Living Slower With Interview Series

Morales Family

Becky Morales is a remarkable woman for a lot of reasons but I’m especially drawn to her because she’s living one of my alternative lives. An ESL teacher with a passion for multi-cultural education and traveling the world, she and her husband Antonio are the proud parents of four — two by adoption. Becky makes family life look exciting and interesting — and that comes through on her web site, kidworldcitizen, a helpful resource for families who want to bring the riches of other cultures and traditions into their own homes. Friends, I know you’ll love this interview with Becky as much as I do.


Zoe Saint-Paul: Some people have commented that your family looks like a mini United Nations. How did you come to build such an interesting little tribe?

Becky Morales: My husband is from Mexico City, and we met when he was an exchange student in the U.S. On one of our first dates, he told me he wanted to adopt because he had volunteered at an orphanage in Mexico. He didn’t realize that when I was 15, I traveled with my dad to bring home my brother and sister from Peru. So we always had adoption on our minds and knew we’d choose it to grow our family. We first tried to adopt from Latin America (since we speak Spanish), but switched to China for our first son. Once we had two daughters (biological) and then Tonito at home, we knew we’d adopt one more little boy. We were open-minded about where he’d be from and then heard about the Ethiopia program. We turned in our homestudy in February and a month later were matched with almost 3-year-old Ricky. It went very quickly, and he fits perfectly in our family.

Morales Children

Besides the gift of your two sons, what has adoption brought to your life?

We are so blessed. Everyday I wonder how I came to be so lucky to be the mom to my four beautiful children. When I married Antonio, he and I adopted many traditions from each other. As we added more countries and became a truly multicultural family  — U.S., Mexico, China, Ethiopia — we enriched our lives with more customs, food, languages, and celebrations. All of our kids like to celebrate Easter at the Ethiopian church, eating from the huge buffet of homemade injera and wot and playing basketball with the other kids; we also love to celebrate Chinese New Year at the Chinese Consulate every year, enjoying the lion dancers and drummers, the dragon dance, and all of the games and food associated with the holiday. We’re fortunate to have a large Chinese population in our town and an Ethiopian church that is extremely welcoming to adoptive families. These experiences would not have been on our radar if we hadn’t searched them out. Even simple things like taking out books from the library about our adoptive cultures help enrich our family.

Becky Morales

Travel is a passion of yours and you’ve been to many places. How has it changed you?

It’s changed the way I understand the world, how I interact with others, and how I teach my children. The first time I traveled, I was 15 and went to Peru — really, really off the beaten track. It was completely life-changing. The food, the culture, the architecture, the amazing scenery, Machu Picchu, the wonderfully warm people, the poverty, the colors…I was completely blown away. I was bitten by the travel bug and couldn’t wait to go on another adventure. As a college student I studied abroad twice, immersing myself in Spanish and then Ecuadorian culture and language. I love making friends in other parts of the world and seeing how they spend their time, celebrate, and share with their families. I teach ESL to immigrants and am a better, more compassionate teacher because I have an idea of where my students are coming from, and some of the difficulties they have acclimating and adapting to their new culture. I think traveling and learning the different circumstances under which people live, and the small amount of resources that are really necessary, changes the way we choose to live our lives.

Becky & Antonio Morales What travel experience can you never forget?

It’s so hard to choose just one! I’ll never forget the two-week trip Antonio and I took through southern Ethiopia. We were able to experience the culture, food, and traditions of our son’s heritage. During the trip, we met many children who sang us songs, invited us into their homes, introduced us to their parents, and showed off their soccer skills. Two favorite memories come from connections we made without sharing a single word of the same language: The first was in a market in a town called Dimeka, where the Hamer people live. Little kids were surrounding us and trying to communicate, and showing off. They wanted to talk with us so badly, and I couldn’t figure out a way to have a conversation. I ended up taking out a picture of my three kids at home (Tonito, Viviana, and Maya) and explaining that I was their mom.  Through miming and gestures they asked (and I explained) that my two daughters were biological and Tonito was adopted from China — they were very interested that he was Chinese. Our translator came over to explain that we were adopting a little boy from Ethiopia and the kids were applauding and hugging us.

My second favorite memory was when we visited the Mursi tribe, way in the lower Omo Valley. It was an awkward, uncomfortable visit. The Mursi tribe is known to be demanding of payment for photos; they’re seen by Westerners to be one of the most primitive tribes in the world — half-naked, painted and scarred bodies, and huge clay disks in the lips and ears of the married women are so unique that they attract tourists who want to take pictures. The entire village surrounded us, begging for photos, grabbing us and demanding “3 birr photo.” Our local guide tried to explain that bringing tourism to the Mursi tribes enables them to maintain their traditions. An older gentleman from the Mursi tribe looked curiously at my camera and seemed to want to play with it. I showed him how it worked, and he proceeded to take over 100 pictures of me, laughing hysterically by the end. The stress of the situation instantly dissipated and laughter filled the village. As they snapped pictures of me, I’d charge them “3 birr!!! No, 5 birr!”– a joke that had them cracking up, even though we didn’t speak the same language. They say that humor doesn’t translate, but both sides were repeating the joke and laughing again and again.

Becky With Mursai Tribe

Most people think traveling with children is too stressful. How have you made it work? How can parents build travel into their family’s life?

