Friday Inspiration

September 19, 2014

Be Kind Quote
This quote has been attributed to Plato, Socrates, Philo of Alexandria, Diane Von Furstenburg, and Ian MacLaren, to name just a handful. My husband assures me it was not Plato or Socrates, but no matter who said it first, the words have stuck with me over the years — and the older I get, the more it rings true.

If I think about the wide range of people I know and love, each of them struggles with something in life. It might be related to work or a relationship; it might be pain from the past or worry about the future. It may be an illness or grief or a personal flaw they’re trying to change. But there’s always some kind battle they’re fighting, something they’re struggling against.

Sometimes we might be tempted to compare our battles with someone else’s, thinking others’ problems small or insignificant — but we’re all different; something that’s trying for me may not be for you, and vice versa. And many of our greatest battles are hidden from others, which means that even the people who seem to have it all together may be suffering something we’d never imagine.

What would the world be like if we gave each other the benefit of the doubt, making kindness our default response? Life is beautiful, but it can also be hard; this quote reminds me that we’re all in it together.

Have a slow weekend, friends, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image found here via Pinterest

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Kids and Internet
This article about a professor’s decision to minimize his kids’ internet time is worth a read. The author, Martin Kutnowski, describes the screams from his 10-year-old after she discovers her iPod can’t connect to the internet. She and her 9-year-old brother were used to four or five hours of screen time, and it was causing some zombie-like behaviors:

American children need 60 minutes of moderate to intense activity a day, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control. One could only hope to meet that standard. Returning from work every evening, I would find two zombies—the cliché never gets old, because it is accurate—in front of the computer. In a catatonic state, the children would respond to my greeting with an unintelligible mumble. After turning the computer off, I would try to talk them into riding the bicycle or going to the park.

Failing that, I’d make them to do chores or homework, often musing how much easier it would be to haul an elephant up a mountain. At dinner, if asked what they had learned at school—the kind of conversation I used to have with my parents—my annoyed children would respond “nothing,” absently looking into the distance, longing to tether themselves online as soon as I turned my back.

No surprise here; the internet and our tech devices can be pretty addictive. Do you check your email repeatedly when you don’t really need to? Your phone? Facebook or Twitter? Many of us have habits that border on addiction, although we don’t like to think of it that way. Since most of us never had the internet, smart phones, or iPads as kids, I think it’s hard for us to know where to draw lines for our children.

In our home, we’re trying to strike a balance. I have definite luddite tendencies, but my husband is a tech geek, so we try and meet in the middle – though he agrees that 6-year-olds need less time in front of screens and more time outside and playing. Our daughters are allowed to use some educational apps on the iPad, and that’s about it (besides being allowed to watch occasional favorite programs and movies that we download).

I certainly want to avoid raising kids that fit the description of Kutnowski’s students:

As a professor in a four-year undergraduate university, I meet young people just as they emerge from the public-school pipeline, and from years of excessive electronic stimulation. Differences among these entering students are profound, in physical health, in skill level, in social and academic engagement, and ultimately in their chances for success. Many of these students have urgent needs: Some don’t understand their own nutrition, how to form a coherent and complete sentence, how to focus long enough to read one chapter of a book, or how to talk and collaborate with one another or with the teacher.

I help as much as I can, and often my students become engaged with their academic and social environment. An earlier intervention—fewer videogames, more activities outdoors and more guided reading, for instance—could have saved those who give up. And no, l don’t buy the fantasy that failing students will be “successful” dropouts like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Statistics predict that most people without a postsecondary education will be low-wage earners.

Speaking of Steve Jobs, it’s worth nothing that his kids weren’t allowed to spend much time on the internet or with electronic devices.

How do you strike a balance for yourself and/or your kids when it comes to the internet and electronic devices?

Image: Rage Against the Minivan

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What Do You Pair with Rose?

September 16, 2014

Portrait of Rose
I’m throwing a bridal shower this weekend and planned a simple wine tasting for the main event. I’ve chosen rosé, which may sound strange, since it’s sometimes thought of as the ugly stepsister in the wine cupboard, but it’s more interesting than people realize. There are many varieties, it can be very versatile, and it’s just so pretty — perfect for a group of women celebrating a bride-to-be on a warm September afternoon.

