Great Products

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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Pencils of Promise in Ghana
I’ve never done a done a full-blown promotion before on SlowMama, but I decided this one was a win-win for everyone involved so I wanted to give it a go. Let me share a little background before I tell you more…

As I’ve mentioned, I follow a blogger named Christine Gilbert. A travel writer, she and her husband were among National Geographic’s “Travelers of the Year” last year. She hosts creative workshops around the world and just launched an online food and culture magazine called Cultures+Cuisines. (She’s also the mother of two toddlers.)

Christine runs a course called “Blog Brilliantly,” and when she offered a a huge discount on the cost a while back, I jumped on board. Even though I’m not a travel blogger, her advice and expertise is applicable to any kind of lifestyle blog, and I knew that even if I didn’t have the chance to work through the whole course (which I haven’t yet), I’d still pick up a lot of tips on the Facebook group and eventually use it all in some way towards my own goals and projects. (I highly recommend the course to any lifestyle blogger, especially beginners.)

Anyway, when Christine announced recently that the “Blog Brilliantly” course was going to be featured in a bundle of other excellent online products designed for people who want to built more travel into their lives or work from anywhere, I decided it was worth telling you about. It’s called The Paradise Pack.

I’ve always wondered how people can afford to quit their jobs, travel the world, and make a living while they’re at it. The experts who’ve created the videos, guides, and audio training courses in The Paradise Pack know how to do this because it’s what they’ve done. Whether you’re someone who wants to work from home and take a few trips a year, travel long term, become a digital nomad, or move to another country, the products in this pack give very specific info and advice about how to make that happen.

I know that most SlowMama readers are not looking to live the way the Gilbert family does, or the way the Harteau family lives — and that’s not exactly what my family is planning, either. But I’m always looking for resources to help us make our own dreams come true, and I love to support people who are trying to do the same. I know that some of you would love to quit your day jobs and live abroad, or become entrepreneurs, or take your families on round-the-world trips; the Paradise Pack has 20 products (including Christine’s course) that aim to do that. The pack is worth over $2,000 but is being offered right now for $197. It’s an amazing deal! (Christine’s course alone is usually over $250.)

By the way, there are two extra bonuses when you buy the pack: You get the entire bundle at one time and then have lifetime access so you can learn at your own pace. (I’m really glad to have this option with the “Blog Brilliantly” course.) Also, 10% from each sale goes to an organization called Pencils of Promise, which helps build schools for kids in developing countries.

I won’t go on any more, in case you’re not the least bit interested in this offer — and if that’s the case, come on back in a day or two and I’ll be back to normal posts. But if this is up your alley, be sure to purchase the Paradise Pack by the end of the week, as the deal only runs for 7 days. (The first 1,000 buyers get some kind of bonus.)

Paradise Pack square ad

Full disclosure: I’ll receive a small commission on any sale of The Paradise Pack made through this blog, so if you want to purchase it, I’d be grateful if you would use the links provided in this post or click on one of the images here.

Alright, promo over. I only promote products and services I believe in and think you might be interested in, too, so that’s the primary reason I wanted to share this one with you.

Happy Monday!

Image: Kids from a school built in Ghana by Pencils of Promise  

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JORD box
I’ve been eager to tell you about an accessory I took on our TV shoot trip: a super cool handmade wooden watch.

A  U.S.-based company called JORD reached out last month to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing one of their watches. One look at them and I was on board. The watch showed up in some of the loveliest packaging I’ve ever seen: wrapped around a hand-sewn cushion in a hand-carved wooden box with a beautiful wooden tag attached to it. It was impressive. JORD packaging
Of course, gorgeous packaging is one thing; what about the watch itself? Of the styles available to me, I chose the simple Ely version in the light maple. It’s one of the more petite styles, which I thought would work best since I’m a small person, but since I like chunkier jewelry I’m happy the watch has some substance to it. It’s a fabulous combination of elegance and natural simplicity. I love it!

Ely wooden watch by JORD in maple
JORD — a Swedish word for “earth, soil, and land” — is a small company of artists, designers, and seasoned watchsmiths based in Missouri. Their style is guided by a deep appreciation of natural elements and modern design, which you can see in every detail of their gorgeous watches.

