Getting Stuff Done means Letting Go of Perfectionism

I had never considered myself a perfectionist until one evening in Kazakhstan when I was cooking dinner for a group of fellow Peace Corps volunteers at my apartment.  When it came time for dessert, I took the cake out from the Soviet-style oven (a tiny oven that heats low and uneven, which you light by sticking a rolled-up piece of paper lit on one end through a hole in the bottom while simultaneously turning on the gas) and saw that it was a lumpy, hideous disaster.  It looked like no cake should, and I was too ashamed to serve it. When I told the others that we won’t be having dessert after all because the cake looked terrible, Jen, one of the volunteers, said, “You’re a perfectionist, aren’t you?”

I was completely taken aback.  Me, a perfectionist?!  No one had ever called me that before.  After all, I associated perfectionists with being Type-A personalities, anal retentive, super-clean-and-organized, and never happy with anything.  That’s definitely not me, and my husband would wholeheartedly agree, judging from the state of the house, the top of my desk, or the way I cook (I could never follow the advice “clean as you cook.”  I mean, I’m too busy cooking!).

However, I realized the perfectionist side of me definitely creeps in it when it comes to writing or doing something else creative.  Back in the day when I used to write letters to my friends by hand (yes, those of us over 30 actually did this), I would start over if I didn’t like my handwriting or the way a sentence sounded – I’d just crumple up the piece of paper and start with a fresh one.  With this blog, I write a first draft which I need to edit over and over again before posting a copy that I’m happy with.  That’s exactly why I haven’t written as much as I’ve wanted to lately (hmm, 3 entries in the past 4 months?).  It’s not for lack of ideas on what to write, writer’s block, or the lack of opportunity to sit and write.  It’s finding the time to go back and read, edit, rewrite, reread and edit again.  At least 10 times.

The same is true for my creative pursuits.  A few years ago I enjoyed making my own jewelry with silver and glass beads.  The problem is that I never actually made anything because I didn’t like my creations enough to finish them (plus it got very tedious with all those little beads).  Same goes with the countless scrapbooks I’ve started – Turkey trip, India trip, Kazakhstan, Baby #1, Baby #2.   They are all sitting on my shelf unfinished because it takes too much time for me to make the pages look just right (also very tedious), which is stupid considering I’m really the only one who will ever look at them.

Now that I’ve taken up sewing , I find that my perfectionist tendencies are again impeding my ability to finish any projects.  A couple of weeks ago, the sewing teacher showed me how to construct a tote bag.  I brought the almost-completed tote bag home with only the straps left to sew on.  But after a few days of looking at the bag, I decided that I didn’t like how it looked.  So I ripped out the seams and tore it apart.

The thing is, I need to let it go.  I can’t be perfect at anything these days because with two young kids, there’s just no time to strive for perfection with anything.  I need to approach my projects the way I approach parenting (the one area in which I never strove for perfection).  I realized early on that there’s no such thing as the perfect mom or the perfect way of raising a child, so I gave up trying.  There’s nothing more humbling than raising a child and constantly being reminded that you’re never going to get everything right all the time.  Sometimes “good enough” is, well, good enough.  Once I realized that, it took the pressure off immensely.  After all, it’s not like I’m at a paid job where I’m being evaluated and critiqued (except maybe by my husband, but he doesn’t count).  I’m being my own worst critic and I just need to stop.  It’s more important for me now to get these things done than to do them perfectly.  Post a blog entry every week whether I think it’s perfectly written or not (it never will be).  Finish those scrapbooks even if I don’t like the layout of the pictures.  Cook without following the recipes exactly.  Invite friends over even if the house isn’t totally spotless and orderly.  Clean out the closet even if I don’t have the perfect organizing materials.  Just do it and don’t worry about the outcome because it’ll end up fine (like my kids, I hope).  At the very least I’ll learn by trial and error.  Maybe if the pressure is off, I can actually enjoy these things as well.

Am I being an underachiever?  Do I get a failing mark for my half-assed effort in these things?  Perhaps.  But at least this way I can finish that darn tote bag.

