February 2012


Nicole Bourgea is a working artist and the mother of three: Max (7), Gus (5), and Georgia Clare (3). In her work she focuses primarily on portraits, cityscapes, and other commissions; her current non-commissioned work explores the intersection of fine art and street art. You can find her at  www.nicolebourgea.com and her personal blog, ihatetoalarmyou.blogspot.com. She lives with her husband, Colin, and their kids in Washington, DC.

Zoe Saint-Paul: You’re a third-generation artist. How was art and creativity fostered in your home growing up? 

Nicole Bourgea: My grandfather’s work was always hanging in our home. In fact, it’s still in my home today. My mom is an art teacher, so every day growing up involved some simple lesson in learning to really see. My sisters and I played in the back of her art classes when she was finishing school. Instead of watching television, we spent time climbing around outside and turning our wrap-around porch into a stage set for the plays we made up.

You get to live next door to your sister (who also happens to be an artist and a designer). I’m so jealous! What is that like?  

Fantastic! So many people say that they could never live next to their siblings, but we are very lucky. We help each other out with babysitting and are constantly sharing thoughts on our respective projects. It doesn’t hurt that our kids get to grow up with their cousins, either!

Can you tell us about one of your favorite commissions or a recent project that particularly inspired you?

I’m actually really excited about the project I’m working on between commissions right now: It’s called, “As Is: An Urban Treasure Hunt,” and it explores the distinction between “fine” art and “street” art. I’m painting 15 large-scale portraits of people going about their day and installing them in public spots throughout the city. If a passerby is the subject of the painting, he or she can take the original portrait right off the wall home with them. (I’m giving these large, time-intensive paintings away for free — think Cracker Jack prize, only cooler!) There will also be maps under each portrait providing clues to the location of the other paintings. Portraiture involves a type of attention that we don’t really have time for these days; this project is my little way of sharing that “noticing” with more people.

You’re an artist and a mom. How do you find time for both?

I’ve come to terms with the fact that it will never feel like I’m doing everything perfectly. I have friends who seamlessly blend their work and home life, but I’ve decided what works best for me is to keep them separate. I work in a studio space away from my house, I have a wardrobe of paint-splattered clothes just for the hours I plug in there, and I use my maiden name for business. When I’m honest with myself, I recognize that I’m an all-or-nothing girl. Knowing that I can devote myself fully to my work when I’m at the studio, and then change hats and dive right in 100 percent with my family once I’m home, gives me peace.


Nicole with her children: Max, Georgia, and Gus

Take us on a brief tour of your typical day. 

A weekday starts with getting everyone fed, dressed, kissed, and off to school. Then it’s work time. I turn my phone on vibrate as soon as I walk into the studio. I have my painting plan of attack mapped out before I get there, so I grab my brushes and go to work. I make it a rule to devote this time solely to the art itself. I find that four hours is about my limit for total concentration before I need a break. After that, I pick up my daughter Georgia and we eat lunch together while she tells me about her day. She takes a two-hour nap, and I take care of the business side of being an artist — returning e-mails about commissions, filling out grants, filing taxes, etc. Georgia wakes up and we pick up my boys from school. I really want to be the one they see after a long day at school and I love seeing their excited little faces spotting me across the parking lot. We all head home together and do homework, have a snack, and play soccer or walk to the park until dinnertime. The kids have quiet reading or play time alone while my husband makes dinner and we catch up. My husband does bed time with the kids while I clean up and plan for the next day.

How do you stay organized?

I seem to have all my energy in the first half of the day, so I organize everything like lunches, calendars, and plans of attack the night before. That way I can just jump right in without having to think too much about it in the morning.

What did motherhood bring to your life? How did it change you?

Motherhood has made me very grateful for my own mother and humbled by the grace of all the other women in my life who have done or are doing it. It’s helped me be more generous and willing to accept the generosity of others — because we all need a little help sometimes. It has forced me to be more organized. Most of all, though, it’s made me laugh! We keep a quote book of all the hilarious things our babies say and pull it out when we need a good chuckle.

I love the name of your blog — “I Hate to Alarm You.” Where did it come from, and what do you like to write about there? 

Thanks! My husband actually suggested it, because it’s a phrase I use a lot about really unimportant things — like, ” I hate to alarm you, but this is a really gorgeous day!” The subtitle of the blog is “casual eurekas in art and life,” because I think as an artist I have a sense of wonder about things that are both simple and profound. I love sharing those thoughts on the blog. I also have a regular feature where I compare paintings with interiors, called  “Monday Match.”

