Books, Music & Films

Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom Image
We keep TV time to a minimum around here (in fact, we don’t even have a television: We download and stream things on our iMac), but when S and H arrived, we noticed that watching programs helped them to learn English more quickly and was (still is!) a lifesaver for me when I was trying to get dinner on the table.

It didn’t take long for B and me to realize that the best kids shows are the ones that don’t make the adults want to commit harakiri. (It’s no fun to have the Strawberry Shortcake theme song playing in your head over and over again when you’re trying to fall asleep, believe me.) Thankfully, there are a few shows that our daughters have loved that we’d be tempted to watch all on our own.

The first one that comes to mind is Peppa Pig, a British animated series for preschoolers that is created, directed, and produced by Astley Baker Davies. Each episode is about five minutes long and features a young female pig named Peppa and her family and friends — but the writers clearly throw a lot of bones to the grown-ups they know are watching. This is one of the very first shows our daughters watched, which would explain why they still call Santa Claus “Father Christmas.” (If you watch it, keep your eyes out for Miss Rabbit, voiced by Sarah Ann Kennedy. Her inflection is a work of comedic art – indescribable, really; it has to be heard.) Here’s a favorite episode:

Next up is Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom. This is B’s all-time favorite. Another British animated series created for preschool-aged children, it’s set in a magical kingdom of fairies, elves, and insects. The characters are sweet, the art design is charming, and the humor works both for kids and — at a different level — for adults. One of the highlights is the hysterical rivalry between the rationally minded Wise Old Elf and the air-headed fairy Nanny Plum (whose is also voiced by Sarah Ann Kennedy). So many quotable lines in this show… Here’s a fun episode:

Last but not least is Doc McStuffins. A Disney Channel program produced by Brown Bag Films and created (and executive produced) by Humanitas Prize and Emmy Award–winner Chris Nee, it chronicles the adventures of a six-year-old girl named Dottie “Doc” McStuffins who wants to be a doctor like her mother. She sets up a clinic to fix broken toys and dolls, who come to life when she puts on her stethoscope. With help from her best stuffed animal friends — Lambie, Hallie, Stuffy, and Chilly — Doc helps toys get better by giving them check ups, diagnosing their illnesses, and fixing their boo-boos. Each episode is 11 minutes.

The characters and story lines in Doc McStuffins are cute, but our favorite part of this show is its original songs, which are super catchy (check out Everybody Gets Hurt Sometimes). Doc McStuffins now has lots of spin-off products (and yes, we have a few), but it’s screaming for a musical; you can easily imagine many of these songs in a Broadway show.

The other reason we love Doc is that she’s a brown-skinned girl, and we’re always looking for good shows with main characters who look more like our daughters. Here’s an episode, in case you’ve never seen it:

Any kids’ shows that you secretly (or not so secretly) enjoy?

Image: Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom via uk.eonefilms

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Beachside Reading
Summertime calls for a stack of good reads, whether it’s the latest bestseller at your bedside, e-books in the kitchen, novels at the beach, or browsing favorite magazines while waiting in airports. My contributors and I love to read and wanted to share what’s on our own book lists right now as we look forward to a little R&R this summer:

Zoe’s List

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

I’ll feel like less of a loser if you haven’t read this book, since it was beginning to feel like I was the only person on the planet who hadn’t. It’s a national bestseller and a gazillion people recommended it to me, but for some reason it took me forever to get around to it. Anyway, I’m so glad I did. The book focuses on twin brothers born of a strange and secret union between a British doctor and an Indian nun; the boys are orphaned and raised by two Indian doctors in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, before one comes to the United States. While I stumbled a bit on the brief romantic and sexual parts of the book (they were a bit stilted and not equal to the rest of Verghese’s prose), I loved the historical and cultural context of the story as well as the creativity of the plot. This is a perfect beach or vacation novel — an easy read, compelling story, and full of interesting characters.  If your book club hasn’t done this one yet, stick it on the list! (Paperback edition; Kindle edition.)

Humans of New York, by Brandon Stanton

You may already be familiar with Stanton’s work from his hugely popular website Humans of New York (HONY), and last year he (smartly) put together a coffee table book of some his photos. B picked up a copy for me, and every night we’d look at a few pages together, mesmerized by the images Stanton has captured. I love the short descriptions with each photograph almost as much as the photographs themselves. This book brings home what makes New York City a one-of-a-kind place, and what makes people so unique while at the same time so similar. If you giving this book as a gift to someone who loves photography, NYC, or people-watching, it will definitely up your cool factor. (Hardback edition.)

