August 2015

Ship from Pixabay

There are many tragic things happening in the world and I don’t write about them here much, but lately the plight of refugees and migrants has been on my mind a lot. The news keeps bringing incredible images like this, and distressing stories like this. And it’s heartbreaking.

Perhaps because I’m a mother now, I find it particularly frightening to think of needing to flee with my children, possibly in the dead of night, leaving everything I know — my belongings, my land, my home. And then walking for days, maybe weeks, with very little food or water and arriving at a border and not being able to cross, or being stuck in a refugee camp with tens of thousands of others, or stepping onto a rubber raft or a poorly constructed, overcrowded boat to cross the tempestuous Mediterranean sea to presumably safer soil.

Right now, millions of people are in situations like these and it makes me feel helpless. What can I do? Just watch from the sidelines? Wait for governments to take action? While I get that these issues are politically and legally complicated, what keeps going through my mind is: What if that were me? What if my little family were in this situation, and I could do nothing, but plead for others to help us? Frankly, the control freak that I am; the mother who — like most parents — would do anything to protect my children, can barely imagine it.

But there are things I can do. First, I can pray. I believe in the power of prayer; many studies show that prayer does change things, and I’ve seen it myself.

I can give to organizations that have people on the ground aiding refugees and migrants. I can research what my church and other groups I’m part of may be doing.

I can also keep reading, keep watching. It would be easier to turn away, but it’s hard to be in solidarity with others, to form my own views and be inspired with ways to help, unless I let myself see what’s actually happening. Not necessarily in that 24-7 news cycle way, but also not burying my head in the sand because it’s painful. It’s also good for me: it helps keep my own life and problems in perspective and inspires me to be humble and grateful.

Do tragic international events ever make you feel helpless? What do you do about it? How do you do your own small part to work for broader change?

Image: LaughingRaven at Pixabay


End of Week Musings

August 28, 2015

North shore NS

Happy Friday, friends! How’s your week been? The weather here has been gorgeous and I think it might just last through the weekend. When the weather is perfect, I have a hard time justifying doing other things on my list. That probably comes from growing up in a place where you lived by the weather.

This is always a bittersweet time of year for me — when summer isn’t quite over, but fall activities begin.  Fall is probably my favorite time of year, though. I love the weather, the colors, a sense of fresh starts — oh, and fall clothes have always been my favorite.

This time of year also holds birthdays for many of my friends and this weekend I’ll finally get that leisurely glass of wine I’ve been thinking about the birthday celebration of a close friend. Yay for girls’ nights! B and I may also manage to get out and test-drive some cars — I’ll let you know what we end up getting when the time comes!

Any exciting plans for the weekend? Do you love fall or grieve summer’s passing?

I’ll see you back here next week.


Image: North shore of Nova Scotia, Zoe Saint-Paul 




Internet Menagerie

August 25, 2015

Watching Over

Friends, we’re overdue for a trip around the web! Quite a list here, all over the place, but that means there’s a little something for everybody. If you’ve come across anything interesting lately, please share it in the comments!

  • This is interesting, but why pick on airbnb renters versus large hotels and commercial real estate contractors? (BusinessInsider)
  • If you still prefer pen and paper like me, the Bullet Journal might be for you. (Life Hacker)
  • Since my girls still love Frozen, I got a kick out of this.
  • Design winner, called the  “Flo” kit, could make the lives of women and girls much easier in developing countries. (Tech Insider)
  • Here‘s what racism looks like. (Daily Kos)
  • This is one big reason we stay in this area. (Share America)
  • Amazing photos that speak to the diversity of Ethiopia. (Resource Travel)

Image: Dave Meier at picography


Gentleman's driving gloves by Viktor Hanacek

We’re in the market for a new car. Our dear old 2003 Jetta is about ready to bite the dust and while our 2008 Kia works well, it’s seven years old and is starting to show signs of wear.

I like nice cars as much as the next guy. Well, maybe not quite as much, but I’ve always wanted a Mercedes. A sedan. Black. Or maybe silver. I’ve also always wanted a pick up truck… one of those vintage-looking ones that still works great, in green or blue.

And that right there probably sums me up.