Kids have a bad rap. Yes, they get crabby, and they have tantrums, but they’re also extremely flexible if we keep exposing them to new experiences. They become good travelers if they get to practice. I take my kids everywhere with me, whether it’s the DMV, shopping, a quiet corner while I’m volunteering, meetings at school (where they need to sit quietly in the corner). Sometimes we’re successful, other times I need to leave early. But more often than not, if I’m prepared, the kids do great. These everyday experiences help them to be better little travelers. My kids are happier when they’re not hungry or thirsty, so I always have snacks for emergencies. I also play silly games or sing songs, tell them stories, etc. We do day trips all the time, weekend trips, and of course longer road trips whenever we get vacation time. When traveling by air, I suggest you allow plenty of time to eliminate the stress of running late, and acknowledge that 1) you’ll be slow going through security, 2) something will go wrong, so pack extra clothes/undies/wipes/snacks, and 3) your kids are only kids, and you’ll never see any of your fellow passengers again.

Morales Boys on Plane

We’ve had some major meltdowns when traveling. I remember one time in Hong Kong at the train station, two guards with huge guns came over to tell us we needed to “silence” our 3-year-old daughter, who was in the middle of a tantrum because I couldn’t carry her in the skinny lines with all of our bags, etc. She was tired, I was exhausted, our emergency lollypops were in our checked bags instead of our carry-ons, and I just smiled and said, “I can’t make her stop crying, I’m so sorry.” He then led us to the front of the line of customs, we made it through, and she finally stopped, happy to be running around and out of the long line.

It’s a process, but I think if parents are too scared to travel and don’t give their kids a chance to experience it, then of course their kids won’t be used to it, won’t know how to behave, and won’t be pleasant travelers. Remember to have a sense of humor and take things in stride.

Tonito Traveling

I’m a big fan of your website, where you share global activities you’ve used in the classroom and with your own children — games, traditional celebrations, recipes, arts & crafts, etc. Why is it important to teach children to be “citizens of the world”?

I truly believe if we teach kids about the world beyond their community, they will grow up to be culturally competent and compassionate world citizens. Educators and policymakers talk about 21st-century skills: critical thinking, problem solving, and communication. But there’s a global component to these skills: leadership, solving problems that affect the world, communicating across cultures. These can be taught to our youngest students through simple activities that help them gain a global and cultural awareness, and a realization that they play an important role in the world. Kids are very open to learning about other cultures, especially when they experience it through mediums they enjoy, like music, food, books, and movies.

You train ESL teachers and speak and write about multicultural education topics. How do you juggle your passions and work with the demands of motherhood?

My kids come first, which sometimes means I don’t always meet deadlines, I’m late to meetings, or I take longer to do things than I’d like. I’m learning to say no, though it’s not always easy. The volunteer teacher-training I do is only a couple times a month, and I bring my kids with me and they sit in the corner coloring, reading, or watching a DVD. I think it’s wonderful for kids to witness their parents volunteering time to help others.

I love my website because it combines all of my passions: I love to do crafts with my kids, cook with them, read them books, travel with them — we do most of these projects together on weekends and after school. I usually write at night once they’re in bed. We don’t have cable or any channels on our TV (but we do have Netflix), so at night I sit with my laptop while my husband either studies or watches movies. That’s when I relax.

Take us on a brief tour of your typical day.

I can’t do carpool for school because it’s too stressful — we either bike or walk in the morning. After I drop off the big kids, I take the little ones to their preschool or we go to the YMCA for a quick workout. We then visit the library or a park or play at home. After lunch, we read books and then do some coloring or puzzles while I make dinner. I love to cook and hate to rush, so I usually make dinner around 1 pm — either prepping it or actually fully cooking it. We walk or bike to get the big kids from school and spend a bit of time talking about their day, maybe start homework. Before dinner there’s inevitably an activity or sport, and afterwards it’s bedtime for the kids while I work on my website or ebook.

Slow living is about things like simplicity, beauty, connection, community, and not rushing through life all the time. How do you incorporate these ideals into your busy life?

We live in a wonderful community where parents are very involved in school and activities, and everywhere I go I run into someone we know. This helps if we need someone to watch one of the kids or carpool to activities. We limit the amount of activities our kids are in and maximize our time there by encouraging our children to do the same activities. So, for example, we have all four children in swim team, so we all go to the same practices and meets. We always have dinner as a family and rarely eat out — I think family dinners are so important to reconnect and talk about what’s happened during the day, what’s going on in everyone’s classes and with friends. Plus, all of my kids love to eat and love to talk, so it’s a happy time. We don’t watch TV; eliminating that background noise focuses the attention on our conversations. Our kids are growing up fast and I feel like we need to appreciate our time together before they grow up. When I first started my website, I was spending too much time in front of a screen and would only half pay attention to what was going on around me. My husband and I decided that we’d make a more conscious effort to give our undivided attention to the kids — so no phones or screens at the table or whenever any of the kids are talking to us. It’s a simple rule that the kids appreciate — and hopefully we’re setting an example for them.

What is your best tip for living well?

Do what you love and love what you do. You really do have the power to change your situation if you think creatively, work hard, and have patience to see it through. If you’re stuck in a job or situation you hate, write down all of the steps that need to happen in order to change it, and then work through them one by one and get to where you want to be. Life is too short to be unhappy and trapped.

What drives you and what relaxes you?