I have to ask you about your appearance on The Nate Berkus Show. How did that happen, and what was the best part for you?

Ha! Well my sister Leah writes for Apartment Therapy (AT), and when she was trying out for the job she had to submit a house tour. She and I have keys to each others’ places, so she broke in one day while I was out and took a few shots that AT ended up publishing a few months later. Someone from The Nate Berkus Show saw them and asked if I’d be interested in coming on the show. The whole thing was a blast! I felt like a total star for a couple of days. One of the most eye-opening parts was standing next to Jillian Michaels backstage and seeing that even she was nervous to go on TV! We’re all just people.


Nicole flanked by aids of The Nate Berkus Show

Slow living is about things like beauty, staying connected to what matters, simplifying, and not rushing through life all the time. How do you incorporate these ideals into your life? 

I think motherhood is messy. It’s easy to stress yourself out when you consider how un-zen-like your life with kids looks and sounds. Compartmentalizing my work time has allowed me to embrace the messiness a little more when I’m back in the middle of it.

Another aspect of slow living is an appreciation for craftmanship. What handmade item of yours do you most treasure? 

Oh, there are so many things…but I have three very active and creative kids. I’m trying to get better at that trick of envisioning the glass already broken when I buy it! That being said, I try not to let too many things into my home that are not beautiful or useful (and ideally they are both). I have a lamp that I bought in college that I adore; my family calls it “Mom’s Pride and Joy.” It has the perfect milk glass shade, and I’ll be very sad when it breaks. But look at that…I must be making progress because I said “when,” not “if” — hooray!

What is your best tip for living well?

Stay engaged.

What drives you, and what relaxes you?

Drives me: hot showers, deadlines, the city, the smell of my studio in the morning, good music, a good run, brunch with friends. Relaxes me: hot showers, a blank spot on the calendar on a weekend morning for cuddles and pancakes, the beach, picnics with the whole family, good music, and wine + fire pit + guitars with my sister, brother-in-law, and husband between our houses on summer nights.

Your guilty pleasure is…

Does anyone say anything other than chocolate here?!

What is your greatest challenge?

Remembering that the purpose of life is the process.

You have a free Sunday afternoon. How do you spend it? 

Well, I put in a lot of time in the studio on Saturdays, so I love a good morning date with my husband. Brunch and just kicking around town like we don’t have a care in the world is amazing!

What do you love best about your life right now?

I love that these are the years we will look back on! It’s crazy sometimes, but it’s also a ton of fun. I love all of the energy around me right now, and I want to bottle it up to breathe when I’m a little old lady.


Thanks so much to Nicole for giving us a window into her lovely and creative life! I love the new street-art project she’s currently working on. SlowMama readers living in Washington, DC, should be on the lookout!

Note from SlowMama: This is the second installment in my new series called “Living Slower With…” where  I interview interesting women about their lives, asking them how they live well in a fast-paced world and how they juggle their many priorities. Hope you enjoyed it!

Images from Nicole Bourgea


Minding Your Kids’ Manners

February 28, 2012

by Ann Waterman

The latest parental challenge my husband and I are tackling is working on manners with my oldest son, James, raising expectations beyond just “stay in your seat” and “don’t eat with your hands” — though I still need to remind him of even these every so often.

It’s a new frontier for us, and we’re trying not to be too overbearing. I remember how intimidating holiday dinners could be at my grandmother’s — a stickler for manners — but we also want to impart valuable habits that will serve him well in life. It’s too late to learn table manners when you’re seated at a formal dinner or having lunch with your boss. Of course, that’s a long way off, but it’s probably better to start instilling these habits now so they become second nature.

Since we’re new to this realm of parenting, we’ve been looking to our more experienced friends for direction and using our own common sense. I was super-impressed when my friend’s 6 year old cut his dinner completely unaided, and it made me realize that James was probably capable of doing this himself, or at least trying. We met with some initial resistance — pitiful cries of, “But I ca-a-an’t!” — but we insisted he attempt at least one cut on his own before coming to his aid by holding our hands over his in the correct position. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him whenever it came to cutting meat, though: His little hands didn’t always have the force and leverage to finagle sinewy flesh. To remedy this, I gave him a steak knife to use — along with an appropriate lecture about using it for food-cutting purposes only, not fighting imaginary foes — and found he had much more success…which, in turn, made him less frustrated and more inclined to try.