Be Gone, Baby Weight!

It has been almost 22 months since I had my last baby and 4 months since I stopped breastfeeding.  I’ve finally accepted the fact that the excess baggage that I’ve been carrying is sticking around, and that I actually have to work to get this baby weight off.  Dammit!

During my first pregnancy, I gained a whopping 45 lbs.  They say it’s normal to gain 25-30 lbs. during pregnancy, and that the smaller you are to begin with, the more you gain.  Well, I wasn’t that small to begin with.  I’m 5’5 with a pre-pregnancy weight of 137 lbs., have broad shoulders and size 9 feet…not the typical petite Asian (a friend once called me a “mutant Asian”).  However, I was in pretty good shape back then.  When I was one month pregnant (and unaware of the fact), I was running 3.5 miles around my parents’ neighborhood and “shredding” to Jillian Michaels’ DVD.  I pounded the pavement so hard it’s a wonder the baby stayed in my womb.

I continued working out through my pregnancy (though not as hard-core), but I also ate for two with a diet consisting mostly of Frosted Flakes and fried chicken.  By the time the baby was born, I was as big as a house (topping out at 183 lbs).  Within a year, though, I magically lost all 45 lbs. without even trying (don’t hate me).  Seriously, I exercised maybe once or twice a week, still stuffed my face, and one day nine months later, miracle of all miracles, I was able to fit into my size 6 pre-pregnancy jeans again.

I wore those jeans for about a year and then got pregnant with Baby #2.  I haven’t been able to fit into those jeans since.  I seem to have a 10-pound band of fat around my midsection (and hips and thighs) that has become a permanent fixture on my body.  I know 10 lbs. isn’t that bad and not nearly as daunting as wanting to lose, say, 50 lbs.  But on my frame, an extra 10 lbs. is obvious and most importantly, I just don’t feel good about it.  I can feel the roll of fat spilling over my waistband, and body parts jiggling when I take the kids out on the jogging stroller.  Sometimes after a big meal, my tummy protrudes so much I look like I’m 5 months pregnant (luckily no one has asked me if I am – that’s a good sign, at least).  The times I feel the worst is when I’m getting dressed to go out for moms’ nights out.  I pull those skinny jeans from my closet, hoping that they will glide back on with ease like they did after my first baby.  It’s just not happening.  I can barely get them over my thighs let alone zipper and button them.  In fact, most of my clothes are from my skinnier days and I don’t look good in 90% of them.  (What’s up with all those short-cropped t-shirts I used to wear?!  I must have been small enough back then for them to cover my gut…definitely not the case now).  I refuse to buy new clothes in a bigger size and I’m sick of wearing maternity clothes! (Yes, I still do sometimes.)  I feel that I have to lose this baby weight before turning the big 4-0 next year, otherwise it all goes downhill and I succumb to frumpy mom-dom for the rest of my life.

Now that I realize I need to work at losing these last 10 lbs., I am going to employ weight-loss tactics that have worked for me in the past (I read somewhere that this is a good way for permanent weight loss).  Although, I had never gained and lost 45 pounds before my first pregnancy, I’ve had my chunky days.  In the Peace Corps, I gained 10 pounds the first year (it was a mystery in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan that male Peace Corps volunteers lost weight while female volunteers gained weight.  It didn’t have to do so much with the fatty meaty greasy food as it did with emotional and stress eating), and lost it the second year by running and eating lots of beans.  In my freshman year of college, I lost 10 pounds from eliminating red meat and fried foods from my diet and taking advantage of my university’s recreational facilities.  After grad school, I was the smallest I had ever been as an adult at 132 pounds.  At the time, I was dating a superficial Ukrainian dork who encouraged me to lose 10 pounds.  I did, but then he wanted to me to lose another 10 pounds.  I thought, Screw him!  I gained back 5 pounds and dumped him (not only did he want me to lose weight all the time, he would also wear his shirt unbuttoned to mid-chest to show off his chest hair.  Ick.).

