December 2013

Best of SlowMama 2013

December 31, 2013

Silly Saint-Paul Girls

It was a terrific year at SlowMama. Here’s a look back at some of this year’s most memorable posts, in case you missed them:

Most controversial. (And also, hardest to write!)

Favorite lead photo.

Most likely to make you gain 10 pounds.

Most popular DIY project.

Post that will make you feel better about January.

Margaret’s favorite photo shoot.

The TMI post that moms love.

A few favorite conversation starters: here, here and here.

Best post for Dads.

Most likely to turn you into a homesteader.

Most likely to make you a laundry master.

Saddest photo. (That face!)

Cutest petite model.

Most helpful for changing your diet.

Proof that you can survive adopting two preschoolers.

Most inspiring.

Easiest pie crust.

Most likely to turn you into a better cook.

Most heart-warming: A toss-up between this and this.

Do you have any other favorite posts from 2013 — from SlowMama or elsewhere? Do share!

Image: B

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December Woods

If you’re setting some new goals and resolutions for 2014 this week, what’s your plan for success? I think one of the reasons New Year’s resolutions end up being a waste of time for so many people is that while the goals are there, the strategy for achieving them is not — and without the latter, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure.

I came across this post on Simple Mom about making sure you have an accountability partner when you make resolutions. I agree; it’s one of the best ways to help yourself succeed. In fact, it’s one of the reasons people typically hire a life coach: to have someone in their lives to hold them accountable so change can actually happen.

The first and best thing about having an accountability partner is that it helps you flesh out your real goals. It’s easy to compose a list in your mind of all the things you’d like the new year to be about, but when you actually ask someone to hold you accountable, it forces you to choose only the goals you are truly serious about.

The Simple Mom article has some good tips for how to choose the right person for this role. I think it’s best to make it a person with whom you can share the duty: It’s more fun if it’s mutual.

Have you ever asked (or hired) someone to be an “accountability partner”? Would you consider doing it this year?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up a Chair

December 27, 2013

Creche Angel

How has your week been?

Our Christmas day was more civilized than any home with two boisterous five-year-olds deserves to be — in part because it was simple (just five of us — B’s mom included — and nowhere else to go), and also because our daughters have no expectations about how Christmas day should proceed. Last year, they didn’t even know presents were supposed to be opened — they stacked them like blocks and made a big freight train with them.

This year they knew better, but they were happy to wait until we declared it gift-opening time, and that meant we were able to attend a lovely Christmas Mass and come home to a leisurely brunch before the unwrapping began. Even then, they were willing to (mostly) wait their turns to open gifts. We spread things out, which seems to help them appreciate everything a bit more.

For a Christmas toast, I want to pass around the peach and basil mimosas I served for Christmas brunch. I made up my own recipe, since I’d been wanting to use some frozen peach nectar in the freezer. I placed about 3 cups of it (mostly thawed) in the VitaMix with 1/2 cup of orange juice, a couple tablespoons of honey, and 5-6 fresh basil leaves. Then I poured the blended mixture into large wine glasses and topped it with cava (Spanish sparkling wine). For the kids, I used sparkling water to create the same bubbling effect. They are delicious, but any fruit nectar would do the trick.

My high and low this week are pretty straight-forward: Christmas here was a blast, thanks to the two sweetest girls on the planet. If there was a low, it’s missing the rest of my family at this time of year, which was slightly mitigated by numerous Skype and FaceTime calls the past few days.

If you’re stopping by SlowMama for a little downtime today, grab a peach and basil mimosa and tell me about your week! I hope you enjoy your weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: B

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Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2013

S and H on Christmas

Merry Christmas and happiest of holidays, friends!

It will be quiet around here over the next couple of days as my contributors and I relax and spend time with our families. If you are celebrating Christmas, I hope it’s a joyful, peaceful time with loved ones (and lots of good food)!

