January 2013

DIY: Toddler Play Kitchen

January 31, 2013

by Margaret Cabaniss

Kids' Play Kitchen

While we’re on the subject of homemade kids’ toys, I had to share The Cutest Play Kitchen in the History of Play Kitchens that my sister’s husband put together as a Christmas gift for their 15-month-old son, Stephen. Seriously, just look at it. Is that not the sweetest thing? (The kitchen, I mean. I already know Stephen is adorable.)

I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t love a good play kitchen, but it’s just as rare to find one that isn’t plastic, garish, or outrageously expensive — sometimes all three at once. I’d seen posts where people had built their own play kitchens from old cabinets and such (like this one at Young House Love), but this model ended up being even simpler: Amy found a post at Apartment Therapy on how to build a play kitchen out of Ikea components; Joe cut, painted, and assembled it; and with a few extra accessories, Stephen now has the cutest little Scandinavian minimalist kitchen on the block.

Kids' Play Kitchen

The plan itself is endlessly adaptable, and Joe and Amy made a few tweaks of their own. They started with this Rast nightstand for the base, which they already happened to have on hand (but at just $15, it would be easy enough to pick one up), then Joe used a jig saw to cut a round hole in the top for the sink. Instead of sticking with the lower shelves in the original plan, he put a vertical divider in the middle of the shelf to make the right side an oven, and the left a cabinet/mini-fridge.

Kids' Play Kitchen

On the oven side, Joe attached four pieces of wood to the interior walls to serve as the oven rack holders; the rack itself is just a ¼-inch piece of hardwood plywood, cut to rest on top of the braces. (Hardwood plywood has a smoother finish than regular plywood and is slightly more expensive. In this case, Joe just happened to have some on hand that was left over from a previous project.)

Next, he cut a ½-inch piece of plywood to the width of the shelf (and roughly double the height) to serve as the back to the entire unit. One final piece of ½-inch hardwood plywood was cut to fit the front of the shelf for the doors, then cut again down the middle. The fridge door was attached with hinges on the side, while the oven door was hinged at the bottom.

Kids' Play Kitchen

After making sure all the pieces fit, Joe painted the base, doors, and backboard white; the oven interior (including a corresponding square on the backboard and the inside of the door) gray; and the oven rack black. Once everything dried, he re-hung the doors, putting in magnetic latches to hold them shut, and screwed the base onto the back.

With the major components assembled, all that was left to do was add a few pieces of hardware (mostly from Ikea) to finish it off: a metal dog bowl for the sink, cabinet handles for the oven and fridge door, a double towel bar and S hooks for the pot rack, some black coasters for burners, and a few leftover cabinet knobs for the range controls. Add in some pots, pans, utensils, and play food (also from Ikea), plus some wooden condiment bottles and sliceable food from Melissa and Doug, and Stephen’s kitchen is now fully stocked.

Kids' Play Kitchen

Stephen loves it, of course; even his older brothers like to get in on the action. Amy and Joe have talked about adding other details — a sink faucet, maybe, or a square of chalkboard paint on the back to scribble menus — but the simple lines are kind of nice, too: As it is, it’s small and unobtrusive enough that it can live happily in Amy and Joe’s living room without taking over the space, visually or otherwise. And the fact that they already had most of the necessary materials on hand (heck, even if they hadn’t) made it far less expensive than even the most simple play models out there. Wins all around.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Tattoo

I grew up with a mother who was constitutionally unable to bury her head in the sand when she saw an injustice or noticed something that needed to change. Despite the fact that she was raising nine children at the time (eventually ten), she took action: She ran committees, spearheaded campaigns, wrote letters, led meetings, and even ran for local office. She wasn’t afraid to speak up, even if other people rolled their eyes or didn’t get it.

This apple didn’t fall far from the tree: There’s an activist in me always clamoring to get out. It’s tempered by my pragmatic side and a tendency to be diplomatic, but it’s there, and has shown itself in different ways over the years. Eventually I’ll do more with it, I’m sure. These days, though, I’m thinking about the ways I can help my girls develop their natural sense of justice and compassion as they grow up. I want them to have the confidence to stand for what they believe in and to know that their voice and actions can make a difference.

