Giving Up Dairy, Soy & Wheat for my Babies

Both of my boys have been super colicky babies. My older son E had such severe food sensitivities that he broke out in a horrible rash and diarrhea from allergens just passing through the breastmilk from my diet, before he was eating any food of his own. My younger son F had such severe reflux that I spent pretty much his entire first six months just doing laundry because of all of the vomiting. Prescription medication helped, and so did cutting out dairy/wheat/soy from my diet again. Thankfully, I am able to reintroduce wheat into my diet again but I am still limiting dairy until he has completely outgrown his reflux.

It was really depressing the first time when I realized I needed to eliminate those foods from my diet, but it seemed easier this time around. I realized from chatting with other moms in Facebook groups about breastfeeding that this is a surprisingly common issue that lots of new moms face. My grandpa even told me recently about how my dad and my uncle were both initially allergic to dairy and soy, so my grandmother had to feed them a 1950’s formula based on dehydrated, powdered meat, which he called “meat milk”. I didn’t believe it at first until I actually found an old advertisement online! Apparently “meat milk” was a real thing as awful as that sounds!

Here are some of my favorite tips for breastfeeding moms who want to try eliminating dairy/soy from their diets!

1. Embrace coconut/almond milks. They are have so many different varieties now, it’s great! There are even almond milk coffee creamers, pumpkin spice almond milk creamer (thanks Trader Joe’s!!), and more! My particular favorite is a coconut milk ice cream sandwich from So Delicious.
2. Make sure that you eat lots of leafy greens to get enough calcium/magnesium. Talk to your doctor about taking a supplement if you feel like you may not be getting enough from your diet once you cut out dairy. I used to eat a ton of dairy and I know my calcium/magnesium intakes were initially way too low when first cutting out dairy.

3. Embrace the art of making nut cheeses! I have learned that it is a lot of fun to make nut cheese! It comes out similar to goat cheese in texture and there are so many ways you can alter it! The key is pre-soaking the nuts for a few hours (I like cashews or macadamia nuts), then mixing in a food processor with a bit of water, lemon juice, and any herbs/seasoning you would like to mix in.

4. Skip the fake cheese/fake pizza substitutes. They are never satisfying in the same way, and you end up feeling cheated. Learn to appreciate fresh ingredients, and your cravings will adjust accordingly with time. 🙂

5. Try coconut aminos instead of using soy sauce! Initially, I was making a homemade soy sauce substitute that I found via Pinterest every time we went out for sushi, but that got really tedious very quickly. I recently discovered using coconut aminos instead and it has been great! I actually prefer the taste to regular soy sauce now. 🙂

6. Get comfortable reading ingredient labels. Scan to the end of the list first, where they list the common allergens in bold or caps lock. Soy is in so many foods that you wouldn’t expect! I’ve had to learn this the hard way with my 3 year old son who is still unfortunately allergic to soy but thankfully outgrew his dairy sensitivity.

7. Try out some paleo cookbooks for creative inspiration! I wish I had discovered those the first time around. I recently even found some great paleo slow cooker cookbooks that have been great!

8. Most important tip…if you look at it with a different mindset of that this is a fun creative challenge, instead of viewing it as a drag and a restriction, it will make it a lot more enjoyable!

Check out some of the tasty nuts cheese crostadas that I made recently for an event I hosted for my photography business! 🙂

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A Thousand Words a Picture Does NOT Tell ;)

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I thought it would be hilarious to dress up as Chip & Joanna Gaines for Halloween. I wanted to get a picture of us in front of our shiplap covered fireplace and floating shelf mantle that we worked very hard to create, very Fixer Upper style. 🙂 From an outside perspective, it looked like everything was picture perfect. In reality, I just did a really good job of framing the photo to exclude all of the chaos surrounding us. 🙂 Want to know the real behind the scenes story? It has been so crazy here lately that even my mom called after she saw the photo and asked how we pulled that photo off (since really only very few people know the reality around here lol).

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For most of October, our boys traded off being sick, reaching a peak in late October when Baby F came down with an ear infection in both ears, and roseola…fever spiking at nearly 105 degrees. It was beyond stressful. The boys were getting stir crazy and the house was a chaotic mess from them being stuck inside for so long. Of course it all played out when I am in the midst of the busiest time of year for photographers, when I am already stressed to the max.

We “finished” up our renovation projects on my home based studio/office during my maternity leave a few months ago (I say finished in quotes because I always seem to come up with some new crazy project idea for my poor husband). Now we are trying to focus on finishing up our crazy projects on our actual house with the little free time that we have. Things have been a chaotic mess as a result. Walls have come down, flooring is temporarily filled in with patches of awful concrete, etc. We keep trying to make plans with friends, family and neighbors but things keep coming up in the chaos and we feel like we’ve had several months of antisocial behavior as a result lol.

Previously, we had a bed in our master bedroom that we made. My husband made the bed frame, and I made the padded headboard. It seemed great in theory, until slimy toddler hands kept jumping up onto our bed and destroying my pretty satin headboard. So that looked nice for literally about a day! My husband asked me to visualize my dream bedroom and tell him what that included. I said that I have always wanted an antique white armoire and a pretty black antique style wrought iron bed frame. Literally since junior high, that is what I have been hoping to have some day. So I started searching online to find those two items. I found an amazing white armoire that I love (and happens to look really cute with the vanity I already had!), and found an adorable bed frame on sale from Target, and a beautiful white quilt from Overstock.com. I was so excited…my dream bedroom should be arriving any day via UPS! 🙂 Then reality hit…..