Anyway, cars for us are really just practical necessities right now. And now that B and I both work from home again, we’re contemplating going down to one vehicle. While it would be a pain, it would save money and make parking easier. (We just might hang on to the Kia for a while before we do that to ease ourselves into it!)

In the mean time, what to buy? Safety is most important on our list, then reliability — and also more room. The girls will be staying in their car seats for another year since laws are changing in some states which would require them to remain in them, even though they could technically now be in boosters in our state. The car seats are safer for them so I’m okay leaving them there, except for the fact that they’re so big. I’d like to have enough room between the car seats for one person to sit, but I’m not sure what kind of vehicle will allow for it. In fact, the Nissan Rogue we rented on our northeast trip had less room in between the car seats than our Kia does. So I’m not sure one of the small highly-rated SUVs we’ve been thinking about will be the way to go. At the same time, since we live downtown with street parking only, a large SUV is not the best idea.

A Subaru is an option. The Outback and Forster get amazing safety ratings and people seem to love them. But a few friends say they found them “stiff” to drive and opted for other cars. I guess we just need to test-drive them for ourselves.

We’re also considering something new-used. It worked out well in the past. A car payment is not something we’re used to and going into debt for a car is not something we welcome. Subarus apparently keep their value, though, so it may not make much sense buying one used.

Hondas and Toyotas are pretty good bets, and a colleague of B’s raves about his Mitsubishi. I tend to have a thing for European cars, but our mechanic is trying to sway us away from that. (Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever met a mechanic who was a fan of European cars.)

So, I’m all ears: Any family vehicles you highly recommend?

Image: Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo


Back to School Prep

August 21, 2015

Wine Session with Friends by Viktor Janacek

Can we really be looking at the end of August? Apparently so. I’m in full school prep mode and I’m being quickly reminded that one of the downsides of city living is that all the stores you need for back-to-school stuff are way out in the burbs. It’s scary out there. Ha.

So online shopping to the rescue. I just ordered backpacks for the girls as I couldn’t find anything decent left in the stores. There’s no real need for backpacks for homeschool, generally, but since the girls will be attending a homeschool academy two days per week, they’re going to have a lot of binders and books and a pencil box full of stuff, in addition to a lunch box and water bottle.

Speaking of lunch boxes, I really want to get some lunch containers like these, but boy are they pricey, especially if you buy a kit. (I really do like the water bottles there, too, and believe me, we’ve been through a lot of water bottles — they’re not all created equal.) The containers make school lunches much less wasteful: We don’t have to go through so many tiny baggies and saran wrap for everything, and they’re more fun and appetizing for kids. I just can’t seem to get myself to order those yet, though, because of the price tag. Still looking around.

I’ve driven to three different stores and still can’t find all the ugly poly binders the girls need for their subjects. Those poly binders are a pet peeve of mine, which I know is kind of ridiculous, but it’s because they can’t be stored neatly anywhere and constantly slip and fall behind shelves and couches. Have we really made such little progress as a society?

I still have to order a lot of books and curriculum the girls need, too. Thankfully I found some second hand, but Amazon will have to come to the rescue.

Thankfully, I have all but two items the girls need for their uniforms (Yes, they need to wear uniforms to this homeschool academy, which is a little annoying as a homeschooler, but maybe that’s just me.)

Then there’s what I need before our fall educational schedule begins: I’ll be teaching Latin to my girls’ class at the homeschool academy so I need to get something to keep my lesson plans organized, a decent general planner, and get to some re-organizing of shelves and set up downstairs so our space is in better order.

Not that you wanted to hear me ramble about my back-to-school to-do list, but it’s clogging up my brain at the moment! Also: I want to hear any recommendations you have for back-to-school gear: lunch boxes, water bottles, homeschool planners, and anything else that you think I need to know about.

Meanwhile, it’s Friday and yes, I still just want to go sit in a cafe somewhere and drink wine. Probably not going to happen this weekend, but I’m determined to find a few moments to exhale. Anything special happening for you?

See you back here next week!

