April 2015

by Margaret Cabaniss

What follows is one of the first recipes I ever posted on this site, and it’s still the best julep I’ve ever had. Make you one this weekend. 

This weekend is the running of the Kentucky Derby, traditionally an important date in the Cabaniss household. As my mom was born and raised in Louisville, our family watched the Derby religiously growing up: We did the whole crazy hat thing; we placed side bets on our horses; we rolled our eyes as mom nostalgically crooned along to “My Old Kentucky Home.” It was good family fun.

When I moved to Baltimore, I invited some friends over for a little Derby party of my own — complete with the official food and drink of the event, mint juleps and Derby pie. Of course, that year also happened to be the race where one of the horses shattered its leg crossing the finish line and had to be put down — right there on the track, on live TV. You know, just the thing to get your guests in the party spirit.

So my traumatized friends may not have been completely sold on the idea of the Kentucky Derby — but happily, juleps aren’t just for Derby day. By their very nature, they are the ideal slow drink: meant to be savored over a period of hours, preferably on a front porch in the sunshine. In fact, because juleps can pack a deceptive punch, trying to drink them any faster can quickly knock you sideways. This is strictly a sippin’ beverage.

With the weather warming up, now is the perfect time to host a Derby julep party of your own. I’d even say they would be just the thing for Zoe’s graduation party next weekend… if she didn’t happen to dislike bourbon. (It’s a character flaw that I am willing to overlook for the sake of our friendship.)

I’ve tried lots of different julep formulas (er, for research purposes), and they range from the sublime to the gag-inducing. (A general rule of thumb: Steer clear of anything labeled simply, “Mint Julep Mix.”) The best I’ve tasted was, oddly enough, a recipe from Southern novelist Walker Percy, found in his essay “Bourbon, Neat.” We followed his instructions more or less precisely at a julep party held in my sister’s backyard, and they were revelatory — ice cold, not too sweet, with just a breath of fresh mint, all mellowing what Percy aptly describes as “the little explosion of Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine in the cavity of the nasopharynx.” That’s a drink.

His instructions are quoted below, with photo illustrations as a guide. (No horses were injured in the making of these beverages.)

“You need excellent bourbon whiskey; rye or Scotch will not do. Put half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass and merely dampen it with water.” We added a few leaves of mint here, muddling them in the sugar and water to release their oils.

“Next, very quickly—and here is the trick in the procedure—crush your ice, actually powder it—preferably in a towel with a wooden mallet” — yes, the towel trick really does work! — “so quickly that it remains dry, and, slipping two sprigs of fresh mint against the inside of the glass, cram the ice in right to the brim, packing it with your hand.”

“Finally, fill the glass, which apparently has no room left for anything else, with bourbon, the older the better.” Using a long spoon to stir up from the bottom helps the sugar dissolve and disperse a little better.

“The glass will frost immediately. Then settle back in your chair for half an hour of cumulative bliss.” We served ours with cucumber sandwiches and fresh berry shortcakes and proceeded to have a glorious spring afternoon. I highly recommend it.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss



April 28, 2015


I had plans to write about something else, but can’t ignore the obvious: Our city is a frightening mess! As I write, there are fires burning, businesses being destroyed, and a state of emergency has been declared. What a sad time for Baltimore.

We live downtown and have been on guard, watching local news, trying to ascertain our safety and keep on top of what’s going on. I don’t know what today will bring. At least we have gas in the car.

I’m trying to get our family ready for a week-long trip on Saturday — which I plan to tell you more about soon. But it’s hard enough getting out for the basics right now, let alone anything else. In the meantime, I’m thinking a lot about those who must be out, especially at night — first responders, fire fighters, ER docs, nurses, etc. It’s really something to see the National Guard lining the streets with their weapons and shields as I made my way to the grocery store earlier today.

There are so many issues to consider and deal with when it comes to these terrible events, but right now our focus is on staying safe, praying for peace, and taking one day at a time.

Image: Breno Machedo at Unsplash







Spring Feverish

April 22, 2015

Just when I was about to pat myself on the back for not getting sick this past fall and winter — except for some mild sniffles before Christmas — a virus snuck up on me over the weekend. Sore throat, sinus headache, exhaustion, generally feeling blah…and oh, running to the bathroom every two minutes. Fun.

Since becoming a mother, there’s one thing that occurs to me every time I’m under the weather: Moms can’t get sick. It just doesn’t work. Little ones can empathize for about 9 seconds and then it’s too bad for you, they need to be fed or taken outside before they bounce off the walls or decide to walk around the house again with paint on their feet.

Lucky for me, this particular virus seems to be on its way out. Maybe thanks to immediately hopping on a range of immune-boosting concoctions: sipping raw apple cider vinegar, swallowing zinc supplements, high-dosing vitamin C, drinking medicinal tea, and snorting a xylitol spray. Whatever’s helping, I’ll be grateful to be operating on all cylinders again soon and catching up with my week!

