August 2014

Pull Up a Chair

August 29, 2014

S with Abacus
Most students have started school already, and I know many homeschoolers who’ve begun their new year, too. Not me: I’m hanging on to summer break as long as I can! Somehow I can’t make myself think “school” until after Labor Day — maybe because, growing up, school never started before Labor Day, so it just seems all wrong to sneak school in any earlier. But I think I’m in the minority on that now.

Anyway, this means that my week was supposed to be all about getting ready for next week, which I’ve done, in part — ordering books, shopping for supplies — and this weekend I’ll be setting up our downstairs area a little differently. Some materials may not arrive on time, and things may not be done the way I want them, and I’m telling myself this is okay because easing into things isn’t such a bad way to start school with little ones who are going to miss all the unstructured play time they’ve been used to.

I’m both nervous and excited about the upcoming school year: excited because I have a solid grasp of what we’re going to be learning this year and how we’re going to do it, nervous because of what I can’t control — namely, my daughters, who aren’t always keen to follow my wonderful plans. (You’d think they were kids or something.)

And what is our homeschooling plan, you ask? Well, I can get into more details in later posts, but the girls will be taking a few classes at a homeschool co-op two days a week, and one afternoon a week they’ll be doing an outdoor nature/wilderness program. The rest of the time we’ll be learning at home. B and I haven’t made any final decisions about extracurricular activities yet. It will be full year, but hopefully a good one!

In the meantime, I’ll happily put my feet up and enjoy an end-of-summer drink today. This seasonal Tomato Water Bloody Mary from the Kitchn caught my eye. Have you ever made something with tomato water? I haven’t, but I’m intrigued. Please grab one and tell me your high and low of the week! Here’s mine:

Low: A good friend of mine lost her sister to cancer, a wife and mother of four. So sad. Makes me want to hug all my siblings tight.

High: We’ve had lots of highs this week…getting in some fun play dates with friends that the girls won’t see much once school starts, as well attending our new co-op’s back-to-school year picnic, where I enjoyed meeting many new moms and felt confirmed in our decision to sign the girls up for classes there.

Bonus question: What is the hardest part of this time for you? Saying goodbye to summer? Getting back into a busier schedule? Or are you happy to see fall arrive? This used to be my favorite time of year — it always felt like a time of fresh starts and exciting plans. As a homeschooler, I approach September with a little more fear and trembling now, but it’s still my favorite season of the year around here, so I’m mostly okay with saying goodbye to summer.

Friends, have a slow and wonderful weekend,  and a very happy Labor Day holiday. I’ll see you back here on Tuesday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


by Margaret Cabaniss

Summer berries are pretty much gone, but peaches are still hanging around (in my neck of the woods, anyway). Make this while you can!

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

After sulking just a bit longer about my sister’s poor bug-infested garden, I got over it and reminded myself that there’s a produce stand not five minutes from my house where I could buy other people’s perfectly delicious produce with nary a bug in sight. Sold.

So, last weekend, I decided to scoop up some peaches while they were still good for the picking — and since the weather around here has been positively September-y lately, I decided to do a little summer fruit/fall dessert mash-up in the form of a bourbon, ginger, and cardamom peach crisp.

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

I started with Cook’s Illustrated‘s basic fruit crisp recipe and made a few tweaks: a little freshly grated ginger and cardamom (my favorite fall-time spice), a couple jiggers of bourbon, and some quick-cooking tapioca to thicken it all up nicely. (If you’ve ever struggled getting fruit pies to thicken with cornstarch, trust me: Tapioca is the answer.)

As I was loading up my pie dish, I had another stroke of genius and decided to make a couple of individual crisps in small canning jars at the same time. I got the idea from Megan of NotMartha (who has a recipe for the most adorable pies in jars ever), and it turned out to be a winner: a tiny portable dessert that you can throw in a bag and take on a picnic, pass around at a party, whatever.

In short, I recommend making this at once.