My family drives me — I’m devoted to their well-being. At the same time, I know I’m a better mom, wife, and friend when I am well-rested and healthy. This means I do make time for myself to work out and take care of myself. As for what relaxes me… I love the feeling after a good workout. I love when I have a clean house. I am completely relaxed when I’m in the kitchen cooking, or when I am snuggling on the couch reading to my kids. I also love my garden and being outside in nature.

What’s your greatest challenge right now?

My youngest has one more year before he starts kindergarten, and I’m trying to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up.” The biggest, most challenging decision I ever made was to stay home with my  kids and leave my teaching career. Now that all four kids will be in school, I’m trying to decide if I want to go back to teaching, go back to school, or try something completely different. I overanalyze decisions because I worry I’ll have regrets, so I’m trying to look at all of my options. Most people can’t understand why this is such a challenge, but I see an ocean of opportunities in front of me; I’m interested in so many different areas.

Your guilty pleasure is…

Haha, when I cook in the kitchen and no one is around I watch reality shows on hulu!

If you and your husband could get away just the two of you right now, where would you go?

If I could get a babysitter, I’d be happy to just be alone with my husband and go anywhere! I’ve always been drawn to Tanzania/Kenya…or maybe a tour through India.

Morales Family2

If you could pass along one important lesson to your children, what would it be?

I want my kids to be compassionate. They might not be the most athletic or the valedictorian, but if I raise compassionate, truly nice, decent kids who follow their dreams, I’ll be the happiest mom.


Thanks for spending time with us here on SlowMama, Becky — you show us that adventure doesn’t have to stop when kids show up, and I know parents will find inspiration in how you teach your children about the world. We’ll be keeping up with your beautiful family and helpful resources on!

Images provided by Becky Morales



Nikki Fisher and Children

Friends, I’m excited to introduce you to Nikki Fisher, an Australian mom and writer with a passion for food and holistic living. Fair warning, though: You might let out a big sigh when you read about her lovely life by the sea. Born in Melbourne, and now living in Blairgowrie, Nikki is mom to River (5) and Sol (2) and married to her photographer husband, Pete. Her work has been published in Epicure in The Age newspaper, The Age Good Food Guide, Cheap Eats, The Sunday Age, and ABC Gardening Australia. She blogs at The Wholefood Mama.


Zoe Saint-Paul: Living near the beach in Australia conjures up some amazing images in my mind. Paint a picture of what it’s like in your corner of the world.

Sea Views Nikki Fisher: We live on the Mornington Peninsula, a narrowing piece of land that juts out into Port Phillip Bay on one side and Bass Strait on the other. The coast we live on is a very popular tourist destination, particularly in the summer months when residents of Melbourne descend on the area. I enjoy the seasonal nature of living in a coastal town, and the ebb and flow of visitors. I love the power and energy of the sea and feel so blessed to have both bay and ocean just outside my door. I love that whether I’m driving River to school, taking the boys to the park, or running errands, wherever I drive there are views of the sea. The view, the air, the energy is a tonic to me. To be able to walk out my front door and walk to the beach, to climb sand dunes with my family and spend long summer days and nights by the water is my definition of luxury.

You were a food writer and restaurant critic in Melbourne before giving it all up for a different lifestyle. Why did you make the change, and what have the benefits been?

When I was pregnant with our first son, I had moved to the outskirts of Melbourne and was living on the Yarra River in the bush. My husband Pete, an author and photographer, was completing a photographic book about Point Nepean National Park by the ocean. He had surfed this coast for 20 years, and we decided to move near the waves. I grew up near the beach and the brief time I lived in the bush confirmed I’m a beach person, and couldn’t wait to move back.

The benefits of living out of the city and by the beach are the clear air, no traffic, small community primary school, lower cost of living, access to farm gates to buy locally grown food, and daily access to the beach. We spend so much time at the beach as a family and I love so much to see our boys playing in the water, searching for shells and sea creatures, running on the sand, and now learning to surf!

Kids Surfing

You grow some of your own food. Was this something you had to learn from scratch, or did you come into it with a green thumb and lots of knowledge?

I have to hand the credit to my husband Pete and our boys for tending the veggie garden. My involvement is directly linked to turning the harvest into our meals. I love the challenge of working out what we’ll cook with the 50th zucchini from the garden or the tenth kilo of tomatoes. I have memories etched in my mind of my brother and I planting vegetables with our great-grandmother and her taking us around the garden to pick the first strawberry of the season or sweet pea. Having a garden keeps us connected to the earth, nature, and the seasons, and I believe this connection is integral to the health and well being of people and the planet. If we’re not connected to the earth we have no incentive to care for it. It’s such a gift to children to help them stay connected to the cycles of life and the seasons through a garden. It’s also a wonderful way of encouraging them to eat vegetables: Children who are involved in growing, harvesting, and cooking food naturally want to eat it.

Food and cooking is your passion. Do you have a particular food or eating philosophy?

I subscribe to the philosophy that if nature didn’t create it, best not to eat it. I stick to whole, unprocessed foods — fruit, vegetables, fish, organic chicken, kangaroo, and grains such as rice, oats, and barley. The key to enjoying a whole foods way of life is herbs and spices. Learning to flavor your cooking with cumin, coriander, pepper, chili, garlic, and so on reduces cravings for sugar and salt.

I don’t believe in fake food — low-fat, artificial sweeteners and the like. Fats such as avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, butter, and fish oils are essential to good health. Twenty years ago I ate a lot of cow’s milk dairy products and suffered chronic sinus infections until a naturopath suggested I eliminate dairy from my diet. I haven’t had a sinus infection since. I tell this story not to say “cut dairy out of your diet,” but to highlight that switching to a health-conscious (rather than weight-conscious) way of eating happens over time, and it’s important to be patient and enjoy making the changes.

