December 2014

The Best of SlowMama 2014

December 31, 2014

Fireworks
Tomorrow we ring in the new year! I can’t say I’m entirely sorry to say goodbye to 2014, though it has had its high points — one of them being this little spot in cyberspace. I still love blogging and getting to chat with all of you!

I’m always a little proud when I look back each year and see the kind of content we’ve produced. Here are some of my favorite posts from 2014. I know the list is long, but it was hard to cut anything more out! If I’ve missed any posts you remember most, or you’d love to read about certain topics here in the new year, let me know!

Making Bread from a Starter Food and Drink

Family Family and Parenting

Wreath1 Crafts and Projects

Map of Introvert's Heart Odds and Ends

Westfalia Interior And maybe my favorite posts of all, my “Parenting Against the Grain” series:

Farewell, 2014! Looking forward to seeing all of you in the new year…

Lead image via Pinterest

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Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2014

 

Saint Pauls at Park 2
Since this is the only half-decent shot taken of our family over the past few months, I’m hoping the bunny and kitten ears will distract you from how pooped B and I look. It’s been that kind of year — a good one, but a tiring one!

A heartfelt Merry Christmas to all of you celebrating over the next few days (and hopefully for at least 12 days)! I also hope my Jewish readers had a very beautiful Hanukkah (which ended last night at sundown). If you’re traveling, may it be uneventful, and if the holidays are a sad time for you, I hope you will experience the joy and peace of this season in some way.

We’re rolling with the punches here, since illness and canceled flights led to some change in plans with relatives, but everything today should fall right into place. My mother-in-law is finally here, my brother’s household is on the mend, and my girls seem to enjoy Christmas more each year, which makes it tons of fun.

It will be quiet here for the next few days as we celebrate the holiday as a family, but I’ll be back next week. Have a safe and joyful Christmas holiday, friends! xoxo

Image: JWR

 

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Internet Menagerie

December 23, 2014

Homemade granola
It’s a busy week — and I’m very far behind on Christmas preparations — so I thought it was a good time for a trip around the web! Here are some of my favorite recent finds; let me know any of yours in the comments. (I can still read your comments, even though they’re not showing up yet for everybody else!)

  • The reason I need a new waffle maker. (Smitten Kitchen)
  • Video: Why co-sleeping is no sleeping. (This cracked me up: I can relate, even though mine are six and a half.)

  • Video: Three-year-old drummer leads adult orchestra in can-can. This is crazy!

  • Video: The worst/best Christmas gifts ever. This was too adorable not to share.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Friday Inspiration

December 19, 2014

you_think_you_have_time
Not to be a Debbie Downer when all is supposed to be merry and bright, but this quote jumped out at me this week because a friend of mine just passed away. He wasn’t young, but he wasn’t old, either; it seems much too soon for him to leave the life and people he loved.

His sudden departure got me thinking about how I walk around as though I have all the time in the world. I think most of us do that to some extent. One thing I’ve realized about myself, having plenty of years and decisions to look back on now, is that I have a tendency to take too long to act — particularly when it comes to big decisions. I can see this pattern throughout my life, but now that I’m aware of it, I’m trying to step out and take bigger risks and jump on things sooner than I might have otherwise.

The death of my friend — an amazing guy and a kindred spirit — is another reminder that you just never know when your time is up. He certainly didn’t know it six weeks ago, when we had our last conversation. In fact, we talked about death and suffering and life and faith, and neither of us could have imagined it would be our last time to talk of such things.

If we were granted a hundred years, it still wouldn’t be enough time. Rather than make us feel rushed, though, I think it can make us more determined to spend the time we have on what matters most in life, and to savor the moment. To my mind, it’s a good resolution to take into the Christmas holidays and a new year.

Billy C., rest in peace — and may perpetual light shine upon you.

Image unknown

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by Margaret Cabaniss

peanut_blossoms
Holiday baking seems like one of those things that people simultaneously love and dread about the season: It’s just not Christmas without gingerbread, but it can be so. much. work. — particularly during a time when your to-do list is already a mile long. Last night capped off a day wherein I made twelve dozen cookies, so I feel like I’ve had a bit of crash course in big-batch holiday baking this week. If a tower of Christmas cookies looms in your future, consider a few tricks to help save your sanity:

Keep it simple. No less true for being obvious! Stick to one or two (maybe three) recipes that you know well and that are worth the effort — something where it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without them. Streamlining the process keeps you from overbuying ingredients and overcommitting yourself to elaborate treats that take more time or input than they’re ultimately worth. If you just have to have the variety, consider a cookie swap with your friends: Everyone bakes a big batch of one item to share, so each guest can take home a sample of everything.

