We should treat everyone with kindness-- as if they were pregnant.

It seems the bigger my stomach grows and the more I waddle, people are increasingly generous with kind words and actions toward me.  To be completely honest, I accept each one fully because not only am I on modified bed rest (no lifting little miss toddler who is throwing a tantrum), but I also have hit what I think is a third-trimester wall. I don’t remember feeling this way with Cooper, but with baby boy, I am nauseous, tired and not feeling like my energetic self.

While returning home to Southern California, I started thinking: Is it my visual appearance that beacons constant kind deeds my way all day? I have been overwhelmed by the acts of kindness not only from my own mother, but other mothers, from women and men I know as well as from complete strangers. I have felt more connected to people as they serve me. Oftentimes people share relatable moments from their own lives or talk about their pregnant daughter with a little one.

Looking around the airport, I started wondering how many individuals waiting to board the plane also deserve this sort of kindness. Possibly, they might be feeling worse physically or mentally than I, but they disguise their pain behind forced smiles. My conclusion:

We should treat everyone with kindness-- as if they were pregnant.

The airport offers multiple ways to show kindness. At first I felt unable to give back to others with my limited capabilities, but an opportunity presented itself while I waited for my stroller to make it through the TSA security line. Anyone who has ever experienced TSA lines can relate. You have a wild child out of his stroller. You try to pick up all your bags, put your shoes back on, etc. And for some reason, it takes a ridiculous amount of time to get the stroller through--I am talking 10 minutes.

After patiently waiting for my stroller--which finally arrived within the normal 10 minute wait, I watched my mom chase Cooper around the terminal. Suddenly, I noticed a mom in desperate need of some kindness. She had a one-month-old baby boy strapped to her chest and an unhappy 13-month-old daughter squirming out of her loose grip by her hip. She was attempting to gather her luggage on the belt while holding on to both kids all by herself. Earlier in the security line, I had seen both kids, happy and content in their double stroller. I knew the 10 minute wait with two kids would seem an eternity. So here I stood, watching with my empty stroller. Knowing I was unable to actually hold her daughter due to my limitations, I quickly offered my empty stroller. She jumped at the opportunity to set down her unhappy wiggle worm. We sat down together. Her daughter, now happy, waited for her stroller to do the transfer. After a small pep talk wishing each other good luck on the plane and a gracious thank-you, we departed ways.

When the world seems filled to the brim with negativity, we must slow down enough to notice the acts of kindness displayed in little and big ways. Gratitude is the antidote to self-absorption, and kindness can only flourish in a world with hope and love.

Here is how others have served me over the last couple days:

-My mom decided to fly back down to Southern California with me to help with Cooper while I await my next appointment. All day long she gives and gives as she takes care of me by taking care of Cooper.

-Women distracting Cooper during the plane ride by waving and playing peek-a-boo.

-Flight attendant giving extra cookies for baby girl.

-Trader Joe’s employee offering to carry out my groceries to the car.

-My mother-in-law building a beautiful garden in our backyard.

- My husband getting up early to play with Coops while I sleep in.

-My other mother-in-law editing all my email drafts to be sent to mommy bloggers.

-My sister offering to babysit Cooper while I work.

Too many to list. I have witnessed people giving random compliments to each other at Starbucks. I have watched people letting others cut in line at the grocery store when they have fewer items. It is a beautiful sight when, despite all the tensions brewing over political and religious differences, KINDNESS wins. In every place I have traveled, people can be seen extending kindnesses to each other. In the bush of Kenya, in the mountains of Nepal, in the hills of New Zealand, kindness is what bonds us together.

I was grateful for the timing of this #bebetter52 challenge.

Giving Up Trying to Control the Uncontrollable

The closer I move to our son’s due date, the more frequently I am asked, “How are you feeling about giving birth again?” I do not mind the question since I have been so public about the complication after Cooper’s birth, but my answer seems to depend on the day. Luckily, most days I feel incredibly at peace because of my newly found realization.

I am the type of person who needs to prepare when feeling anxious.  As a student, I only felt confident taking tests if I had put in--what I felt was--an appropriate amount of prep time. Over and over I have “over” thinking what type of preparation I need to feel “ready” for our son’s birth in October. Should I attend birthing classes? Should I hire a doula? Should I practice calming meditative techniques? Should I do all of the above?

I have learned the only way I can prepare for the upcoming event is to accept this truth:  I have absolutely no control over the uncontrollable. This might seem simple, but during this pregnancy I have been tested daily to adopt this philosophy at its deepest level.

When my OBGYN appointments began, I came prepared with a select number of questions, all incredibly situational, of course. I am not sure what I expected. Maybe I wanted my doctor to outline every possible outcome. It didn’t take long for me to realize he was not going to play my “what if” game.

Below are some of the main questions I asked. (Not the totally irrational ones that pop into my head as I toss and turn in the middle of the night.)

Will I hemorrhage? If I do, will medicine make it stop this time?

How long will you wait till you do a hysterectomy?

Will laboring look like it did with Cooper, water breaking, pushing 1.5 hours?

Will I have a big baby, which can increase hemorrhaging?

Would you do a scheduled c-section at any point? At what point? Why?

Can I have a natural labor? Why would you not recommend it?

Over and over again, he told me many of my questions were going to depend on the pregnancy and what is going on in the moment. Occasionally, he would outline around five different situations, just to prove to me he was the highly recommended expert, and I needed to hand over the control to him.

The reality is there are WAY too many unknowns. As much as I try to stop imagining situations that could happen during or after delivery, for someone like me, that is enough to create anxiety on its own.

I have been going to therapy every two weeks. I recently said,

The experience after Cooper’s birth felt like a car accident coming out of nowhere. I got hit, I fought for my life and I survived the crash.

Our son’s birth feels more like a cancer diagnoses. I have time to grieve, worry, and obsess over all the possibilities. The only difference is I DO NOT HAVE CANCER, and there is a 75% chance no car accident will happen, not even a fender bender.

