June 2012

The Best Father-in-Law

June 29, 2012

Jack & Family

In the wee hours yesterday morning, my father-in-law, Jack, passed into eternal life. His wife, his son, and I were at his side. He had battled a serious disease for some time, and though we lost him sooner than we expected, we’re grateful he’s now at peace, and that we could surround him with love and prayer as he made the final journey of his earthly life.

Jack I couldn’t have asked for a better father-in-law. He loved me like a daughter, and told me so on numerous occasions — in fact, he made a point to tell me again the day before he died. He was an affectionate man, caring, compassionate, and generous. He had a great sense of humor and a fondness for corny jokes, Starbucks coffee, bargain hunting for good wine, fishing, and cute dogs. He loved his wife and adored his only son. Before retiring from an interesting government career, he traveled to many parts of the world and fell in love with Africa. He was the biggest fan of our adoption and couldn’t wait to meet his grandchildren.  Jack also loved to cook — he did all the food shopping and cooking in the family when my husband grew up — and he and I enjoyed swapping recipes, sharing stories of favorite meals, and trying new restaurants.

To say we will miss him is a huge understatement.

We love you, Jack. Rest in peace.

Images: Zoe. I’ll be taking Monday off from posting, but Ann will be here on Tuesday, and I’ll be back later next week.

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Ask ten people what makes the best chocolate chip cookie, and you’ll get ten different answers. I’ve tried cookies with butter only, shortening only, and both butter and shortening; cookies with whole wheat flour and no wheat flour at all; cookies with secret ingredients ranging from cornstarch to pudding mix… There’s pretty much zero consensus on what the perfect cookie looks like.

Back in 2008, the New York Times made a bold claim that it had the best chocolate chip cookie recipe — big talk that they backed up with input from master bakers, blind taste tests, and some really, really specific instructions (chocolate fèves, not chips; letting the dough rest 36 hours, no less…). I’m willing to concede that they probably are pretty amazing cookies…but amazing enough for all that work?

Enter the Blue Ridge Baker (via NotMartha), who tweaked the Times‘ recipe with some suggestions from my favorite cooking authority, Cook’s Illustrated. Her recipe may not be the best cookie I’ve ever had — but at the moment I’m hard-pressed to think of one that’s better: crispy outside, dense and chewy inside; salty, sweet, subtle perfection.

Her recipe includes three tips (suggested by the Times and CI) that I think make all the difference:

Browned butter. I’ve never cooked with browned butter before, but now I’m wondering where it’s been all my life. Toasting the butter slightly before you add it to the dough brings out the most incredible nutty, toffee flavor in the cookie. This stuff is magic.

Browning is simple: Just set the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir it occasionally. The butter will foam, then simmer, then separate; before long, it’ll start smelling distinctly caramel-y and turning a tawny brown color — that’s when you know you’re there. It took about 10-15 minutes for me to brown a full stick, but keep an eye on it: Once it starts browning, it will go very quickly to burnt. (Also, if you use browned butter in a different recipe where the butter needs to be cold or room temperature, just be sure to cool it first.)

Sea salt. I am all for the salty/sweet craze we seem to be smack in the middle of right now. Sprinkling a little high-quality sea salt on top of the cookies before baking them balances the creamy sweetness of the chocolate beautifully, giving the cookies a great, complex flavor.

Time. Those first two tricks are easy enough to incorporate in any recipe, but this last one is a little more difficult: letting the dough rest for a day — or more — before baking the cookies. I know it seems contrary to the very nature of cookie-baking — which, to me, is usually about satisfying an immediate chocolate craving — but it definitely has its benefits. According to the Times, slower-moving liquids (like butter and eggs) take more time to be fully absorbed by the dough, so the longer you let it rest, the better the flavor and consistency.

And I have to admit, waiting a day does make for incredible cookies — though I’ve also baked them right after mixing up the dough, and they are not at all terrible then, either. The sweet spot is probably letting it rest overnight; you could let it go 36 hours, if you have that kind of patience, but at that point I’m not sure I could tell the difference.