Another way to keep it simple? Do your holiday baking the week after Christmas, when there are no more gifts to buy, cards to write, or suitcases to pack. Most people are home from school or taking extended vacations that week anyway, so there’s much more time to relax and enjoy the process. Christmas lasts 12 days, after all — why not spread out the cheer?

frozen_dough
Freeze your dough. 
This was the single handiest trick I used all week. It’s a lifesaver when your office holiday party is in the middle of the week, but you know you won’t have time to start from scratch the night before. Instead, I mixed up a big batch of dough when I had extra time over the weekend, froze individual portions, and then was able to quickly bake off exactly the number of cookies I needed later in the week, right when I needed them, even when I was low on time. Yes, some cookies freeze fine after baking, but I never find them to be quite as good after defrosting — certainly not compared to the freshly baked variety. If you’re going to go through the trouble of freezing anyway, make it on the front end.

The Kitchn recently posted this handy list of doughs that freeze well, and those that don’t (basically, lots of butter: good). Gingerbread and sugar cookie dough freeze great flattened into disks and wrapped in saran wrap and foil (or a ziploc bag); I froze individual balls of peanut blossom dough on a tray before dropping them in a ziploc bag, so they’d be easy to portion out later. My biscotti dough did fine in the fridge overnight, too — and Deb’s recent recipe for gingerbread biscotti is killer.

gingerbread_cookies
Break up the process
. Even when you do have the time to mix, roll out, bake, and decorate your cookies all in one sitting, I generally don’t enjoy spending hours baking and decorating and still having a mess to clean up in the kitchen afterward. Breaking up the process into manageable chunks means you can do the messy work one day, and the fun baking/decorating part with the kids later. Bonus: You can be doing two things at once this way (baking while you cook dinner, for instance), and your kitchen doesn’t have to remain a wreck through the whole process. For these peanut blossoms, I made the dough one afternoon, rolled the balls that night after dinner, then baked the cookies a few days later. Sometimes just getting to walk away and do something else for a bit breaks up the monotony and makes it all more enjoyable.

What are your tips and tricks for keeping holiday baking manageable this time of year? Any classic recipes you make every year?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Are You an Elephant Parent?

December 17, 2014

Mama and baby elephant
We’ve talked about various parenting styles here before, and everyone’s heard of the “tiger mom” book, as well as how to raise kids the “French” way. Now there’s a new method making the rounds: elephant parenting.

Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar, who was raised in India but is now raising her own family in the U.S., recently wrote in the Atlantic about this style of parenting. She describes elephants’ parenting style as very nurturing toward their young — no tough love or strict rules for baby elephants, thank you very much. Sharma-Sindhar says this is very similar to her own parents’ and grandparents’ parenting style in India — little discipline, few rules, and no responsibilities until a child is five years old.

Here in the U.S., however, the prevailing parenting style encourages grit, determination, and independence in toddlers. Sharma-Sindhar says that her elephant instincts often make her feel like a parenting outsider here in the States: While she admits there is no perfect way to parent, the way she wants to do it is rooted in her culture, something that’s foreign to most Americans. (I can’t help but think she might find more support in the attachment parenting community, even though elephant parenting isn’t quite the same thing.)

This whole notion of elephant parenting makes me curious. I recall being told when we were in Ethiopia that children there are given free reign until about age five; after that, they’re more rigorously disciplined (sometimes harshly) and expected to toe the line. Prior to that, however, there are few rules and no responsibilities or expectations. (That explains why some kids coming to the States at the ages of 4 and 5 are not used to having rules imposed upon them, especially if they had lived mostly with birth relatives prior to their adoption.) It made me wonder if this style of parenting is common in many traditional cultures, not just India’s.

Have you heard of or witnessed this style of parenting before? What do you think: Are you an elephant?

By the way, I’m so sorry that comments are still not showing up in the comments boxes. I can — and do! — still read them, even though they’re not appearing publicly. I’m still troubleshooting the problem and hope to have it fixed soon. If any of you are WordPress experts, let me know!