Anyway, here are the weight-loss methods that have worked for me:

1)      Running.  There is no quicker way to lose weight than to run (or in my case, jog) even though I hate every minute of it.  Back in the day (before having babies), I was able to run 3.5 miles pretty effortlessly.  These days, and I don’t know if it’s my age or having children, but my knees, lower back, and ankles scream for mercy every time I run.  Listening to an iPod makes it slightly more bearable.  This will not be my primary form of exercise in my quest to lose weight – just a couple of times a week at the most.

2)      Turbo Jam.  One time while living in New Orleans, I came home at 1am after a night of drinking and turned on the t.v. to find this infomercial on.  Yes, it’s worthy of an infomercial (a cheesy martial arts and dance workout), but it’s fun, has good music, a charismatic instructor, and it works.  I can’t help it – I love Turbo Jam!

3)      Meal planning/keeping a food journal.  Okay, writing down everything you eat and counting calories is super-tedious, but it makes you mindful of what you are putting into your mouth.  Eating the kids’ leftover mac n’ cheese and Halloween candy is not helping me magically lose the baby weight.  Neither is the glass of wine I have almost every night.  I need to plan my meals ahead of time and stick to them instead of munching on whatever’s around when I’m hungry (usually chicken nuggets and Goldfish crackers).

4)      Eliminate bad foods.  This is a given, but for me, it works better to eliminate fried foods, junk foods, and sugar entirely.  I don’t believe in everything in moderation.  After all, everyone’s interpretation of moderation is different (is small fries in moderation?) plus just a taste of cheese can lead to a whole block, or a small piece of chocolate can lead to the whole bar.  Of course these bad foods are hard to resist, especially with the holidays coming up.  I just need to realize it’s not a free-for-all.

5)      Have a goal, timeframe, mantra, or inspiration.  In my freshman year of college, I had a picture of Linda Hamilton (of Terminator 2 fame) hanging on my mirror to inspire me.  Nowadays moms who are fit and healthy inspire me, whether it’s a celebrity mom* like Gwen Stefani or Jessica Alba or my mom friends who teach Zumba and yoga.  I also have the goal of fitting into my skinny jeans again.  I plan to run a 5K with some of my mom friends in a month to help me along.  It’s easy to fall back to old habits (like this past Monday when I ate a bacon cheeseburger from Wendy’s) once I slack on diet or exercise, but an end goal always helps me look ahead instead of giving up.

I think being accountable also helps, which is why I’m laying it all out there, here on my blog.  I am starting out at 146 lbs. and want to get down to 137 lbs. so I can fit into my size-6 pre-pregnancy jeans again.  I WILL NOT BUY NEW JEANS (my new mantra)!  Okay, I’ll keep you posted!

*Recommended Reading: I’m currently reading a book I picked up from the library called “How to Look Hot in a Minivan” by Janice Min, who is the former Editor-in-Chief of US Weekly.  She gives great tips on diet, exercise, makeup, hair, and style for new moms, and features a lot of celebrity moms for inspiration.  It’s a fun read and very helpful for those moms who don’t want to look like they’ve given up!

It’s (Orange) Pumpkin Season!

The other day the family went to the pumpkin farm to pick our own pumpkins for Halloween.  As the sun went down over the farm fields, we took a hayride to the pumpkin patch, where my son picked a perfectly shaped little pumpkin while I picked a larger, somewhat deformed pumpkin.

Pumpkins…iconic of October, the fall and cooler temperatures (mid-80’s in Tucson), and the best holidays of the year around the corner.  Pumpkins never played a huge role in my fall festivities; in fact, I had never been to a pumpkin patch before having kids.  I only remember carving one pumpkin in my youth.  I didn’t enjoy “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” as much as the Christmas special.  And I thought it strange when my friend Melissa, who was obsessed with pumpkins (her favorite holiday is Halloween and favorite color is orange), would send me a card every year in our 20s with a picture of a pumpkin patch, or of her holding a pumpkin, or a jack o’ lantern.