I prefer trying wine with food, since it can make all the difference in the way a wine tastes. I want to have a few different food pairings to sample with each wine, but I’m still undecided. With Spanish rosés, anything seems to go, but I’ve also got two French rosés, so I’m not sure what the ideal pairings would be. Cheese seems a no-brainer, and charcuterie, too. Maybe shrimp? I’ve got to go gluten-free, too, so I need to keep that in mind.

Are you a fan of rosé? What do you love to pair it with? If you’ve got any favorite go-to sites I should check out to help me make some decisions, I’m all ears!

Image: Ana-Rosa Tumblr

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B and Girls
So many things in my life have changed since I became a mother, but one thing I really notice is the difference in my adult conversations.

It’s not so much the content, but the way a conversation goes. Before I had kids, I remember feeling impatient with my parent-friends’ inability to sustain a conversation when their children were around: It was often impossible to finish sentences or stories, because there were so many interruptions. I’m a pretty patient person, and I was used to kids, but it became a secret pet peeve of mine. It wasn’t that the children were being rude — manners and respect are taught in all my friends’ households — they were just being normal kids. But I was used to adult conversations where both parties are able to focus on each other.

Since I remember what this felt like, I try to be particularly aware of it in my adult conversations now, but it’s simply not always possible. If my daughters are around, my attention is inevitably divided. Parents seem to get this: There’s a kind of  built-in permission to interrupt and be interrupted around one another, an acceptance that most conversations will happen in fits and starts.

With some of my childless friends, however, it’s a little different: They talk to me the way I used to talk to my friends — with the unconscious assumption that I’m able to prioritize what they’re saying and that my children’s interruptions or needs are secondary to what we’re talking about as adults.

I don’t judge this one bit, because that used to be me: I simply didn’t appreciate what it’s like for a parent to try to have adult conversation when their children are underfoot. I teach my daughters to say “excuse me,” to be patient, and to respect adults, but they’re still six year-olds who spill their drinks, skin their knees, have fights with their sister, need dolly’s hair braided for the millionth time, and generally want mom’s attention when they see — or even sense — that it’s elsewhere.

If you’re a parent, have you noticed this phenomenon? How do you keep quality conversations going with other adults? If you don’t have children, do you find it annoying to be interrupted by them when you’re trying to speak to your parent friends?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Friday Inspiration

September 12, 2014

Einstein Quote
I’d never heard this quote before this week, but I love it. It reminds me how damaging it is to compare ourselves to others, and how important it is to be ourselves.

There’s definitely wisdom here for raising kids: I want to be the kind of parent who helps my children be confident in who they are and find their particular talents — but I also have biases and preferences that rear their ugly heads. I want to be aware of those potential pitfalls so I’m not trying to force any fish to climb trees; at the same time, I want to make sure I challenge cute little fish to swim better and deeper.

I think it applies in a particular way to moms, too. It’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others; there’s always another mom who’s more fit, more organized, more energetic, more together, more successful, and it can be discouraging to constantly feel like you don’t measure up. But I think one of the secrets to happiness is accepting who we are, how we’re made, and what our particular natures and talents are. If we find enough satisfaction with ourselves, we’re better able to celebrate others — even when they possess strengths we’d love to have.

Happy weekend, friends! Hope it’s a slow and easy one, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: etsy, via Pinterest

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner by Douglass Crockwell
Did you guys hear the news?

Researchers interviewed 150 mothers from all walks of life and spent 250 hours observing 12 families in-depth, and they found “that time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials.”

So, the takeaway here is…cooking every night is hard. I think pretty much any mom in the history of ever could have told them the same thing, but duly noted.

Some people find the results more disturbing, though: In her piece “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner,” Amanda Marcotte takes in this information and argues that we should all just acknowledge that cooking is basically the worst:

The main reason that people see cooking mostly as a burden is because it is a burden. It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway. If we want women—or gosh, men, too—to see cooking as fun, then these obstacles [e.g., not enough time, not enough money, not enough space, picky eaters] need to be fixed first. And whatever burden is left needs to be shared.

I’m all for shared burdens, but honestly, you could make the same argument about parenting — it would be so much more enjoyable if we had more time/money/space! — but somehow we haven’t stopped raising kids, or found it less worthwhile. Heck, that’s just life, and we still manage to muddle through.

