August 2011

Sugar Moon

August 31, 2011

Sugar Moon The first thing we did after landing in Nova Scotia (after driving off in our rental car and picking up some groceries) was stop at Sugar Moon for lunch. It’s one of my husband’s favorite spots — and mine, too.

The property, located in a low-lying mountain range in the northern part of the province, was established by a Scottish immigrant in 1825. In the early 70’s, an adventurous New Englander named Bob Williams moved north of the border and started tapping trees. He built everything by hand, including his home, and his entire operation was worked by draft horses. In 1994, a couple named Scott and Quita apprenticed with Bob and two years later took over his maple syrup business. They renamed the farm Sugar Moon — a term the North American aborginals used for the maple sugaring season, typically March and April in the northeast.

Shelf of maple products

Sugar Moon is now a working maple farm, woodlot, and year-round restaurant committed to local agriculture and sustainable practices. Whenever we visit, we stock up on maple syrup because it’s something we use a lot around our house. It’s a fabulous sweetener for so many things. I make a lot of whole-grain pancakes and I use it in baking, as well as salad dressings and desserts. It’s also just plain gorgeous.

Maple syrup

We ate at Sugar Moon three times since it’s pretty close to our family cottage. One of the highlights for me was this delicious hot cereal made from quinoa and rice with dried cranberries, almonds, and — best of all — a maple-infused whipped cream on top. I hadn’t tasted anything like it before, and I’m now inspired to create my own version. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Hot cereal Sugar Moon also hosts special dinners from time to time. The owners invite top Canadian chefs to design multi-course menus using local and seasonal ingredients, including wines. Unfortunately, we just missed the one they had on Saturday evening, but one of my favorite partners in food crime — my sister Olga — said it was delicious.

 Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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An Education

August 30, 2011

by Ann Waterman

My first-born is about to reach another milestone: his first day of kindergarten. It makes this mom a bit misty-eyed just thinking about it, but I don’t expect any tears on his end. The only time he cried in preschool was when I came to pick him up on his first day. He didn’t want to leave — he was having too much fun.

Our decision about where James should go to school was a difficult one. He attended pre-kindergarten at a parochial school that we loved for a lot of reasons, the most important being that it offered strong faith formation — something that we definitely wanted for our children. However, it was a bit of a drive to get to and cost about as much as a car payment — hard on a family that’s trying to live more Slowly. Also, there were no additional resources for a child who’s been reading since he was three and a half and is already pretty adept at basic math skills like addition and subtraction.

Another reason we were initially drawn to parochial school is because we were hoping to avoid some of the negative peer orientation that seems to be more and more prevalent in today’s schools — where kids and teens end up valuing social acceptance over individuality, creativity, and family. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate’s book  Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers really opened my eyes to the negative effects of peer orientation — most obviously seen in the increased incidents of bullying we hear about so frequently in the news. Unfortunately, I came to realize that it’s hard to get away from this problem even at parochial schools, and the best remedy is to ensure your kids are primarily attached to you, not their peers — and that means spending a lot of time with them.

We have a very good public school across the street from us that I felt I at least needed to look at. I went there hoping I wouldn’t like it — it would certainly make my decision easier to take an option off the table — but after a personal tour with the principal, I couldn’t help but be impressed. Class sizes were small, orderly, and they had some of the additional resources I was hoping might be available to James. I liked that I could walk with him to school and even join him for lunch — something the school encourages and an opportunity for me to spend more time with him. We decided that, for this year at least, public school would be the best option for him and for our family. And while there would be no faith formation here, I felt this was something we could foster at home — after all, I do have a degree in theology and philosophy. Time to put them to good use!

Finding a school for James has been a real education for me. I’ve learned that any educational path you choose for your child — public, private, parochial, or home school — has its challenges and pitfalls. The trick is to find what works best for your child and your family — and that may change from year to year. I swore I’d never home school, but after seeing some of my friends manage it successfully and realizing that, in many ways, I’ve already been homeschooling James, I feel more confident that this is something I could do in the future if I believe he would benefit from it.

Do your kids attend public or private/parochial school, or do you home school? How did you decide what to do?

 Image: Ann Waterman

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A Night in Halifax

August 30, 2011

hotel mirror shot

I call this my Pioneer Woman Hotel Shot.