My conclusion:

The only way for me to prepare is to acknowledge I cannot be distracted by the “what if’s” because, by doing so, I will not be present in the moment. Being fully present in the moment is the sole way to be my strongest and most confident self. Being strong and confident is necessary, both physically and mentally, to safely deliver our son.

I was present in the moment with Cooper’s birth, and I give credit to that being one of the reasons I am alive. I dealt with what was happening, I wasn’t paralyzed by fear, I reacted and I survived.

I need to enter our son’s birth by allowing it to be whatever it is supposed to be. He is a different child with a different birth story. I must allow him to be unique by not assuming anything, by being present in the moments leading up to his birth, during his birth, and after his birth.

So what does being present in the moment look like to me RIGHT NOW?

Modified best rest.  

As I mentioned, this is a different pregnancy. Last week at one of my high risk doctors’ appointments, they noticed my cervix is half the size it should be, and I am already effacing, NOT the ideal situation since I am only 29 weeks pregnant.

So no sex, no exercise, no walking long distances, no picking up Cooper. I need to relax as much as possible. Being present in the moment is making sure baby boy stays inside me a lot longer. Since exercise is not a possibility for the rest of pregnancy, I am going to focus my being-present-in-the- moment energy into feeding my body healthy food so that baby and I will get the most nutrition possible to be strong for our big day.

I am grateful for this week’s #bebetter52 challenge because it motivates me to focus more on the food I put into my body and its nutritional properties. I am going to the store today to pick up some turmeric root to try a turmeric drink packed with all good ingredients: a tropical carrot, ginger and turmeric smoothie.

A Book I want to Pass on to Cooper

How do you tell your child no more books when they beg you to read more? Cooper, in her little soft voice, says, “mooore,” and then signs a book by opening and closing her hands like a book.  I tell her only one more before I sing a song and gently lay her into bed. Oftentimes, she begs for more.

I love that Cooper loves books. It brings back many fond memories of the childhood books I used to read. Thankfully, my mom saved a lot of these books so that one day we could read them to our babies. Well, the time has come. Before Cooper’s baby shower, my mom asked me to name my favorite childhood book. Without hesitation, I replied, “The one with the big red strawberry.” At the event, I opened up a present to find my original book titled Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood and Don Wood. Flipping through the worn pages, I couldn’t believe all the illustrations I remembered. This book has now become one of Cooper’s favorites. There is a moment in the middle of the story when the bear tries to eat the strawberry. The author writes,  “Boom boom boom” to describe the bear tromping through the forest. After hearing this story a dozen times, Cooper now calls strawberries Boom Boom Booms.

Since I am in Oregon for two weeks, I decided to visit the well-known book store in the heart of Portland, Powell Books, with my mom and daughter. Powell’s is the largest independent new and used chain of bookstores in the world. We packed up the car and took the 20 minute drive into the city to the bookstore that occupancies a full city block between N.W. 10th and 11th Avenue and W. Burnside. For any bookstore lover, this place is heaven on earth. Without a toddler in tow, I could easily spend a full day roaming the floor to ceiling bookshelves. With a toddler, it is more like damage control. Cooper ran around pulling off books from the shelves and plopping down on the floor to turn pages. As I was trying to prevent page tears and attempting to somewhat clean up the mess, she moved on to the next book. With the distraction of a little storytime hosted by one of the employees for Cooper, my mom and I were able to walk away with a couple of good children’s books.

My book agenda: I wanted a book to read to my daughter about Oregon and another book that introduced the concept she was going to be a big sister to a baby brother.

Luckily, I found both. The book titled Little Big Girl almost made me cry as I scanned the illustrations (gotta love those pregnancy hormones). The images definitely look like Cooper and what I imagine her soon-to-be brother will look like. I want to write a little message in the book and make sure I keep it for her so that one day, when her kids become big sisters or brothers, she can read it to them.

I Have Book ADD: Aly's Angle

Hello, my name is Aly and I Have Book ADD

Most of our family lives in Oregon, so every summer I hope to take Cooper (and soon baby boy) for a summer trip. On Wednesday, while sitting on a plane to Portland, I was reminded of the stark difference between how my time is spent now, specifically at the airport, compared to how it was spent before motherhood. During pre-boarding moments, I would be reading a good book or scrolling my phone, just trying to pass time. Now,  distracting and occupying a toddler in a public setting fills that time.  During the last couple of times at the airport, Cooper is obsessed with pushing her stroller around the terminal. Unfortunately, this normally results in Coop pushing the back bar of the stroller from her knees on the dirty airport floor, or worse yet, Coop ending up face down on her stomach because she moves too fast.  I am not a germ freak, but how gross.

During the plane ride, I used to enjoy the secure feeling of being settled in my seat before reading a good book and then finally closing my eyes and nodding off. Now, I act as a jungle gym trying to contain Cooper as she climbs, waves, pretend laughs and “talks” through the whole flight. I have yet to have her take even a 10-minute nap on any flight since she turned one. I now consider reading a complete luxury.

When I read.

Someone watching me read might think I am very studious because of the way I write notes in the margins of the books; however, the reality is quite different. I have horrible retention. If I do not write something down or take notes, it goes in and then right out. That is why reading books digitally (especially educational, non-fiction ones) is difficult for me. I need a book in my hands, I need to highlight, and I need to take notes. The problem for me isn’t as much reading something digitally versus non-digitally, it is finding the time to read at all. On a side note, I have an obsession with bookstores. I would love to take Cooper to Powell’s Books this weekend in Portland to show her how magnificently beautiful a bookstore can be.

I have book ADD.

Like most of the things I do, I struggle to complete one task from start to finish. This is also true with the books I read. Generally, I have three books on my nightstand and, depending on my mood, will read a little from one at night.