Do you have a favorite food or cuisine?

Boring, but true: I love good chocolate. My favorite cuisine is Thai; I’ve had the joy of traveling in Thailand and enjoyed so much a cooking class in Chang Mai in Northern Thailand. I don’t cook a lot of Thai food but am fortunate to have some friends who spend a lot of time in Thailand and prepare beautiful food that they’re happy to share.

You’ve got two minutes to grab your three favorite cooking tools. What are they?

First, my garlic press, partly for sentimental reasons because it was my mum’s and reminds me of her cooking — she wasn’t shy about using plenty of garlic. Second, my mini food processor — a gift from my mother-in-law gave  and I use it all the time for dips and pesto. Third, my citrus zester. Lemon is one of my all-time favorite flavors, both in sweet and savory dishes.

Where do you find inspiration for cooking? Any favorite cookbooks or web sites/blogs?

The foundation for my inspiration to cook comes mainly from my great-grandmother, whom I cooked alongside as a child, and my mother who also enjoyed cooking, but had less time to do it. I have a sizeable collection of cookbooks, which is one of the joys of reviewing cookbooks for a living! The ones I return to are Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, Allegra McEvedy’s Leon, Jill Dupleix’s New Food, and every cookbook written by Australian whole-foods chef Jude Blereau. I particularly love her books Coming Home to Eat and Wholefoods for Children. Also, Australian restaurant-reviewer-turned-farmer and cookbook author Matthew Evans’ book The Real Food Companion is a treasure.

Favorite sites include: Whole Food Cooking (Jude’s blog), Heidi’s Swanson’s 101 cookbooks, Veggie Num Num, and My New Roots (my kind of food!). Also, Joy the Baker — her recipes call for way more sugar than I can handle, but I do love the way she writes and how she puts recipes together with such beautiful photos and words to match.

You’re a writer and now a blogger. What have you learned from being a writer?

I’ve learned to listen not just with my ears, but with my eyes and my heart. I’ve learned to be patient, to let the story unfold, and to also expect the unexpected. I’ve learned that the best writing is fueled by passion.

Nikki Fisher

Take us on a brief tour of your typical day.

I wake between 6-6:30 am, thanks to my trusty alarm clock, Sol. Weekday morning duties are breakfast for everyone (fruit in season, followed by poached eggs or porridge or rye sourdough with almond spread), making River’s school lunch, sneaking out the door for a quick run and, if that doesn’t happen, doing a few yoga stretches. I take River to school and either come home and set Sol up with something to do while I check emails, write, read for book reviews, etc; or I run errands and take Sol to playgroup. Fingers crossed Sol will have a nap after lunch and I can do more computer work and get some dinner prepared. I pick River up from school and spend the afternoon at the beach or the park or at home playing. I try to avoid going near shops or computer after school and make that “slow time,” just to play and be together. We eat dinner as a family around 5:30 pm/6 pm. I like to have both boys into bed by 7 pm for story reading and, all going well, they’re asleep by 7:30/8 pm. Then it’s time for me to write or spend time with Pete, who’s thinking of setting a curfew for my blogging!

How do you stay organized? How do you balance your writing and creative life with motherhood?

This is an ever-changing work in progress. I have cared for River and Sol full-time since they were born. With extended family living 1.5-2 hours away, we don’t have childcare on hand. I’ve chosen to spend this time in the boys’ early years with them, rather than seek out childcare, so I’ve always worked during their nap times and at night when they sleep, which isn’t ideal because I’m constantly sleep deprived. But I know it’s not forever.

As for staying organized, being one step ahead makes for a happier home in my experience. I like to have activities in mind for after school — something as simple as a stack of picture books about snakes, surfing, dragons, and pirates from the local library will keep the boys engrossed while I prepare dinner. I prioritize tasks I can do with children around and those that can only be done when they’re sleeping or with Pete. So washing dishes and folding washing happens while the children are around, and writing happens when they’re not. I don’t want them to know me as a mum who’s always in front of a computer screen or on a mobile phone; we limit television to weekends, so it doesn’t feel right to say “no screen time” for them and then see me in front of a screen. This is River’s first year at school, and one task I’ve set myself is to have the house in order — beds made, dishes done, washing on — before I walk out the door, so when I come back from dropping him off I can make a start straight away on working. I rarely feel as organized as I’d like to be.

Fisher Family

Slow living is about things like simplicity, beauty, staying connected, and not rushing through life all the time. How do you incorporate these ideals into your life?

Taking time to stop and notice the color of the water or the sky, making time to go to the beach or the park together as a family, greeting the day with the yoga pose “salute to the sun,” which I’ve taught the boys, making time each day to prepare food and not resort to convenience food. Consuming less. Keeping life simple by having fewer things and giving more time to family, friends, and creative interests. Not scheduling too many activities — I think it’s important for children to spend time at home playing rather than being out a lot or doing too many extra curricular activities. Also, we always begin our family meals with a blessing — to say thank you to the garden or the sea that gave us our food and to appreciate those we are sharing the meal with. This isn’t a common practice in Australian families, but it’s another way of slowing down and being aware, rather just launching into eating.

What is your best tip for living well? 

The truth will set you free. Be true to yourself and everything else will fall into place.

What drives you and what relaxes you?

