Future Little Chef

This little wooden kitchen is one of my favorite things that we have gotten for E. My husband kind of thought I was losing my mind when I said I wanted to get a mini kitchen for E to put in our kitchen. For one thing, our kitchen is small. A tiny galley kitchen. It is definitely a one-chef only kind of kitchen, but there was a tiny bit of space near the doors to the patio that could be used. This little kitchen (made by Melissa & Doug) is the perfect size to fit in our tiny little space. E loves watching me cook, and having his own space to “make lunch”. He is so funny with his little fake food, and whatever sensory activity I have given him (he had cloud dough made out of flour and vegetable oil in these pictures). I often see him adding things to a pan, stirring, smelling, then adding more of something else…pretty much the exact way I cook since I rarely cook with a recipe. 🙂 The mini kitchen has been wonderful for both E and myself. It keeps him occupied and out of my way, allowing me to cook and do dishes without a tiny little guy constantly ending up in my way. 🙂

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Resuming My Cook-Once-A-Week Routine!

Back when we used to shoot a lot of weddings, I got in the habit of cooking lots of meals for dinner in batches on one evening, and freezing the individual dinners. It was great on the nights when I was up for all hours, working on wedding photos. We would just pull something out of the freezer, throw it in the oven, and have a healthy, homemade meal in about half an hour. Since our son was born, I somehow got out of the habit of doing that. I decided that it was time to start again! We have gotten in the habit of having too much takeout food when things get busy and I knew that this is exactly what we need.

I started by asking my husband to keep an eye on E for an hour or two so I could cook. Then I started making a huge batch of sauteed chopped veggies in my wok (4-5 bell peppers, various colors, one whole chopped onion, 4 cloves minced garlic, tomato, and a bit of coconut oil, and a tiny bit of salt & pepper). I also started cooking a bunch of rice on another burner. On a third burner, I started cooking up a bunch of lean ground beef with a bit of salt, pepper, and dried oregano. On the fourth burner, I started boiling water for pasta. I grabbed a couple of boxes of Indian food mixes that I found in the non-perishable section at Trader Joe’s, two cans of organic garbanzo beans, a jar of pasta sauce, and a can of diced tomatoes. I also had a package of marinated carne asada my husband found at Target that was set aside in the fridge, ready to barbecue. Here is what I made with the above ingredients! I made multiple batches of most of the meals, so it actually ended up being enough for almost two weeks!

Meal #1: Trader Joe’s Punjab Eggplant. Added garbanzo beans and veggie mix, served over plain jasmine rice.

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Meal #2: Gluten free rice pasta with lean ground beef meat sauce and veggie mixture. aliciainwonderlandblog.com

Meal #3: Barbequed carne asada with rice mixture. I added the can of diced tomatoes, some salt and pepper to some plain rice, and added in a bit of the veggie mix and some garbanzo beans. This marinade on the meat was amazing, and I was really excited that we found one that did not have soy in it!
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Meal #4: Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley with extra can of added garbanzo beans and plain jasmine rice.aliciainwonderlandblog.com

It was so easy, and really didn’t take that long! For each meal, I took the frozen portions out, put them in an oven safe dish and baked for about half an hour at 375 degrees F. It is such a relief not having to worry about what I am going to come up with each night for dinner. 🙂 Also, I am quite proud to say that even my meat-loving Texan husband was a big fan of the two vegan meals we had last week. Definitely a major win for me!

Why I Didn’t Have Time to Pick Up More Cat Food….

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My husband understands that I have my hands full every day with taking care of our son full time and managing the photography business full time as well. What he doesn’t quite get is how literally every minute of my day is filled. He often comes home and asks why I didn’t have time to go run a particular errand, like picking up more dog or cat food. We have two dogs and two cats, so when we get more food, we get the biggest bag they have available, which I cannot lift on my own. He often encourages me to find an employee to help me, but I often feel like retail employees are usually around when you don’t want help, and no where to be found when you are in a hurry and need help. I simply do not have the time to wander around the pet store, trying to find someone to help me lift a bag of food into my cart. So, to prove a point to him about why it is much easier if he just stops off at the pet store on the way home from work, I decided to log an entire day, noting everything I did all day.

As a full time business owner, and work from home mom, there is not exactly a “typical day” for me. Some days are busier than others. Some days are more difficult than others. Some days the baby refuses to nap and I actually would prefer sitting in bumper to bumper traffic since at least that would probably get him to take a nap. The day I logged happened to be one of my busier days. Most days there is a lot more time spent chasing our baby around the house, playing with him in his room, and trying to convince him to take a nap. This day however, was a different sort of day.