Image: By Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo 



Empire Kitchen

I love ethnic food. I also try to eat local, organic, and clean as much as possible. Unfortunately, these two things often don’t go together. B’s preference when dining out is often some kind of Asian cuisine, or maybe Caribbean or Nepalese. But I struggle because the ingredients used at these establishments are not usually what I want to put in my body: industrially-raised meats, sauces filled with preservatives and corn syrup, farm-raised fish from China, veggies flown in from the other side of the world.

I get that there are certain things you need if you’re running a restaurant focused on food from another country or culture. Some things have to be imported; there’s no getting around it — especially spices.

But there’s a lot that could be sourced locally or domestically and for years I’ve been lamenting the fact that so few ethnic restaurants do this. If the Ethiopian restaurants we frequent used locally raised meats and vegetables, for example, how cool would that be? If the Japanese restaurant down the street used American grown rice, seafood from healthy fisheries, and dipping sauces without preservatives, I’d be all over that. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Surely lots of people today would go for this, even if it cost a little more?

Of all places, the lovely little city of Portland, Maine delivered. When researching restaurants, I found a piece in Down East magazine about a place called Empire Chinese Kitchen. They use a lot of locally sourced ingredients in authentic Chinese recipes. For my Asian food loving husband, his slow foodie wife, and two adventurous little girls, I knew this would be win-win-win. The adorable, inexpensive joint did not disappoint.

One of the things I like best about Empire’s fusing of local and ethnic is they don’t make a huge deal of it. You can detect it in the menu, but it’s not in your face. A lot of people who don’t care about such things probably wouldn’t even notice; they’d just be enjoying the yummy Chinese food. (Oh, if you go there, and you need to, be sure to order the lobster steamed dumplings. Yes, it’s a nod to  the state, but man, they’re amazing.)

Have you stumbled across any restaurants that are doing authentic ethnic cooking with locally-sourced ingredients? Is this something you’d like to see more of?

Image: Found at Empire Chinese Kitchen



Unplugged Nation!

August 17, 2015

North Carolina

You may recall that back in May we traveled to the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to film a show about off-grid living. We didn’t quite know what to expect, but ended up having a fantastic time. The experience opened up some great conversations and has helped shape some of the future plans we have for our family.

The show is called “Unplugged Nation” and recently debuted on the FYI channel (part of the A&E Network). You can view a couple episodes that have already aired on the FYI web site and/or tune in on Saturday evenings at 10PM EST right after “Tiny House Nation”).

I’ll be sure to put a link up here and on my social media when our episode airs. I’m excited to see it, but also slightly apprehensive… wondering what the editors chose to keep and to cut, how they spliced it all together, and just how badly I’ll hate my wardrobe choices and bad haircut.

I’m hopeful, though, since we’ve watched three episodes so far and really enjoyed them all. Can’t wait to see the rest. Let me know what you think if you catch the show! (Here‘s an article in Mother Nature Network about it.)

Image: North Carolina, Zoe Saint-Paul


A Summer Lament

August 14, 2015

Nova Scotia Wildflowers
Ever since I became a parent, summer flies by so quickly that it barely feels like it was here at all. Even though we homeschool, we follow the conventional school calendar, mostly because the homeschool co-ops we’ve participated in more or less do, and it’s just more convenient overall. But summer now seems to fall into three distinct phases: exhaling from the school year, preparing for vacation and taking that vacation (sadly, the shortest phase of all), and then getting home to face the mad rush before school begins.

All I want to do right now is sit in outdoor cafes sipping wine well into the evening, and instead I’ve got a to-do list a mile high of back-to-school prep, household projects, appointments, and work deadlines. It’s just not right.

When it comes down to it, I guess somewhere inside I’m still a kid when it comes to summertime. I want my summer and I want it to be leisurely and I want someone else to come and take care of all the grown-up stuff! 

You, too?

I guess I need to plan a few “end-of-summer” things I can look forward to before the homeschool year begins. And I can live vicariously through others — like Mags, who’s off to Italy for two weeks on Sunday. She’ll be wandering the streets of Milan and lounging on beaches in Rimini while I’m in Target looking for ugly plastic binders and glue sticks. But, really, who’s comparing? Ha.