Titles of my most current reads:

- The Gift of Giving Life: Rediscovering the Divine Nature of Pregnancy and Birth by Felice Austin, Lani Axman, Sheridan Ripley, Heather Farrell,Robyn Allgood

- The Vaccine-Friend Plan: Dr. Paul’s Safe and Effective Approach to Immunity and Health-from Pregnancy through your Child’s Teen Years, by Paul Thomas M.D.

- Blog, Inc: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Deangdeelert Cho

The reality is that finishing these books will probably take me a year, but I hope for the next two weeks while in Oregon, away from my husband 😞 and nighttime hours a little lonelier, I will be able to find more time to just sit back and read at night.

The Curse of the Haole Rot

Hard to see but she has white spots on her shoulders and back.

Hard to see but she has white spots on her shoulders and back.

One thing I love about my daughter’s pediatrician, Dr. Kozak in Tustin, CA, is she always proposes natural remedies before prescribing medicine. For example, the first time I asked what I should give Cooper for a cold, she suggested I give her a fruit smoothie with a whole orange in it for the vitamin C to boost her immune system. That recommendation started my absolute trust in her advice. So, I guess I wasn’t surprised with her suggestion to use coconut oil last week during Cooper’s 18-month appointment when I pointed out that she takes after her mom and is getting those summertime dry skin white blotches on her tanned little body.

My husband, when we first started dating, called the white patches on my arms, Haole Rot. He said, “You know how you get those right? Damp towels.” What in the world?!? I replied. He laughed, explaining that in Maui everyone gets haole rot by using wet towels that never dry because of the humidity. Despite the comical name and our ongoing laughable debate, the locals from Hawaii are not loonie. According to Medicine Mama, Haole Rot is “clinically known as Tinea Versicolor, and it is actually a fungal growth of yeast that occurs naturally on the skin.” This type of yeast can cause discoloration of the skin that looks like white, pink, red or brown spotty patches. They do not tan and can increase in warm weather. Has my husband been right all these years? Are we cursed with Haole Rot?

I’m not quite certain I can answer that question without a professional dermatologist diagnosis, but our symptoms definitely seem more fungal like Tinea Versicolor than itchy or irritated eczema.

So last week in preparation for this week’s challenge and to manage our growing skin issues, I started putting coconut oil on Cooper’s back. The problem is coconut oil is oil. So I would take her chubby naked body and rub her down with moderate amounts of the oil. I found myself nervous with what to do next. Do I put on her pj’s?  Was the oil residue going to get on my clothes while we snuggled and read bedtime stories? On her crib sheets at night? That is when I realized I wanted something coconut oil based but with the consistency of a cream. This is the moment I decided to be like my close friend Nicole Carnese and her company Cocos Organics.

I remember when Nicole started her company to create homemade remedies in her kitchen. Now she owes a company committed to organic, plant-based skincare. When I say committed, I mean it. She has no chemicals in her products, only ingredients you can pronounce. She doesn’t use plastic, only glass jars. I love her Instagram post from last week: “I’ve got 99 problems and coconut oil solves like 86 of them.” So without her knowing, I went out and bought all the ingredients I thought necessary for our anti-haole rot/eczema cream.  Buying the ingredients highlighted how truly clueless I was to the items on the list.

The recipe suggestion is from Dr. Axes, titled “Eczema Cream.”

Ingredients:

-1/2 cup of raw shea butter

-1/2 cup of coconut oil (optional: ¼ cup olive oil or almond oil)

-1 tablespoon of local honey

- 30 drops of lavender essential oil

- 8 drops of tea tree essential oil

- optional additions: 5 drops of geranium essential oil and/or 5 drops of myrrh essential oil

Raw Shea Butter:

I paid $9.99 at Sprouts for 7 oz. of raw shea butter. There were a couple of options, but I chose  Now Solutions Shea Butter. I was confused about measuring the quantity of raw shea butter into a measuring cup. I thought because 4 oz. equaled half a cup, I would use only ½ the container. I was wrong and am probably the only one in the world who didn’t know that fluid ounces are totally different than weight ounces. I used the whole container.

Coconut Oil:

I used refined Organic Refined Coconut Oil.

Local Honey:

Sometimes local honey can be a little bit more expensive, but it is important because it contains immune-stimulating properties that help the body adapt to its local environment.

Lavender Essential Oil:

Luckily, my mother-in-law Sue Hunkins is a distributor for DoTerra essential oils. I was able to go into her stash and handpick every oil I needed. The best part is she has a book that outlines all the benefits of the oils, including which oils are safe for pregnancy. All oils used have been given the thumbs up when diluted with coconut oil.

Tea Tree essential Oil (or what DoTerra calls Melaleuca Oil)

And Geranium Essential Oil

The experience of combining all these ingredients was relatively easy but surprisingly messy, considering I have never melted shea butter and coconut oil together. Yes, the kitchen looked similar to the way it does when I cook--dishes, spatulas and pots everywhere. Now that I have made it, I realize it doesn’t need to be as messy.

My Be Better ladies holding their little ziplock bags of haole rot cream.

My Be Better ladies holding their little ziplock bags of haole rot cream.

I placed the shea butter and coconut oil into a jar. Next, I placed the jar in a saucepan of hot water, turned on the burner until the water boiled, and melted the butter and oil. This step took about 5 minutes. I then added the honey and essential oils.

The original directions said to put the jar in a refrigerator to harden the mixture a little bit before mixing to lotion consistency. For some reason this step made me a little nervous. My liquid shea butter and coconut oil were not solidifying even in the refrigerator, so into the freezer the mixture went, maybe a little too long. But just in time I took it out, mixed it in a mixer for 5 minutes and lo and behold, success. I had made homemade eczema cream.

To be completely honest, the recipe made way more than I expected. I filled up a small glass jar (just so Nicole Carnese would be proud) and then a huge glass water bottle. I put the extra in zip-lock bags for my be better workout ladies. I love the smell, I love the way it feels on our skin, and I love that it is made from natural ingredients. Most of all, I am surprised at how satisfying it is to made something from scratch.