The bed frame arrived severely banged up and damaged. The bedspread arrived in a defective size, definitely not proper king size bed measurements. I spent over four hours on the phone trying to resolve both of the issues. We ended up with a damaged bed frame in a box sitting in the middle of our living room for a few weeks while we sorted out all of the details of the mess. The big huge box was in front of our fireplace, and was driving me nuts. My mom saw the picture of us in front of the fireplace and was so confused…she immediate called and asked what happened to the big huge box and all of the mess around it lol. We literally shoved it out of the way just for the picture!

While the baby’s fever broke by Halloween, the boys were still feeling a bit under the weather and not up for a whole lot. They were being particularly crazy while I had my tripod set up for the photo above. 🙂 I realized I had been working so much lately that I forgot to do laundry, and our 3 year old son E was out of clean clothes, particularly clean underwear lol. He was running around in circles while I had the tripod set up, yelling “no underwear today, woo hoo!!” Baby F is my little gardening helper (I call him Mr Green Thumb because he jumps out of bed every day, excited to come garden with me in the morning, and loves pinching/harassing all of my plants). 🙂 Since F had been sick and it had been a bit cool and rainy, he hadn’t been allowed to come outside and garden for a bit. He was trying to escape out the door into the garden while we had the tripod set up lol.

Later that day, E fell asleep for a rare but much needed nap, and I finally caved and let F play with my little herb garden planter outside our front door. While he was happily pinching my basil, my husband came up with a funny idea to take a cell phone pic of him as a “sweaty” Chip Gaines. So hilarious if you know how often this poor guy is actually this sweaty on his “days off work” while he’s working on our house lol. This time it was just water though. 🙂 I am thankful that I have this great man to keep me sane in the chaos of our lives. 🙂 He keeps me laughing when things get challenging!

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I can’t even believe it but our sweet little Baby F is nine months old today! It is bittersweet for me as he is getting older. More of his nature loving personality is coming out, and I see more and more of myself in his personality (even though he is the spitting image of my husband!). My husband and E groan when I say it’s time for everyone to help work on the garden, but when Baby F hears me say that, he crawls as fast as he can to get outside, with a big smile on his face. 🙂 I am sad because I know he will be our last baby, and after spending so much time pregnant over the course of 5 years, it is hard to believe the baby portion of our lives is nearing an end. I am looking forward to having quite an enthusiastic little partner by my side in the garden though! 🙂

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Maternity Fashion: What I Wore

I haven’t done a fashion post in forever! I’ve been in a fashion rut so to speak for a bit and it’s time to get things back to my normal routine. I recently went on a mission to find some more stylish clothes that will work for my current pregnancy. Previously, I have had a really hard time finding maternity clothes I liked. It seems like the majority of maternity clothes that you find look like the mother has just completely given up on having any sense of style. Also, I am not a big fan of horizontal stripes under normal circumstances since I am petite and curvy, but who has dictated that horizontal stripes are the only pattern allowed for maternity clothing? Just when women feel at their largest, let’s only give them clothing that makes them feel even wider! Makes perfect sense, right? 😛

Here are my recent findings in terms of maternity style.
1. You don’t have to shop in the maternity section for tops, especially not at very first.
2. You don’t have to settle for the cheap quality, dumpy looking stuff that you find at many of the big name stores.
3. Invest in some great quality bottoms to elevate your whole look (and get them on sale when you can!).
4. Simple, comfortable basics, with a bit of fun detail or trim can make a comfortable look chic.
5. Even though you may feel completely miserable, putting your hair in a cute up-do and putting on some makeup can seriously improve your mood and make your whole day better. 🙂

I am going to do a post later this week with some of my favorite finds, but in the mean time, here’s what I wore today!

Sweater: A Pea in the Pod
Top: Forever 21
Pants: A Pea in the Pod
Necklace: Forever 21
Boots: Betsey Johnson (via Nordstrom)
Scarf: Ann Taylor (from many years ago, when I worked there back in college)

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I am at the end of the first trimester, and none of my regular bottoms fit me anymore. When I was pregnant with our son, I didn’t have any visible bump until almost 20 weeks, but the uterus has amazing muscle memory and pops out much faster in subsequent pregnancies. 🙂 Below you can see the beginnings of my little pregnancy bump. It seems most pregnant women live in maternity leggings, and these ones are my favorite. The faux leather detail elevates them to a whole other level than your average, boring maternity leggings.
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I discovered this hair style on Pinterest recently, and have become obsessed. I’ve seen it called the “Hollywood Roll”. It is a nice alternative to my usual bun or ponytail. It keeps my hair out of my face all day (so important when chasing around a two year old all day, especially during the summer!). It literally takes less than 5 minutes to style, and the best part is, when I take my hair out, I have perfect waves! I have only seen tutorials on how to do this style with medium or short hair, so I will post a tutorial on how to do this with long hair soon. It took a bit of trial and error for me to figure out what would work best.
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My other new obsession: my brand new Yonique mascara! I just got the new upgraded 3D Fiber+ mascara and it is even better than the original version! The Younique mascara was love at first application for me. This new formulation definitely takes it to the next level! They look so long and full that even my husband noticed when he got home that I tried out my new mascara today. 🙂
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Lots more fashion and style posts coming soon!

*This post contains an affiliate link for your convenience. You can find my Younqiue mascara here.

Lots of updates!

