September 2012

Trip Two!…and Friday Links

September 28, 2012

World Map

We got word: The U.S. Embassy has cleared our case, and our appointment in Ethiopia to obtain visas for the girls is scheduled for October 9th. We leave on Thursday!

To say my to-do list is still a mile long is only a slight exaggeration. It’s like I check things off and there’s still just as much to do; it never seems to get shorter. So many details, and so many things I forget and then have to do twice…like when I went out of the house to take some shelves back to Home Depot earlier this week, only to discover (once I arrived) that I’d left the shelves in my living room. So I went back yesterday, hauled everything into the store, and listened to them tell me that the shelves didn’t belong to Home Depot at all — but to Lowes. I was sure they were from Home Depot… And, of course, I didn’t have the Lowe’s receipt with me, so I have to go back again. These are the things that try a busy woman’s patience — and there’s no one else to blame.

What I really want to do is go sit in our beautiful church or down on the pier by the water, quiet myself, and be present to the bigger realities of what’s going on right now, but it seems impossible. One thing’s for sure: I’m not being a slow mama in the least right now, but I’m trying to cut myself some slack.

A good friend of mine is getting married this weekend. The timing is a bit tough (for me), but I can’t wait to see her walk down the aisle and to visit with many out-of-town friends who will be there. On Sunday, B has some family in town and we’re seeing them for dinner. Then we’ll have three days to pack and prepare to leave. Someone hand me a drink!

I did find some links this week that I thought you might enjoy:

  • A favorite snack when I was child (don’t gag) was a small plate of cottage cheese, dill pickles, and Ritz crackers. Mmmmm. Now cottage cheese is making a comeback.
  • I said I’d never wear leather pants. Well, call me a liar, because I’d love to wear these. (If you bought them for me.)
  • Fascinating new study about human evolution patterns.
  • Don’t miss the latest batch of National Geographic‘s Best Photos — amazing.

Image: Margaret Cabaniss

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September 27, 2012

by Margaret Cabaniss

I love the photo that Ann posted the other day of James from his first week back at school. My Facebook feed has been flooded recently with pics of adorable tots in their back-to-school finest, and I get a kick out of seeing how everyone’s kids have grown and changed in the last year. Sometimes you don’t even notice the changes until you see them side by side: It’s fun flipping from Tuesday’s post to the one Ann wrote at the same time last year and spotting the subtle ways that James is growing up.

I recently took some milestone pictures, too — although in this case, the milestone was much smaller: Jen’s baby, Dominic, just turned one month old! It’s amazing how quickly the time has gone — and how much he’s already changed in that short amount of time. Hard to believe this is the same guy:

As for the “one” on his onesie? A friend of Jen’s recently sent her a gift of “baby month” stickers — little stickers with a one through twelve printed on them that you can attach to your baby’s onesie for monthly photo shoots during his first year. (The company that made this design, Picky Sticky, has a bunch of cute styles for boys and girls, as well as months that go past the first year.) I’ve seen other bloggers do the same thing, of course, but I always assumed they either Photoshopped the images or designed their own stickers — neither of which I saw myself doing any time soon — so it turned out to be a great little gift.

It’s hard to believe that this sticker, which was almost too big to fit the front of his tiny onesie now, will look so small on him in another 11 months… At the end of the year (which I know will go by much too quickly for Jen), she’ll love having a record of these little milestones to look back on.

Do you take milestone pictures of your own kids? Do you stage elaborate back-to-school pics and Christmas card photo shoots, or is it more catch-as-catch-can in your family?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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The Best of Neighbors

September 26, 2012

Quilted Pillows

When B and I moved to our downtown Baltimore neighborhood, we knew most of our immediate neighbors within a week. They made a point to introduce themselves, welcome us, and offer their assistance. It made us feel at home right away — and when you move to a new city, that makes such a difference.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded how wonderful our neighbors are. One couple down the street — also adoptive parents — sent us one of the car seats we needed, and neighbors next door surprised us with the double stroller we registered for. Another neighbor made the beautiful quilted pillows above for the girls. (Isn’t she talented?) We love them, and so will S and H! Also, this particular neighbor and her husband weeded our backyard area and offered to make us a few meals when we get home. Still others have been eager to hear our latest updates and are happy at the thought of two children running around in the courtyard many of us share. It’s such a blessing to have great neighbors.

