April 2016

Pull Up A Chair

April 29, 2016

Girls with Rosie

Guess who got to hold their pet tarantula for the first time? S and H have been looking forward to this moment ever since Rosie Snackers arrived a few months ago. The terrarium had to be cleaned and it was the perfect excuse for them to finally get some hands-on time. I had visions of Rosie running away, getting lost in our disaster of a bedroom, and flipping out some night as she crawled over my face as I slept. (Yes, she lives in my bedroom. I think that should earn me the wife-of-the-year award.)

But, no. Apparently we’ve got ourselves the most docile and friendly arachnid on the planet. Not only that, Rosie loves being held. She gravitates to the girls, always coming up to the glass whenever they talk to her, and she didn’t want them to put her back—she kept trying to get out to them again. She loves B, too. I came into the room the other night and she was sitting in his hand, sound asleep. When he put her back, she kept coming to the corner, indicating she wanted out again. He thought it was the most adorable thing ever.

Rosie seemed to have a lot of personality from the beginning. She’s quite an interior decorator, constantly re-arranging things in her terrarium. We were surprised to observe she can dig amazingly well, and carry large amounts of dirt around. She also drinks water and grooms herself, washing her feet in the water bowl after climbing on walls, and she curls up into a ball and then slumps over when she falls asleep. She does all of this while being almost blind.

The only one who hasn’t held her yet is me. Can’t say it’s high on my list. I think she’s awfully interesting, and even cute —I’m getting quite a kick out of her. But there’s still something about the way a giant hairy spider moves—even a slow, friendly, personable one—that kind of weirds me out. My girls really want their mama to hold her, though, so I may need to bite the bullet soon and just do it.

In completely different and sad news, the man who’s responsible for bringing us delicious St-Germain elderflower liqueur passed away this week. Robert Cooper was only 39, so his death hit me as very sad since that’s so young. Seems only right to toast him with a lovely spring cocktail with St-Germain. So here’s a Lady Sybil from the Kitchn. Such an elegant drink!

Anything exciting happening this weekend? Lots on my list—we’ll see what gets accomplished. I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul



Empathy vs. Sympathy

April 28, 2016

Everyone loves Brené Brown and I must say, I like her stuff, too. In this lovely animated RSA Short, Brown talks about the difference between empathy and sympathy and how we can only create an authentic empathic connection if we’re brave enough to get in touch with our own vulnerability.

But when I watched this, I wasn’t sure I agreed with Brown’s definition of sympathy. She totally disses it. I guess it all  depends on how you define the word. I’ve always thought of sympathy as an early step to empathy, or a simple but valuable way to convey concern or care to someone. For instance, when you offer or send words of sympathy to someone who’s lost a loved one it’s a caring sentiment and conveys thoughtfulness. No, it’s not empathy — empathy is something else, more important, more involved. But that doesn’t mean sympathy is the opposite of empathy.

What do you think? Do you agree with Brown in this video? How have you understood the term sympathy?



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Stefan Kunze for unsplash

Spring weather in the mid-Atlantic is hiking weather. Not too cold, not too hot and humid, no mosquitoes or gnats yet — it’s the perfect time to get out on the trails. It took becoming parents to turn B and me into hikers. Whenever someone would rave about hiking, I thought it was just a fancy way of saying they went for a long walk. Anyway, now we’re big fans. And now there’s a bunch of research that can make every hiker out there like us feel even better about their fancy walking…

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that hiking in nature decreases obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin:

[The researchers] compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.

Not good news for city dwellers like us, but no surprise. Urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Another study by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer concluded that “technology and urban noise are incredibly disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be taxing to our cognitive functions.” That same study found that disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature drastically improves creative problem solving.

Hiking typically burns between 400–700 calories every hour, depending on the difficulty of the hike and your size. And (according to research out of the University of British Columbia) aerobic exercise such as hiking increases hippocampal volume — which is the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory — preventing memory loss. It also reduces stress and anxiety, boosts self esteem, and releases endorphins.

Hiking helps kids, too. A study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that “exposing children with ADHD to ‘green outdoor activities’ reduces symptoms significantly.”

My kids have not been diagnosed with ADHD, but a good hike seems to balance their moods and behaviors out. And I always experience a calming effect myself, as well a mood-enhancing effect — If I’m down or grumpy, even a short hike can really brighten my outlook.

Are you a hiker? Where’s your favorite place to hike? Do you notice tangible benefits from this kind of exercise?


