October 2012

Note from SlowMama: We survived Hurricane Sandy intact, and so did all my SlowMama contributors. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who suffered devastation and damage from the historic storm. I’ll catch up more with you on Friday; today, I’m happy to have blogger Lauren Knight stopping by to talk about teaching her children simplicity. (Her home looks beautiful even with toys strewn about, don’t you think?)

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by Lauren Knight

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Something started to happen in (or, rather, to) our house over the past year — something that none of us liked. At the time, my husband and I had just welcomed our third little boy into the world, and we were both overjoyed and slightly overwhelmed by the sudden feeling of being outnumbered by little people and their stuff. It wasn’t so noticeable at first; the toys crept in on the heels of well-meaning grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and generous neighbors. They arrived in the mail from far-flung relatives and old college friends…and before we knew it, we had way too many toys.

I noticed it in the evenings the most, when Andrew and I wanted to relax like adults and not be surrounded by playthings that we kept tripping on, or sitting on, or finding in drawers, on tables, on the counter, etc. And then there was the agitation: I noticed that, as the kids would get out more toys, dump things on the ground, and pull things out of closets, they became more and more agitated and disagreeable. They would play in a disjointed way that seemed to reflect short attention spans and less creativity. To put it simply, they were completely overstimulated.

But what started bothering us most was the attitude our boys had when toys broke: They were completely nonchalant. It was the there’s more where that came from attitude that finally encouraged us to simplify in a major way.

There are a few theories out there about kids and their playthings. One of them places importance on a child’s relationship with his or her things, as a precursor to real relationships he or she will develop later in life. And so, just as we wouldn’t want our children to view relationships as disposable, neither should we be content with our children viewing things as disposable. Just as happens with adults, being surrounded by too many things seems to devalue each individual item. Remove most of the toy cars your child owns, and suddenly the remaining few are immensely loved, important, and played with. It shouldn’t matter that, at 97 cents apiece, you can afford to give him twenty of those cars! That is kind of mindset we have chosen to shift away from.

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So we got to work simplifying our toy collection. Milo, our five year old, was fully on board. After explaining that we had just too many things, and maybe some of those things would be appreciated and loved by someone who didn’t have anything, he was satisfied, even excited. We started in the playroom, where I encouraged him to sort through a basket full of cars and trains and put any duplicates up for adoption. I also suggested that anything he and Oliver hadn’t played with in a while might make someone else very happy… He got to work, filling our windowsill with various toys and books to be donated.

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We filled that windowsill and then some. Later, I took all three boys with me to fill the trunk of our van and then drive the loot to Goodwill and our favorite library. It was a relatively painless experience for them (Oliver, our three year old, had a few regrets, but has not asked for or missed anything so far) — and an absolutely freeing feeling for me!

This is what we were left with after our second big toy purge this year:

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Those crates above are only a third of the way full with miscellaneous toys, like their beloved viewfinder and slides, a few old model horses from my childhood that I held on to for my boys, and some action figures. The basket on the bottom shelf is a quarter full with cars and trains.

Since our two major toy purges, I have noticed a peace in the house when the boys are playing. They are more engaged in play and seem to be playing more creatively with the toys they chose to keep. Part of me feared that they would fight over toys more now that there are fewer to share, but it seems that the reverse has happened! They are respecting each other’s space and playing together better. Oh, and there is a much smaller mess to clean up at the end — which makes everyone happier!

Lauren Knight is a mother of three boys in St. Loius, MO, and blogs at Crumbbums. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, where Lauren shares her tips on how to store the toys you already have, once you’ve done the purge. 

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Waiting for Sandy

October 29, 2012

Hurricane

Friends, we’re hunkered down here today as Hurricane Sandy gets ready to make landfall. I don’t feel very prepared — all of our energies have been so focused on the duty of the moment — but we do have a couple flashlights, water, some canned food, and snacks. We expect to lose power for at least a few days, quite possibly more. Hopefully it will be nothing worse. There’s a huge tree in our back courtyard that we — and all the neighbors — worry about whenever there’s a storm, so we may not sleep upstairs tonight. All I can think about is losing all the life-saving food I’ve got stored in the fridge and freezer!