 

Little Moments Turn Big

Little Moments Turn Big

Aly Simons

Recently, I was interviewed over the phone by one of my spring interns, Chandana, who wanted to write a journalism piece on my story and her experience working with the Be Better Movement.  After about 15 minutes into the interview, she asked, “What mark do you hope Be Better leaves on the world?” Wow!  I hesitated, thinking how complex yet simple my response could be.  My assessment of Be Better Movement this week is not only limited to this question, but also to the fact I have 13 weeks until the arrival of my baby boy. With two babies under the age of two on the horizon, where and what I devote my time and energy to needs thoughtful consideration. I will only carve out time from busy days with my family for things I firmly believe in.

That being said, I bought a new planner called the Self Journal. I have been waiting for it to arrive because I needed a new tool to guide, motivate and inspire me during the next 13 weeks. I needed to be FOCUSED.  The truth is I have a little bit of an obsession organizing my days with daily planners and, for the most part, “non digital planners” work best for me. The Self Journal arrived today, and after reading through the first 27 pages about maximizing one’s effectiveness, I wrote down the following :

My morning gratitude (The journal asked for 3 things)

-The Todd girls, who are the most flexible babysitters in the world.

-My husband who was willing to drive back from work to deliver my phone which he accidentally took.

-Eating and enjoying breakfast with my daughter before I head out the door to coach.

Outline a schedule for the day

-I produced a to-do list. Set a goal and a target for today

My goal: To gain 1200 subscribers to the Be Better Movement by October 15th. I want to attract the attention of companies inspired by our community who are excited to donate on behalf of our completed challenges. More subscribers equals more bigger impact.

Today’s Target (Most important tasks of the day to help me reach my goal):

-Read 25 more pages of my new blog book entitled, Blog Inc: Blogging for Passion, Profit and to Create Community by Joy Deangdeelert Cho.

- Write Aly’s Angle on Yerba Mates

-Go through a list of women networking companies and choose 10 to contact.

Back to Chandana’s question. I paused and then replied,

“The mark I hope Be Better Movement leaves on the world is that change happens by making little improvements in your life one day at a time. All of these little moments turn big when combined together. The beauty of Be Better Movement is that while each individual challenge may seem trivial, when added together, a lifestyle change happens. This is also true of the donations to Every Mother Counts. An individual may think a meager weekly contribution of a $1 to charity from a completed #bebetter52 challenge will have little impact, but that dollar, combined with the completed challenges of a woman in Texas, a woman in Oregon, a woman in Hawaii, etc., creates an impact that is exponential.”

The importance of authenticity when starting a blog-based company has been emphasized over and over in the book I am reading. When discussing this concept with my friend Nasem, she said, “Perfect because you love empowering women.” The truth is I am most passionate about inspiring and empowering women toward self and global improvement. This journey toward “Being Better” is ingrained in me, oftentimes overwhelming me. It is why I have an addiction to buying planners. Life can be an arduous and daunting journey, which is exactly why I created Be Better. I believe women need a little support in this journey toward self-improvement.  I know I do.

It has been 2.5 years since the #bebetter52 challenge started. With your help and my trusted daily planner, I hope to reach my goal of 1200 subscribers by the time the baby is due, October 15, 2017.

My three-part mission for the Be Better Movement: 

-To grow a community of women (specifically mothers) inspired to complete weekly wellness challenges nationwide to improve their lives and the lives around them.

-To raise money and awareness to improve global maternal health care by providing participants an extra incentive to complete challenges.

-To collaborate with companies interested in repurposing their advertising budgets by donating to Every Mother Counts for every completed #bebetter52 challenge.

I Have a Confession

I Have a Confession

Aly’s Angle

I have an embarrassing confession.  I do not drink alcohol, but in high school (completely clueless about what I was doing), I would justify drinking caffeine instead. It was my silly attempt to fit in with a group of under-aged drinkers. They all knew when I brought out my caffeinated beverage, I was in “party mode.” My 17-year-old mind rationalized this action because, to me, caffeine was “legal” and less toxic to my body. Many people might agree with my logic, but the only problem was I wasn’t casually sipping on a cup of hot tea.

I grew up in a town outside of Portland, OR, and graduated from high school in 2001, right around the time Red Bull became popular. I remember at some point toward the end of senior year, a large group of senior girls--me included-- thought it would be fun to go on a camping trip in the middle of a cow pasture. I have no idea where this pasture was, but our makeshift campground was surrounded by cows, lots of them. Our high school camping trips always screamed, “Time to Party!” So accordingly, I decided instead of beer, I would drink Red Bull. Knowing this outing would be our last big camping trip of the year, I packed six Red Bulls in a cooler. At sunset, people started drinking their beverage of choice, so I decided to crack open my first Red Bull. Long story short and six Red Bulls later, everyone was passed out asleep, and I was wide awake. The ridiculous amount of caffeine I ingested almost triggered a panic attack. I freaked with every sound the cows made as they walked through the tall, dry grass. All night long, I watched the moon as my heart raced and my eyes remained wide open.

Although embarrassed to admit my ridiculous decision to OD on caffeine that night, the experience made me vow to stay off Red Bull. (To be honest, I did have some Red Bull moments in college.)  Since then, however, I have tried to limit caffeine as much as possible. My two pregnancies have caused me to seriously reflect on what I eat and drink. As far as healthy caffeinated beverages go, these are my recommendations:

Don’t Drink at all

Coffee

Black Tea

(As a Mormon, I choose not to drink coffee or black tea.)