Image: Stefan Kunze at unsplash

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Pull Up A Chair

April 22, 2016

Gouthaman Raveendran pic

I’ve been missing in action for the past couple of Fridays. Sometimes the end of the week arrives and I’m like what, it’s FRIDAY?? and I can’t get to blogging. But I’m here today, so yay for little victories!

It’s Passover this weekend (happy Passover to my Jewish readers!) and have to admit be being intrigued when I saw “Passover Cocktail Recipes for Each of the Ten Plagues.” It’s very possible that none of them are appropriate for  Passover — I don’t know enough about observing Jewish holidays — but they were too fun on their own to pass up (over?!) So, for our end-of-week drink, how about something to mark the first plague — locusts! Grab this Desert Swarm — with white rum, non-grain gin, organic peat juice, lemon juice, fresh egg white, organic blue agave syrup, a couple dashed of orange bitters, and club soda.

Speaking of hopping bugs, I keep reading about how the periodical cicadas are getting ready to erupt from the bowels of the earth here in Maryland any day now. Last time I heard cicadas were coming, I saw one or two, but the time before that was a whole different story. We were living in Washington, DC and for weeks, you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk without the crunch-crunch-crunch of cicadas under your feet and a buzzing so loud it made you feel a bit crazy.

In case you’re curious, some species of cicada come out each summer, but three species are known as “17-year-cicadas” (or periodical cicadas). They have the longest confirmed life cycle of any insect. Much of the mid-Atlantic and some of the northeast will see them a whole lot come May. Scientists don’t know the exact date, but according to Science Alert it will happen whenever the night-time soil temperature hits 64F (17 degrees Celsius) for four nights in a row at a depth of 8 inches (20.32 cm). Things will then get loud as the insects come out, climb trees, shed their exoskeletons, and the males start their mating chorus, which some people have described as “an alien spaceship coming in.”

Maybe I’ll come up with a cicada-inspired drink for their month-long visit!

Well, enough about insects, how are you? How was your week? Any exciting plans ahead? Things are kind of open here this weekend for a change, but it won’t stay that way for long with spring cleaning/organizing tasks to complete, side projects to work on, and the usual stuff of life. The gorgeous spring weather we’re having makes it hard to do anything but get outside. I wish these temps would stick around. We went hiking last weekend so maybe we’ll do it again.

Hope it’s a good one where ever you are! See you back here next week.

Image: Gouthaman Raveendran at unsplash



A New Kind of Ultrasound

April 20, 2016

When I saw the cover of John Grisham’s new novel the other day entitled The Tumor I thought it was a joke. The Tumor? But a further look revealed it’s quite serious. Grisham wrote a novel to tell the story of a medical treatment he wants to draw attention to — and if this video is any indication of its promise, I can see why.

Focused ultrasound, also known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) (or sometimes MRgFUS, for magnetic resonance guided focused ultrasound) is an early stage medical technology  — in various stages of development worldwide — being used to treat a range of diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, fibroids, and pain. It uses ultrasonic energy to target tissue deep in the body without needing to make incisions or use radiation.

Essentially it’s a sound therapy and the fundamental principle is like using a magnifying glass to focus sunlight on a specific spot to generate burning heat. Each individual beam passes through tissue with no effect, but “at the focal point, where the beams converge, the energy can have useful thermal or mechanical effects.” This treatment can be used by itself or enhance other conventional treatments.

HIFU has already been used in other parts of the world like Israel, Canada, and parts of Europe and Asia, but it’s relatively new in the United States. I’m always amazed when I hear stories like that of the woman in this video. I love thinking about how medicine may be different 10, 20, 50 years from now. I bet we’ll be doing a lot more with light and sound.

Have you heard of focused ultrasound? Does this intrigue you?





The Things You Never Did

April 18, 2016

Sean Stratton

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor and catch the trade winds in your sails…”

I’m old enough to know this to be true — at least for me. When I look back, the things that most disappoint me are those I didn’t do, or was afraid to do, and not so much what I did do.

