Health & Wellness

The Best Laid Plans

December 18, 2015


So you know when you have plans to get a lot accomplished because Christmas is next week and you still have so much to do like shopping and baking and wrapping and getting packages in the mail, and finishing your cards, and making the house half-way presentable for your mother-in-law, and decorating the tree… and then you get slammed with a cold virus that zaps you of every ounce of energy and creative impulse?

Welcome to my world this week. It’s like God had a laugh when I said to my husband on Monday, “There’s so much to do before Christmas; I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed!” And then the next day, I was pretty much a walking zombie.

I really do try to keep things simple, but have somehow managed to leave certain tasks later than I’d wanted, so here I am.

In happier news, I have a new niece — a beautiful baby girl named Felicity Rose, born on Wednesday night. What a great Christmas present!

In honor of her, I should offer a drink, but it needs to be something that will also kill a few germs, so how about a straight shot of whiskey? I don’t like whiskey, but since I can’t taste or smell much at the moment, why not?

And how has your week been? What’s on your calendar this weekend? If I’m better, I’ll have a lot of catch up to do, and hopefully dinner with a friend who will be in town. Hope it’s a good one and I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Death to the Stock Photo




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Woman on Screen

My husband is a techie. Me? Not so much. New tech gadgets intimidate and irritate me: Just when I’ve learned how to use my smart phone or computer proficiently, it’s more or less obsolete. I lament the cultural trend of being glued to screens and how much time is spent on social media. And I’m super careful about how much time I let my girls spend on computers and iPads.

So it came as a surprise to me when I realized I had some unhealthy habits when it comes to the internet. Ironically, it was my husband who pointed it out to me. At first I totally denied it (a classic sign of addiction, of course), and then I had to admit that I sort of did have a problem. (Maybe the reason I get so down on the digital world is my own subconscious cry for help?)

As a blogger, writer, and editor who mostly works on the web, it’s silly to expect the internet to go away or to not be a big part of my life. I might as well completely change my line of work if I don’t want to accept this. But then how does someone whose livelihood depends on the internet (or anyone, really) make sure the internet doesn’t swallow her up?

Here‘s one woman’s story of how she realized (and is trying to manage) her internet addiction. I completely stand by her recommendation of taking at least one — preferably more — tech-free breaks every year. I do this when I go to Nova Scotia in the summers. Even one week of not looking at my computer, checking email, and posting on social media, really refreshes me and helps me find balance when I come back to my everyday life.

I used to take a break between Christmas and New Year’s, too (although that won’t be possible this year) and I try to take Sundays (until evening time) away from digital devices (but some Sundays are harder to do this than others). I try to make sure I read paper books and magazines, especially before bedtime, and I try to be conscious about how I use my smart phone in public, like not staring at my phone while in conversation, at a restaurant, or even sitting in a waiting room.

My worst habit might be getting sucked-down the rabbit hole of email. Ann Waterman, a past contributor to SlowMama, swears by the habit of not checking email first thing in the morning. She inspired me to no longer check email on my phone from bed when I wake up, and now I manage to get a few things done in my household before I open up my laptop.

I still have more progress to make, though, when it comes to managing my email and online time. I feel overwhelmed a lot, mainly because personal organization — especially of data and paperwork — is not my strength.

As the author of NYT article above states, the internet is designed to overload us with info and distract us — there’s no getting away from that. Since we live in a digital tech world now we can make sure we’re doing certain things to counterbalance its negative effects.

Do you take tech breaks? What online traps do you get sucked into? (Surely, it’s not reading too much SlowMama!) What parameters do you set around your internet time? And if you work online, how do prevent your gadgets from taking over your life?







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Puppy Friends

I’ve been thinking about this article in The Atlantic ever since I read it, which is about how friendships change over time, into adulthood. It’s kind of a no-brainer… we all know friendships change. Some all but disappear. I can think of two people I was very close to at one time who I haven’t heard from for many years despite my numerous attempts. Their lives are busy, they live far away, and they don’t seem to prioritize long-distance relationships. I get that. Still, if the communication were there, I sense we’d still be close today.