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

For the topping:

  • 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground, if you have it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • 3/4 cups pecans or whole almonds, chopped coarse (if you’re mixing the topping by hand, chop them fine)

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

In the bowl of your food processor, combine flour, sugars, spices, and salt and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks a bit like coarse cornmeal. Add the nuts and pulse a few more times, until it looks like crumbly sand. (Don’t overpulse, or you’ll end up with cookie dough.) Refrigerate the topping while you work on the filling, at least 15 minutes.

For the filling:

  • 3 pounds peaches (about six medium), peeled, pitted, and cut into half-inch wedges (you can leave the peels on if you’re a rebel like that)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

Preheat oven to 375 and move your oven rack to the lower-middle position. Gently toss all ingredients in a medium bowl until well-combined. Pour fruit mixture into an 8×8 baking dish or a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. (Mine wasn’t deep-dish, and it just barely held the contents, particularly once the juices started flowing; definitely go bigger here.)

Sprinkle the chilled topping over the fruit and bake for 40 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 400 and bake another five minutes or so, until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden-brown and looks too delicious not to eat immediately. Serve warm or at room temperature — with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, if you have it.

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

If you make these in canning jars, the process is the same: I put my jars in the oven right along with the pie plate and cooked them for the same amount of time, and they did fine. My filling was probably a little juicier than it should have been for this particular application, though: Filling it up to the lowest ridge on the lid, it still threatened to bubble over in the oven, and then it collapsed some when I pulled them out. Next time, I would try making it in larger jars (wide-mouth 8-ounce jars instead of the 4-ounce jelly jars) — though really, it still tasted delicious.

Oh, and consider this your safety disclaimer: Canning jars aren’t officially approved for this cooking method, though I didn’t have any problem at these temps. Also, baking in jars and putting a lid on it, while adorable, isn’t actually doing anything to preserve your desserts, so make sure to store them like you would the regular crisp and get your guests to eat them up right away (not like there should be much trouble on that front).

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Over the summer, I reflected a lot on the past school year with my girls, and one thing became very clear: I was doing too much. There were no catastrophes, mind you, and I managed to keep everything going more or less as it should be, but it was just a lot; at times I didn’t feel like anything was getting the full attention it deserved. Homeschooling is almost a full-time job, and when you add in caring for children, doing paid work, managing a household, keeping a blog going, and all the other stuff of life, it’s a lot for one person — or, at least, it is for me.

One of the major themes of this blog is living “slower,” and given my desire to practice what I preach, I’m making a few changes this fall to help reduce the rush factor in my life.

To begin with, our homeschooling schedule will be a little more structured, allowing me more time for paid work, which we’ve determined is important for our family right now. I haven’t worked much since the girls came home, and it’s tough to live on one income where we are (unless one person is making mega bucks). My work will be flexible, so I can put in hours around homeschooling and caring for the girls, but it will require a good chunk of time each week.

For that reason. I’m taking a small step back from blogging this fall. Not a big one — I like it here too much! — but instead of posting every weekday, I plan to post around three times a week (sometimes it might be little less or more, depending). I’ll start scaling back in the next week or two.

You can still expect the same kinds of posts from me: I’d like to write more about homeschooling, feature more books, maybe wade into some tougher issues that are on my mind, as well as share more inspiration about living meaningfully and mindfully. I also plan to continue with my “Parenting Against the Grain” series. (If you know anyone who you think would be a good fit for it, drop me a line!)

I plan to have occasional guest posts, and my contributors will still be here, too: Ann took a break for part of the summer, but will soon be back once a month, and Margaret will be here every other week starting in September. And I’ll still be posting to Instagram (my favorite social media platform) and Facebook, as well.

I’ll evaluate all this as I go along; I’m hopeful that, by organizing my time differently and slowing my blogging schedule a bit, I can be more present to each thing on my plate.

