Books, Music & Films

Downton Abbey Pic

So the new season of Downtown Abbey has begun, and although numerous friends (and my husband) swore off watching another episode after last season’s finale, a few of them are reconsidering. (It’s those wardrobes, I swear — you can only tear yourself away from the eye candy for so long…)

Anyway, you may have seen this quiz floating around Facebook: “Which ‘Downton Abbey’ Character Are You?“ And while I sincerely wish I could tell you that I did not end up being Lady Mary, I cannot tell a lie. Hey, don’t judge until you take the quiz. I think I chose the wrong Twitter bio — or maybe it was the martini? Either way, here’s what it told me after I answered the questions:

You are Lady Mary. You’re quite lovely once people get to know you. But that rarely happens, since most people are insufferable idiots.

Honestly, I like people way more than that. This thing is rigged! Still, I’m a sucker for silly quizzes like this, so I had to share it here for all you Downtown fans. Which character do you get? Will you be watching the new season? I’ll stream the episodes online eventually, since we don’t have a TV, but I may have to watch it solo this time…

Image: PBS, via The Vulture

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Cookbook Giveaway Winner!

November 11, 2013

It's All Good Interior

It’s time to announce the giveaway winner for Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good cookbook! I’ve been excited to find out who the lucky person will be, and now I don’t have to wait any longer. The winner is:

Erin

Congrats, Erin! I’d love to hear how you like this cookbook, and what recipes become your favorites. (On my meal plan this week are the salmon burgers, and just last week I made the veggie dumplings and beet salad — and both turned out great!) Please contact me to claim your prize. Thanks to everyone who entered.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Come Rain Or Come Shine

As both a new parent and an adoptive parent, I’m always on the look-out for resources to help me be the best mom I can be. So when the new book by Rachel Garlinghouse called Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children caught my attention, I asked Rachel if she’d stop by and tell us more about it.

Rachel is mothering three brown babies, all adopted domestically. She bakes without ceasing, blogs at White Sugar, Brown Sugar, and writes and talks about transracial adoption in her “spare” time. Rachel has appeared on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry as well as The Daily Drum national radio show, and her family has been featured in Essence magazine. Her articles have been published by MyBrownBaby.com, Madame Noire, and Adoptive Families. Most impressive to me is that she actually wrote a book with young children underfoot — such an accomplishment!

Rachel Garlinghouse

Zoe Saint-Paul: Many families adopt children from other countries, ethnic backgrounds, and races, but few write books about it. It’s such a big undertaking! What prompted you to write Come Rain or Come Shine?

Rachel Garlinghouse: When my husband and I decided to be open to adopting a child of any race, we wanted to get educated. Unfortunately, there were very few resources available, and most of the books we did find were outdated or too textbook-ish. Furthermore, the Multiethnic Placement Act prevents many agencies from asking adoptive parents a lot of questions (Why are you choosing transracial adoption? Are you ready?) and providing better education. After we adopted three times transracially, I published the book I wish I would have had when we started our adoption journey. The book is conversational and practical, and it’s no textbook.

Your book is subtitled “A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children.” Does your book apply to other transracial families — such as white parents who adopt Hispanic or Asian children? Black parents who adopt white kids? 

The book mainly focuses on white parents and their black children; however, much of the book’s contents apply to adoption in general and any combination of transracial adoption.

What have you found to be the greatest challenge of parenting children who have a different skin color than yours?

It’s obvious to everyone that we are an adoptive family, so we encounter more questions, comments, compliments, and insults than a same-race adoptive family. The biggest challenge for us right now is constantly being asked about the kids, “Are they real siblings?” It’s incredibly insulting to be asked that question, because the asker’s definition of “real” is biological. Therefore, the kids aren’t “real” siblings, Steve and I aren’t the “real” parents, and we aren’t a “real” family. It saddens me that society continues to put a disclaimer on the authenticity of our family.