This time of year can also be hard for many people and if this is true for you, I pray the spirit of the season brings hope and light, wherever you find yourself today.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Gingerbread on Christmas Eve

December 24, 2013

Gingerbread Cake

I love all things ginger, and one of my favorite recipes of all time is my grandmother’s gingerbread cake served with lemon sauce. It’s not overly sweet and is a perfect treat to serve when company shows up for the holidays. (Unless they are gluten-intolerant or never eat sugar or hate ginger. In that case, this will not be a hit.)

On this Christmas eve, consider this family favorite my Christmas gift to you…

Grandma R’s Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 cup molasses
1 cup hot water

In a large mixing bowl, whisk all the dry ingredients together. In a separate large bowl, cream the butter and sugar and add the beaten egg, then the molasses. Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet, slowly mixing them together. Add the hot water (I suggest you do this by hand — in a mixer, it often sloshes out of the bowl). Beat mixture until smooth and soft. Pour into a square or rectangular baking pan and bake at 325 for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out dry. (To be a little fancier, you can use a round pan for this recipe, or a mold bundt pan and slice it like cake.)

For the lemon sauce:

Combine in a saucepan:
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt

Gradually add 1 1/4 cups boiling water, stirring or whisking for 5-7 minutes on medium heat until thickened. Take off the heat and blend in 3 Tbsp of lemon juice and 2 Tbsp of butter.

This recipe for lemon sauce yields 1 1/2 cups, but I often double it because I like to go a little crazy with this sauce.

To serve: Place a square of the gingerbread in a shallow bowl and pour warm lemon sauce over it. To be extra decadent, scoop a dollop of cold whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top. (Sprinkling the cake with a little icing sugar makes for a very pretty presentation, especially if you bake it in a cake or bundt pan.)

Enjoy. And happy Christmas Eve, friends!

Image: Julie Marie Craigb from Always With Butter

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Traveling by Train

December 23, 2013

Steam Engine Train in Germany

If you’re traveling this week to see loved ones for the holidays, are you going by plane, train, bus, or automobile? (Or bicycle or boat?) If I had my druthers, I’d always choose a train. (Unless I were going somewhere far, and in that case I would choose that beam-me-up-Scotty machine from Star Trek that I’m still waiting for someone to invent so I don’t have to fly.)

I’m such a big fan of trains that one of my fantasy jobs is taking over Amtrak and whipping it into shape so this country can have a proper train service. There’s something about traveling by locomotive that can’t be beat… I’ve had some of my best creative ideas while riding trains, and I’ve met the most interesting people. Once I went all the way to New Orleans from Washington, D.C., and paid for sleeping accommodations. I thought it was the coolest: There were linens in the dining car, polite service, and chocolates on my pillow. I had lunch with an aspiring musician and dinner with an astute Louisiana businessman. I shared tea with a novelist and sipped evening cocktails with a motley crew who otherwise would have never cross each other’s paths, save for their common interest in traveling long-distance by rail. For some reason, trains allow for conversations that you can’t really have on other forms of transportation, at least in my experience.

Given all this, it looks like I should consider moving to Britain: A recent piece in The Economist reports that Britain has 108 steam railways — who knew? — and they’re extremely popular:

In 2011 they carried 7.1m passengers—25% more than four years earlier. Passenger trips on boring ordinary railways went up by 20% in the same period. Some heritage railways are little more than a few men in overalls tinkering with locomotives. But most are semi-professional, backed by trusts and staffed by volunteers. Some 18,500 people volunteer on steam railways, and the number is rising.

Interesting, huh? Frankly, I’ll take any kind of train — steam engine, high-speed…whatever is well-run, clean, and gets me where I want to go. To be able to relax, talk, write, pray, think, eat, drink, and stretch out on an actual bed while never having to leave the precious ground is pretty darn fantastic, if you ask me.

What about you: Do you like trains? Have you ever had an interesting experience traveling by rail? No matter how you’re traveling this week, be safe — and enjoy your holiday time!

Image: Steam engine near the eastern German city of Wernigerode, Matthias Bein / AFP – Getty Images

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Pull Up a Chair

December 20, 2013

S in Reindeer Antlers

Ack, five more days! I was speaking with a shopkeeper I know the other day and we were laughing about how busy it can be just trying to keep your Christmas holiday simple.