The Telling Room, by Michael Paterniti

This is an unusual story about a larger-than-life Spaniard, a family legacy, a betrayal, an obsession, and a piece of cheese. It’s also about the writer — a journalist who, after eating a sandwich in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wound up in Spain living among the people and mystery he was intent on investigating. Given its best-seller status, I’m far from the only one who’s grateful that the talented Paterniti finished his book (though it took him many years). If you’re drawn to travel and food stories, crazy characters, and great writing, this one’s for you. (Paperback editionKindle edition.)

Cooked, by Michael Pollan

I finally started this book (got it last Christmas), so I can’t say with certitude what I really think just yet, but so far, I’m a fan. I’ll pretty much read anything by Michael Pollan: His work is always engaging and informative — and hey, it’s always about food. This one is no exception: In Cooked, Pollan explores the four classical elements of fire, water, air, and earth and how each has been used to transform “the stuff of nature” into delicious food and drink over the centuries. Pollan travels the country learning about grilling, fermenting, and baking from some of the best cooks, and he has a lot to thoughtful things to say about how food is the pinnacle of culture. (Paperback editionKindle edition.)

The Telling Room and Cooked

Ann Waterman’s List

All the Money in the World, by Laura Vanderkam

Unlike most books about money, this one focuses on spending money, not just saving it. Money is a tool, Vanderkam explains, and spent intentionally, it can help to bring us happiness. What does “intentional” mean here? Well, Vanderkam encourages us to think about what makes us happy: For instance, would you rather have a large wedding with all the bells and whistles, or would some of that money be better spent on things like a housecleaner or regular evenings out with your husband later in your marriage? Neither choice is necessarily good or bad in itself; Vanderkam’s point is that you should think hard about what your money can be used for and whether it’s bringing you closer to what truly makes you happy. (Paperback edition; Kindle edition.)

The Spaghetti Shots, by Courtney Westlake

Do you have an SLR camera and keep telling yourself you’ll read the manual one day and really learn how to use it? Forget the manual and download this e-book that explains your camera’s functions and settings in the simplest of terms and helps you catch those everyday moments that really capture your family’s life. I promise you’ll be taking better pictures in no time! (Kindle edition only.)

Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series)

Do you have a hobby, passion, or side business that you never seem to have time for? This collection of essays is a quick read and shows you how to organize your day to make the best use of your time and maximize your creativity by finding ways to make it a priority. After implementing a few ideas, not only did I have more time for one of my favorite creative outlets (writing), but I was more productive in general. The best part about this book? You can borrow it for free on your Kindle device. (Kindle editionpaperback edition.)

Margaret Cabaniss’s List

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

The backlash has begun against this Pulitzer Prize winner, but I’m sticking with my initial impression: It’s gorgeous and I loved it. (I even did the “read something else halfway through to drag out the ending” trick.) The story follows the life of Theo Decker, beginning with the moment that he suffers a sudden, violent loss as a 13-year-old, and through his many wanderings (literal and otherwise) in the years that follow. It’s sprawling and messy but undeniably powerful in the way it describes love and loss, beauty and suffering, and (most of all) our desire for meaning and transcendence in the face of…well, life. My favorite thing I’ve read so far this year; highly recommended. (Paperback editionKindle edition.)

However: If you’re not up for an 800-page doorstop this summer, try Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, instead: A sort of Gothic “murder mystery in reverse,” it was the first time I encountered Tartt’s writing and knew she’d be one to follow — and it’s a much quicker read.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

I’ll admit, I had to pull up some reviews of this one to remind me of bits of the plot (in my defense, I read it last summer) — but its portrait of a crumbling Italian port town in the 1960s, and the sweet love story that blooms there, definitely stayed with me. Of course, in between the gorgeous flashbacks are smash cuts to the modern-day reality-TV world…links that I promise make more sense in the context of the book. There are too many characters and places and even eras to recall them all here, but through them all, Walter does an excellent job weaving the touching with the hilarious. The perfect thing to read at the beach while pretending you’re on a beach in Italy. (Paperback editionKindle edition.)

Bonus selection: Walter’s The Financial Lives of Poets — a “you have to laugh, otherwise you’ll cry” take on the 2008 financial crisis — isn’t so picturesque as Beautiful Ruins, but it’s every bit as funny, and might have even stayed with me longer. For a story about one man’s misbegotten plans to develop a website that delivers the financial news in free verse, it’s surprisingly moving.