Image: Marina Cano / Solent News via Rex USA at NBC News

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Winter Brunch

December 15, 2014

Smitten Kitchen's Winter Fruit Salad
I’m a big brunch person and always have been. You can go savory or sweet, incorporate traditional breakfast foods or creative lunch dishes, and drinks like mimosas or Bloody Marys (or my favorite, Bloody Caesars) are entirely appropriate. What’s not to love?

We have a weekly ritual of weekend brunches here: On Saturdays I make it at home, and on Sundays we often go out. In warmer months I concentrate on lighter fare, but a great thing about brunch is that so many dishes work for any season, you just change up the toppings, or the sides, or add a cold or hot drink, depending.

My all-time favorite brunch meal is some kind of quiche with a salad. I posted my favorite quiche recipe before: Zoe’s Easy Breezy Quiche. It’s extremely versatile and a real crowd-pleaser; I make it a lot when guests are in town and have served it for every occasion. An accompanying winter salad can be beautiful and satisfying, with seasonal fruits like figs, pomegranates, pears, apples, and dates.

I’m a big Eggs Benedict fan, too, and while I don’t make it a lot at home much (not sure why), I often order it when I’m out. As long as the whites of the eggs aren’t too runny, it’s always a winner, and while I love the classic rendition, I enjoy creative takes on it, too — like using toasted corn cakes or infused Hollandaise sauces or different kinds of meats or seafood.

Since I tend to go for savory brunch dishes, I make stuff like omelets, frittatas, and burritos, and lately I’ve been doing different versions of shakshuka (a Tunisian dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce). Smitten Kitchen’s recipe is a great one to start with, but I make it even easier on myself: When I have left over meat or tomato sauce, I warm it up, throw some poached or fried eggs on top, and serve  with a side of vegetables.

SK's Shakshuka
Speaking of Smitten Kitchen, have you ever tried Deb’s Boozy Baked French Toast? When you’re  up for a luxurious brunch, dig this one out. French toast is one of those brunch meals you can’t go wrong with. You can dress it up or down with toppings, use different breads, and serve it with various sides.

Pancakes are like that, too. They’re probably the preferred brunch meal in my house. I’m always looking for recipes that don’t call for white flour. My go-to recipe uses sprouted spelt flour, and I use buckwheat a lot in pancakes, too. I made gluten-free pancakes recently (using a flour blend from Pamela’s), and they were surprisingly good. (I’ve even made pancakes just using almond flour, and while they weren’t my favorite, my kids ate them up.)

As for pancake toppings, I’m a fruit, coconut cream, and maple syrup kind of girl. But sometimes I like mine with just some butter. Maybe because I’m a huge crepe lover (another good brunch food!) and find the best crepes need little more than some lemon juice and honey or homemade jam (or mushrooms and onions for a savory version).

Winter brunches should be comforting, so things like grits and polenta, porridges and oatmeal, even hearty soups can work really well. Even hearty cobblers jammed full with apples and pears work well with a side of sausages or bacon.

What about you — are you a brunch fan? Got any favorite brunch dishes or recipes to share?

Images from Smitten Kitchen

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Friday Inspiration

December 12, 2014

Unknown Quote
It’s my birthday today, and ever since I hit my 40s (wasn’t that just yesterday?), every time my birthday rolls around all I can think about is what a privilege it is to get older.

Yes, I’m starting to hate my neck, and the gray is getting harder to hide, and when I see college students they look like babies (because they really could be my babies). But more than anything, I’m grateful on my birthdays now…grateful for another year, for my family and friends, for the gift of motherhood, for my health and my faith, for the opportunities I’ve had (and have), and for so much more.

There’s a lot I’d love to write about aging, and maybe I will eventually. Right now, however, I need to get on with a very full day, which includes taking my daughters out for a girls’ lunch together — a tradition I started on my birthday after they arrived. Later, the whole family will head to a ramen noodle bar at the food market I love, where I can also indulge in my favorite chocolates.

Somewhere in there I’ll have to throw some candles on a cake and blow them out — for my daughters’ enjoyment, mainly — and on Sunday, I’ll be getting together with a group of friends for a fun birthday and pre-Christmas brunch. (I’ll try to Instagram some of it.) Oh, and I think we may get our tree tomorrow!

Any plans this weekend? And how do you feel when your birthday rolls around — does this quote speak to you?