Still, Marcotte isn’t wrong that the Bittmans and Pollans of the world can sometimes wax a little overly romantic about the glories of a home-cooked meal (only from pastured meats, organic veggies, and sprouted grains, thank you). The fact is, no matter how worthwhile it may be — and I believe it’s extremely worthwhile — cooking for your family (or heck, even just yourself) every day is hard, and we don’t make it any easier on ourselves by expecting perfection right out of the gate and thinking we should be loving every minute of it.

Over at Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle charts a more level-headed course between the two extremes:

We shouldn’t over-idealize home cooking as some glittering apex of human experience that no decent person can do without. But let’s not remedy the cultural overshoot by demonizing the preparation of a decent, healthy meal as a grueling chore that stonkers all but the most privileged and dedicated cooks. Cooking at home is often fun, and it’s almost always cheaper and healthier than the alternative — and tastier, if the alternative is picking up a tray at the high school cafeteria. It can, of course, be stressful — but it can be a lot less stressful if you will repeat after me: “I’m not running a restaurant. I’m running a home.”

McArdle lists some concrete ways that we can make daily cooking chores less of a burden: prep ahead. Share the work. Freeze ingredients. Use shortcuts (and yes, jarred sauces and frozen vegetables can be perfectly acceptable). Make a meal plan (which has saved my sanity more times than I can count). And one of my favorites:

Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the adequate. The primary object is to keep everyone’s stomach filled without giving them Type II diabetes or busting the budget. Do that first, then stretch to more ambitious goals such as mastering coq au vin.

It’s not exactly rocket science, but for the vast majority of Americans who still have to get dinner on the table tonight — regardless of whether it’s fair or fun — it’s a good start.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the study, Marcotte’s response, or McArdle’s suggestions. How do you make daily cooking chores less of a burden? What are some of your favorite tips for eating healthy, home-cooked meals while keeping your sanity?

Image: Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner, by Douglass Crockwell

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Wheat-Free School Lunches

September 10, 2014

School Lunches
Our family is eating a low-wheat, low-gluten diet right now. (Well, maybe not B, but give me a husband you can totally control and I’ll give you good money. Ha.) Not because we know for sure that anyone in here is intolerant to wheat, but I know my daughters have some food sensitivities, so I’ve eliminated or reduced items that I think are the most likely culprits. Wheat is one of them, and reading articles like this about modern wheat reinforces my desire to keep eating this way.

I’ve tried going totally wheat- (and gluten-) free before, and I find it very challenging, so for now we’re a little relaxed about it – which means acting like we’re wheat-free, but letting things slide when we forget, or when everyone’s just begging for something that has wheat. (Have I mentioned my girls adore bread? It’s one of their favorite things in life. Mine, too.)

Now that I’m packing lunches twice a week when the girls attend their cooperative school, I’m looking everywhere for wheat-free lunch ideas. It hasn’t been too hard to come up with some so far, but since they really, really want sandwiches, I’m trying to find alternatives they’ll enjoy that are also easy for me to prepare. Here are a couple I made recently:

Wheat-free lunch #1:

  • 2 boiled eggs (with a side of sea salt)
  • rice crackers
  • baby carrots
  • apple
  • piece of dark chocolate

Wheat-free lunch #2:

  • sliced organic turkey wrapped around lettuce
  • veggie puffs
  • mini seaweed sheets
  • applesauce

With each lunch they drink water, from those cute little personalized bottles above. The eggs were a little stinky, and the girls thought the rolled-up meat was a bit weird, but they ate it. (I did promise them they can occasionally have a sandwich, but I’m using a sprouted grain bread for that.) I gave them Lara bars the other day for snack time, and they weren’t big fans. Maybe I need to switch up the flavors.

S With Lunch Gear

If you are wheat- or gluten-free — or close to it — I’d love to hear your favorite kids’ lunches, as well as your  go-to websites and blogs for recipes!

By the way, the girl’s adorable water bottles are from Stuck on You. You can choose among many designs and have your child’s name personalized on them — perfect for school! And I found the freezable lunch bags at Mighty Nest; they’ve got a great selection.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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The Written Word

September 8, 2014

Hand Lettering from Seanwes
A while back, I read a post at the Art of Simple about the power of the written word, and it got me thinking. My own handwriting has declined over the years; I always had good penmanship, but keyboards have beaten it out of me. I like working on my computer — I’ve grown used to the ability to think and edit as I go — but it doesn’t quite take the place of writing with pen in hand.