The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis, by Thomas Goetz

I recently saw this recommended somewhere else and decided I had to add it to my reading list for this summer. While I’m only a few pages in so far, I have high hopes, since it’s got everything I love: pop history, Conan Doyle, infectious diseases… The combination of Sherlock Holmesian suspense and mystery surrounding the birth of modern germ theory just sounded too intriguing to pass up. I hope to have a full report soon – but if you’ve read it, tell me about it in the comments! (Paperback edition; Kindle edition.)

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Well, friends, there you have it! We’d love to hear what you’re reading (or hoping to read!) this summer; leave us all some suggestions in the comments!

(I am an Amazon affiliate, so if you purchase one of the above books using the links provided, you are helping to support this blog. Thank you!)

Image via Pinterest

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Dolphins
When I first heard of The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids — Without Turning Into a Tigera new parenting book by Dr. Shimi K. Kang, I expected it to be just another forgettable parenting advice book. It was clearly capitalizing on the success of the controversial “tiger mom” book and seemed a little gimmicky. But I was happily surprised when I began flipping through its pages: Dr. Kang’s parenting philosophy resonated with me, and she has a lot of research and personal experience to share as a mom, psychiatrist, and motivation expert. Plus, who doesn’t want to be like a dolphin? Dolphins are seriously smart and fun — which seems like a great kind of parent to be. Turns out, plenty of others agree: The book recently became a best-seller in Canada.

A few things stand out about The Dolphin Way: First is Dr. Kang’s focus on the importance of unstructured playtime for children. Additionally, her concept of helping children to develop “CQ” — a blend of four criteria believed to be keys for success in the 21st century — is thought-provoking, and I like her suggestions for helping children become self-motivated. Instead of a straight review of The Dolphin Way, however, I thought it would be more interesting to speak to Dr. Kang, so I asked her a few questions about her book.

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Zoe Saint-Paul: Dr. Kang, your personal story is interesting: You mother couldn’t read, your dad drove a taxi cab at night, and you weren’t put into any structured activities as a child. Where did you find the drive and motivation to go to medical school and do all the things you’ve done?

Shimi Kang, MD

Dr. Shimi Kang: My self-motivation came from the “dolphin” way of life, so the full answer is the book itself! My parents were not pushing tigers or permissive jellyfish — they were balanced and had rules and high expectations, but they also allowed me to pursue my interests and development independence. They focused on the inside of me (character and values) versus the outside of me (activities and resume items). As the fifth child of immigrant parents, I had to adapt because no one was catering to me; I learned to use what I call “CQ” — collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. My self-motivation came from living a life of balance, which allowed my curiosity to flourish. I was also driven by the values of gratitude, contribution to others, and optimism that my parents constantly modeled. This lead me to be driven by a purpose to live life beyond my personal bubble.

The information in your book about the importance of play is enlightening. In a nutshell, how does unstructured play time benefit children? 

My answer is adapted from the book:

For people of every age, play is directly linked to the development of the brain’s prefrontal cortex — the region of the brain responsible for discriminating relevant from irrelevant information, goal direction, abstract concepts, decision making, monitoring and organizing our thoughts and feelings, delaying gratification, and planning for the future. The prefrontal cortex directs our highest levels of thinking and functioning. It’s the part of our brains that evolved last and also develops last in our personal growth: Its full maturation doesn’t happen until our mid-twenties.

For the young of all animals, the amount of time spent playing is tied to the rate and size of growth of the cerebellum, which contains more neurons than the rest of the brain. In addition to motor control, coordination, and balance, the cerebellum is responsible for key cognitive functions such as attention and language processing. Active play stimulates brain-derived neurotropic factor, which stimulates nerve growth. It also promotes the creation of new neuron connections between areas that were previously disconnected. Our desire to play is so important to our survival that the impulse to play is just as fundamental as our impulse to sleep or eat.

Play is essential to the development of the four CQ skills — creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration — we need for 21st-century success.

If parents want to encourage their children to play more, what steps should they take? 

In the past, parents didn’t have to work hard to create a favorable environment for their children to play in; often, all they had to do was open the door. Now children have become accustomed to glittery customized dolls, cars that speak, hyperrealistic video games, and LEGO that comes with detailed instructions. But let me remind you: Children love to play. It can cost nothing, you don’t need a lot of stuff to make it happen, and you don’t need any special instructions. Play doesn’t even require toys; commercial toys may actually get in the way of play. In general, the simpler the toys (which usually means those that are less expensive), the more divergent the play. Household items, old clothes, a stick, and whatever children find outside are ideal for play.