I’m a hippy at heart and appreciate all the beautiful and simple details of life, but I really thrive on achieving. I’ve been a goal setter from a young age, and the satisfaction of completing something really well drives me. Having solitude relaxes me — walking on the beach, soaking in the bath, yoga.

Toes in the Water

What is your greatest challenge right now?

Making the time to improve my fitness. Also, my youngest son, Sol, is close to giving up his day nap, which will reduce my writing time by 2-3 hours each day, which is a huge amount of time to lose. It will be a challenge for me to find more writing time without giving up sleep!

Your guilty pleasure is…

I try and avoid guilt! Daily coffee in a cafe. Not really sure why I feel guilty about this, but I do.

If you could pass along one important lesson to your children, what would it be?

To live your life with respect for self, others, and the earth — and to appreciate every moment.

Your last meal on Earth would be…

A ripe golden mango. Rocket salad with carrot, beetroot, avocado, toasted walnuts, sesame seeds and pepitas, and goats cheese dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Followed by raw chocolate.

What do you love best about your life right now?

My family. I truly love being a mum and being married to Pete. Tiring as family life can be, it stretches me in wonderful ways and makes my heart swell. A friend whose three children are grown said to me, “This time in your life is enriching you in ways you don’t even know yet.” That feels true.


Thank you, Nikki, for sharing your beautiful life and family with us! If I ever make it Down Under, can I come by to see your view of the sea and maybe try some kangaroo?

Note: This is the fourth installment in my  “Living Slower With…”  series where  I ask interesting women how they live well in a fast-paced world and how they juggle their many priorities. You can find previous interviews here

Images from Nikki Fisher


Agnes Blum Wreath

I’m featuring another artist mom this month: the lovely Agnes Blum. Agnes is a mixed-media and textile artist in Austin, Texas; a wife to Justin; and a mama to four-year-old Abby-Sue and one-year-old Robert. She runs the arts and crafts blog knock-knocking, where she features her work and writes about loving life in Austin.

Zoe Saint-Paul: You’re a textile artist. What made you choose textiles as your medium, and what in particular do you love to create?  

Agnes Blum: I’ve been an active artist since I was very young and have both learned and taught my love of art for years. I’ve explored different mediums and challenged myself with various techniques, but I found my niche working with fabrics and paints. Although I’m not limited to creating them, yarn wreaths inspired by the colors and shapes found in nature are my passion. It’s been exiting and rewarding for me to see how well my little idea has taken off since that first day so long ago when I decided to create the first one.

A peek at your etsy shop, your blog, or even inside your home shows how much you love color. What colors inspire you, and what do you think they bring to your work or home space?  

The colors I love change all the time. Different ones inspire me depending on my mood — and my moods are, in turn, changed by color; I’m in a constant flux. Right now I’m in love with pairing up Southwestern-inspired tones: burnt sienna, rich oranges, pops of red and turquoise.

Agnes Blum

You’re an artist, entrepreneur, and mom. How do you find time for it all?  

It’s certainly been a challenge, but I think the saying holds true that if you really love something, you find time for it. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. Since creating art is a wonderful, relaxing experience for me, it has been easier to have it in my day because it builds me up. I’ve had to work with the schedule of my family, but some of my best moments are the ones after the children are in bed and it’s just me, my color wheel, and a glass of tea in my little studio.

Take us on a brief tour of your typical day.  

It’s hitting the floor at seven, sharing a few moments with my husband before work, and then feeding the children. My oldest daughter goes to preschool so I send her off with a kiss; and then my little buddy Robert and I mail boxes, organize supplies, or hunt for vintage pieces to feature in my wreaths. After he goes down for his nap or is working with his physical therapist, I typically answer emails and phone calls, do any photography work that needs to be shot with the mid-day sunlight, and work with the shop owners or galleries who carry my art. I often sketch and brainstorm new work during this time as well. After lunch, errands, and cleaning the house, I usually have a quiet time for the children which allows me to wrap the bulk of my wreath forms. I don’t get a chance to work again until after the children are in bed, and that is typically when I do my felt sculpting, cake toppers, and custom work.

How do you stay organized?  

It’s a work in progress. I try to streamline or organize one new thing a day to make sure that my system is as quick and efficient as possible.  My studio is in a spacious walk-in closet that I have carefully organized by color and with the work flow of each piece in mind. I added a little wooden baby gate across the doorway so that the children can play and interact with me but aren’t into every little button, bead, or tube of paint. It has worked out well.

Agnes Blum Studio

What did motherhood bring to your life, and how did it change you? 

I think the largest change in my life with becoming a mother was understanding how important a mission it is to share beauty with your children. You only have so much time with them before they’re grown, and I think it’s essential to make sure every day is filled with beautiful, simple moments.

Slow living is about things like simplicity, beauty, staying connected, and not rushing through life all the time. How do you incorporate these ideals into your life?  

For us, it’s all about living simply in the day-to-day activities in our home. I make sure my house is organized and clutter-free, and I’m always sharing donations with our local vintage or thrift shop — or looking for home goods there myself. It’s an important part of recycling and living as green a life as possible. I use wood, tin, or cotton whenever I can exchange them for plastic, and I try to keep in mind Mother Teresa’s quote: “Live simply so others may simply live.”

What is your best tip for living well? 

Don’t bring something into your home you don’t absolutely love. Don’t settle for whatever you can find off the shelf without putting a little effort into researching what it is that you really enjoy. I guarantee that you will love looking at a special piece of art that you researched and carefully selected over whatever was available at the local box store.