Things may be quiet here the next few days, since all my SlowMama contributors live in the mid-Atlantic region and may have no electricity themselves to power up their computers. But we’ll do our best to make sure your visits here this week are worthwhile. You may even find a guest blogger here tomorrow or Wednesday and Mags plans to stop by with her regular Thursday post.

Stay safe wherever you are, and keep us all in your prayers!

Image found here

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Coping…and Friday Links

October 26, 2012

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Another week down. I’m still sick, and the girls are needier and more challenging than they were last week. I’m in a fog. If it weren’t for friends bringing meals every so often, I’d be in trouble. I can’t even find time to call a toddler adoption expert at our adoption agency, because that would require me to be able to speak with her on the phone, uninterrupted, for 10 minutes. I feel like I haven’t even spoken to my husband since our drive on Sunday, when the girls fell asleep for a couple hours in the car. He leaves for work at 7:15 am and comes home at 6:30 pm; we finish up meal time with the girls (where we’re lucky to eat something ourselves) and start getting them ready for bed; they go down after a fight, and I stay with them until they fall asleep; finally, around midnight (ifI wake up), I crawl into my own bed to see if I can get some quality sleep until B’s alarm goes off at 6:20 am.

I miss you, B.

I can do this. What bothers me is that I can’t seem to do it cheerfully. Others — wise in the world of parenting and adoption — tell me this stage will pass. I am choosing to trust them. But when they say it may take months, my coughing fits ensue.

Our social worker comes for her first visit today. Maybe I can offer her some bananas? I’ve got plenty of those.

In order not to be too much of a Debbie Downer, I’ll reach into the foggy recesses of my brain and remember some bright spots from the week:

  • A visit from San Francisco friends whom I haven’t seen for years. They are the best of people.
  • A dear friend stopped by with an African chicken peanut stew, and the girls actually ate it — miracle of miracles! An adoptive parent herself, she had lots of great experience to share, too.
  • On Tuesday, the girls ate a few bites of left over Ethiopian-style vegetables. There is hope!
  • I managed to find time to boil some potatoes today. Wow!
  • I haven’t showered for days. (Whoops, this is supposed to be high points… )
  • Friends and family have continued to check in with me, and encourage me, keeping me sane.
  • The weather has been gorgeous here in Maryland, and I love the fall foliage.
  • When I cried out of sheer exhaustion, sickness, and defeat the other day, my girls noticed the tears and gave me hugs. Which means they have empathy — so important!

Okay, that’s about it. While the girls had some moments of quiet play time this week, I found a few links to share with you. There’s a lot of food items among them — probably because food comforts me.

  • I love the clothing and home goods line lemlem. It was started by Ethiopian supermodel and actress Liya Kebede, who wanted to marry modern fashion with the beauty and craftsmanship of the handwoven, embroidered clothing tradition of her home country.

Have a slow weekend, friends, and see you back here on Monday (I hope)!

Image of Ethiopian flowers by Zoe Saint-Paul

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SlowMama in Seattle

October 25, 2012

by Margaret Cabaniss

I just got back from a week-long trip in Seattle, a city that’s been on my must-visit list for years. Traveling somewhere new was one of my New Year’s non-resolutions, and getting to scratch this one off the list was a lot of fun.

I’m still getting over the jet lag from my return trip on a red-eye flight, and sadly I didn’t have a good camera with me on most of my rambles around the city — but I still managed to snap a few iPhone pics, which I just had to share…

One of the first things I did was visit Pike Place Market, probably Seattle’s second most famous landmark (after the Space Needle, of course). It was a fantastic place for wandering — sampling fresh produce, checking out the flying fish, and poking my head in the quirky shops that fill the market.

Speaking of the Space Needle, I never did make it up to the top; there were simply too many other fun things to do for free (or almost free) — the Olympic Sculpture Park (where I snapped those blue waves above), a ferry ride to Vashon Island, Volunteer Park and their amazing conservatory… I loved that there was crazy public art (of a sort) everywhere, too: The gum wall on the left and the house/art gallery wrapped in afghans on the right would have been right at home in Baltimore:

Seattle has great public transportation, so I was able to walk or take the bus almost everywhere I went. I spent several afternoons wandering around the Capitol Hill, Ballard, and Fremont neighborhoods, and I feel like I only just began to scratch the surface of all the neat bookshops, boutiques, bars, and restaurants there. It was the perfect way to pass rainy days, simply by ducking into the nearest coffee shop or stationery store when the weather turned inhospitable.

