May 2011

by Ann Waterman

Photo by Kathy Waterman

“So what would you like James to call you?” That’s normally how I begin the delicate conversation about how my child should address another parent or adult.

Back when I was a kid, it was pretty straightforward: Every adult was addressed as Mr. or Mrs. unless they were a relative, and then they would be called by their familial title. With society becoming less formal, though, Mr. and Mrs. have mostly gone by wayside, replaced by more casual forms of address. And what’s more, you can’t presume that every mother is a Mrs. these days.

But what if you’re not comfortable with your child calling adults by their first names — or you prefer to be addressed one way by a child, and another parent prefers to be called something else? How do you negotiate these differences charitably while instilling in your child your own values about respecting adults?

I’ll admit that I lean toward the more formal. If I had my druthers, I’d be known as Mrs. Waterman to my son’s friends. I can appreciate that some parents find this too formal for themselves, however, and I don’t insist on it particularly if they prefer something more casual. On the other hand, I draw the line at being called by my first name.

I know some people like to use Aunt or Uncle for adults in general as a workaround, but I’ve never been entirely comfortable with that, except in very special circumstances — perhaps a lifelong friend or a godparent. Too often, it seems, all adult friends become Aunt and Uncle. My children have real aunts and uncles, and I feel that the special distinction of that relationship becomes diluted when the title is given out freely.

Is there any form of address that would satisfy everyone? The approach I’ve found that best navigates these tricky waters — and the one I’ve adopted — comes from the land of sweet tea and genteel manners. The Southern tradition of addressing adults as Miss <firstname> and Mister <firstname> is respectful, but warm and familiar at the same time. In most cases, I’ve found it’s a compromise that parents from both ends of the formality spectrum can agree on.

What do you prefer other people’s children call you?  If you have children, how do you have them address other adults?

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Heat

May 31, 2011

Hot peppers There’s some grump going on at my house right now. I know that’s not proper English, but I can’t think straight because it’s 98 degrees here in Baltimore (104+ if you count the heat index) and we’re melting. It is hot, hot, hot.

Our air conditioner has been broken for a week. It seems to happen to us every summer during a heat wave. This time, it appears to be a electrical issue: The squirrels probably chewed something they weren’t supposed to, and now we need an electrician to (hopefully) solve the problem. Thanks be to all that is good and holy, someone is coming today, so I hope that tonight we’ll finally be able to sleep.

At times like this, B and I are reminded that, as much as we fantasize about moving to a cute town somewhere in the South, we’re not exactly cut out for the climate. B’s perfect weather is a cloudy, drizzly 62 degrees. I blame it on his Irish genes and melancholic temperament.

My ideal weather is sunny and 75 degrees — basically summertime in Nova Scotia. When the temperatures in Maryland get into the high 90s with humidity, my face reddens and my hands and feet swell. I need to soak myself in a cool bath every few hours just to be able to curl my toes. I don’t even like air conditioning, but now I require it for basic functioning.

You might think I love cold weather, since I was raised in eastern Canada, but truth be told, I can’t stand frigid temps, either. When I was a kid, huddling with my siblings on a heat vent in our old farmhouse, I promised myself I’d eat only one meal a day if it meant I could live in a toasty house as a grown up. My parents are like polar bears — tough as nails, and hardy — but my own constitution is more… delicate, I guess. I’d probably love California. Except there are earthquakes there — one of which I experienced, and it wasn’t any fun at all.

What about you? Do you thrive in heat or cold? Are you a wimp like me, or a hardy soul who doesn’t notice the temperature?

(Photo credit: Gardening-Guides.com)

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Memorial Day

May 30, 2011

Poppies

Image found here.

While this weekend generally marks the beginning of summer in the United States with getaways, gatherings and cookouts, the holiday itself is a somber one.

I am reminded of John McCrae’s 1915 poem, “In Flanders Fields,” which I recited every year in elementary school at our assembly in honor of those who died in service to their country:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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Memorial Day photo

Image: Memorial Day ceremony in Wisconsin, taken by Ben Franske

First of all, I have to say that you people have been to some fantastic places for vacation! South Africa… Maui… Venezuela… Ireland… Australia… Yosemite… Sign me up! I seriously want to visit every one your vacation spots, so please take me the next time you go.

I’m pleased to announce that the winner of the Hand-Crafted Shea Butter by Alaffia is:

Mary Joy Argo

Congratulations, Mary Joy! Please email me here by Monday morning to claim your prize.

