Green Living & Sustainability

Unplugged Nation!

August 17, 2015

North Carolina

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

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

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

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

Image: North Carolina, Zoe Saint-Paul


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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Back to Civilization

May 11, 2015

B & Girls in NC
We arrived home safe and sound from our off-the-grid adventure in North Carolina, and I’m happy to report that the trip was a blast!

We worked with a terrific television crew who were laid back and fun to hang out with. The weather was pretty much perfect the whole time, the setting and scenery were gorgeous, and we enjoyed some delicious food (no dried food rations or foraging for berries, it turns out!).

The biggest take-aways, though, were the things we learned — about ourselves and our abilities, about what “off-grid” can actually mean, and about what we may want for our family moving forward.

B and I are still processing the trip and comparing notes. I was amazed at how this husband of mine — who’s never lived rurally and is so urban in many ways — jumped right into everything and didn’t want to leave. I was surprised he said yes to this in the first place, and he’s even happier now that he did.

The girls impressed us, as they always do. They had their moments (they’re still kids, after all), but considering the long and unpredictable days, late nights, and completely new and changing environments, they embraced it all with gusto.

Zoe & the girls in NC
As for me, I tried to channel my inner adventurer, which wasn’t always easy during the more stressful moments. And I’m still not very good at packing up the whole family, since this is only our second trip since the girls came home. But overall, I think I did pretty well (apart from downing mini bottles of vodka in orange juice in front of my daughters on the plane).

As for the show itself, I’m not allowed to say much about it, and I have no idea when it will air. It’s hard to imagine what the episode will end up looking like in the end; we said and did a few things that I seriously hope get left on the editing floor! But hopefully we won’t cringe too much at the final product.

Some friends and family — and possibly some of you here at SlowMama — may wonder why we’d ever agree to do a reality-type television show. The short answer is that, after making sure it wasn’t exploitative or sensationalistic in nature, and being confident that our kids could handle it, we thought it was an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up. It was a chance to do something outside of our comfort zones, make some memories, and learn some new things. It’s edifying to be able to say we accomplished all that!

How have you been? Is there anything about off-grid living that you’re curious about?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul


Off Grid Adventure

May 1, 2015

Bokeh bark Tomorrow, our family is off to North Carolina for a week to film an episode for an upcoming series about off-grid living. I can’t say much about the show, being sworn to secrecy and all, but I expect we’ll learn a few things and hopefully make some fun family memories in the process. If the back-story filming done at our home last month is any indication, we should prove to be amusing subjects for the show.

I’m excited but also a little nervous, not knowing quite what to expect, and hoping the girls do well and we all stay healthy, etc. Plus, I have to do one of my least favorite things before we even start: fly. But I’m trying to have a spirit of adventure about it all.

Because I’ll largely be offline next week, posting will be a lighter than normal around here. I’ll have one of my monthly links post earlier in the week and Mags will be here on Thursday. I look forward to telling you more about our experience, though I won’t be able to give many details until the show airs. I’ll also try and post some shots on Instagram, if I can, so you can catch a few glimpses there. Wish us well!

Hope you have a peaceful weekend and terrific week ahead.

P.S. I’m happy to report that things are a little calmer here in Baltimore. It sure was a wild sight to see the streets and businesses I frequent lined with National Guardsmen and state police all week. Here’s hoping the protests happening today and this weekend are peaceful and it all leads to reforms, change, and healing that is long overdue.

Image: Dave Meier at picography


Using Essential Oils

March 24, 2015

Bokeh Bark

A lot of people I know use essential oils now. They claim these oils help with various kinds of conditions: insomnia, viruses, infection, high blood pressure, etc. Many parents are using them for their children’s ailments, too.

For the uninitiated, an essential oil is a concentrated liquid containing compounds from plants.  “Essential,” here doesn’t mean “necessary,” but that the oil contains the “essence” of the plant’s fragrance and properties. Essential oils are used in all kinds of products and have been used throughout history for medicinal reasons.

Claims for how effective they are for treating illnesses are regulated in most countries, but a medical doctor I spoke with recently said that while she’s still skeptical about the general public using essential oils, she’s impressed by mounting scientific evidence showing the ability of some of them to fight bacterial and antibiotic-resistant infections.

I had a brief venture into the land of essential oils myself: When I was constantly battling sinus infections the first few months my daughters were home, and they were dealing with sinus colds and congestion, I used some essential oils in a diffuser on the advice of a naturopath — with much success. Later on, though, when I got a little experimental (and careless) with another oil I picked up, my husband ended up with heart palpitations and couldn’t sleep all night. Oops.

I don’t think there’s any question that essential oils work, at least for some things; it’s just that you need to know what you’re doing, and use a high quality product.

Have you ever used essential oils for medicinal reasons, home made cleaning products, or anything else? I’d love to hear about your experience, as well as what companies you think are putting out the best products.

Image from picography


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


Wheat-Free School Lunches

September 10, 2014

School Lunches
Our family is eating a low-wheat, low-gluten diet right now. (Well, maybe not B, but give me a husband you can totally control and I’ll give you good money. Ha.) Not because we know for sure that anyone in here is intolerant to wheat, but I know my daughters have some food sensitivities, so I’ve eliminated or reduced items that I think are the most likely culprits. Wheat is one of them, and reading articles like this about modern wheat reinforces my desire to keep eating this way.

I’ve tried going totally wheat- (and gluten-) free before, and I find it very challenging, so for now we’re a little relaxed about it — which means acting like we’re wheat-free, but letting things slide when we forget, or when everyone’s just begging for something that has wheat. (Have I mentioned my girls adore bread? It’s one of their favorite things in life. Mine, too.)