Studies have shown that writing by hand improves memory and creativity and boosts children’s cognitive development (which makes me wonder whether we should really stop teaching kids cursive). There’s something about the process of writing stuff down that’s edifying, even therapeutic: I still make a point to hand-write notes and cards, especially for thank you’s and birthdays. In this digital age, getting a handwritten note in the mail is almost magical. As Warren says in the post I mentioned above, writing by hand is much more personal: It connects us to the writer and makes him or her more present to us. Warren talks about discovering her mother’s letters after her death and what it meant to her. It wouldn’t have been the same had those letters been emails. I totally get that.

I’ve been wanting to keep a regular journal for my daughters, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know why; it’s almost like there’s so much to say, and so much to catch up on, I get paralyzed. But I still want to do it because I think it would mean a lot to them when they’re older — when handwriting may have officially gone the way of the dinosaur.

Do you still hand-write? Has your penmanship suffered at the hands of your keyboard? Do you prefer to get handwritten notes, or does it matter to you?

PS — A few tips to help get you in the habit of sending handwritten notes.

Image: Seanwes 

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Friday Inspiration

September 5, 2014

Seth Godin Quote

In my recent post about changes at SlowMama this fall, I mentioned that I might tweak a few things. One of them is my Friday posts. Pull Up a Chair has been fun, but I think many of us are a little worn out on Fridays and could use some inspiration. With that in mind, I’m going to start posting great quotes I find, or images that inspire reflection, and see how it goes. Hopefully it will put us all in the right frame of mind at the end of the week!

I spotted the quote and image above on Verily magazine’s Pinterest feed (made by Belinda Love Lee for Verily). I’ve read Seth Godin on and off for years and his words here remind me that the things I’ve been most afraid of in my life have been some of the best things I’ve ever done: Moving to another country to a place I didn’t know anyone. Getting married. Adopting twin four year-olds and traveling to the other side of the world to do it. And right now I can use the reminder that the scariest stuff might be risky (or at least feel risky), but usually turns out to be the most meaningful.

What about you? When’s the last time you challenged yourself to do something scary (though desirable)? Is there something right now that you’re avoiding or putting off because it makes you shake in your boots, even just a little bit?

Have a wonderful and slow weekend, friends. I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image found at Verily on Pinterest

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New Friends

I like to think that we’re not far from living in a post-racial society, where skin tone means nothing more than any other physical difference between people. But it’s clear we still have a long way to go. We’re still much too segregated. Not only do many of us live, work, and interact with people who look like us, but most of us don’t have many friends of other races. Being in relationship with people who are different from us in appearance (as well as in more substantial things like culture, ethnicity, religion, etc.) would go a long way in overcoming prejudice. At least that’s what I’ve thought for a while.

A recent Huffington Post article reports on a study by the Public Religion Research Institute about friendships among white and black Americans. The results are depressing, but not surprising:

.. 91 percent of the average white American’s friends are white, and just 1 percent of their friends are black. While black Americans tend to have a more diverse social network, they don’t fare much better. The average African American has 83 percent black friends, 8 percent white friends, two percent Latino friends, zero Asian friends, and three percent mixed-race friends. One of the most glaring statistics from the study revealed that 75 percent of white Americans are exclusively friends with those of the same race.

All in all, the Washington Post put it simply: “Blacks have ten times as many black friends as white friends. But white Americans have an astonishing 91 times as many white friends as black friends.”

I’m no shining star here, even as a mom to brown-skinned kids: My circle of closest friends includes people from other countries and cultures, but is relatively homogenous. Mostly because the places I grew up, attended school, and worked were largely populated with people who looked like me — so those are the majority of people I met. That’s a little different now, but many of my closest friends have been in my life for a long time.

If your circles are homogenous and you’d like to change that, what do you do? Friendship is best when it happens naturally and not simply because you’re looking to add more “diversity” to your life. But I think we can be more mindful of opportunities to connect with people outside of our usual circles. That might be making small talk at a work party, striking up a conversation in the grocery store, or choosing to sit beside someone you might otherwise ignore at a conference. Perhaps just starting at the level of the social interactions we have would move us in the right direction. If we were truly open to people who are different from us, we may eventually find that progress has been made when it comes to problems like racism and prejudice.

Are you friends with people who don’t look like you? Do you think befriending people of different races and backgrounds is an important way to bridge racial divides?

Image found at awelltraveledwoman.tumblr.com

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