I don’t always juggle watching E and working with clients at the same time, but sometimes I have to do it. I always make sure someone is available to babysit him when I have a newborn session scheduled, or a session with a new client. Other times, for short appointments, I will occasionally juggle watching E and working with my clients since our accountant mentioned that I cannot deduct babysitter expenses as a business expense (such a lame tax rule). Circus jugglers have nothing compared to my skills these days.

6:30 a.m. Get woken up by baby for morning milk. Breastfeed him and try to go back to sleep for a bit.
7:00 a.m. Give up on trying to sleep, say morning prayers, then grab phone and start scanning through emails and blog comments. Start responding to as many as possible.
7:30 a.m. Let dogs outside in the backyard, and put each pet’s flea medicine in their bowl with their breakfast.
7:45 a.m. Let the dogs back inside and go back to bed for a few minutes to respond to more emails.
8:00 a.m. Start a load of laundry.
8:20 a.m. Add additional baby proofing gadgets to my office.
8:30 a.m. Clean guest bathroom in my office. Start cleaning our bathroom also.
8:40 a.m. Hear baby wake up earlier than usual, and beg husband to watch him for a few minutes so I can actually finish cleaning both bathrooms.
8:55 a.m. Wash hands, heat up some oatmeal for breakfast for myself and baby.
9:00 a.m. Clean highchair. Sit down with baby to eat breakfast.
9:10 a.m. Unload clean dishes from dishwasher.
9:21 a.m. Stop fight between our toy poodle and male cat.
9:24 a.m. Load new round of dirty dishes in dishwasher.
9:27 a.m. Stare at emails for a bit (writer’s block on some responses). Respond to more emails.
9:29 a.m. Wash baby’s hands.
9:30 a.m. Inspect washing machine to see if it is broken or demon possessed (not really of course) based on the strange noises it suddenly started making. Determine that there doesn’t appear to be anything immediately wrong with it.
9:31 a.m. Change baby’s diaper and clothes.
9:33 a.m. Tidy up my office.
9:40 a.m. Have a conversation with baby E about how he keeps throwing my paint brushes all over my office.
9:49 a.m. E makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like “damnit”. Make a note to discuss language with my husband.
9:52 a.m. Prep shower/bath for baby and me.
9:55 a.m. Pick up all of my makeup that E has thrown all over the bathroom. Find missing Nemo bath toy and feel like a hero.
9:56 a.m. Simultaneous shower for me and bath for baby.
10:05 a.m. Brush my teeth and baby’s teeth. Multitasking at its finest.
10:10 a.m. Milk time for E.
10:20 a.m. Get us both dressed.
10:25 a.m. Prep camera for morning appointment.
10:27 a.m. Unwrap box of prints that arrived from photo lab.
10:30 a.m. Meet with clients for mini session. Simultaneously entertaining E in the room with his own toys, while keeping him out of the picture.
11:20 a.m. Clients leave, and I turn on my computer, hoping to get a bit of work done.
11:21 a.m. Give up and turn computer off.
11:22 a.m. Check vacuum robot to see why it is sending out a distress call.
11:25 a.m. My dad happens to be in the area today, and has some time to kill between doctor’s appointments. He comes by to visit with E. This is not part of our usual routine, so an extra set of hands to help out was a huge relief!
11:26 a.m. Spend a bit of time playing with the dogs, feeling sad that I can’t take them on long hikes the way I used to do before my pregnancy injuries.
11:35 a.m. Milk for E.
11:40 a.m. Package print order for client and send email.
11:43 a.m. Prep paperwork to mail to DMV, applying for temporary handicapped placard.
11:44 a.m. Gather together everything I need to go run a few errands.
11:45 a.m. Check robot distress call again, then leave for grocery store and post office.
12:25 p.m. Get home, try to convince dogs to pee. They are protesting since our patio was flooded from previous rain.
12:26 p.m. Untangle vacuum robot from its latest adventure.
12:27 p.m. Put away groceries and start heating up lunch.
12:32 p.m. Give up on robot and put it away. Milk and diaper change for E.
12:37 p.m. Clean highchair and feed E lunch.
12:45 p.m. Remember laundry needs to be moved to dryer.
12:46 p.m. Finish putting away groceries.
12:50 p.m. Dad leaves.
12:51 p.m. Eat lunch while checking phone for texts/emails/etc.
12:58 p.m. Update social media.
1:02 p.m. Feed pets lunch.
1:07 p.m. More milk for E while responding to emails. E falls asleep for nap.
1:36 p.m. Water house plants.
1:56 p.m. Say a brief prayer of thanksgiving for the rain the day before, which allowed me to skip watering the plants outside this morning. Realize that the rain and my dad’s unexpected visit helped free up a few minutes for me. Decide to take a nap for once. Set an alarm to wake me up in 15 minutes.
2:11 p.m. Wake up, return missed calls and texts.
2:40 p.m. Notice that our toy poodle ate 100+ pound dog’s flea medicine. Call vet for advice.
2:45 p.m. Look for female cat while on hold since I haven’t seen her yet all day and am starting to get really worried.
3:03 p.m. Get advice to prepare for lots of doggy barf (the following day was spent cleaning up little dog’s throw up all day long).
3:05 p.m. Google how to hack shower bubbles spray cleaner and Swiffer wet jet mop (want to replace with my plant based Method sprays).
3:15 p.m. Find success with hacking Shower Bubbles but not Swiffer.
3:17 p.m. Mop living room with un-hacked Swiffer and a bottle of spray cleaner.
3:26 p.m. Put away house plants that I watered.
3:40 p.m. Find Pearl and spend some time playing with her with her favorite toy.
3:52 p.m. Attempt to clear off some of the stuff on the tables in the living room.
4:00 p.m. Try to start another load of laundry, but then E wakes up. Give up on laundry.
4:01 p.m. Diaper change.
4:02 p.m. Afternoon client arrives for mini session, and juggling act resumes with E in my office.
4:30 p.m. E has play time with client/friend’s baby.
5:30 p.m. Clean up little dog’s poop in the living room.
5:35 p.m. Wrestle with E, trying to force a clothing change.
5:40 p.m. Drive to Whole Foods to pick up sample bottle of wine for blog post.
6:00 p.m. Return phone call for potential client while standing around outside Whole Foods.
6:10 p.m. Pick out wine.
6:30 p.m. Get home. Milk for E.
6:40 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Blur of prepping dinner, eating, cleaning up after dinner, taking photos for blog post, writing blog post, responding to more emails.
8:00 p.m. Spend some time playing with one of the cats.
8:15 p.m. Start working on photo editing while husband gets baby ready for bed.
9:00 p.m. Say goodnight to husband and baby. Go back to office and continue working.
11:00 p.m. Milk for E.
11:15 p.m. Go back to office and continue working.
2:00 a.m. Realize it is my bed time, and even though I am no where near caught up, I need to get at least a couple of hours of sleep because the game starts all over again in just a few short hours.