If you follow Pioneer Woman, you’ve seen the photos Ree Drummond takes of herself in bathroom mirrors in the many cool hotels she stays in when she travels around the country doing cool things. Her shots are more glamourous, she’s often wearing something you want to steal, and her intention is to show the many gorgeous bathrooms in which she gets to brush her teeth.

None of these things are happening here, but this was the view from the bathroom mirror at the lovely Westin hotel where we stayed Thursday night in Halifax. Do you see that island there with the little house on it? There’s a lighthouse just out of range of this photo that guides ships into the Halifax harbor during foggy nights.

Westin hotel

If you’re ever in Halifax, I recommend the The Westin. It used to be called the “Old Nova Scotian” because, well, it’s old and it’s located in Nova Scotia. Maritime Canadians have common sense like that. Apparently Winston Churchill stayed there, and according to my brother Alex, there are ghosts in the old section of the building. I don’t know how he knows that, but I think we stayed in the new part, thank heavens. I loved our room; the view was fantastic, and the bed was the ultimate in comfy — plus it was king size, which always makes me feel like an excited little kid.

Halifax boardwalk

The hotel is close to the city boardwalk where you can stroll along the water and stop to eat and drink while listening to various fiddlers, accordion players, and other performers. I wish I had a picture of the lobster I savored while the mist rolled in and I relaxed with my favorite husband before heading back to face the wrath of Irene. (Not my friend Irene; the hurricane.)

Oh, and if you haven’t heard of hotwire.com, I recommend it for finding the best prices on hotels and rental cars. (I’m not sure about flights, since I didn’t use it for that.) You name your dates and what you’re looking for, then the site brings up prices and you commit to one before finding out exactly what you get. Kind of like Priceline, I think, except you don’t name your own price. The one drawback? You can’t get a refund or change your plans. But the prices are almost worth it.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Queen Ann's Lace This is the Queen Anne’s Lace growing all around our property in Nova Scotia. Before I share some highlights of my trip last week, though, I want to announce the winners of the Ergo mama gear giveaway

The first-prize winner of the twill front pouch, t-shirt, and navy ball cap is… Bernadette

Congrats, Bernadette!

Two other readers have won Ergo front pouches… Dawn and Erin

I loved reading all your favorite baby names. Congrats to all three winners! Please contact me by Friday to claim your prizes. And a big thanks to Ergo baby carriers once again for offering SlowMama readers these great items!

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So, we’re back safe and sound in Baltimore after a fabulous six days in Nova Scotia. Our trip was cut short by a day — we flew home early to try and beat the hurricane. On Saturday we made last-minute preparations and hunkered down, flashlights and extra water on hand.

The winds weren’t nearly as strong as we expected, and much to my amazement, our neighborhood didn’t lose power. Unfortunately, we discovered the leaks in our sun room, which we’ve had someone come out twice to repair already, are not the least bit fixed.

Nevertheless, we were grateful to be spared any major effects of Irene. And I was relieved that even my brother John in New York City found the storm tamer than expected.

While we were away we also missed the 5.8 earthquake that hit the mid-Atlantic. In fact, we only learned of it from my sister Clara in California, who called to tell us we might as well move to the West coast since clearly we are not immune to scary earthquakes here. Thankfully, there was no damage to our 110-year-old house.

My six days in Nova Scotia were probably the highlight of my 2011 so far. It’s been a terrible summer weather-wise up there, but we lucked out with five days of sun (and just one stormy evening when the power went out). We swam, canoed, fished, hiked, visited family, took drives on back country roads, slept in, held new baby nephews, drank Dom Perignon under the stars, and ate — my mother’s to-die-for blueberry pie, strawberry shortcake, and garden vegetables, among other lovely things.

We also got a lot of mosquito bites, which I’m used to because they’ve always feasted on me, but B still gets a little freaked out by how much they adore him, even when he’s covered in repellent. I must say, for a city boy he tolerates the rustic life at our family cottage quite well.

Our trip was too short, but I got a chance to really slow down, breathe deeply, get away from phones and computers, take a break from the usual routine, and be with people I love in a peaceful environment with lots of good food. What could be better than that?

Many thanks to my awesome contributors — Mags, Ann, and Leah — for keeping things going strong here while I was gone. I’ll post more pics from my trip throughout the week.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Scottie dog

As I get ready to say farewell to my home and native land later this morning, I wanted to show you the little creature that descended upon our group when we visited the alpaca farm a couple of weeks ago in Kentucky.