Each of us has some area that calls to us — education, the welfare of children, human rights, healthcare, poverty, the environment, agriculture, the arts, etc. And although many of us don’t have the time or inclination to picket or march on Washington, there are many ways to advocate for change and teach our children to do the same: write letters, emails, and even blog posts; engage our social media circles; fundraise, volunteer, and share info with friends and neighbors; donate time, talent, and money; join a group or committee; exercise the right to vote…the list goes on.

It also helps to know what your natural inclinations are when it comes to making change. Here’s a fun little quiz (put out by the same people who did The Story of Stuff) to help you discover what kind of changemaker you are. It was interesting to think about what personality traits might drive my involvement or help me be successful in making change.

Do you think of yourself as a changemaker, or even an activist? How do you teach your children to be aware of the wider world and the important issues out there?

Image: Tattly (via Pinterest)

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Internet Menagerie

January 29, 2013

Roman Art Piece at Walters

I’ve been missing my old Friday links, so once or twice a month I’m planning to post a roundup of items around the net that grab my attention. Hopefully it will be a bit like wandering into a fun little shop where there’s something of interest for everyone… Here’s hoping something unique catches your eye on today’s list!

  • A new magazine out of Brooklyn celebrates contemporary fatherhood.
  • Amy Hackworth (at Design Mom) reflects on the simplicity she longs for.
  • Otter Wax. (Who knew about this little treasure?)
  • This may sound disgusting, but it sure is fascinating. Would you do it?

Spot anything worth sharing on the interwebs lately? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Image: B. This Greek sculpture at the Walters Art Museum reminded B of Socrates. Whoever he was, I think he must have liked his whiskey…

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Birthday Dad

January 28, 2013

B and His Girls

My husband likes his birthdays to be simple and quiet — no fanfare or surprise parties for him, thank you very much. Despite my attempts over the years to encourage him to celebrate his birthdays with a little more gusto, it’s certainly made birthday planning much easier on me.

This past Saturday was B’s first birthday as a dad, which sparked numerous fun ideas in this any-excuse-for-a-party head of mine. But I reminded myself that it would be the little things that mattered to him, so I kept it low key — which totally paid off.

Birthday Balloons

While he slept in, I helped the girls blow up little balloons to decorate his dining room chair.

Birthday Chair

Then we got to work on one of his favorite brunches: fluffy spelt pancakes with maple syrup, thick-cut bacon from a favorite farm, winter fruit salad, and a steamy cup of coffee. When he came downstairs to eat, the girls couldn’t wait to give him the drawings they made for him the day before, pulling out the envelope to show him all of their creations.

Birthday Pictures

Later,  we went to B’s favorite local museum: The Walters. The girls were intrigued by the art and artifacts — including the nude male sculptures, which they pointed at repeatedly, asking, “Mommy, what’s that?”

At the Walter's

The Walters’ permanent medieval collection contains some Ethiopian religious art, which was fun to view with the girls. They loved the Chamber of Wonders — a room filled with exotic collections of bugs and butterflies, sea creatures and animal skins, among all the other paintings, sculptures, and tapestries.

For dinner, we dined at one of B’s favorite neighborhood restaurants. While he sipped on the best Manhattan he’s ever had, the girls chowed down on a thin-crust pizza and braised chickpeas in olive oil. (We’re amazed at how well these girls do in restaurants.) Before leaving, the co-owner surprised us with small mugs of decadently rich hot chocolate accompanied by a large bowl of enormous scoops of homemade ice cream — complete with a candle on top. This was S and H’s first ice cream since coming home, and they were mighty impressed.

Birthday Candles

After getting home, the girls were determined that Daddy blow out more candles, but we didn’t have an appropriate dessert item, so I filled a small bowl with pomegranate seeds, stuck two candles in them, and B enjoyed an off-tune happy birthday melody sung with Ethiopian accents.