With our smart phones on hand to check the time, watches aren’t as common these days, but there are two reasons I still love to wear them: For one, they can be great style pieces. You can choose to wear it the way you’d wear any other piece of jewelry, depending on your outfit or the occasion.

I also really like the the idea of a simple turn of the wrist to check the time, rather than digging around for my smart phone. It’s one less reason to be staring at a screen, especially in public.

Wearing Ely watch
With graduations, Father’s Day, and summer birthdays on the horizon, a wooden watch would be a beautiful surprise. I only write about and endorse products I can stand behind, and I’m pleased to say my lovely JORD watch is one of them. I’ve worn it constantly since it arrived two weeks ago!

Do you wear a watch? What do you think of wearing one as a fashion statement? And which JORD watch style is your favorite?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Ode to the Coconut

February 10, 2015

Coconut Tree
I grew up far from the tropics, so mangoes, papayas, and similar fruits hanging on trees in the South Pacific were rare treats. When my father spotted a coconut in a grocery store, he’d bring it home, hammer a hole in it, drain out the juice, and chop the flesh up for us to eat. I loved the flavor then, but I had no idea that I’d eventually come to idolize this bulbous fruit.

The coconut has gotten a lot of exposure in recent years, thanks to health and food bloggers. Recently, it hit the big time with Starbucks’ announcement that it would begin offering coconut milk with its beverages. But most people still don’t know all you can do with this marvelous fruit:

You can eat it. There’s the shredded coconut many of us grew up with, and the raw flesh, of course, but I use coconut oil a lot in place of butter, and by itself as a supplement. I make coconut cream as a replacement for whipped cream, and my new favorite variation is coconut butter — I’ve taken to eating a tablespoon of it here and there when I’m craving something sweet. But it’s also used in sauces, desserts, and a host of other things. Which leads me to…

You can cook and bake with it. I use coconut oil to sauté vegetables and cook popcorn; in baking, I use it in place of other oils and coconut milk as a substitute for dairy. For cakes, muffins, and pancakes I use coconut flour. Do you remember the chia seed coconut milk pudding I made for breakfast a while back? Yum.

Raw Coconut
You can drink it. Smoothies, anybody? I use coconut milk in our smoothies, cereal, and oatmeal all the time. I also use coconut water in smoothies, too — especially in the summer. Drinking coconut water by itself is still growing on me, and some brands are tastier than others, but it’s one of the best ways to hydrate because it’s so high in electrolytes and potassium and low in sugar.

You can use it as a body product. I’m back to oil pulling because it makes my mouth feel cleaner and my teeth feel better, plus I hear it may help guard against viruses and bacterial infections. I’m also going to start oil cleansing soon. (I’ll write a separate post on this soon to fill you in.) I use coconut oil on my daughters’ hair and skin a lot — sometimes blended with other ingredients, like shea butter, and sometimes just by itself. It’s my go-to skincare product. I’ve also used it to remove makeup, heal children’s bum rashes, and soften callouses.

Is there anything this fruit can’t do? I bet we can run cars on it, heat our homes with it, and water money trees with it; we just don’t know it yet!

Are you a fan of coconut? What are your favorite ways to use it?

Images from free images

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How’s your December going so far? Have you made progress on your holiday gift lists, or are you still trying to find time to even think about it? Before it gets too close to Christmas, I wanted to mention a few companies I really like for holiday gifts for kids, in case you need some ideas…

Barefoot Books

Barefoot Books Christmas
I love Barefoot Books. Started by two moms in 1992, Barefoot is all about combining beautiful art with captivating storytelling. What also drew me to their products was their attention to cultural and social diversity. It’s not always easy to find books that I’m excited to give my daughters, and Barefoot delivers.

Under the tree for S and H this year will be two books from this new princess series, as well as the award-winning World Atlas, which I can’t wait to see. Barefoot’s Greek Epic Book set with CD would be perfect for a child over 8, and I love their Greek Myths set, which is on sale right now. Barefoot has lovely bedtime books for little ones, too. (I’m eyeing a couple for my two-year-old nephew.) Here’s their Holiday Gift Guide, if you want to check it out.