I have been awful about posting on this blog and I apologize! I am going to try to get back into a regular habit of blogging each week, here and on my photography blog. Things seems like they were running at such a crazy pace for a while, working too much, too many projects with our yard, etc. I realized that months have gone by and I haven’t blogged over here at all. So here’s a recap of some highlights! I apologize they are all cell phone photos, but sometimes life gets busy and the best camera is the one you have with you. 😉

In April, we took our son to Disneyland for the first time for his birthday. He had so much fun! He actually got tears in his eyes when he got to meet Mickey in person. 🙂 He doesn’t look happy in the photo below, but it was the end of a very long day. 🙂 I can’t wait to bring him back again!
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My husband and I went on a very long-overdue date night to the Magic Castle in Hollywood! When I lived in Hollywood, I always wanted to go but never got an invite. I was pretty excited. 🙂 I know I don’t look excited below but were stuck in traffic for a while on the way there so I was a bit car-sick in the photo. 🙂
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I had two gallery shows recently for my photography, and my little man helped me prepare for the shows. Here we were in downtown L.A., picking up my fine art photo prints. 🙂 Such a little tough guy!
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He also helped me out at a recent convention, passing out my business cards to any ladies with babies lol. The kid is amazingly perceptive about what I do and who my target clients would be!

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Little man also started soccer recently!
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I think E has grown tired of our co-sleeping way of life. He has started building his own little fort of pillows between the wall and our bed lol. We have been discussing transitioning him to sleeping in his own room at night soon.
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We went for a movie night at the pier, and our little man astounded me when he grabbed my hand and started leading me elsewhere. When I asked where we were going, he pointed at a sign above a closed door that said “Fun Factory”, and said “fun!” He had never been to that arcade before but apparently recognized the word fun!

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Biggest news of all…we are expecting baby #2 in February! My pregnancies are never easy, and each has had their own set of unique challenges. This one has been no exception so far. I have been blogging about it on my separate pregnancy blog, so if you would like to follow along with more of the details, you can find that here.FullSizeRender

I’ll be posting some garden updates soon since I know it has been a while since I’ve shown any updates in that department, and I will have some special maternity fashion posts coming soon too! 🙂

Transitioning from Baby’s Nursery to Toddler’s Room

You may have seen my previous post about our son’s baby nursery design. Now that he is no longer a baby, I have made several changes to his room and wanted to do a follow up post with his updated room. One of the major changes was that I rearranged all of the furniture. I wanted to create a layout that gave him more room to play on the floor. Also, he started climbing up on the daybed to look out the window at the garden. Previously, the daybed was just on the edge of the window, so as soon as I saw him leaning over to look out the window, I started rearranging all of the furniture. We also found two cute rugs at Ikea that work well in the middle for a cozy play area.

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I wanted his toys to be organized and accessible for him, so I got the toy box at Ikea also, and ordered the toy hammock online to hold all of his stuffed animals (how did we accumulate so many of those so quickly?!).
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The picture frames are all empty for now, until I eventually get around to ordering prints (you would think we don’t have any pictures of our son or something with all of those empty frames!). The octopus kite was a cool vintage find in E’s favorite color, red. I let him pick out a plant for his room one day when we were out plant shopping, and he picked out a spider plant. 🙂
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This wall has new items, all crafty things that E and I have made together. The weaving was our first craft project together. He handed me nails and helped me make the loom on the back of an old drawer, and helped me pick out yarn from the stash of yarn that I used for his newborn photoshoots.
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These are a couple of activity boards that I made for him. The one on the left is a little magnetic board, that we use with magnetic numbers and letters for learning time. The rest of the time, I keep the letters and numbers packed away since they just end up all over the house otherwise. 🙂 The board on the right is an old cork board that I turned into a fun felt story board. I purchased some felt stickers of owls, fish, bees, and ladybugs at Joann’s Fabrics and then cut out some trees and a pond. I put Velcro on the back of the animals and bugs and E loves playing with them and moving them around. Sometimes the fish even end up in the trees. 🙂
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This branch was another project E and I made together. He loves trees, so I took a branch that I pruned from our yard and we covered it with fabric scraps to hang up in his room.
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His cloud bunting is still up, with the addition of a (temporarily empty) frame above it.
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We are still cosleeping at night, but I am trying to encourage E to use his crib for naps. He was never a fan of the crib, but since my husband converted it to a toddler bed, he is much happier with it. E is an awful napper for the most part, but I was beyond excited a couple of times recently when after playing in his room, he climbed up into his bed on his own and took a nap. 🙂
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E loves to pick out his shoes each day, so I have his box of shoes down low and accessible, along with plenty of books and a few toys.
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This vintage print was an amazing antique store find. 🙂
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That’s it! I also moved the changing table out of this room, into the hallway near my office for a couple of reasons (first so that my clients could use it without having to go into the the personal area of our house; second since it was not very much fun to play on the floor next to a diaper bin!). Pretty much everything else is the same. I try to keep things organized and keep clutter to a minimum so the room does not turn into a huge disaster. Our bedrooms are so small, so keeping them organized is so important! We may do a decluttering round soon on some of those stuffed animals. :-/

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Letting Go of Worrying What Others Think About Us

Friends and loyal readers, I have a confession to make. I have failed my family in one crucial area ever since our son started walking. I have let what others say get the best of me, usually preventing us from enjoying mass on Sunday, and a few times when our son was having a particularly wild day, we did not even go for fear that we were going to annoy everyone else. As moms, we tend to be the spiritual backbone of our family. As my husband’s Godparent, I feel that responsibility even more so. Yet we temporarily got into a rut where we were just so overwhelmed and I felt like I was failing as a mom, wife, Godparent, and Catholic and Christian in general.

Our son is a very active, chatty, social little guy. He loves talking to strangers, and running up to see new people. He was very easy to keep contained in church before he started walking, and was usually on my chest in the baby carrier. However, once he started walking, he mostly lost interest in being in the baby carrier. He likes to explore, be free, and hates feeling constrained. Our normal parish does not have a crying room, which is nice since it encourages families with young children to sit with the rest of the parish. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys having a toddler near them in church. After a few weeks with some unfortunately discouraging comments, I was too embarrassed to keep going, so we tried other parishes.