He said it was his best birthday ever.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Pull Up a Chair

January 25, 2013

downton-cast

Are you watching the new season of Downton Abbey? If so, what do you think so far — better than last year’s? Disappointing? B and I like it better than season two so far (yes, he watches with me): I never seem to tire of the costumes and sets, and I must say that watching Shirley McLaine and Maggie Smith face off this season was about as good as it gets.

This week I’m conjuring up the Downton spirit and offering a choice of drinks in honor of the lovely Crawley sisters. These libations are the creations of bartender Nancy Mitchell, a blogger and fan of the show, who came up with a drink for each sister and posted them at thekitchn last year. The Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil all look delicious, but I think the sloe gin and freshly squeezed citrus in the Lady Edith has to be my choice today as I tell you about my week:

My high: Having B home on Monday for the holiday. We didn’t do anything exciting — lots of errands, hanging out with the girls, giving a presentation that evening at church — but every day that we spend together as a family is the best. Seeing B and the girls together warms my heart: They love their Daddy, and he’s nuts about them, too.

My low: Just starting to feel better from my latest virus and landing myself an infected finger, which ended up being so painful I couldn’t sleep on Wednesday night. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, and it’s starting to get ridiculous.

Bonus Question: Who’s your favorite upstairs Downtown Abbey character? What about downstairs?

For me, it’s hard to choose. Matthew is disappointing this season: Somehow he’s turned into a curmudgeonly old man since he got married. I like Mary and have a soft spot for Cora — plus who doesn’t love Sybil? — but all in all, my favorite has to be the Dowager Countess. No one has better lines or delivers them as well; she steals every scene. As for downstairs, I used to like Mr. Carson, but now I feel like he’s a constant grump. My favorite is Mrs. Hughes: strong, loyal, intuitive, kindhearted.

Okay, your turn. Pick your favorite Crawley sister drink and tell me: What was your high this week? Your low? And who are your favorite Downton characters upstairs and downstairs?

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

Image: PBS

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Kids' Felt Superhero Mask

Update: This tutorial has been super popular, and several readers have been kind enough to share their tweaks and results. I’ve included their alternative suggestions below where applicable. Enjoy!

My brood of nieces and nephews is growing at an alarming(ly adorable) rate, so when Christmas came around, I was looking for gift ideas for them that wouldn’t either (a) break the bank for me or (b) add to the tsunami of toys that their mothers are constantly fighting against. While putting together my SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide, I was particularly smitten with these felt superhero masks (from the “Opposite of Far” etsy shop): They seemed like the perfect thing for the 3-to-7-year-old set I was shopping for — and because I already had some felt on hand, I decided to try creating something similar on my own.

I knew I would need a good mask template first, so I went poking around online to see what others had done. I loved the masks that Ambrosia Girl designed for her sons’ superhero birthday party, and she was kind enough to share her templates online. (Update: Some readers have told me that Ambrosia Girl’s link no longer exists; if you can’t find it on her site, you can use the PDF here.) While Jenn kept her masks simple, with a single layer of felt and pieces of knotted elastic — perfect for an afternoon party, where you need to make lots of masks for lots of kids — I thought I’d try tweaking them a bit to see if I couldn’t make them a bit sturdier and (hopefully) longer-lasting in the kids’ dress-up boxes.

The final design took a little bit of fiddling (and a last-minute assist from my mom), but once I got going, they came together relatively quickly. What you’ll need:

  • 1/3 yard wool or craft felt*
  • coordinating thread
  • medium-weight fusible interfacing (Update: I’ve heard from a couple of people that their masks turned out fine without the interfacing, so if you want to save yourself a step, feel free to skip this one.)
  • mask template: two copies each of either the straight or curved mask (I made straight masks for the boys, curved masks for the girls)
  • clear packing tape
  • scissors (I highly recommend these small Fiskars spring-action craft scissors for this particular job)
  • 1/2 yard of 1/8-inch elastic
  • optional: iron-on appliques to decorate your masks (I got the gold stars above for a few bucks at the fabric store)

Kids' Felt Superhero Mask

*A word about the felt: Since I was cutting out lots of masks at once, I liked having a piece of felt wide enough so that I could stack the patterns widthwise all the way down. You really only need about 8″x12″ of felt for each mask, though, so you can get as little as 1/8 yard here, if you want. And while it may be tempting to pick up those 8.5″x11″ sheets of cheap craft felt instead, the quality of even the synthetic stuff off the bolt will be better and give you a nicer-looking finished product (and actually cost you less in the long run).