Actually, earlier this week I took a page from a friend’s Advent resolution to not stress about what isn’t done — and I’ve managed to stay cheery and relatively relaxed ever since. Our tree is mostly decorated; some presents are purchased; a few cards are in the mail. The house is mostly presentable before my mother-in-law arrives tomorrow. I made homemade granola and planned some of next week’s meals. Things could be in better shape, but they could also be worse. So, I’m going to remind myself of the latter and keep on trucking!

My girls are asking for hot cocoa every day right now, so this pumpkin spice hot cocoa from 100 Days of Real Food seemed perfect for our Friday happy hour chat today. I usually make hot cocoa with with almond milk now, since H and S are a little sensitive to cow’s milk, and it always turns out yummy. Here’s my high and low of the week:

High: I decided to make a change with how I structure our intentional homeschooling time, and things are going a little better. I’m hoping that with small tweaks and the williness to constantly adapt, I’ll find my way in the land of homeschooling.

Low: Does something from last weekend count? B and I had a date night planned to celebrate my birthday on Saturday night, but the friends who were going to watch our girls came down with a stomach virus. While I felt really bad that my friends had illness running through their household, I didn’t realize how much I was looking forward to a night out with my husband until it went up in smoke.

Bonus question: Do you prefer gloves or mittens? I like and wear both. I prefer leather gloves in the winter for driving or going out, and cozy warm mittens for playing outside.

How has your week been? Grab a pumpkin spice hot cocoa and tell me about it! I won’t wish you a slow weekend, since I doubt that’s possible for most of us the weekend before Christmas, but I do wish you a happy and productive one! See you back here on Monday.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

December 19, 2013

by Margaret Cabaniss

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

I grew up (and my parents still live) in a fairly nondescript neighborhood in a nondescript suburb of Raleigh — but every Christmas, the residents get together to do something pretty spectacular: On Christmas Eve, every last homeowner (and I mean every. one.) sets out luminaries along their property’s street front, lighting up the entire neighborhood in an unbroken chain of lights.

If you’ve never heard of luminaries before (sometimes called luminarias), they’re essentially just paper lanterns with a candle set inside. They’re a traditional Mexican Christmas decoration — the lights were meant to guide the Christ child to your home — but the displays are still popular in the Southwest and in other enclaves around the country.

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

In our neighborhood, a planning committee distributes paper bags, small votive candles, and a bag of sand to fill the appropriate number of luminaries for each resident, and every Christmas Eve day finds the neighbors setting out their lanterns. We light them all at dusk (just before Santa drives through the streets on a fire truck to give candy canes to the kids — another great neighborhood tradition), and they burn through the night. It’s pretty magical.

The impact-to-effort ratio here is pretty high, too — and even if you can’t get your neighbors to join in, there’s nothing stopping you from lining your own driveway, sidewalk, or whatever little plot of land you like in lovely glowing lanterns.

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • white paper lunch bags (I found mine at Target)
  • 2-3 inch pillar candles or tea lights (though the former will last longer, obviously)
  • sand (grab some from the kids’ sandbox, or pick up a bag at your local hardware or garden store)

Open the paper bag and fold over the top to make a one-inch cuff, then fold it over again; this will keep your bag open and sturdy so it doesn’t collapse in the wind.

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

Add a couple of inches of sand to the bottom — enough just to hold your candle upright and keep the bag from tipping over — then drop your candle in the center. Space them out along a clean, hard surface (e.g., the driveway, not the grass), and light them up. (Long matches or lighters are helpful here.)

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

As far as the safety factor goes: We’ve never had a problem leaving our luminaries unattended, even after we go to bed. They eventually burn themselves out overnight, and even if a bag happens to catch fire (a rare occurrence), as long as they’re on the street or driveway (and away from dead leaves), the bag just burns itself out. But, as with anything fire-related, proceed with caution — and keep an eye on those kiddos. If it’s particularly windy where you are, put your candle in a mason jar inside the bag to protect the flame (which will also protect the bag).