It wasn’t until I was in the Peace Corps that I began to appreciate pumpkins (when I started appreciate a lot of things) – specifically orange pumpkins.  During my second year, I organized my site’s annual Halloween party.  I really wanted to bring the Halloween spirit to my students since they don’t celebrate Halloween in Kazakhstan.  I even went so far as asking my friends in the U.S. to send me Halloween care packages (shout out to those friends and my sister who spent the money to send a package to Kazakhstan. I still remember who you are!).  I went to the market to look for orange pumpkins and whatever else we could find that resembled the fall, Halloween, or something scary (aside from the sheep’s heads) to decorate for the party.

When I arrived at the “squash” section of the market, however, all I saw were green and white pumpkins.  As I scoured stand after stand for the elusive orange pumpkin, I found one green pumpkin with a few orange markings on it.  I immediately snatched it up, and my local friend who was shopping with me asked the vendor if he had any other orange-y pumpkins.  Magically, the guy at the stand next to him pulled out an orange pumpkin from under his table.  As we looked around the squash section, more and more vendors were pulling orange pumpkins from under their tables and trying to get our attention so we would buy from them (we ended up buying ALL the orange pumpkins).  Apparently Kazakhstanis preferred their squash green or white, and the orange pumpkins were considered freakish, which was why they were stashed under the table, hidden from the shoppers’ view.  I guess they would compare to the heirloom tomatoes, purple carrots, or golden raspberries that you can find here in the U.S. but are not nearly as popular as the traditional variety.

I enjoy pumpkin season now, not only for the joy it brings to my kids, but because you can find an assortment of delicious pumpkin-flavored treats (of course it involves food and drink).  Every October in the U.S., you can find several establishments selling a variety of pumpkin baked goods, from pumpkin pie to pumpkin bread to pumpkin cream-cheese muffins, as well as pumpkin-flavored beverages.  Is there any vegetable as versatile in its flavor as the pumpkin?!  You can even buy canned pumpkin so you can bake your own pumpkin desserts.  I can’t tell you how awesomely convenient canned pumpkin is.  All the pumpkin goodness without the messy work.  When I lived abroad, there was no such thing as canned pumpkin.  I bought pumpkins at the market, lugged them home (not only were they heavy, they were awkward to carry), almost landed in the ER cutting them open with dull knives, seeded them, cooked them, and then used the flesh to make pumpkin muffins in Kazakhstan and pumpkin pie in Thailand.  Perhaps it was the effort I put into making them or the novelty of baked pumpkin goods in these countries, but they were damn good!  Better than any of the premade pumpkin desserts I’ve tasted here.

I also appreciate the orange pumpkin now because it is one of the few vegetables my kids will eat.  Pumpkins are very nutritious – packed with vitamins and antioxidants.  Not only will my kids will eat pumpkin desserts, they will also eat other pumpkin-y foods as well, including pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin ravioli, and pumpkin empanadas.  As for me, there’s nothing better than a pumpkin spice latte or a pumpkin ale.

Whether it’s the picking, carving, decorating, smashing, the seeds, the pie, the baked goods, the coffee, or the beer, enjoy it while you can!

Happy Halloween and Happy (Orange) Pumpkin Season!

Adventures in Cooking

I didn’t start cooking until I was 30 years old.  For some reason, I never cooked with my mom growing up (I guess she wanted me to concentrate on my studies so I wouldn’t end up being a stay-at-home mom…go figure), and all throughout college I lived in dorms or other housing where meals were provided for me.  I remember the first time I cut up a chicken breast – it was after I graduated from college, when I lived in an apartment in Brighton, MA (outside of Boston) with three roommates.  I was totally grossed out as I handled the raw flesh, trying to cut away the fat and skin.  I kept muttering “gross” “yuck” and “what the …?” My roommate Risha looked on, completely amused (and trying not to laugh, I’m sure).  Then she said “Oh Linda, you’re so cute.”

