#BestToddlerSummerEver: Butterfly Festival at Garden Patch Farms

Taking a young toddler to a new place for a larger event–even a ‘kids’ event–is always a bit of a crap shoot. You never know how an almost two-year-old is going to react. Will there be age-appropriate activities? Will she be in a good mood? Will I be able to let her out of the stroller to roam around without worrying that she’s going to run into a street? Does the time of the event work relatively well with her nap schedule?

It’s a pain in the butt to a degree, and yet, as Emme is now a legit toddler, and not just toddling around like last year this time, I’ve done a lot of research about fun summer activities. It gets us out of the house and into the Illinois, and seeing her in new environments actually getting something out of an activity is really exciting.

So this weekend, Emme and I, along with my sister, brother-in-law and their 20-month-old son, ventured to Garden Patch Farms in Homer Glen, Illinois, a you-pick orchard and berry farm, for their annual Butterfly Festival.

The event kicked off with the release of hundreds of butterflies. While I was expecting swarms of butterflies, it didn’t quite happen that way. The butterflies are slow to start, and many don’t take flight or go too far initially. While I had a moment of disappointment (it was difficult to tell that anything was happening), Emme couldn’t have been more excited to get up close and personal with a Monarch that landed near our feet.

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When most of the butterflies finally took off, we explored the rest of the farm. What I liked best about this event was that it was very contained. There was enough to see and do without feeling overwhelmed, and the crowd was manageable enough and the space big enough that we felt comfortable letting Emme and her cousin roam around.

Emme’s favorite part of the day was the hens. She’s not a kid that regularly gets into something for long periods of time, but eventually I had convince her to move on from the coup.

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We ended our Garden Patch Farms day in the strawberry fields. While the crop wasn’t quite ripe enough, it was still fun to watch Emme and her her cousin pick strawberries and throw straw at each other.

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The event was free and totally worth the 35 minute drive–close enough to be no big deal, but far enough to feel like we were in a setting totally new and different. We loved the farm and are already planning a trip back in the fall for apple picking.

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The Best Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup

Slow cookers are amazing little appliances, aren’t they? Dump a bunch of ingredients into a slow cooker at 8 a.m., come home to a yummy, healthy, home-cooked meal at 5 p.m. Amazing.

Except when it’s not.

Slow cooked meals typically smell ridiculously delish, but the minimal prep = big pay-off regularly over promises and under delivers on flavor–at least for me. Maybe I’m doing something wrong?

To make slow cookers really work, you often have to put a little time and energy into the prep. Kind of defeats the purpose of a slow cooker, but you still save yourself from slaving over a hot oven on a weeknight.

This is one of my go-to soup recipes, that never disappoints.

The Best Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup

1 TBSP olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce
2 cups water
Approximately 2 cups of chicken broth
1 pound shredded, cooked chicken
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 10-ounce package frozen corn

Step 1: Heat oil in pan over medium high. Add onions, garlic and green chili peppers to pan, saute until translucent, approximately 5-7 minutes.

Step 2: Add whole peeled tomatoes, chicken broth, whole peeled tomatoes, and enchilada sauce to slow cooker. Add onion mixture to slow cooker. With an immersion blender, blend all ingredients until it reaches your desired consistency (I like my soup… soupy… so I blend the mixture until it’s completely smooth). If you do not have an immersion blender, you can do this in a regular blender, or, if you like your soup chunky, just mash the tomatoes before you put them to the slow cooker and don’t bother blending at all.

Step 3: Add remaining ingredients, through frozen corn.

Step 4: Set on slow cooker on high for 6-8 hours.

Step 5: Eat. Preferably with copious amounts of avocado and El Ranchero or Mission brand tortilla chips.

Fitness in the Space Between, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Fitness in the Space Between, series about how to find the time and space to incorporate fitness into your life post-baby. In Part 1, I rambled about how the expectations on mothers are ridiculous, and it’s up to each of us to decide how we want to spend those handful of hours we have each week when our partners/bosses/family/children, etc., aren’t making demands on our time.