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

Aside from just looking lovely, I love holiday traditions like this that bring the community together. Any fun group activities happening in your own neighborhood or community this time of year?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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O Christmas Tree

December 18, 2013

Christmas Tree Hunting n Mt. Hood

Christmas just wouldn’t feel like Christmas to me without a tree. Growing up, we not only had a big one in our living room, we kids were allowed a tiny tree in our shared bedroom. We couldn’t use any “real” ornaments for it; we had to make our own. We strung popcorn and cranberry garlands and made plenty of ornaments out of paper. That little green shrub was magic.

Over the years, I’ve decorated Christmas trees in various ways. When I was single and nomadic, my housemates and I seemed to always come up with decorations to make a tree proud. One year, I remember my roommate wanted to do the entire thing in blues, silvers, whites, and bright greens — no reds, no gold, no Santas or candy canes. I was skeptical but went along with it — and was amazed at how gorgeous it turned out. My fallback still tends to be a slightly old-fashioned tree with white lights, but I learned that it can really be fun to change things up.

Although I’ve given up on tinsel over the years, I like garland. I used to take the time to make long strands of popcorn and cranberries — I suppose to relive my childhood — but a few years ago I found some vintage-looking silver garlands that I liked at a local shop and have been using them ever since.

Heart Ornament

I’ve also amassed a lovely collection of ornaments over the years and enjoy pulling them out, one by one, reminiscing about where each came from…different people and phases of life, places I’ve lived and traveled. Ornaments are so great to receive and to give. In fact, years ago, I started sending my godchildren an ornament every Christmas so that, when they leave the nest, they’ll have a special collection for their own trees.

Last year, for the first time in a long time, B and I strung colored lights. Since our girls prefer them to white, we’re using them this year, too. One thing I’ve still never found, though, is a tree topper that I love. S and H want to make a star with gold glitter for this year’s tree, so that’s what we’ll do — but one of these days I’d like to find just the right topper that can take its place among our annual accoutrements.

If you put up a tree, how do you decorate it? If you could do something a little different with it, what would that be?

And if you are looking to change it up this year, check out these creative Christmas tree ideas from Design*Sponge. If I were living in a small city apartment, that book page tree or the tabletop tree would be perfect!

Images: 1, Pinterest; 2, Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Ann Waterman

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I love O. Henry’s beautiful story of marital self-sacrifice in the The Gift of the Magi, but my more pragmatic side wonders if Jim and Della could have averted their gift-giving tragedy with a little more communication beforehand — maybe with something like, say, an Amazon wish list?

Of course, that’s just me. My husband and I acknowledged early on in our marriage that neither of us relishes the hunt for the perfect gift, which typically results in debilitating indecision and paralysis about what to buy. It’s not that we don’t like giving gifts; we just want to be sure we’re giving the right gift. We don’t have many wants (coupled with a dislike for clutter) and agree that targeted gift-giving with the aid of a wish list makes for a happier, stress-free holiday for both of us. Of course, we sometimes go off the reservation, but it’s nice knowing there’s a little help figuring out the other’s wants if we need it. If it’s OK for kids to give a wish list to Santa, why not adults?

We agree on a gift budget beforehand and usually stick to it pretty closely. Since we do most of our shopping online, it can be hard to hide those incoming packages from one another, but we only open those addressed to us and set aside those that aren’t. And as the bookkeeper and bill-payer of the house, I avert my eyes from the credit card statement the week before Christmas (the time my husband inevitably waits to make his purchases) so there’s at least a little surprise Christmas morning.

I’m always interested to hear how couples handle Christmas gift-giving. I have some friends who love to be surprised, and a wish list for them would be a real killjoy; others truly enjoy the process of researching and finding the right gift. And, of course, there are the more practical matters: Is there a set spending limit? And in an age where almost every transaction can be tracked electronically, how do you keep gifts a secret?

So, tell me about your gift-giving traditions for your special loved ones… I’d love to hear how you do it!

Image: Ann Waterman

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