Like I said, you could incorporate any of these tricks into your own favorite cookie recipe, but I definitely recommend trying the Blue Ridge Baker’s. (The only tweak I make is using Ghirardelli’s bittersweet chocolate chips, instead of chopping a bittersweet bar; the chips are nice and fat, melt beautifully, and save me all that chopping.) I made a batch for Zoe’s party last weekend, and guests were filling go cups with cookies on their way out the door, which I took as a good sign. It’s my new chocolate chip cookie recipe to beat.

If you try it, let me know what you think! How does it stack up against your own favorite recipe?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Zoe & Brian

A couple of weeks ago, B and I celebrated 10 years of marriage. We can hardly believe it.

Ten years is pretty tame, but it’s still nothing to shake a stick at these days, especially when you can say you’re both happy and it’s getting even better each year. So I was determined to celebrate it. My husband — who knows I’m always happy to find a reason for a party and loves me anyway — agreed.

I always imagined we’d mark the milestone with a special trip of some sort — maybe Istanbul, or Venice, or Paris, or the rainforest, or somewhere else equally interesting and memorable. But it wasn’t in the cards right now. Still, we wanted to do something to make it special, so we decided to renew our vows and host a little party in our courtyard.

I love rituals and ceremonies when they’re imbued with meaning.

Our church happens to be the United States’ first cathedral; it’s historic and beautiful and a special place to hold something like a 10-year anniversary ceremony. We asked a few friends to read some favorite Scripture passages and lead the music, and a deacon we know officiated. We wrote and read some prayers ourselves, renewed our vows, and received a blessing. It was short and sweet, personal and meaningful.

Then we had a lively luncheon with fantastic food, drinks, and conversation. I even found the perfect dress — decent for church, suitable for a garden party theme, reminiscent of a wedding. Here are some of the highlights of the day in pictures, and I’ll post a few more on Friday:

PartyLanterns

 

PartyGuests2

 

Anniversary Flowers

 

B and Friends

 

Cutting Cake

Images by B, Hal, & Zoe

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Morales Family

Becky Morales is a remarkable woman for a lot of reasons but I’m especially drawn to her because she’s living one of my alternative lives. An ESL teacher with a passion for multi-cultural education and traveling the world, she and her husband Antonio are the proud parents of four — two by adoption. Becky makes family life look exciting and interesting — and that comes through on her web site, kidworldcitizen, a helpful resource for families who want to bring the riches of other cultures and traditions into their own homes. Friends, I know you’ll love this interview with Becky as much as I do.

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Zoe Saint-Paul: Some people have commented that your family looks like a mini United Nations. How did you come to build such an interesting little tribe?

Becky Morales: My husband is from Mexico City, and we met when he was an exchange student in the U.S. On one of our first dates, he told me he wanted to adopt because he had volunteered at an orphanage in Mexico. He didn’t realize that when I was 15, I traveled with my dad to bring home my brother and sister from Peru. So we always had adoption on our minds and knew we’d choose it to grow our family. We first tried to adopt from Latin America (since we speak Spanish), but switched to China for our first son. Once we had two daughters (biological) and then Tonito at home, we knew we’d adopt one more little boy. We were open-minded about where he’d be from and then heard about the Ethiopia program. We turned in our homestudy in February and a month later were matched with almost 3-year-old Ricky. It went very quickly, and he fits perfectly in our family.

Morales Children

Besides the gift of your two sons, what has adoption brought to your life?

We are so blessed. Everyday I wonder how I came to be so lucky to be the mom to my four beautiful children. When I married Antonio, he and I adopted many traditions from each other. As we added more countries and became a truly multicultural family  — U.S., Mexico, China, Ethiopia — we enriched our lives with more customs, food, languages, and celebrations. All of our kids like to celebrate Easter at the Ethiopian church, eating from the huge buffet of homemade injera and wot and playing basketball with the other kids; we also love to celebrate Chinese New Year at the Chinese Consulate every year, enjoying the lion dancers and drummers, the dragon dance, and all of the games and food associated with the holiday. We’re fortunate to have a large Chinese population in our town and an Ethiopian church that is extremely welcoming to adoptive families. These experiences would not have been on our radar if we hadn’t searched them out. Even simple things like taking out books from the library about our adoptive cultures help enrich our family.

Becky Morales

Travel is a passion of yours and you’ve been to many places. How has it changed you?

