And Now They Are 8!

June 27, 2016

Pastries at the farmers market

My beautiful girls turned 8 years-old on Sunday. Eight! It’s hard for this mama to believe. I should perhaps say that we celebrated them turning 8 because as anyone who’s adopted a child from Ethiopia knows, birthdays are rarely accurate. They don’t record birth dates in Ethiopia and don’t tend to celebrate birthdays. Add to that the fact that children relinquished for adoption are often assigned younger ages to make them more “adoptable” and you rarely come home with a true birth date.

Most people don’t do anything about it — unless the discrepancy is vast and it causes issues with school, health, or developmental issues. Changing it on all of the documents that come with adoption would be a paperwork nightmare in my books. So, June 26 it is in our house!

Last year, S and H didn’t want a party so we had just family and godparents over for cake and did something together as a family instead. This year the request was different: they wanted a party with friends. Since it was a busy week after getting back from Kentucky, we kept it simple: Snacks, drinks, cake, and ice cream in our courtyard for about 20 people. Then most of the group headed down to the carousel and water fountains at the harbor, close to our house. Thankfully, the weather was perfect. Then it was gift-opening when we got home. The girls proclaimed it “the best birthday ever,” which is always a good thing.

8th birthday

I didn’t have time to make two cakes like I did last year. Instead, the girls picked out what they wanted at our local WholeFoods bakery. I did, however, make gluten-free cupcakes since as one of our little guest needed it. The vanilla cupcakes themselves turned out really well, which was edifying since I made some substitutions such as coconut palm sugar instead of white sugar. But the frosting was another story…

The plan was to whip up a topping using coconut cream (from a can of coconut milk) and flavor it with vanilla and honey. But when I went to re-whip it, just before the guests arrived, the consistency changed and more or less curdled. No idea why. (Chemistry was never my strong-suit, which is probably why I’m such an  inconsistent cook.) It still tasted good, though, so I went with it, hoping to disguise the mistake with some colored sprinkles on the top (dye-free, of course). But 10 minutes after I put the sprinkles box on the counter, I couldn’t find them anywhere. The whole family ended up getting into the hunt for the box of sprinkles, with no success; they had disappeared into thin air. So, I stuck some dark chocolate chips on top instead.

I had to laugh, though: after all that, the little guy I made them for didn’t like them! All the adults did, though, and the other kids, too, so the cupcakes still got gobbled up. (Oh, and I found the sprinkles later hiding under our Japanese wood cutting board. Turns out, the little box fit perfectly underneath the board, and rather than lift the board up, we kept simply pushing it around the counter in our search. Good grief.)

Anyway, back to the birthday girls… They are growing and changing so quickly and I’m trying to be present to the everyday moments, knowing they pass all too fast. I don’t want to be a mom who’s always upset that my kids are getting older — and in my girls’ case, they need encouragement as they are sometimes unsure they want to get any older — but I can’t help feeling a little wistful to see their younger selves transforming before my eyes. Just a part of motherhood, right?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

 

 

{ 0 comments }

Handmade dresses

Among my mother-in-law’s many gifts is her ability to sew. And I don’t mean simply fixing hems or mending holes. This woman can make stuff. As a young woman, she made her own clothes that were fashion magazine worthy — people would stop her on the street and ask where she got what she was wearing. She has sewn all kinds of incredible things over the years, and I would add kids Halloween costumes to that list as the ones she made for the girls the past two years were really something.

I marvel at this talent because sewing is not something I grew up with. My mother never learned — she was left-handed and refused to do it the right-handed way, which is the only way anyone would teach it when she was young. And I had such a crummy experience in home economics class myself that it put a bad taste in my mouth when it came to sewing so I didn’t pursue it. Neither of my grandmothers seemed to sew, either, at least as far as I remember.

One of the highlights of our trip to Kentucky this month for S and H was being introduced to sewing by B’s mom. She had them practice using the machine, and then she took them to a fabric store where they picked out fabric for sundresses she helped them to make. They were quick to know what they wanted — and both knew they wanted their dressed to be long.