What are three things you wish others understood about transracial adoption?

1) Love isn’t enough. Transracial adoptees, research shows, need far more than just a great family. Families should get educated before adopting transracially and continue that education for the rest of their lives.

2)  The decision to adopt transracially should be taken seriously. In the book, I provide a list of things to consider before choosing to be open to a transracial adoption. Just because we have a black president, it doesn’t mean we are living in a post-racial world.

3) My family is real. We don’t look anything alike and we don’t share genes, but we are as real as it gets.

Rachel and Zay

Before we picked up our girls in Ethiopia, a friend told me he admired us for adopting black children, because all the white  couples he knew who were interested in adoption would never do that. Why do you think this is the case?

In my experience, white couples are most afraid of two things when it comes to adopting transracially: acceptance of the child by friends, family, and their community, and doing black hair. The hair reasoning comes from a deeper issue: a lack of understanding of black history and culture. The remedy for both of these is education.

Our girls do not identify as “black” and have never heard the term; Ethiopians consider themselves “brown.” How do people who are parenting children from many backgrounds — African-American, Ethiopian, Congolese, Haitian, etc. — help children to develop their identities without putting labels on them that may or may not apply? 

I used the term “black” in my book in the hope to not exclude non-African-American adoptees. Like your girls, my girls consider themselves “brown” (and we, their parents, are “pink”). I think, as our children grow up, they will choose the term/label they are most comfortable with, and we (parents, friends, society) should respect whatever they choose.

Open adoptions are very common today (in domestic adoption, at least), and you address this in your book. Why, in your view, should potential adoptive parents welcome it?

When adopting transracially, having an open adoption can provide the child with another connection to his or her racial community. Obviously, having an open adoption offers many other benefits, such as an ongoing relationship with birth family members and information about the birth family’s medical history, family traditions, etc. Open adoption isn’t for everyone, and like any aspect of adoption, it should be researched and considered before a decision is made.

I’m impressed with the amount of resources you list in your book. In your view, what are the must-have children’s books that address adoption and/or being a transracial family?

There are so many fantastic books for children, and thankfully, more and more authors are taking on the subject of adoption and race. Some of my children’s favorites are:

I’d love to hear more about your Adoptive Mamas of the Metro support group: How did it come about? What do you do when you meet?

Adoptive Mamas of the Metro came about in 2009. I was attending a church that had ten adoptive families in it (out of just 300 members!); I was new to adoption and wanted support and education, so I gathered all the adoptive moms together and we started meeting once a month. Now, four years later, our group has seventy local adoptive and prospective-adoptive moms. A few times a year we have a speaker at our meetings, but otherwise, we just get together and talk about our adoption joys and challenges. We are continually adding more moms to our group by word-of-mouth and simply approaching adoptive families whenever we see them in stores, restaurants, parks, etc.

Garlinghouse Children

How have you been personally changed by adoption — particularly transracial adoption?

Transracial adoption has brought me to a place where I now understand what it’s like to be a person of color. Whites, by default of white privilege, tend to be trusted (not doubted) and respected (not dismissed). Whites have opportunities that blacks do not. I go into a lot of detail on this subject in the book.

Most of all, I never doubted that I would love the children who would become mine through adoption, but I don’t think I understood the depth of the love I would have for them, and for their biological parents and siblings.

*****

Thanks, Rachel, for taking the time to tell us about your new book and for your passion for helping adoptive families and prospective adoptive parents.

Come Rain or Come Shine is available on Amazon (in print or e-reader format) or from any major book retailer. You can keep up with Rachel on her blog, White Sugar, Brown Sugar, on Twitter (@whitebrownsugar), or on Facebook.

Images: 1, Zoe Saint-Paul; 2 and 4, Jill Heupel photography; 3, La Jolie Vie Photography

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Why Do You DIY?

August 15, 2013

by Margaret Cabaniss

Why Do You DIY?