As I consider my posting schedule over the next few months, I’d love to know if there any topics you’d like to read about on SlowMama this fall. Please let me know in the comments! Are you planning any changes in the upcoming year yourself?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Internet Menagerie

August 26, 2014

Dragon Head
It’s time for our monthly trip around the web. There’s a little bit of everything here, so I hope you find something of interest. I’d love to hear your latest internet finds, so do share in the comments!

  • Why a beloved, experienced kindergarten teacher finally quit her job. (Washington Post)

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


At the Playground
Earlier this summer, I mentioned Christine Gross-Lo’s book Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, in which she says (among other things) that American parents are too overprotective. A few readers agreed but added that, as much as they’d like to give their children more freedom, they’re fearful of potential repercussions.

Sadly, I don’t think this is unwarranted. There are so many new stories these days about parents — mostly moms — being arrested for what would have pretty normal 20 years ago. Now it’s just assumed that children must be supervised at all times and in all places. Not only that, but if you’re not actively trying to prevent every bump and bruise on your child, there’s something wrong with you as a parent. My friend Lauren over at Crumbbums just wrote about how she has consciously chosen to allow her young sons to take physical risks at the playground, and what kind of reaction she’s received from other parents.

It would be great if we could all give the benefit of the doubt and assume the best of  each other’s parenting, but we can only control our own choices and reactions — and the truth is, I don’t always trust strangers around me to use common sense or make the best judgements. And it really does seem that people today seem quick to jump to conclusions, criticize, and call in law enforcement if they see something that bothers them.

I know there are many good and reasonable people out there — and many supportive parents. But I guess I’m wondering if there’s anything parents can actually do about this new tendency in our culture to be suspicious of parenting styles that favor giving kids more freedom and independence. If you believe it’s safe for your ten-year-old to walk a half mile to school, or for your seven-year-old to stay home alone for 45 minutes, how do you do that without being afraid of serious repercussions? And where are the fine lines in your opinion? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Pull Up a Chair

August 22, 2014

This morning is our “re-adoption” ceremony at the Baltimore courthouse. Our daughters were already adopted, of course, and when they landed on U.S. soil, they were citizens. But this “re-adoption” is the only way — at least here in Maryland — to obtain U.S. birth certificates, and birth certificates are the surest way of getting passports for them. So several months ago, I filled out more forms, dug out some old paperwork, and submitted our case for a re-adoption hearing. We’re not making a big deal of it, since it feels like such an afterthought, but B took the day off work and we invited my brother and his family to join us. We’ll dress up and take some photos. (Keep an eye out on Instagram later!)

We explained it to the girls so they won’t be surprised by anything. They told us, “If they ask, ‘Do you want them to be your parents?’ we’ll say yes, because Daddy is funny, and Mummy is pretty funny, too!”

Great reasons, if you ask me. Hopefully they’ll stick to that story.

Anyway, the end of another step in this unending process of jumping through adoption-related hoops calls for a celebratory drink, and this two-ingredient pina colada caught my eye on The Kitchn recently. Grab one and tell me about your week! Here’s my high and low:

Low: Answering the doorbell to find a sheriff standing on my step, serving me papers to show up and explain myself (or be fined or arrested!) for a jury duty service I missed. I won’t get into the boring details, but it involves me not even knowing I had jury duty (never mind that I’m called in every year and always show up). I’ve got a decent paper trail verifying what happened and will hopefully get an understanding judge — but if I’m suddenly missing for 90 days, you’ll know what happened!

Oh, and the news this week… Does it ever get better? So many horrible things going on in the world.

High: I think today is my high of the week: B is home, we’ll all be together much of the day, we’ll spend a bit of time with family. A good start to the weekend!

Bonus question: What’s your go-to special occasion drink? I think mine is a vodka martini, dry, with extra olives, but I actually don’t drink that much, so I often just go for a tall glass of sparking water on ice, especially at this time of year.

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

Image taken by a friend at Ethiopian Culture Camp


by Margaret Cabaniss

I have no recipe or DIY project to share today — not even a simple household hack — just a plea for help. My family is set to take our annual lake excursion in a couple of weeks, and while we’re all champing at the bit to get there, one of us is a little apprehensive about the trip: That would be my sister Jen, who has to make the 10-hour drive with two kids under two. Their previous road-trip record? A measly two hours.