Other rules we’ve implemented include placing napkins on laps, waiting until everyone is seated and grace has been said to begin eating, keeping mouths closed while chewing, using water glasses for drinking (and not for recreating sea battles with floating vegetables), speaking in turn at dinner, asking to be excused from table, and taking your plate to the kitchen once you’ve been excused (alas, we have no wait staff to remove them at Waterman Abbey).

Do all of these happen at every meal? No. The napkin usually ends up on the floor when my son gets up without asking. A Lego project gets tucked behind a serving bowl with the hope that it will remain undiscovered, and several bites of bread are eaten on the sly before everyone is seated. Still, we’re fighting the good fight — and sometimes, just sometimes, I see glimmers of hope…like a few months ago, when we were having lunch at a friend’s house and my son asked to be excused from the table and purposefully marched his plate into the kitchen.

What do you think are reasonable table manner expectations for an almost 6 year old?

Images: FunFam


Off to Spain

February 27, 2012


I’m off to Spain today! I must say, I’m proud of myself: I managed to get everything into a carry-on bag. I’m usually such an over-packer…hopefully my liquids, gels, and powders won’t ruin the plan.

I’m trying to focus on the excitement of my brother’s wedding and seeing Spain for the first time, and not on the sadness of leaving B behind and getting myself on an airplane. I do have some vodka — and even some Xanax this time. I’ll never forget the time I took too much of it coming back from Paris years ago…mostly because I don’t actually remember the trip: Before I knew it, we were preparing to land. Best flight of my life!

I’ll be meeting my sister Erica in Newark this afternoon, and then we leave for Madrid tonight. We’ll spend a day and a night there before training south to the city of Murcia, where my brother will marry his lovely fiancee on Friday night. I better bring tissues. Actually, I can’t cry too much, because I’m supposed to sing at the wedding, and I can’t do it when I’m all choked up.

My contributors will help hold down the fort around here until I return early next week. Ann will stop by tomorrow with a post you’ll enjoy — especially if you’re a parent. On Wednesday, I’ll be running the second interview in my new series, “Living Slower With…” I think you’ll like it! And Mags will be here on Thursday with her usual terrific post. If I can, I’ll pop by on Friday to let you know how I’m liking all the tapas, and whether any bulls have run me down.

If you’re the praying kind, I’d appreciate your sending one up for my travels. I hope to chat with you soon from o’er the pond!

Image: Lovely Clusters



I don’t know about you, but I could use a breather today. It’s been non-stop all week as I prepare to be out of the country for eight days. I saw this image, taken at night on the Australian coastline, and it made me pause, take a breath, and gaze with wonder at the beauty of creation. When there are a million random to-do items on your list and time feels crunched, it’s hard to look up (or down, or anywhere) and see beyond the busyness. It’s important, though, it for just a moment, to stop and center ourselves.

What are your plans for the weekend? Mine is packed with commitments — and hopefully a little time with B, who’s been working like a dog all week on a project for his job. (Do dogs actually work hard? Maybe huskies, I guess.) When you’re able to take your own breather, you might enjoy some items I found to share with you this week:

  • Who’s up for a SlowMama retreat in Marrakesh? (A girl can dream…)
  • The latest in the war on natural dairy.

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

Image: moon 2 moon


Egg and Nonsense

February 23, 2012

by Margaret Cabaniss

See that lovely, frothy, pink confection up there? It’s called “nonsense” (the best name for a dessert ever) and is simply an egg white beaten together with three tablespoons of the strawberry jam I preserved last summer. I thought it was just a sweet and simple little dish — a happy memory of summer in the dead of winter — but apparently it’s a cesspool teeming with bacteria just waiting to kill me dead.

Yes, I’ve been reading a little too much about salmonella lately. After deciding I would share the recipe for nonsense in a post today, I innocently thought I would look into a way to pasteurize eggs at home, for anyone who might balk at the raw egg ingredient. What I found is that pasteurization can’t be done on the stovetop — and that people feel very strongly about whether you should be eating raw or undercooked eggs without it.