(For Christmas delivery, be sure to order before 11 a.m. EST on December 15; after that you’ll pay extra for faster shipping. Shipping is free on orders of $60 or more.)

Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa sent me one of their DVDs a couple of months ago, and I was curious if my daughters would like it. They did–and many other kids apparently do, too. Another company created by two moms (moms run the world), Prima Princessa focuses on teaching children ages 3-6 dance steps while exposing them to professional ballet performances. In each show, a ballerina fairy named Prima Princessa takes a group of preschool age children to see a condensed version of a classical ballet, and in between acts the children practice ballet steps they’ve just watched.

The DVD we saw, “Prima Princessa Presents The Nutcracker,” would be a perfect stocking-stuffer for a little dance enthusiast. It features England’s Birmingham Royal Ballet and includes mini-ballet lessons from students at the School of American Ballet, the official academy of the New York City Ballet. The show has aired on more than 400 PBS and public television stations nationwide, and you can find it on Amazon both as a DVD or instant download.

Princessa Productions also has DVDs for Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, and on their website you can find a Ballet for Beginners book, a ballet dictionary, ballet coloring pages, crafts for kids, preschool games, and listings of ballet schools and ballet companies nationwide.

Tea Collection

Tea-Collection-Fall-2013
I’m currently a little obsessed with the children’s clothes at Tea Collection. (I managed to snag a few dresses for my girls online during the Black Friday sale.) Founded by (yet again) two moms, Tea’s mission is to “bring worldwide culture and modern design to children’s fashion.” And they seem to do it well. I was impressed with the quality of the garments when they arrived and love the way they mix colors and patterns.

Their new Citizen Blue line is sweet — I love this Java Garden Keyhole Dress. And this Backpacker Happy Hoodie would look adorable on any of my (many) nephews.

I’ll be sticking to the sales at Tea Collection — especially since I usually need two of everything — but it’s great to know about ethical clothing companies for kids that do high-quality stuff. If you’re looking for some special clothes this season, you may want to check them out.

Any companies or products your eyeing for kids’ gifts this year? I’d love to know!

Images: Barefoot Books, Prima Princessa, Tea Collection

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I love talking to social entrepreneurs — particularly adoptive parents who find innovative ways to connect with and help the countries where their children were born. Lisa Scott is one such person. She found my blog one day and dropped me a line: Not only are we both from Nova Scotia (she still lives there), but each of us is privileged to be raising Ethiopian daughters.

When Lisa shared the launch of her new business, Second Life Ethiopian Artisans, I knew I wanted to tell you about it. Lisa has curated a gorgeous collection of handmade Ethiopian goods, and some may be ideal for your holiday gift lists. Plus, Lisa’s own story is pretty fascinating… 

Scott Family

Zoe Saint-Paul: Congratulations on your new business, Lisa! Everything about it is right up my alley. What inspired you to launch Second Life Ethiopian Artisans?

Lisa Scott: Thank you! This business was a slow and natural evolution. It originated during my first visit to Ethiopia as a new mother. In 2008, I travelled with my husband and 5-year-old son to Ethiopia for a month to meet our daughter and prepare her for the journey home with us. Our primary concern was her adjustment, but we also wanted to use our time there to learn about Ethiopian culture firsthand.

Like many adoptive parents, we were firmly committed to maintaining our daughter’s culture. We live in Eastern Canada where our city has fewer than 1,000 Ethiopians, and only about six kids adopted from Ethiopia. The community here has been so loving to our family, but opportunities to come together are limited. I felt the need to travel back to Ethiopia and experience more of the country, and this opportunity came in 2012 when I volunteered with Canadian Humanitarian. It turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of my life.