I wanted to go to a church with a crying room, so that I could relax a bit. We tried a church with a very full crying room, but after one week there, my husband and I both agreed that was not how we wanted to raise our son. We could see that the kids (even the older, school-aged kids) in there were just getting into a habit of not paying attention to the mass at all, and were just busy playing with toys and all of the other kids. We tried another church where the crying room was usually empty. That worked for a few weeks, but then our son started to catch onto the fact that we were separated from everyone else. He started beating on the glass walls like he was trying to escape from a cage. All of the normal recommendations that people give about keeping your kids occupied during church were not working for us. Normally, at home or at the library, our son is a little bookworm. He loves looking at books and “reading”, but for some reason had no interest in books at all when we were at church. He also loved his sensory box when we were at home, but would not even glance at it when we were in church. I tried making a few pages for a quiet book for him to use during church, but he had absolutely no interest in it during mass (even though he loved those pages when we were at home). I tried setting aside the special books and quiet book pages so he was only looking at them when we were at church and they would be fun and new to him, but that still did not work.

Then one day something occurred to me. Our son is very sensitive to my emotions. I have spent months being tense on Sundays, worrying that his chattering, whining and squirming was disturbing everyone. I have not allowed myself to relax for fear of bothering everyone around us. Then I read this blog post and this one, and the words of these wonderful, experienced Catholic moms assured me that what we were going through was not unusual. I let go of my anxiety that we were disturbing everyone around us. I started making an effort to stop caring what others say or think about us, both in life and in church. I worked on getting myself into a calm, peaceful place before we went to mass. Guess what happened. Our son’s behavior suddenly changed.

The past few weeks have been wonderful. Our son E has been peaceful during mass, has sat quietly with his quiet book, his sensory box, and his big children’s Bible. He has cuddled in my lap and listened to the priest speak. He has loved singing along with the music during mass since he was about five months old, but then a few weeks ago he said “Amen” after everyone else did, and he even reached out to shake my hand during the Sign of Peace. I realized then that maybe I was not doing such a bad job after all.

For some reason, his original sensory box disappeared. I spent days looking everywhere for it, and it was just gone. I figured it was time to upgrade to a toddler model anyway, so I made a new one. I have a little plastic statue of Jesus that someone gave me for my First Communion that E loves. He loves saying “Hi Gee!” when he sees it, so I made sure to include that in the new box. 🙂 I also added some latches and other items that were not in the original box.

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I have gone a bit Pinterest crazy lately researching quiet book templates and planning our tot school homeschool room and curriculum (more on that coming soon). I found some great templates for quiet book pages, especially at this blog. I put together a Pinterest board with a lot of great resources that have inspired me with various pages. Some of the pages I designed on my own and cut out freehand, and others I followed a template, or modified a template to my own design. I plan to do a page for each letter of the alphabet, plus some other pages as well, so it is far from finished but it has plenty to keep our son occupied for now. I do not like cutting out letters, so I found some foam alphabet stickers that I hot glued on where I wanted to spell out words.

This first page is a modified version of the felt board that I made for our son’s room (updated room tour coming soon too). I purchased the felt stickers at Joann’s for the ladybugs, bees, and fish, and added Velcro to the back. The rest I cut out freehand. I also did the same for the page with the owls later in the book.

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Around Town: Day Trip to Downtown L.A.

♫ ♪♩ “Downtown” by Petula Clark ♩♪♫

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown
Things will be great when you’re downtown
No finer place for sure, downtown
Everything’s waiting for youI love that song. It always cheers me up when I hear it. I lived and/or worked in downtown L.A. for many years and downtown is definitely one of my places I go when I need some cheering up. The past couple of weeks have been particularly rough for all of us, so yesterday I decided that my son and I needed a day downtown to cheer us up.One night last week, my husband, son and I were out running errands. E had been cranky from getting his molars poking through, but seemed otherwise fine. I had him on my chest in the babycarrier while we were running errands, hoping he would take a nap. The teething pain had been pretty extreme so he had gone almost an entire week without a nap longer than five minutes. When we got home, he looked flushed and dazed. I felt his forehead and he was suddenly burning up. We took his temperature and it was 103.5 degrees F. My husband and I went into panic mode. We quickly gave E some infant acetaminophen and got into the car to head to the emergency room. The E.R. doctor said that it looked like he had roseola, and the fever should be better in a few days. I was so scared that the doctor was wrong and perhaps something more serious was wrong, like perhaps he had somehow gotten meningitis like I had last year. Sure enough, a few days after our E.R. trip, the fever broke and E broke out in a rash, just as predicted. I was incredibly relieved.The teething situation was unfortunately still not getting better though. It seemed like the poor little guy was just miserable, and getting all of the molars cutting through at once seemed to be just way more than he could handle. We had a few nights where none of us got any sleep because E was screaming in pain all night, no matter what my husband and I tried. I knew it was his teeth bothering him since months ago, we started the “point at what is bothering you” game every time he starts crying. I started to get concerned that perhaps he had an infection in his gums or something. Yesterday, I took him in to see a pediatric dentist who assured me that he was okay, just in an extreme amount of pain (apparently it is not that common to get all of the molars all at the same time).After we left the dentist’s office, I wanted to take E to do something fun. We had both been cooped up in the house for days and were going stir crazy. He still has a bit left of his roseola rash, and although he should not be contagious anymore, I did not want to bring him anywhere with other kids (roseola is primarily only contagious to people ages three and under). Downtown Los Angeles seemed like the perfect adventure. He could sit back and people watch, be entertained, and stay occupied without exerting himself. I was hoping the day trip would keep him distracted enough to keep the screaming at bay. Thankfully, it did the trick. I am grateful that we are only a half hour’s drive from downtown (during non-rush hour times). It is always fun to spend a day there.I apologize in advance for all of the cell phone pictures. I wanted to take pictures of our adventure, but I did not want to juggle a cranky toddler and my big camera. E and I started out going to Grand Central Market. I have actually never been inside of Grand Central Market, but decided to check it out since I have seen a lot of pictures posted lately about it on social media.  I could not find any organic produce like I would have hoped to find, but there were a lot of cute little places that would make some nice lunch/dinner options. I love the new little street parkettes in downtown, like the one in front of Grand Central in the photo below. The city carved out sections of the asphalt, replaced it with outdoor flooring, and put in adorable little cafe tables and chairs with umbrellas and big planters of succulents. They are in various areas of downtown, and free for use for the public. Such a great update for the city!

