All of this with a 2.33 year old!

We’ve been talking about visiting Oregon’s lush green for years and finally decided to make it happen this summer. While planning for this trip, I was excited and, needless to say, scared. I was scared of having to comfort a crying baby in the middle of the night for 2 straight weeks. I was scared of having to suffer in the car next to a vomit-soaked carseat. I was scared that our trip would be derailed by a sudden illness or a malfunctioning car.

But we survived. And not only that, we had such a beautiful time together, hopping from forest to river to city to ocean and back to forest again. We saw friends that we have not seen in years. We saw jaw-dropping landscapes that you should see at least once in your life. It was a trip that we are hoping will imprint into our little daughter’s subconscious memory and make her love being in the outdoors.

There are tons of blogs out there that covers everything you need to bring and prepare if you’re road tripping or camping with a little one. This is not one of them. But here are my personal tips on what made this experience comfortable and fun for our child…and for me!

1. Do a test run! We had two small camping experiences with our daughter before we embarked on this much longer one. On the first one, she was a little over a year old. She slept between us in a two person tent – there was a moderate amount of waking and not very much sleeping. After that trip, we decided to graduate to six person tent and an air mattress! We experimented with our new set up a month before our road trip. I used this opportunity to figure out the perfect sleeping set up that would maximize the amount of sleep for us all—this resulted in me and child on air mattress and daddy on the sleeping pad next to us. As a result, my daughter slept really well every nigh…except for one when she woke up screaming at midnight. But one out of seven nights is not bad in my book!

2. Fun times in the car. My daughter is pretty tolerant of being stuck to a carseat but knowing that we were spending a huge chunk of our trip in the car, I wanted to make the car ride as fun for her as possible. This meant special snacks (Pocky sticks, crackers, ice cream, seaweed), new toys (most of them given to us by friends during the trip, “Water Wow” coloring pads, books with dry erase markers), preloaded games on the iPad (mostly puzzle games and her favorite “Feed the Animals”), and lots of story time and singing with mommy in the back seat. She quickly became very excited every time we had to get in the car!

3. Be loose with structure. At home, we are on the dot when it comes to bedtime and I try to incorporate veggies in her lunch and dinner. But during the trip, I was okay with her sleeping at 9:00, 10:00 or sometimes even 11:00pm. I was also okay with her eating peanut butter jelly sandwiches for lunch AND dinner on some nights. However afternoon naps were mandatory because no nap = moody child. As long as she was cheerful during the day and pooping, I was flexible with her sleeping schedule and higher than normal sugar intake.

4. Allowing a hands-on experience. Our child loves mastering new skills. We made sure we involved her in the set-up and maintenance of the camp. For example, during set up, she helped us lay out the tarp, install the camping poles, and pump up the air mattress. She enjoyed watching daddy wash the dishes after a meal. She also enjoyed practicing hiking up and down the stairs at the camp. All of these little things made it exciting for her and she became eager to set up camp at our next site. Throughout our stays in the forests, she would smile and say “I like go camping!”

5. Good planning. Knowing that I am squeamish and whiny by nature, my husband booked campsites that had flush toilets, showers, close promixity to a store, and were generally well-kept. Although he’s content with digging a hole for a bathroom, he wanted to keep me happy and therefore planned a comfortable camping experience for us. Speaking for myself, I made a very thorough list of what to bring and checked off each item as I packed it into my bag. That’s not something I usually do for trips but this time, I knew if I didn’t have her bedtime pacifier or teddy bear, it could potentially be a disaster. The attention and time spent on packing was well worth it. The only things I wish I would’ve brought were water shoes for my daughter (so she could stand in the campsite showers), a wearable blanket (she likes to kick off her blankets at night), and warmer clothes for me.

Well, we had a memorable time together and are settled home now. My daughter would be happy to travel for a few more weeks and bounce to a new place to stay every night. My husband is happy to not be driving 6 hours a day but would be thrilled to take a longer vacation.