For the interfacing:

The masks are made by sewing two pieces of felt together (which gives it extra weight), with a piece of interfacing in between (which gives it a little extra structure). Cut a piece of interfacing that is roughly the area of one of your mask templates (about 4″x10″), then follow the instructions to adhere it to one side of your felt.

Kids' Felt Superhero Mask

A word of warning: Because the interfacing will be cut to the same size as the finished mask this way, it does mean that you could see little bits of white peeking out along the edges of your mask when you’re done. If you take your time cutting in the next step, it’s not a huge problem — and for a five-year-old’s play mask, I wasn’t too concerned anyway. But if you want to be exact about it, use an extra copy of the mask template to cut out a separate piece of interfacing, trim it slightly inside the lines, and then carefully attach it to one of your mask pieces once they’re cut.

Cut your felt:

After lots of trial and error, I’ve discovered that the best way to cut felt is to hold your pattern down with packing tape. The felt has a tendency to move around on you if the template is only pinned, but by covering your entire pattern and the surrounding felt with tape, the two are held securely in place until you’re finished cutting — and because the tape never touches the felt underneath the template, it won’t hurt your finished product. (Update: A reader in the comments says that printing the pattern on freezer paper, then ironing the paper to the felt, works great, too. Thanks for the tip, Ainsley!)

Kids' Felt Superhero Mask

So: Trim your two mask templates so that you have a little extra paper all around, then cut two pieces of felt slightly larger than the templates. Use the packing tape to attach one template to the front of each piece of felt (one with and one without interfacing on the back), making sure the tape covers your entire pattern.

Start by cutting your eye holes: Bend the felt in half, cut a slit in the middle of the eye, then open it back up and carefully start working your way around the circle. Once the eyes are cut, you can move on to the outside of the mask. (Oh, and ignore those small circles indicating where the elastic should go: We won’t need them.)

Kids' Felt Superhero Mask

These short, spring-loaded scissors really help here, as cutting through interfacing, felt, paper, and tape around some of those tight corners can be a bit tricky. Curved scissors work nicely, too. Once you cut your two mask pieces free, you may notice a few uneven edges, but don’t worry: We’ll clean those up later.

Cut your elastic:

Kids' Felt Superhero Mask

Measure your kid’s head around his eye line to figure how long to make your piece of elastic. The elastic will stretch comfortably about 1-2 inches (much more and it’ll start pulling on the mask), but you’ll need an extra half-inch for the seam on each side. So: Since the masks are 8 inches wide, and the average head size I was working with was 21 inches, that made my piece of elastic 12-13 inches long. If you’re not keen on doing the math, or if you want to leave some room to grow on, you can always make ties out of ribbon or string instead: Just cut two 10-inch pieces, one for each side, and continue on the same way.

Sew the mask:

Kids' Felt Superhero Mask

Line up your mask pieces as best you can (with the interfacing on the inside, of course) and pin the pieces together. Sandwich a half-inch of each end of the elastic between the two layers of felt so that they’re roughly level with the top of the mask’s eye holes and pin it in place. Working slowly, stitch around the eye holes, as close to the edge as you can safely get it (1/8 inch or so), and then repeat for the outer edge of the mask. (Update: For a quick, no-sew version, you can use hot glue all the way around.)

When you’re finished sewing, use your scissors to clean up any wonky edges on the mask that may not have quite lined up. Finish off with whatever embellishments you want to add.

To my great satisfaction (and relief), all the kids seem to love their masks. The best part was tailoring the colors and shapes to each of their personalities: Addie’s hot-pink-and-gold-star number suits her supergirl self to a T, while John, who is currently on more of a Lone Ranger kick, loves his all-black mask (perfect for playing cowboys, spies, ninjas…). I love how serious they both look here: Obviously, being this awesome is no laughing matter.