One of the highlights of the trip for me had to be the food. I had no idea going in, but Seattle has some crazy amazing doughnut shops. I picked up the pumpkin glazed beauty on the left from Top Pot in Belltown; the lemon poppyseed wonder on the right (from Mighty O) was actually vegan — something I never would have guessed, judging by sheer deliciousness.

The one thing I did expect to find was good coffee, and I wasn’t disappointed. I made a valiant effort to taste my way through Seattle’s best cafes and roasters, but in the end there were just too many. I’ll have to make a return visit soon to continue my research. (My favorite brew so far? Caffe Vita, hands down.)

Seattle had plenty to keep me entertained, but the best part of my trip was visiting my cousin and her sweet family, who live in Capitol Hill. When I made my list of non-resolutions back in January, I said that I wanted to take a trip somewhere that wasn’t family-related — but I don’t know what I was thinking, because visiting with family while I was in Seattle made all the difference. In addition to hosting me for the entire week, my cousin and her family pointed me in the direction of all the off-the-beaten-path sights I needed to see; cooked me some amazing meals — including wild king salmon, caught in local waters by a friend of theirs the day before; and generally just made me feel like I actually lived in Seattle for the week — which is the best way to get to know any place. Staying with locals was definitely the way to go; I can’t wait to go back and do it all again.

Any Seattle residents, expats, or fans in the house? Share your favorite spot in the comments! And speaking of resolutions, how are your 2012 lists coming along? Just two more months left to cross them off…

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Girls at Play

A good friend recently admitted that she’s a bit nervous to come and meet the girls. She’s aware that, especially in these early weeks, we’re advised to keep their world small and not allow anyone else to feed, clothe, clean, or comfort them, and that we should limit their social time with new people and refrain from bringing them into new environments for a while. So all this has made her a tad nervous about what to do — and not to do — when she visits.

She may be over-thinking it a bit, but there are some helpful guidelines to consider when meeting or spending time with families who have newly adopted children. Here is my advice:

  • When a family first comes home, don’t assume that you should rush over — or that you should stay away. Ask the parents if and when they’d like visitors. I know that, for us, short visits with helpful friends right from the beginning have made a tremendous difference. But other families may not want visitors until everyone is more settled.
  • Be as friendly as you want with the children: greet them, talk with them, even play with them. But leave the primary care-giving — like feeding, holding, carrying, comforting, dressing, etc. — to the parents.
  • If the child is over-friendly with you, wants to sit on your lap, or be held by you, redirect them to the parents as much as possible — but don’t fret about it. When in doubt, follow the lead of the parents.
  • Your main job as a friend is to support the parents. Believe me, they need it! Practical support is a lifesaver at the beginning — bringing meals, offering to run errands, picking up groceries, etc. But moral/emotional support is just as important; a listening ear can be a godsend. One friend has checked in with me pretty much every day since we got home, by phone or text, and it has been so helpful.
  • Be sensitive when it comes to asking questions about adoptive children’s backgrounds. Be aware that information about their birth family, or how they came to be relinquished for adoption, may be something the family would like to keep private. If you are curious about something, simply ask the parents whether they can share it. For example, you might say, “Are you sharing anything about what you learned about the girls’ background?”
  • Before bringing gifts or giving candy to adopted children, be sure to ask the parents. Newly adopted children can be overwhelmed by lots of toys, clothes, etc., and not every parent (like me!) wants their child to have candy. The gestures are always appreciated, but it’s best to check in first and see what would be most helpful.
  • Be positive. In the early days, adoptive parents often feel overwhelmed by their new lives and may even be questioning their decision to embark on the adoption journey. It really helps if friends and family are positive and supportive.
  • At the same time, don’t try and make everything rosy. The children may be adorable, but behind closed doors, they may be tantruming a lot and displaying challenging behaviors (ahem). Parents may need to vent or talk about how hard things are. Telling a parent when they’re stressed, “Well, you asked for this!” isn’t at all helpful. Take it from me.

When meeting newly adopted children, just remember that anything done in the spirit of wanting to be supportive and caring will be appreciated, no matter what. When in doubt, just ask!