As for me, I’m just happy I made it through the two weeks and am going to start catching up on my sleep starting…now 🙂

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My 30 day fast from the media and meat

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A few months ago, I got this nagging voice in my head. It told me that I needed a “reset”. This was the time when the Orlando shooting happened, when racial tension was at a national high due to the recent police shootings, when it felt like terrorists were attacking every corner of every major city, and planes were dropping from the sky.

Not many people know this about me, but I was (key word, was) a news junkie. I watched the local news every morning, listened to National Public Radio (NPR) on my way to work, watched the nighttime news with my husband during dinnertime, read Google News sitting on the toilet, and had a bad habit of clicking on all of the news articles on Facebook that reminded me how terrible the world was. As you can imagine, I was inundated. I normally prided myself in my knowledge of world events. I liked being a well-informed citizen. But in the midst of everything that happened this year, I mostly felt anxious about being in this world. I also felt scared shitless of what world I was bringing my daughter into.

I became well-aware of the extent that the media was controlling my mood and my beliefs. It made me paranoid about being in public places and anxious about strangers on the street. It made me wish I could live in a cave far far away from the evils of the world. This is what happens when we have a media infrastructure that spotlights the terrors of the world and feeds on the resulting fear and anger of its viewers. This type of news cycle keeps us glued to the TV screen/newspaper/internet because we depend on it to stay aware of the dangers of the world.

When this nagging voice inside of my head told me I needed to reset, it reminded me that there are good people in this world and good things happen every day. But when I choose to be a subscriber of negativity-driven media, I am choosing to pollute my mind with fear.

My solution to this was to abstain from the news and social media for one month. On top of that, I threw on an extra challenge of abstaining from meat, a habit that I started when I became pregnant (after being vegetarian and pescatarian for about 10 years) and continued to eat with great guilt after my daughter was born.

To replace the time I normally spent consuming the news, I instead dedicated my time to writing, self-reflection, and developing a daily Buddhist practice. I also chose to view and listen to informational media that would be helpful in advancing my self-understanding.

During this time, I discovered an amazing podcast called “Invisibilia”, a production of NPR.  Its whole theme is about exploring the things that are invisible to the naked eye, touching on topics in the realm of psychology and sociology. In one of their episodes, they interviewed a woman who had a unique set of symptoms in which she could actually feel the physical sensations of other people.  For instance, if she saw someone being choked, she, too, would start to feel as if she was being choked. This rare disorder is called mirror-touch synesthesia. It turns out that one reason why people experience this phenomenon is due to the high activity of their mirror neurons, which is responsible for our ability to understand what others are experiencing and develop empathy for others. People with this type of synesthesia have mirror neurons that are so strong that their brain is tricked into feeling the sensations of everyone around them.

Where am I going with this? No, I don’t have mirror-touch synesthesia, thank God. But learning about this made me realize that my mirror neurons are also very strong but in a different way. Much like how the woman in the podcast feels the physical pain of others, I cringe, cry, and crumble at others’ emotional pain.  I am particularly susceptible to feeling the emotional pain of children and animals.

During my one month fast, I sought to accept and understand my highly sensitive nature. There is even a term for this, I discovered. Someone coined the word empath to describe people who have a deep sense of empathy. This trait is one reason why I thrive in my profession.  But it’s also caused me to feel overwhelmed and overly responsible for the injustices of the world. My deep sense of empathy makes it hard for me to separate my own feelings and experiences from that of other people. It makes it easy for me to absorb other people’s energy and for my energy to leak out. This is why I need lots of alone time so that I can restore my energy.  And this trait explains why I am so affected by media.

Just as an example, I remember vividly when I was in a Southeast Asian Studies course in college. My professor had us watch a documentary about sex trafficking of children in Asia. I couldn’t watch the whole film–I laid my head down for half of it. Afterwards for several days, I remember walking around feeling like I was one of the trafficked children in the film and all of the men around me were johns. I felt disgusted, angered, and victimized. By the way, this is why I no longer watch documentaries.