Kids' Felt Superhero Mask

These were a lot of fun to make, and I could see them being easily adaptable for adults, too. They’d be great for your own superhero birthday party, Halloween costumes, you name it.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Essential Oils

As part of my resolution to find a new equilibrium in my life as a mom, I’m determined to buck up my immune system and keep this family as healthy as I can in 2013. I plan to share some of my attempts here, especially if I see results.

One thing I’ve started to use a lot lately (at the suggestion of my sister and a local naturopath) is essential oils. I was somewhat familiar with them already — I use body products that include essential oils, and I interviewed an aromatherapist here on SlowMama before — but with the recent bouts of sickness in my household, I’ve been reminded just how much essential oils can help when respiratory illnesses hit.

We use a warm humidifier in our bedroom in the wintertime, since the air is so dry, so when the girls came home I bought one for their room, too. When we all had terrible colds and respiratory infections recently, I placed some oils in the medicine cup of the humidifiers at night and noticed a big difference. The girls’ coughing pretty much subsided as soon as the essence dispersed through the room: They could breathe through their noses better, which meant no mouth-breathing, which eradicated the constant coughing and made for a deeper sleep, helping them heal more quickly. (I noticed the same in our bedroom, too — on the nights I got to sleep there, anyway — but our humidifier has only been working on and off.)

There are so many essential oils — all used for different purposes — but a handful are particularly great for respiratory illnesses, and I now keep them in the cabinet for use in our humidifiers:

Red thyme — A fairly strong-smelling oil with a reddish color, it’s used as an antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal, as well as an immune-system stimulant. Herbalists often recommend it for circulatory and nervous-system issues, as well as for digestive problems and respiratory illnesses.

Eucalyptus — Most people are familiar with this scent; it’s considered a balancing oil and a common choice for relieving coughs, sore throats, and sinus problems.

Peppermint — Peppermint is said to be an effective decongestant that helps clear the head and unblock the sinuses. It’s nice to add a couple drops of peppermint along with eucalyptus when trying to treat respiratory issues.

I keep a number of oils on hands for other purposes, too: tea tree, lavender, lemon, and ylang ylang, to name a few. You can use essential oils in all kinds of ways — topically, aromatically, and even internally — but whatever the case, make sure they’re good quality, especially when using them in or on the body. For high-quality products at reasonable prices, I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs (you can find more about them in this post from last year). In a pinch, you can find some decent oils at a place like Whole Foods, which are fine for use in humidifiers. And for more information on essential oils and 25 ways to use them, check out this post on Simple Mom from last year.

Do you use essential oils, and have you seen results? What are your favorites?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Do You Need a Doula?

January 22, 2013

by Ann Waterman

Doula I

The second person to learn about my latest pregnancy (after my husband, of course) was my doula. Just moments after seeing those two little pink lines appear on the pregnancy test and sharing the news with my husband, I ran downstairs, fired up the laptop, and sent an email to Tara (of Your Body, Your Birth) to tell her the news and lock her in for my due date. I couldn’t imagine going through labor without her.

A doula is a labor coach trained to support a woman before, during, and after childbirth. While not medical professionals per se, most doulas receive certification in labor support (be wary if they don’t) and often have years of experience helping women deliver babies.

A lot of people have asked me why I got a doula and whether it’s worth the expense. As with so many things in life, it’s a very personal decision, and it may not be right for everyone. But after having experienced births both with and without one, my husband and I are definite doula converts, for a few important reasons:

Doulas are a support for you — and your husband. One misconception about doulas is that they’re for women who have husbands who either faint at the sight of blood or think labor and delivery is a woman’s thing. My husband is neither and is as supportive as they get: He never once balked at attending extensive childbirth classes when I was pregnant with my first, and he’s all in during labor and delivery, doing everything from distracting me in between contractions to cutting umbilical cords. I absolutely need his physical and emotional support when I give birth.

But the fact is that my husband and I aren’t birthing experts. This may not be a problem if you have relatively straightforward pregnancies and births, but if it’s your first time, or if you have some complications (like attempting a vaginal birth after a cesarean section (VBAC), like I did), it can be helpful to have someone experienced to guide you through the myriad decisions you face during labor — someone who is committed to helping you achieve the birth you want, rather than something you feel forced into because you’re not aware of all of your options.