*********

Do you have any exciting plans for the Memorial Day weekend? (If you’re reading from Canada, I realize your holiday was last weekend — hope it was happy.) Tomorrow I’m hosting my fabulous SlowMama contributors for brunch, and I’m really looking forward to it. As we go about our plans, let’s remember the men and women who’ve died in service to this country.

Here are some items I thought you’d enjoy as you head into your weekend:

  • Believe it or not, this photo is untouched. Amazing! (Thanks for forwarding, M.C.)
  • If I didn’t already have a cocktail planned for tomorrow’s brunch, I’d be tempted to make these, since they’re back in vogue — with lots of twists and spins.
  • Interesting: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is getting Slow about his food (and ticking off some people in the process).
  • I like this necklace featured on DesignMom, and would be tempted to order it in grey if I was going to indulge myself.
  • Some tips for making sure you’re eating the fish you ordered.

See you back here on Monday!

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Is there any foodstuff more perfect than bacon? Aside from being pure crispy, salty deliciousness, there’s also its magical property of increasing in usefulness after you cook it: Once those little slices of heaven are devoured, you’re left with a pan full of liquid gold — bacon fat.

Sadly, a lot of people have no idea how good this stuff is, tossing it out after breakfast like so much garbage. I know, because I used to be one of those poor saps. I’ve since learned the error of my ways, though, and I’m here to tell you: That fat can be the best part of the bacon.

This isn’t exactly news, of course — your grandmother probably saved lard (rendered pig fat) for cooking as a matter of course, simply because to do anything else was just wasteful. But by the time my mother was cooking, nutritionists had the nation convinced that fats like lard and butter were going to send us all to an early grave, and that hydrogenated oils like Crisco and margarine were the only healthy alternative.

Fortunately, we’ve mostly gotten over that dark time in food history. Studies today now say pretty much the exact opposite: that it’s the kind of fat you eat (saturated versus unsaturated), and in what quantities, that’s important — and by all means, stay away from trans fats like Crisco and margarine. Ah, the vagaries of food science…

The good news is, by that account, lard is even better for you than butter: It actually contains less saturated fat and a higher percentage of the potentially-good-for-you unsaturated fat. And, of course, a slightly salty, smoky version is available to you entirely free, simply by cooking up a rasher of bacon every now and then. (Tough work, I know, but you’ll manage.)

So what can you do with that bacon fat? Friend, what can’t you do.

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Question mark woman

A reader writes in:

My family is close to a couple who cannot have children. I don’t know why… I guess we’re not close enough to ask. Which isn’t to say I don’t care or am not honestly curious, but it’s not my business. They adopted one child, but have been on a list for nearly two years coming in as “runner’s up” a few times, but haven’t yet been chosen.

So, what can I say? I feel uncomfortable and almost apologetic when I talk about having more than one child (I have three), or about babies. I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. She loves to be around children and doesn’t seem bitter, but I can see that she’s yearning for another. It breaks my heart and I don’t know if I should avoid the topic all together until she brings it up or if it’s okay to discuss it. Any suggestions?  — H.S.

Thanks for asking about this, H.S. The fact that you’re taking it so seriously shows you’re a thoughtful person. You’re certainly not alone in wondering how to handle these sensitive situations. It’s challenging: what to say or not say, how to be supportive and not offensive or intrusive. Not easy.

When I was planning my wedding at 34, I had single friends who wanted nothing more than to be married themselves. Sometimes it was hard to know how to share my happiness while being sensitive to their longings. I didn’t want my joy to be a source of their pain.

I’ve been on the other side, too — where people have said things that stung me, and they didn’t know it. Most of us have been on the giving and receiving end of insensitivity at some point — that’s life.

It’s never our business why a woman hasn’t become pregnant or given birth, or why someone is adopting, or even why a couple has a small or large family. But I’m a big believer in women being there for each other in their various kinds of joys and sorrows.

When you find yourself wondering what to say to a woman who’s longing for children, I recommend you read the signals and go with your gut. If you can see she’s suffering, then it’s not sensitive to constantly complain about your kids around her, or to mention how frustrated you are that you haven’t gotten pregnant with number four.

If it seems, however, that she isn’t bitter or upset and she initiates conversations about babies and children, you shouldn’t walk on eggshells or assume that sharing your own life will cause her pain.

