Saturday, November 7, 2015

Practically Wasting My Time

I just wasted two hours trying to get my baby to nap. The eye-rubbing and whining started at 10am. She's just now fallen asleep. It's noon. 

There are days when I waste my time slicing avocado and tomatoes for baby, only for her to spend half an hour flicking it all onto the floor. And evenings when I waste 10 minutes reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear to her on the potty, only for her to stand up and gleefully pee on the bath mat. 

When you're a parent, time gets weird. It takes on a value somewhere between gold and paper towels: it's extremely precious, yet you find yourself throwing away massive amounts of it, every day. If I added up all those little minutes of feeding, pottying, and putting baby to sleep, would I be horrified to know what I could have done with my life instead? I could have learned fluent Chinese! Invented a portable water-desalination system! Funded girls' education worldwide!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Minimal Baby Year One: The Things We Haven't Needed

We're raising our baby on a tight budget in a small apartment in a town where we don't know anyone. The result: a minimal baby. No space, no waste. And not a lot of gifts, which was fine with us.

I also avoid plastics in my home because I look at everything in terms of its end state: Where will it be in 200 years? What will it do to our health in the meantime? Committing to a low-plastic life takes more effort, but I've gotten into the habit and actually enjoy the look of my home with very few petroleum-based possessions.

Here is an illustrated list of what we haven't needed in our baby's first year, for anyone who is wondering if babies really need all that stuff. Special thanks to some Renaissance moms and their babies for demonstrating no-frills mothering.

1. Feeding the baby Vouet Virgin and Child
My baby refused to drink from the bottle on her own. It wasn't something I planned. I know that not every mother can breastfeed; this is just what we ended up doing. Also, I happen to be self-employed so I can arrange my work schedule around her feedings. What we saved in the process was a lot of clutter in the kitchen: bottles, formula and its accessories, and a sterilizer (which I don't believe in for a healthy, full-term baby anyway).

At 7 months, I introduced solid food using baby-led weaning, further saving us the expense of jarred baby food and (plastic) utensils.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Crimes Against The Cute, Part 2: Shame On Chinese Zoos

Alligator at Beijing Zoo.  
David Castor/wikimedia commons
Over the past few years, there have been sporadic reports on animal abuses at Chinese zoos. However, if you've ever visited one, then you know that a Chinese zoo in itself is animal abuse. 

Back in 1998, I visited a Chinese zoo in Chengdu. It gave me nightmares for weeks. Elephants and big cats were rocking back in forth in their barren concrete enclosures, clearly suffering from "zoochosis". Monkeys sat in rotting metal cages, scratching themselves and masturbating until their skin was raw. Chinese visitors spat at the animals and threw packaged junk food into cages. Meanwhile, in the reptile exhibit, it was obvious that many animals were long dead. Their carcasses were already furry with mold.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The American Dream Of Not Being Here

In the next couple of years, my husband and I will have to decide whether to move to America or stay in Germany. If we move to America, we'd be in Berkeley, CA, where my family has its roots. 

But, even though Northern California ranks as one of the most desirable places in the United States, I have my hesitations. Because of one thing that I, as an American, just can't get over: America is ugly.

I don't mean the landscape; the amber waves of geographical eye candy turn every tourist into a hobby photographer. I don't mean the people, either. I mean that daily life in America is ugly, the drabness that we face because the little oases of architectural and civic beauty are choked off by parking lots and freeways. 

Take Berkeley, for instance. The legendary university town actually has a bayshore waterfront that boasts a million-dollar view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. If any European city were so blessed with this geography, without a doubt that waterfront would have been built into an appealing esplanade with cafes, boutiques, and tree-lined parks for the enjoyment of life. But we Americans? No. We built I-80 with 5 lanes of traffic in each direction. 

I-80 Eastshore Freeway/Minesweeper, wikimedia commons.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Because I'm Worth It


Throwing together a graphic is so much easier than writing an essay, I admit. That doesn't change the fact that I still want to put my longer thoughts into words. This is my black dog. I turned her into a L'Oréal model, because, well... she's worth it. She's so fabulous and I get to wake up to this lovely face every morning.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Breaking Baby Food

Food before one is just for motor coordination. 

That's been my discovery since I started my baby on baby-led-weaning, which is the alternative to spoon feeding baby food or puree. It's so exciting to watch that I can't imagine doing it any other way. Baby-led weaning (BLW) is "weaning" in the British sense of letting baby learn to feed herself, not necessarily stopping breastfeeding. BLW follows the natural pattern of what babies did for millennia before the baby food industry came along. 

And I see now that her grabbing for food at 5 months was the sign that she was ready to develop all sorts of motor skills for chewing, swallowing, speaking, moving the gag reflex back, protecting herself from choking, and using her fingers. Also, mashing her food with her tongue against the palate widens the mouth arch, making more space for future teeth to grow in. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I Love Öko-Test

Photo: Audrey Mei
For me, love in Germany has a name: Öko-Test.

Öko-Test is a German institution and monthly magazine that's been around since 1985. Öko-Test tests every product in the German market – food, clothing, toys, insurance, detergents, you name it – and gives it a rating. Products that are crowned with Öko-Test's highest rating "very good", as seen on the butter in the photo above ("sehr gut"), display it proudly because consumers in Germany will know that the product is really good. Öko-Test doesn't mess aroundÖko-Test means business.

Öko-Test Went to China. And It Got Awkward.

Öko-Test website, now live from Beijing.
You can read here about how I love Öko-Test.