Flying with toddlers is one thing: It isn’t necessarily a picnic, but as you’re not the one steering, you can give the kids your full attention when they start getting antsy, without having to pull over — and most domestic flights aren’t too terribly long anyway. But driving? With you at the wheel, and your kid strapped in the back, for ten hours? How do you do that?

Jen’s first decision was, well, not to do it: She and her husband will break the trip into two legs over two days, which should help considerably. With a little luck in their timing, they might even get the kids (ages two and seven months) to nap for part of it…but it’ll still be longer than either of them has ever had to ride in the car.

So I’m turning to you, O Seasoned Veterans: How do you make road trips more manageable with small kids? So far the plan is to introduce a few new toys and books once they’re underway — and Dominic does love to sing, so I imagine lots of Peter, Paul, and Mommy on repeat. Oh, and snacks. Just…all the snacks.

What else have you found helpful? Frequent stops? No stops? Leaving early? Leaving late? Earplugs? (Just kidding about that last one.) (Mostly.) I’m assuming that stacking the kids like cordwood in the trunk is frowned upon these days… Hit me with your tips in the comments!

Image: via Pinterest, source unknown


Oil Pulling
As if it weren’t enough that I stopped using antiperspirant a few years ago, I’ve also been oil pulling on and off for the past year. Oil pulling is a folk remedy that’s been around a long time, but I only read about it a couple of years ago on some natural health blogs. It’s hit the mainstream, though, since popular bloggers like Design Mom have written about their experiences with it over recent months.

While there are no studies proving its effectiveness as far as I know, fans of oil pulling say it improves oral hygiene, freshens breath, and can even whiten teeth. (Some have claimed it’s even healed cavities and toothaches.) Most people use organic coconut oil, but I’ve heard of people using extra virgin olive oil, too (sesame oil is traditional in Ayurvedic medicine).

I’m always looking for natural ways to freshen my breath and whiten my teeth — and I like experimenting with stuff like this! — so giving oil pulling a try was a no-brainer. Some people have a hard time with oil in their mouths, but it doesn’t bother me, and I think you can work your way up to it if you start with smaller amounts.

Oil Pulling 2
Here’s how it works: You take a spoonful of oil (a teaspoon to a tablespoon), let it melt in your mouth, and then swish it around vigorously for 15-20 minutes before spitting it out. (I have no idea why that’s the recommended timeframe, but the way; as far as I’m concerned, you could start with 5 minutes and work your way up.) You do it once a day, usually in the morning in place of brushing — though I still floss and also brush with baking soda before bed.

I have to admit, when I’m consistent with it, I start seeing the effects: My teeth feel great — smoother, cleaner — and I dare say they look a tad whiter. And my breath is better, even first thing in the morning. But it’s that consistent part that’s hard. Finding 15-20 minutes in the morning to swish doesn’t always happen — it’s typically a busy time with my kids, and inevitably, as soon as I put that oil in my mouth, my voice is required for something. Over the last few days I’ve been trying to get back to it, though. I hear the longer you do it, the more benefits you experience.

I’m curious: Have you ever tried oil pulling, or would you? Does the idea intrigue you, or does it seem too far out there to bother with? I’d love to hear what you think! In the meantime, if I manage to stick with it for more than a few weeks at a time, I’ll have to give you an update!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul


I’m kind of obsessed with Ethiopian scarves: I have quite a few of them, but I’m always on the look out for new styles. When we were in Ethiopia, I bought scarves for all of my sisters, sisters-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, and a few friends. (That’s a lot of scarves, people!)