A few years later, I lived alone in a 1-bedroom apartment in Chicago.  My kitchen, though relatively big, had approximately 1 square foot of counter space.  I didn’t have any interest in cooking, and with a full-time job, I was too tired to do anything after work except zone out in front of the t.v.  My typical dinner was a piece of salmon I cooked on the George Forman grill, frozen brussel sprouts I steamed in an electronic steamer, and rice that I made in a rice cooker. (Suffice it to say, I’m a slave to my kitchen appliances.  This started freshman year when I illegally had a hot pot and toaster oven in my dorm room.  Never started any fires but it did make me pretty popular on my floor.)  I went out to dinner with friends 2-3 times a week, and every other weekend I went to my parents’ house to get free meals there.

This lack of cooking skills kind of screwed me by the time I joined the Peace Corps.  It wasn’t a problem the first year that I lived with a host family, but when I lived alone in an apartment in my 2nd year, it was just me against frying pan (and a pressure cooker I acquired from another PC volunteer.  Again with me and the appliances).  It was quite a challenge for me to make rice without a rice cooker, cook beans that weren’t from a can, and prepare chicken that wasn’t cut up cleanly and pre-packaged.  There were no frozen convenience foods available, plus my freezer was the same temperature as my refrigerator, which wasn’t very cold in the first place.  The only thing that saved me from having to cook all my meals was the plethora of cafes in my town.  For about $1, I could get laghman (Kazakh noodles), plov (Uzbek fried rice), or a variety of Russian dishes (all with sour cream and dill on top).  However, the food in Kazakhstan wasn’t very healthy (I gained 10 lbs. my first year) – it was heavy on meat and all the dishes seemed to have a layer of orange oil floating on top.  I decided to cook in my apartment more to change up my diet.  Thus my adventures in cooking began.

I went to the open market a few times a week to get produce, grains, meat, and cheese to cook with.  I guess I wasn’t too adventurous at first, because starting from that year in Peace Corps and continuing on for the next 5 or so years, I had to follow a recipe exactly.  I had a Peace Corps cookbook that became my bible (by the end of my service, it became so beat up with food and water stains that I couldn’t bring it back with me  to the U.S.  I still regret that now).  I was so stringent in following the recipes that if I couldn’t find even one ingredient at the market, I wouldn’t cook the dish.  That’s how inexperienced and unknowledgeable I was about cooking.

When I returned from the Peace Corps, my college friends from Boston introduced me to the Food Network.  I started watching it a lot (along with Fear Factor and other “reality” shows that ruled the networks when I came back to the U.S. in 2004).  I began to gain some knowledge about cooking as I cooked more and more.  By the time I moved to Thailand two and a half years later, I had a bit more confidence so that I didn’t have to follow a recipe exactly every time.  I took a cooking class in Chiang Mai which taught me about a critical cooking device that I had never used until then and is now always by my side in the kitchen – “the tasting spoon.”  You taste your food and add what’s needed, whether it’s salt, sugar, fish sauce, lime, etc.  Seriously, before then I never thought to taste the food before sitting down and eating it.

Cooking became an adventure I started to enjoy, and my fellow colleagues enjoyed my dishes as a change-up to their usual Thai fare (which is delicious, but gets monotonous after a while).  Sometimes my colleagues in would bring me back ingredients they picked up on their vacations (like vanilla beans from Bali) or in Bangkok so I could drum up a dish.  I would scour the markets for familiar ingredients and try to whip something up, whether it was a Thai dish or an American one.  I still ate at cafes a lot, but I also had more practice in the kitchen (and sometimes with very little to work with – not many appliances available to me there).

I knew that cooking officially became a hobby for me when I moved next to South Sudan.  We had cooks who prepared our meals three times a day.  Although it was nice not having to worry about food, I sometimes felt the urge to cook or bake, because it was a good way for me to relieve stress.  It was impossible, though, because I didn’t have any ingredients, couldn’t find anything to cook with in the kitchen (which was even more barebones than in Thailand), and didn’t have electricity.  I looked forward to going back to the U.S. so I could cook again.