What drives you, and what relaxes you?  

I am driven by a love of color and the desire to share that passion with others. Everyone deserves to have something beautiful and special in their homes. Sometimes I have a color combination so stuck in my head that no other shade will do, and I can’t rest until I’ve moved the idea out of my mind and onto canvas, or yarn, or whatever the medium might be. I relax by studying a new technique, painting, or decorating my home.

What is your greatest challenge?  

Certainly it would be balancing being a mother, wife, and business owner. There is only so much Agnes to go around, so I have to remind myself that, although anyone can work a business, only I can mother my children.

If nothing were an obstacle, where would you live, what would you be doing, and who would you be with? 

I would certainly be living right here in Austin, Texas — maybe a little closer to the lake, and I would have more wood in my home. But I’m very blessed and happy right where I am, surrounded by amazing artists and friends in this city and enjoying all of its artistic sides, from music to visual arts.

Your guilty pleasure is…  

Hot yoga and Essie fingernail polish.

Another aspect of slow living is an appreciation for craftmanship. What handmade item of yours do you most treasure? 

This is a tough one. It’s a three-way tie between the oak crib that Justin’s grandfather created, my little vintage-style banjo, and the spectacular wooden animal chair that my dear friend Caroline and her team crafted for me at Paloma’s Nest.

You have a free Sunday afternoon — how do you spend it? 

With my family, downtown. Walking by the lake, enjoying ice cream on South Congress, and listening to a live band on the corner.

What do you love best about your life right now? 

I love everything about my life right now. The friends and family I have and the amazing opportunity I have to be an artist in such a beautiful city. It’s all good.


Thank you, Agnes, for giving us a window into your colorful, artistic life! Just looking at your wreaths make me feel a little more exuberant.

Folks, be sure to check out more of Agnes’s life and work at knock-knocking!

Note: This is the third installment in my series called “Living Slower With…” where  I ask interesting women how they live well in a fast-paced world and how they juggle their many priorities. 



Nicole Bourgea is a working artist and the mother of three: Max (7), Gus (5), and Georgia Clare (3). In her work she focuses primarily on portraits, cityscapes, and other commissions; her current non-commissioned work explores the intersection of fine art and street art. You can find her at and her personal blog, She lives with her husband, Colin, and their kids in Washington, DC.

Zoe Saint-Paul: You’re a third-generation artist. How was art and creativity fostered in your home growing up? 

Nicole Bourgea: My grandfather’s work was always hanging in our home. In fact, it’s still in my home today. My mom is an art teacher, so every day growing up involved some simple lesson in learning to really see. My sisters and I played in the back of her art classes when she was finishing school. Instead of watching television, we spent time climbing around outside and turning our wrap-around porch into a stage set for the plays we made up.

You get to live next door to your sister (who also happens to be an artist and a designer). I’m so jealous! What is that like?  

Fantastic! So many people say that they could never live next to their siblings, but we are very lucky. We help each other out with babysitting and are constantly sharing thoughts on our respective projects. It doesn’t hurt that our kids get to grow up with their cousins, either!

Can you tell us about one of your favorite commissions or a recent project that particularly inspired you?

I’m actually really excited about the project I’m working on between commissions right now: It’s called, “As Is: An Urban Treasure Hunt,” and it explores the distinction between “fine” art and “street” art. I’m painting 15 large-scale portraits of people going about their day and installing them in public spots throughout the city. If a passerby is the subject of the painting, he or she can take the original portrait right off the wall home with them. (I’m giving these large, time-intensive paintings away for free — think Cracker Jack prize, only cooler!) There will also be maps under each portrait providing clues to the location of the other paintings. Portraiture involves a type of attention that we don’t really have time for these days; this project is my little way of sharing that “noticing” with more people.

You’re an artist and a mom. How do you find time for both?

I’ve come to terms with the fact that it will never feel like I’m doing everything perfectly. I have friends who seamlessly blend their work and home life, but I’ve decided what works best for me is to keep them separate. I work in a studio space away from my house, I have a wardrobe of paint-splattered clothes just for the hours I plug in there, and I use my maiden name for business. When I’m honest with myself, I recognize that I’m an all-or-nothing girl. Knowing that I can devote myself fully to my work when I’m at the studio, and then change hats and dive right in 100 percent with my family once I’m home, gives me peace.


Nicole with her children: Max, Georgia, and Gus

Take us on a brief tour of your typical day. 

A weekday starts with getting everyone fed, dressed, kissed, and off to school. Then it’s work time. I turn my phone on vibrate as soon as I walk into the studio. I have my painting plan of attack mapped out before I get there, so I grab my brushes and go to work. I make it a rule to devote this time solely to the art itself. I find that four hours is about my limit for total concentration before I need a break. After that, I pick up my daughter Georgia and we eat lunch together while she tells me about her day. She takes a two-hour nap, and I take care of the business side of being an artist — returning e-mails about commissions, filling out grants, filing taxes, etc. Georgia wakes up and we pick up my boys from school. I really want to be the one they see after a long day at school and I love seeing their excited little faces spotting me across the parking lot. We all head home together and do homework, have a snack, and play soccer or walk to the park until dinnertime. The kids have quiet reading or play time alone while my husband makes dinner and we catch up. My husband does bed time with the kids while I clean up and plan for the next day.

How do you stay organized?