The results are above. Aren’t they beautiful? (They also look so grown up — sniff, sniff!) For Father’s Day on Sunday, the girls insisted on wearing them — to church and out for brunch — and as predicted they made a statement everywhere they went. (These girls can wear any color and look dynamite – I’m so jealous.)

Coming home with a beautiful dress that they can say they made (with Nana’s help!) is indeed special, but perhaps even better is the memories this made. Sewing with their grandmother is something the girls can treasure for many years to come. I guarantee they’ll remember these first outfits they made.

Do you sew? Would you like to learn? If you could make something with a sewing machine, what would it be?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

{ 2 comments }

Post-trip Musings

June 21, 2016

Colonel's Creamery

I didn’t mean to be so silent last week; it just kind of happened that way. We were in Kentucky for two weeks and while I posted on Instagram more than usual, blogging ended up falling by the wayside. Sometimes it’s also good to just get a break from the computer!

We had a great trip — the girls first to visit their grandmother at her place and they had a wonderful time… a sweet little dog to play with, a pool to swim in, a grandma to hang out with, and various little excursions. When the kids are happy and occupied it sure makes life easier for mama.

When we got back, I told B that I felt like we came home to camping in a storage room.

If you recall, our fridge broke a few days before we left and after paying someone $150 to fix it, it wasn’t any better. So before we even unpacked our things, we began defrosting our refrigerator as a last-step measure to see if we could avoid spending Father’s Day at an appliance store. And it worked — whew.

I won’t bother saying more about our house being like a storage room these days — suffice it to say, it doesn’t take much to make an eight-foot wide row home feel like a warehouse. And when you try to declutter, things look much worse before they look better.

Getting away has many benefits — even though this trip wasn’t a vacation per se — and one of the best things is how it can change your perspective. It can provide a fresh look at things, and help you come to new realizations. I came home with two resolutions: One is to start taking concrete steps to move. The other is to figure out a way to get back to some kind of regular exercise again. Neither of these things can happen immediately, but now I have more of a fire under my butt to do so. Of course, I’ll be sure to keep you posted on both fronts.

Oh, and that ice cream we’re eating up there? Maybe some of the best I’ve ever had. If you’re ever in northern Kentucky, be sure to stop by Friendly’s Market in Mt. Zion for some Colonel’s Creamery ice cream. (And lest you think I downed two ice cream cones and a bubble tea and that’s why I need to start exercising, I really only ate the chocolate one!)

Image: B

 

{ 0 comments }

Little Fish

One thing I learned last week was that you really can live without a fridge for seven days. But it throws everything off. What’s a responsible mother to do? Eats what she can, gives the rest away, and take a long road trip with the family…

We’re now in Kentucky hanging out with my mother-in-law (which was planned long before the fridge decided to quit). The patient woman has been waiting for over three years to have her only grandchildren visit. Since S and H came home, she has always come to us, but it was high time for us to make the trek to her. Now that we’re on our summer schedule (with a more relazed academic schedule for the next few months), the time was right.

So, I think this weekend calls for a Kentucky Mule, made with bourbon, ginger beer and splash of lime juice — a bourbon-based riff on a Dark ‘n’ Stormy. I think it will do the trick while I help my mother-in-law plan an open-house gathering for relatives to come see us and meet the girls on Sunday. We’re keeping things easy and casual, but I can’t help but bake. I’ve got these chocolate chip cookies on the brain and may also make this flourless chocolate cake — apparently there are a lot of chocolate lovers among the guests. Plus we’ll do something pretty with strawberries.

The girls have been having a blast — a cute little dog helps! I’ve been posting a few photos on Instagram if you want to follow along. Happy weekend, friends!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

{ 1 comment }

Tavarua Island

June 8, 2016

Surfing by deli de la Rua

Do you ever wish you could escape to a beautiful island where the people are warm and hospitable, the water is a perfect shade of blue, and there’s nothing to do but relax, unwind, and enjoy the wonders of nature? Well, my sister and her family lived that dream a few months ago when they spent 10 days on the island of Tavarua in Fiji. It doesn’t even look big enough for an airplane to be able to land so I keep forgetting to ask them how they even got the actual island. Maybe by whale?