Now cooking is still an adventure for me, but more of a tedious and time-consuming one.  I have to prepare meals to accommodate four people in the family, including a vegan-ish husband and a picky preschooler with food allergies (on the other hand, my toddler eats almost everything. Like mother, like daughter).  We eat out at restaurants twice a week at most, but for health and money reasons, we have most of our meals at home.  And with a husband with zero cooking skills (unless you count pushing buttons on a microwave), all of the cooking falls to me.  I still enjoy it, but I would more if I cooked occasionally rather than ALL THE TIME.

At least I’m better off now than before I left for the Peace Corps.  I can’t imagine having children with the cooking skills I had back then.  I would probably be serving my kids Kraft mac n cheese, Chef Boyardee, or McDonald’s everyday (I still do occasionally).  I look forward to the day when my kids are a little bit older (and their palates a little more refined) so I can introduce them to dishes from around the world.  But for now I look forward to Mother’s Day, because that is my self-proclaimed no-cook day.

Stay-at-home vs. Working

I think there’s a point in every new mom’s life when boredom sets in and she contemplates going back to work.  Mine hit after 3 months.   Three years and two kids later, I am still at home full-time.  I have been keeping my eyes open for a job, and go back and forth about whether I want to go back to work now.  I am one of the lucky ones, though.  I actually have a choice.

I could talk about how much staying at home sucks, and that my brain is atrophying while my education and experience go out the window along with my sanity being with the kids all day.  But I won’t, because honestly, it’s not a bad gig.  I can choose what to do each day while my husband is forced to go to the office.  I can decide to do fun-kid-stuff like go to the zoo or museum, or fun-me-stuff like go shopping.  I can even opt do nothing and stay in my pajamas all day long at home.  I can plop my kids in front of the t.v. when I want a few minutes of computer time to check e-mail and Facebook.  I can eat the same lunch that my kids eat, such as mac and cheese, hot dogs or chicken nuggets (easier than making a salad for myself).  In the blissful hour or so that both kids are napping, I can work out (highly unlikely), watch Food Network or Travel Channel, or take a nap myself (most likely).  Really, what’s there to complain about?

Obviously it’s not great all the time.  I still have to change diapers and wipe poopy butts a few times a day.  I am pretty much a servant to my kids – getting them meals, snacks, juice, toys from the top shelf, etc.  I have to figure out what to feed my kids all the time so that I’m constantly thinking about what their next meal or snack will be.  I have to find various ways to keep them entertained so I don’t resort to sitting them in front of the t.v. for hours and hours.  I have to do piles of laundry each week, although I swore I would never complain about that here in the U.S. after having to do laundry by hand in the Peace Corps (which included wringing wet clothes out and hanging every single piece up to dry).  And the terrible-twos-and-threes tantrums that I deal with on a regular basis make me want to go running back to crunching numbers on SPSS.

Seriously, though, I do want to go back to work eventually, and it’s not only because I have to pay off my exorbitant school loans.  I actually enjoyed working (not too many hours, though), especially when I worked abroad in international health and development. Unfortunately where I live now, opportunities in my field are limited and the job openings are few and far between.  And even before applying for a position, I have to ask myself if the position is interesting and meaningful enough to make it worth being away from my kids (not to mention pays enough to cover childcare costs).  I am worried down the line about my candidacy for jobs the longer I stay out of work.  After all, long gaps in employment are a big red flag, even (or especially) for new moms.

My husband tells me that I have my whole life to work and to take a few years off to raise our children.  And I know that once I start working, I’ll long for those days I stayed at home.  So for now, while the job market is still bad and the kids are too young for school, I’ll enjoy this time at home.  After all, the first few years are so amazing in terms of their development, and as the cliché (which I’ve heard a thousand times since my kids were born) goes, they grow up so fast.  And being with them as they grow is a gift that I won’t take for granted.

I heart COFFEE

I love my coffee.  There’s nothing in the world that makes me happier upon waking than a hot cup of coffee.  Not my kids’ smiling faces, the fresh Arizona morning air, or the beautiful day that lies ahead of me.  I love it so much that after having my first baby (who was born on my birthday), I bought myself one of those Keurig single-serve brewers along with a bunch of  environmentally-unfriendly coffee-filled k-cups.  Every morning, I look forward to (and desperately need) that steaming cup of Keurig-brewed joe to perk myself up and prepare me for the day ahead (I’m not the type to bound out of bed in the morning ready to start the day).