The month free from media and meat did help me with this particular problem. I developed a keener sense of when I needed to restrict my energy output, such as when I felt very tired or needed an energy reserve for a certain activity. I also tried to limit my exposure to things and people that exhausted me.

At the end of the 30 days, I indeed felt more grounded, calmer, healthier and less pessimistic. But I also knew that I needed to develop a consistent practice in order to reap long term benefits.I’m sharing my practice in this blog post in case it can help any of you reading this:

  1. Abstain from watching the news.  Yep, I decided to do away with watching the news completely.  In the end, I determined that it was a complete waste of my time and energy.  My husband, a news junkie himself, inadvertently has done the same.
  2. Limit the amount of news articles and social media that I consume online.  I’ve figured out that I can click “See less of this” on articles that pop up on my Facebook feed so that I can better filter what I am exposed to. I also reduced the habit of reading the news and scrolling through my Facebook feed on my phone during downtime.
  3. When driving, listen to music or casual talk radio.  I commute about 20 miles each way to and from work. I became aware that listening to NPR or podcasts did not help me unwind from my job during my drive home.  Now, it’s usually Pandora’s Disney station or the local easy listening radio station 🙂
  4. Commit to a daily spiritual practice.  Although I have long believed in and studied Buddhist philosophy, I never declared myself as a Buddhist until recently.  In the last few months, I felt the benefits of a daily practice of Buddhist chanting and praying.  Along with expressing gratitude for the blessings in my life, I pray for the people who I serve in my work, the beings in the world that are suffering, and the spirits that are watching over me. I pray for greater strength and courage to make more positive change in the world. When chanting, I hold in my mind the people who I’ve encountered during my day and send them my blessings.
  5. Study myself intently.  The intense awareness of my thoughts, behaviors and feelings that I practiced in the last few months has benefitted me greatly.  I process what I’ve observed about myself through my writing, sharing with others and in therapy. I feel so much more clarity about what I’m doing and why I am doing it!
  6. Use guided imagery on a daily basis.  (If you don’t know what guided imagery is, click here). The exercise that I use most often is one where I imagine a giant cord that starts at my collar bone and connects to the center of the earth. I direct all of the energy that is not mine to escape from my body to be recycled by the earth.  I then direct all of the energy that I’ve left in other places to return to me in a giant gold orb.  Another one that I learned recently is to imagine that I have a bubble around myself; when I’m feeling overwhelmed or tired, I can direct my bubble to be smaller and closer to my body so that I do not absorb others’ energy as easily.

For those of you reading this, what part of this story resonates with you?  Even though you may not classify yourself as an empath or highly sensitive, how do you find yourself negatively impacted by the media?  What negative habits can you imagine yourself fasting from?

I’m hoping that this writing inspired you, amused you or simply bridged a connection between me and you.

 

 

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What’s it like to shop for baby stuff…Part 1

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baby registry

Baby girl is scheduled to arrive in about three months (February 2015), Christmas is just around the corner, and the baby shower is supposed to take place in January.  This means that now is the time to plunge into the abyss that I call “the baby registry”.

I thought that the wedding registry was stressful—I hate buying things that are first of all new and secondly what feels ridiculously overpriced—but this process of hunting for baby stuff is an entirely new level of overwhelming.  There is a reason why the baby industry is a multibillion dollar industry; there are literally thousands of options for every kind of baby product you can imagine.  Some parents are probably delighted by the vast ocean of choice, but for indecisive and money-conscious people like me, it is very mind-boggling…a girl can only read so many reviews!

One of my husband’s co-workers gave us an older version of the book “Baby Bargains“.  According to the almighty internet, it is a must-have piece of literature on baby products hence I purchased a used copy of the most recent edition on Amazon.  I spent the earlier part of my week reading about cribs and mattresses in the book, Amazon reviews, Babies R Us, mommy blogs, etc.  I swear my brain exploded and that explains why my living room is so gross right now.  Thankfully both my hubby and I had the day off yesterday and spent an afternoon checking products out at the baby superstores, second hand stores, and the heaven sent IKEA.  We have now beyond the crib/mattress chapter and are moving into the world of strollers and baby seats, praise the Lord.