To recap: Identify your priorities and own them. If devoting time to fitness isn’t on that list, that’s OK. It’s better to accept where you are and what is reasonable in your life right now than it is to end up in a guilt and shame spiral where you’re devoting headspace to ideas about what you ‘should’ be doing. That doesn’t mean you can’t increase your activity, and it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to forever be a couch potato. It just means you’re accepting your current circumstances and being honest with yourself.

Whether or not a space for a defined fitness regime is a priority for you or maybe if it is a priority for you but you just struggle to find the time, injecting more physical activity into your day can make you feel better and doesn’t necessarily have to be a whole big thing, which brings me to the theme of this post…

Kiss all or nothing goodbye.
This would have been a great lesson for me to learn pre-child. Back then, I was very strict in my definition of what constituted a “workout.” It involved traveling to a different location away from home with a plan of what I was going to do and how long I was going to do it for.

Being so rigid about this, more often than I’d like to admit, fueled excuses–I was in the wrong place, I didn’t have enough time, right clothes or equipment. It was easy to throw in the towel on something if circumstances weren’t ideal.

The good thing (?) about having a kid is that you’re pretty much forced to deal with circumstances that are never ideal. I do my best each week to plan, but reality is sometimes I wing it and instead of letting less-than-ideal circumstances stop me, I’m much more likely now to roll with the punches and do what I can.

Here’s a recent example: I work from home on Fridays, and I try to take advantage of this time to go to  hot yoga sculpt, a workout I enjoy, but that I can’t typically make time for in the evenings or on weekends. The first few times I went–typically around what could be considered lunch hour–I became super anxious in the class because I was completely disconnected from work. Maybe this shouldn’t be the case, but it is, mostly because I worry about being perceived as unavailable, and I don’t want to lose the privilege of being able to work from home.

I’m going to be honest here, even though I’m pretty sure this is a cardinal sin of yoga: I started taking my phone into the class. I put the ringer silent and make sure the screen brightness is turned down, and once or twice I discreetly check my email to make sure that shit hasn’t hit the fan (it never has). Panic averted.

Does this mean I’m not totally focused on my yoga practice? Sure. But here’s the thing: I wasn’t focused on it before when I was freaking out about being disconnected. I feel like the message we always gets about exercise in general and exercise and motherhood is that this should be our time to tune out the rest of the world. Sure that’s the ideal. But the truth is, sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes you can’t be 100% in the moment and focused. But is being 75% there better than not being there at all? I think so.

Here’s another example: I like to run. I used to train for long-distance races, and I’m slow, so it was a pretty intense commitment. So far, training for half marathons or marathons has not become a reality for me post-baby. And I’m OK with that. I’ve also loosened the reigns of what it means to “get a run in.” Sometimes I just can’t do a 30 minute run. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I have other items on my list that trump exercise. So instead, I put the kid in the jogging stroller and run her over to daycare. Sure it’s only 15 minutes round trip, but it’s better than nothing. That .6 mile jog to and from daycare one of my spaces in between where I’ve found that I can inject some activity if not an entire workout, and it makes a difference.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Exercise as multitasking.

Fitness in the Space Between, A Series Maybe

Since Sweet Pea was born, I’ve had many ‘come to Jesus’ moments, including reconciling the myth of ‘having it all.’ I didn’t think I wanted it all—I wasn’t climbing corporate ladders or out partying every night. I just wanted to live my life similarly to the way I lived it pre-baby, which isn’t to say that I wanted freedom from my new responsibilities. I just naively expected that there would be space for what mattered to me in addition working full time, running a household, and taking care of a child.

HILARIOUS, right?

What bugs me about… well, literally everything… is that we have so many voices (most of which are on the Internet, but some IRL) telling us what we should do once we become mothers. From the moment that first kid enters our world, opinions about whether or not you should work; how your child should eat/sleep/develop; how your body should look; how much ‘me time’ you need; how much time you should spend on Pinterest-inspired crafts, and so on, are endless. They’re always there, a low murmur in the background of life that sometimes becomes shouting or hysterical screaming, depending on your headspace.