Try to Never Drink these “liquid poisons”:

Energy drinks

Soda

Do Drink

Yerba Mate

Being pregnant with my daughter, breastfeeding, and now expecting a little boy, I have become extremely conscious of my caffeine intake. I find it surprising that the American Association of Pregnancy suggests limiting caffeine to 200 mg a day, an amount that seems high to me. With that being said, I always stay under that recommended allotment and set my own limit at 100-150mgs. I also pay attention to the type of caffeinated drink. I would never drink an energy drink, and I avoid soda. Therefore, this week, I was excited to do more research on Yerba Mate. I was pleasantly surprised to find out, in addition to the caffeine boost, Yerba Mate has tons of other health benefits.

A part of me still thinks relying on caffeine at all for a boost during the day isn’t the best habit. Ultimately, if I could gain my energy from a good night’s sleep and nutritious food choices, I would consider it an accomplishment. More on this week's #bebetter52 challenge to drink Yerba Mate.

 

 

 

Day trips with a Toddler: 3 words of Advice

When deciding this week’s #bebetter52 challenge, we knew it would be a more ambitious undertaking than normal challenges. It would require our members to go outside of their comfort zone and explore different locations within a day trip. That is why we timed it around the long Fourth of July weekend.

My natural instinct is to plan trips, normally overnight ones. The idea of a “staycation” seemed appealing, but I often feel overwhelmed by the work I need to do when home, such as the stacks of dirty laundry. But this long Fourth of July weekend, I embraced being home and decided to be in “vacation-mode” for the whole four days my husband was off work.

So what were our “staycations”?  Simply, 6 day-trips to the beach.

Saturday-

We enjoyed Huntington Beach in the morning while dada surfed. Then we returned home for mama and baby naps. (I honestly try to nap every day when Coops naps.) Then we ended our day with a sunset beach picnic at Big Corona Beach with friends.

Sunday-

We returned to Huntington Beach for a bike ride and some beach time while dada surfed before we headed back home for a nap and then church. Then we hosted a backyard BBQ at our house with twelve of our friends and their babies. We filled up splash pad pools for our kiddos to play in, and they had a blast.

Monday-

A long afternoon was spent at El Moro Beach in Newport Beach with friends.

Tuesday-

In the early morning we rode our bikes down to Huntington Beach to see the Fourth of July parade. We returned home completely exhausted, but we somehow rallied, getting back into the car to head back to the Back Bay in Newport Beach to watch the firework show in the evening.

The last four days of busy day trips to new locations outside our neighborhood made me realize a couple things:

1.     Day trips can happen before scheduled naptime if you start early enough. We managed to get a nap in everyday back at the house.  Cooper naps around 11:30 a.m., but on the Fourth of July she didn’t go down until 1:30 p.m. It was essential for both Coops and me (being 25 weeks pregnant) to get in those naps. I was utterly tired from carrying her and chasing her around on the sand for four sunny days. It was a good tired though, the type of tired I remember after being in the pool all day during the summer.

2.    They do not have to be expensive.  It was powerful to learn we didn’t have to book an expensive trip to create memories. The moments, while simple, were some of the best times we have had as a family of three. Maybe it was great fun because it was so simple--just the beach, bikes, swimming, sun and quality time.

3.    Quality Time is my love language. For some reason, this weekend filled me with an abundance of love for my husband and baby girl. It also gave me a chance to envision what life will be like adding a baby boy to our family in October. I feel grateful my husband and I enjoy hanging out. And not only that, we love being parents together to our little daughter, Coops.

With that being said, I hope everyone had a chance to take a fun day-trip over the fourth. If not, I encourage you to create some memories this weekend with family and/or friends. Remember, it doesn’t have to be an all day event or be expensive. Just find a new location to check out and go on a adventure. Good luck.

My Lifetime Relationship with Music

There was a time in my life I considered myself a “music” person. No, I was never good at recognizing random “indie” artists and never filled my weekends with three-day music festivals, but I always had music on. This week during the #bebetter52 challenge, I reflected on how the music I listened to during certain periods in my life mirrored the events and feelings going on at that time.

Joshua Radin and Duffy

My first dependence on music happened when I tried to heal after a serious break up with a boyfriend of 8 years (yes, you heard that right, eight years). It was after graduate school in 2008, and I was pretty broken up as I struggled to figure out my identity without him.  During the first month, I walked around like a zoomie, tears constantly streaming down my face at all the inappropriate moments. The only time I felt able to constructively reflect was while listening to music. It was the type of sad music that would make anyone cry, but for some reason it made me feel connected to others. I liked that others could relate to the pain I was feeling.  That summer, I decided to book my “travel-the-world-and-find-myself trip.” I started in the Dominican Republic (where I meet a sailor from Mississippi), continued to Ecuador for the month (to learn Spanish), flew to Germany (to visit a friend), and stopped in Kenya (where Mississippi boy met up with me) to volunteer with Kenya Keys. Mississippi and I continued our travel escapades to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The months traveling were accompanied by headphones gently playing music which became the soundtrack to my journey. Now whenever a Joshua Radin or Duffy song comes on the radio, I transport back to this life-changing year that forced me to heal. For many years, 2008 was not only the most difficult year of my life, but also the best year of my life.

Fiji

Interestingly, my taste in music changed the second I met my husband, Cory. The need to listen to sad reflective music vanished, and the soundtrack became reggae, artists like Fiji and SOJA.  Living in Newport Beach at the time, we jammed out to light-hearted music during trips to the beach with my goofy Goldendoodle (dog child), Tucker. Cory wooed me with his rendition of Jack Johnson while sitting on my bedroom floor with his barefoot and salty blond hair.  These flirty courting moments turned into true love as we moved to the lighthearted beats of the music we were listening to. Cory walked down the aisle to take me as his bride to the song “Chant of the Island,” by Fiji. It was perfect.