I travelled with a group of people, including several doctors, to do medicals on children, and my role was to do presentations on grief and loss to the guardians of orphaned children. I was allowed into the lives of so many women, mainly grandmothers, who wanted to share their grief around the loss of their child and their desire to help their grandchildren deal with it. It connected me face-to-face with the different degrees of loss for these women and children. I, too, had lost my mother as a child, and my daughter had lost her birth mother through adoption, so I was proud of the work and honored to do it. While I was there, I found time to visit carpet makers, weavers, and art galleries. I brought home bags full of treasures — and while I didn’t know it at the time, this was the birth of Second Life Ethiopian Artisans.

The adjustment home from this trip was difficult. There was so much to process and I jumped right back into my professional life supporting vulnerable families at a pediatric hospital. I wouldn’t trade the trip for the world, but I knew it wasn’t something I could do regularly. I couldn’t really talk about it with anyone — even my family — because it was too hard to verbalize. What I could share were the amazing gifts I bought home. They gave me an opportunity to share stories of the people I met and the culture of the country.

Second Life Toys
ZSP: For any budding entrepreneurs out there, can you share what the process was like to get this business off the ground?

LS: The recommended way to start a business is with a business plan. I consciously didn’t do that. Not that I advise this approach; it depends on your expectations. I wanted to share the high-quality handmade products made in Ethiopia and to show consumers that you can get some of the best quality goods in the world at a fair price and provide fair working conditions. I also wanted my son and daughter to hear the daily dialogue of doing business with Ethiopians, and for them to understand both the process of importing, as well as how it translates to quality of life in that country.

I started to research the importing process and the access to goods. I thought long and hard about the name of the business and the image it would project. I knew I wanted to start very small, and to feel the direction of the business and respond accordingly. My first shipment arrived in the fall of 2013. I financed the shipment on my own and, through word-of-mouth, I sold out. I resorted to more of a plan for my subsequent orders: I sourced out a graphic artist to take photos for the website and began a catalog of products. I tailored my order to the quickest sellers and took a bit of a risk on some of the items I had no experience with, such as household goods like throws, towels, and tablecloths. The household goods have been crazy popular, and this fall I’ve been developing the next stage of business: wholesaling.

My word of advice when starting a business is to be conservative with your financial risk and follow your gut. I started this business while I was still employed part-time. I left that job recently, for a variety of reasons, but I never expected to have immediate personal revenue from this business.

Second Life Ethiopian Towels
ZSP: Where do you source your products, and how do you select them?

LS: Fibers have always been one of my main loves, and during my first trip to Ethiopia, I visited the former wood-carrying women who were working in a cooperative as weavers. The products they produced were outstanding, and I was buying one for everyone I could think of. The weavers work in a compound at the base of Entoto Mountain, where so many women carry wood to earn a living. These women were producing, on average, two scarves a day and were involved in all aspects of running the business. Their children were in a preschool on site, and they all had access to health care. Each season, these women release a new line of colors and patterns and I select from them. It’s very difficult to choose which ones, and sometimes I get them all! This year, these weavers also fulfilled a custom order for my business: Together we designed and produced a child’s striped scarf in four different colors. The proceeds from the sale of this scarf will go to vulnerable children in Ethiopia through Canadian Humanitarian.

The jewelry came to me through my cousin — also a mom to a beautiful Ethiopian daughter. During her last trip to Ethiopia I asked her to pick me up some interesting jewelry — and she delivered! My socks were knocked off when she told me how this jewelry was being produced on Entoto Mountain by women living with HIV. I took the little brochure provided with the bracelets and started an online search. Once I made contact, I reached out to another business that worked with this group to ensure the organization was sound and fair.

The third group of artisans came to me via word of mouth. Internationally known for their superb products and world-certified as fair trade, I felt they were a great fit for the types of products I wanted to showcase. My first order was a few scarves from their catalog, and my orders have increased each time.

I purchase products that I myself would want to wear or have in my home. The older I get, the less I buy — but I want the best quality and something meaningful. Every piece I carry is something I would purchase myself and would be proud of to give as a gift.

Second Life Jewelry
ZSP: How often do you get new products in? Would you recommend anything in particular for the holidays?

LS: I get orders in the spring, and in the fall for the holiday season. The products take quite some time to produce, so I typically order three months in advance. It’s hard to make recommendations, as I love everything!