It’s changed the way I understand the world, how I interact with others, and how I teach my children. The first time I traveled, I was 15 and went to Peru — really, really off the beaten track. It was completely life-changing. The food, the culture, the architecture, the amazing scenery, Machu Picchu, the wonderfully warm people, the poverty, the colors…I was completely blown away. I was bitten by the travel bug and couldn’t wait to go on another adventure. As a college student I studied abroad twice, immersing myself in Spanish and then Ecuadorian culture and language. I love making friends in other parts of the world and seeing how they spend their time, celebrate, and share with their families. I teach ESL to immigrants and am a better, more compassionate teacher because I have an idea of where my students are coming from, and some of the difficulties they have acclimating and adapting to their new culture. I think traveling and learning the different circumstances under which people live, and the small amount of resources that are really necessary, changes the way we choose to live our lives.

Becky & Antonio Morales What travel experience can you never forget?

It’s so hard to choose just one! I’ll never forget the two-week trip Antonio and I took through southern Ethiopia. We were able to experience the culture, food, and traditions of our son’s heritage. During the trip, we met many children who sang us songs, invited us into their homes, introduced us to their parents, and showed off their soccer skills. Two favorite memories come from connections we made without sharing a single word of the same language: The first was in a market in a town called Dimeka, where the Hamer people live. Little kids were surrounding us and trying to communicate, and showing off. They wanted to talk with us so badly, and I couldn’t figure out a way to have a conversation. I ended up taking out a picture of my three kids at home (Tonito, Viviana, and Maya) and explaining that I was their mom.  Through miming and gestures they asked (and I explained) that my two daughters were biological and Tonito was adopted from China — they were very interested that he was Chinese. Our translator came over to explain that we were adopting a little boy from Ethiopia and the kids were applauding and hugging us.

My second favorite memory was when we visited the Mursi tribe, way in the lower Omo Valley. It was an awkward, uncomfortable visit. The Mursi tribe is known to be demanding of payment for photos; they’re seen by Westerners to be one of the most primitive tribes in the world — half-naked, painted and scarred bodies, and huge clay disks in the lips and ears of the married women are so unique that they attract tourists who want to take pictures. The entire village surrounded us, begging for photos, grabbing us and demanding “3 birr photo.” Our local guide tried to explain that bringing tourism to the Mursi tribes enables them to maintain their traditions. An older gentleman from the Mursi tribe looked curiously at my camera and seemed to want to play with it. I showed him how it worked, and he proceeded to take over 100 pictures of me, laughing hysterically by the end. The stress of the situation instantly dissipated and laughter filled the village. As they snapped pictures of me, I’d charge them “3 birr!!! No, 5 birr!”– a joke that had them cracking up, even though we didn’t speak the same language. They say that humor doesn’t translate, but both sides were repeating the joke and laughing again and again.

Becky With Mursai Tribe

Most people think traveling with children is too stressful. How have you made it work? How can parents build travel into their family’s life?

Kids have a bad rap. Yes, they get crabby, and they have tantrums, but they’re also extremely flexible if we keep exposing them to new experiences. They become good travelers if they get to practice. I take my kids everywhere with me, whether it’s the DMV, shopping, a quiet corner while I’m volunteering, meetings at school (where they need to sit quietly in the corner). Sometimes we’re successful, other times I need to leave early. But more often than not, if I’m prepared, the kids do great. These everyday experiences help them to be better little travelers. My kids are happier when they’re not hungry or thirsty, so I always have snacks for emergencies. I also play silly games or sing songs, tell them stories, etc. We do day trips all the time, weekend trips, and of course longer road trips whenever we get vacation time. When traveling by air, I suggest you allow plenty of time to eliminate the stress of running late, and acknowledge that 1) you’ll be slow going through security, 2) something will go wrong, so pack extra clothes/undies/wipes/snacks, and 3) your kids are only kids, and you’ll never see any of your fellow passengers again.

Morales Boys on Plane

We’ve had some major meltdowns when traveling. I remember one time in Hong Kong at the train station, two guards with huge guns came over to tell us we needed to “silence” our 3-year-old daughter, who was in the middle of a tantrum because I couldn’t carry her in the skinny lines with all of our bags, etc. She was tired, I was exhausted, our emergency lollypops were in our checked bags instead of our carry-ons, and I just smiled and said, “I can’t make her stop crying, I’m so sorry.” He then led us to the front of the line of customs, we made it through, and she finally stopped, happy to be running around and out of the long line.