If you’re reading this right now, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re a DIY fan. Most of us here probably aren’t going off the grid anytime soon, but SlowMama readers tend to be an amazing bunch of bakers, crafters, knitters, gardeners, sewers, and general-interest doers of things with your hands.

So here’s my question: Why? What is it about these hands-on, old-time-y pursuits that appeals to you?

Recently I picked up Emily Matchar’s new book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which is what started me thinking about our current DIY mania. Anyone with eyes and an internet connection can see that the “New Domesticity,” as Matchar calls it, is big business these days, but where did the boom start, and why?

Matchar has a few theories (quoted from her book):

  1. A rising sense of distrust toward government, corporations, and the food system
  2. Concern for the environment
  3. The gloomy economy
  4. Discontent with contemporary work culture
  5. The draw of hands-on work in a technology-driven world
  6. An increasingly intensive standard of parenting

Homeward Bound

I wouldn’t say all of these apply to everyone, but at least a few of them apply to me — particularly 4 and 5. When I started writing for SlowMama, I was working from home for an internet-based company; I enjoyed the work and my coworkers, but when all your efforts are stored in 0s and 1s in the ether, you really start to crave an outlet with actual results you can see and touch (or eat).

Matchar goes on:

[Author Matthew] Crawford thinks the current mania for “the home economics of our grandmothers” — the knitting, the gardening, the sewing your own clothes — is really about the search for purpose in an increasingly impersonal high-tech culture, a struggle he sees as being “at the very center of modern life.”

Add in the political, environmental, and economic instability that we read about in the papers today, and the consumerist culture that dominated for the past few decades definitely starts to lose its shine. When you consider that it was only within the last 50-100 years or so that the average person could get away with not knowing some of these skills, our culture’s renewed interest in them today starts to look more like a simple return to form.

Of course, most people likely wouldn’t answer the question in such global terms; usually, it’s much more personal. As I put it in my very first post for this site:

I realize what a rare thing it was to have a mother who could cook homemade meals every day, or sew our clothes, or whip up little crafts…essentially, do any of the number of things that she did all the time without a thought. Now that I’m on my own, I understand how valuable those skills really are — not just as ways to save money, live simply, and be more self-sufficient (though of course those, too), but as ways to show our love for and connection to the people and things we care about.

There’s so much else to talk about in Matchar’s book — the history of homemaking; the modern rise of DIY blogs (ahem); the real benefits of the modern blog explosion (greater community, work-from-home opportunities, creative outlets), as well as its drawbacks (blogger envy, unrealistic expectations for home life)…if any of this interests you, I definitely recommend picking up a copy.

For now, though, I’m curious: Why do you DIY? What do you think of Matchar’s explanations for the new DIY movement?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss, Simon & Schuster

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Summer Reading

I remember telling myself to enjoy every. single. second I had for reading before my girls arrived. There was never enough time as it was, but I knew motherhood would cut way down on reading time – and boy, was I right. My to-do list never fits into the “free” minutes I have, and reading is one of the things that always gets the shaft. I do read online in quick snippets — blogs, news, the occasional article — but it’s just not the same as curling up with a book in hand.

My husband recently encouraged me to start carving out a little time for rejuvenation — including reading — away from my computer. When he took S and H out this past Saturday afternoon for some father-daughter time, I found myself tempted to pay bills, grab my computer, or work on our family budget. Instead, I reached for a book I’ve been wanting to read, and when B came home, I said, “I have a big problem thanks to you: I can’t put this thing down!” (I somehow still managed to get dinner on the table.)

I’ve always loved summer reading lists and am now excited about tackling my own again. Of course, I’ll be lucky if I get to half my stack by Christmas, but at least I’ll enjoy trying! Here’s what’s on my bedside table:

The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Adventure by Philip Marsden

This is the one I mentioned above that I can’t put down. I’m obsessed with books that help me know my girls’ birth country better, but even if I didn’t care two hoots about Ethiopia, I’d adore this book because Marsden can write. If you like compelling travel memoirs, pick up a copy. I just want to go sit on a beach and lose myself in the rest of this book.