Now that I’m packing lunches twice a week when the girls attend their cooperative school, I’m looking everywhere for wheat-free lunch ideas. It hasn’t been too hard to come up with some so far, but since they really, really want sandwiches, I’m trying to find alternatives they’ll enjoy that are also easy for me to prepare. Here are a couple I made recently:

Wheat-free lunch #1:

  • 2 boiled eggs (with a side of sea salt)
  • rice crackers
  • baby carrots
  • apple
  • piece of dark chocolate

Wheat-free lunch #2:

  • sliced organic turkey wrapped around lettuce
  • veggie puffs
  • mini seaweed sheets
  • applesauce

With each lunch they drink water, from those cute little personalized bottles above. The eggs were a little stinky, and the girls thought the rolled-up meat was a bit weird, but they ate it. (I did promise them they can occasionally have a sandwich, but I’m using a sprouted grain bread for that.) I gave them Lara bars the other day for snack time, and they weren’t big fans. Maybe I need to switch up the flavors.

S With Lunch Gear

If you are wheat- or gluten-free — or close to it — I’d love to hear your favorite kids’ lunches, as well as your  go-to websites and blogs for recipes!

By the way, the girl’s adorable water bottles are from Stuck on You. You can choose among many designs and have your child’s name personalized on them — perfect for school! And I found the freezable lunch bags at Mighty Nest; they’ve got a great selection.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul


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


Pull Up a Chair

July 18, 2014

Organic Cabbage
We decided to participate in a CSA this year, and so far it’s been great. In case the acronym is unfamiliar, CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”: You pay up front for a share of the produce a farm grows during its season, and once a week you get a delivery of whatever is ready to be picked. Our CSA farm grows organic produce and delivers to our neighborhood; their stuff is top notch and well worth the cost — less expensive than buying high-quality vegetables at the grocery store each week.

We did a CSA a few years back, but we were deluged with so many greens I didn’t know what to do (given there were only two of us, including my picky vegetable eater of a husband, and one very small freezer). Now, however, I’ve got two kids and a VitaMix, so I felt equipped to jump back on the CSA train and try again.

I love planning meals around what’s in season (and in my fridge), but it can be hard to track down recipes this way. (If you know any great sites that organize recipes based on ingredients, do tell!) I’ve had beautiful cabbages recently, and while I love the idea of cabbage, I’m often at a loss as to what to do with them. Sautéing it wasn’t much of a hit in my house, and traditional cole slaw gets a little dull. But I’m grateful to an Instagram follower who recommended this Thai crunch salad from Against All Grain. I made it last night and it was a big hit. I didn’t include the snap peas (hubby’s not a fan) or the cucumber (girls don’t like them), but I did everything else pretty much verbatim (except for the coconut amines in the dressing — who has those lying around?). Anyway, yum!

Also, I made raw broccoli salad for the first time this week. We eat a lot of broccoli in our house, usually steamed, and I’ve been getting bored with it lately. The raw salad was simple: three cups of raw broccoli shredded in the food processor, toasted cumin seeds, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, raisins, and sliced almonds. Sadly, the rest of the family didn’t end up being fans, but I really liked it (and felt vindicated when my sister-in-law tried a spoonful and asked for the recipe).

Anyway, I’m not sure what’s on the menu this weekend, but I do have a fun girls’ night planned tomorrow to celebrate my sister-in-law’s birthday. (Have I mentioned how great it is to have family in the hood now? I’m loving it!) Since Noemi is from Spain, I’m offering some Spanish red wine today in her honor. Grab a glass and tell me about your week! Here’s my high and low:

Low: This past week I was very sad about the loss of a friend’s baby in childbirth. And I can’t stop reading the news about the recent jumbo jet disaster — so awful! My thoughts and prayers are with all those mourning the loss of loved ones this week.

High: Sometimes I stop and marvel at just how far our girls have come since they arrived not even two years ago. It’s easy to forget, but I like to really let it sink in every now and then. I’ll have to post an update soon on how everybody’s doing around here.

Have a lovely weekend, wherever you are, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Peru from Above
What are you up to this Earth Day? Saving whales? Installing solar panels? Banning paper towels in your home for good? Me neither — though more power to you, if you are doing any of that. Instead, I’m aiming for something a little more doable right now: planning a few activities and projects to help my children think more about what it means to take care of our planet, appreciate nature, be less wasteful, and be good stewards of our natural resources. Here are a few things on our list:

A neighborhood trash pick-up. My daughters already point out garbage to me on the streets all the time; they know that littering is “not good,” and we talk about it a lot. Baltimore isn’t one of our nation’s cleanest cities, and whether it’s the high school kids across the street throwing their wrappers on the sidewalk, or neighbors’ garbage blowing around when they set out their bins, the trash can pile up. This week we’re going to put on some gloves, grab a bag, and pick up a little.

Making a paper-mache planet. I haven’t done a paper mache project with my daughters yet, so if I can find round balloons somewhere, we’re going to make an Earth and talk about its components: oceans, mountains, deserts, plains. We’re already learning about these things in our geography studies, so it will fit in with our homeschooling nicely.

Planting seeds. It’s that time of year, and I’ve been wanting to plant something together that the girls can tend and watch grow. We’ll need to rig something up to make sure the squirrels can’t get to it (they’ve defeated me and my little container gardens time and time again), but I’ve purchased some seed packages for herbs and flowers — plus some cat grass, which I love.

An up-cycling project. We’re going to take something we might otherwise throw away and create something new with it. This needs to be simple for five-year-olds — no turning old sweaters into trend-setting dresses or anything — but given how imaginative my daughters are, I think they’ll enjoy choosing something from our recycle bins or giveaway bags, and making something new.

Are you doing anything to mark Earth Day? Got any new habits you’d like to start when it comes to being more green-friendly?

Image: Lisa M.