April 2014

I’m launching a new series today and am really excited about it! “Parenting Against the Grain” is an interview series featuring families who’ve made interesting — and often unconventional — choices about how to live and raise their children. My hope is that their stories will inspire you to have the courage to be the parent and live the family life you’ve always dreamed of — no matter what that looks like.  

I’m thrilled to introduce you today to Emily Harteau, who, together with her husband Adam and daughter Colette, lives a nomadic life in a customized van. Emily and Adam document their incredible journey traveling across South America on their site, Our Open Road. Beware: You’ll get lost in Adam’s stunning photos and the adventurousness of this young family. Enjoy the Harteaus’ story!

Harteau Family Chile
Zoe Saint-Paul: Please tell me a little bit about your family — who you are, where you’re from, how you met, what you do professionally, and anything you wish to share about your daughter.

Emily Harteau: I am Emily Harteau — born in Santa Cruz, raised in Sacramento, and moved to Los Angeles at 17 to attend college. Adam and I met at Otis College of Art & Design — he studied fine art and I studied fashion design. We’ve been together since 2000, which gave us many wild and amazing years together before we welcomed our daughter, Colette Nova, in January 2011. We’re expecting another babe in June of this year, which we’re all very excited about — especially big sister Coco.

What made you make the decision to try a nomadic lifestyle?

Adam and I tried to take one major trip every year, but upon returning, it always felt too soon. We would talk and dream of sailing around the world or planning a round-the-world trip, choosing a few key destinations to explore over the course of a year. When we got our VW Westfalia in 2003, our eyes opened to the possibilities of overland travel, and in 2007 we took a trip around the U.S. and Canada, which whet our appetites. When a project that would have put us in India and Nepal for more than six months fell through, we knew the time had come for us to plan our own grand voyage. We planned for a year before it all came to fruition.

How long do you tend to be on the road at one time? Is it for long stretches, mostly, or do you take frequent breaks back to the U.S.? How does the pace affect you as a family?

We departed California on this “Our Open Road” journey in October of 2012, driving through Mexico, Central America, and into South America. We returned for a visit stateside in August and September 2013, although in that time, we still traveled almost continuously. We are nomads at heart.

The beauty of overland travel is that we’re in control of the pace at which we travel (border crossings due to expiring visas and specific dates to meet visitors excluded). This gives us the ability to tune into our needs as individuals and as a family.

Westfalia Interior

What did family and friends think, and did that have any impact on your decision?

We are insanely lucky to have a tribe that totally supports our dreams. Of course, they miss us, as we do them. They all came together to help this journey get underway and continue to do so in many small ways as we’re on the road. The strength from having a solid foundation like this can’t be underestimated.

Harteaus in Peru
What is day-to-day life like as a family? Does it follow a basic routine, or is it always changing?

Even when non-nomadic, we’re not “schedule” people, and being on the road requires flexibility as circumstances always change. That said, we usually wake a bit after the sun comes up, rise and do morning duties: teeth and toilet (many times there’s no “toilet” per se). I prepare breakfast while Adam tidies the van and Colette spoils us with her morning sweetness. After breakfast, if it’s a driving day, we pack up camp; if we’re stationary, we set into whatever the day’s adventure, excursion, chore, or work is.

How do you handle disagreements as a couple in such a small space?

We speak frankly and keep things civil. If necessary, we’ll wait until we can find a time or space to discuss things without the always-open ears of a very smart 3-year-old.

Harteaus in Peru

How has it been different (harder? better?) than you expected?

We quickly learned to trade in expectation for experience. Having an open mind and heart for what is, instead of what we thought we would encounter, had read about, heard about, etc., was the simplest and most effective mental transition.

How is parenting different on the road? Do you see changes in your daughter and in yourselves as parents?

Parenting on the road is different from life in the states because both Adam and I are (nearly) always with Colette. We don’t have to divide our time between jobs and family. We’re very thankful that hosting the fair-trade flash sales we call “24 Hour Bazaar” allows us to finance our travels and directly support the talented artisans we meet on the road. (To sign up for notifications of our bazaars, please email us at contact@ouropenroad.com.)

Harteaus in Chili

What are the values and messages you want your daughter to absorb from this experience?

We hope to instill an appreciation of the world’s rich natural beauty and the cultural, artistic, religious, socioeconomic, stylistic, and racial diversity. An attitude of gratitude and an eagerness to learn are traits we hope will remain with her.