We are relatively infantile in building our baby registry (hence the Part 1 in my blog title), but here’s what I have learned so far:

1.  Until I went to the actual store to see and touch with my bare hands these amazing gadgets they call cribs and strollers, I didn’t have a very good understanding of their functioning and what features I would like.  No matter how many reviews I read about each brand, nothing beats being able to touch the dang thing! (Yes, husband, you were right…)

2. If you are working within a budget, it makes the baby registry process 50% less painful.  Of course, you should still aim to get the biggest bang for your buck…but the bang is finite. No frilly lace, no fancy woodwork, no baby wipe warmer, just the basics.  Don’t get me wrong—the expensive products are costly for a reason.  If you choose right, the high end items typically last the longest and have very innovative and convenient features.  But if you’re a new and young working couple paying off school loans, wouldn’t you rather save that money for more important things like school and meaningful activities like dance classes and camping trips?  So what did this mean for our baby shopping excursion?  It means that when we walked into IKEA and found their very simple but sturdy cribs priced at $69-$119 (versus the $200-$300 ones we were considering buying online), we were totally sold!

3.  With some baby products, I cannot go with my usual “Let’s just get it at the thrift store or on Craigslist” approach.  My motto for being a green and frugal consumer has always been to “buy it used” particularly for furniture and high priced items.  However, with all of the concerns over product safety, there are some items that I’ve learned that you shouldn’t buy used: cribs, mattresses, and baby seats.  Don’t let me forget breast bumps, too. There are more choices now for “green” baby products, some of which are rather affordable (such as mattresses with organic cotton and less hazardous materials) and others of which are out of my price range (typically wood furniture). Unfortunately due to budget constraints, I have not been able to prioritize the environmental factor into my purchasing decisions.  The hippie in me ten years ago would have refused to give into this consumerist mindset—and likely would have refused to buy 50% of this stuff altogether—but at this time in my life, I have to primarily think about functionality and price right now. If there happens to be an affordable, eco-friendly option, then I’m totally ecstatic and even more ecstatic about the items that we are able to buy used or inherit from other parents.

Watch out for Part 2 of our baby registry adventures!

 

 

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If we can build spaceships, why can’t we figure out how to stop using plastic bags?

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California Plastic Bag Ban

California’s plastic bag ban has stirred up quite the buzz since it passed as legislation two months ago (September 2014).  As someone who has been using cloth bags since I was a teenager, it still doesn’t fail to shock me that laws like this can so effectively activate the masses of people who are not supportive of government mandates and believe that “California is just plain crazy…I’m so glad I don’t live there!”.  I will accept that there are political and economic implications to this piece of legislation that are outside of my scope of understanding, so I will not even attempt to debate anyone in those arenas.  There is a good chance I will lose.  However, if anyone tries to convince me that plastic bags are not detrimental to the environmental, please don’t even try.  Plastic bags (and plastic waste in general) negatively affect our wildlife, our oceans, our landfills, and our natural resources.  If you want to learn more on this widely studied topic, I’ve happily googled it for you – just click here.

This post was inspired by my morning trip to Vons at 7am this morning.

Not only did the woman in front of me in the Express Lane (15 items or less, lady!) have 25 products in her cart—yes, I actually counted—but, of course, she also left the store with about dozen plastic plastic bags in her cart. I’ve worked as a grocery bagger before, so I understand why you need to separate certain items to avoid rippage or contamination, but it doesn’t fail to break my little hippie heart to see so much plastic go to waste.