Did you manage to escape the winter without illness? Any favorite home remedies that scare viruses away?

Image: David Meir, picography


Baltimore Row Homes
If you’ve been reading SlowMama for a while, you know that I live in a very narrow house with my husband and twin daughters. It’s a brick row house, built in 1900, and it’s 10 feet at its widest point. In some spots — such as where our fireplace is — it’s even narrower.

There’s a real charm to old, narrow, city homes like this. And they’re all the more adorable when updated and designed for modern living, such as this house featured on Cup of Jo. How sweet is that place?

Narrow houses are often very lovable, but once you’ve got kids and stuff, no matter how simple you try to keep things, such spaces can be challenging. Finding suitable (and affordable!) furniture that fits is all but impossible, storage is pretty much non-existent, and a couple of extra people over for dinner is all that works comfortably.

I’ve learned a few things from living in a shotgun house (as it’s often called), though, and one of them is that it’s not so much about space, but layout. I always thought I wanted to live in a big home, and now I know that I don’t; instead, I want my space to suit my family’s needs and lifestyle. We could live pretty happily in a space with about the same square footage (well, maybe just a little more!), if it were just configured differently.

While I’m slowly tiring of our narrow house, I think living in any small house forces you to simplify, live with less, and think hard about how you live and what you buy. It’s always seemed to me that people are less stressed and more fulfilled when they take these lessons to heart. Case in point: this article in Apartment Therapy about a woman who downsized from a huge house in Houston to a tiny apartment in NYC and feels so much happier and more sane.

Would you ever consider a narrow or very small house? Does the idea of downsizing fill you with excitement — or dread?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


by Margaret Cabaniss

For my recent trip to Rome
, I knew I wanted to avoid checking a bag if at all possible — and judging by one of my colleagues’ experiences, who had his checked luggage sent on a cruise without him, I definitely made the right call. Surprisingly, it was easier to do than I was expecting; here’s what worked for me:

Color-coordinate everything. I purposely stuck to one general color palette so that everything I packed could be worn with everything else, which gave me a ton of mileage out of the fewest number of pieces. For this particular trip, I embraced my inner Claire Underwood and kept it pretty neutral; adding an (easily packable) scarf, belt, or piece of jewelry was a simple way to add some interest.

Take pictures. This felt ridiculous while I was doing it, but it’s also probably the single most useful thing I did. Pull everything out of your closet that you’re considering packing, try it all on, then snap a picture of the outfits on your phone. (This part is much less painful if you can enlist the services of an obliging friend. And a bottle of wine.) When I was finished, I was surprised to find that certain pieces I was sure I wanted to pack didn’t end up working together or being all that versatile, so I didn’t bother to take them “just in case” — the impulse that usually leads me to overpack. Instead, I was able to easily scroll through the photos, see (and delete) what didn’t work, then pack the rest; once I arrived in Rome, all I had to do was to check my phone and pick an outfit, saving me time and hassle.

Layers are your friend. Rome in March would be in the low 40s in the morning and the low 70s by the afternoon, so having easily shed-able layers was the way to go. The one thing I was always happy to have: my blanket scarf. I’d wear it with my coat in the chilly evenings, as a wrap in drafty restaurants, or use it as a blanket on the plane. It was never not useful.

Roll, don’t fold. I was skeptical of this one, too, but it works: Layer your bulkiest items in the bottom of your suitcase first (jeans, jackets, etc.), and then roll — don’t fold — everything else. I was amazed by how well everything compressed: I was able to fit two blazers, two pairs of pants, two skirts, four t-shirts, three button-downs, two silk tops, two cardigans, a dress, pajamas, and all my shoes and unmentionables without a problem. For extra space-saving, pack bulkier items in a large ziploc bag first, then squeeze out the extra air.

Maximize that “personal item.” All my clothes and shoes went in the carry-on bag, but my camera, guide book, iPad, and liquids went in a tote bag as my (slightly oversized) purse. I also wore my bulkiest clothes and shoes on the plane, leaving that much more room in my suitcase.

Things I was glad I brought: There wasn’t a day that passed when I didn’t consult this guidebook; I was also glad I had this map on me, particularly when I wanted to wander off the beaten path. This packable tote took up no room at all in my purse, but it was great to have for hauling home my loot after a long day of souvenir hunting. I also brought a packet of laundry detergent with me so I could do a little hand-washing in my hotel room whenever the need arose (though I likely could have just picked that up there — see below).

Things I should have left at home: New shoes. One bum pair that I hadn’t broken in yet left me in a world of pain — not ideal when you plan to be walking all week. Remember, too, that they sell things like toothpaste and shampoo where you’re headed; don’t stress about fitting everything you need in that one-quart ziploc bag.