It’s a process, but I think if parents are too scared to travel and don’t give their kids a chance to experience it, then of course their kids won’t be used to it, won’t know how to behave, and won’t be pleasant travelers. Remember to have a sense of humor and take things in stride.

Tonito Traveling

I’m a big fan of your website kidworldcitizen.org, where you share global activities you’ve used in the classroom and with your own children — games, traditional celebrations, recipes, arts & crafts, etc. Why is it important to teach children to be “citizens of the world”?

I truly believe if we teach kids about the world beyond their community, they will grow up to be culturally competent and compassionate world citizens. Educators and policymakers talk about 21st-century skills: critical thinking, problem solving, and communication. But there’s a global component to these skills: leadership, solving problems that affect the world, communicating across cultures. These can be taught to our youngest students through simple activities that help them gain a global and cultural awareness, and a realization that they play an important role in the world. Kids are very open to learning about other cultures, especially when they experience it through mediums they enjoy, like music, food, books, and movies.

You train ESL teachers and speak and write about multicultural education topics. How do you juggle your passions and work with the demands of motherhood?

My kids come first, which sometimes means I don’t always meet deadlines, I’m late to meetings, or I take longer to do things than I’d like. I’m learning to say no, though it’s not always easy. The volunteer teacher-training I do is only a couple times a month, and I bring my kids with me and they sit in the corner coloring, reading, or watching a DVD. I think it’s wonderful for kids to witness their parents volunteering time to help others.

I love my website because it combines all of my passions: I love to do crafts with my kids, cook with them, read them books, travel with them — we do most of these projects together on weekends and after school. I usually write at night once they’re in bed. We don’t have cable or any channels on our TV (but we do have Netflix), so at night I sit with my laptop while my husband either studies or watches movies. That’s when I relax.

Take us on a brief tour of your typical day.

I can’t do carpool for school because it’s too stressful — we either bike or walk in the morning. After I drop off the big kids, I take the little ones to their preschool or we go to the YMCA for a quick workout. We then visit the library or a park or play at home. After lunch, we read books and then do some coloring or puzzles while I make dinner. I love to cook and hate to rush, so I usually make dinner around 1 pm — either prepping it or actually fully cooking it. We walk or bike to get the big kids from school and spend a bit of time talking about their day, maybe start homework. Before dinner there’s inevitably an activity or sport, and afterwards it’s bedtime for the kids while I work on my website or ebook.

Slow living is about things like simplicity, beauty, connection, community, and not rushing through life all the time. How do you incorporate these ideals into your busy life?

We live in a wonderful community where parents are very involved in school and activities, and everywhere I go I run into someone we know. This helps if we need someone to watch one of the kids or carpool to activities. We limit the amount of activities our kids are in and maximize our time there by encouraging our children to do the same activities. So, for example, we have all four children in swim team, so we all go to the same practices and meets. We always have dinner as a family and rarely eat out — I think family dinners are so important to reconnect and talk about what’s happened during the day, what’s going on in everyone’s classes and with friends. Plus, all of my kids love to eat and love to talk, so it’s a happy time. We don’t watch TV; eliminating that background noise focuses the attention on our conversations. Our kids are growing up fast and I feel like we need to appreciate our time together before they grow up. When I first started my website, I was spending too much time in front of a screen and would only half pay attention to what was going on around me. My husband and I decided that we’d make a more conscious effort to give our undivided attention to the kids — so no phones or screens at the table or whenever any of the kids are talking to us. It’s a simple rule that the kids appreciate — and hopefully we’re setting an example for them.

What is your best tip for living well?

Do what you love and love what you do. You really do have the power to change your situation if you think creatively, work hard, and have patience to see it through. If you’re stuck in a job or situation you hate, write down all of the steps that need to happen in order to change it, and then work through them one by one and get to where you want to be. Life is too short to be unhappy and trapped.

What drives you and what relaxes you?