The Barefoot Emperor: An Ethiopian Tragedy by Philip Marsden

Because Marsden is such a gifted writer, B picked this one up, too. It’s another book about Ethiopia — a place Marsden was awed by and loved to write about. This book is focused on a historical episode in Ethiopian history, and it promises to be just as good as Chains of Heaven.

The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling by Quinn Cummings

A friend sent me this book when I told her we were were considering homeschooling. I started reading it and got side-tracked, but I can’t wait to get back to it. Cummings is one of the funniest writers ever; I think I laughed out loud every second page. And could a writer be better with metaphors? I so wish I could write like her. Anyway, this is a fun book for any parent wrestling with questions about his or her child’s education.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler

I’ve been wanting to read this one ever since I heard about it, but it’s a book that’s hard to describe. Adler focuses on the home cook here, teasing out the simple ways we can all improve our experience in the kitchen and at the table. That’s about all I know right now, but I look forward to telling you more!

Big Machine: A Novel by Victor Lavalle

I know nothing about this book, other than the fact that my husband couldn’t put it down and thought it was such a clever, incredibly well-constructed novel that he declared I had to read it and stuck it on my bedside table. He thinks it would be perfect for a book club. And it certainly seems like one of those perfect novels to take on vacation.

In Ethiopia with a Mule by Dervla Murphy

I told you I’m obsessed with any books about Ethiopia. This travel memoir is a favorite of a well-traveled friend of mine who sent it to me as a gift. I love that this one is by a woman and look forward to seeing how it compares and contrasts to Marsden’s stories.

Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling by Helene Dujardin

I’ve already read some of the chapters in this book; it’s great that way, where you can pick it up and read sections at different times. Dujardin — known for her lovely food blog, Tartelette – provides clear, step-by-step instructions, helpful tips, and lots of gorgeous photos to drool over. If you like to take photos of food (like I do) and want to improve, this is a terrific guide — perfect for amateurs.

****

I’d love to hear about what you’re reading (or hoping to read) this summer!

(Full disclosure: I’m an Amazon Affiliate, and if you use the links above to order any books, I’ll get a small benefit.) 

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Minimalist Parenting

I’ve been wanting to tell you about this book for weeks, but I had to read it first. Quiet time with books is hard to come by these days! It was the title that first caught my attention. I was sure that “minimalist parenting” must have a lot in common with the values of slow living — and I was right.

Authors Christine Koh (founder and editor of Boston Mamas) and Asha Dornfest (founder of ParentHacks) — two successful, tech-savvy moms who found themselves overwhelmed and needing a change — took their wisdom and wrote a book for parents about creating simpler, less cluttered, less chaotic lives by focusing on your family’s values and changing the way you make everyday decisions. Here’s an excerpt from their introduction:

Never before have parents been faced with so many choices — of child-rearing philosophies, work schedules, educational options, savings plans, gadgets and gear, nutritional advice, even entertainment possibilities for our dwindling free time… Choice is good, but the sheer magnitude of choice we face today is overwhelming, even paralyzing. Minimalist Parenting is our prescription for how to handle too much of a good thing. We’ll show you how to minimalize your family life — how to edit your schedule, possessions, and expectations so there’s more of what you love and care about and less of what you don’t.

What I love most about the book is the practical advice it contains and how personal Koh and Dornfest make it, sharing their own experiences and lessons learned over the years as working women, moms, and wives. They also include many ideas and comments readers have left on their website, MinimalistParenting.com. You can easily read their book in small chunks and return to the ideas and suggestions as needed.

The authors don’t cover every lifestyle area, but there are chapters on time management, decluttering, finances, education and school, meal planning, playtime, vacations, celebrations, and self-care. Minimalism is defined as giving yourself “formal permission to step off the modern parenting treadmill and to have fun while doing it.” Having read the book, the authors’ take on minimalism is really about knowing what’s important to your family, simplifying, and shifting your mentality.