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Next we went to The Last Bookstore. I love this place, and books always cheer up my little guy. This is seriously the coolest bookstore I have ever seen. The last time I was there, somehow I did not notice this little vault room filled with vintage books. It is tucked behind the children’s book area. I suppose since I was pre-baby the last time I went there, I was not paying too much attention to the children’s book department. 🙂

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My little bookworm always loves looking at new books! Poor little guy is extra skinny right now from being sick. 😦 His head appears to have had another growth spurt though, despite being sick. 🙂 aliciainwonderlandblog
Then we happened to find a nice little park in the middle of downtown, even with a nice little play area for kids!
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Since E had his first trip to the dentist, I thought it would be fun to show him where his great-great-grandfather had his dentist’s office. E is a fifth generation Angeleno…my family (on both my mom’s and dad’s sides) has been here since the late 1800’s! I love our family history in this city. 🙂 The Bradbury Building is one of those amazing places that everyone needs to go check out. The last time I went in there was a really fun day, when my mom and my grandma came to visit me downtown after I got out of work. My grandma showed us around some of the historic buildings, and reminisced about visiting her dad at work in the Bradbury Building, ditching school by taking a red car to go see a movie in one of the old theaters, lunch at Cliftons, and more. My grandma was the best.

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I used to joke that Urban Outfitters should rename themselves Suburban Outfitters since all of their SoCal stores were initially only in the suburbs (that used to drive me nuts when I was in college and wanted to shop there more often). Look at them, proving me wrong! I get so happy every time I see one of the old historic theaters being put to use. It would have made my grandma happy to see them being used again.
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Many memories of working here, running across that bridge on my lunch break to check out some Friday sample sales. 🙂
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This Zara used to be the Ann Taylor where I worked for years while in college. Nothing against Ann Taylor (I loved working there and it was great shopping for the women who work in the financial district), but this newly revamped 7th & Fig shopping mall is such a great use of space. When I was in fashion school, I actually did a project about how the space could be redesigned to improve traffic (the mall was nearly vacant for a while). Given the proximity to USC, FIDM, LA Trade Tech College, and a few others, the area was in high need for a shopping center that catered to college students. I was really surprised when I walked past the mall and saw a sign that said “Welcome back USC students”, as well as the new H&M and Zara. It looks like the mall executives finally caught on and livened the place up a bit. 🙂aliciainwonderlandblog
This is just one of my favorite buildings downtown. If you had asked me 10 years ago where I saw myself in 10 years, I would have said living in a cool building like this with my cat Fluffy. 🙂 aliciainwonderlandblog aliciainwonderlandblog

Every time I go downtown, I am excited about all of the improvements continuously being made. It is finally starting to feel like a “real” city. In my mind, based on all of the major cities I have been to, a vibrant city center should have the following things:
1. Excellent public transportation.
2. Ample shopping, including grocery stores, a variety of clothing stores, a big box store like Target, and more.
3. Coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars.
4. Movie theaters and other forms of entertainment.
5. Areas to sit an enjoy a cup coffee or just relax for a minute and people watch.
6. Accessible public restrooms.
7. Handicapped accessibility.

For many years, downtown L.A. was lacking in most of the categories on my list except for the public transportation category. DTLA’s public transportation is highly underrated, and I am speaking from experience. If you live and work near downtown, or the surrounding areas (as far away as Hollywood), you can easily exist without a car in Los Angeles. I did for about 10 years. The subway is so fast and clean, and the LADOT Dash buses were my favorite, with a variety of routes downtown.

In the past few years, DTLA has made some amazing improvements in items number 2 through 5 on my list. I am so happy with the changes! There are just two more areas that I feel could still use a bit of improvement: restrooms and handicapped accessibility. Most of the businesses downtown do not have public restrooms, so if you are visiting the area and need to go, you are usually out of luck. A major goal of any city should be to increase spending (especially from visitors and tourists). It is difficult to spend any decent amount of time downtown when you can’t find a restroom. The first time I was in London 16 years ago, there were permanent public restroom booths on the street that were self-cleaning. They were pay per use and it is such a brilliant concept. If the Brits could implement such innovative technology to improve their city (almost two decades ago!), surely we are capable of doing the same now, right L.A.? Furthermore, if the restroom booths were big enough for a mom and a stroller, you would encourage a whole new demographic to come shop downtown! I saw one public restroom booth at Pershing Square, so at least that is a step in the right direction!

Which brings me to the other area needing serious improvement: handicapped accessibility. I haven’t spent much time downtown with my stroller before yesterday, but it brought some issues to my attention. The handicapped ramps on the curb are so infrequent and sporadic. There is a ramp often on one side of the street but not the other. Seriously, how is this even acceptable? How are disabled people in wheelchairs navigating these sidewalks of downtown? I honestly do not get it.

