January 2014

Pull Up a Chair

January 31, 2014

Winter Nest in the City

Happy Friday! It’s been way too cold here, so for today’s happy hour chat, I’m serving up hot cocoa with a shot of tequila. That should put some hair on our chests, as my Dad used to say.

How’s your week been? I told my mother-in-law a few days ago that I feel like I’m hitting a better stride with homeschooling. Maybe I’ll be singing a different tune next week, but I’ll take it for now. I’m just more relaxed about it; I know more about what I want the girls to be learning in our “school time,” and I keep it relatively short most days, allowing lots of time for art, crafts, free play, and whatever else comes up. (Thanks to all of you who offered your wisdom and experience in the comments the past few months — so helpful!)

I’ve found ways to make school time a little more fun and interesting, and I’ve realized I don’t need my girls doing umpteen worksheets or exercises that don’t teach them much of anything simply to make myself feel better. They are learning; they are growing; they have come so far.

In fact, I have to constantly remind myself that, a year ago, these girls were just starting to speak English, after essentially landing on a new planet with a brand new family. When people see them now, they think of them as any other 5-1/2-year-olds, but they’re wrong. When the girls’ swimming teacher tells us how great they’re doing, it takes everything in me not shout (in a good way): “Great?? They are doing way more than great; they are champs with a capital C! Until 15 months ago, they had never been in water, never sat in a bathtub, never taken a shower. And now here they are…swimming underwater, doing the front crawl nearly the length of the pool, retrieving rings from water over their heads. They are doing crazy awesome great!!”

Anyway, when I see it all for what it is, I know that these girls have learned more in one year than most kids do in three or four. And they’ve done it while attaching to new parents, grieving, and healing. It’s really pretty incredible.

On that note, here’s my high and low of the week:

Low: You’d never know I’m from Canada: I can barely function in this cold. We had a new HVAC system put in last summer, but it’s no match for the drafty windows and doors in this old house, which need to be replaced. I’m wearing long underwear under my pants, two long-sleeve shirts under a cashmere sweater, and thick Smartwool socks — and I’m still cold. (My Ethiopian beauties are handling it pretty well, I must say.)

High: Not quite a weekday high, but B’s birthday celebration on Sunday was terrific. The girls presented him with their art cards when they woke up. After church I made a yummy brunch, followed by the lovely cake S, H, and I made for him. We relaxed much of the afternoon and then went out to B’s favorite local restaurant for a delicious meal. He could not be relishing fatherhood more, and it’s a joy for me to witness.

Bonus Question: Are you a football fan? Will you be watching the Super Bowl this weekend? I couldn’t be less of a football follower; in fact, until Margaret’s post yesterday, I didn’t even know which teams were in the Super Bowl this year!  That said, I’m always up for a party with good friends and good food. It also gives me a chance to learn a little more about the game, because I still don’t really understand how it’s played. I really think I have a mental block when it comes to football.

Whatever you’re doing this weekend, hope it’s a good one! I’ll see you back here on Monday — I’ve got a fun challenge to throw out to you, so stay tuned!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Are you watching the Super Bowl this weekend? I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but as I’ll be helping to host a party with my sister and brother-in-law — a Seattle native and diehard Seahawks fan — my allegiances have been decided for me. (And Richard Sherman really is growing on me…)

For me, the best part of any Super Bowl party is the food: It’s the closest thing we have to a food-based midwinter holiday, and I’ll take it. I got a little carried away thinking up possible dishes we could serve, and the result is the following list that I think would make a pretty spectacular Super Bowl spread. There is nothing remotely healthy about any of this, mind — this is definitely where New Year’s resolutions go to die — but you just can’t beat home-cooked, cold-weather comfort food like this. Bring on the game!

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Three-Bite Pulled Pork Biscuit Sliders
 (Style Me Pretty)

Barbecued pork is never a bad idea — unless, of course, your smoker or grill is currently buried under a mountain of snow. Fortunately, Cooks Illustrated has a great recipe for indoor pulled pork, which largely cooks itself — and it’s easier than you think to whip up some biscuits from scratch.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
PBR Beer Cheese Soup
(Garden and Gun)

It’s homey because you make it yourself; it’s classy because of the PBR. Serve it with a loaf of crusty bread for dipping.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Homemade Pizzas (Smitten Kitchen)

This is what you make if you care less about the game than the food. It can be a little slow-going to try to feed a crowd with these, but it makes a fun activity for those who would prefer to be in the kitchen anyway.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Frito Pie
(Pioneer Woman)

I was shocked to learn that there’s nothing in Fritos but corn and salt — a veritable health food compared to most chips — which makes me happy, because chili and corn chips were made for each other. I made the Pioneer Woman’s Frito pie for last year’s Super Bowl, when my home-team Ravens won it all; I’m not saying it was because of the Frito pie, but I’m not saying it wasn’t, either. (It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.)