From time to time I think about writing a book about slow living or parenting, and many of the ideas in this book are similar to what I would envision being in my own book. Perhaps I’ve just been saved a lot of time by Koh and Dornfest! Regardless, any modern parent will get a lot from Minimalist Parenting. If you pick up a copy, let me know what you find most helpful in the book!

Image via Bibliomotion

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Graham Book Lead Pic

Today I’m participating in a virtual book tour for Jennifer Graham’s new book, Honey, Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner, published by Breakaway Books.

“Fat” and “runner” are two things I’m not, but I love good writing, books that make me laugh, and inspirational stories — and Jennifer’s memoir is all that. If you’re a runner, or if you’ve ever aspired to run, you’ll love it. Her book speaks to anyone still trying to figure out how to get fit once and for all, or who has ever struggled with body image or a painful past.

I asked Jennifer to share a bit about her new book, and I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.

Honey Book Cover

Zoe Saint-Paul: Jennifer, this is a well-written and entertaining read — and I mean that in the best way, because you write about some painful stuff. Why did you write the book?

Jennifer Graham: First, thank you so much for your kind comments, and for having me here! The book grew out of an essay I wrote for Newsweek magazine a few years ago. The essay was called “Confessions of a Fat Runner,” and in it, I talked about what it was like to run my first half-marathon, feeling like a walrus among a herd of gazelles. At the time, it was a bit unnerving, but it turned out that walruses and gazelles get along just fine, and nobody stopped me and said, “Hey, what are you doing here?”

After that essay was published, I heard from a lot of people who are like me — runners who don’t look like the archetypical runner — and several of them encouraged me to develop the idea into a book.

I’m one of those readers who, halfway in, looked at your photo and thought, “Fat? What is she talking about?” I’ll grant that you may be bigger than your tribe of runners, but I’m surprised at the strong identification of yourself as fat (which you say began in childhood). Do you think a woman can truly change her body image?

Oh yes, I do, and it’s because mine changes every week! Fat is a state of mind, not a state of body. I know this because there have been times when I weighed 180 pounds and felt like a glob of mayonnaise in human form, yet there have been times when I weighed 180 pounds and felt like a feather. The reality didn’t matter. This is one reason I’m not a big fan of reality.

As for the photo, I’ll share a little story. When we were still brainstorming ideas for the cover of the book, a friend of mine who is a photographer spent a day with me, taking pictures of me running. When we tried to make a selection, every one I liked, she thought I looked too thin, and every one she liked, I thought I looked too fat! (We did wind up using one of those on the back cover, by the way.) Anyway, while a realistic picture of me might give more credence to my credentials as a fat runner, ego prevailed.

Jennifer Graham Running

In running, you found a passion, an outlet, a way to cope, and something to achieve. How has running changed you as a person over the years?

How many hours have you got?

The first thing that comes to mind is a line from a song that’s on my running playlist, “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers. It’s this: “Man, I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same.”

At a casual glance, my body hasn’t changed all that much. I’m still overweight, still can’t fit into clothes that I couldn’t fit into when I first started running. Look closer, though, and I see I’ve got legs that are as strong as Sequoias, I’ve got blood pressure that shocks and amazes my doctor, and I’ve got a resting pulse rate in the 50s, which is that of elite athletes. In short, even though I’m still fat, I’m undeniably fit.

Most importantly, though, running has made my default emotional state that of joy. This is not to say that I’m not ever despairing, or angry, or grumpy — I am those things, a lot — but those are the aberrations. As long as I’m running regularly, usually I’m stewing in contentment. That’s because the runner’s high is not just a state of euphoria that you experience on the road, but it stays with you long after you stop moving. In fact, sometimes it’s hours after a run, when I’m feeling all clean and relaxed and accomplished, that running gives me the most pleasure.