Looking for more advice on what specific items you should pack? It’ll vary based on the where, when, and why of your trip, of course, but Jordan Ferney has a great packing list (for two weeks in France!) to get you started. (Mine looked similar, though I swapped out most of the dresses for button-downs and skirts instead.) Also, Erin of Earnest Home Co. demonstrates the handy outfit-photo trick so you can see its usefulness in action.

What about you? Any tips for packing light on an extended trip?


Winter Fashion Have you seen the “19 things only women with a low maintenance fashion sense understand“? I could relate to more of them than I care to admit. I really straddle the line between apathetic simple woman and wanna-be fashionista.

Take shoes, for example. I love shoes, but you’d never really know it. I have far fewer shoes than any woman I know: a few for special occasions and one or two regular pairs I wear daily with everything, until they wear out. Usually, it’s not until I’m taking a trip that I buy something new…and that’s always a big mistake.

My daily go-to outfit is jeans and a top — a cashmere turtleneck in the winter (usually with a couple of other layers, of course, because I’m cold-blooded) and something much lighter in the summer. I love skirts and dresses, but I wear them more in the fall and winter when I can wear tights, as I never seem to find time to get my pale legs summer-ready enough to feel comfortable showing them off.

I’m probably most guilty of being low maintenance when it comes to my hair and beauty routines, though. It’s no coincidence that my hair is long — it’s just way easier this way. Unless it’s a special occasion, I wash my hair once or twice a week, never blow dry, and go between three hairstyles: down, pony tail, and bun. This has been the case for the past, well, 20 years.

Same thing with my beauty routine. Someone commented once that I looked younger than my age and wanted to know what skincare regimen I used. I said, “Uh, water…and whatever moisturizer is hanging around.” I don’t think it was quite the answer they were looking for.

All that said, the former stage performer in me loves to be a little dramatic, especially when I dress up. I believe that fashion, at its best, is about good design, art, and creative expression, and I envy the bloggers I read who have a strong sense of style and always look effortlessly put together. (They must have giant walk-in closets, I like to tell myself, and not a 9-foot wide row home with no storage space.)

While I might always be a little laissez faire about fashion and beauty, I think part of aging gracefully is being more intentional about your style choices. Like any other woman, I like to look good, and I think there’s a way to blend my low-maintenance simplicity with my desire to be more fashionable.

What about you — are you a low-maintenance kind of person when it comes to style and beauty? What is your go-to daily outfit? And what is your typical makeup or skincare routine? I’d love to know!

Image: Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo


The Selfie Generation

April 13, 2015

Taking A Photo
Are you a selfie fan? I took my first one less than two years ago, and since then I haven’t taken many; my daughters, on the other hand, took their first selfies when they were six, with my smart phone.

Lots of people bemoan the selfie trend, I know. I don’t mind them in moderation; smart phones make it easy to get yourself in a photo and to share it. Nothing wrong with that. But there’s a concern that young people today are obsessive about selfies, so much so that they’re missing out on important aspects of life and development. A piece in The Australian about whether the selfie generation is narcissistic includes this interesting segment:

It is a neurological crisis according to British scientist Susan Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford. She believes that the prefrontal cortex, which governs empathy and compassion, needs social nourishment in order to grow and develop synaptic connections. This starts with the mother’s gaze, the incredible stare of love that stimulates the brain. It is further developed by gazing at, and with, other people through smiles, sneers, flushes and changing voice tone, expressions of grief, pain or anger. Greenfield even refers to pheromones, the smells we emit that give signals to others. Greenfield warns that the danger is that our technology-obsessed kids are no longer accustomed to the full range of messy experiences and meaningful human interactions. Social media and games are moulding children’s brains and we’re possibly looking at emotionally stunted kids. The selfie’s aim is to make people jealous or to prove you are having a fantastic time, or to get the likes because you are hot or fabulous. Hence expressions are only ever the pout, the grin, the laugh, the flirt, the display of body beautiful, photoshopped in 2D.

Kind of scary. If there’s one thing this world doesn’t need it’s fewer people with empathy. Not sure what the answer is, though. Smart phones and social media are here to stay…at least until they get upgraded. And teens will be teens. But all of this has become an important component of parenting, whether we like it or not. We have to help our children navigate technology and set boundaries around it, as well as help them connect with the world around them, without a smart phone in hand.

What about you? Are you concerned that the “selfie generation” is destined to become narcissistic?

Image: Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo


Friday Inspiration

April 10, 2015

Spring Blossom
Anyone living in the northeast part of the United States and Canada this year has to be inspired by one thing right about now: signs of spring!

Well, I suppose the daffodils are still under six inches of snow in Maine and Nova Scotia, but here in the mid-Atlantic, the buds are are on the trees and the first blossoms are opening. My girls have been out on their scooters with light jackets (or no jacket at all), and my wool socks are finally feeling a little too warm. I don’t mind a little hibernating in the winter, but it feels good to start living outside more and to shed some layers.