In the under-$30 price point, the earrings are beautiful. Hoops are very fashionable at the moment, and the hoops have beads of silver, copper, and brass, so they go with everything. And who doesn’t love a scarf? Grandma, babysitter, teacher, sister, aunt, or uncle. They are easy to ship and no sizing necessary. Our scarves are made from hand-spun Ethiopian cotton or silk, hand-dyed and hand-woven.

The runaway hit has probably been the organic Omo towels. You’ve not felt cotton until you’ve touched these. The hand towels are popular in the bathroom and the kitchen and make perfect hostess gifts. You can wrap one around a bottle of wine or a bag of coffee and have a one-of-a-kind gift. The larger towels can be used for so many things: In our home we use them as bath towels — they easily wrap around my 6’5” husband, dry quickly, and just get better with each wash. Most of my customers have been purchasing them as couch throws, tablecloths, yoga mat blankets, and baby blankets. They’re beautiful and feel so good that I find customers looking for a reason to buy them.

Lisa Scott and Daughter

ZSP: What are your dreams for Second Life Artisans?

LS: My dream is that this business will never waiver from its roots and spirit. I want the products to speak for themselves, for my customer to never look at a mass-produced product the same way again. I also want people to feel connected to the people behind the products by knowing the stories behind what they buy.

On a personal level, my dream is that this business will allow my family to continue to discover Ethiopia and build relationships there. My daughter is Ethiopian-Canadian; I am not, but through the miracle of becoming her mother, I fell in love with her birth country. So much is gained in love and life through adoption, but so much is also lost. I cannot replace all my daughter has lost, but I can show her that her family is invested in her culture. My dream is that this business will generate enough income for us to make regular visits to Ethiopia and that both of my children can participate in knowing the artisans and in selection of our goods. It would be pretty neat if my kids’ first jobs were working for Second Life Ethiopian Artisans.

*****

Lisa, thanks so much for sharing the story of your inspiring new business! I love how you’re finding a way to incorporate Ethiopian culture into your family’s life. I must say, those towels sound divine and are now on my Christmas list! I’m eyeing a few other things for gifts, too.  

I hope SlowMama readers will consider supporting businesses like Second Life Ethiopian Artisans this holiday season: Not only will you end up with handcrafted, high-quality items, but you’ll be helping lives on the other side of the world. Besides her website, you can connect with Lisa on Instagram, too.  

Images: Lisa Scott

 

 

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Natural Deodorants
You might not want to come near me after I tell you this, but I quit using antiperspirant a few years ago. Something about aluminum and various kinds of chemicals seeping into my pores every day was starting to freak me out. The problem was, I don’t exactly smell like violets blowing in the breeze without deodorant (much to my super-smeller husband’s disappointment), and my journey to find something natural that actually worked wasn’t so easy.

For years I toyed with various natural deodorants. I’d spot a new one at Whole Foods or a natural food store and give it a try, but nothing really did the trick. I began to wonder whether I was just too stinky for anything to work and I was destined to be smelly, wash my armpits every hour, or go back to antiperspirant.

I’m stubborn, though, and eventually, through some online reviews and personal recommendations, I found a few great products that actually work — even in the summertime heat or when I’m active. Sometimes I may need to re-apply them if I’ve worked up a sweat or I’m going out for the evening, but that was often the case with conventional products anyway.

Since I know there are others like me out there who’d love to go natural but can’t find effective products, I wanted to share my finds. Of course, all body chemistries are different, and one person may have better luck with one deodorant than another. Also, it’s important to remember there are no natural antiperspirants: If you’re looking for something to actually reduce your perspiration (not just neutralize its odor), deodorants aren’t going to do much. But keeping all that in mind, here are three products I want to tell you about:

Real PurityI came across a blogger a while back who praised Real Purity natural deodorant up and down, saying she had tried tons of brands and this was the only one that worked. Something about her review made me want to take the chance, so I ordered some. It was the first product that actually worked for me, too. I like that it comes as a roll-on, but the down side is that if you don’t use it for a while, the roll-on ball can get stuck. Still, I felt like a hit the jackpot when I discovered this one.