Adoptive parents: What else would you add to the list?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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22-Week Update and a Reveal

October 23, 2012

by Ann Waterman

I was fortunate to have easy pregnancies with my first two boys — and so far, at the 22-week mark, this third pregnancy has been pretty much the same. If it weren’t for the expanding waistline and extra trips to the restroom, I’d barely notice I was expecting. Don’t hate, but I’m one of those people who enjoys being pregnant.

Of course, I don’t feel really pregnant until I’m in maternity clothes, and this go around, I somehow managed to squeeze, stuff, and wedge myself into my regular clothes up to the 18-week mark. At this point, though, I’m unmistakably pregnant — not just looking thick in the middle — and can really sport some maternity apparel.

This pregnancy, I’ve decided to embrace the legging look, since it seems like a happy alternative to loathsome maternity jeans, which I find uncomfortable no matter what kind of belly panel they have. So far, I’m loving the leggings; they’re so comfy, not to mention pretty versatile when it comes to dressing them up or down.

The other thing that makes pregnancy very real for me is the 20-week ultrasound, when you can find out the baby’s gender. For my first baby, I waited until the birth to find out the sex, and I’m glad I did — it heightened the mystery and anticipation during the pregnancy and kept my spirits up when I had an unexpected C-section.

But pragmatism won out for the next pregnancy, as well as this one — and a couple of weeks ago, we found out that we’re having (drumroll, please)…a boy! Our oldest had been hoping for another brother and was elated when he found out; shortly after the ultrasound, he patted my belly and remarked that it was a “good” baby (as if the baby had some say in the outcome).

Our youngest has no idea how his little world is about to change — as evidenced by the fact that he still insists on lying (precariously) on top of my belly when he sneaks into our bed in the morning — but I have no doubt he’ll happily welcome a new playmate…or at least be relieved that his big brother will have someone else in the family to pick on.

I’ve had a lot of people ask if I was hoping for a girl, and I can’t say I had a preference either way. I would have been happy with a girl, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I saw the indisputable evidence of testosterone on the ultrasound screen. To be honest, gender has never been much of a focus for me, and I think part of it comes from the belief that this little person, girl or boy, was intended specifically for me — temperament, talents, foibles and all. It’s my job to shape each child into a loving human being, and the process of parenting a particular child is meant to transform me into a better person. These catalysts of personal change have all happened to be darling boys…for now.

How about you? Do you find out the sex of the baby or delay the surprise until birth?

Image: Ann Waterman

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Starting Week Two

October 22, 2012

Quiha, Mekelle, Ethiopia

What a weekend.

I had such hopes for it: We would have a little picnic at Fort McHenry park with the girls and enjoy the gorgeous fall weather. I’d catch up on a little sleep and finally lick this bad cold. We’d take the girls to church on Sunday morning and maybe even to the local Ethiopian restaurant for lunch. I’d get some time online, just me and my computer.

Instead, S spent Friday night tossing and turning and came down with a fever. Thankfully, she only had the bug for 24 hours, but Saturday was pretty much a wash as we figured out (with the help of family physicians) how to care for a sick girl. On Sunday, S & H had so many long meltdowns that we missed church; later, as we walked to the restaurant, we decided just to turn around and put them back in the car. I got even less sleep Saturday night than Friday, since the girls were up every hour. Then my cold decided to get much worse and started moving into a sinus infection; now I can barely swallow. I got about 5 minutes on my computer all weekend. B himself was pretty wiped out after it all. There were more than a few points where we gave each other the look — not in the come-hither kind of the way, but in the “what the heck have we done?” kind of way.

So, here I am at the start of week two, and my number one goal is to survive another day while figuring out whether I need to get on some antibiotics. I think I could lick this thing with a couple nights of good rest, but that seems impossible at the moment…

How my mother raised ten children, I will never know. I was there for it all, but I have no idea. Granted, none of us were traumatized toddler orphans, but still.

Image of Quiha in Mekelle, Ethiopia, by Zoe Saint-Paul

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Berbere

Have you ever had berbere? It’s a key ingredient in Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine, usually consisting of ground ginger and garlic, chili peppers, white and black peppers, fenugreek, dried basil, and paprika. It’s really unusual; for some reason I always think of it as an Indian curry that got together with a South American condiment and produced a beautiful love child.