At first we all thought he was a little pig. Or maybe a giant guinea pig? Turns out he’s a baby Scottie dog — and utterly adorable (except that he loves to bite toes, and I happened to be wearing sandals that day).

I look forward to sharing stories from my Nova Scotia trip with you next week. In the meantime, here are a few items I thought you might enjoy:

  • Chicago’s O’Hare airport is now home to 23 hives of bees, set to yield 575 pounds of honey!
  • Hanging umbrellas can look so magical.
  • Not exactly a Slow approach to exercise, but sometimes you just want to work on something specific.

Before you go, don’t forget to enter the Ergo giveaway! Have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday…

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Just a Note…

August 25, 2011

by Margaret Cabaniss

I am not ashamed to admit that I still get childishly excited about receiving mail. I’m not talking bills and advertisements, but honest-to-goodness personal cards with canceled stamps, handwritten addresses, the whole nine yards. (Conversely: There is a special spot in hell reserved for direct marketers who send me junk mail masquerading as a letter from a friend.)

I’m not a luddite, mind: E-mail, Facebook, blogs, text messaging… they all let me keep in touch with more of my friends more often (and more easily) than would have ever been possible in the hand-written days. But when baby announcements come via status update, or engagements are made known through mass texts, you have to wonder if we haven’t lost something in the tradeoff.

For me, it all boils down to the time that someone has invested in the communication. Writing a note requires you to slow down and actually think about what you’re going to say — much different from the stream-of-consciousness, cut-and-paste writing habits we develop online. I love seeing my friends’ handwriting — all so particular to their own personalities — their writing style, the beautiful or witty cards that represent their tastes (or something calculated to get a laugh). I’ll carefully tuck away my favorites and pull them out occasionally, enjoying the snapshot in time of particular friends and memories.

Trust me, no one is ever going to say that about your e-mails.

I’m betting I’m not alone here, either — so why don’t we send notes and letters more often? Again, I think it boils down to time: E-mail is always readily available; hunting for stamps and addresses is a pain; finding the right card can be a chore, and expensive. (I say this as someone who has spent countless hours in the card aisle of the drugstore, cursing the Hallmark gods for the endless waves of hang-in-there kitten schlock.)

But with the right tools and a little planning, you can be sending out gorgeous, heartfelt notes in no time. A few tricks that help me:

Have a stationery spot.

Actually getting around to writing those notes means striking while the iron is hot, which means having all your tools in one handy place. I have a small drawer in my desk filing cabinet that is strictly for letter-writing supplies — note cards, envelopes, stamps, and good pens — thereby assuring that I always have tools at the ready when I need, say, a last-minute tag for a gift or a birthday card to send to my mom. If you don’t have a drawer, get a shoebox — anything accessible, yet separate, where you can keep all your letter-writing implements together.

Speaking of which:

Have nice tools.

I’m much more likely to want to write a note if I have a good pen and nice paper to do it with. Fool around at the craft store until you find pens you like; I’m a big fan of these. I keep a wide assortment of cards, too — pretty sets I get as gifts, leftover Christmas cards, postcards, etc. And because I have a dedicated stationery spot, I can always buy something that strikes my fancy and save it for later, knowing that I’ll be able to find it again.

For all the beautiful cards out there, though, sometimes the simplest ones are my favorite: They’re a blank canvas for any occasion and always appropriate. I’ll pick up a pack of blank, cream-colored cards in a heavy stock, as well as some colored envelopes (I love this site for all shapes, sizes, and colors), and dress them up as necessary, for a fraction of the cost of prepackaged stationery.

Add a personal touch.

You’re already impressing your friends by sending them a card; why not push them right over the edge by sending them a personalized card? This doesn’t require lots of time or artistic talent, but a little effort goes a long way.

You can go the traditional route and get an embosser with your monogram on it, and you’ll have matching, personalized stationery for the rest of your life. I’ve ordered several embossers from this site as wedding gifts for friends. They make for such elegant cards:

For something a little more whimsical, a simple stamp will do:

I love feeding cards through a manual typewriter to add just the right message on the front in some killer font; see that minimalist thank-you card above.