They were there over Easter (my nieces’ spring break) and during an egg hunt one of them found the ‘golden egg’ in a palm tree. Naturally! The highlight for my sister was when staff woke them up before sunrise on Easter morning singing hymns outside their hut.

They also took a boat out to see “Cloud Break” — a world famous wave that people come from all around the world to surf. It’s huge and dangerous and scary to even look at — and that’s coming from my sister who’s not afraid of much (unlike yours truly). She said the snorkeling was gorgeous, the coral colorful, and the seafood delicious. They loved the fruit bats and even saw the poisonous sea snakes which are very tame (though they kept their distance).

Anyway, while they were there, a film company was shooting a promotional video for visitors and my beautiful nieces and brother-in-law are featured in it. I wanted to post it above but privacy settings won’t let me. Still, you can see it here on vimeo. My nieces are running through the trees at the beginning, as well as snorkeling and surfing, and my brother-in-law is the guy looking proud about the big 45+ lbs yellow fin tuna he caught.

When you can’t go to a place like Tavarua yourself, you can always live vicariously through others, right?

Image: delfi de la Rua at unsplash

{ 0 comments }

Kentucky Sign

We made it to Kentucky after a two day trek. On the first day we had some crazy weather in the West Virginia mountains. We’d come around a bend and hit torrential rain with almost no visibility; then 15 minutes later we’d come over another mountain and it would be so bright and sunny we’d need our sunglasses. And it went on like that. Thankfully, we seemed to skirt the worst of it and now we’re safely ensconced at my mother-in-law’s. It’s the first time S and H have made the trek to their Nana’s house.

I was so busy last week that I didn’t put much thought into how to pace the trip for them, but they did well — except for the last two hours when they were ready to be there already and exasperated with sitting.

We had already decided to break the drive up into two days. The girls aren’t used to a lot of car time and a 10 hour drive straight would have been too long. So we stopped half way at a hotel with a pool. Beforehand, I tried to prepare them psychologically for the fact that it was going to take a long time to get to Nana’s. I also helped them stock their backpacks with art supplies, a couple of small toys, a few favorite stuffed animals, water — and we brought snacks, of course. B downloaded the audio books for a number of The Magic Treehouse stories, which H and S like — and that helped get us all through the last bit of the trip.

Although this will probably be our only long road trip this summer, it makes me wonder about how parents keep their kids occupied when they make long treks. I’d love to hear what’s worked for you!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

 

 

{ 2 comments }

The 6 Hour Work Day?

May 25, 2016

Anthony Delanoix

Here’s an interesting experiment: A nursing home in Sweden (predictably!) was selected for a study about work hours. Researchers wanted to see what would change if employees worked a six-hour day instead of eight hours — for the same pay. After one year, the program “had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health.”

Sweden is already home to many businesses that allow flexible work hours and liberal parental leave policies, but it seems to me that this is a worthwhile conversation for other places to have. Is the “8 hour work day” ideal for every kind of business and employee? And if not, should we change it?

When I began working from home, I noticed that despite its challenges, I got a lot more done in far less time than I did in an office. That’s because in the average work place there’s a lot of time spent on things that aren’t directly task-related — such as casual conversations, coffee breaks, dilly-dallying, and unproductive meeting time. People are often more efficient when they have less time. (This is one reason why busy moms get so much done!)

The same can be said of school. The time children spend at school actually doing academics is far less than the hours spent there. Of course, education is not just academics — and this goes for the work environment, too. Many employees enjoy chit-chatting around the water cooler, and spending time that they’re not “on task.” But with only 24 hours in a day, is that more important than having more time for family at home, for the outdoors or exercising, for making healthy meals, for being involved with your community or church, for learning something?

Of course, it’s necessarily the case that six-hour work days are best. There are probably businesses and professions that it doesn’t and wouldn’t work for. But maybe this isn’t a one-size fits all approach. Truth it, we don’t even have a eight-hour work day so much anymore — it’s more like nine or 10 hours, at least when I look around at the kind of time the average person spends at his or her work place.