My family drives me — I’m devoted to their well-being. At the same time, I know I’m a better mom, wife, and friend when I am well-rested and healthy. This means I do make time for myself to work out and take care of myself. As for what relaxes me… I love the feeling after a good workout. I love when I have a clean house. I am completely relaxed when I’m in the kitchen cooking, or when I am snuggling on the couch reading to my kids. I also love my garden and being outside in nature.

What’s your greatest challenge right now?

My youngest has one more year before he starts kindergarten, and I’m trying to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up.” The biggest, most challenging decision I ever made was to stay home with my  kids and leave my teaching career. Now that all four kids will be in school, I’m trying to decide if I want to go back to teaching, go back to school, or try something completely different. I overanalyze decisions because I worry I’ll have regrets, so I’m trying to look at all of my options. Most people can’t understand why this is such a challenge, but I see an ocean of opportunities in front of me; I’m interested in so many different areas.

Your guilty pleasure is…

Haha, when I cook in the kitchen and no one is around I watch reality shows on hulu!

If you and your husband could get away just the two of you right now, where would you go?

If I could get a babysitter, I’d be happy to just be alone with my husband and go anywhere! I’ve always been drawn to Tanzania/Kenya…or maybe a tour through India.

Morales Family2

If you could pass along one important lesson to your children, what would it be?

I want my kids to be compassionate. They might not be the most athletic or the valedictorian, but if I raise compassionate, truly nice, decent kids who follow their dreams, I’ll be the happiest mom.

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Thanks for spending time with us here on SlowMama, Becky — you show us that adventure doesn’t have to stop when kids show up, and I know parents will find inspiration in how you teach your children about the world. We’ll be keeping up with your beautiful family and helpful resources on kidworldcitizen.org!

Images provided by Becky Morales

 

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Old Glory Cottage Dishes

Something happened in our kitchen about a week ago that I’m not very happy about. Our dishwasher quit — and I don’t mean my husband. I called our go-to appliance repair guy who told me that our model had been recalled for safety reasons. Problems with electrical fires, or something insignificant like that. Apparently we were supposed to “shut the fuse off to the dishwasher immediately” two years ago.

Just like everything else in our house, fixing the dishwasher is a Herculean task. First, the Maytag people won’t repair it because it has the wrong kind of pipe in the back; until that’s replaced by a plumber, Maytag won’t budge. So, we’re going to choose the rebate option which covers about 30% of the cost of a new dishwasher. (I say, if you sell me a dishwasher that can send my house up in flames, shouldn’t you replace the entire thing, free of charge?)

This all sounds simple enough, but apparently our dishwasher is installed improperly. The space for it is too narrow so there isn’t room for a brace on one side, which means the counter rests on the top of the appliance and that’s a big no-no. Apparently, many repair men won’t install a dishwasher that way — we have to first get a carpenter to come in, tear up the counter, cut back some of the lower cupboard, and who knows what else. Since we’re planning to have a contractor come in the fall and rip up our kitchen floors to fix a leak that no one can seem to handle, we figure it’s more cost effective to handle the dishwasher issue then.

So it’s back to hand washing the dishes, which I haven’t done since 1908.

I like dishwashers — they prevent build up in the sink, and they clean dishes way better than me… as I’m reminded every time B pulls a glass out of the cupboard and notices stuff like dried shredded carrot stuck to the rim. It’s completely unfair that he never seems to leave gunk on the dishes. Which is why the real answer to our problem here should probably begin with the letter “B,” don’t you think?  I’ll have to share that with him tonight.

Clearly I am not my mother’s daughter on this one. She never had a dishwasher — even with 10 children. She preferred doing dishes by hand — and still does. In fact, she likes washing dishes. When I was young, she’d assign me bath and bed times with the little ones so she could escape to the kitchen for a few relative moments of quiet with the dirty dishes. She found it therapeutic. Plus, she was fussy about how she liked them done.

So it looks like we’re forced to be slower about our dishes right now. Which is no doubt good for me. But I have a feeling I’m not going to miss it one bit when modern convenience comes to live with us again.