All of which explains why I just had to post this contest. It’s  a collaborative effort between fashionABLE, an organization helping to create sustainable businesses for Africans (especially women), and ALT Summit, a resource for design and entrepreneurial bloggers (who also run amazing conferences). ALT put a call out for scarf designs and choose ten finalists from 100 submissions. The designs were then made in Ethiopia and sent back to a panel who picked their top three — and here they are! The winning scarf will be manufactured in Ethiopia and then available for sale on FashionABLE.

Last year, this scarf won the contest. I kept meaning to order it and never did, but I still love it. I know the scarf so well, in fact, that when I saw a woman wearing it at Ethiopian Culture camp last month, I blurted out, “Oh, I know that scarf!” before I even knew the poor woman’s name. She probably thought I was nuts.

Anyway, on to this year’s contest: Which one gets your vote? I like them all for different reasons, so I’m thinking I should choose the one I’d most want to wear. Blue is my best color, so this one would be a no-brainer:


But I’m really digging this modern design with the yellow stripe. It’s unlike any other scarf I have:


Then again, this one is so feminine and lovely, and I think I like the texture best of all of them:


I’d love to hear which one you like best — maybe it will help me make up my mind! (You can vote here. Contest runs until August 20th.) If you want to share this contest on your own blog or social media channels, you’ll have a chance to land yourself a winning scarf — plus a free ticket to ALT Summit’s winter conference in Salt Lake City, where all the cool, creative bloggers hang out (who are also apparently super nice). You can go here for more details.

A quick note: No one asked me to post this contest — I just love promoting Ethiopian goods and I like both these organizations. Also, I’d love to win any one of these scarves, and I’ve always wanted to go to an ALT conference! :-)

Images: fashionABLE


Franz Kline, Black, White and Gray
Adopting transracially has changed so many things in my life, not least of all how I experience news events like the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Before I had two brown-skinned daughters, I felt sad and confused about such tragedies, but they didn’t cause me anxiety. I chalk that up to my “white privilege” — a loaded term that can mean different things, but for me includes the fact that I don’t have to think about or deal with certain kinds of issues because I don’t have a lot of melanin in my skin.

Back when we were still in the adoption process, I remember a (Canadian) relative of mine asking, “Aren’t you worried about being a transracial family in the United States, with its ongoing racial tensions and history?” I acknowledged that it had crossed my mind but that it didn’t overly concern me. I do remember another conversation, though, that left me more unsettled: I was sitting with some friends around a dinner table, and one of them said, “I think it’s really courageous of you to be adopting black children. I know a lot of white couples who are open to adoption, or in the process, and they’re willing to adopt any child but a black one.”

What to say to that? He thought he was paying me a compliment, but I just felt sadness, anger, and anxiety well up in my heart.

On one hand, it’s what my relative said: This country still struggles with prejudice and segregation. In some ways and in some places, there’s been progress — but then you watch the news or listen to some people’s experiences, and you realize we have a long way to go. A white parent-in-waiting might balk at the idea of dealing with those issues; then again, that very attitude — “any child but that one, please” — is one of the reasons for the mess in Ferguson. (There are others, no doubt, like the militarization of the police, but that’s another topic.)

I’m grateful that my daughters are still only six and don’t watch the news. I can’t shelter them forever, but I can build them up while they’re young and innocent, and while they see the world as it should be, so they’re better equipped for the day they experience being judged differently. To say I dread that terrible awakening is an understatement.

I’ll tell you what would make me even more anxious, though, and that’s if my girls were boys. Adorable brown-skinned little boys turn into teenagers and young men pretty quickly, and those boys are really not going to be treated or judged like their melanin-challenged peers.

There’s more I could say about this, but I’m still trying to figure out my thoughts and how to put them into words. For now, here are two blog posts that have stayed with me over the past week and are worth a read: Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks on how Ferguson affects her, a black woman married to a white man with a biracial daughter; and “what they didn’t teach us in adoption classes about raising black children.”

I know these issues are sensitive ones, but I welcome your thoughts. Do you and your family talk about stories like Ferguson?  Have you ever experienced prejudice or discrimination based on the way you look?

Image: Black, White and Gray by Franz Kline (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)