You are my Sunshine

In the hospital while waiting for baby Cooper to arrive, I vividly remember a comment made by my mom. She was surprised I hadn’t made a soundtrack to play during my labor. I said, “My attachment to music isn’t as strong since I’ve meet Cory because I am happy.” The nurse overheard the comment and sighed a big ‘aahh!!’ It was true. I no longer found myself in deep reflection because my life was fun, easy and full of so much love. But after the intensity of Cooper’s birth, the emotion of being a new mother, in addition to the traumatic event of almost dying, my need for music came rushing back. During those first weeks of motherhood, the sweet chime of baby nursery rhymes playing gently in the middle of the night became the soundtrack to my healing. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”  We listened together, and I would cry, my heart flooding over with gratitude. Music became a necessity again.

Today’s music:

This week, I made a conscious effort to turn on music in the morning and in the evening instead of the TV for background noise. I discovered I enjoy lyrical music way more than instrumental, especially classical music. For some reason, classical music has the reverse effect on me; instead of relaxing me, it makes me want to rip out my hair. So I played instrumental music both Coops and I liked. Conclusion: We love Hawaiian music and smooth jazz. We started our morning by practicing our hula moves in the kitchen. At the day’s end, we listened to a little calming jazz during her bath time.  I would be lying if I didn’t mention that the middle of our day was jammed packed with Disney songs and sing-a-longs. But today, I turned on my Pandora shuffle and crossed my fingers, hoping a little Joshua Radin, Duffy and Fiji came on so I could transport myself back to all the moments that made me who I am today.

Maternal Health in India

Despite numerous social welfare organizations fighting for the cause, maternal health in India still needs major improvements. Quality aspects in maternal health care have long been ignored by the Indian public health system. Most women in the rural areas of India  either do not have proper access to healthcare or are unaware of what to do during a pregnancy. A research study published by Princeton University asserts that more than 40% of Indian women are underweight when they begin their pregnancy. So from the start, women are headed toward an unhealthy pregnancy. The results of this research study highlight the need for government intervention in terms of maternal health monitoring.

It is not the lack of access to medicinal support, but because of the influences of a patriarchal society that maternal health is difficult in India. The status of a woman in India is much worse than in any other county. Because most women in rural areas are married off at a young age, they are likely to become pregnant soon after marriage and expected to keep quiet, work hard and eat little. The lack of respect for women in Indian society is a glaring telltale for the cause of this problem.

Not only do these women have a low status, but they also all live in a disease-filled environment. 70% of rural Indian households defecate in the open, a practice that is bound to multiply intestinal diseases and parasites. Though certain mental health programs are trying to alleviate the problem by distributing free food in impoverished areas and offering cash incentives for hospital deliveries, the problem cannot be solved until the focus is shifted toward increasing weight during pregnancy.

The gravity of the situation is recognized by Every Mother Counts, a non-profit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother. They are active in informing, engaging and mobilizing new audiences to take action and raise funds that support maternal health programs around the world. To support this cause, the Indian Club at Chapman University recently teamed up with Be Better Movement.


On Thursdays, April 27th and May 4th, Chapman University’s Indian Club set up a table in the Attallah Piazza with a goal in mind. Offering free Henna tattoos and playing Indian music, club members rallied to increase awareness and to voice a call to action. They urged passersby to subscribe to the Be Better Movement in support of increasing maternal care in exchange for a free henna tattoo. The club received many interested people who were willing to engage, some because they wanted to get a henna tattoo and others because they wanted to support the cause. Ultimately, the publicity for Be Better Movement brought successful results and we are closer to making the world a safer place for mothers and their babies.

Eating Oranges in the city of Orange, CA

In 2013, we bought a house in the city of Orange in Orange County, CA, and guess what? We even have orange trees in our backyard. So this week’s citrus challenge was not challenging at all. I love seeing old photos of Orange packed with orchards of citrus which, until the 1950s, was the backbone of the local economy.

From mid-December to mid-February our backyard produces enough oranges to feed the neighborhood. One year, we put a box of oranges on the sidewalk with a sign that read, “FREE! Take as many as you want.” When our backyard oranges slowly disappear, I buy my citrus from two sources:

  • Our bi-weekly Fresh Farm to You box often comes with a couple oranges, lemons and/or tangerines.

  • Cooper and I also go to the farmers’ market every Tuesday at Irvine Regional Park, particularly because the $3 parking fee is waived that day, but also because we love the produce there. This week I bought a $5 small bucket of tangerines.

Lessons on Vitamin C

When Cooper was sick earlier this year, her doctor told me to start feeding her mid-day smoothies with a whole orange blended into the mix. For some reason the concept “blew my mind” although it should have been common sense. What is the first thing we often do when we think we are getting sick? We grab one of the Emergen-C packs loaded with Vitamin C, an essential compound in maintaining a healthy immune system. Ever since then, I try to add an orange to her smoothies

Cooper has gone through moments when she LOVES eating Cuties (you know those small mandarin oranges with a cute name), but recently she puts them in her mouth, sucks out the juice and then throws the rest on the ground.  On a positive note, she is still getting some of the nutrition.

As I mentioned, this week’s #bebetter52 challenge was easy, but I have enjoyed the excuse to eat more and more citrus this week.

 

Be Better from a College Student at Tufts University

Hello! My name is Lauryn, and I am currently a senior at Tufts University, about 5 miles outside of Boston. I am studying biology and am interested in pursuing a career in health care. Although I have loved my time on the east coast, I am excited to be returning to the Bay Area for some warm(er) winters and quality time on the outdoor hiking trails.

I have been a part of the Be Better Movement for about a year and a half after a friend referred me to this community. I am not going to lie though; it is a struggle to keep up with the challenges week after week. As a college student, it is easy to focus solely on what is going on within your “college bubble.” However, I am motivated by the fact that each challenge I complete not only benefits admirable charities such as Every Mother Counts, but also improves my health and well-being.

This week’s #bebetter52 challenge is to eat citrus. Citrus provides me with Vitamin C, essential to staying healthy when interacting with patients at a hospital. Because I love citrus already, it was relatively easy for me to incorporate into my meals this week. In fact, the hardest part of this challenge was remembering to buy citrus at the grocery store!