Eating raw eggs is definitely frowned upon by the officials these days: Though I’m pretty sure every reader of this site happily ate cookie dough or cake batter as a kid, I’d venture a guess that fewer let their kids do the same thing today. (Or, if you’re like me, you tell your darling nephews that it’s dangerous to eat cookie dough because of the raw eggs…and then eat all the dough yourself when they aren’t looking.) In conversations I read online, people either fell into the “I eat a raw egg with every meal” camp, or the “I won’t enter your house if you have unsafe egg-handling practices” group. I imagine it might have something to do with whether they’ve had salmonella poisoning before…

Of course, salmonellosis is no joke — and it’s likely to be worse in the elderly or young children, whose immune systems aren’t as robust. (So apparently my cookie-dough arrangement with the kids is legit after all?) Washing your eggs doesn’t address the problem of salmonella living inside the egg (which can happen if salmonella is first living inside the chicken), and buying fresh and local won’t necessarily protect you, either (just like you wouldn’t lick a raw, free-range chicken breast, free-range eggs aren’t immune from salmonella). That leaves commercially pasteurized eggs, which you can buy at the grocery store (and which most restaurants use today)…but I’m guessing most Slow readers prefer their eggs from the farmers’ market — as I do.

So where does that leave me? In the end, this is probably one case where I’m going to be ruled by my stomach: In spite of all the warnings, I don’t want to give up runny fried eggs, bechamels, and my mom’s old-fashioned egg nog. I’m banking on the fact that serious salmonella poisoning is rare — I’ve never had it! (she said, while frantically looking around for wood to knock) — and that a good gin fizz is worth the risk of a little stomachache. I’ll cross my fingers, give my immune system a pep talk, and eat that homemade mayo anyway…though maybe I wouldn’t serve nonsense to my guests, just to be safe.

What about you? Do you throw caution to the wind and dig into that cookie dough, or do you give raw eggs a wide berth?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss


Remember You Are Dust…

February 22, 2012


…and to dust you shall return.

This is what is often said as ashes are traced in the sign of a cross at Ash Wednesday services across the world today. I pretty much love the whole practice: the symbolism, the solemnity, the solidarity with strangers on the street who have a big cross-shaped smudge on their foreheads, too.

I’m fasting today — and yes, I did enjoy a juicy bison burger and a big glass of shiraz last night. It feels a bit strange that I’ll be going off to Spain to celebrate a wedding right as Lent begins, but I shall suffer through it. (Ha.)

I know quite a few people who aren’t Christians who observe Lent. They appreciate having a season to look inward, build new habits, simplify, and give more generously to others. How about you? Do you observe Lent? Are you doing anything special or new this year to make it meaningful?

Image found here 


Shrove Tuesday

February 21, 2012


When I was growing up, today was called Shrove Tuesday, but it’s also called Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and Carnival. Historically it’s marked by parades, costumes, gatherings, dancing, and lots of feasting — a last hurrah before the solemn 40-day season of Lent begins.

My current plan for the next 12 hours: Have a little of everything I’ll be swearing off for the next six weeks, like alcohol, chocolate, sweets, and treats. We fast from meat on Fridays during Lent and focus on simpler meals and fewer nights out, so maybe I should indulge in a favorite burger (bison with gorgonzola cheese and caramelized onions!) at a local restaurant.

I have a tradition of making pancakes, but I’m not sure I’ll do that today…depends on what B’s in the mood for. Of course, one look at this and it’s hard not to break out the flour, eggs, and cream:


Are they not to die for?

If I do make pancakes, they might just have to be Pioneer Woman’s sour cream pancakes — they’re divine and seem just right for today.

Or, instead of gorging on tall, fluffy rounds of scrumptiousness, I could don a mask of sequins and feathers, along with a dazzling black evening gown, and head off to the best champagne masquerade ball in town. Alas, I don’t know anywhere this is really happening except in my head.

Do you celebrate Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras? If so, what are your traditions?

Images: 1 & 2



Adoption Update

February 20, 2012


I haven’t written an update on our adoption for some time.

<insert sounds of crickets here>

Yup, I’ve got nothing for you. Nada. Zippo.

No real news, anyway. March 5 will mark 29 months of waiting — 2 years and 5 months since we were officially placed on our agency’s waiting list. As I like to point out, that was after all the annoying, redundant, confusing paperwork was finished, which took about six months. Then there was the three-month wait for our immigration approval — the piece of paper you need before going on the waiting list.

Much has happened over these many months — and is still happening — in the world of Ethiopian adoptions. Changes in procedures, orphanage closures, new policies, and more. All of this is good as far as ethics and transparency goes, but still makes it tough for waiting families — and most especially those waiting children, who truly need families.

For the past two years, I’ve found myself in a weird space: having to live and plan as if the adoption both will and won’t happen. We can’t put our lives on hold while we wait, so we continue to make choices and plans for our future; but at the same time, I can’t commit to anything more than four months in advance, because I’m never sure if I’ll be able to follow through. It’s been tough professionally to decide what take on when my future is so uncertain, and impossible to plan trips or projects very far down the road.