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl
Potato Bar
(Real Simple)

This is a genius idea — kind of like heartier nachos — but again, start with homemade potato wedges to really make it stand out.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Old Bay Ranch Dip
(For the Love of…)

Gotta have dip at a Super Bowl party, and for some reason I just love the idea of serving a Gwyneth Paltrow recipe at one.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Mini Pretzel Dogs
(Joy the Baker)

Granted, these look a little involved if you’re trying to put together an entire menu yourself; better to bring them to someone else’s party, where you can walk away with the prize for best appetizer ever.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Chocolate Chip Cookies (Blue Ridge Baker)

I still get raves every time I make these cookies. No party should be without them.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Beer (image)

I was going to look for a fun cocktail recipe to try here, but let’s not kid ourselves.

What are you making for the big game?

Lead image: Super Bowl printable coasters from Design*Sponge

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Dairy-Free Whipped Coconut Cream My husband doesn’t like dairy, and my daughters seem sensitive to it, so I was looking for a dairy-free alternative for whipped cream to accompany B’s birthday cake this past weekend. Friends of mine had tried whipping coconut milk and didn’t have great results, but I decided to do a little research and give it a go — and guess what? It was superb. Everyone loved it, including me, who adores real whipped cream. This might not be your thing if you can’t stand coconut, but the flavor is actually quite mild. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 can of full-fat organic coconut milk  (No “lite” versions; this must be full fat to work. And brand matters: You need one where the cream and liquid separate well. I used Native Forest Unsweetened Organic Coconut Milk Classic.)
  • sweetener to taste (honey or maple syrup — I used 1/2 Tbsp of the latter)
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Place the can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight (this will help the solid and liquid to separate). When ready to use, turn the can upside down and open the bottom. Pour off the liquid and save for use in smoothies, baking, etc., then scoop out the coconut cream and stick it into a chilled bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip the cream until fluffy, adding the sweetener and vanilla as you go. Voila! It’s really that simple. (If you don’t get the results you want the first time, try a different brand of coconut milk. I’ve read in several places that it can make all the difference.)

This can easily be used as an alternative to frosting, so the next time I make a coconut cake — or any other cake, for that matter — this is what I’m going to top it with. If you try it, let me know how it turns out for you!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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H with Lantern This Friday, January 31, is Chinese New Year (also called Lunar New Year). Celebrated on the first day of the new year of the Chinese calendar, it kicks off Spring Festival in China, the most significant social and spiritual holiday of the year. It’s celebrated throughout Asia and in many cities and towns around the world with significant Asian populations.

Multicultural studies are part of our homeschooling here, and holidays like Chinese New Year provide a great opportunity to talk about different parts of the world and learn about other cultures and customs.

It was my turn to lead our local monthly homeschool coop this month, so for our activity I focused on the concept of “new year,” pointing out how different parts of the world follow different traditional calendars. (Ethiopia is one of them.) I concentrated on Chinese New Year, selecting simple Chinese lanterns as our craft. After reading a short story about Chinese New Year, parents helped the children (pre-K and kindergarteners) construct the lanterns, and the children decorated them.

Paper Lanterns Supplies I’d made paper lanterns before, for the girls birthday party last summer, using a tutorial from Oh Happy Day. Admittedly, these are not exactly Chinese lanterns, which tend to be spherical, but some liberties can be taken here, as far as I’m concerned. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • sheets of construction paper, 9″x12″ or the larger 18″x12″ size
  • stapler
  • scotch tape
  • glue stick
  • decorative items: stickers, sparkles, glitter markers, photo papers, crepe paper, tissue paper, anything fun that you can glue to paper
  • zodiac symbols (I used this printable)
  • long pipe cleaners (or another sheet of construction paper) for handles

You can follow the directions above at Oh Happy Day. (To keep it simpler for the littles, don’t choose the lanterns requiring the popsicle sticks.) I let the kids pick whatever colored paper they liked, but if you want to make them more authentic for Chinese New Year, choose red and yellow. I find that using one large sheet of construction paper makes for a floppier lantern, but the kids liked the larger size; there’s certainly more room on them for decorations.

Making Chinese Lanterns The key to making the large lanterns is to fold the sheet of paper lengthwise and, starting at the fold, cut straight lines horizontally across the paper every .5 to 1.5 inches, leaving an inch or two uncut at the top, bottom, and at the open edges of the paper. Then you’ll unfold the paper and pull the top and bottom together to create the shape you see above. Staple the top and bottom (and staple, tape, or glue the middle).