What are the spiritual lessons you’ve learned from running?

I read an essay on running this morning in which the writer said that when she runs, she’s running to God. I think that’s a beautiful way of expressing the spiritual side of the run. So many times, when I’m out there, it’s like I’m running from something…running away from the noise of my children, the mess in the house, painful memories of my divorce. But it’s true that runners are also running toward something, and often, it’s that big, inexplicable, holy thing that animates us, a thing that I happen to call God.

Has being a runner changed the kind of mother you are?

If I didn’t run, I know I would be a lot more explosive, a lot less patient, a lot less loving, a lot less willing to snuggle and read Harry Potter at the end of a long, tiring day. So there’s no question that it’s made me a better mother. And my kids are aware of it, too. When I start to get cranky, inevitably, one of them will say, “Mom, how long has it been since you went for a run?”

I’ve tried to like running and just can’t seem to do it. I’d rather be dancing or doing yoga or just walking. But you can’t beat a form of exercise that only requires a proper pair of shoes and the great outdoors. Should I keep trying since I like the idea of it, or do you think some people are just not born to be runners?

This question vexes me greatly, because I really hesitate to encourage people to do things that they hate! And if you find joy and fitness in dancing, then that’s your thing, and you should probably focus on that. But I do believe that the human body is meant to be in motion, and that it thrives from being in motion to the point of exhaustion. As William James said, “The strenuous life tastes best.” Also, I think there is great value in being able to run faster than zombies. Yoga will not help you at all with that. So running is not just a form of exercise, but a potentially life-saving skill.

What do you wish someone had told you about being a runner before you ever started?

That what other people think DOES NOT MATTER. That there will always be skinnier and faster people out on the road, but it doesn’t matter, because 1) they’re not paying any attention to me, and 2) if they were, they would ADMIRE me, because it takes a lot more courage for an overweight person to lace up and run down a public road than it does a skinny person. Fat runners are the bravest people I know.

What’s your current dream for your running life?

Well, I gained 10 pounds and got much slower over the winter, so right now, my dream is to get back to the level of fitness that I had just six months ago. Beyond that, of course, the Olympics. (Reality is highly overrated.)

Barring that, I would love to run the Boston Marathon, given that I’ve been a lowly spectator now for eight years. And I would really love to be competitive in my age group some day, although that may not be until I’m in my 90s.

Jennifer with Donkeys

How are your donkeys, Jo-Jo and Foggy?

Unfortunately, they’re still happy and thriving, and continuing to be a useless drain of resources on the family — kind of like teenagers who happen to bray. But they don’t seem nearly as much work since we got a Border collie, which constantly needs exercise and grooming and tooth brushing and walking, plus with the added negative of pooping on the basement carpet, something that donkeys never, ever do. So the life lesson is one that also extends to running: When something seems hard, just keeping adding more stress and pressure, and after a while, what you previously thought was difficult will seem easy. P.S. — I’m having a sale this week: Buy 100 copies of the book, get two free donkeys and a Border collie.

********

Jennifer is just as hilarious and honest in person as she is in her book; you can read more about her here, and be sure to check out Confessions of a Fat Runner. A big thanks to Jennifer and her publicist, Emily Hedges, for asking me to participate in this book tour!

Images: Debra-Lynn Hook

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by Ann Waterman

Car-Ride

In January, we said goodbye to our hip and sporty SUV and embraced the patently uncool minivan: Hello automatic doors, rear back-up camera, bluetooth phone, and room aplenty! Besides, being cool doesn’t matter when you have more cup holders than passenger capacity.