The main steps are to limit screen time, limit scheduled activities, tolerate the initial whines of “boredom” and “nothing to do” because they will not last long – and finally, when possible, open the door and send kids outside!

 

Could you explain why modern parents should be focused on CQ when it comes to parenting their kids? 

To do well in today’s fast-paced, highly social, ultra-competitive, and globally-connected world, our children need 21st-century skills. These four essential skills were determined by the Assessment and Teaching of 21stCentury Skills (ATC21S™), an organization at the University of Melbourne that includes more than 250 researchers from sixty different institutions worldwide. These skills have been incorporated in educational institutions and workplace environments everywhere. I’ve mentioned them above, and here they are with a brief explanation:

  • Creativity: Creativity has been identified by today’s business leaders as the most important competency for the future.
  • Critical thinking: It isn’t knowing the “right answers” that counts, but rather knowing how to ask the “right questions.”
  • Communication: You can have all the raw intelligence in the world, but if you can’t express your thoughts effectively and in different media, it won’t matter.
  • Collaboration: Whether it’s in the family, the workplace, or the global community, being able to learn from and inspire others while working in a team is key in today’s work world.

I refer to this set of core skills for 21st-century success as the cognitive quotient, or CQ. As you likely know, IQ (intelligence quotient) represents raw intellectual ability, and EQ (emotional quotient) represents emotional intelligence. For success in the 21st century, our children will need CQ.

Dolphin Way US 2014

My almost six-year-old daughters would play all day if they could — and sometimes they do. How do dolphin parents teach their children responsibility while still encouraging play and self-directed activity?  

The message of The Dolphin Way is balance. My kids know that work and play are essential parts of a day,along with sleep, healthy eating, exercise, etc. When you give the message of balance, children will understand; a good way to show them that is to “instruct” them to play right after school because they need balance to their day of work. They they’ll be more likely to accept your instruction for other activities, too.

How does a dolphin parent discipline? 

We use natural consequences and positive reinforcement for positive behaviors.

Discipline is the process of teaching your child what type of behavior is acceptable and what type is not acceptable, and it can involve punishment, rewards, or the experience of natural consequences.

The dolphin way of parenting relies on rewarding legitimate good behavior (not empty praise) to encourage acceptable behavior and letting your child experience the natural consequences of unacceptable behavior, while making sure the child understands the connection between the two (a very important step parents sometimes forget). Dolphin parents focus on “catching” important values and good effort versus “catching” bad behavior or poor results.

For example, when my son drew a picture on our kitchen wall for his crying sister, I praised his effort to help his sister when she was distressed, but I made him use soap and water and clean up the markings himself. (I actually kept the picture of the butterfly he drew for her, though.)

The dolphin parent will make sure important rules and consequences are clear and consistently reinforced. Punishment may be used for serious offenses that violate core values, such as intentionally harming someone else. However, even in this situation, the dolphin parent will be collaborative and affectionate. I may say, “I love you, but I cannot let you get away with hitting your sister. What do you think would be a good punishment for breaking the very important rule of no hitting your little sister?”

I found myself wanting to read more examples in your book related to parenting young children. What should a parent focus on the most when it comes to raising toddlers and preschoolers if they’re following the dolphin way? 

Before the age of 6, the most important things to focus on are a healthy balanced lifestyle and strong social skills. Develop a sense of balance of sleep, healthy diet, play, and social connection. Have your child experience diverse people and social environments. Provide a safe, nurturing environment, and get to know your child — his or her likes, dislikes, and personality — and let mother nature do the rest!

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A big thanks to Dr. Kang for speaking with me about her book.

What do you think: Does the “dolphin way” of parenting resonate with you? As I think about my childhood and the way my mother and father parented, I’d have to say they were very much like dolphins, though I would never have drawn the comparison. I’m looking forward to thinking about how I myself can incorporate some of the ideas in The Dolphin Way into my own parenting. If you read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Images: 1 via Pinterest, 2 & 3 supplied by Katie Schnack, Senior Publicist at Shelton Interactive 

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by Joseph Susanka

Concession Stand
For purely selfish reasons, I asked my friend Joseph Susanka — a writer, film lover, and father of seven boys(!) — if he’d write a post for SlowMama recommending some lesser-known films for children. I’m looking forward to checking out his suggestions, and I hope you find something on this list for your littles as well! — Zoe

Few things are as nerve-racking for me as recommending films for young children. The key is knowing your audience, of course — but with youngsters, there are so many variables.