Öko-Test is a German consumer-protection force that has been rigorously testing consumer products since 1985. As I've reported earlier, the Chinese respect German goods for their quality, particularly baby formula after the 2008 baby formula scandal in China that killed 6 babies and sickened 300,000. On May 15 of this year, Öko-Test launched their China branch website,, to publish test results of products sold in China. The joint venture team is led by Luo Chanping, a well-known Chinese journalist and recipient of the Integrity Award by Transparency International in 2013. 

In line with procedures for Öko-Test in Germany, the Chinese products are bought anonymously and sent to Germany by express mail for independent testing. But when their first test results came out, things got kind of awkward. For Germany.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Crimes Against The Cute, Part 1: Allan Gate

PHOTOS: Keraj1976, Eric Veland, and Silke Hahn. 
Last month, Danish radio host Asger Juhl bludgeoned to death a 9-week-old rabbit named Allan on a live radio broadcast. This gruesome stunt was meant to spark a debate about the hypocrisy of animal welfare activists who eat supermarket meat in Denmark. Did it bring about a new wave of vegetarianism? No. Instead, it solidified Juhl's identity in the Twittersphere as a psychopath. 

Juhl clearly orchestrated a few things to pull at listeners' heartstrings and produce maximum shock. He named the rabbit Allan, giving it a human-like individualism. He also identified Allan as a "baby rabbit", even though most fryer rabbits in the frozen section are also 9 weeks old. He supposedly "beat the rabbit to death" with a bicycle pump, lending the slaughter the feeling of inner-city violence, even though the pump was just a blunt object used to kill the rabbit in a humane manner according to expert, zookeeper instructions. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Back Pain: S-Curves, J-Curves, and Childhood Nutrition

A naked woman walking. Notice the S-curve of the spine.
Collotype after Eadward Muybridge, 1887. wikimedia commons

In the past few days, I've been seeing NPR's report on Esther Gokhale's work on spinal curves appear on my newsfeed. Gokhale traveled the world to study societies that don't suffer from back pain and discovered that these peoples have a J-curve of the spine, rather than the assumed "healthy" S-curve that we in western, back-pain plagued cultures know.

I have my own theory about this: Unnatural early childhood nutrition causes the prevalence of S-curved spines in developed countries. Some of you know that I've been obsessing about teeth lately, and here I see the connection. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How to Change the Settings on Your Baby

audrey mei

"This helped me." I don't know about yours, but my baby has Settings.  Wake me if I'm dreaming [reaches for strong coffee, checks baby for messages, burps iPhone].

1. Sleep settings. 

Settings > General > Sleep > Nighttime > Duration > 12 hours

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Chinese Babies Drink German Qualität

"Maximum 3 containers per customer."

See that sign hanging from the baby formula shelf? It's in a drugstore in Germany and it says:
Dear Customer,
Due to large demand, we can only sell all brands of formula in regular household amounts (max. 3 containers). Thank you for your cooperation! 
What's going on? Is Germany trying to dictate breastfeeding by rationing formula? Is La Leche League turning into a fascist market regulator? No, the reason is much much bigger:

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nature's Perfect Smile

No braces needed here. Natural smiles (clockwise from upper left corner) 
from Tibet, Afghanistan, Gambia, and Polynesia.
images: wikimedia commons

My baby refused to drink from bottles at 8 weeks. I panicked because I had to go back to work part-time. But then I realized that she was protecting her future teeth, her health, and her pretty face.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why the Diaper-Free Insanity?

"Windelfrei" top hat potty from 
image: audrey mei

"This sounds like a lot of work! I used diapers and potty trained both my kids in one week, when they were ready around 2 1/2 years. Why would you subject yourself to all this stress?" 
"I started elimination communication with my daughter when she was 18 months old and she was fully potty trained by 20 months. So what I did in 2 months, you took a year and a half to do." 
"In my experience with my children, the earlier you begin potty training, the longer it takes and the more accidents you have."
These are comments from parents who wonder why anyone would practice elimination communication (EC), a.k.a. natural infant hygiene, with their babies. Reports across the internet call EC a trend, although it is a practice from the beginning of time that never went out of fashion in much of the world.

I have my own reasons for choosing natural infant hygiene over standard diapering. But I want to clarify what EC is. To start, the goals of natural infant hygiene are not the following:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Journey to Minimal Baby

A compostable potty from bEcopotty.
Photo: audrey mei

I have underdone it with my baby.

Our environment has become so toxic that parents today are bombarded by the "-free's": lead-free, mercury-free, smoke-free, pesticide-free, hormone-free, sugar-free, antibiotic-free. A long list, isn't it? Yet it continues with GMO-free, screen-free, paraben-free, aluminum-free, preservative-free. Yes, for the most part, I'm doing all of the above. And more.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

People Used to Do What to Their Kids?

Godfrey's Cordial, a.k.a. "Mother's Friend"
image: pharmacy e-museum.

I tend to avoid many modern inventions made for baby. But I'm not a blind fan of the way we used to raise children, either. When I say "we", I mean western civilization. If you're a parent, you can read these and feel grateful for the advances that science and women's rights have made since these times.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Co-Sleeping With Dog: Nuclear Family Freeze

When we talk about co-sleeping and sleep training, we're not talking about the baby. 
Our dog only weighs 17 pounds but for some reason it's impossible to pull the blanket out from under her.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Plastic-Free Kitchen: Carrot Baby "Spoons"

Plastic baby and children's products that claim to be "BPA-free" are still likely to contain some of the 10,000 other unregulated chemicals used in plastic, especially if they are made in China.

To get around using plastic baby spoons, I carved up carrots to make grippy "spoons" that are also general chew toys.

image: audrey mei

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Using the Wisdom of Ants to Get Through Life


"What should I do with my life?" The question is harder to answer now than ever before. We could really use any advice. Better yet, free advice. Even if it's from a silent, black, typically menacing creature who only weighs 3 milligrams.