The interesting thing about berbere is that it’s slightly different from place to place and family to family. Because it’s a mixture of spices, the taste and potency varies depending on how much of each element is mixed into the batch. And there are native spices of African plants that a chef here in North America might not have access to, like korarima and long pepper, which can also change the flavor.

We bought some berbere at a tiny spice shop down the road from where we stayed in Addis Ababa and brought it home with us. Our girls put it on everything (more accurately, they dump it on everything) — including their bananas sometimes. Their love of berbere probably accounts for their love of anything hot and spicy. I regret not buying more of it while we had the chance; at the rate they’re going, it’ll be gone before we know it.

Have you ever tried berbere? What about other exotic spices? Got a favorite?

I haven’t had much time for browsing interesting links this week, but with a little help from some friends, I’ve got a few for you to check out:

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

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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And Yet More Pumpkin…

October 18, 2012

by Margaret Cabaniss

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The cake recipe that Alissa posted the other day may represent the pinnacle of fall pumpkin-y goodness, but I still haven’t finished working through my pumpkin obsession — which means all of you get to obsess along with me!

Would you believe that I had to choose between three separate pumpkin recipes to share today? It was like picking a favorite child…but since Alissa so ably covered pumpkin desserts, I figured I’d take it in a slightly different direction and share a favorite that works for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: pumpkin butter.

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I’m sure you’re familiar with fruit butters — spicy, smooth spreads usually made from apples, pears, or the like — and that’s all this is. To me, pumpkin butter is the official spread of fall: You can put it on biscuits, stir it into yogurt, slather it on pancakes…putting it on those cranberry orange scones above was like Thanksgiving on a plate. There are very few applications in which it wouldn’t be awesome, I’m thinking — plus it is dead simple to make, which, if you’re feeling lazy, might give it a slight edge over Alissa’s cake…

First, though, I have to second what she said about roasting your own pumpkin — which is to say, do it. It sounds like a pain, but it’s really just five minutes of work to set it up, and then it mostly takes care of itself. Last fall, Ann mentioned her method for roasting pumpkin, and mine is pretty similar: Just cut a pie pumpkin around its equator, scoop out the strings and seeds, then place cut-side down on a baking sheet, cover with foil, and roast at 350 for 90 minutes, or until the flesh is soft. After that, scoop it into a food processor (sans skin), spin it up, and marvel at the mountains of fresh pumpkin you just made for pennies compared with the canned stuff.

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(Note: If you want to use the pumpkin in baking, consider straining it in a fine-mesh strainer to remove some of the liquid first. I got about a cup of pumpkin water out of mine, and that amount of moisture could throw off precise baking recipes.)

For the butter itself, I used Deb’s recipe over at Smitten Kitchen: It’s just pumpkin, brown sugar, apple juice, and spices, cooked down on the stove for half an hour — at the end of which, you should have enough for four half-pint jars, which will get you through the rest of fall quite nicely.

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Sadly, you can’t can pumpkin butter, even with a pressure canner. The FDA tightened up its recommendations on that point in the recent past; apparently the pumpkin itself is too dense to ensure that it’s all being heated through enough to kill bacteria. You just can’t reach safe temps in a home-canning rig.

But happily!, pumpkin freezes really well, so you can just throw your jars of butter in the freezer (along with your extra roasted pumpkin) to pull out and defrost as needed — and the butter should last you a month in the fridge, assuming you can last that long.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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In the Trenches

October 17, 2012

Happy Girls

They are happy girls, as I previously mentioned, and I’m posting this to remind myself of that fact — since I’m currently deep in the trenches of long meltdowns, refusal of naps, feeding on demand, and regressive behaviors.

I told a close friend the other day that the toughest thing about it all is there’s no break… I can’t be out of their sight without their freaking out; both of them want to be carried half the day — at the same time; and they want me to be there when they fall asleep — which means that I fall asleep, too, because I’m so tired, and then I don’t get a chance to do a myriad of things to help prepare a bit for the next day’s insanity. Luckily, B does some clean-up before he hits the hay, and that helps immensely when 6:30 rolls around the next morning…

B went back to work yesterday, and we had a pretty good day — until 4 pm, that is, when all h*ll broke loose. When B came home, I was practically a zombie and couldn’t move out of my chair. He more or less took over until bedtime.

My, how life has changed! I knew it would, but it’s always different in theory than in practice, as you parents know…

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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