The people you live beside can affect your every day life. I’ve lived in some places for years and barely knew a soul; in other places, my neighbors became friends — people with whom I socialized, invited over for Christmas dinner, and went for walks with. These relationships have always enriched my life.

What makes a great neighbor? Respect, shared concerns about quality of life, a readiness to help, allowance for privacy, warmth. What would you add to the list?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Back to School

September 25, 2012

by Ann Waterman

After a wonderful vacation last month, it was hard sending James back to school this fall. His younger brother and I enjoyed all the time we had together with him this summer — and though the house may be a little neater now that he’s back in school, we do miss him while he’s away…

Still, starting up at school was a little easier this time than it was last fall. As you may recall, last year I agonized about whether to move James from private to public school — or even give homeschooling a shot. For a variety of reasons — including finances, lifestyle, and availability of additional resources — we decided to give public school a try. The start of a new year seems like a good time to look back on what we learned in the transition, and I’m pleased to say we’ve been happy with our decision.

James thrived his first year in public school. He looked forward to school every morning and thought his teacher was the bee’s knees. While I always struggled to get him to practice handwriting at home, he seemed much more receptive to learning it at school. His teacher was wonderfully communicative with me, and we worked as a team to resolve issues that came up along the way — something I think is key to making school work.

As far as negative peer orientation — which was one of my main concerns — it was mostly negligible. We made a point to avoid sending James on the bus, a place I’d been warned can be problematic because of limited supervision and more extensive interaction with worldly-wise older students, who may not always watch what they’re saying around little ears. I also realized that, at least for now, our family and home environment are still the central influences in his life, and that can go a long way in combating negative peer orientation.

With an early reader on my hands who was working above his grade level, my other concern was keeping James engaged in class. His teacher worked to provide him with challenging material and even allowed me to send in work so she could get a better idea of his capabilities. This year, we were told that he’s eligible for advanced academic resources — something we definitely plan to take advantage of, and one of the reasons we entertained the idea of public school in the first place.

Another benefit of having James in school is the one-on-one time I now get with my youngest son, Peter. He hasn’t been wholly neglected, of course, but he certainly hasn’t received as much individual attention as his brother did at that age — particularly when it comes to reading. My own experience as a second child has cemented my belief that one of the best things you can do to help your children in school is to read to them as much as you can, even when they’re older. Parental involvement is key in a child’s education, no matter what route you choose, and I’m looking forward to spending more focused time reading with Peter before baby number three arrives early next year.

Public school may not always work for us — but it’s working for now, and we’ll take it one year at a time. How are you schooling your children this year?

Image: Ann Waterman


Where’s Mom on Facebook?

September 24, 2012

Jennifer Tzar Photo

I don’t know if you caught any of the cyber-chat last week about an article by Katie Roiphe in FT Magazine called  “Disappearing Mothers.” In the piece, Roiphe says Betty Friedan would be spinning in her grave if she could see how many accomplished, educated women use photos of their children for their Facebook profile pictures instead of their own.

I don’t have a personal Facebook account at the moment, but I have seen mommy blogs where a child’s face stares back at me in the profile section. I’ve always assumed it’s because the blogger is a proud parent who thinks her child is better to look at — but Roiphe sees women who are disappearing into the background of their children’s lives.