Now they’re ready for decorating. I handed out the zodiac animal sheets and had the kids identify the animal that represented the year they were born (or any other zodiac animal that appealed to them) and color it. Then they could cut them out and glue them on their lanterns, along with any of the other decorations I brough. (You could also have them add written or cut-out Chinese symbols.)

Chinese Zodiac Animals When the children were finished, they selected a shiny pipe cleaner and we stapled it on opposite sides of the top of the lantern. (I used paper handles when I made them in the past, and that works just fine.) These lanterns don’t exactly hold up for the long term, but they’re pretty, colorful, and easy to make with kids of all ages.

Chinese Paper Dragon Puppets For our second Chinese New Year craft — this time at home — we chose these craft dragon puppets. The girls had a blast making them and required minimal help putting them together.

There are lots of Chinese New Year crafts online — here‘s a collection from one of my favorite sites. The two mentioned above happen to be personal favorites for their simplicity. Not only did my girls enjoy them, but now they know a lot more about China and what kinds of traditions mark this holiday.

If you’ve ever marked Chinese New Year or have any crafts to share, I’d love to hear about it!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up a Chair

January 24, 2014

Baby Snowman

Well, my daughters finally got the big snow they were hoping for. What we’ve discovered, however, is that they much prefer marveling at it from the window, or sitting by the fireplace with hot cocoa in hand afterwards; getting into the actual snow isn’t so much fun, when it comes right down to it. After two short sledding jaunts, we had two weepy girls walking in the door. (I suppose it would help if their parents got them some waterproof mittens so their little hands didn’t freeze so quickly.) They were cold; they were wet; they were not happy campers. I found myself saying things like, “This will make you stronger!” (Why do our parents’ voices come out of us, no matter what?) I do believe a little discomfort every now and then does us good, but it doesn’t help wipe away big alligator tears streaming down the faces of two girls who’ve never had the sensation of their little hands hurting from cold.

I always feel like being in the kitchen on cold, snowy days, but for all the time I spent cooking this week, I didn’t end up with a lot to show for it: I roasted a chicken for dinner one evening, which was supposed to take 90 minutes, but it ended up taking double that. By the time it was ready, the bedtime chime was going off. (I just tried to tell myself that we were eating like Europeans.) I also made some healthy carrot-apple muffins the girls love, but somehow I forgot the baking powder, so they didn’t rise at all, and then they stuck to the bottom of the muffin tins. They were homely, mangled little muffins, but they were still gobbled up in no time, which I suppose is the main thing. All in all, it was a good week with the snow and B home for a few days.

Face in the Snow

For today’s happy-hour chat, I’m offering something straight from my own kitchen. Recently I found an unopened bottle of Califia Farm’s Holiday Nog Pure Almond Milk in the back of my fridge; it was recommended as an impressive substitute for eggnog (thanks, Theresa!), and I meant to drink it over the holidays. While it’s impossible to equal Margaret’s homemade version of the real thing, I must say this stuff is pretty incredible. If you’re sensitive to dairy or afraid of raw eggs, put it on your list for next holiday season — or sooner. I’m serving it today over ice with a shot of Bailey’s. Perfect for a January happy hour by the fireplace, if you ask me! Here’s my high and low of the week:

Low: S came down with a miserable cold, which means she feels crummy, and no one has been sleeping great the past few nights because of it. Hopefully the rest of us will be spared the virus, at least. Compared to last year, it’s been a pretty healthy winter around here so far otherwise.

High: Taking S and H to their first ballet lesson. B had the day off, so he was thrilled to come along. The girls were beyond excited, and we were those typical first-time parents, gushing over how adorable they are in their pink leotards and slippers and sneaking peeks through the window of their classroom.

Bonus Question: Are you a snow bunny, or do you prefer to stay inside and toast by the fire? Well, I’m definitely the latter…but it’s only really satisfying once I’ve been out in snow and cold for a while. I love to ski — both downhill and cross country — so if I had mountains or fields nearby, that would definitely get me out the door…

Okay, grab one of those faux eggnogs before I drink it all myself and tell me about your week! I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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DIY: Easy Infinity Scarf

January 23, 2014

by Margaret Cabaniss

DIY: Infinity Scarf

I have the constitution of a lizard. I come by it honestly (thanks, Mom!), but it means that I’m pretty much always cold in the winter. (This is me, shooting daggers at the weather outside.) My favorite way to keep warm is to wear scarves, indoors, all day long, so this project is born as much out of necessity as anything. I particularly love infinity scarves — they pile up so cozily, and you can really burrow into them — and this one comes together in 15 minutes, so you can whip up a stack of them to keep on hand in case we’re hit with Polar Vortex 3.0 (please, Lord, no…).