The most obvious, of course, is age – but not all children of a certain age are ready for (or must avoid) certain films. In my own family, the younger set has a far higher tolerance for intensity and mystery than my eldest, in part because they’ve grown up watching so many films with their brothers. Nor does previous experience or interest prove particularly illuminating: Why my boys have latched onto the DC Comic universe the way they have (in the face of my own indifference) remains a mystery to me…

And then there’s the fact that recommending films for children isn’t just about the kids and their comfort zone(s) and interest(s): It’s just as important to know about the loves, interests, and tolerances of their parents, who will always take a keen interest in what their little ones are watching (and most times end up watching along with them).

But while few things are as nerve-racking for me as recommending films for young children, few things are more rewarding for me than recommending films for young children and getting them right! And while finding the perfect film for a little one can be a challenge, success breeds success: Once you find one, it’s far less challenging to come up with similar films.

That being said, here are a few gateway films to try out, along with a title or two you can follow up with if the initial effort is met with approval…

Ponyo
Ponyo 

An animated adventure about a five-year-old boy and his relationship with a goldfish princess who longs to become a human.

Animation’s a great route to take with the young ‘uns. The cartoonishness — and I mean that literally, not as a criticism — means that the little viewers are a bit more removed; the stakes aren’t as high because they don’t seem as real, and that makes it possible for the little minds to absorb the story without quite as much tension. So while I could recommend the obvious animation giant — Disney — I’m going to go with a later (and greater) artist: Hayao Miyazaki. A legend in his native Japan, Miyazaki’s works are extraordinarily visual, astonishingly imaginative, and truly magical – with Ponyo being a spectacular example of all three. Plus, it features one of my all-time favorite final frames. Great stuff.

(Bonus Recommendation: If they like Ponyo, they’ll love My Neighbor Totoro. And while Miyazaki’s films cover a wide enough range of intensities/complexities so that I can’t recommend them all for this particular age bracket, I actually think that’s a bonus. Bring ‘em in early, and there’ll be loads of Miyazaki to amuse them in the years to come.)

Microcosmos
Microcosmos

A documentary on insect life in the meadows and ponds of the French countryside, told through incredible closeups, slow motion, and time-lapse photography.

A nature documentary, yes – but don’t worry, it doesn’t feel like homework. That’s probably because there’s no narration to speak of, and the camera is so spectacularly close to the creatures in question. Some of the images might be a bit much for the more gentle-minded, though — the insects are huge!

(Bonus Recommendation: If they like this, they’re just a hop/skip/jump away from Sir David Attenborough’s spectacular ocean series, The Blue Planet. The only reason I didn’t jump straight to the big Blue is that Attenborough’s voice-over is a) fantastic, b) very British, and c) omnipresent. Might be a bit harder for younger ears and minds to digest.)

The Pirates of Penzance
Pirates of Penzance

An adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta, Frederick has fallen in love with sweet, innocent Mabel – but his piratical vocation is an impediment to their union.

This one’s slightly riskier — not because I’m worried that most children will not love it, but because I’m worried that their parents might weary of hearing its ear-wormy and hilarious songs every minute of every day. And no, if they take to it as completely as did mine, “every minute of every day” is not an exaggeration. “With Catlike Tread” has become the (ironically, loud) soundtrack to a number of Susanka boys’ lives.

This particular version features a really charming turn as the Pirate King from the multi-talented Kevin Kline, whose voice and charisma are both surprisingly large. But even if they don’t love the music, they’ll love Tony Azito’s Police Sergeant, who somehow manages to cram an entire Keystone Cop troop into a single performance.

(Bonus Recommendation: There’s a wide range of D’Oyly Carte versions available in both movie and audio form, of which The HMS Pinafore and The Mikado are the most prevalent and best. Plus, the transition from a PBS version of Gilbert and Sullivan to a Shakespearean play or two is a smooth one.)

The Reluctant Dragon
The Reluctant Dragon

Actor Robert Benchley tours Walt Disney’s studio; the behind-the-scenes action segues into an animated short about a boy’s encounter with a dragon.

OK, so I couldn’t stay away from Disney entirely, but I’m going “Classic Disney” here. And besides, it’s not strictly — or, should I say, exclusively – animated. See, one of the things that makes this particular film such a great “entry film” is that it’s much more than just a fun animated short; it’s a documentary-esque introduction to the world of animation at a time when Disney’s legendary “Nine Old Men” were changing the medium forever. The last half’s a charmingly cartoonish (and childish) musical version of Kenneth Grahame’s story, but it’s the first half that might most capture the attention of the young “make-it-yourself-ers” in the house.

