Childen’s Discovery Museum: An oasis of indoor fun

When the weather forecast for this weekend included both a frost warning and a freeze warning, I knew it was time to search for some indoor fun for A. There’s been one place on my list for months now, and that is Children’s Discovery Museum. Today we decided to tick CDM off our list, especially when A woke up after a night of semi-sleep with a bundle of energy. And what a day it was!

CDM is a glorious celebration of young curiosity. With two floors full of exhibits that promote learning in an environment of play, there’s something for children of all ages. And when I say all ages, I’m not kidding! My 16-month-old daughter, who until now has been too young for most museums and the like, was overjoyed! In fact, I saw tiny tots even younger than her! There is even a CrawlSpace, an area safe for the little ones who aren’t walking yet.


We started off with A clinging to me, curious yet cautious, not knowing where to start. After wandering around the first floor briefly, we landed in the Rainbow Market, an area where children learn about fruits, vegetables and are allowed to pretend-play all aspects of food – choosing vegetables, cooking, and eating. After tentatively venturing out of my arms, one of the volunteers handed A a pretend-slide of apple and then something clicked in her, and she was off! The vegetables and fruits were arranged by color, allowing kids to learn both colors as well as the names of fruits and veggies. The area has a pretend kitchen, with a stove, microwave, refrigerator, sink and table.

pretend-cooking


There are also separate sections celebrating foods from all over the world, including China, India, Mexico, Phillipines and more. The display from the Phillipines included a particularly nice coconut grater with a pretend-coconut that could actually be grated by way of cotton  straps attached by velcro!


Of course, this section would be incomplete without a mention of the display from India!


After a lunch of real food, we went up the musical staircase (a different note on each step!) moved on to the Wonder Cabinet, an area on the second floor exclusively for kids aged 0-4. This area was packed to the brim with at least ten different displays, including an Enchanted Forest with a wonderful story time, a super-cool craft area and numerous displays to pique the young mind. Kiddo started off at the very first display, where she gathered a bunch of blue balls and sent them down a chute.

There was also a maze of pipes with an upward blower that would send balls upwards and into the pipes, something that A loved  once she figured out how to use. The balls were to be inserted in the red circle where they would be sent upwards and then back down through the maze.


She also discovered a lovely area celebrating light  and shadow. An ingenious arrangement of horse cutouts, mirrors and red,green and blue lights on a turntable causing a melange of color and light. This had her gazing in wonder for several minutes, trying to identify the source of the beauty.

Speaking of sound and light,the Enchanted Forest housed one of my personal favorites, a grid of lighted rods that children could use to create their own displays. Once again, I found that it was easier for A to pull OUT the rid than put it IN. Pushing it back in required A to push the rod in a specific angle, which had her briefly puzzled. But the beauty of the pushed right lighting up encouraged her!


There were also displays where we could smell and guess aromas such as chocolate, strawberry and other foods. This made me realize that we haven’t done a whole lot of sensory play involving smells yet! There was also an area of huge but safe foam blocks, and the aforementioned crawl space too. 

When we were done here, we headed back to the first floor where she now discovered the Street display of traffic lights, vehicles and even a model plane. She even got to drive a car!


There was also a mammoth display and a display of fossils, a play area made entirely of cellophane tape, a display of bubbles bigger than A, and much more. 

Located in the heart of downtown San Jose, CDM is closeby enough to reach quickly on a lazy Saturday morning, making it a total win in my book. Public parking is available right behind, and with A toddling around, we could comfortably leave the stroller behind for a change. Healthy lunches and snacks are available at the FoodShed. There are sufficient changing stations (in both men’s and women’s rooms!) and a nursing area as well. Head on over for a wonderful day of indoor fun, and you won’t regret it! I believe I can safely say this was A’s happiest day ever! 

 

Project Toddler Travel Food

Well, we finally did it – our first family vacation! We spend 2 weeks on the Big Island, Hawaii. We had a truly memorable time, what with A learning to walk and talk! We also visited a bunch of cool places, including a black sand beach, a garden that was modeled after the Milky Way galaxy, an astronomy center from where we could view the Milky Way, and a live volcano! All very unique experiences that need a separate photo essay to do any justice in sharing.

Of course, this kind of travel requires a LOT of planning with a toddler. In fact, it took me nearly a month to put together everything food-related A needed for the trip! Of course, one must keep in mind that my working hours are restricted to A’s sleep time, if I’m lucky, especially during the cold months when her outdoor activities are restricted. Not to mention, Hawaii didn’t have the same availability of groceries and food that we are lucky access in Sunnyvale, and we found out that even Amazon Prime took 3-7 days and hefty shipping fee to deliver. So of course, I had to be very, very organized with this project. I chose to break down the Project Toddler Travel Food into phases, and the instructional designer in me went back to good ol’ ADDIE. While the ADDIE Model is traditionally used in Instructional System Design, it can also be applied to generic processes to have a more systematic approach. Anyway, this is my belief.