On that note, I have to go attack the mound of dirty plates and cups in our sink before my day gets crazy. We’re preparing for a fun party with friends tomorrow and I have a million things to do — I look forward to sharing more details with you next week. In the meantime, here are a few items I found around the web that you might enjoy:

Have a slow weekend and I’ll see you back here on Monday!
Image by Carol of Old Glory Cottage

 

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by Margaret Cabaniss

After knocking out that duvet cover on my sewing machine a while back, I was feeling pretty good about my sewing prowess and tentatively ready to graduate to something wearable. A skirt seemed like the best place to start; I just wanted something simple and straightforward that wouldn’t fall apart at the first strong gust of wind. (Ok, so maybe I still wasn’t completely secure in my sewing abilities…)

Susan at Freshly Picked posted a sweet and simple elastic-waist skirt tutorial many moons ago, and I had always meant to give it a go. I knew the elastic waist and gathered skirt would be pretty forgiving for a novice (i.e., me), so I felt fairly confident I could pull it off. And then my fellow SlowMama contributor Alissa handed me the perfect excuse to give it a try in the form of an invitation to a seersucker-themed party. Clearly this was meant to be.

I definitely recommend following Susan’s instructions, but the gist is simple: For the waistband, you cut a piece of wide elastic (mine was two inches) to fit your natural waist, then sew the ends together with a quarter-inch seam allowance.

For the body of the skirt, you simply cut two pieces of fabric (mine was a black-and-white striped seersucker) so that their total width is double the width of your waistband, then sew them up the sides. The tutorial includes a template for adding pockets, which make every skirt better; it only added one simple step, and it made a huge difference in the finished product.

I was a little concerned about being able to sew a nice, straight hem, but that turned out not to be any trouble. Attaching the waistband, however, was a different story. On paper, this part is pretty straightforward: You pin the skirt at regular intervals around the waistband, then stretch the waistband taut so the fabric lies flat as you feed it through the machine.

Well. My fabric had a little extra give, so it kept wanting to shift all over the place; I finally had to ask my sister to hold it still while I stretched and sewed, and the seam still looked like I had sewn it with my eyes closed. While drunk. (Come to think of it, I was drinking a beer at this point…just a little something to steady my nerves.)

Fortunately, that’s where the forgiving nature of this skirt comes into play: Once you flip it right-side out, the gathers hide even the wonkiest seam, and no one was the wiser. Eight bucks and an afternoon of only moderate cursing at my machine later, and I had a pretty darn cute skirt. Marvel at my awesome fashion-blogger posing skills!

I would definitely make this guy again. I have extra elastic already, though next time I think I’d use a fabric with a tighter weave, to see if I could avoid the drunken-waistband problem. And because I made mine a bit shorter than Susan’s, the extra fabric made it a little extra poofy, especially from the side view, so I might scale down the gathers…but that’s the genius of this project: It’s totally customizable and dead simple to do.

How about you? Got any summer sewing projects on the horizon?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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No Room For Children?

June 20, 2012

Pryplat, Near Chernobyl, April 15, 2011

Slate published a series of essays recently on the subject of being childless (or child-free, as some prefer to call it). In one piece, author Allison Benedikt quotes from Lisa Belkin’s 2000 New York Times Magazine article, “Your Kids Are Their Problem,” where Belkin writes about speaking with a 31-year-old man who never wants children and is looking for a new place to live because his neighborhood has become over-run with families. Belkin writes:

As the mother of two young sons and as a writer on work-life issues, here’s what I see when I look at the world: parents who are stressed. Workplace policies that try to ease that stress but can go only so far. Airplane attendants who used to be nicer to children than they are now. The cost of child care and summer camp and orthodontics, which makes it tough to save for tomorrow’s cost of college. Drivers who don’t slow down on side streets. Louts who wear obscene T-shirts that my kids can read and curse at baseball games where my kids can hear.

Here’s what Jason Gill sees when he looks at that same world: colleagues who are stressed, yes, but only because they choose to have children. Employers who expect people like him to work longer hours so that employees who are parents can balance their lives. Benefits packages full of maternity leave, pregnancy coverage, dependent health insurance and other benefits that mean parents effectively earn more than nonparents. Infants who cry during R-rated movies. The pharmacist who won’t hand over a vial with an easy-to-open cap unless Gill signs a release form swearing that he’ll take full responsibility if the contents kill a child.