When we were in the weeds of the adoption process, there were times I was tempted to give up and when I felt scared of the whole thing and wanted to run away. Most days this wasn’t the case but there were moments…. and at those times I would sit myself down and project myself 10, 15, 20 years from that point and ask myself what I would wish I’d done. And the answer would always be the same. Going to the other side of the world to meet two 4 year-olds who would become my daughters was way out of my comfort zone, but it remains the single best thing I’ve ever done. Although, come to think of it, that designation should perhaps go to my decision to marry B. As a child of divorce, I had a lot of anxiety about marriage — but here I am almost 13 years later, wondering where the time has gone. And if it weren’t for B, I don’t think I could have made it through our adoption process. I mean who would have handed me that Xanax and held my sweaty hand when I was having a panic attack on the plane? It was definitely a team effort and his support and encouragement (along with that from friends, family and help from above) made me a mom.

Even the small things we miss can become disappointments. It still bothers me that I failed to keep up with a particular person I met years ago, and I know there are many little things I’ve passed up or ignored only later to say, Shoot I should have done that.

Of course, there have also been things I didn’t do that I’m not disappointed about. Curious, maybe — as to how it would have changed my life — but no regrets. For instance, I remember being offered a dream job right after graduate school and, with no money in my bank account and no other prospects on the horizon, I turned it down. There was no rational reason to turn down that job — it was a hard decision, actually — but I wasn’t at peace about it so I said no. The next job I took, a few weeks later, is where I met my husband.

It does seem though that, generally, it’s what we don’t do that we end up having more regrets about — the opportunities we pass up, the risks we don’t take, the decisions we fail to make, the plans or goals we forget about. There are always reasons, practical, as well as circumstantial, and let’s not forget sheer laziness, which can factor in. But I think fear is always the biggie. It’s an interesting exercise to ponder what your life might look like now, or what you may have in your memory bank right now, if you hadn’t been afraid.

All of us have fears of some kind. Besides drawing on any faith we may have, the only way to overcome fear is to cultivate that which helps us push through it. Love certainly conquers fear — it’s the opposite of fear, really — but a strong sense of adventure, a desire to explore and experience, a deep sense of purpose or mission can also help us have the courage to move through fear into action.

Is there anything you didn’t do that you still feel disappointed about? Does that quote resonate with you?

Image: Sean Stratton at Unsplash



The Girl in the Picture

April 14, 2016

Do you remember the photo taken of a young girl, fleeing a napalm attack naked during the Vietnam War? It’s a famous picture taken by a Vietnamese journalist and eventually won a Pulitzer Prize. Kim Phuc is the name of the girl in the photo and she is now in her 50s. It wasn’t until this week that I saw the interview she did last year with CBS’ Jane Pauley. I find the photo so painful to look at but her touching story is one of hope, faith, and healing.



Internet Menagerie

April 11, 2016

Desk on blue

Let’s get the week started with a trip around the web! I’ve got some serious stuff here mixed in with lighter pieces and a few spring recipes. Have you spotted or read anything interesting lately yourself? I’d love to know!

  • Amazing:


Image: Padurariu Alexandru at Unsplash


Eating Your Utensils

April 7, 2016

I love learning about the innovative ideas people come up with to solve problems. I’d love to see where this one goes. What do you think? Would you buy these?


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It’s been a while since I’ve published an installment of “Parenting Against the Grain” and I’ve missed it! I launched this series to highlight interesting choices that parents are making to live a little differently with their children. Today, we’re going Down Under to talk to a lovely woman named Carley Morgan. I’ve been wanting to talk to Carley ever since she wrote to tell me that SlowMama had played a role in the decision she and her husband made to take two years off work, mid-career, to slow things down, spend time with their growing son, recalibrate, enjoy life, and build an off-grid house. They started a blog called 1 Million Minutes to detail their adventures, which they are well into now. I’m so glad to finally be able to share some of Carley’s story with you and hope you find it as inspiring as I do!

Carley and Family

Zoe Saint-Paul: Welcome, Carley! Tell us a little about you and your family.

Carley Morgan: Our little family consists of my husband (40), myself (35) and our soon to be 5 year-old son. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta (Canada), and my husband and son were both born in Perth, Australia, where we currently live. In the past 8 years we have lived in the U.S., Nigeria, and Singapore. We love travel, adventure, and living less conventionally. Both of our careers were in the Oil and Gas Industry. I stopped working before my son was born, however my husband continued to work until our “1 Million Minutes” adventure began, just over a year ago. While I tend to be more right-brain dominant and am interested in yoga, meditation, and the more spiritual aspects of life, my husband is very much the left-brain rational and logical one. Our son is a nice mix of the two of us — I say he’s got my heart and his dad’s brain, but really, he’s a typical little boy who loves learning, playing, running, and anything remotely gross or related to potty humor.