If the city could just make those two more changes, it would be darn near perfect. Thank you to our city leaders and planners for working so hard on making downtown better and more beautiful. The new improved downtown makes me proud to be a 4th generation Angeleno! I even noticed a significant change in the attitude of people downtown now. In previous years, any time anyone said much of anything to me downtown, I got nervous that I was about to get mugged again (it happened a couple of times unfortunately). I grew anxious and worried all the time. However, yesterday, it felt like the whole attitude of the city had changed with the revitalization. Strangers smiled and said hello, and opened doors for each other. I was initially afraid to go downtown with my son, my nice stroller, sparkly wedding rings, etc. Since I had a few scary experiences when I didn’t have any of those, I was a bit nervous to go spend much time downtown now. I am so happy to say that for the first time, downtown felt like a safe, warm, welcoming place. I encourage other moms to bring their kids out for a visit downtown too! Thank you to all of the LAPD officers that I saw all around the streets, keeping our city safe! I don’t know what kind of changes you have made lately, but I definitely noticed a difference.

One last funny story in closing…last year when I got sick with meningitis, my husband took me to urgent care initially. The only urgent care open at that time of night was in DTLA. He assumed he would not need to use GPS since I usually know the grid of downtown streets like the back of my hand. When we pulled off the freeway, our conversation went something like this:

Husband: Where do I turn? Which way is Olympic?
Me: I don’t know! You just exited the freeway into the Twilight Zone!
Husband: What are you talking about?!
Me: I have no idea where we are! Nothing looks familiar! Why don’t you use the darn GPS?
Husband: I assumed I wouldn’t need it since you used to know the area so well!
Me: I don’t know what to tell you. Downtown was not pretty and sparkly when I was here all the time so as far as I’m concerned, we may have just driven to a foreign country. 🙂

For the record, I had a viral infection in my brain making me loopy, but downtown really has undergone quite an amazing transformation in the past few years. 🙂

Why I Blog + Keeping Poisonous Plants Out of Our Garden

Sometimes I wonder why I bother blogging at all. Some days it seems like many people view bloggers as just someone to contradict, like the internet is one big arena of the high school debate team. I know I personally do not blog to try to start arguments, debates, or be insulted about the way that we live our lives, and I cannot imagine any blogger who would write with that intention. Most bloggers do not get paid for running their blog, so it is not like they are getting a weekly paycheck for keeping up with a blog, or have a boss telling them what to write about, or editing their entries.

So, why did I start my blog? Way back here on my first post on Tumblr, I started the blog with the intention of teaching my husband more about portraiture. I figured if he was documenting my more creative outfits and outfits I had designed and sewn, with the intention of posting the photos on a blog, he would be more motivated to work on his skills than if he was just photographing me for photos that no one else would ever see. He had experience with photography, but I wanted to work on his skills with portraits so he could assist me as needed in the photography business we wanted to start. I very quickly got bored of only blogging about my outfits, and decided that since I had already gone to all of the trouble to build the blog, I might as well start posting more interesting content.

A couple of generations ago, things like gardening and creating new recipes were common activities. I noticed among my own friends that they were hobbies and interests that were not as common as I am sure they used to be. I wanted to share some of my own experience (especially with gardening), and help inspire others to get out and get creative in their gardens, and maybe try making some healthier meals at home. I started writing about things I was growing in our garden, and documenting some of the recipes I came up with.

I started gardening at the age of two, with the encouragement of my dad. It is something he enjoys as well, and so did his mother. While my dad was always encouraging and teaching me about gardening, his mother was not encouraging to me about my gardening skills. She would tell me horribly mean things, like I would never be able to grow strawberries as well as she does (strawberries are not the easiest food to grow). She would tell me that nothing I grew would ever be good enough to win any awards or receive any recognition. Some of those comments stuck with me for a long time.

Since gardening has been something I have been interested in for so long, I wanted to help demystify the process of gardening for those who read my blog. It really is not that difficult (no matter what my grandmother claimed). I wanted to help inspire others to get outside and grow something beautiful or useful (or both!). Even when I only had a little studio apartment with an old fire escape at the end of the hallway, I still worked on growing a container garden of edibles that became a community garden for my building. I want people to know that it is easy to grow your own food and flowers. That is why I blog.

I also blog as a way to document our lives, mostly for our own reference. It may sound a bit morbid, but after having a couple of close calls with my health where my doctors were having conversations with my husband about the fact that I may not make it to the following day, I wanted to make sure that I was documenting our family from my point of view. A few times, when I have been too ill to be up and about with my normal routine (either when I had a severe case of pneumonia, was on pregnancy bed rest, had meningitis, etc.), my husband actually referenced several of my blog posts to find some of my recipes or figure out how I normally handle certain things around here. I like having that peace of mind knowing that my simple act of blogging could be a great point of reference if needed. Also, it is so much fun for me to be able to document our little guy growing up, especially for family members who are not local!

In addition to all of that, I really enjoy sharing when I have found something that works well for us, like the amber teething necklace post or my rave review of the gDiapers system. Those were not sponsored posts, they were just honest reviews of things that I was excited about and wanted to share with others. Unfortunately, sharing what works for us has not always been met with favorable responses.

After I wrote my gDiapers post, I was suddenly flooded with angry hate mail from crazy crunchy moms who were upset that I referred to disposable diapers as “regular diapers”. I know that cloth diapers are the original thing that everyone used, but sorry…disposables have become the norm, whether any of us like that fact or not (hence my use of the term “regular”). Such a minor thing to gripe about in reality anyway. I posted my low-sugar lemonade recipe, and got more angry hate mail from people who were upset that it was not as sweet as store-bought lemonade. With the disclaimer that it is a low-sugar recipe, without artificial sweeteners, why would you expect a sickeningly sweet lemonade anyway? When I decided to share the artwork I designed for our son’s nursery (for free, as printable pdfs), I mistakenly made a typo in referencing one of the Bible verses. As soon as the first person brought it to my attention, I corrected the post and the artwork, and apologized profusely for the typo. I still got tons of angry emails and comments because I was not able to correct the typo in the pin that had since gone all over Pinterest. Sorry, but that is not my fault…I did not design Pinterest. As I told one angry reader, the last time I checked, there has only ever been one perfect person, and He has never yelled at me for a simple typo. You would think that people interested in free Bible artwork would have a little more patience. It’s not like they purchased the artwork and it was defective!