While I suppose there is arguably something strange about putting your child’s picture in for your own all the time, I think Roiphe misses something important: Children are usually the most important part of a woman’s life — even for the most accomplished, educated, successful woman. As this mom blogger says in response to Roiphe’s article, her daughter is not her identity, but the center of her world — the only person she’d take a bullet for. This somehow seems to annoy people like Roiphe, who think a woman’s identity should be separated from her role as mother.

I think it’s one thing to promote the idea that women are not just mothers, and that they should have choices about how to spend their lives; it’s another thing to deny what women show with their lives every day: Most want to be mothers, and their children are their proudest accomplishment.

In her article, Roiphe connects the tendency to put kids’ pics on Facebook profiles to something other writers have recently discussed: the modern tendency to overindulge children.

Why, many of us wonder, don’t our children play on their own? Why do they lack the inner resources that we seem to remember, dimly, from our own childhoods? The answer seems clear: because, with all good intentions, we have over-devoted ourselves to our children’s education and entertainment and general formation. Because we have chipped away at the idea of independent adult life, of letting children dream up a place for themselves, in their rooms, on the carpets, in our gardens, on their own.

So, does Roiphe have a point here? Does the seeming preoccupation with our children — on Facebook or elsewhere — mean we have “over-devoted” ourselves to our children in general? What do you think?

Image by Jennifer Tzar


Rocket Book

B and I are making our way through the children’s books now lining the shelves of our home. We want to know what each one is like, since most were given as gifts to our girls and many we’d never heard of before. Each night, B grabs one and reads it to me. Rocket Writes A Story, by best-selling author Tad Hills, has been one of our favorites so far. It’s about a dog who loves to read and decides to write a story but can’t find the words.

Our fondness for the book may have something to do with the fact that we’re both writers who know writers’ block all too well, but the illustrations and prose are adorable, too. Apparently, Hills came out with How Rocket Learned to Read first; we might need to get our hands on that one.

I’ve always loved children’s books, but in the past I only encountered them when I’d buy one for nieces, nephews, and godchildren. It’s like a whole new, fun world to explore! Tell me, what are some of your favorites?

It’s the last day of summer…sniff, sniff. I don’t feel like we had a summer, in the usual sense anyway — just a bunch of hot, humid weeks stacked up together, marked by the rollercoaster ride of our 10th wedding anniversary, the death of my father-in-law, our adoption referral, and our trip to Africa to meet the girls. It’s been quite a season here.

This weekend we hope to finish the girls’ room. We’ve got to keep trucking, as this may be our last full weekend before taking off to pick up S & H. I’d love to show it to you when we’re done… In the meantime, here are a few links I found this week that I wanted to share:

  • Drink your way through autumn with these seasonal white wines from Italy.
  • A different way to enjoy oatmeal this fall/winter season — looks yummy!
  • We’re fat — and getting fatter. (Boo.)
  • Another reason to be suspicious of GM food: A French study found that rats grew tumors and died early when fed a best-selling genetically modified corn.
  • This looks like a Mags project, if you ask me!

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

Image: Zoe Saint-Pau


Autumn Fever

September 20, 2012

by Margaret Cabaniss

Tomorrow is the last official day of summer, but the weather around here has already started feeling like fall. Usually, this would make me a bit antsy — I love fall, but I hate saying goodbye to summer — but this year, I’m actually embracing it. Maybe it’s because I did a bunch of summer frolicking this year, so I feel like I sufficiently carpe-ed that diem and am ready to move on… Whatever the reason, I’m enjoying the change.

To get us all in the proper falltime mood, I poked around Pinterest to find a few things that are making me really excited for fall:

The colors. See above. I mean, come on.

The clothes. Plaid, jeans, and wooly socks — my favorite falltime uniform. I may have already started wearing flannel on days when it’s really still too warm for it, because you can’t stop me.

This smell. Enough said.

Being outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love the summer sun — but it’s also nice to get out and enjoy a bike or a hike every now and then without worrying about passing out from heat stroke. Plus I just love the feeling of being warm when the air around you is chilly and crisp. (Pro tip: A small flask of whiskey brought along on fall hikes really helps with the whole feeling-warm thing.)