So…if you are an old friend and are wondering why you haven’t heard from me in a while, this is why. This is my life now. 🙂

Working on this post was an eye-opening experience for both my husband and me. It made us realize that I cannot keep up this pace nor is it worthwhile to us. I am going to be making some pretty serious adjustments to the way I handle this photography business going forward. There is one aspect of our son’s personality that drives me crazy: he runs himself ragged, refusing to rest until he is cranky and hysterical. I realized I have been doing the exact same thing to myself with this business. I have been tired, cranky, angry, working too hard and still not meeting my goals. I’m going to shoot less, enforce my policies 100% of the time going forward, and have price increases on certain things. It is the only way I will be able to continue at all.

As a side note…I have been trying to get a picture of all 5 of our crazy kids together for a while. The most difficult part is the fact that one cat is still afraid of E. The crazy photo above is the closest I’ve gotten so far, and you can’t even see most of their faces. 🙂 They are a wild bunch.

Striving to Find Balance

After having lost a year with working on my photography business, now that I am feeling better I am super determined to get things rolling again. It has been a lot of work lately trying to get everything restarted and re-branded since we are no longer putting weddings as the primary focus of the business. I am firmly resolved that I will bring the business to the level that I feel it should be in terms of quality, service, and success.

So far, I have been struggling with the whole work-at-home-mom thing. Little E does not like to nap, which makes it difficult to get much done during the day. If he does take a nap, he tends to wake up within 10-15 minutes maximum. He sleeps well at night, but just fights sleep during the day. As a result, I end up waiting until my husband gets home and can entertain E for a while, or waiting until after E falls asleep at night to get most of my work done. Most days, I find myself spending at least 6 hours straight at night working on the computer, which means I end up getting very little sleep myself.