Best of all, if you have children, you have a never-ending supply of original artwork for your cards. Trust me: Family members always love getting scribbles from their grandkids, nieces, and nephews. So make those preschoolers start earning their keep by designing cards for you.

Most of all:

Just write.

Sometimes knowing what to say is tricky, but don’t let it stop you from saying anything at all — just sending a card is half the battle. There’s nothing wrong with employing a little help here, either, particularly since the art of letter-writing doesn’t come naturally these days. So long as you’re writing something from the heart, you can’t go far wrong.

What about you? Are you a letter-writer or card-sender? What tricks do you have for making it easy?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Don’t let the weekend roll around before you have the chance to register for the Ergo giveaway! See all the details here.

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I’m a far cry from a neat freak by nature. Actually, if someone were ever to refer to me as a neat freak, I’d probably beam for days…and then let it go to my head. However, having recently returned home from a little jaunt to the wilds of Colorado, I’ve become neurotically belligerent about keenly aware of  all the clutter that’s accumulated in my house over the summer. When I’m on vacation and realize that I can get along just fine with five outfits and little else, I start wondering why I actually have so many things.

But, of course, everyday life often requires a bit more equipment, and eventually I reach the conclusion that “things,” in themselves, are not bad. They only become the enemy when I forget to stick by my number one clutter-busting rule:

Saying “no thank you.”

No, we’re no talking manners here. We’re talking sink or swim when it comes to the accumulation of things.

When I was newly married — and then, shortly after, newly mommy-ed — I became the beneficiary of many hand-me-downs. So many hand-me-downs, in fact, that I soon found myself struggling to find a place or a purpose for most of the items. At first, I was afraid of appearing ungrateful or too picky, so I received all offers with open arms.  However, it wasn’t long before I felt overwhelmed by the weight of too much stuff.

Eventually I had a revelation: Nobody was forcing me to take their things. Then and there, I made a promise to myself to only accept and keep (sometimes those have to be two separate actions when others’ feelings are at stake) what I actually found to be both useful and beautiful (remember William Morris? That rockstar of the craftsman movement who wisely advised, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”? Oh, William, you saved my life…). Yes, despite my conflict-avoidance issues, I’ve learned to say “no thank you” when it comes to receiving stuff — even to my in-laws (who, by the way, have been completely receptive and understanding).

I see a similar struggle with nearly all of my design clients — especially if the clients are parents, and especially especially if the clients are youngish and have multiple kids. The details may differ, but the story is almost always the same:

  1. A client receives a piece of furniture that’s not really her style from a neighbor or a parent.
  2. The client then tries to tie it into her decor by buying coordinating items, thereby accumulating more things in the process (none of which are really her style, either).
  3. The client eventually gets to the point where she’s totally dissatisfied with her home but doesn’t know where to begin to make it better, because she’s already spent a lot of time and money on her home and has nothing to show for it. It’s hard to simply get rid of the offending piece of furniture when you’ve since purchased the coordinating (and probably equally offensive) rug and throw pillows and painted the walls to match.

Bottom line: It’s counterintuitive, but learning to say “no thank you” right off the bat will eventually save you a lot of time and a lot of money, and help you to create less waste in the long run.

Of course, this is not to say that hand-me-downs or reused items are bad — they’re definitely not! In fact, they can be a big part of Slow living. Just make sure that what you’re accepting and reusing is actually something that will improve, not clutter, your life. After all, everything we own requires care, so it may as well be something that carries its own weight, not weighs us down.

In the future, we’ll be discussing more ways to create a home that you really love — a Slow home, where everything has a place and a purpose — but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your top clutter-busting habit. Comment away!

Image: Leah Moss. I took this photo of my friend Catrin’s home.You can see the rest of her delightful home in the house tour I photographed for Apartment Therapy. Catrin is one of my heroes when it comes to comfortable, clutter-free decorating with kids.

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Entries for the Ergo giveaway package are going strong! Don’t forget to throw your hat in the ring by commenting here.

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A Day at the County Fair

August 23, 2011

by Ann Waterman

My oldest son is a bona fide city boy. His first home was a 21-story apartment building across the street from a subway station, and we spent a lot of time riding those trains all over the city. Recently, when he bemoaned the absence of an elevator in our new townhouse — evidence that maybe he’s been a little too spoiled by city conveniences — we decided that some exposure to country living would do him good. We packed up the car and headed to the Salem County Fair, close to his grandparent’s place in Woodstown, NJ.