I seem to have all my energy in the first half of the day, so I organize everything like lunches, calendars, and plans of attack the night before. That way I can just jump right in without having to think too much about it in the morning.

What did motherhood bring to your life? How did it change you?

Motherhood has made me very grateful for my own mother and humbled by the grace of all the other women in my life who have done or are doing it. It’s helped me be more generous and willing to accept the generosity of others — because we all need a little help sometimes. It has forced me to be more organized. Most of all, though, it’s made me laugh! We keep a quote book of all the hilarious things our babies say and pull it out when we need a good chuckle.

I love the name of your blog — “I Hate to Alarm You.” Where did it come from, and what do you like to write about there? 

Thanks! My husband actually suggested it, because it’s a phrase I use a lot about really unimportant things — like, ” I hate to alarm you, but this is a really gorgeous day!” The subtitle of the blog is “casual eurekas in art and life,” because I think as an artist I have a sense of wonder about things that are both simple and profound. I love sharing those thoughts on the blog. I also have a regular feature where I compare paintings with interiors, called  “Monday Match.”

I have to ask you about your appearance on The Nate Berkus Show. How did that happen, and what was the best part for you?

Ha! Well my sister Leah writes for Apartment Therapy (AT), and when she was trying out for the job she had to submit a house tour. She and I have keys to each others’ places, so she broke in one day while I was out and took a few shots that AT ended up publishing a few months later. Someone from The Nate Berkus Show saw them and asked if I’d be interested in coming on the show. The whole thing was a blast! I felt like a total star for a couple of days. One of the most eye-opening parts was standing next to Jillian Michaels backstage and seeing that even she was nervous to go on TV! We’re all just people.


Nicole flanked by aids of The Nate Berkus Show

Slow living is about things like beauty, staying connected to what matters, simplifying, and not rushing through life all the time. How do you incorporate these ideals into your life? 

I think motherhood is messy. It’s easy to stress yourself out when you consider how un-zen-like your life with kids looks and sounds. Compartmentalizing my work time has allowed me to embrace the messiness a little more when I’m back in the middle of it.

Another aspect of slow living is an appreciation for craftmanship. What handmade item of yours do you most treasure? 

Oh, there are so many things…but I have three very active and creative kids. I’m trying to get better at that trick of envisioning the glass already broken when I buy it! That being said, I try not to let too many things into my home that are not beautiful or useful (and ideally they are both). I have a lamp that I bought in college that I adore; my family calls it “Mom’s Pride and Joy.” It has the perfect milk glass shade, and I’ll be very sad when it breaks. But look at that…I must be making progress because I said “when,” not “if” — hooray!

What is your best tip for living well?

Stay engaged.

What drives you, and what relaxes you?

Drives me: hot showers, deadlines, the city, the smell of my studio in the morning, good music, a good run, brunch with friends. Relaxes me: hot showers, a blank spot on the calendar on a weekend morning for cuddles and pancakes, the beach, picnics with the whole family, good music, and wine + fire pit + guitars with my sister, brother-in-law, and husband between our houses on summer nights.

Your guilty pleasure is…

Does anyone say anything other than chocolate here?!

What is your greatest challenge?

Remembering that the purpose of life is the process.

You have a free Sunday afternoon. How do you spend it? 

Well, I put in a lot of time in the studio on Saturdays, so I love a good morning date with my husband. Brunch and just kicking around town like we don’t have a care in the world is amazing!

What do you love best about your life right now?

I love that these are the years we will look back on! It’s crazy sometimes, but it’s also a ton of fun. I love all of the energy around me right now, and I want to bottle it up to breathe when I’m a little old lady.


Thanks so much to Nicole for giving us a window into her lovely and creative life! I love the new street-art project she’s currently working on. SlowMama readers living in Washington, DC, should be on the lookout!

Note from SlowMama: This is the second installment in my new series called “Living Slower With…” where  I interview interesting women about their lives, asking them how they live well in a fast-paced world and how they juggle their many priorities. Hope you enjoyed it!

Images from Nicole Bourgea


I’m excited to announce my new interview series called “Living Slower With…” I’ve had this idea since I launched SlowMama and thought it would be a great new feature for 2012. I’ll be interviewing interesting women about their lives, asking them how they live well in a fast-paced world and how they juggle their many priorities. Hope you enjoy my first conversation below…


I first met Theresa Cangialosi when I walked into her Baltimore aromatherapy boutique, SoBotanical. Something magical seemed to be going on in there; it was full of mysterious colored bottles and intoxicating scents. Ever since, I’ve been a huge fan of Theresa’s products (I’ve written about them here), and inspired by her ability to live so naturally in the city as an entrepreneur and mom. She gave birth to her gorgeous daughter, Gabriella, in her late 40s, which I also find amazing.

Zoe Saint-Paul: Aromatherapy is a fascinating field. How did you get into it, and what do you love about it? 

Theresa Cangialosi: My initial interest started in the mid-1980s while working as a flight attendant and traveling overseas. I came across essential oils in drugstores everywhere I went and wondered why they weren’t in the United States. I introduced them to a health-food store I was working in and ended up buying all the supply. I immediately saw results. The management thought it was hocus pocus, so I left and opened up my own store with a focus on essential oils and natural body products.

I love that I get to witness positive results daily. To hear positive feedback from tens of thousands of people over the years is a true testament to the art and science of aromatherapy.

What are your favorite scents?