I keep telling myself that this crazy intense period is just temporary until I cross off all of the things on my to-do list to get the business relaunched. It just does not seem like a good long term solution though since I know there will always be busy periods, especially if the business starts to grow as I hope that it will.

My husband and I keep discussing the issue, trying to figure out a solution. As the piles of dishes and laundry stack up (some clean, some dirty), I am starting to feel a little overwhelmed. We discussed looking into hiring someone to come in occasionally to either help with taking care of E or helping with the housework. We are both very strongly committed to the decision of not having someone else raise our baby, and that I am the person taking care of him during the day. So then that leaves the option of having someone come in and help on occasion with laundry, dishes, and general cleaning up. This makes me so uncomfortable though since I have really neurotic standards about how things should be washed and put away. I picture having someone come in to help, and me spending most of my time instructing them how things should be done, not really solving any problems (the whole if-you-want-something-done-right-do-it-yourself complex).

I stumbled upon this graphic last night online, and it really made sense to me. I am going to try hard to start applying some of these guidelines to my life.

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Since my husband works an average of 50-60 hours at his full time job on a good week, we struggle to find quality time together. He assists me with most of my photoshoots, which is great since he can also take care of E while I am shooting. In the picture below, you can see them spending some time together while I was working on a recent shoot. 🙂 It was E’s first time seeing the ocean and he was fascinated by it. We have brought him to the ocean in the past, but for some reason, he happened to have his rare long nap whenever we went!

In an effort to try to be as mentally and emotionally present for my family as possible, and still feel that I am giving my own goals as much attention as possible, I am trying to come up with a set of guidelines for myself. So far, these are the rules that I have set for myself:
1. No photoshoots on Sundays (with only a very rare exception). Sundays are our family day, so we can go to church in the morning, and spend the rest of the day together, either doing something fun, working on a project for the house, etc. Most clients like to schedule photoshoots on the weekend when they are not working, but if I book up both of our weekend days, I will end up never spending any quality time with my husband, and that is not an option ever.
2. I am trying to set aside two designated times per day to work on emails. It is tempting, especially with a smartphone, to try to keep up with emails and messages in real time, answering everything as soon as it comes in. That is exhausting, and does not allow me to give my full attention to E when he needs it. If something is really urgent, it is much easier for me to talk on the phone than answer an email. I am convinced that part of the reason he is such a happy baby is due to the fact that I try very hard to give him my full attention when he is awake, and stay positive and happy around him.
3. I am trying to not feel so guilty for allowing E to have a bit of tv time some days. I struggled with the desire to keep him from watching tv much, especially since he already turns into a little tv zombie when one is turned on. However, some days I have found that is the only way that the laundry or dishes really get done. This baby has a ton of energy and likes to be entertained!
4. I am not going to worry about feeling guilty anymore about not putting 100% effort into some of the friendships where I feel like I am doing all the work to maintain the friendship. If someone does not reciprocate the effort to maintain a friendship and expects me to be the one to always initiate plans or phone calls, that friendship is going to be put on the back burner for a while.
5. If we are invited to a party or event, the only camera you will see in my hands is my iPhone. I have too high of standards to allow myself to just shoot a bunch of images and spit them out for a friend, even if it is just for a family event. I have fallen into this trap in the past, and often feel like it is expected since I am a photographer. I am a perfectionist, and have to spend time perfecting in post-production every image that I take. That all ends up taking up a bunch of my time that could be spent focused on other things, and I will not do it to myself any longer. If you have a friend who is a doctor, you wouldn’t expect him or her to go around a party giving everyone a quick checkup, right? So why is it that people expect a photographer to always have a camera in hand, and be willing to shoot everything?
6. I am going to allow myself to continue to work a bit at night since it is the only time of day when the house is quiet, but I am going to start setting a timer for myself so I don’t force myself into chronic sleep deprivation. Things that are not finished by the time the timer goes off will have to wait until another day.
7. I am also going to start forcing myself to take a couple of nights off per week. E and I had a nice relaxing day yesterday with a couple of playdates, and I was determined to not do any work for one day. Yet once he fell asleep (and my husband was at work stuck in a lab overnight), I found myself bored and started working again. Before I knew it, it was 3 am before I went to sleep. It would have been much better if I had just taken an entire day to relax!
8. With my huge list of food allergens that I have to avoid, I am going to start prepping meals ahead and freezing them again. We literally have to cook almost every meal we eat from scratch, and it gets quite overwhelming on some days. There are so few places where I can actually eat without having a problem, and it gets old. A selection of homemade frozen meals would really help cut down on some of this stress.
9. I am not going to stress too much if the basket of clean cloth diapers never makes it back into the individually sorted baskets on the changing table. Just being committed to cloth diapering (and line drying them) is an accomplishment on its own.
10. With the exception of my husband’s work clothes, I am going to try to stop stressing out if every piece of laundry is not completely wrinkle-free.