I also have long-time friends I stay in touch with, and spend time with when I can. They’re important to me — we’ve known and supported each other through many phases of life and we’ve made a lot of memories together. I invest in these friendships to various degrees and each brings something special to my life.

I also have newer friends who reflect who and where I am today. These relationships are satisfying because they’re so intentional. Our lives are very full, yet we make time for each other because we find something life-giving in the relationship. I’m much more aware of what I need and want from a friend now than I used to be.

When’s the last time you mulled over the quality of your friendships and how they’ve changed? And how you’ve changed? I know I sometimes feel conflicted about the time and energy I have to invest, when I should let go, and whether and how to find mutually supportive new friends.

One of the interesting things the article discusses is the “double-edged sword” nature of adult friendships. They take a back seat to our spouses/significant others, children, work, and other commitments, so they can suffer. But because each of us silently acknowledges this fact, there’s a flexibility and freedom to friendship that makes it so valuable. The “voluntary” nature of it makes it great, but can also present challenges because it’s a less-defined relationship. If one friend’s expectations or desires are different than the other friend’s, then hurt and resentment can build up and strain the relationship.

One of the best things about friends, especially close ones, is that they’re not just great in their own right, they’re cheerleaders and supporters for our primary commitments — marriage, parenting, work, etc. Friends also remind us of who we are as individuals so we don’t get lost in our many roles and responsibilities.

Of course, in order to keep a mutually supportive friendship going you do need to invest something of yourself, and that’s where it gets tough when there are only 24 hours in a day. A lot of it does come down to expectations — if two friends have similar expectations of each other, they’re likely to maintain a harmonious and mutually satisfying relationship.

What are your greatest challenges when it comes to friendship at this point in your life, and what is most important to you in a friend?

Image: Picjumbo 

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Storm - Pixabay Over the summer, I was thinking about emergency supply kits and how we should probably have one. Given that we live in an east coast city and everything from terrorism to city violence to a stock market crash to a bad hurricane is always possible, it seems like a good idea. I don’t think fear helps anything, but maybe just the littlest bit spurs us on to be prepared.

We did have a few supplies in huge backpack in the basement for a number of years. After living through 9-11 in Washington, D.C., we gathered a few items together and brought it with us when we moved up the road to Baltimore. But then it all got old and had to be tossed and we haven’t replaced it yet. (We did take a few things that were still okay to Ethiopia with us, because heaven knows I prepared for those trips like I was going wilderness camping.)

We’re limited by what we can store in our tiny house so our best case scenario in a bad situation would be to manage for a few days and then get ourselves somewhere else. One thing I got into the habit of after 9-11 is to never let the car fuel fall below half a tank. Not that half a tank gets you very far, but it would help get us far enough from the city if we had to. (Here are the U.S. government’s recommendations for items you should have at home in case of an emergency.)

I’m curious: Do you have an emergency kit and/or disaster plan? What’s in it? Does just thinking about it make you go into denial or motivate you to get prepared?

Image: Andranius at Pixabay


Empire Kitchen

I love ethnic food. I also try to eat local, organic, and clean as much as possible. Unfortunately, these two things often don’t go together. B’s preference when dining out is often some kind of Asian cuisine, or maybe Caribbean or Nepalese. But I struggle because the ingredients used at these establishments are not usually what I want to put in my body: industrially-raised meats, sauces filled with preservatives and corn syrup, farm-raised fish from China, veggies flown in from the other side of the world.

I get that there are certain things you need if you’re running a restaurant focused on food from another country or culture. Some things have to be imported; there’s no getting around it — especially spices.

But there’s a lot that could be sourced locally or domestically and for years I’ve been lamenting the fact that so few ethnic restaurants do this. If the Ethiopian restaurants we frequent used locally raised meats and vegetables, for example, how cool would that be? If the Japanese restaurant down the street used American grown rice, seafood from healthy fisheries, and dipping sauces without preservatives, I’d be all over that. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Surely lots of people today would go for this, even if it cost a little more?

Of all places, the lovely little city of Portland, Maine delivered. When researching restaurants, I found a piece in Down East magazine about a place called Empire Chinese Kitchen. They use a lot of locally sourced ingredients in authentic Chinese recipes. For my Asian food loving husband, his slow foodie wife, and two adventurous little girls, I knew this would be win-win-win. The adorable, inexpensive joint did not disappoint.