Across the country, August seems to be prime time for these agricultural showcases: Produce is at its peak right now, and livestock has been fattened and grown. We’re quickly losing touch with where our food comes from, and these events are great reminders not just of the bounty that is produced in this country, but also of the hard work — the character-building kind — that goes into farming.

Nothing impressed me more than the self-possessed 10-year old who proudly invited me over to see the cow he raised and was showing in the upcoming 4-H competition. He spoke knowledgeably about his cow and seemed to have a real fondness for the animal and the work that went into raising it. In many respects, you could say the cow helped raise him — to mold him into the fine young man he was becoming.

We all enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells (some very…”earthy” in nature) of the fair.

James was in heaven checking out the farm equipment.

The baby found the cows a little intimidating and stayed close to Dad.

My husband was fascinated by the hot air balloon.

I was all about the animals. Check out the horns on this ram.

I even got to milk a goat!

And I think everyone enjoyed the funnel cake we picked up at one of the many food stands that dotted the fair grounds.

James still complains about the stairs, but at least he knows now where that juicy burger on his plate comes from. He’s looked a cow in the eye and patted his side. And while we’re not about to drop everything to pursue the pastoral life, we definitely have a greater appreciation for the agricultural heritage of this country. We may even try our hand at raising a few chickens — or possibly some goats, now that I’m an expert at milking them…

Have you checked out your local fair? Do you dream about moving out into the country, or are you a city mouse?

Images: Ann Waterman

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Don’t forget to enter this week’s Ergo giveaway! The contest is open until Sunday, so don’t miss out…

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giveaway gear

In honor of my being in Nova Scotia this week (and getting to lay my hands on two brand new nephews), I’m giving away a fun package of mom gear, courtesy of Ergo baby carriers.

My lovely contributor Ann is modeling the grand prize above. The lucky winner will receive:

  • An organic twill front pouch in blue. (You can see it here on the Ergo site.)
  • A super-comfy, organic t-shirt (size large, but fits like a medium) in white with multicolored floral pattern.
  • Navy ball cap with Ergo logo to look sporty while keeping the sun off your face!

I asked Ann what she thought of the Ergo gear, and here’s what she said:

I’m in love with my Ergo front pouch. It attaches to the waist strap of my carrier so I can leave my purse at home and be totally hands-free when I’m out with baby. The pouch is just the right size for a phone, wallet, and keys, and it has lots of zippered compartments — perfect for keeping things separate and easily accessible. It also comes with an adjustable strap so you can wear it as a purse. I actually bring it to the gym with me to hold my phone, keys, and I.D. as I work out. It’s a versatile bag with lots of uses!

Two runners-up will win front pouches as well — one in blue the other in green.

To enter, leave a comment below telling me your current favorites for baby names. And, if you “like” SlowMama on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you can leave a second comment here for another chance to win.

The giveaway will be open until Sunday evening at 9 p.m. (EST), and I’ll announce the winners on Monday morning. It’s open to all readers — unless you live in a country where mules or dogsleds deliver the mail…

Good luck!

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Nova Scotia Bound: Take 2

August 19, 2011

Newborn Christian

This is my newest nephew, born two days ago to my sister Kate and her husband, Matt. Little Christian Roman is appropriately named — he definitely looks like he could slay dragons. And guess what? B and I get to meet him next week!

Yes, it looks like it’s actually going to happen this time… Early tomorrow morning we’ll be flying the friendly skies (please, God) to Nova Scotia for a week. We’ll spend time at our family cottage, visit my Canadian family, meet another new nephew, Jonah Alexander, take a few dips in the Atlantic, eat veggies from my mum’s garden, and walk the charming streets of Halifax.

This means I’ll be taking the opportunity to get away from my computer. I’ll prepare a couple of posts for next week in advance, but my lovely contributors will otherwise hold down the fort.

I’m off to do last minute errands and start packing, but here are some things I wanted to share with you:

  • How to fold a fitted sheet properly.
  • Yet another yummy thing you can do with all that zucchini.
  • Thirty places to buy fabric online.
  • The Millions Against Monsanto march.
Have a great weekend!
Image courtesy of Alex and Jen R.

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