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I normally do not welcome unwarranted advice from others about parenting, but in this particular instance, I am curious if anyone else has any wisdom to share. Any other small business owner moms/work-from-home-moms have any advice for me on how to balance it all?

Quick & Easy Thai Turkey Larb Lettuce Wraps

turkey larb lettuce wraps

A few years ago, a friend of mine made some amazing turkey larb lettuce wraps for us when she had us over for dinner. I became obsessed with them since then. She could not remember the exact recipe that she used, so I started a process of trial and error to find my own perfect blend of ingredients. All of the experiments came out good, but I think my final mix comes out amazing. This has turned into a part of the regular dinner lineup in our house.

Ingredients:
1 bag of Trader Joe’s frozen Confetti Rice
Romaine lettuce
1 package ground turkey
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 small red dried chili peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped lemongrass (using only the white part)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
Juice from 3 limes
1/4 Thai fish sauce
A few sprigs of fresh cilantro for garnish

1. Put coconut oil in wok and add in ground turkey. Cook on medium heat, stirring the turkey periodically until the turkey is about 75% cooked.
2. Add in the garlic, chili peppers & lemongrass. Continue to cook while stirring regularly until the turkey is completely cooked and the garlic is softened and slightly opaque.
3. Heat up rice in microwave for 3 minutes.
4. Pour lime juice & fish sauce in large serving bowl.
5. Once turkey is finished cooking, add it into the serving bowl with the liquid mixture, and mix well to blend.
6. Add in Confetti Rice, and mix well.
7. Add a bit of chopped fresh cilantro to garnish.
8. Scoop mixture into individual pieces of lettuce to form lettuce wraps.

So easy, tasty & healthy! It usually takes me 15 minutes or less to make the whole thing!

Saving Every Last Drop – Preserving Broth & Juice

Alicia in Wonderland Blog

Alicia in Wonderland Blog

Once our baby is consuming food other than just breastmilk, I plan on making our own organic baby food and freezing portions of it. I found these baby food freezer containers and like the fact that they are bpa free. I originally bought these freezer containers only for that purpose (you can find containers here) but soon realized they could serve other purposes too. When our little lemon tree had its big bumper crop of fruit for the year, it was more lemons than we could use at one time, but I didn’t want to waste any of that precious juice. I juiced all of the lemons that we weren’t going to be able to use right away and poured the juice into the baby food containers. It worked out to be approximately two lemons worth of juice for each 2 ounce container. After they were frozen, I transferred the frozen cubes to freezer bags for long term storage so the cubes could be used for other things (you can find the freezer bags I use here). It worked out really well since now I always have fresh squeezed lemon juice on hand whenever I need it for a recipe or for making lemonade!

After I perfected my pot roast recipe (recipe shown here), I wanted to save every last drop of the delicious broth that was left over from the crock pot. I used the baby food containers again to make some small portions of broth, perfect for making my homemade dog treats (recipes here and here). I also saved larger portions of the broth in the freezer bags.

The Perfect Pot Roast Recipe

The Perfect Pot Roast Recipe - Alicia in Wonderland Blog

My husband is originally from Texas, and before I met him, I was a vegetarian. In our house, he is definitely the top chef when it comes to making any kind of beef dish. I have been working on perfecting my pot roast recipe for a while now, and have finally found the perfect blend of ingredients. There is a Sunday pot roast that we love from a local diner, and sometimes I wish we could have it on days other than just Sunday. We actually enjoyed my newly perfected recipe even more than our favorite diner’s recipe 🙂

Ingredients:
Beef chuck roast
White potatoes, cubed
Baby carrots
3 sprigs each of the following fresh herbs: thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano
3 large cloves of peeled garlic
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
water

The process is super simple. I just threw all of the ingredients in the crock pot, and filled up the rest of the way with water. I left the herbs whole on their branches. I cooked it all in the crock pot for 6 hours on high and an additional two hours on low.I used a very large cut of meat though to make quite a few meals, so you may want to adjust that if using a smaller piece of beef. Super easy and amazingly delicious! I even saved the broth for other uses (post coming tomorrow!).