ZSP: What motivated you and your husband to take a two year break away from work and regular life?

CM: We decided to take a year off in 2011, and later it morphed into two years. We were living in Nigeria at the time when a colleague of my husband’s passed away suddenly. It dawned on my husband — who really loves the work he does — that he could easily see himself working into to his 70’s, if not longer. So we thought, why not take some time now, while we’re still young, to do something crazy and enjoy life? Why not spend time with our growing son while we have the energy and physical ability, and then work a little longer later on, when climbing mountains and building a house might be too physically demanding? We also realized that if we took time now we’d have greater ability to spend time and influence our son and create memories with him while he still wants to spend time with us. We were also becoming concerned that he never saw his dad actually doing work. My husband was very influenced by watching and learning from his dad, which he believes is the foundation for his strong work ethic, and he resolved to make sure that our son appreciates that work is more than trips to the office and email. In this way, we see our time as an investment in our son’s future disposition.

It would take a few years from that point before everything fell into place.

Off grid House in Perth

ZSP: What steps did you have to take to make it happen?

CM: Before we had even spoken about taking time off, my husband had been conceptualizing a house for years  one that could be flat-packed and modular built, flexible, sustainable, beautiful, and cost-effective. We just weren’t sure when we would build it and like many people, had casually slotted it in as a project for retirement. So the house was already in the back of our minds.

Before we even knew when 1MillionMinutes would start, we put the intention out there to buy a beautiful piece of land near Perth and we made the purchase in January 2012. While we could have started 1MillionMinutes shortly thereafter, an exciting two-year job opportunity came up for my husband in Singapore, which fit nicely into our plans as it gave us some more time to plan and save and also had us physically located closer to Perth to facilitate logistics and to spend more time with my husband’s family.

Although we had been talking about it for a few years, I think our decision still surprised most of our family, friends, and colleagues. Official discussions with my husband’s employer were initiated in July 2014 and we received confirmation on his leave of absence around October 2014. That really set the wheels in motion. Through all of this, my husband continued to work on the house plans and I started making arrangements for the move and transitioning our son to our new life. I also started a two-year diploma program. So while March 1, 2015, is the official start date of 1MillionMinutes, it truly began two or three years prior to that.

Carley and Son

ZSP: What exactly were your goals, and where are you in the process of achieving them?

CM: Our main goal was to spend time together, make memories, enjoy our family, and influence our son as much as possible. Reconnecting with friends and family was also important and is now a beautiful part of life.

Building the house was another big goal for us. Although it doesn’t look like a whole lot from the pictures, we are well on our way. The hardest part is the design phase since it’s never been done before and a lot of work has gone into getting ready to build. Moving through the process has been my lovely engineer of a husband’s greatest source of frustration and achievement. Now that the design is nearly complete and the construction phase has begun it should be fairly smooth going.

Personally, I wanted to challenge myself, to learn something new, meet new people, add value beyond our family, and to find new ways to share myself with the world. I decided to do this by completing a 2-year diploma in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. Now that I’ve graduated, I’ll put some effort into building up a private practice.

We were extremely conscious of the impacts that stress and a transient lifestyle had on our bodies and minds so we wanted to focus on learning more about ourselves and being healthy. We did the best we could prior to 1MillionMinutes, but we both agree that we’re currently at our physical, mental, and emotional bests and really enjoy preparing healthy food, engaging in physical activities, and having the energy to work hard while still enjoying life.

Each day we realize that we’re accomplishing things that we hadn’t even intended to do; that’s what seems to happen when you have time and space and good health. Life begins to flow and opens up to amazing things.

Carley with Diploma

ZSP: What have been the most rewarding parts of this decision so far?

CM: By far, spending time with our son and our family and friends. Memories and relationships are very important to us and truly the only thing that can never be taken away. We are also really pleased with our health and fitness now, being able to volunteer in my son’s classroom, having the time to contemplate life and really think about things, explore them and make them a reality. I really enjoy working with my clients and seeing their commitment to health and healing and witnessing their progress. There really isn’t any part of this decision that isn’t a reward for us.

ZSP: What have been the greatest challenges?