I may have some strong opinions about how we do things in our house, and I often share those on my blog. But here’s the thing…it’s my blog. Meaning my own personal corner of the internet. I am not writing for a boss, or writing to get a grade at school. If you do not like how we do things here or how I write, you can simply find something else to read. I have a zero tolerance policy for internet bullying and rude comments. Even less patience if those rude comments come from someone I actually know or worse yet have considered a friend. If you have a legitimate concern, that is understandable, but people who just want to complain for the sake of complaining are persona non grata in my world. Just because you stand up publicly and say “here’s what I’m doing and it works for us” doesn’t mean you are also saying, “here’s what I’m doing, rip me apart if you don’t agree”!

Also, I never claim to be a certified expert at anything I write about. I am not a certified Master Gardener (yet…I don’t have the time to complete that process now). I never claim to be the best gardener in the world, or have grown the world’s biggest squash, or anything of the sort. If anything, I always think I am not doing a good enough job with our garden, and if you follow me on Instagram or are friends with me on Facebook, you know that I almost did not even bring my squash to the fair that ended up winning first place and division winner. When I am proud of an accomplishment or award I receive, it is just news that I am excited to share…that’s it. Like most of us, I am always learning and challenging myself to learn more and try new things. My blog is just my way to document the process.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, has it inspired you to get out and try new things in your garden, experiment more in your kitchen, try a new DIY decorating project, give cloth diapers a try, or something else? If it has, please send me a photo! I would absolutely love to do a special post with reader photos that have been inspired by my past posts!

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Thank you for reading my rant, and now back to the regularly scheduled programming, so to speak. I always try to keep our garden free of any poisonous plants. I have realized recently that this is not always something that people take into consideration when planning a garden. If you have children, grandchildren, or pets, it is a good idea to keep in mind that some plants may be toxic or poisonous if ingested. Our son does a pretty good job now of knowing what he can pull off and snack on in the garden and what he cannot. He even can tell when a tomato, strawberry or kumquat is not ripe yet. I have worked with him extensively on this for months. However, one of my good friends had a scare a few months back with her daughter. She texted me a photo of a plant that her daughter had nibbled on, and was worried that it may be poisonous. Thankfully it was not poisonous, but it motivated me even more to make sure that nothing in our garden was toxic. Even though I grow specific plants for our pets to eat, some of them have a tendency to nibble on just about anything when they are in a certain mood.

When planning what I would plant in our garden, I selected mostly plants that have edible flowers, such as sages, rosemary, roses, nasturtiums, and lavender. I wanted to be sure that just in case something was accidentally ingested by our son, one of his friends, or one of our pets, it would not be a problem. I used to grow things like sweet pea flowers, just because I love the way the smell. Unfortunately, sweet pea flowers are highly toxic. I tried planting them in places that I thought our pets would not find. Our one cat became so infatuated with the smell that he seemed to find them no matter where I planted them. I have since stopped growing sweet peas.

When we purchased our house, it had lots of elephant’s ears plants everywhere (seen above). They are highly toxic, and unfortunately grow from little tiny pieces of the root system, making it difficult to completely get rid of them. Even the tiniest piece left underground seems to allow them to come back. I thought I had previously gotten rid of all of them when we first moved here, but they keep popping up when I least expect it. It means that I go out in the garden early each morning and do a quick check before our son and any of our furry kids wake up and come outside to play. Another thing that I keep trying to get rid of is the English ivy around our son’s garden, also poisonous if ingested. Ivy is nearly impossible to kill off, and it keeps coming back despite my best efforts. I have resigned myself to the fact that it may be a lifelong battle, but I at least try to keep it trimmed back enough so that it does not drape down into E’s garden. It is currently growing in the retaining wall planter above his garden.

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When I was purchasing plants for our back yard garden, I researched each plant online before purchasing. I have a variety of succulent arrangements in containers in the back yard. When I first researched the fire sticks shown below, all I read online was that they could be a mild skin irritant. That did not seem too serious so I did not worry about it much. However, in the series of gardening classes that I recently took at our local botanical garden, the instructors started talking about how dangerous fire sticks can be around children. They can be poisonous and deadly if ingested in large enough quantities, and can even cause temporary blindness. I was completely freaked out and it was a scary reminder that I need to always be sure to get my information from a reputable source online. I since replanted my fire sticks in their own containers, and relocated them up onto the high ledge above our son’s garden, where they are out of reach from him and all of our pets. Similarly, I also made sure all of my medicinal herbs are not accessible. Most of these are intended for internal use, but that does not mean I want anyone going in there and nibbling on things they should not be eating (more info on my herb garden coming next week).

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If you are researching plants for your own backyard, I highly recommend referencing the ASPCA list of toxic and poisonous plants. Many of the things in our garden that were planted by previous owners were on that list, and I have removed them, such as lantana, elephant’s ears, etc. If you ever have any concerns that your pet or child has eaten a plant, contact your veterinarian or pediatrician immediately.

Orange County Fair 2014 Wrapup

I took a lot of pictures this year during our time at the Orange County Fair, and I wanted to share some of my favorites (the ones that I haven’t posted already anyway).