(Bonus Recommendation: If they like this film, they’ll love the Silly Symphonies, the mostly musical shorts produced by Disney between 1929 and 1939, and the “non-canonical” ones from the 50′s and 60′s. These series of shorts hold many of my favorite memories when it comes to Walt Disney and his animators, and they are much to blame for the presence of short films in my and my boys’ viewing repertoires.)

The Wind In the Willows
Wind in the Willows

Mole decides that he can put off spring cleaning a bit longer and begins a series of adventures with his new friend Rat. Hilarity (and a fair bit of profundity) ensues.

Oh, look at that segue. From The Reluctant Dragon, which was written by Kenneth Grahame, to a TV series based on his most famous work, The Wind in the Willows. There have been many attempts at adapting this wonderful childhood classic, including a thoroughly forgettable, overly slapstick, Disney-fied version. For my money, this stop-motion version from the early-to-mid 80′s best captures the spirit and charm of the book. And while the stories are a bit expanded from Grahame’s original work, they seem very faithful in tone, at least. And that makes them perfect for childhood viewing.

(Bonus Recommendation: Disney’s adaptation of Winnie the Pooh is great fun. In fact, Sebastian Cabot’s narration alone would be reason enough for me to recommend it. The fact that it’s worth watching for many more reasons is just an embarrassment of riches. Also features some wonderful musical number that I find myself humming with regularity. So, again, watch out for the ear-worms, parents!)

There: That should get you started. And be sure to mention your own recommendations; I’ve still got plenty of my own young ones, and they’re all unique viewers, remember? Just because something’s worked with the first 5 or 6 doesn’t mean Nathan’s going to be on board…

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Thanks for the tips, Joseph! Readers, have you seen any of his picks? What would you add to his list for younger viewers?

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 

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Pull Up a Chair

April 11, 2014

Mary Poppins Happy Friday! Any exciting plans for the weekend? It’s supposed to be warm and sunny here, so we’re tossing around ideas like hiking in a nearby state park — anything that will get us outside. We’ve lately been trying to institute a family movie night on weekends, but since our girls are pretty much terrified of anything that provides dramatic tension, it’s been hard to find anything that fits the bill.

The writing was kind of on the wall when we took them to a documentary about beavers building a dam in the Canadian Rockies. We thought we’d finally found something sweet and innocent; instead, the girls sat stone-faced the entire hour and then declared it “very scary.” It was an iMax movie, so maybe it was just the enormous screen, but beavers have remained on their bad list ever since.

B probably scarred them for life when he downloaded a documentary called Chimpanzee — again, thinking it would be a winner. Turns out the baby chimp’s mother gets killed by another tribe, and a chimp war ensues. The girls got so upset we had to turn it off, and any mention of the movie sent them yelling, “No, angry monkey!” and running from the room.

We weren’t giving up, though, so last weekend we decided to try Mary Poppins, hoping it would be a safe bet. We were right: They absolutely loved it. All of us did, in fact: Somehow B and I had made it this far in life without ever having seen it (I know, weird), so it was kind of awesome to be watching it (and enjoying it!) for the first time together. It will definitely be a staple now, and hopefully we can find a few more.

For today’s drink, I’m going with a dubonnet, a classic English cocktail (and Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite, in case you were dying to know). Here’s my high and low this week:

Low: I was supposed to be interviewed by video for an online show yesterday, and after planning my afternoon around it, making childcare arrangements, washing my hair, putting on some actual makeup, and feeling proud that I was ready on time, I waited and waited and eventually learned that the producer missed the email about my being a panelist. Sigh. She was very apologetic and they may call me again, but it was all pretty anti-climactic.

High: I think spring is finally here! (Don’t tell my Nova Scotia family, though.) I don’t believe I’ve ever been this glad to welcome spring in all the years I’ve been in Maryland. Now if it can just stay lovely for a while before the heat and humidity move in… (I know, I shouldn’t be tying my moods to weather, but it’s hard not to sometimes.)

Bonus question: What’s your favorite classic movie? I must admit that I don’t tend to watch many older movies — they’re usually too sentimental and sappy for me. But the exception is my all-time Christmas fave: It’s a Wonderful Life.

Please grab the queen’s fancy and tell me about your week! Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: Disney

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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.

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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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