I started drinking coffee in college and my habit reached its height in my late 20s while working full-time in Chicago.  I drank about 4 cups per day at the time before realizing that my intake had to be curtailed, not only for my daily caffeine consumption (which didn’t really affect me so much anymore), but the fact that the fancy coffee drinks were making a serious dent in my wallet.  I reluctantly decreased my trips to the café from a few times a week to once a week.

By the time I entered the Peace Corps, I was a full-blown coffee addict.  The problem was that coffee wasn’t readily available in Kazakhstan (tea is the customary drink).  A couple of days of withdrawal and a serious headache later, I had to settle for the only coffee available – Nescafe.  Yes, a travesty to true coffee drinkers.  At first I shunned it, not only because Nescafe IS nastiness packaged in granules (coffee should NOT be instant), but that it’s made by the evil corporation Nestle (a rant for another time).  However, after realizing there was no coffeemaker in sight, not to mention actual coffee, I gave in and started to drink the dreaded stuff.  Believe me, for a coffee addict stuck in a land devoid of coffee, Nescafe became a godsend (eventually as a seasoned Peace Corps volunteer, I was privy to passed-down French presses and coffee percolators along with ground coffee sent in care packages by former PCVs – a true godsend).

The only time I gave up coffee for an extended period of time was when I was pregnant with my firstborn baby.  After 8 long months without coffee, I missed it more than any other food or drink I had given up, including sushi (my favorite food) and margaritas (my favorite drink).  I looked forward to the day my baby was born so that I could send the husband out to Dunkin’ Donuts, which was just down the street from the hospital.  I resumed my coffee drinking after my baby was born and continued through my second pregnancy.  I couldn’t imagine giving it up again during my second pregnancy (I needed even more with an active toddler) and figured that caffeine can’t be that bad for your unborn baby (I must add that my second baby was a much better sleeper than my first.  Perhaps because she was a “coffee baby” while my first wasn’t accustomed to the caffeine in my breastmilk).

Although I am still going strong with a 2-cup-a-day habit, I mostly drink it at home.  However, one of the things I really missed while I was pregnant and while living abroad (not simultaneously) was going to a cafe.  I’m talking about the cafes you find here in the U.S. where they serve a thousand different kinds of coffee drinks, are open at any time of day, and where you can sit for hours without anyone bothering you.  In my single and childless days, I loved going to relax and enjoy a vanilla latte, most of the time by myself and a book or laptop, sometimes with a friend.  This is a luxury I first took for granted when I lived abroad.  The cafes abroad (at least in the countries I lived, not places like Paris) weren’t actual coffee shops – they were more like casual restaurants where they served food and drink.  They didn’t specialize in coffee, much less SERVE it (or if they did, it was of the Nescafe variety).  Also, the cafes in developing countries weren’t open at all hours.  In grad school, I used to go to the cafe after 10pm to study or write papers (back then it was perfectly normal for me to drink coffee at that time).  When I moved to Thailand shortly after grad school, I missed those late-night cafe excursions so much I would dream about it.  One time I dreamt about going to a cafe at midnight!

I still think of going to a cafe as a luxury.  Nowadays the problem isn’t supply, since I live in a college-town with several 24-hour cafes, not to mention a Starbucks every half mile (this is the U.S. after all).  I just don’t have the opportunity anymore with two kids who are with me all the time.  So during those infrequent times I hire a babysitter to watch the kids while my husband is away for work, I go to a cafe by myself like I used to.  I order a cup of coffee and enjoy some much-needed and desired quiet and solitude.  Sometimes I write, sometimes I read, sometimes I just relax, look around, and enjoy being alone with my thoughts.  Aaaaahhh.  There’s nothing like having children and living abroad to appreciate the little things in life.