CM: The single greatest challenge we had to overcome was the fear of actually going ahead with 1MillionMinutes and leaving behind a very comfortable lifestyle. This fear now seems ridiculous, but was overwhelming at times before we made the decision. I went through a bit of an emotional rollercoaster when we finally arrived in Perth as there were many logistics that were unfolding and the stress of the past few years ,and the move, finally caught up with me. But we were well-positioned as a family to take some time to relax, heal, and regroup so while it was a bit challenging, it has been a blessing for us all. My husband has had a few intense engineering issues with the house, but we have grown to work with and support each other through anything and really, challenges aren’t really bad, but simply part of the process.

ZSP: How has this two-years-off plan affected your marriage and your parenting? And what has been the reaction of extended family and friends?

CM: As far as affecting our marriage, it has strengthened and reinforced the love, respect, and commitment we have towards each other. The mutual level of trust has deepened and our desire to be the best we can be for each other and our son has grown exponentially. We truly enjoy spending time together and this 1MillionMinutes has been such a gift.

Our parenting hasn’t changed much as far as philosophies go — we’re very much attachment-based parents. However, given that we no longer have the stresses of a hectic work life, we’re both able to be more present, mindful, creative, and patient in our parenting. We are very purposeful in our interactions with him and really look for opportunities to help him understand what it means to appreciate nature, work hard, be thoughtful and creative when problem solving, be mindful, enjoy life, and be a compassionate human being.

When we first started talking about 1MillionMinutes most people humored us with the discussion, but didn’t expect anything to come of it so there was a lot of surprise at the beginning when we actually did it. Our close family and friends have been incredibly supportive and we’ve met may new friends who are very interested and excited to see what happens. We’ve also let go of some friends and others have let go of us. It’s really been an amazing journey so far.

Smoking Ceremony

ZSP: Can you tell me a bit about the Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony you held prior to building your new home?

CM: We are well aware that there’s more to this universe than meets the eye and we’re also very aware that we’re only caretakers of the beautiful property that we purchased; it will go on to exist far longer than we walk the earth. For thousands of years, others have cared for and communed with this land. It was important for us to build our home on in the most respectful and sustainable way and that meant learning about its past and honoring those who have come before us. Having Uncle Ben Taylor (a respected Noongar Elder and Order of Australia recipient) and his family share their history, their culture, their passion, and their spiritual ceremony with us was one of the most profound experiences we’ve been privileged to participate in. We respect Aboriginal Peoples and feel that the results of poorly implemented government and church programs, and their devastating impacts on Aboriginal Peoples throughout the world, is a tragedy. We recognize the importance of these types of ceremonies not only for our own benefit, but also for the role that they play in the healing process of Aboriginal communities. We are now connected to the land’s past and responsible for its future in both the physical and spiritual sense.

Carley and Family

ZSP: What lessons have you learned so far and how do you think you have changed from this experience? 

CM: Time is precious. Living in the present moment is far easier if you’re not stressed out and tired from work. While I still have to remind myself to be present sometimes, it’s far easier to do these days.

ZSP: If someone out there has a similar dream — to take a sabbatical from their life or to build an off-grid home — what steps would you advise them to take and what do you think they should know?

CM: Here’s what I would advise:

Start planning as early as possible so you can get your finances in order and be debt-free (or have enough money saved to cover ongoing expenses like a mortgage).

Simplify your life well before you get started. Sell or donate physical items you don’t use/need, dial back your social calendar, take steps to improve your health.

Spend time thinking about what you want to do with your time off.  How can you be productive? Set some goals and plan ways to achieve them. It’s not a vacation!

Evaluate the relationships you have in your life and know who your supporters are and how they can help you.

Work through the fear and entire range of emotions that come along with this type of life change.  They are there for a reason and understanding them ahead of time will put you in good standing to be conscious and grounded.

In summary, be clear with your goals. Know what’s important to you and why, and then make the time to make it happen.


I love Carley’s point that this kind of sabbatical is not a vacation. I think another message that comes through loud and clear is: Why wait? Sometimes we need to in order to plan and prepare, of course, but who says reaching important goals and enjoying our families is only for retirement? It’s not easy to make such decisions, but I like how  Carley and her husband overcame their fears and made the leap. I sense that when their 1 million minutes is over, things will never quite be the same. Many thanks to Carley for sharing some of her amazing adventure with SlowMama! 

Friends, does the idea of taking time out to accomplish certain goals and dreams appeal to you? What would it take to make that happen?

Also, be sure to check out previous installments of Parenting Against the Grain:

Elimination Communication

Taking A Family Sabbatical

Going Furniture Free

The Modern Nomads


Images from Carley Morgan

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