The food. Yes, it’s an old joke by now that everyone loses their mind for pumpkin-flavored everything this time of year. And you know why? Because pumpkin-flavored everything is awesome. These pumpkin ravioli with browned butter, rosemary, and thyme (from Marshalls Abroad) are calling my name.

No, seriously: the food. Finally, it’s cool enough to warrant baking around the clock! I think I’ll start with these mini pumpkin spice donuts from Blue-Eyed Bakers.

Also, the drinks. Spiced chai. Mulled cider. The aforementioned whiskey. It is on.

What about you: Are you a fall lover? What’s your favorite part of the season?

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7


Best Gear for Older Toddlers?

September 19, 2012

Kid Gear Shot from BHG

Okay, I’ve got a few questions for you moms out there (and dads and aunts and grandmas and kid-lovers in general)…

I have a lot of experience with children, but I’m not used to having them in my home and care 24/7. Things have changed since I was young, with nine little brothers and sisters… Plus, being handed two preschool-age children who will face some developmental challenges and don’t speak English feels a bit intimidating.

As we slowly pull this house together and make sure we’re reasonably prepared for two 4-year-olds to take up residence here, I find myself wondering about the little things — like, do we put non-slip thingies on the tub floor? Do we need child-size tableware? Should their room have light-blocking curtains? What are some essential toys or gear for when we first get home?

I won’t go on; there’s a lot more where that came from. But I thought I’d put a few of my questions out there for you SlowMama readers. Keeping in mind that the girls don’t speak English yet, and that I hate having a lot of plastic crap in the house:

  • What do you think are the must-have toys/supplies for older toddlers or preschoolers?
  • Do you have any favorite child-size cups, glasses, cutlery, plates, etc.? Or do you just use adult stuff and let things break as they may?
  • What childproofing do you think is most important when you have small children in an old, difficult house with steep, awkward stairs?
  • Do you have any favorite gear, clothes, brands, books, resources, etc.?

Any and all feedback is welcome!

Image via Better Home & Gardens


Clueless About Fashion?

September 17, 2012

by Alissa Lively

Recently, I visited the Zara in Georgetown, DC, and I felt like I could’ve bought out the store. Everything was a fun, cheaper version of what was currently selling in my favorite but more expensive stores. I snagged a great dress that ended up not fitting as well as I’d hoped, but I figured I could exchange it for any of the other fabulous pieces that I had found.

However, when I returned ten days later, not one of those fabulous pieces was left in the store. The sales girl informed me that they receive shipments of new styles almost every day.

Rapid turnover for fashion retailers like Zara, H&M, and Forever21 is just one of the issues that Elizabeth Cline discusses in her recent book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. She traces the history of the fashion industry in the United States — from when many women made their own clothes, or invested in quality pieces from department stores, to our current attitude of, “It’s so cheap, I could wear it once and throw it away!”

After several years of thinking about where my food comes from and what effect its production has on the environment, it was pretty humbling to realize that I’m clueless about the origins of my clothes. Not only that, but I’ve bought into the disposability mentality myself. This June, I was looking for summery wedges, which I found at a nearby H&M. When the shoes rang up as $10 instead of $25, did I question the quality of their construction or the overall value? No, I picked up another pair in a jewel green! I can’t remember the last time that jewel green was featured in my wardrobe, but they were so cheap! At that price I could definitely afford to round out my look.

This attitude of “It’s cheap, let’s buy more!” is precisely what is fueling the fast fashion industry. By pumping out millions of new styles at lower prices every week, retailers have consumers hooked and coming back over and over again. But the drive down to the lowest price has had significant consequences: Not only has it almost annihilated the U.S. garment production and textile industry, but it has also weakened the quality of our clothing and increased the amount of waste. (One Salvation Army in Brooklyn amasses eighteen tons of unsellable clothing every three days!)