Since citrus is the main focus of the Be Better Challenge this week, I tried to be more mindful and creative with the drinks and food I put in my body. For example, while I normally drink plain tap water, this week I added lemon or lime wedges to my water. I could not believe that such a small change would actually impact my mood throughout the day! I felt more awake and present in class.

This week, I also baked salmon with lemon and brussel sprouts, which I served over spaghetti with a brown butter, lemon, and rosemary sauce. It was delicious and nutritious! This recipe is actually one of my quick, go-to meals during the week.

I had so much fun with the challenge this week, and I can’t wait to complete more in the future!

 

Just Breath by Katherine

This week’s #BeBetter52 Challenge: Breathing.  Sounds pretty simple, but when you get down to it, I think we all forget to stop and take a breather every now and again.  With two young kids, two dogs, a full-time job, and a husband who works primarily during evenings and weekends, I completely understand the need to take a moment to center and calm myself in the midst of chaos.  

For a couple of years now, I’ve been taking hot yoga as often as possible, sometimes up to five times a week.  I love the hour session that calms my brain.  Doing yoga, and concentrating on my breathing when my mind begins to wander, has allowed me to apply this to my everyday stresses.  When my kids are yelling at each other, or me, and I feel like I am going to scream, I focus on my breathing.   When my husband does something I disagree with and I want to bite his head off (I’m human after all!), I focus on my breathing.  When I am so overwhelmed with all of the activities on our calendar, and I’m schlepping children from activity to activity, I remind myself to focus on my breathing.  It doesn’t always work – but yoga reminds me to seek the inner calmness and peace that comes with it.

Though I’m not able to participate as often as I’d like in the #BeBetter52 challenges, this one speaks to me loudly and clearly.   Everyone has so much going on in their world, and breathing is a major element that can help you take a moment to put priorities into perspective.  

Our Hearts Beat Against Each Other: Baby Hugs

We all know someone in our life who is just a "huggy-type" person. For me, it was my Grandma Kathy. I remember disappearing into her hugs, nestling into her squishy arms and laying my head on her chest. Yes, I was her grandchild, and I never thought to ask my mom if grandma was that way with her own children. Since having a baby of my own, my desire to kiss and hug this little girl is all encompassing. Sometimes my love is so intense I smoother Coops with my kisses and hugs, not wanting to stop even when she starts pushing me away. Until about a month ago, Cooper did not like to snuggle, and our only snuggle time happened while nursing. Originally, I had planned to stop nursing when she turned one. But as one year came and went, I found myself not wanting to give up those precious moments when Cooper wrapped herself around me while nursing. They were moments I treasured and didn't want to give up. Thankfully, the weaning process became easier on “mama” when I recently discovered that the less I nursed, the more she became a true cuddler. Not only with me, but also with Cory.

I did attempt to give out more hugs this week, but my main focus was to enjoy the snuggle sessions Coops gave me daily. Whenever she felt sleepy, either before or after a nap, she blessed me with a hug. She would rest her head on my chest while sucking her thumb and lightly rubbing my neck. I then lightly rubbed her little back as her breathing slowed down and she completely relaxed. I know these moments of a toddler snuggling her mother are short lived, so trust me, I am soaking up every minute of it. In our moments of embrace, I feel a sense of complete calm and connection with my little one. Our hearts beat practically against each other. I believe all the facts are true regarding the physical and emotional benefits of hugs, and I want my baby to always know I am here for a hug.

I cherish all the hugs given to and from my husband. Sometimes a long hug after a particularly tiring day can be a cure all. I am grateful for the ones who taught me to hug and to the ones who allow me to hug.

 

Slap me. Clean me. Remind me.

Slap me. Clean me. Remind me.

In general, I am pretty good at filling up water bottles for the day, and I am pretty good at drinking all the water.  I try to never buy water bottles unless I am super desperate because it feels wasteful and lazy. I use the word lazy because I have witnessed first hand the physical and emotional sacrifice women worldwide face to supply their families with drinking water.

photo credit: Kenya Keys

photo credit: Kenya Keys

Slap Me.

The reality is sometimes I am annoyed it takes over 30 seconds to fill up my 25-ounce Swell Water Bottle. I sit at the refrigerator feeling impatient and frustrated it is taking so long. I have places to go and people to see. This week I noticed my ridiculous impatience. Someone needs to SLAP ME IN THE FACE if I ever do it again because I know firsthand how lucky we are to have fresh, cold, filtered water coming directly into our homes in abundance whenever we want it.

I have traveled to Kenya six times with the organization Kenya Keys. Each trip is centered around identifying and breaking barriers that keep education from the “girl children.” The reality facing many girls, starting at a young age, is the responsibility to fetch the family’s daily water. This trip to the water catchment involves carrying gallons of water, sometimes for miles. This chore consumes their day, taking away from precious hours they could be attending school and studying. The water crisis in Kenya right now is real and seriously affects educational opportunities, health, and sanitation. So yeah, please slap me when I forget my obnoxious first world problem.

Clean me.

One thing that stops me from drinking more water is a lingering concern my water bottle is not clean. Years ago, I left a water bottle in my car way too long, and it turned moldy inside. Yes, disgusting. Since then, I am consistently nervous that mold is growing in my lid or deep inside the water bottle. Many of the water bottles have a skinny spout, making it difficult to see inside. So this week I also researched how to clean metal water bottles. Turns out it is simple.

-       Do not use a dishwater

-       Normal cleaning is just soap and water.

-       More advanced cleaning involves diluting 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar with a cup of water. Pour solution into water bottle, let sit for 15 minutes. Use a bottle cleaning brush if you have one.

Remind me.