What place have you visited that you’ll never be able to forget?

Many places known and unknown are seared unforgettably into our memory — the faces of kind strangers, magnificent monuments, and wild places. Valle de Cocora in Colombia, Machu Picchu, the unparalleled Amazon, and Hierve del Agua in Oaxaca, Mexico, all come to mind as especially magical places.

Harteau Family in Peru
Are you ever anxious about your safety or about your daughter getting sick and not having medical care near by? How do you deal with your fears and concerns?

We address our fears and concerns as they arise. People who live in rural America or other rural places have to address the same question of health care as we do while traveling. Colette has, thankfully, been very healthy in the 17 months we’ve been traveling. We also travel with a well-stocked first aid kit, which holds a variety of allopathic and homeopathic remedies.

Before departing, we lived in Los Angeles, which is statistically far more dangerous than most of the places we have visited. We talk to locals, make the smartest decisions we can, and follow our gut. Adam and I always check in with each other before confirming our camp for the night, asking, “Does this feel good for you?” If either of us is unsure, we leave and find a place we both like. On the road, your instincts are heightened and you learn to trust your intuition.

Harteaus in Chili
You are due with a baby girl in June — Baby Spider, as she’s called on your blog. What has pregnancy been like on the road? Do you plan to come back to the U.S. to give birth or have your baby somewhere in South America?

The first trimester was rough. We were at 12,500-foot elevation for a good two months — a height that’s difficult enough without the added hormonal roller coaster of growing a child! Adam was able to spend a lot of time with Colette, so I was thankfully able to get some very necessary rest. The moment I hit 15 weeks — when the placenta attaches — we also arrived at lower elevations, and it was like I got switched back on to my normal self.  The second trimester I felt great and had lots of energy; I just got into the third trimester and am feeling wonderful.

We’ve had regular medical attention — I just brought the paperwork from the previous appointment with us and explained to the doctor our nomadic life. As a cash patient, it is shocking that the full payment in Peru and Chile is far less than a co-pay for a visit is backing the States. We plan on setting up a base camp for a few months in Florianopolis, Brazil, and having baby Spider there, where she will gain dual citizenship.

Adam Harteau in Chili
What advice would you give parents considering doing something like this? What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

Do it! If you can work it out, the rewards of spending time with your littles on the road is incomparable. Children are highly adaptable, and what you show them — offering the world as a playground — is a wonderful gift to share.

Emily and Colette Harteau
What has been the greatest challenge and greatest success of this experiment?

I would call it a journey, not an experiment, and this journey is just life on the road. Our home has wheels, but it’s still our home. The greatest challenge and success has been the journey in and of itself. Making the decision to go, departing the comforts of life as we knew it, and trading it for the unknown was a leap that has rewarded us tenfold.

Harteau Family in Tent
Do you envision traveling as a family indefinitely? How has this choice and way of life changed how you envision your future?

For now, life is on the road.  We will slow down for a few months to welcome the new baby, and then continue on this journey we call “Our Open Road!”


I’m so grateful to Emily for making the time to talk to me! The wannabe nomad in me definitely resonates with their amazing experiences… Could you ever imagine living on the road like this with your family? What appeals to you about it — or scares you? And if you could do it, where would you love to go?

If you enjoyed this post, check out my interview with Becky Morales of KidWorldCitizen, my conversation with Ania Krasniewska about sending her daughter to Forest Kindergarten in Copenhagen, and my post about teaching children to be “citizens of the world.

Images: Adam Harteau for Our Open Road


Internet Menagerie

April 29, 2014

Seven Smooches Bird Purse
It’s time for our monthly trip around the web. These are some of my interesting finds over the past few weeks; please add your own in the comments!

  • Now this is good storytelling (and a great story). (YouTube)

Image: Upcycled little girls purse from Seven Smooches by Zoe Saint-Paul


The Need to Be Busy

April 28, 2014

Vintage Clock
Last week, Mags sent me a post by KJ Dell’Antonia of Motherlode about the whole notion of being busy. Dell’Antonia says that, as a working mother of four, she doesn’t consider herself busy — that she refuses to be busy — and her explanation for this seems to lie in her definition of the word:

Busy implies a rushed sense of cheery urgency, a churning motion, a certain measure of impending chaos, all of which make me anxious. Busy is being in one place doing one thing with the nagging sense that you ought to be somewhere else doing something different. I like to be calm. I like to have nothing in particular to do and nowhere in particular to be. And as often as I can — even when I’m dropping a child off here or there, or running an errand, or waving in the carpool line — I don’t think of myself as busy. I’m where I need to be, doing, for the most part, what I want to do.