Would you welcome a 6 hour work day? Do you think it would be make you more more or less efficient?

Image: Anthony Delanoix at unsplash

 

{ 0 comments }

Monday Morning Buns

May 23, 2016

Olga's Tatatine Morning Buns

I can’t think of a better way to begin a Monday morning than with something from my sister Olga’s kitchen. Unfortunately, unless you live on the north shore of Nova Scotia, these morning buns are for your eyes only, and not your belly. I don’t even eat these kinds of things, but when Olga sends me photos of her latest culinary creations, I wish I could beam myself into her kitchen for a long, leisurely visit.

When Olga recently made her first trip to San Francisco, high on her list was stop at Tartine. The morning buns above use the Tartine croissant dough recipe from their cookbook, and the full morning bun recipe came from a blog called butterbaking.com, which she found when googling “Tartine’s morning bun recipe.” Just thought I better share all that in case you can’t help make this a reality for yourself.

Homemade baked goods remind me of home and I let myself indulge a bit when I’m there, but in my day-to-day life, I rarely eat them. One of these would totally hit the spot, though, with a cup of tea or coffee. Instead I’ll probably be predicable and whip up one of my signature green monster smoothies.

What’s your favorite way to get Monday morning started?

Image: Olga 

{ 0 comments }

Van Gogh in Action

May 18, 2016

I thought this art installation reportedly by students from the Institute of Fine Arts in Beirut, Lebanon, was super cool. It really does look like a moving painting, doesn’t it?

Are you a van Gogh fan? Vermeer? Who are some of your favorite artists from days gone by?

 

 

{ 1 comment }

Rosan Harmens pic unsplash

I’ve been thinking about the great women I’ve known, especially those who’ve passed on.

On Friday, I learned about the death of my friend, Susie Hurley DeConcini. Susie and I met when we were on the board of a Washington, D.C. non-profit that promoted the welfare of women and children. Thirty years my senior, Susie was  always kind of ageless because she had so much energy, enthusiasm, and passion for life. She was at once a dignified lady who knew all the appropriate social graces because she’d been married to a US senator, while at the same time she was completely down to earth, hospitable, and always up for an adventure.

Hailing from a long line of strong women (her grandmother had been a suffragist) Susie’s life was about service and she affected a lot of change in her circles of influence and beyond — including bringing childcare to the US Senate and advocating for troubled youth. Susie was full of stories and would frequently share them at our board meetings, or whenever I had the good fortune of being with her.

I’ll never forget one board meeting trip to New Orleans where Susie invited the late Ambassador Lindy Boggs to join us for dinner at Antoine’s where the two regaled us younger women with great stories, after which we all walked down Bourbon Street to Boggs’ amazing historic home for more visiting. (I wrote about that here when Boggs passed away.)

I didn’t know Lady Lindy Boggs, but she seemed to me a lot like Susie, who embodied so much of what it means to be a great woman: Kind, strong, brave, loving, wise, dedicated to her children and loved ones, faith-filled, successful, a life-long learner, humble, confident, unafraid to be herself.

One of the many things I loved about Susie was that she had plain old common sense — a rarity these days. I’m sure that played a role in how she dealt with her cancer diagnosis. When she learned of it, she decided against surgeries and drugs that might prolong her life but not cure her, and chose to go through the dying process as naturally as possible, spending her remaining time with close family and friends, and checking things off her bucket list.

The last time I saw Susie was at the shower friends threw for us right before H and S came home. Susie was so supportive and interested in our decision to adopt — she herself had one or two adopted grandchildren. My life has been so intense since then and we never got together again. But Susie recently came to mind very intensely for a couple of days and I now know that’s when she died.

The person Susie was, and the way she lived her life, makes me think about my own legacy: What difference will I have made? What kind of woman do I want to be? Great women like Susie inspires such questions. I know she’d be the first to tell me that I’m doing great, and she’d encourage me to keep living my life to the full as best I can.

Rest in peace, dear Susie. Thanks for all that you brought to the world.

 

Image: Rosan Harmens at unsplash

{ 2 comments }