One of the things I like best about Empire’s fusing of local and ethnic is they don’t make a huge deal of it. You can detect it in the menu, but it’s not in your face. A lot of people who don’t care about such things probably wouldn’t even notice; they’d just be enjoying the yummy Chinese food. (Oh, if you go there, and you need to, be sure to order the lobster steamed dumplings. Yes, it’s a nod to  the state, but man, they’re amazing.)

Have you stumbled across any restaurants that are doing authentic ethnic cooking with locally-sourced ingredients? Is this something you’d like to see more of?

Image: Found at Empire Chinese Kitchen



Since I’m in Nova Scotia this week, I thought this post about treating mosquito bites would be a good one to resurrect. I really need to write about preventing the little critters from biting in the first place, but I’m still trying to figure that one out

Angel Point

After B and I began dating, he came home with me to eastern Canada for my sister Olga’s wedding and met the family. He not only loved them (which is hard not to do), he loved everything about Nova Scotia. Except for one thing: the mosquitoes.

Our family cottage sits on the Northumberland Strait. There are fields and woods everywhere, as well as marshlands, which are home to many lovely birds, funky-sounding frogs…and plenty of mosquitoes. And boy, do those critters love fresh meat. I’ll never forget when B and I attempted a hike during part of our honeymoon in Cape Breton (the northern part of the province). B decided he wasn’t going to let the mosquitoes ruin everything, so he pulled on thick jeans, socks, boots, long sleeves, and a baseball hat; then he slathered himself with poisonous DEET from head to toe. He was the first one out of the car, and he headed confidently for the trail. When I looked up, all I could see was a large grey cloud around him, following him into the woods. The next thing I knew, he was running back to the car, arms flailing, spewing curses left and right…and off we went to find some fish chowder and tea to make him feel better about the defeat.

When something like DEET won’t even keep mosquitoes away, the only thing to do is move to phase two — treating the nasty bites once you’ve got them. Since the past winter was so mild in North America, many kinds of bug larvae did not die off in their usual numbers, so this summer has been unusually bad when it comes to critters, especially the blood-sucking kind.

You can blame mosquito saliva for itchy bites. Our bodies react to the saliva by producing histamine, so the redness and itchiness are actually a mild allergic reaction. Healing time depends on the person, since some of us are more susceptible and sensitive to mosquitoes. Here are a few remedies I know of to help soothe those bad bites when you get them:

Ice cubes. We used to do this frequently when I was a kid. You grab a small bowl of ice cubes and apply one to the bite, holding it there as long as you can stand it. Keep doing this until (a) the ice cube melts, (b) you can’t feel anything anymore, or (c) you’re bored and need to move on. Obviously, this little trick numbs the skin, taking away the itchiness and calming the redness and heat.

Baking soda. What can baking soda not do? For a bad bite, create a paste using baking soda and warm water and apply it to the itchy area. Keep it there for a bit and then wash it off.

Calamine lotion. This is an old-fashioned over-the-counter treatment that people swear by. I think we had some when I was young. Not a bad thing to keep in the cupboard if you live in or are visiting a bug-infested area.

Saliva. A friend was just telling me about this one. Sounds kind of gross, but what could be cheaper and easier to use? You just take some of your own saliva and apply it generously to the bite. Also, you can mix your saliva with baking soda to create a paste. Apparently this trick works, though I haven’t tried it.

Salt water. It was always soothing to hop in the ocean to soothe bad bites. It didn’t take all the itch and aggravation away, but salt water definitely helped decrease the itchiness and speed up the healing process.

Aloe. Aloe is an incredible healer and helps soothe skin irritation (from burns and the like), so a little dabbed straight on a bite would really make a difference.

There are a host of other remedies people swear by. Check out this list — sent by my friend Irene, who inspired me to write this post — which includes herbal tinctures, foods, and various items you probably have hanging around your house.

Got any effective or unique bite remedies you’d like to share?