I think my own definition of busy is slightly different: It isn’t always stressful or negative, but it’s usually about not having enough down time or breathing room between commitments and activities. I’m doing a lot of things that I want — and choose — to do each day, but sometimes it still feels like too much, like I’m rushing. I blame this, in part, on the fact that I can’t always estimate how long it’s going to take us to get somewhere and on the unexpected things that come up and can’t be ignored.

I do agree with Dell’Antonia that much of our busyness is within our control, though. We choose to do most of the things that cause us to say we’re busy. We often act like our life is pulling us around against our will, but that’s mostly not true.

It does makes me wonder, though: If we stopped saying we are busy, what would happen? Would it feel like we’re not doing enough, or like others might think we’re slackers? Would we feel less valuable and important? Maybe part of our need to feel and say we’re busy is something that runs deeper: insecurity, a need for validation and acknowledgement, a fear of not being good enough. I know that, for me, sometimes it seems that unless I complain or mention whatever craziness is going on, others will think that my life is always grand and easy.

But is that all bad? There’s something refreshing and inspiring about being around a person who seems genuinely happy about her life. At the very least, I know I could stand to work on being more present to whatever I’m doing in the moment, especially on those “busy” days.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you define busy? And what do you think is behind our common tendency to respond, “I’m so busy!”?

Image: rise n’ shine on Flickr

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Pull Up a Chair

April 25, 2014

Painted Nails If you’re a parent, how many things did you swear you’d never do or say (or allow your kids to do), and then they actually happen? I added another one to my list this week: My daughters have wanted their nails painted since forever (even though I almost never have painted fingernails), and I’ve gone from saying “that’s just for big girls” to saying “maybe we’ll do it for your birthday” to being in a salon the other day and agreeing to let the owner paint their nails for free. When she asked and I saw the excitement on their faces, I couldn’t say no. So my little 5-year-olds are sporting bright pink sparkly fingertips and couldn’t be happier about it. I can’t believe I landed such girly girls!

How was your week? It’s been gorgeous here, and I want to make it stick around for at least a couple of months before 90-degree temps creep in and make me forget I ever complained about the cold. I’ve got sangria on my mind after sharing a fantastic pitcher of the stuff with a friend last night, so grab a tall glass of it and toast anything that’s good in your life right now. Here’s my high and low of the week:

High: This week we were on Easter/spring break from school, and it’s been great. Some people like getting back to the regular routine, but I’ll take perpetual vacation anytime, hands down. Also, the celebration I mentioned above with a close friend over tapas, too much of that delicious sangria, and a hilarious story-telling show about hair. So fun!

Low: A pediatric appointment where I demonstrated once again that I am that mom — the one who asks too many questions, makes unusual requests, and generally ends up feeling like she belongs in a circus side show compared to the rest of the population.

Got any exciting plans this weekend? Hope it’s a good one, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 


by Margaret Cabaniss

How Do You Break Out of a Bad Mood?
I ran across an article in the New York Times (via A Cup of Jo) a couple of weeks ago that’s been knocking around my brain ever since. In it, Akhil Sharma describes the crippling anxiety he suffered while working on a novel, and the revelation he had that finally began to shake him out of it:

Sitting on the bench by the river that day, I remembered having read in Reader’s Digest — a periodical my family has undue reverence for — that when you are feeling bad, one way to make yourself feel better is to pray for others.

I began to pray for the people who were passing by. I prayed for the nanny pushing a stroller. I prayed for the young woman jogging by in spandex. I prayed for the little boy pedaling his bicycle. I prayed that each of them got the same things that I wanted for myself: that they have good health, peace of mind, financial security. By focusing on others and their needs, my own problems seemed less unique and, somehow, less pressing.

Sharma sounds almost apologetic at times when describing his “trick of life” — prayer isn’t necessarily a part of everyone’s daily habits, of course — but anyone who prays, volunteers, or simply performs acts of kindness for others will immediately recognize the truth behind it. It has a lot to do with breaking out of your own mental feedback loop: As Sharma describes it, when he was in the worst of his depression, “My mind had become uninhabitable.” It’s a perfect way to describe that feeling of being hopelessly mired in your own worries — however real or pressing they may be — and simultaneously hating the feeling while being entirely incapable of escaping it.