Benedikt sums this up in her article, saying:

[Belkin’s] point: The child-free and the child-full view the world in distinctly different ways, except that we all see ourselves as the slighted ones and each other as the slighters. Or, put another way: My maternity leave means more work for you. And your work hours mean I miss my kid’s bedtime.

The first thing I thought while reading this was how I must have missed something because maternity (and paternity) benefits still seem to be in the toilet in most American workplaces. Also, I’ve never been in a theatre where there were crying infants.

But what really interests me here is the notion that those with children and those without children inhabit very different universes, which often leads to different expectations, preferences, and societal norms.

Take my little life on a residential street in downtown Baltimore. I live near a high school attended mainly by inner-city teenagers. Right now, I can tolerate the foul language exploding from these kids’ mouths while they walk to and from school. I can overlook cars speeding down my street, and I don’t have to think too hard about how safe it is at the park in the middle of the day, or whether the loud party next door will wake up anyone but me and my husband. But the day two little kids come here to live forever, that will all change. Everything I encounter will seem different because it won’t be just about me anymore.

I know many single people and numerous childless couples, and one thing I appreciate about them is that, while they aren’t parents themselves, they view children as important. They understand that the upcoming generations are the ones who will vote, make decisions, become leaders, and live next door. They support parents they know and tolerate some of the less pleasant aspects of having little ones around.

I can’t help but wonder, though… As more adults choose not to have children, will the culture generally become less tolerant of them and more annoyed by families in general? Will children no longer be viewed as an investment in the future, but as lightning rods who only benefit their parents and ruin everyone else’s neat and quiet lives?

I’m not suggesting, of course, that children should run the world, nor that parents should be able to do whatever they want and disregard everyone else. There are responsibilities on both sides of the parent-childfree divide. But I think all of us are better off if we invest in the well-being of families and demonstrate tolerance for children as we go about our everyday lives.

What do you think? Have you experienced this divide? Is it unreasonable to expect non-parents to make sacrifices for children not their own?

Image: A view of the abandoned city of Pryplat, near Chernobyl nuclear power plant, on April 15, 2011. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich). Published in The Atlantic, March 15, 2012.

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Memories of My Father

June 19, 2012

by Ann Waterman

Growing up, my house was a treasure trove of strange and bizarre remnants from my dad’s past as a store manager in northern Canada: There was the polar bear tooth that wowed my classmates in show-and-tell, and photos detailing how to skin a beaver for the fur trade. He told stories of how the northern lights worked and the sun never sets in the far north, and even had a coroner’s certificate from a location so remote he was the only person that could be relied upon to do the job.

Now that I’m older, I appreciate that these artifacts represent a time and way of life that’s largely been forgotten. More importantly, they represent the years that molded my father into the man he his today. They shaped him into the resourceful, hard-working, and patient father I remember as a child and was reminded of as I celebrated Father’s Day.

My dad flunked out of boarding school at 17 — algebra and geometry did him in — and back in those days, moving in with his mom and dad wasn’t an option. If you couldn’t hack school, it was off into the world to make your fortune.

Grandpa was a helpful sort and found my dad a job working in northern Canada for the Hudson’s Bay Company — originally a fur-trading company largely credited with creating the infrastructure that spawned a nation. So, at the tender age of 17, my dad packed his bags, kissed his parents goodbye, and headed off to the wild Canadian north to learn how to buy fur and manage a Hudson’s Bay store. I’m sure it wasn’t easy moving to a strange and isolated — not to mention cold — location to learn your vocation, but my father took to it with vigor and enthusiasm. (If you asked him, he’d say he was too young and naive to know any better.)

My dad isn’t one to brag, but when you look through his pictures from that time, you can’t help but be impressed by the stories that go along with the photos. One picture depicts my dad cleaning a chimney with a fir tree — how’s that for resourcefulness? There are pictures of my dad as a young trainee learning the ropes, and of the very first store he managed by himself at only 20 — considered quite an accomplishment for someone so young.

In another series, my dad explains how he and his friends went on a skidooing trip and fell through the ice. The accident almost turned deadly — but my father bravely pulled his friends out of the frigid waters where they surely would have drowned. Those kinds of details you only get after pressing him a bit more.