In addition, the disappearance of the garment industry in the States creates new complications in the countries filling that void. Many of us laughed or sneered at Kathie Lee Gifford when her sweatshop scandal came to light in the mid-90s, but the fact is that many of the factories producing the vast majority of our clothing are operating questionable, if not unsafe, work environments and not providing their employees living wages. Furthermore, over-congestion of garment production factories in these countries is directly affecting the environment at large: In the Guangdong Province in China, the pollution is so thick that visibility is less than a quarter mile, and dye waste pollutes the rivers to the point of coloring them red and blue. And it is not just Asia suffering the effects: Air quality and weather patterns on the West Coast have been altered by pollutants from China too.

While the discoveries that Cline makes seem bleak, the book ultimately has a positive outlook. She believes that the reign of cheap fashion won’t last, because it’s unsustainable for producers and increasingly less attractive for consumers. Instead, she suggests seeking out and supporting designers that use quality fabrics and produce their clothing in small batches from factories based in the United States. By mending ripped tights and patching frayed jacket elbows, we can save our clothes instead of tossing them in the trash. Or take classes and make your clothes from scratch, like Mags! If that sounds like a little too much self-reliance, tailors can provide an almost-forgotten service of mending, altering, or even completely constructing clothing perfectly fit for us. After many years of suffering through long jeans for too-short legs, it sounds like a dream to me…

Since, unfortunately, my H&M wedges wouldn’t stay on my feet and the fake cork veneer on the heels started to peel off almost immediately, I now own two pairs of summery wedges that I can’t even use. Now that $20 is actually looking a little expensive. But with an eye toward the permanence and sustainability of my future wardrobe, I hope that they will be my last casualties of cheap fashion.

Image 1: IMDB, Image 2: Confessions of a Shopaholic


City Mouse or Country Mouse?

September 17, 2012

Rural Scene

B and I are urban dwellers, but every time I take a ride in the countryside, I fantasize about being a country girl. Like this weekend, when we drove out to a vineyard for a big event. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere — and it was gorgeous.

I grew up in a rural area — farms everywhere, lots of land and trees and fields. It got so dark at night you could see the Milky Way. Activities were planned around the weather; neighbors occasionally stopped by for tea. It was quiet, apart from the sounds of nature. We were partially self-sufficient — raising animals, growing some of our own food, picking apples from our own trees. Our place in the grand scheme of things was easier to see; our connection to and dependence on nature, each other, God, was more apparent.

The countryside still relaxes and refreshes me, and I miss it. I frequently fantasize about all the things a girl can do in the country that city living doesn’t afford: take long walks along back roads, plant big gardens, work with your hands, sit around outdoor fireplaces with guitars and Pimm’s Cups, catch fireflies, enjoy the peace and quiet.

While all of that makes me breathe a little deeper, I love city life. I love the camaraderie of a close-knit neighborhood. I love the diversity. I love access to great food, art, cultural events, stores, architecture. I love not having to drive everywhere. And I love having people around — I’m an extrovert, after all, and if I don’t see people after a few hours I start getting antsy.

I can’t seem to get the idea that we’ll move to the country someday out of my head. But the reality is, it may never work. Neither of us is handy. We’d make terrible farmers. I can’t sew. I’m afraid of the dark. We need takeout to fall back on sometimes. I like having hospitals close by. My husband can’t sleep when bugs are banging into the windows. Still, wouldn’t it be great to have more land, natural beauty all around, the rhythms of nature integrated into our daily life?

So, there are two people inside me — the city mouse and the country mouse. And boy, do they wrestle. Perhaps the solution is a city place and a country place. But we’ve yet to make our fortune.

What about you? Are you a city person or a rural one? (Or something in between?) Do you entertain the idea of changing things up some day? What would be your dream living situation?

Image via Pinterest