At least it’s Friday. We’re planning to spend some time with my brother and his family this weekend, and maybe get a few things checked off that crazy list. Hope your own weekend is lovely. Any exciting plans for the rest of the month?

Image: Nova Scotia wildflowers by Zoe Saint-Paul


Fun with Coded Messages

August 13, 2015

by Margaret Cabaniss

This was meant to be a “how to survive the summer doldrums” post, but apparently I blinked and now everyone’s sending their kids back to school already. How did that even happen?

Anyway: Regardless of whether school’s begun or you’re still counting down the days, this is a quick and easy little project that should keep the kids occupied for a solid five minutes at least: a cipher wheel.

My nephews got into codes and codebreaking a while back, so I thought it would be fun to send them some secret messages in the mail. The cipher wheel just takes the guesswork out of it: You print it up (free download here), cut it out, attach the wheels, and go. After that, it took no time at all to write up some coded messages and create a few “Top Secret” manila envelopes to mail it all in.

And that’s it! Not exactly the Enigma Machine, but good enough for a rainy afternoon — and an easy way to brighten some little person’s mailbox. Even better for a spy-themed birthday party, I’d think…

Anyone else get into codes as a kid? Have any good recipes for invisible ink?

Image: Margaret Cabaniss


Top of the World by Dave Meier

I brought a lot of relevant experience to my parenting: I’m the oldest of 10, spent many years as a babysitter and nanny, taught various kinds of classes to children, and worked therapeutically with kids during my graduate internships.

But much of the parenting wisdom that felt second nature to me I’ve had to throw out the window. It simply doesn’t work for my daughters. Especially in the area of discipline. As I read more and more about the latest in brain science and listen to stories from other parents, my beliefs about discipline have shifted.

A growing body of research shows that certain parts of children’s brains are underdeveloped and therefore reward and punishment approaches to behavior modification don’t always produce the best outcomes — at least long term. The brains of kids who’ve experienced trauma, like mine, are wired differently than kids who haven’t had that in their background, and these kids need a lot more than consequences to help them become healthy, mature young adults.

In the moment, we parents just want certain behaviors to stop; but the ultimate purpose of discipline is to teach children self-control, kindness, empathy, responsibility, etc. And building these kinds of character traits can require different tactics when a child is misbehaving.

This Mother Jones piece highlights some major studies that have shown how kids with diagnosed behavior problems — such as ADHD, RAD (reactive attachment disorder), and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) — are the most likely to be disciplined at school (and black kids are 31 per cent likely to be punished for similar violations than white or Latino kids).

Should we be imposing the harshest punishments on the most challenging kids when it’s not so much that they don’t want to behave, but their brains can’t do it? And if this is true, what does work for such kids and is this relevant to disciplining all kids?

Ross Greene, a psychologist and author profiled in the article advocates a very different approach to discipline than most parents (and teachers) are used to. (Greene wrote The Explosive Child and Lost at School, two highly praised books).

Greene’s method focuses on nurturing a strong relationship with the child, giving him a central (and age appropriate) role in solving his own problems, identifying the child’s challenges, and tackling those challenges as they come up. (The Mother Jones piece talks about a school in Maine that has instituted Greene’s methods with great success.)

If I’d read about this before parenting my own daughters, I would have viewed it as kind of fluffy and probably ineffective. I’d been around parents who never set boundaries with their kids and allow them to run the show. I wasn’t impressed.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here.  The brain science research — coupled with my own parenting experience now — has helped me to see that disciplining young kids is about helping their brains develop the neurons and connections that will make them capable of choosing what is right and good. Boundaries are necessary. Intervention is needed. It’s not laissez-faire parenting at all. But it’s different than the way most of us were disciplined as children.

I confess that I still give consequences sometimes. But I’ve come to see that this is usually more about my need to feel like I’m doing something and less about what really works for my daughters. When I focus on connecting with them (even when I feel more like yelling or running away) and address the root of what’s going on, I see better behavior. I also notice my daughters are better at regulating and expressing their emotions, curbing their behaviors, and solving their own problems.

What is your approach to discipline? Is it working, or do you find yourself frustrated and looking for new methods? What do you think of the article?

Image: Dave Meier at picography