P.S. Lest you never want to visit Nova Scotia now for fear of the mosquitoes, let me reassure you that they’re not always terrible, and they’re definitely an improvement over the type of mosquitoes we have in Maryland, which you never see but somehow manage to bite you 20 times before you have time to walk more than a few feet. Nova Scotia mosquitoes are not so evil and sneaky: They’re bigger (so they’re easier to see), and they buzz — both things that help you more easily dispatch them to mosquito heaven.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Just had to post this little video of a peculiar experiment: A young couple, about to get married, agrees to be altered by professional makeup artists to see what they will look like in their 50s, 70s, and 90s. I must admit I got a little teary watching it. His alterations looked a little strange, but their reactions to seeing themselves and each other were so genuine and lovely.

If you could see yourself in different phases of aging, would you? And would you welcome seeing your significant other this way?




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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


Spring Feverish

April 22, 2015

Just when I was about to pat myself on the back for not getting sick this past fall and winter — except for some mild sniffles before Christmas — a virus snuck up on me over the weekend. Sore throat, sinus headache, exhaustion, generally feeling blah…and oh, running to the bathroom every two minutes. Fun.

Since becoming a mother, there’s one thing that occurs to me every time I’m under the weather: Moms can’t get sick. It just doesn’t work. Little ones can empathize for about 9 seconds and then it’s too bad for you, they need to be fed or taken outside before they bounce off the walls or decide to walk around the house again with paint on their feet.

Lucky for me, this particular virus seems to be on its way out. Maybe thanks to immediately hopping on a range of immune-boosting concoctions: sipping raw apple cider vinegar, swallowing zinc supplements, high-dosing vitamin C, drinking medicinal tea, and snorting a xylitol spray. Whatever’s helping, I’ll be grateful to be operating on all cylinders again soon and catching up with my week!

Did you manage to escape the winter without illness? Any favorite home remedies that scare viruses away?

Image: David Meir, picography


Sugar Is Not My Friend

April 8, 2015

Easter Basket I’ve written here before about how my daughters don’t have a lot of refined sugar in their diet. They get honey on certain things, maple syrup with pancakes, and I bake with coconut palm sugar, but white sugar, candy, and conventional sweets don’t make it past our threshold very often.

I make exceptions, of course: stops for ice cream, special treats on Sundays or when visiting other people’s homes, birthdays, and holidays like Christmas and Easter.

Yes, Easter. Let’s talk about that. So, we kept the Easter baskets pretty small (it doesn’t take much to make S and H feel like they’ve hit the candy lottery): They received a chocolate bunny, chocolate eggs, a fun giant lollipop, jelly beans, and some other sweet things. Plus, we had more baked goods around, desserts, etc.

And then, like clockwork, just before heading out the door for Easter dinner with family, the meltdowns began. Every day since, after gorging on their candy and other sweets, we’ve had unusual fighting, fits of anger, sadness, long bouts of crying, grumpiness, and meanness.

All these things are a normal part of life at times, of course, and my girls are no exception — but not like what I’ve seen the past four days. Nothing else is different this week for them, except for the sustained sugar consumption.

Most studies about sugar’s effects on kids are about the connection sugar may have to hyperactivity, poor concentration, and decreased immune function. I haven’t seen much about its effects on mood, but it would be hard to convince me that sugar doesn’t affect children’s emotional states, especially after this week.

It’s a bummer because my girls get so excited about their sweets (because the poor things are deprived, of course). And when I do buy them, I try to get the best quality — no food dyes, no chemicals. But it hurts my mother’s heart to see them dealing with such extreme emotions this week and not to know how to help them except to take away the candy, which would only add to the tears. (Did I mention that a sweet neighbor lady gave them another chocolate bunny the other day as an Easter gift?)

Perhaps if they had sugar in their diet regularly they wouldn’t be reacting so strongly — or maybe they’d be like this all the time, and we’d assume it was “just the way they are.” (And we’d have to start hitting the whiskey every night to decompress.) Even B, who doesn’t always buy all my crazy health theories, is convinced about this one. He’s been here to witness it all with his own eyes — and ears.

Sugar is bad, people! At least it doesn’t seem to like this particular family.

Have you experienced these kind of sugar highs and lows with your kids? Yourself? How do you handle sweets and candy in your home?

Image: picjumbo