In many ways, my doula was a support for both me and my husband by helping us to work most effectively as a team. She helped us to navigate a process that was still very new and unknown to us, at least in the practical realm.

Sometimes, one is not enough. One of the most effective birthing positions for me during my VBAC required a third person: I sat on the edge of the bed and leaned forward for support on my doula, while my husband provided counter-pressure to my back during contractions. After the contraction, I’d fall back into a pillow supported by my husband’s arms until the next contraction came along. This wouldn’t have been possible without a third person present, not to mention that it was my doula who suggested this position in the first place (in addition to many other birthing positions that were helpful at different stages of labor — ones we never would have known to try).

While the nursing staff was very helpful, they simply couldn’t be with me for every moment of labor or provide this level of support. My doula was present during the entire labor and delivery, and she stayed for an additional two hours after the birth to make sure our nursing was off to a good start (something I struggled with the first time around). She gave my husband a moment to take a breather and even snapped some family photos for us. When it was time for her to leave, I was truly sad to see her go; she’d been such an incredible part of my birthing experience.

Doula II

Not a stranger, but not a family member. Giving birth is one of life’s most private and intimate experiences, so deciding who’s going to be there with you is really important. Naturally, you don’t want someone who is a complete stranger, which is why finding the right doula for you is key.

After an initial in-person interview to see if my doula would be a good fit, I met with her several times before I gave birth to share my thoughts, preferences, and fears about labor. We also talked about ways I could prepare for the big event. She was always available for questions by phone or text, and she had an extensive resource library for me to borrow from.

When game day rolled around, I was happy and reassured to see Tara waiting for me at the hospital as if she were a good friend. But unlike with a close friend or family member, we didn’t have any emotional baggage or hang-ups between us — which can exist even in the closest personal relationships, and which can be magnified in a stressful situation like labor. I felt comfortable telling her that I needed complete silence when my contractions got intense, or neighing like a horse because it relieved stress, or even dropping a profanity or two (please don’t tell my mother).

I also didn’t feel bad about having her spend 18 hours with me, because that was part of our agreement. With friends or family, I might worry I was imposing on their time or keeping them from their own children. (Of course, these are some of my own hang-ups, but you see what I’m getting at.)

The benefits far outweigh the cost. Depending on where you live and how experienced your doula is, services can run anywhere from $300–$1,000. That’s a lot of money, and it’s one of the main reasons I didn’t get a doula the first time around — a decision I later regretted. As I’ve learned time and time again in life, some things are worth the money — and for me, a doula is one of them. I wholly credit Tara with helping me achieve a successful VBAC with my second child, and you just can’t put a price on an easy recovery, renewed confidence in your body, and the joy of achieving something you once thought was impossible.

Who do you bring to the delivery room? Have you used a doula? Why or why not?

P.S. If you’re looking for a for a doula, or simply want to learn more about what kind services they provide or training they receive, please visit Dona International.

Images: Ann Waterman

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MLK Day and My Daughters

January 21, 2013

Diversity

I’ve noticed over the years that bloggers with transracial families often write about race on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s an appropriate day to do so, and the issue has been on my mind lately…

Since the girls came home, I’ve become painfully aware of the images that surround me every day and how they might affect my girls. Over Christmas, I noticed that most of the religious images we have at home — or receive on cards, or see elsewhere — depict Jesus, Mary, angels, and saints as northern Europeans. The girls began to insist that angels had straight, blonde hair “like mommy.” So we pulled up some images online from Ethiopian religious art and showed them angels with curly dark hair like theirs. It was hard to convince them, but they eventually seemed to get it.

All of my favorite catalogues that arrive by mail — such as Boden, Sundance, Garnet Hill — show white models with blonde or light brown hair, with almost no exceptions. The girls love to look through these catalogues because they love clothes and jewelry and pretty things.

Well-meaning, wonderful friends have given the girls items with white, blonde princesses on them. Even at the pediatrician’s office, while sitting in the the waiting room and then the examination room, the wall decals that surrounded us were of white princess characters. And this is a practice with Indian and Chinese physicians, with a patient population that is largely non-white: Hispanic, African American, etc.