Spring is the season that represents new life and hope — and I think we all need a dose of that now and then.

Anything exciting planned for the weekend? B is taking the girls to a father-daughter dinner and dance tomorrow evening. I don’t think I can stand how sweet it is, and I’m not sure who’s more excited — the girls or B! Have a good one, and I’ll see you back here next week.

Image: Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo


Sugar Is Not My Friend

April 8, 2015

Easter Basket I’ve written here before about how my daughters don’t have a lot of refined sugar in their diet. They get honey on certain things, maple syrup with pancakes, and I bake with coconut palm sugar, but white sugar, candy, and conventional sweets don’t make it past our threshold very often.

I make exceptions, of course: stops for ice cream, special treats on Sundays or when visiting other people’s homes, birthdays, and holidays like Christmas and Easter.

Yes, Easter. Let’s talk about that. So, we kept the Easter baskets pretty small (it doesn’t take much to make S and H feel like they’ve hit the candy lottery): They received a chocolate bunny, chocolate eggs, a fun giant lollipop, jelly beans, and some other sweet things. Plus, we had more baked goods around, desserts, etc.

And then, like clockwork, just before heading out the door for Easter dinner with family, the meltdowns began. Every day since, after gorging on their candy and other sweets, we’ve had unusual fighting, fits of anger, sadness, long bouts of crying, grumpiness, and meanness.

All these things are a normal part of life at times, of course, and my girls are no exception — but not like what I’ve seen the past four days. Nothing else is different this week for them, except for the sustained sugar consumption.

Most studies about sugar’s effects on kids are about the connection sugar may have to hyperactivity, poor concentration, and decreased immune function. I haven’t seen much about its effects on mood, but it would be hard to convince me that sugar doesn’t affect children’s emotional states, especially after this week.

It’s a bummer because my girls get so excited about their sweets (because the poor things are deprived, of course). And when I do buy them, I try to get the best quality — no food dyes, no chemicals. But it hurts my mother’s heart to see them dealing with such extreme emotions this week and not to know how to help them except to take away the candy, which would only add to the tears. (Did I mention that a sweet neighbor lady gave them another chocolate bunny the other day as an Easter gift?)

Perhaps if they had sugar in their diet regularly they wouldn’t be reacting so strongly — or maybe they’d be like this all the time, and we’d assume it was “just the way they are.” (And we’d have to start hitting the whiskey every night to decompress.) Even B, who doesn’t always buy all my crazy health theories, is convinced about this one. He’s been here to witness it all with his own eyes — and ears.

Sugar is bad, people! At least it doesn’t seem to like this particular family.

Have you experienced these kind of sugar highs and lows with your kids? Yourself? How do you handle sweets and candy in your home?

Image: picjumbo


Playing in Public

April 7, 2015

As if I didn’t have enough reason to go to Paris, here’s another one: the Place de la République. It’s one of the city’s most beloved public squares and recently underwent a costly renovation. The new space is now primarily for pedestrians and includes a kid-friendly fountain, a space for skate boarding, a cafe, benches, trees, an open areas for games, and a different kind of kiosk: a toy and game station called “L’R de Jeux,” a play on the French word for “playground.”

The Hedgehog Review explains how it works: You leave your name, address, and ID with a staff person and then you can take “puzzles, card games, pull toys, or building sets” into the square to play with. (You can also sit in a corner at the kiosk and do it.) Oh, and it’s all free. The author, Wendy Baucom, explains that Paris gets something in return, too:

People of all ages and classes congregate in the square. I believe it’s critical that there is no cost to play. Some users could afford a day trip to a museum, while others have very few toys in their own homes. Moreover, the nature of play makes it easy for cultures and nationalities to mingle. Chinese and Senegalese Parisians may shop in different grocery stores, but here they play the same games, regardless of their language proficiency. As my non-French-speaking son can attest, language is seldom a barrier when there’s a great game in progress. Other, perhaps more insurmountable barriers, like politics or religion, may be set aside by adults in need of a chess partner.

Play is a natural way to break down barriers and bring people together, but we don’t tend to think about it much. We do have toy libraries in the U.S., of course, but as Baucom points out, they’re primarily for taking toys home. Which is great, but isn’t the same as public game-playing. I love the whole idea of accessible, inviting public spaces that promote intermingling and spontaneity among strangers in a low-key way.

Baucom poses some good questions for Americans in her article: Are we missing low-budget, high-impact opportunities for fostering positive civic interactions in our public spaces? And how can we better use the common spaces we already pass through regularly?

What do you think? And when’s the last time you were in Paris? Take me in your suitcase next time!

Image: Javier-Palmieri, found at life of pix