The solution? Shifting the focus off yourself entirely. That simple act of reaching out to another (mentally or otherwise) can break the cycle: Suddenly you notice the cares of the person next to you, and how they share many of the same fears, hopes, hurts, and loves… You feel less alone with your own worries — less consumed by them — and more grateful for even small blessings that can go overlooked when you’re too much in your own head. And, as Joanna put it, “It makes you really love strangers in a funny way.”

I’ve noticed that all my other tricks for beating a bad mood — getting outside, going for a run, focusing on the things I’m grateful for — all involve a similar perspective shift, even if just in a basic physical way. And on those days when even walking outside feels overwhelming, the smallest prayer of thanks or care for someone else can be that spark that helps set me on the right path again.

Obviously, for people who pray, the main goal isn’t usually just to beat a bad mood, but it often goes hand in hand anyway. Have you tried Sharma’s “trick” — or, if you’re the praying type, have you noticed the same result? What other techniques do you use to break out of a bad mood?

Image: via Dustjacket Attic (source unknown)


H Combing Hair
I recently discovered a two-part video series called “You Can Touch My Hair” (via Design Mom), and it struck a chord: Two days before seeing it, I happened to be standing in line at a store with my daughters when a woman behind us starting asking lots of questions. Are they twins? How old are they? Where do they go to school? Are they yours? I kept my answers short and polite, and then came the last question: Can I touch their hair?

The woman had some boundary issues, but the hair question got me thinking… On one hand, curiosity is part of the human condition, and hair is a feature that stands out about people. I know that when I see people with radically different hair from mine, I often wonder what it’s like to care for, how they style it, what it feels like, etc. I also know friends with hair like mine who’ve traveled in parts of Asia and Africa and had people constantly wanting to touch their hair. So it’s universally true that unfamiliar locks captivate our interest.

H Hair
On the other hand, nobody likes to feel like an object, and hair is personal. Perhaps even more to the point, we live in a pluralistic society where it’s not unusual to encounter people with different hair types and styles. Why is hair like my daughters’ such a fascination to random strangers in modern American culture? I know the topic of “natural hair” is a big one, but I think it’s odd that their hair is such a novelty.

If you’re curious about the video project I mentioned above, you can watch it here and here. I’m not quite sure what I think of the actual event, but I’m hoping that by the time my daughters are grown, natural hair of all types will be more familiar and accepted and not such a big deal.

By the way, if you’re wondering how I answered the stranger in line, I was saved just in time: The cashier called us over before I had time to respond. But I probably would have said, “What is you want to know about their hair?” to avoid having her actually touch my daughters’ heads.

Have you ever had a stranger ask to touch your hair — or just reach out and do it? If someone asked to touch your child’s hair, what would you say?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Adoption Family Tree Detail

I’m happy to announce that the winner of the Adoption Arts letterpress print giveaway is: marek

Congrats, marek! Please contact me to find out how to claim your prize.

A big thanks to Misty and Jordan Brough of Adoption Arts for generously offering one of their beautiful prints to SlowMama. Don’t forget that you can still get 20% off any order until the end of this month by entering SLOWMAMA at Adoption Arts.

I’ll be back in a couple of hours with today’s regularly scheduled post!

Image: Adoption Arts

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by Kate Newton

Like Zoe, I am not a crafty person: I’ve had an empty scrapbook in my closet for 10 years, just waiting to be filled, and my glue gun actually belongs to my husband. So I’m here to tell you that if I can make this sweet and festive tissue paper wreath in less than two hours and proudly hang it on my wall, anyone can.

It’s not just the ease of this craft that I like but its versatility. You can make them in various sizes or colors for any occasion: in red or pink for Valentine’s Day; pretty pastels for spring; or baby blues, pinks, or metallics for baby or wedding showers. I think making a few of them in different sizes and colors would also make a lovely wall collection.  You can pick up the supplies at your local craft store, if you don’t already have them lying around the house. Now let’s get started…


  • Styrofoam wreath (mine is 9 inches)
  • One package of tissue paper in your desired color(s)
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Pen or marker
  • Sharp-tipped knife
  • Glue gun
  • Small screw and twine of choice for hanging (I used fishing twine)


1) Cut your tissue paper rectangles. I started by stacking about a quarter of the sheets of tissue paper to make this go quicker. Along one of the long edges of the paper, mark off a 7″-wide strip and cut; next, cut that strip into 5″-wide segments. It doesn’t really matter if some of the pieces are a bit fatter or longer; no need to be too precise here. Repeat this step until you’ve got a good-sized stack of rectangles. I used about three quarters of the tissue paper package, but depending on the size of the wreath you’re making, you may need more or less.