I can see very clearly now how easy it is for my daughters to begin to internalize the idea, based on what they see, that fair skin and light-colored, straight hair is better — more desirable, more attractive.

How do I counter this? I don’t know exactly. I’m giving it a lot of thought. It doesn’t help that I, their mother — whom they think is the cat’s meow — fits the stereotype. All the more important, in my opinion, to be aware of how I can help my daughters to know that they are fabulous and beautiful the way they are.

I’m grateful we currently live in a place with diversity. One good thing about living in an East-coast city: When the girls are out, they see all kinds of people with different skin tones, facial features, and hair. Meanwhile, I’m on the hunt for a nativity set that does not depict the figures as caucasian. I’m also interested in collecting more culturally diverse art and images — and I’m considering canceling my subscriptions to most of my current magazines and viewing the products online instead. At the very least, I may look for a few magazines that feature a greater range of models. (O magazine does, for one.) We’re careful about the books, toys, and dolls we give the girls.

Whether it’s the churches we attend or the neighborhoods we move into, this issue is going to factor into our decision-making in different ways as we go along. I’m sure it will be hard to know where to find the balance, since I don’t want to create artificial environments or contrived relationships. At the same time, I want my girls to be surrounded by enough “difference” so that they can find their own place and feel okay about being in a family that looks a little different.

Image found here

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Pull Up a Chair

January 18, 2013

Duma Manzi Eco Lodge in South Africa

I don’t know about you, but I’m in need of a vacation right about now. I think this is what happens when you haven’t had one truly great night’s sleep in more than three months, nor a shower lasting more than six minutes (or more than once a week), nor an afternoon to yourself even to get a haircut.

So I’m thinking somewhere beachy and warm, where I can eat fish tacos and pico de gallo and read my books and magazines and scare people with my pasty white legs. Or maybe I could just crash my friend Jamie’s amazing African safari vacation in a few weeks. (We were invited, but alas…) I’d also just take a cozy cabin in the mountains with some skiing, followed by hot cocoa and a roaring fire.

Yes, January has me daydreaming. I really love these two munchkins who’ve turned my life upside down, but there are days when I wish they were suddenly old enough to make me dinner and put me to bed. And just as soon as I say that, I want to cry because they’re already getting too old and too big!

Since a beach vacation isn’t in the cards at the moment, I thought a little sunshine in a glass would be the next best thing. This winter sun cocktail looks like just what my poor Vitamin D–deprived self needs right now. I know Alissa will approve of all that lovely winter citrus; how about you?

Okay, here’s my high and low this week:

High: Watching the girls’ enjoy their new baby dolls — gifts from friends and the girls’ final Christmas presents, which we purposely held back until just before we took the tree down. The babies come everywhere with us. I don’t recall being into dolls much as a little girl — maybe because I had real babies around me all the time. My girls love to nurture, and these dolls are their new favorite things. (Kudos to our friends who were tuned-in enough to buy brown-skinned baby dolls.)

Low: Being sick. Again. (Will I ever stop saying that?) No wonder I’m dreaming about a vacation. At least I’m not on antibiotics, and I’m on the upswing now, but Tuesday I spent as much time as I could on the couch in between attending to the princesses’ constant demands.

And the obvious bonus question, given my train of thought right now: What’s your dream vacation?

There are so many places I’d love to visit, but traveling is different than vacationing. When it comes to a super-slow, rejuvenating, relaxing break, I’d have to choose a health or eco-spa…somewhere gorgeous and private, with organic food, massages, facials, yoga or pilates, nature — the whole nine yards. Have you seen some of these places? Check out the one above: the Duma Manzi Eco Lodge and Spa. I do deep belly sighs when I see places like that. Definitely on my life list to take such a vacation.

So, how about you? What was your high of the week? Your low? And what about that dream getaway?

Image found via Pinterest of Duma Manzi Eco Lodge & Spa in South Africa — thus proving I could go on safari in South Africa and enjoy a spa vacation at the same time.   

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