I must say I’m glad we didn’t set up the kids’ room two years ago when people told us we should, glad we never bought clothes and toys and gear — well, except for that highchair I’m now trying to sell after a momentary lapse in judgment. About the only items I’m okay living with right now are the children’s books — because books never seem to make you feel bad.

Despite all this, I’m doing okay with the wait, because I do like my life — and there’s never a dull moment around here. Also, my abiding sense through this whole thing has always been that the timing will end up being right. Yes, I’ll be an old lady, but at least I still look relatively young and I can still do this:


Counts for something, right?

We did get some good news last week: It appears we don’t have to do our entire adoption dossier over again. Music to my ears! We do need to update police clearances, medicals, and possibly the Power of Attorney forms, though. Each needs to be notarized, and the latter may need to be state certified, but if this is all I need to worry about, I’ll be singing hallelujah from here to Tennessee. (You may remember that the paperwork part of this process has always frustrated me to no end, and if I don’t have to go through it all a second time, I’ll be a very happy bambina.)

The other positive thing I can report on is the webinar that our adoption agency held the other night. It was an update based on a very recent visit they made to Ethiopia. I found it informative and actually hopeful. I’ll take that any day of the week.

Images: 1, 2 by Zoe Saint-Paul 


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This Chipotle ad has making the rounds lately. The company seems to be doing fast food the right way, if that can be said. It’s been my favorite chain for a while because of its focus on local, organically raised meats. With the odd exception, I tend to eat vegetarian when I’m out if I know the chicken, beef, or pork is industrially raised. More and more places, however, are wising up to the consumer trend of wanting local and ethically raised meat, so that’s good news for eaters like me.

I’ve got a busy weekend ahead: I’m going to start packing for Spain, attend the baptism of a sweet little girl named Sophie, and spend time with my hubby on Monday because he has the day off — yay! Here are some fun items I found to share with you as we head into the weekend…

  • Great advice from style icon Iris Apfel (spotted on Design Mom).
  • Wendell E. Berry — noted poet, essayist, novelist, farmer, and conservationist — will deliver the 2012 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities at the Kennedy Center this April, and the SlowMama crew will be there!
  • I’d love a cottage like this.

Have a slow weekend, and see you back here on Monday!


Love by Mail

February 16, 2012

by Margaret Cabaniss

When a close friend (who, sadly, lives far away) recently announced that she was pregnant for the first time — and didn’t have a clue what she was doing, or what to expect — my sister Amy and I immediately started thinking about what helpful items we could send her in a little care package. Of course, Amy supplied the actual knowledge of what one needs during pregnancy, while I just brought an enthusiasm for putting together care packages.

I’ve already talked about how I love getting mail, so you can imagine that getting care packages makes me straight-up giddy. When you’re a broke college student, or sick and living alone, or simply missing family and friends, finding a package brimming over with thoughtful little treats can make your week.

I still remember the best care package I ever got: I was studying abroad in Scotland and was going to be away from home at Christmas for the first time, and I told my mom that it didn’t feel like the holidays without making our annual gingerbread houses together. The next week, I got a package in the mail with all the supplies and ingredients I’d need to make the houses with my (very impressed) Scottish flat mates. It was probably the most expensive gingerbread house my mom ever put together (international shipping is not cheap, friends), but it meant the world to a homesick college student far from home.

Still, I think putting these gifts together is almost as much fun as getting them. I love picking out items that perfectly suit each person or particular situation, imagining the receiver’s face when she opens it…

For mailed packages, it helps to focus on lightweight treats (to avoid the gingerbread conundrum). When a friend of mine in another state broke her hip during a biking accident and was going to be laid up for a few weeks while she mended, I tried to find little things she could enjoy from bed: a TV series she liked on DVD, a book of crosswords, silly tabletop games, a favorite novel.

But if you’re willing to deliver your package in person, you can get a little weightier with your gifts. Just this past Christmas, another friend had to work through the holiday and wasn’t going to be able to see her family until several days later. Knowing that she wouldn’t likely stock up on treats for herself, I picked some out for her: I loaded down a basket with coffee beans, sparkling wine, chocolate, and some homemade preserves so she could still feast on her own.

There’s really no situation where a care package isn’t appreciated. Do you like sending them? What was the best care package you ever received?

Images: 1, 2, 3