It’s a bunch of bullshit. And I say that knowing that I fall victim to this nonsense all the time. And let’s be real: I can’t tackle this monumental pile of crap in one blog post—no, but this is basically the thesis of my blog (blog as dissertation?).

So let’s be real: Every one of us has a handful of hours each week when we can do exactly what we want to do. These hours dwindle as you get older—if you work, get married, buy a home, get a pet, have a kid, most of your hours are spoken for. So the question becomes, you have a handful of precious hours, how do you want to spend them?

Is fitness important to you right now?
Here’s the thing. The answer doesn’t have to be yes. For the first year of my daughter’s life, I tried to force the answer to be yes, when really, I just needed time. Time to recover; time to figure out how to juggle; time to finish nursing. Eventually, the shock of integrating a new family member into the home wore off, and life became normal again, a new version of normal, but normal all the same. If I just would have let the expectation that I needed to exercise regularly go until I was ready, I would have saved myself a lot of guilt.

But, once I stopped living in a sleep-deprived haze and worked through the angry realization that I couldn’t ‘have it all,’ I started to prioritize. I thought about those handful of free hours I have in a week and what I wanted and what I needed to get out of those hours. And because of several reasons, making time for fitness floated to the top of the list for me.

So that’s the beginning. Figure out what’s important to you while being realistic about your circumstances. A hardcore workout regime might not be the answer—a full night’s sleep or dinner with a girlfriend might be a better use of those precious hours. And that’s OK. We don’t need to feel bad about those things; we just need to have the awareness to realize and (the harder part) then accept.

But if fitness is up there on your list, stay tuned for part two of Fitness in the Space Between.

The Second Round

Once upon a time, I spent my weekends and evenings training for half marathons and marathons. At 27, I found running late-ish in life, and I was never very good at it (read: I am sllloooowww), but it was absolutely the thing that stuck fitness-wise and (more importantly) bound me to a community in Chicago.

We're not going the distance.
We’re not going the distance.

But training for long-distance races takes a level of time and energy that I don’t have as a working mom of a young toddler. So maybe I’m not training for marathons or even half marathons these days (I do have a 5K on the calendar!), but I still like to dig deep into my distance running past to invoke the life-as-marathon-as-life metaphor whenever possible.

I’ve started running once a week on Monday evenings with a local moms group. Last night, I was running next to a newer-than-me mom, and as new moms tend to do, we started sharing our war stories—labor and delivery, sleepless nights, work-life balance, nursing, pumping, daycare, and s on.

Then the subject of second babies came up. Our family has hit passed the one-year mark, which, if nothing else, signals to nosy family members and strangers that it’s time to start telling me that my Sweat Pea “needs” a sibling. So I asked the new mom running on my right, “Have you ever run a marathon?” She had not. (I totally recognize that asking that question makes me sound slightly obnoxious, but that was not my intention, and I had a point.)

The way I feel about having a second baby is the way I feel about training for and running another marathon. I think about it; I watch other people do it and think, ‘I could do that; maybe I am ready to make that commitment.’ There are moments when it seems totally doable—a good idea even. And then there are times I think, ‘never again.’ But mostly, now that I know what I know what to expect from training for and running a marathon, I just can’t get my head in that space. I haven’t been able to wrap my head around 26.2 miles for five years. I honestly can’t tell you if I’ll ever run another marathon, and yet, I have a hard time believing that I won’t give it another go at some point.

That pretty much sums up my feelings about baby no. 2. Maybe we will; maybe we won’t, but right now my head’s not in that game, and I’m not ready to go back to the beginning of what is undoubtedly a very long journey.

Hello Friends and Strangers on the Internet

I used to write. I used to write for fun. But then I had a kid, and I realized that having ‘hobbies’ isn’t compatible with being a mom who lacks unlimited access to unlimited resources.  I prioritized in an attempt to simplify, and to be fair, that has served me well for the past year and a half.

But I miss it. So, here I am, in this space, and we’ll see how it goes.