The immune-boosting essential oils: eucalyptus, ravensara, tea tree, lavender. I also love to wear ylang ylang as a quick little perfume or a jasmine pomade that I make.


You’re an entrepreneur and a mom. How do you find time for both?

My first priority is my family. I do my work around my daughter and my family’s schedule. Having my studio by appointment is wonderful, because I can be flexible with my hours and creative time. This also helps me have more in my life than just work. Some customers are bothered that I’m not always available, but I think those who are supposed to be there will find a way. I have loyal clients — some from more than 25 years ago.

There are never enough hours in the day, but that’s what makes it perfect: It all happens in divine order. I believe in going with the flow.

Take us on a brief tour of your typical day. 

I wake up around 7 am, put on a pot of coffee, and get ready for the day. If I have 15-20 minutes to sit by myself in peace and read the paper, all is good. The rest of the house wakes up shortly thereafter (dog, daughter, husband, and cat), and I help with all their morning routines. It’s then off to Montessori school for my daughter by 9 am. After an hour, I’m back home — tidying the house, starting loads of wash, and getting things organized for any business I have that day: returning calls, putting together orders, working on business development and some appointments.

Three times a week for an hour, I do a group fitness club at the gym, and 1-2 times a week I do yoga. Then it’s 2 pm and time to pick up my daughter. I love the car ride, as I use it to catch up on sports radio (I am a huge Baltimore Ravens fan!). The afternoon is all about my daughter, Gabriella, and on some evenings my husband and I get a sitter so we can form sentences together without interruption. Before I know it, the day is over and I look forward to sleep, ready to start all over again the next day. I certainly do not understand the concept of boredom!

How do you stay organized? 

I used to be super organized in all aspects until Gabriella came along; now I let a lot of things slide. We travel quite a bit, so I’m always ready to go; being a flight attendant helped me travel light and stay organized. Chaos makes me anxious, and so does a dirty environment, but I’ve loosened up quite a bit. Still, I love to organize; in fact, I used to be a cleaner and home organizer when I was younger for families and hotels. If I didn’t have an aromatherapy business, I might be a professional organizer. I love Feng Shui energetics.

You became a mother at the ripe young age of 48. What did it bring to your life, and how did it change you?

As everyone says, it changes your life — and for mine, it was for the better. I have much less time for myself and very little down time, but it allows me to be of service to others and to find the flow. It makes me want to be a better person and to teach my child things that were never taught to me. I knew having a child would be a huge change, and that’s why I waited so long.

Theresa& Gabriella

I must say you look incredibly young — I never would have guessed your age. May I ask what your diet is like?

I’ve been vegetarian since I was 16 years old, and about 9 years ago I started eating some fish and shellfish, so technically I’m a pescatarian now. I’m picky about the cooking oils I use; no fried, boxed, or canned foods; and not much sugar except for special occasions. I love nuts. I do mostly organic food, and I love veggies. I never consumed soda or juice and never did milk or eggs. I drink lots of water — my skin looks and feels older when I don’t have enough water — or when I have a good cry (like the other night after the Ravens lost!). My downfalls are coffee, red wine, and chocolate… I cant resist them. I do regret spending so much time in the sun when I was younger, though.

Slow living is about simplicity, beauty, staying connected, and not rushing through life all the time. How do you incorporate these ideals into your life? 

I’m a very simple person — a very blessed simple person — so I appreciate the goodness of life. I move at my own pace and don’t compete with others but try to embrace them. I’m a very spiritual person and stay connected within. Remembering to give thanks every day is important to me. Whatever I get done in a day is perfect, and I don’t put time frames or restrictions on my life.

What is your best tip for living well?

Living well is in the mind and then translates to the body, so keeping a healthy mind and body is very important. Without good health, nothing is fun. Eating healthy is extremely important, as is laughter and happy memories. Beauty happens naturally if you take care of yourself. Live life as if there’s no tomorrow — use your good dishes, good glasses, and say “I love you” every day, because there may not be a tomorrow. All we have is the moment, really.

What drives you and what relaxes you?

Having a great family drives me. Creating new ideas drives me. My husband and I are both entrepreneurs, and we can come up with some ridiculously crazy and wonderful ideas at any moment! What relaxes me: having my team win!, a healthy family, spa treatments, being with best friends, and looking forward to family events.

What is your greatest challenge?

Remaining focused and giving thanks no matter what.

Your guilty pleasure is…

…enjoying a great massage treatment with no care in the world except to receive. (I was a massage therapist for more than 10 years.) Traveling for fun is also such a pleasure, with quiet beaches and a great glass of wine in hand…

If you could speak to your 25-year-old self, what would you say? 

I’d say, you’re not as old as you think you are, and you can do anything. Don’t be so serious. Family is super important, so cherish it while it’s here. Forgive all.

You have a free Sunday afternoon. How do you spend it? 

In fall and winter: Brunch, football, and dinner. In spring: brunch, relaxation, and dinner.  In summer: brunch, beach, and dinner. Sundays are always about nothing and everything!


What do you love best about your life right now?

I love that I have lots of joy and don’t fear anything at this moment. I also have someone to share my joy with, and that makes it even better. I love knowing every one close to me is healthy, and I pray for this every day.


Thank you, Theresa, for sharing a little of your life with us!

(SoBotanical’s new website  is under development and will be ready this spring.)

Images: 1 & 2 by Zoe Saint-Paul, 3 & 4 from Theresa Cangialosi

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