As much as I love all the family-friendly features our van boasts, the one feature we opted not to get was the television entertainment package (much to my seven-year-old’s disappointment). Part of the reason was financial — the upgrade would have cost more than we wanted to spend — but the other, more important reason was that we wanted to avoid requests to turn on the TV every time we got in the van. I’m not anti-TV, but I am anti-TV-all-the-time, and my husband and I felt it would be best for our family to simply steer clear of the temptation entirely. Besides, in the time we’ve gotten by without a television in our vehicles, we’ve discovered the wonderful world of audio books and great music to entertain the kids — why would we want to mess with such a good thing?

I picked up my first audio book while perusing the shelves at my local library. My son really loved being read to, and I thought he might enjoy listening to some stories while we ran errands around town. Boy, was I right! As soon as we came to end of the audio book, my son enthusiastically asked if I’d play it again. And again. And again. I counted down the days until the return date so we could pick up more audio books (for both our sakes).

Since that time, we’ve listened to many different books, as well as some really great kid’s music that even my husband and I enjoy. Our audio system serves a larger purpose than simply entertaining the kids, though: It’s become an important part of after-school learning (even though our kids would never think of it in those terms). Many of the audio selections we’ve chosen cover history, classic literature, and music education, but they’re presented in such an engaging manner that my kids eat it up — and mom and dad find themselves learning a thing or two along the way. Here are a few of our favorite audio picks for kids:

Rabbit Ears Listening Library — For classic stories and fairy tales narrated by great voices such as John Hurt, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep, check out this fantastic audio series. It delighted both my kids and me.

51nEfAT9YwL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX285_SY380_CR,0,0,285,380_SH20_OU01_ Tubby the Tuba — I used to love listening to this story (on vinyl, no less) about a tuba trying to be more than just the accompaniment in his orchestra and was thrilled to share it with my kids. It’s a nice way to introduce kids to orchestral instruments and the sounds they make.

The Story of the World — This is a four-volume series narrated by Jim Weiss (whose voice has been described as “liquid gold” by CNN-TV) that covers history from the nomads up to modern times and was specifically created for children. I was fully prepared for my son to declare it boring, but much to my surprise, he ate it up and listened to the 7- disc set of volume 1 (nomads to the fall of the Roman empire) about ten times over — I kid you not. He was into the series so much that he wanted to name his baby brother Julius Caesar (Theseus was a close second). Jim Weiss’s narration is captivating, and even my husband and I couldn’t wait to get in the car just so we could listen to it — well, at least on the first round.

Human history can be brutal at times, so you may want to use some parental discretion and be prepared to have some discussions with your kids about why people act the way they do. My son was 6 the first time we listened to the series, and while he had some questions that generated some good discussions, he was comfortable with the material.

51y-NNpzKeL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX285_SY380_CR,0,0,285,380_SH20_OU01_

Beethoven’s Wig — A musical friend recommended this series that grafts witty lyrics onto great classical masterpieces. The lyrics tell you a bit about each song’s composer and highlight certain unique characteristics of the song. It’s a little zany, but it will leave you and your kids in stitches and a little more educated about classical music.

Putumayo Kids — Let’s be honest: Some kids’ music makes you want to poke your eyes out (or at least pop in some ear plugs). This globally inspired series must have been created with adults in mind, because I’ve enjoyed every CD I’ve listened to. Each disc highlights music from a different culture and features lots of international artists. The music is fun, beautiful, and is a great opportunity to introduce your kids to different languages and countries.

We’re always looking to expand our audio collection. Do your kids have any favorites?

Images: Ann Waterman, Amazon

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Playing With Instruments

As it is for a lot of families, music is a big deal in our house. B is a huge music lover and believes it’s important for children to hear great music from a young age — though how exactly to introduce them to music in an engaging way can sometimes be a more complex question.

Recently, I learned one simple (and ingenious) approach to this problem when I was invited to the home of a neighborhood mom for a casual, one-hour music concert for children (and their parents/caregivers). Stephanie Woo — a Montessori trained teacher and mom to twin two-year-old girls — noticed how her girls were fascinated by musicians in the subway (they were living in New York City at the time) and thought it would be fun if they could experience music like that in a more structured way — and so she began hosting regular live children’s concerts in her own home.