The best way to handle situations like this is usually just to raise the issue. Something like, “I hope it’s not difficult for you to hear me speak about my children or pregnancies… and if it is, I hope you’ll tell me”  shows that you’re thoughtful and opens up the topic for future conversation.

Or, if you know that she’s struggling, you might say something like, “It must be difficult to wait so long/wonder what will happen/wish for more children… Is there anything I can do to be supportive or helpful?”

The key is to be gentle, honest, and unafraid of making a mistake. If someone knows you mean well and you care, she can forgive a misstep. Even our faulty attempts to be sensitive can strengthen relationships.

*****

Just wanted to remind you that tomorrow is the draw for the Alaffia Shea Butter. If you haven’t entered, leave a comment here for a chance to win!

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Bolognese sauce

Ragù alla bolognese is named for it’s birthplace in Bologna, Italy, and it’s more than a simple meat sauce. I’ve had it in restaurants, but never made it at home — until last night. I found the recipe in a Italian classics booklet from Saveur that landed in our mailbox last month. It looked like it would be simple to make and full of flavor. Boy, was I right.

It starts with mirepoix — minced onions, celery, and carrots. I added a teaspoon of chili flakes… because I do that sometimes.

Mirepoix

If you’re a vegetarian, you might want to look away for this next part…

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Sweet Salvages

May 24, 2011

by Ann Waterman

I normally don’t think twice about tossing a jar or bottle into the recycling bin, but every so often, I come across a container I simply can’t throw out because it’s just too nice and begs to be given a second life. Amnesty granted, I’ll wash it, remove any labels, and stash it away until I find the perfect use for it. (My husband tells me this is how hoarding begins.)

One of my favorite containers for re-purposing is the mason jar. After the jam’s been eaten, they have myriad uses, but I particularly like to use them for drinking glasses. I can’t explain it, but water just tastes better in a mason jar. Homey with a touch of whimsy, they’re perfect for casual dining.

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Shea Butter

Last month, Ann posted about one of her favorite products — Everyday Shea moisturizer, made by a cooperative called Alaffia. The good folks there were kind enough to send SlowMama a product to giveaway — Handcrafted Shea Butter.

Anything with the word “butter” in it has got to be good, and this shea butter is no exception. It’s thick, but not greasy, and left my skin feeling super soft. It’s ideal for hands and feet and any areas that tend toward dryness. I even put it on my face. Shea butter has a lot of uses — I know moms who use it on their African-born children’s hair.

Alaffia’s shea butter is made without parabens, petroleum derivatives, or animal testing. And I like that it’s made in West Africa, with a portion of sales helping to alleviate poverty, enhance education, and improve gender equality.

This lovely shea butter can be yours if you leave a comment below telling me your favorite vacation spot. (Mine? Our family cottage in Nova Scotia.) Oh — and you can double your chances if you leave a second comment telling me that you follow SlowMama on Facebook.

Winner will be drawn on Friday at noon. Sorry, but I can only ship within North America. Good luck!

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Being an Older Mom

May 23, 2011

Brazilian sculpture

Sculpture at the Catacumba Park, Rio de Janeiro. Image by Eurico Zimbres

If you had told me when I was 22 that I’d enter my 40s and still not be a mother, I’d have called you crazy. At that age, I thought I knew who my husband was, and getting started on our five kids seemed right around the corner. (When you’re the eldest of 10, five seems like such a tame number.)

Instead, I walked down the aisle at 34 with a man I met at 30, and my 40th birthday has now come and gone. I have friends with kids in college, and I’m just getting ready for bottles and diapers.

There are days when it bothers me that I’ll be an older mom. I don’t have the energy I used to. I need a lot more sleep. I don’t like that I’ll be in my 80s (if I’m lucky) before my kids reach the age I am now.

But there are great things about being an older mom, and you have to focus on the positives — just as you would if you became a mother much earlier than planned. Despite our best intentions or plans, motherhood doesn’t always come along at the ideal time. And maybe what we think is ideal, isn’t.

I know mothers across the age spectrum. I’ve heard young moms complain that people often mistake them for a babysitter when they’re out with their kids. Other times they feel out of place with all the professional moms who started families in their 30s.

I guess whether you’re young, old, or somewhere in between, there are things about motherhood that are always challenging… and also wonderful.

If you’re a mom, did you become one when you were older? Younger? Did you ever wish you had started motherhood at a different time?

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