So here goes, the 5 Phases of Project Toddler Travel Food:

Analysis:
A quick analysis of my toddler’s needs and our constraints led me to the following conclusions:
1. A’s basic diet consists of rasam/dal/rice + steamed veg for her lunches/dinners and idlies and dosas for her breakfasts.
2. I would have access to a full kitchen during the first week of our trip (we had booked an AirBnB), while during the second week we would be staying at a resort where I would possibly get a microwave depending on availability.
3. I couldn’t carry a ton of food and utensils due to luggage constraints.

Design:
Based on the constraints, I divided up the packing list for this project into three, the food to pack, the utensils, and the food to buy there. Here goes:

Food to take:

  1. Mung dal: Cooks way faster in an electric rice cooker than toor dal, healthy as well.
  2. Rice: Just enough for the travel day, we bought rice there too.
  3. Methkoot: a Marathi preparation, a powder consisting of roasted lentils and fenugreek. To be mixed with rice with salt and oil, or butter in this case since that is what we bought. Known as Menthya Hittu in Kannada.
  4. Vangibath powder: A preparation of roasted and powdered spices, lentils and dry coconut which is mixed with rice and vegetables to create a yummy rice dish. I carried this to mix with rice, butter and frozen vegetables bought there.
    Instant Rasam Powder: A must for me as rasam rice is my daughter’s staple food. Here is a recipe that I developed, tested and got A’s approval on weeks before our trip.
  5. Chutney podi: To be had with idlies or dosas
  6. Instant Dosa Powder: I used a recipe from the trusty Hebbar’s Kitchen for this with success. The AirBnB we were staying at provided a non-stick frying pan and spatulas which I used to make dosas.
  7. Instant Oats Idly Mix: Again, I’ve got a recipe on my blog right here.
  8. Instant Rava Idly/upma Mix: I can get a full recipe up on this site soon but for now, all you gotta do is make the exact same recipe as the oats idly mix, but replace all the oat flour with semolina and rava. This can be used to make quick upma too!
  9. Dhaniya jeera powder: Roasted cumin and coriander seed powder. This is A’s favorite seasoning for steamed vegetables.
  10. Eno fruit salt: I needed this to make the instant idlies and dosas, but can be substituted with baking soda in a pinch
  11. Lime juice concentrate: I used this to give my idlies and dosas the tang that typically comes from fermentation.

Utensils to take:

  1. Electric rice cooker: I have this one, small and handy.
  2. Microwave idly plates: I have something similar to this.
  3. A’s bowls with lids: I have this, convenient for travel and especially when there are no high chairs.
  4. A’s spoons, bibs and sippy cups
  5. Disposable boxes: These were useful to transport food from the AirBnB to the resort. As I wasn’t sure about the availability of a microwave at the resort, I prepared rasam and steamed veggies for A at the AirBnB and transported them to the resort. I chose to use disposable boxes so that I could leave them behind and free up luggage space on the way back.

Shopping list:

  1. Essentials: Salt / butter / milk / yoghurt / seasoning items (pepper/chilli flakes)
  2. Foods which are easy to make: Pasta + pasta sauce, Bread + eggs
  3. Frozen: Frozen meals / Frozen vegetables
  4. Perishables: Vegetables and fruits

Development:

Next came making time to prepare the foods that I couldn’t buy, with links where applicable. These were:

  1. Instant rasam powder
  2. Instant oats idly mix
  3. Instant rava idly mix
  4. Instant dosa mix
  5. Mollaga podi (gun powder) or Chutney podi

Implementation:

  1. In order to cook comfortably while on a holiday, I strongly recommend booking an AirBnB with a full kitchen if that is an option at your destination. Our AirBnB had a full kitchen including a stove range, oven, microwave, toaster, coffee maker and dishwasher. In addition, we were provided with utensils such as pots and pans, plates and cutlery, coffee powder and sugar. If a full kitchen isn’t an option, a microwave would be a minimum requirement for me.
  2. It would also help to look up availability of groceries at your destination. We were fortunate enough to have a Safeway a few miles away, which allowed me to plan on buying pantry staples and some prepared foods as well.
  3. I also established a cooking schedule on Day 1, similar to the cooking schedule I follow at home. While this is certainly hard to do while on holiday, my baby was very happy to have her familiar foods away from home and anything that makes her happy is priceless! I must add that I could count the number of times A ate outside during our 2 week holiday on 1 hand, so everyday cooking proved to be essential.

Evaluation:

As with any project, evaluation is key if we want to travel with our picky toddler again. Food was the biggest challenge for A and she enjoyed everything else about traveling, so I really wanted to put together a travel kit for A’s food which could also serve as a template for future trips. Here are some things I felt I could improve:

  1. Utensils: While the AirBnB provided utensils, of course the resort didn’t provide any (duh!) which was something I had forgotten in my planning! We ended up using the disposable boxes, old take-out boxes, and a couple of plastic spoons and forks we’d gathered along the way. I still didn’t have any plates to eat from. Challenges which can be fixed next time by taking along a couple of plates, spoons and a microwave-able bowl.
  2. Seasoning items: I’d probably take along a couple of sachets of salt/pepper and some dried herbs and spices, since I didn’t have anything on the day we traveled and found it impossible to cook. It also seemed expensive to buy a full box of herbs/spices when all I needed was enough for a couple of weeks.