I only expect about 1% of the Vons shoppers to come in with their own bags, so I normally am not so easily peeved by others’ plastic bag habits.  However today, I find myself feeling unusually annoyed by this woman’s grocery cart (the fact that she didn’t belong in the Express Lane likely contributed to the feeling), and I catch myself feeling overly self-righteous when I pull out the little balls that are my ChicoBags out of my purse to bag my items. I walk out of the store with my head up high as if others are looking to me as a eco role model.  The sad reality is that the majority of the people here do not care that this prego chick brought her little purple bag to the store.  It’s 7am and half of us are still in pajamas shopping at the grocery store. And in response to your  question, the answer is no, I wasn’t wearing my pajamas but, to be fair, a stranger could easily interpret my sweatpants and hoodie as sleepwear.

Whether or not you agree with the plastic bag ban, the reality is that this law is going into effect in less than a year, and if you want to make this change least painful as possible, you should start making adjustments to your store excursions now.

My husband and I are both very disciplined about using only reusable bags. To benefit all mankind, I wanted to share with you how using cloth bags has been economical and really easy for us.

Hreusable bags, environmentally friendly bag, green bagippie Asian Mom: I always carry three of the fold-up-into-a-ball ChicoBags in my purse everywhere I go.  I am normally a forgetful person (and during my pregnancy, my husband is quite adamant that I have early dementia), so carrying the bags in my purse is the only way it works for me.  I know some people are concerned that buying reusable bags is a hardship for those with low income; funny thing is that I’ve never paid a dollar for any of my bags. One was a wedding favor, one was a promotional item I got at a festival, and the other was given to me by a company that I worked for.  The other ones I have at home are free bags that were given away as promotional items at events, grocery stores, and street fairs.

TJbagsHippie Non-Asian Dad (FYI this is only a temporary label for my husband; he has not fully consented to this alias): Four years ago when we first started dating and I first saw the pile of canvas bags in the back of his car, I immediately knew that this is the man I would marry…okay, slight exaggeration, but nonetheless I love that my husband is a staunch reusable bag user.  He has a collection of beige Trader Joe’s cloth bags that he bought years ago for $1.99 each.  Since he does not carry a man purse nor is he as forgetful as me, his bags sit in the back of his car and, 95% of the time, he remembers to bring it with him to the store.  If either of us forget our bags, we have no qualms carrying out items out of the store using our own bare hands.  Yes, we are human and we have hands, arms, and only occasionally, do I have to carry something using my mouth.

This is what works for us to use these bags every time we shop.  Some people might need a written reminder (on the grocery list or reminder signs in front of the store) and a nagging from a spouse or kids. Others may end up tattooing a reminder on their hands after paying for a paper bag one too many times.  Find out what works for you.

My best advice for those of you who do not own any cloth bags yet: hit up street fairs in your city and I can almost guarantee that at least one vendor will be passing free bags.  Also, Earth Day is coming up in April; I have seen stores such as WalMart pass them out by the thousands at Earth Day festivals.

Laws like this inevitably force people to make changes in their lives whether they like it or not. For instance, my Chinese parents who do not bring cloth bags due to not wanting to be perceived as “different” (no Asian at an Asian grocery stores will refuse a plastic bag)  will undoubtedly bring their own bags because it goes against their frugal ways to pay 10 cents for a paper bag.  Other well-meaning people who clearly know that plastic bags are bad but have not made it a practice to start using cloth bags may find this law to be very helpful in starting a new habit.

Homo sapiens is a highly creative and adaptable species.

We’ve lived through famines and wars and even invented machines that let us travel to other planets.  I have complete faith that most people will learn how to adjust to this small change in their lives. I believe that consumers will figure out how to make this practice affordable and habitual.  I believe that non-profits and public agencies will help ensure that families of low income are not more disproportionately affected by this law.  I believe that businesses will figure out innovative ways to combat the fear that consumers will spend less due to not having enough bags.

In my sweetest Chinese girl voice: we please stop the first-world whining and just deal with it?  The environment, the wildlife, and my children who have to deal with our crap—both literal and metaphorical—will thank you!
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