Now that Cooper is 90% weaned, all the liquid keeping her hydrated comes from organic whole milk and water. It has been a transition for me as well because normally I stick her on my boob and all is good. Now I have to fill up, refrigerate and wash sippy cups. Yes, I am weird about the potential for mold in the sippy cups, too. It’s not just the preparation. I need to remember to offer her water as much as possible. Every meal this week, I set two sippy cups on the table in front of her, one with milk and the other water. Every five minutes I asked if she wanted more water. Normally, she would just take a couple sips at a time, but by the end of the week she was pointing to them mid-meal asking for more. Many pediatricians advise against fruit juice and definitely soda, so I want Cooper to love water. It is pretty much the only beverage she is going to get, minus whole milk.

 

Baby's Cell Phone Obsession

Last year around this time, we had a similar challenge to this week’s #bebetter52 challenge, which was to take timeouts from your phone. I remember writing an Aly’s Angle and taking a picture. The finished photo is a visual that will stick with me forever. I had two-month-old Cooper lying on her back on my lap. While she stared up at her mama’s face, I held the phone between us and pretended to text someone.  The text on the picture read, “I never want my daughter to know the back of my phone more than my face.”

It has been a year, and I feel my sensitivity to the overuse of phones has grown increasingly.  It is a subject to which I have given great thought. I notice families out at dinner with the children glued to their phones. I have made a new commitment to be absent from the phone while playing, feeding and bathing Coops. This is not easy, and I haven’t been 100% perfect at it because I essentially work from my phone. The only way this is possible is to separate work and home as much as possible.

I feel young parents have been told kids should have limited phone and/or “screen time,” and most of my friends seem pretty committed to the cause. But what I have noticed is the lack of limiting their own “screen time.” How can we expect our children to detach from the phone when the very thought of not checking a new text message increases our heart rate and produces anxiety?

I know many adults struggle with how to detach from their phones. I, too, struggle, especially when it comes to work text messages. I hate falling asleep with unanswered texts or waking up to them. Much to my chagrin, I have been guilty of sending text messages without even looking at the time. Once,  I pressed send only to realize I had just texted my high school seniors past 10:30 p.m. Totally unacceptable on my part.

I understand moms feeling the need to be connected in case their children or a doctor calls, or when a work related call might happen.  This week I thought, “So what if someone calls and I do not answer it?  I’m sure within an hour or so, I will check any missed phone calls and promptly call them back.” All week, I set my phone in a completely different room, and I even tried out the “do not disturb” feature on the iPhone which stops all notifications. It was liberating.

It has been intriguing watching Cooper’s natural instinct to want to reach for my phone.  I bring her into bed in the morning to nurse, and if she sees it, she stretches for it with a little whine. Is there some sci-fi-like force attracting her to the device because she seems to know how to click the buttons without ever being taught? Curious as to her baby fascination with the phone, I goggled it. Tons of articles came up.

Suggestion to parents from the article, “Baby’s Cell Phone Obsession”

I want to return her gaze with my eyes and smile, not the back of my phone.

I want to return her gaze with my eyes and smile, not the back of my phone.

Limit your own use.

The article points out that “most problems can wait until your child is in bed or you’re back in the office.” This is so true, yet if I remember something I need to do on my phone (check bank, weather, email, text, etc.), anxiety floods me if I don’t do it that second. Maybe I think the task will never get accomplished if I don’t get on it immediately. This week I placed an old-fashioned pad of paper in the kitchen so when these ADD thoughts entered my brain, I could simply write them down in a list.

Be Consistent.

“Letting your toddler play with your cell phone at the grocery store to prevent a candy aisle meltdown, but not at home, will only confuse and frustrate him.” I had honestly never thought of it that way, but it makes complete sense. I reflected on the moments I have let Cooper play with the phone. There are only two moments: one, in her carseat while kids’ music plays on Pandora, such as 52 Sing-A-Long Silly Songs. She dances with it in her hands until she throws it somewhere in the back seat and then whines for it until we get home. Recently, I  play the music on it without letting her hold it;  two, when we Facetime her “dada” or other family in Maui and Oregon. The second she hears the Facetime ring, her face lights up, and she says “dada.” Is that a good use of the phone? It feels like it.

Engage your toddler in stimulating real-life activities.

"Toddlers love to imitate their parents," says Schwartz. “Give him pots and pans for ‘cooking’ (and drum playing) or ask him to help you do the laundry with his own pile of hand towels to sort or to water the plants together with his own mini- watering can.” I love this. So all week I have tried to involve Cooper more in my daily activities. I pulled her high chair up to the counter as I made our healthy smoothies, introducing every fruit and vegetable to her before putting it in the blender. If giving her ways to imitate me helps her not reach for the phone, then I will come up with more ways for her to do so.

She helps me be present in the moment. Who needs a phone for entertainment?

She helps me be present in the moment. Who needs a phone for entertainment?

The research is real. Phones are not awesome for children’s development.  I found an article that states 10 reasons not to give children technology. I feel the first four items on the list really speak to me as a mom of a young toddler.

1.     It can change the child/parent relationship.

2.     It becomes their first addiction.

3.     It sparks tantrums.

4.     It prevents them from sleeping.

The article states, “Between the ages of 0 and 2 years, an infant’s brain triples in size. A parent’s voice, touch, and eventually play can help build pathways in their brain that aid them in learning how to bond emotionally with other people. But for children who spend too much time interacting with a screen, something different happens.

“Their neural pathways change and different ones are created,” says pediatric nurse Denise Daniels. “It affects concentration, self-esteem and, in many cases, they don’t have as deeply personal relationships.”

I am not pretending disconnecting from your phone is easy, but after researching more on the negative effects of phones, it is worth it. One of the things I love most about traveling is not having my phone service available. I feel more alive and present in the moment. I want my life to feel like that daily, and Cooper helps me with that goal. I don’t want to miss out on her little moments because I was busy scrolling. I don’t want her to look up at her mama and see the back of a phone instead of her mom’s eyes.