Image via Pinterest

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How’s your December going so far? Have you made progress on your holiday gift lists, or are you still trying to find time to even think about it? Before it gets too close to Christmas, I wanted to mention a few companies I really like for holiday gifts for kids, in case you need some ideas…

Barefoot Books

Barefoot Books Christmas
I love Barefoot Books. Started by two moms in 1992, Barefoot is all about combining beautiful art with captivating storytelling. What also drew me to their products was their attention to cultural and social diversity. It’s not always easy to find books that I’m excited to give my daughters, and Barefoot delivers.

Under the tree for S and H this year will be two books from this new princess series, as well as the award-winning World Atlas, which I can’t wait to see. Barefoot’s Greek Epic Book set with CD would be perfect for a child over 8, and I love their Greek Myths set, which is on sale right now. Barefoot has lovely bedtime books for little ones, too. (I’m eyeing a couple for my two-year-old nephew.) Here’s their Holiday Gift Guide, if you want to check it out.

(For Christmas delivery, be sure to order before 11 a.m. EST on December 15; after that you’ll pay extra for faster shipping. Shipping is free on orders of $60 or more.)

Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa sent me one of their DVDs a couple of months ago, and I was curious if my daughters would like it. They did–and many other kids apparently do, too. Another company created by two moms (moms run the world), Prima Princessa focuses on teaching children ages 3-6 dance steps while exposing them to professional ballet performances. In each show, a ballerina fairy named Prima Princessa takes a group of preschool age children to see a condensed version of a classical ballet, and in between acts the children practice ballet steps they’ve just watched.

The DVD we saw, “Prima Princessa Presents The Nutcracker,” would be a perfect stocking-stuffer for a little dance enthusiast. It features England’s Birmingham Royal Ballet and includes mini-ballet lessons from students at the School of American Ballet, the official academy of the New York City Ballet. The show has aired on more than 400 PBS and public television stations nationwide, and you can find it on Amazon both as a DVD or instant download.

Princessa Productions also has DVDs for Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, and on their website you can find a Ballet for Beginners book, a ballet dictionary, ballet coloring pages, crafts for kids, preschool games, and listings of ballet schools and ballet companies nationwide.

Tea Collection

Tea-Collection-Fall-2013
I’m currently a little obsessed with the children’s clothes at Tea Collection. (I managed to snag a few dresses for my girls online during the Black Friday sale.) Founded by (yet again) two moms, Tea’s mission is to “bring worldwide culture and modern design to children’s fashion.” And they seem to do it well. I was impressed with the quality of the garments when they arrived and love the way they mix colors and patterns.

Their new Citizen Blue line is sweet — I love this Java Garden Keyhole Dress. And this Backpacker Happy Hoodie would look adorable on any of my (many) nephews.

I’ll be sticking to the sales at Tea Collection — especially since I usually need two of everything — but it’s great to know about ethical clothing companies for kids that do high-quality stuff. If you’re looking for some special clothes this season, you may want to check them out.

Any companies or products your eyeing for kids’ gifts this year? I’d love to know!

Images: Barefoot Books, Prima Princessa, Tea Collection

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The Art Wall

December 8, 2014

Wall Art
I finally got around to creating an art wall in our living room for the girls’ masterpieces. They create so many things that I “ooh” and “ahh” over, and I’d been wanting to do something other than letting it all pile up in different corners before finally getting around to putting it in their art portfolios.

So on a rainy day before Thanksgiving, I strung up two pieces of thin twine on our old brick wall, found some miniature craft clothespins, and got to work. I chose a variety of their recent pieces and made sure I showcased an equal amount of work from both girls.

I love how it turned out, and S and H love seeing their work on the wall. It also helps them to make a connection with the art they see at the museums we visit. Art is not simply for the privileged few, and I want them to have an appreciation for the art they see and make from a young age.

Art Wall 2
The toughest thing is always trying to figure out what to display, what to toss, and what to save. The giant portfolios I bought to store their art are already bursting at the seams. I don’t keep everything, but I store what I think shows how they’re developing creatively, as well as anything I think would be fun for them to look back on.

If you have kids, what do you do with all the stuff they create? Do you toss most of it? Save it? I love some of the solutions Leah came up with for the same problem in this post from back in the day… How do you incorporate your kids’ art in and around your home?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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