Of all the remembrances my dad has left of his past, I think my favorite is of an edible nature: his pancakes. Upon joining the Hudson’s Bay Company, he was issued a Household Manual for HBC Posts (a real gem to flip through if you’re looking for a hoot; it includes chapters on “Easy Meals for Bachelors,” “Special Evaporated Egg Powder Recipes,” and “How to Wash Dishes”), and that’s how he learned to make pancakes.

Unlike the flavorless fluffy pancakes most people are used to, these pancakes are denser and sweeter — more of a cross between a pancake and a crêpe. It’s the recipe my family used to make, and it always brings back warm memories of my father when I make them now for my own children.

My father’s pancakes are easy to make and take only a little more effort than opening a box of pancake mix. All you’ll need is:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten (you could substitute evaporated egg if you wanted to)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp melted butter

Mix dry ingredients together with a whisk, and then mix in the wet ingredients until batter is smooth. Cook batter on a lightly oiled pan or griddle until bubbles form and then flip. Let cook for a few minutes more. These cook faster than regular pancakes, so keep an eye on them. Serve with butter, syrup, or even fruit and whipped cream.

What reminds you of your father?

Images:  Ann Waterman

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DivaCup Giveaway Winner!

June 18, 2012

Yellow Rod

First of all, I loved your answers to the question I posed in the giveaway post: What’s one risk you’ve taken in your life that you’re most proud of? From quitting jobs and moving far away to leaving abusive relationships and taking on big challenges, I was inspired. In fact, I might have to do a separate post on this theme because I don’t think we can ever hear enough stories about courage and risk-taking. They’re so motivating!

Now, on to the giveaway winner…

Before I announce the lucky lady’s name, I want to say thank you again to DivaCup for making this SlowMama giveaway possible. I hope SlowMama readers will check out DivaCup and give their products a try.

The winner of the DivaCup and DivaWash is:

Cathi

Congrats, Cathi! Contact me by Friday to claim your prize.

Thanks to all who entered, especially those of you fence-sitters who hoped this would be your excuse to give the menstrual cup thing a try. I encourage you to try it anyway, and I promise that if I take the plunge myself, I’ll let you know if there’s a new convert in town.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Tall Ship Mexico

I finally came out from under the table on Friday and headed outside for the Sailabration festivities. As I mentioned, Baltimore is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and numerous tall ships, military ships, and tourists from all over the world descended on the city last week. It was a zoo in our neighborhood, but once we decided to forget about going anywhere — we would never have found parking again — we settled in for the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Tall Ship

The weather couldn’t have been better — 82 degrees, sunny with a little breeze, no humidity. My kind of summer day. Now, if only I could get it to stay like that for the next two months…

Canadian Vessel

I spotted a Canadian military ship and began singing O Canada at the top of my voice. Then some handsome sailors tossed poutine, ketchup chips, Keith’s beer, lobster, and a couple beaver belts down to me. Then they tried to blow me up for perpetuating stereotypes about our home and native land. (I know, not very Canadian of them.)

Blue Angels

We didn’t exactly have front seats to the Blue Angels show on Saturday, since we wanted to avoid the large crowds, but we watched the planes from down by the water and again the next day from the park near our house. The show was spectacular — worth the occasional window rattling as they streaked low over the harbor.

B and I also celebrated our anniversary on Saturday with dinner at Charleston — maybe the top-rated restaurant in the city, and one of the best in the region. We’ve always wanted to go, but not being bottomless pits of money, we never made it — it’s definitely a special occasion place. Ten years of marriage seemed worthy of the splurge, however, and we were not disappointed. I love it when the high expectations you have for something are actually surpassed. Whipping out the camera to record our extravagant evening didn’t quite suit the whole ambiance, so I have nothing to show you (not even how cute we looked), but B and I agree it was among the top three best restaurant meals of our lives — and that’s saying something.

Last night I took a water taxi with friends to and from the other side of the harbor. I would totally get around this way more often if I could. It’s offers an entirely different perspective of the city:

View From Water

Sometimes living in the middle of the city is a pain in the you-know-what, but this weekend I was reminded just how fun it can be.

How was your weekend? Did you enjoy a Happy Father’s Day?

Come on back a little later — this afternoon I’ll be announcing the DivaCup package giveaway winner!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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