What you’ll need:

  • scarf fabric (see note below), 20″x60″
  • matching thread
  • sewing accoutrements

About the fabric: Mine is a cotton flannel, but just about anything with some drape to it will work. Just bear in mind that different fabrics will lie differently, so you might want to make your scarf narrower or wider, longer or shorter, depending on your preferences and how you want to wear it. Play around with the dimensions until you get something you like.

DIY: Infinity Scarf

Start by folding your piece of fabric lengthwise, right sides together, and sew or serge up the side, leaving the ends open. Next, fold one end of your fabric tube inside the other, keeping the right sides of the fabric facing in, and line up the edges, pinning edge A to edge B all around the opening.

DIY: Infinity Scarf

Sew around the pinned edge, leaving at least a three-inch opening near the vertical seam.

DIY: Infinity Scarf

Pull the scarf right-side out through the opening.

DIY: Infinity Scarf

Iron the seams flat, then turn under the excess fabric around your opening and pin it closed.

DIY: Infinity Scarf

Finally, grab some coordinating thread and hand-sew the opening shut to finish the seam. (Thanks to my mom for hand modeling here.) You can easily hide this seam when you wear the scarf, so don’t worry if your sewing isn’t perfect (mine’s not!) — but if you’re looking for a primer, check out this tutorial on YouTube.

DIY: Infinity Scarf

That’s it! Now go get cozy.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Internet Menagerie

January 22, 2014

Winter Berries on Brick

It’s been a while since I shared some of my interesting recent finds around the web. If you’ve seen anything worth sharing, please do!

  • When the desire for motherhood evaporates. (A Blog About Love)
  • These photos by Russian photographer and mom Elena Shumilova are stunning.
  • Moving moments in Pope Francis’s first 10 months as pope. (HuffPost)
  • Three tips for keeping your family illness-free this winter. (Mothering)

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Are You a Renaissance Soul?

January 21, 2014

Sandro Botticelli Painting of Venus

In spite of the fact that I’m a certified life coach and a big believer in the “find your passion and make it happen” mantra, I myself have never been able to zero in on just one passion or mission in life. I’m interested in so many things — and relatively good at a range of them — which made it challenging whenever it came to deciding on a career or even a field of study.

In my 20s, I obtained two undergraduate degrees and a masters degree (almost two, actually), and I worked as an actress, nanny, PR associate, telemarketer, street vendor, receptionist, waitress, conference coordinator, radio producer and host, writer, counselor…and I think I’m forgetting a few things in there. Mind you, many of those were short-term jobs to help me get through school or pay a few bills, but still: I was always looking for that one big thing I was meant to be or do — and was always jealous of those who seemed to have found it.

Two important things happened in my 30s that brought me some peace: I finally saw that many of my interests and talents were related or complimentary and could be brought together in some creative ways, and I began to give myself permission to be someone who didn’t have to take just one path. (I also got married, which gave me more freedom to be myself, as well as some extra practical support.)

In the midst of these realizations, I stumbled across a book called The Renaissance Soul: How to Make Your Passions Your Lifeby Margaret Lobenstine. I actually wrote to Lobenstine to thank her for her book; it was so affirming to finally have some positive language to describe myself — a “Renaissance soul” — and to gain a few strategies for being more successful the way I am.

In her book, Lobenstine says there are generally two kinds of people: Mozarts and Ben Franklins. Mozarts are the specialists, or “experts” — those with streamlined talents and interests who are happy digging deeply into one thing and content to stay with one career path or field their whole lives. Today’s society tends to reward Mozarts.

Then there are the Ben Franklins — those who may have numerous careers over a lifetime, a disparate set of interests, and many different talents. These folks are often hard to label, which confuses people. Lobenstine is clear that being a Ben Franklin is not the same as being ADHD, scatterbrained, or undisciplined; it’s just a different way of being. If you’re a Renaissance soul like Franklin, you will never be a Mozart — and the sooner you accept and embrace it, the better off you’ll be. Ben Franklin types can be successful in any number of ways: for example, choosing careers that allow for a lot of variety and change, prioritizing a few interests at a time and pursuing them with gusto, and allowing themselves to move on without guilt or shame after mastering something.

If you suspect you’re a Renaissance soul, you may want to get your hands on Lobenstine’s book, as well as another one I’ve heard of called Refuse to Choose! Use All of Your Interests, Passions and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams, by Barbara Sher. Sher uses the term “Scanner” instead of Renaissance soul, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but her book looks full of good ideas and helpful insights.