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Getting my flowers ready to bring for the cut flower competition.
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I entered two different giant squashes, on two different weeks. The second one was not as big as my first one. This one won third prize.
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My limes did not win a prize, but I was still proud of those little guys!
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Same with my apples, especially since that apple tree is brand new to us!
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My figs were up pretty high on the display (so I couldn’t get a good shot), but they didn’t get a ribbon either. 😦
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My kumquats got second place!
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My succulent arrangement won first place and division winner for the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle contest! So proud of this one. 🙂
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This spindly little succulent was my entry for most unusual container plant. It did not win a ribbon, but I am still proud of how it is so odd looking! This plant was one of my rescues (saved from an ugly divorce situation where the wife was intentionally allegedly trying to harm the husband’s plants. I have come across some interesting plant rescue stories via Craigslist).
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One of my teapot entries.
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I was sad that my little teapot from our wedding didn’t win a ribbon, but I heard lots of nice feedback about both of my teapots. 🙂
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My little wooden clogs were my entry for most unusual container. It sadly did not win a ribbon, but I overheard at least four fairgoers commenting on how they thought it should have won one, which made me really happy.
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My little baby staghorn fern won second place, up against some huge ones!
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In the cut flower department, my succulent bloom won second place!
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My fuchsia won third place!
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My pretty (and somewhat unusual) geranium won third place!
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My climbing roses won third place also!
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E and I proudly posing with our big winner of the week. He helped put mulch in there so it is partially his award too. 😉
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For those of you who garden, who inspired you to start gardening? Who do you turn to with gardening questions? For me, my dad was the one that started me off early with cultivating a green thumb. He got me started at the age of two with my own little vegetable garden, and a little flower garden and flower boxes around my playhouse that he built. I still text him frequently with panicked what do I do?!? questions. His mom was an avid gardener, and it is definitely something that is being passed down to each generation.
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The first time that we all went to the Orange County Fair, I was pregnant with E. I have never been a big meat eater, but when I saw the signs for those giant Texas turkey legs, I had to have one. I think I shocked my whole family. This year, I finally understood my pregnancy cravings for those turkey legs. I was not able to capture E’s first taste a previous night of these turkey legs (my hands were greasy and I didn’t want to dirty up the camera). The first night, he literally had tears of joy rolling down his face because he was so excited. We were hoping for the same the second time around (I kept my hands clean so I could get pictures of him eating this time). No tears the second time, but he was still really excited.
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Grandpa’s head makes a great drum!
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Watching the motor derby.
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About to get on his first pony ride!
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We live in an area with a lot of horses. Every time we go out to run errands, there are people riding horses down the main road. I think since E sees people on horses so often, he took to the pony ride like a pro. 🙂
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Goofballs!
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I really wish we could get some baby goats. 🙂
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I was very nervous about this activity. I am still breastfeeding E, and he is a milk fiend. I was so afraid when we explained to him that he was going to milk the fake cow that he would end up putting his mouth on one of the rubber nipples. Surprisingly, he followed my husband’s instructions very well!
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E helps me brush our pets daily, so this activity booth was a no-brainer for him.
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My ribbon collection from this year. Things were too chaotic here with projects when the fair started, and then I was feeling really weak for a while after my miscarriage, so I only got to participate in the last two weeks of the fair (the orange ribbons are participation ribbons for each week). I am pretty proud of my 11 ribbons in just two weeks! We will see how well I do next year when I am more organized and things are hopefully less chaotic around here. 😉
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The Giant Squash

When I was pregnant with our son two years ago, I attended the Orange County Fair for the first time. I was blown away by all of the giant fruit and vegetables that home gardeners entered into the fair. I was so excited to see so many competitions for gardeners. There are plenty of photography and art competitions everywhere, but gardening competitions seem pretty rare around here. I was determined to enter a giant vegetable in the fair the next year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to enter last year after 11 months of pregnancy and post-partum bed rest. We went to the fair last year and had fun, but I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t prepared to enter the competitions yet.

This year, our backyard garden remodel took way longer than we expected. My new vegetable beds did not get installed until the very end, leaving me no time to prepare any vegetables to enter into the fair. I was quite disappointed, until I noticed that some vegetables were sprouting up as volunteers from the homemade compost that I mixed into the flower beds. There was one baby squash plant in particular that I could tell was going to grow quite large, so I let it grow and nurtured the little surprise planting. As luck would have it, that little surprise ended up growing my biggest squash to date. I started getting excited once I realized I may have a good entry for the fair.

The night before I was planning to bring my squash to the fair, I started reading online about winners of largest squash competitions. I read that there is a man on the east coast who regularly grows 1000+ pound squashes. My “little” 10 pound squash suddenly felt inadequate, and I considered not bringing it at all. In the end, I figured I may as well bring it because even if it was not the world’s biggest squash, it was the biggest one that I have grown in the 30+ years since I started gardening, and I figured that was something worth celebrating.

I usually spend my early mornings working in the garden, before our son wakes up. I get up at sunrise and tend to the garden, hang clothes and diapers on the clothesline, etc. It is my peaceful time of the day. The garden in the early morning hours is my favorite.

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E is thankfully a late sleeper. He was not initially very thrilled that I pulled him out of bed, but once he realized it was for pictures, he was quite cooperative. 🙂 Apparently he thought that we were about to cook this squash since I finally cut it off the plant, so he got his “cooking utensils” ready!
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Then he started talking to the squash and petting it. Silly boy.
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I tried to get another angle with my camera….No, Mommy! No standing on chairs!
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So then I was quite surprised to read, not only did my “little” squash win first place as biggest squash, it also won Division Winner for the whole squash category! I was beyond honored and excited. Not bad for my first time entering a gardening competition, right? 🙂
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My squash’s ribbons motivated me to get myself in gear and enter a few more items for the last week of competition for the fair. More on that coming to the blog next week!