Stephanie tracked down musicians willing to come into her home and play for 45-60 minutes to an audience of little ones and their parents. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, so she kept the concerts going, bringing the idea here to Baltimore when she moved.

Stephanie and Daughter

To compensate the musicians, Stephanie charges a small fee per child — usually $5 — so she doesn’t have to eat all the cost herself. And she invites parents and caregivers to bring snacks and drinks for their kids.

Kids' Concert

My girls and I have been to three concerts: A violinist came one afternoon, a French horn player the next time, and a guitarist most recently. Each musician played a few children’s songs — like Twinkle Twinkle Little StarThis Old Man, and The Itsy Bitsy Spider – but they also played selections from their own musical repertoires: classical, bluegrass, celtic music, even (in the case of the guitarist) a little rock and some contemporary selections. Each musician introduced the instrument at the beginning, allowed the children to touch and examine it, and encouraged singing and dancing to the songs.

This is not a quiet, attentive audience — something impossible when you have babies, toddlers, and preschoolers doing their thing. It helps that Stephanie’s home is set up Montessori-style, so it’s an inviting place for children. But this is probably best described as a play-date with live music, rather than a concert; the point is not to force children to sit and appreciate music like adults but to expose them to the sights and sounds of live instruments, make music fun, and have them hear a variety of musical selections.

S Enjoying Concert

Sadly for those of us who’ve enjoyed these events, Stephanie and her family are packing up for Oregon next week. I’m hoping someone else in the neighborhood will pick up the baton; it’s certainly something I’d consider in the future, once we have more space… But I’m grateful to Stephanie for introducing me (and the girls!) to such a great idea. It’s a simple, creative way to help children learn to love good music — no matter how old they are.

Are you a music-lover? How have you brought music into your family life?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul. The cutie in the hat and glasses is S enjoying a concert; our host, Stephanie, and one of her daughters is pictured above.

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Pull Up a Chair

January 25, 2013

downton-cast

Are you watching the new season of Downton Abbey? If so, what do you think so far — better than last year’s? Disappointing? B and I like it better than season two so far (yes, he watches with me): I never seem to tire of the costumes and sets, and I must say that watching Shirley McLaine and Maggie Smith face off this season was about as good as it gets.

This week I’m conjuring up the Downton spirit and offering a choice of drinks in honor of the lovely Crawley sisters. These libations are the creations of bartender Nancy Mitchell, a blogger and fan of the show, who came up with a drink for each sister and posted them at thekitchn last year. The Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil all look delicious, but I think the sloe gin and freshly squeezed citrus in the Lady Edith has to be my choice today as I tell you about my week:

My high: Having B home on Monday for the holiday. We didn’t do anything exciting — lots of errands, hanging out with the girls, giving a presentation that evening at church — but every day that we spend together as a family is the best. Seeing B and the girls together warms my heart: They love their Daddy, and he’s nuts about them, too.

My low: Just starting to feel better from my latest virus and landing myself an infected finger, which ended up being so painful I couldn’t sleep on Wednesday night. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, and it’s starting to get ridiculous.

Bonus Question: Who’s your favorite upstairs Downtown Abbey character? What about downstairs?

For me, it’s hard to choose. Matthew is disappointing this season: Somehow he’s turned into a curmudgeonly old man since he got married. I like Mary and have a soft spot for Cora — plus who doesn’t love Sybil? — but all in all, my favorite has to be the Dowager Countess. No one has better lines or delivers them as well; she steals every scene. As for downstairs, I used to like Mr. Carson, but now I feel like he’s a constant grump. My favorite is Mrs. Hughes: strong, loyal, intuitive, kindhearted.

Okay, your turn. Pick your favorite Crawley sister drink and tell me: What was your high this week? Your low? And who are your favorite Downton characters upstairs and downstairs?

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

Image: PBS

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