Well, that was Project Toddler Travel Food. I would say it turned out to be largely successful, especially because we also ate home-made food far more often than we have during our previous holidays. Food is such an important part of life, and a two week holiday would have been very difficult unless we planned this aspect well.

I hope this post was useful to you. Please modify as per your family’s needs and your travel destination. I can’t wait to hear your tips and tricks to help me improve this kit for next time!

Honored to be featured on Women’s Web!

I’ve been following Women’s Web for years now. They are a contemporary women’s magazine with articles on career, parenting, family and more. They’re one of my favorite online publications. I always felt that it was about time women had a good resource just like this!

Today I was honored to find my post published by them, on STEM toys and kiddos, which readers of this blog my find familiar. If you haven’t read it already, head on over here and catch up on the post.

Thank you, Women’s Web!

Instant dosa mix

A quick shout-out to Hebbar’s Kitchen for their recipe for Masala Dosa Mix! If you have a stove and a tava or a frying pan, and a few simple ingredients, you’re all set! Our AirBnB provides a stove and a non-stick frying pan, so that’s what I used. I also carried with me, from home, the prepared dosa mix (made with the exact recipe in the link), lime juice concentrate and Eno fruit salt. I bought a few staple groceries once we reached here, which included yoghurt (plain!) and salt. Honestly, the batter took less time to come together than the pan took to heat! I whisked 4 tbsp of mix with 1 tbsp of yoghurt, and then around 1/2 cup of water. I added a tsp of lime juice and 1/2 tsp of Eno fruit salt. Made the dosas, and they came out perfectly! Happy toddler, happy mommy!

Thank you, Hebbar’s Kitchen!

Appreciating discipline

A shout-out to my mom and dad for inculcating the early habits of discipline, both before and after A 🙂 We have been very particular about A’s bedtime, nap-time and meals pretty much since she was born. We were taught about babies and their circadian rhythm in the hospital itself. Well, A is 16 months old today and I am pleased to share that the rigorous setting of routines has paid off! She is very particular about her schedule. Even if I try to take a day off, she ensures that I provide her with food and she is put to bed at her specific times. I realized this especially now as she’s been following her routines as per CA time, while in HI! She’s been getting cranky if her dinner isn’t provided within 5:30 PM, and 8:00 PM is like the middle of the night for her. I decided to allow her to eat and sleep early, not bothering too much about jet lag and such. The only difference it makes is that she is early to bed and early to rise, and that isn’t too bad in my book! As long as we follow her routines, she is happy but should we deviate too much, she brings the roof down!

I don’t like to dole out parenting advice, but one of the few tips I would share is to establish a routine very early in your child’s life. There is no such thing as an in-disciplined child, any child can be disciplined if this is introduced early enough in life. To say babies cannot have a bed-time for the first 3 months of their life is a myth, in my opinion based on my experience. By establishing healthy eating and sleeping habits in your child, you are setting them up for a healthy lifestyle. The best thing? A’s routine has reinforced a sense of discipline in me!

And that’s the end of my advice-sharing session. Suffice to say, this worked for me and I hope it works for you. I’ll add that just like anything else, there are good days and bad days. But overall, A is cool with her sense of discipline. I am a proud mom!

 

First family vacation!

Tomorrow morning, we leave for our first family holiday! We’re off to Hawaii! Although we have traveled plenty before A was born, this is our first big holiday with a baby. We traveled to India when she was younger, but since that was to visit grandparents and more like going from one home to another, it was very different.

This time, we’ve tried to pack all that we can think of… clothes, diapers, wipes being the least of ’em. Toys that can keep her occupied for longer, beach toys, favorite books, items of comfort, basic medication and of course the biggest item on the list being FOOD. Let’s hope we’ve remembered everything important, and that if we haven’t, we can find it there locally. Let’s hope everything goes well! Excited and nervous. Fingers crossed! Yay!

Biggest change since parenthood

I used to love sleeping in, 5-minute snoozes on my alarm were my favorite thing and the longer I slept the fresher I would feel.

If you’d told me then that my best days after parenthood would be by starting my day early well before A wakes up, doing chores while the coffee brews and enjoying a quiet cup, I wouldn’t have believed you then! And yet, today these are a few of my favorite things 🙂

Fun at the park

I’ve realized that there are some amusing little things A has been doing of late, mostly at the park:

  • Trying to understand sharing: She has learnt to give and take. She has also learnt to help herself to other kids toys and play! However, she hasn’t fully gotten that to take a li’ll, you gotta give a li’ll. When she sees other kids playing with her toys, she goes around “collecting” them! I try to teach her to share (“one for her, one for you”) but looks like she hasn’t quite got the hang of it yet 😉 I have to admit it is interesting to watch the kids resolve these things amongst themselves.
  • Trying to “socialize”: she loves “talking” to the other kids; squealing, waving, following. When she sees one of her cute little friends, she recognizes them and points. When she sees an older kid, I see her trying to imitate and follow. For a kid who had severe stranger anxiety around her first birthday, it is amazing to watch her take these strides!

Just wanted to record these so that I could look back on them someday in the future and smile 🙂