Do you think you’re a Mozart or Ben Franklin? Have you embraced your particular type, or are you still struggling with it?

Image: Botticelli’s Venus 

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MLK Day Reflection

January 20, 2014

MLK Day Feet via Instagram

Happy MLK Day! We’re enjoying a relaxing three-day weekend here, since B has today off, but before I get back to our family time, I wanted to share some reflections on the holiday…

I think the longer I parent my daughters, the more confused I am about how there can be prejudice based on skin color. I find it hard to believe that we humans can be so…I don’t know…ridiculous? That’s putting it mildly. I guess when I consider many other issues and I look back on history, it shouldn’t surprise me. And I know it’s complicated: As a species, we’re still amazingly tribal, afraid of difference, ignorant of facts, closed-hearted.

Little children so often show us the way. They notice differences but don’t assign judgement — or they don’t notice differences at all. A pink-skinned mom of two brown-skinned children told me recently that her children don’t seem to notice that they look any different from the rest of their family. My own daughters notice we don’t “match” as a family, but they can see — and we point it out — that humans are a varied and colorful bunch: We have different skin tones, hair colors and textures, facial features, builds, clothing, abilities, talents. There is no black and white; there is pink and peach and caramel and chocolate and olive and clay, and sometimes we’re all mixed together.

My dream today is that the children we’re raising will see skin color the way we see eye color and hair color: something we note in passing, part of the unique combination of traits that makes someone who they are. Nothing more, nothing less.

If you have the day off, enjoy — and if it’s a regular Monday where you are, hope your week is off to a great start!

By the way, here are two posts I’ve written in the past for MLK Day:

MLK Day and My Daughters

Thinking About Race

Image: from Instagram by Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up a Chair

January 17, 2014

Montreal on Film by Irene Suchocki

First, have you sent me some feedback on what you’d like to see here at SlowMama in 2014? Please do. I’d love to hear from you!

Okay, let’s talk about whirlwind trips. They’re on my mind right now because one of my sisters in Nova Scotia had one last weekend: Her husband made plans to take her to Montreal for her birthday to see a young songwriter she digs named Jake Bugg. (Heard of him?) Traveling in eastern Canada in January is always dicey, and their romantic two days away without kids turned into a 16-hour whirlwind, including the overnight part. But they did make it to the concert, after dining at a fabulous French restaurant, which is pretty much all that mattered to my sister (though I know she would have loved more than two hours of sleep in a row, since hasn’t had that for about 13 years).

Montreal Brownstones Anyway, her tale brought back memories of my own whirlwind trip to Montreal years ago when I was in university — you know, one of those crazy things you do when you care more about adventure than getting your paper done on time. It was late on a Thursday night, and my roommate’s brother decided we needed to hop in the car early the next morning and drive 13 hours to Montreal to an Amnesty International concert featuring Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, and Sting. So, off we went (with one of my own brothers in tow) — and all I remember now is that I bought an iridescent maroon skirt and polka-dot top at a chic boutique when we arrived, changed out of my travel clothes in the line up at the concert, wished I’d brought my binoculars, didn’t sleep a wink on someone’s floor, ate some bad French omelets, and drove back in a terrible snowstorm.

Ah, youth.

I’ve had a few whirlwind trips since — some planned and others by accident. They’re never relaxing but almost always make for some good stories later. Any memorable trips like that of your own? Do you plan them that way, or do you dread those kinds of excursions?

While we’re chatting, let’s grab one of these sidecars (an Ina Garten recipe from the Food Network). It just seems right for our conversation today, don’t you think? Here’s my high and low of the week…

Low: I’ve been beating myself up lately for being so late and forgetful with things like thank-you notes and birthday cards and the like. I’m usually pretty good about those things, but I find over the last year that it’s been hard to keep up. I’m trying to come up with a plan to get back on top of it.

High: I managed to follow a meal plan this week for dinner, and it made life a lot less stressful. Now if I can just keep it up!

My bonus question is above: I want to hear about your whirlwind adventures!

By the way, have you been to Montreal? It’s an incredible city — sophisticated, beautiful, fantastic food, chic hotels, cleanest subway ever, interesting people on the street pretending they can speak French better than you… (Of course they can, it’s Montreal.) Do not even try to fool them with your bad pronunciation; just wear some red lipstick and a scarf and some awesome boots and no one will care too much.

I sure hope you have a lovely and slow January weekend. I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Images: 1, Irene Suchoki at Tiny Town on Flickr; 2, Globewanderlusters on tumblr

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