SoapWallaSoapWalla was the second natural deodorant I tried (that worked), and it soon became my favorite. At first, I didn’t like that it was a cream; something about applying it with my fingers wasn’t very appealing. But I got used to it, and even came to prefer it. This one gives even longer coverage than my roll-on, and I dig the herbal scent. Each batch is made to order, and the testimonials on the website will probably sell you if my own pitch doesn’t. I really love this stuff.

Primal Pit PasteMy friend Jamie kept raving about Primal Pit Paste’s deodorant cream, so even though I was happy with my SoapWalla, I ordered some. I really like it, but next time I want to try a scented one — maybe the lavender or orange creamsicle. Primal Pit Paste gives me about the same strength and length of coverage as SoapWalla, but what sets it apart is the texture: It’s very smooth and creamy, making it ideal for applying right after shaving.

I can’t promise that you’ll have the same good luck with all of these products, but in my experience, they’re hands-down better than most of the natural deodorants you’ll find on store shelves.

Would you switch to a natural deodorant? Do you have any products or brands to recommend?

Please note: None of the companies that make the deodorants above asked me to review their products, nor did they know in advance that I’d be writing this post. I just like these products and wanted to share them with you!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Vintage Samsonite
For the past six months I’ve been looking for something I can use to store the growing collection of my daughters’ hair care products. Herbal tonic sprays, hair milks, detanglers, brushes, and hair bands end up all over our house, and I’d like one place to store them downstairs, which is where I tend to remember (just as we’re going out of the house, of course) that I need to get some kind of product on those adorable heads or I will be that mom.

Inside Vintage Samsonite Bag
Then last weekend I took my brother and sister-in-law to a favorite second-hand furniture store in town, and while I was wandering around, I stumbled on some vintage Samsonite luggage. One small piece was so cute that I immediately began devising a plan to justify the purchase, when it occurred to me that it might be a perfect short-term solution to the homeless hair care products problem. And so I became the proud new owner of a vintage red bag. I love the color.

Vintage Name Tag

Samsonite Initial
This is like something my grandmother would have traveled with as a carry-on bag. Although well-used, it’s in great shape, and I love that the original owner’s name is still on the tag, and her initials are on the silver fasteners. It’s fun to think about who this woman is (or was), and where she might have traveled with this bag.

Storing Hair Care Products
Have you ever used luggage for something other than travel? Would you ever buy a piece like this just for fun?

(Oh, and if you’ve got any tips for a hair-care product carrier, do spill the beans! Ultimately, I’d like a portable carry-all type bag, not too deep, with a little structure to it, and one main area with additional pockets and compartments.)

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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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!)

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by Margaret Cabaniss

slow_dads_gifts

Yes, it’s mostly slow mamas around here, but we do love our slow dads. Here are a few gift ideas for Father’s Day (a week from Sunday, so you still have time!) to show them how much they’re appreciated:

1 / Coffee Mug. For old salts who are particular about their morning coffee.

2 / Book Light. For the low-tech dad who refuses to get a Kindle but manfully rocks a fussy baby in the middle of the night. Ten bucks was never spent better.

3 / Steens Cane Syrup. For the nostalgic dad who misses a taste of home. Substitute his favorite childhood food here.

4 / Camping Hammock. For the outdoorsy dad — or the one who just needs a comfy place to relax after a long day chasing the kiddos. (If it’s likely those kiddos will simply follow him into the hammock: Better get the two-person model.)

5 / Red Metal Toolbox. For the handy dad who keeps it retro, a handsome place to keep his stuff.

6 / The Bar Book. What’s the booze version of a foodie? This is for that dad. Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s new (as in, came-out-Tuesday) book goes deep into proper cocktail-making technique, so he can start whipping up some artisan Manhattans — a gift for everyone, really.

Not pictured: a box of homemade cookies. For the dad who says he has everything, but who we all really know can never have enough cookies.

What are you getting your favorite slow dads for Father’s Day this year?

PS — You can find other great gift ideas for dudes in the SlowMama Holiday Gift Guides from 2012 and 2013; these cheap-and-easy topographical map prints would be a hit, too.

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