Tissue Wreath Measuring
2) Make the tissue paper flowers. Gather each rectangle into a “bunch” from the center, then twist the end of your paper to create a point. Repeat this step for all your rectangles.

You might want to put on your favorite TV show at this point, because here comes the most time consuming part (I alternated the next two steps to alleviate some of the monotony):

3) Make holes in the wreath for the flowers. Take your knife and punch small holes along the circumference of your wreath. I made mine about half an inch deep and put them on the top and outside of the wreath (you don’t need to do the inside of the wreath). The key with making the little holes is to keep them close together and not to cut too deeply, since you don’t want to break your styrofoam.

4) Insert the tissue paper flowers. Once I was done covering a quarter of the wreath with the holes, I got to work with my glue gun. Insert a dab of glue into a few holes at a time (don’t do too many, or it will harden before you get your paper in there). Then take a flower and insert the pointed tip into each hole.

Repeat steps three and four until you’ve filled your wreath. Remember that the closer together you put the holes and the more flowers you have, the fuller (and prettier!) your wreath will look.

5) Hang the wreath. I used a small screw in the outer edge of the wreath and tied on my twine, then I hung it from a small notch on a curtain rod. Alternatively, you could probably use a nail/hook combo to hang it on a wall.

Finished Wreath
I hope this inspires even the most craft-challenged SlowMama readers out there to pick up a glue gun and make a tissue paper wreath for a spring or summer party! (By the way, any child who can handle a glue gun might enjoy helping with this one, too.) Happy wreath-making!

PS — For more easy paper wreaths, try Mags’ wreath made of book pages (and see it in action at a baby shower) — and for another tissue paper project, check out Leah’s branch mobile with tissue paper flowers.

Images: Kate Newton


B and Girls
Holidays like Easter and Passover involve a lot of remembering and re-telling stories of events that happened a long time ago. Memories play such an important role in our lives — and this article in the Wall Street Journal says that our ability to draw on different kinds of memories predicts higher levels of well-being, purpose, and positive relationships later on.

The article points out that parents play the biggest role in helping children retain memories — as well as interpret those memories, so they can learn from past experiences. Mothers in particular are key to this process, because they tend to use a conversational style with children:

The key behavior by mothers is “deflecting” conversation back to the child—that is, tossing the ball back to the child repeatedly by asking, say, “We really had fun, didn’t we?” or, “Tell me more,” she says, based on findings published last year.

Studies cited in the article show that children whose parents encourage reminiscing and storytelling about daily events are better at coping and problem-solving and show fewer symptoms of depression by their preteens. Knowing that gives more meaning to the way B and I encourage sharing about our days at the dinner table, reminiscing about things we’ve done, and recalling memories we’ve made together as a family.

Do you have many early memories? (I have quite a few around the age of 4 — maybe a bit younger — but nothing prior to that.) If you’re a parent, do you tend do a lot of story-telling about events and reminiscing about the past?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

PS — Have you entered the Adoption Arts giveaway yet? There’s still time! Hop over to the post now for a chance to win one of their adorable letterpress designs…


Pull Up a Chair

April 18, 2014

Water and Rocks

How has your week been, friends? This is Holy Week for us, and today is Good Friday. I’ll be taking the girls to a noon service, and then we’ll spend some of the afternoon with friends before having a simple vegetarian meal for dinner. We’re keeping Easter itself simple, since we don’t have any visitors this year: After a morning mass on Sunday, we’ll join some friends for brunch and, if the weather is nice, we’ll have an egg hunt and Easter picnic outside. I’m looking forward to it.

To enter more into the spirit of the day, I’m taking a break from the computer, so I’ll see you back here on Monday. I want to wish my Jewish readers a very happy Passover week, and whether you celebrate Easter or not, I hope your weekend is joyous and peaceful!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul