Holidays, Events & Parties

Pull Up a Chair

August 1, 2014

S with Styled Hair
When we arrived at camp last week, hair braiding was offered for the kids. Both S and H wanted to do it, though I wasn’t quite sure how it would go, as their hair is still pretty short. Both of them sat for a long time, taking the pain like pros, as the stylists combed their hair out; eventually, though, I spotted the face of my tender-headed little S and knew she’d had enough. As I approached to ask if she was okay, her bottom lip began to tremble and she burst into tears in my arms. Not the way I wanted her to start camp! I pulled her out of there, Daddy gave her a lot of love, and she recovered.

I made a point to watch what the stylist was doing with H’s hair, and later I asked S if she wanted me to try styling her hair. She did, and it ended up pretty cute, if I do say so myself. Not as professional looking as H’s, but at least S felt like she had fun hair, too. H’s style lasted three days — I just spruced up her loose locks in the back each morning. The hair bands bothered S when she laid down to sleep, so I took them out and she wore colorful headbands for the rest of camp, which she was very happy with.

H's Hair Style
Of course, then there was my hair, which I have never been good at doing much with; my new fall-back is to throw a hair band on it to distract from the fact that I haven’t showered for a while. At camp one day, I peppered my scalp with a little lavender body powder for a sort of dry shampoo, but that made it look like I have more gray than I do. Oops.

S and H
Here’s S (on the left) and H, sporting their new ‘dos. Too cute, huh?

For our Friday happy-hour chat, I’m offering an enlightened mud slide; the name made me smile when I saw it on Tasting Table. Grab one and tell me about your high and low of the week! Here’s mine:

Low: Re-entry day on Monday, after our family time away, was hard on everyone. We also had some sickness in the house this week. And, as I wrote about Wednesday, so much tragic news.

High: Hmmm, not sure… I got to see Margaret’s lovely face one day while she was in town; I had success using my new dutch oven; I had some sweet moments with my favorite girls.

Bonus question: Do you spend a lot of time on your hair or your child’s hair? Got any favorite styles or tutorials online that you love? 

Enjoy your weekend, friends, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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 Me and My Girls
Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp was great — beautiful location, well run, lots of fun…a truly edifying experience. I expected it to be all that, but I was surprised at how emotional and thought-provoking it was, too. While the children were in activities, the adults attended workshops, talks, and panel discussions of our own. B and I took cooking and music classes; had the opportunity to listen to an artist and author talk about their experiences in Ethiopia; and heard many interesting perspectives on transracial adoption, race issues in America, culture, traveling to meet birth/first families, and more.

I’m still processing it all, but I thought I’d share some of the takeaways that are foremost in my mind at the moment. Many of these aren’t new thoughts or ideas, but they were solidified or affirmed for me this weekend.

1. We are all Ethiopian now.

When we adopted our girls, we adopted everything about them — including their birth culture and relatives. My own country of origin, cultural influences, and heritage — as well as B’s — are now part of our daughters’ story, and theirs is part of ours. Even our extended family members are now linked to Ethiopia because their grandchildren/nieces/cousins are Ethiopian. I knew this on a certain level before, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I understood more deeply what that means. (Now if only I could arrange to inherit my daughters’ eyelashes.)

At Heritage Camp
2. Best to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

As a number of speakers pointed out, adopting transracially and transculturally is bold. Society doesn’t understand it (and in many cases doesn’t support it). Issues like race, discrimination, adoption, identity, and cultural integration are hard enough to talk about let alone having these issues intimately affect your parenting. Families like ours can help create change, but we also need to be prepared for the discrimination, prejudice, and misunderstandings that we — especially our children — may face.

3. I’m very grateful that my parents were (and are) countercultural.

I’ve appreciated this for a long time, but this weekend it struck me again that the way I was raised gives me confidence in my parenting. The issues were different for my family of origin, but there are parallels to draw: We stuck out; we were different; my mother was often the Lone Ranger, going against the grain, voicing unpopular views, or challenging the status quo. I developed a strong sense of confidence and self-awareness without having to be like everyone else; I hope my daughters can do the same. My own family, my daughters, don’t have to follow any path but our own.

Music & Dancing at Heritage Camp
4. I can’t fix everything for my kids, and I can’t prepare for everything, either. 

I know this intellectually, but I’m a fixer and a planner. Hearing other parents’ stories at camp, I was reminded that, as much as we’d all take bullets for our kids, we can’t always fix their pain, erase the hard parts of their past, or anticipate everything that will come their way. Being a warrior for my kids and accepting that I can’t make everything okay is a delicate dance. All parents contend with this, but adoption adds its own layers.

5. My instincts are good.

I could tell myself this before, but I guess I doubted it sometimes. Every parent does, right? The camp challenged me and gave me some new things to think about, but I left feeling like I’ve got a decent grasp of what we’re doing well and where we can improve.

At Heritage Camp with Friends
6. Ethiopians are the loveliest people. 

This camp is run by Ethiopians, directed by a dynamic woman and staffed by volunteers, many of whom were young Ethiopian women who are great role models for our daughters. As a past event planner, I was impressed by how well-organized the program was, while still feeling very laid back and relaxed. Most big events have a hard time finding that balance, and it struck me as part of the Ethiopian touch. As diverse as they are, Ethiopians are generally kind, gentle, dignified, humble, strong, resilient, and determined. They value family and children, faith, tradition, community, education, and celebration. It was meaningful to connect with wonderful Ethiopian Americans who want to enrich the lives of children, talk about hard issues, and celebrate adoption and family. (And they are gorgeous people to boot.)

7. B is better at traditional Ethiopian dancing than I thought. 

Just hoping that the adult dance competition segment from Saturday night doesn’t end up on YouTube. Enough said.

******

Anything you’d like to know about culture camp? Ask away!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul and B

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Pull Up a Chair

July 25, 2014

Coffe Ceremony in Addis Restaurant
Today I’m in the beautiful state of Virginia with B and the girls at a four-day Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp. The girls have been so excited for it! The camp is in its sixth year and brings together families raising Ethiopian-American children for activities, workshops, and cultural experiences. I’ve heard about it for years — long before the girls came home — and always wanted to go.

Despite the name, we won’t actually be camping; the on-site accommodations were booked by the time we registered, so we’ll be roughing it in a nearby hotel. But it has a pool and gives us a place for some down time, which my introverted husband will no doubt appreciate. I also left my computer at home so I could take a brief technology break; I’ll have my smart phone and might post a few shots on Instagram, but otherwise I want to focus on being with my family and experiencing all the camp has to offer.

In honor of my daughters’ birth culture, this week I’m offering a virtual glass of tej — a honey wine drunk in Ethiopia (and sometimes Eritrea) that’s brewed with powdered leaves and twigs and a hops-like agent. (I even found a winery in California that makes and sells it called ENAT.) My high and low this week are pretty straightforward:

High: Coming to heritage camp! (It sure is pretty down here.)

Low: An extra rough day on the parenting front this week. Ugh.

Bonus question: What’s left on your summer bucket list? Well, the one thing on my list this summer — getting home to Nova Scotia — is not happening, so there’s nothing else in particular on my list except to make sure we mix lots of fun stuff in with the projects and preparations I need to tackle in August. What about you?

Enjoy your weekend, friends, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Bulldogs
Baltimore is known for its quirkiness, and the American Visionary Art Museum‘s Annual Fourth of July Pet Parade is the perfect embodiment of quirk. We’ve rarely missed one since we moved here. (It helps that the museum is right around the corner from our home.)

AVAM Pet Parade Poster
This is no ordinary parade, and these are no ordinary pets. Their humans — many dressed up in Independence Day–themed costumes — dress them up and “parade” them in front of an admiring crowd, vying for wacky awards and honorable mentions. Most of the entrants are dogs, but over the years we’ve seen turtles and other reptiles, birds, a firefly in a mason jar, and a piglet. This year we spotted some goats.

AVAM Dog

AVAM Goat

AVAM Cat

AVAM Dog
The human contestants are called on stage one by one to share their pets’ names and any fun facts, tricks, or quirks about their furry/scaly/feathered friends. A small dog wearing some googly eyes was peeking out of the basket in the photo below; behind, you can see Fifi, the AVAM’s giant pink poodle “kinetic sculpture,” who makes regular appearances in local parades.

AVAM Pet Parade Stage
There was a Cuban food truck on hand serving the crowd. It might not be hot dogs and apple pie, but ethnic food always seems pretty American to me.

AVAM Pet Parade
In spite of the fact that our girls are still pretty wary of dogs, they handled being in a crowd of festive-looking canines quite well.

AVAM Monkey on Dog's Back
AVAM’s Pet Parade always makes us smile and gives us another chance to say “only in Baltimore.”

What did you get up to this past weekend? Are there any “signature” events in your neck of the woods at this time of year?

This post was inspired by Design Mom‘s newly resurrected series, “Love the Place You Live.” Be sure to check out the link-up at her site for more posts where readers explore fun places and events close to home; if you’re a blogger, too, I hope you’ll join in!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up a Chair

July 4, 2014

4th of July

Happy Friday, friends — and happy Fourth of July to my American readers! Hope it’s a safe and happy day wherever you are. We have plans with family this weekend and otherwise are laying low, since B was down with a terrible case of food poisoning last weekend (and the earlier part of this week) and we could use a few days to catch up on some things and just be.

Today definitely calls for an celebratory drink, though, so join me and grab a 4th of July Wine Sparkler from The Kitchn. Don’t they look light, refreshing, and fun? As for my high and low this week:

Low: Although he’s finally on the mend, B’s illness seemed to last a long time. I’ve been sleeping with the girls a lot, which rarely provides a sound and restful sleep. I also usually get a couple of short breaks on the weekends, but since B was out of commission, it wasn’t possible — plus I was trying to take care of him as I could, which, on the heels of the girls’ birthday festivities, felt like a lot. (Whenever I solo parent for a while I think of all the single parents out there — how do they do it??)

High: Luckily, I had no where much to be this past week — some play dates, errands to run, visits with family members — but otherwise, it was pretty low key. I’m totally digging the summer schedule with no homeschooling activities, lessons, or other regular appointments to keep up with. Can’t it be summer break all the time?

Bonus question: Are you watching the World Cup? If so, who are your teams? I’m not watching — I’ve never been much of a sports watcher, except for the Olympics — but I think I could get into it. I heard the U.S.-Belgium game was such a nail-biter! Also, I had to laugh: Last Sunday the girls and I joined a few friends at a small Ethiopian restaurant for lunch, where it was our small group and about 25 Ethiopian men glued to the the TV screens, yelling and cheering for the game. Ethiopia wasn’t even playing! It does seem like the World Cup is becoming a bigger and bigger deal in the U.S., though.

Alright, friends: If you’re not out at the pool or grilling burgers right now, grab a Sparkler above and tell me how you’re doing! I hope it’s a safe and happy weekend for you and yours. I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

SlowMama's Summer Recipes
It’s been a while since we’ve had a good recipe round-up around these parts, but the Fourth of July — a.k.a., America’s High Holy Day of Summer — seemed like as good a time as any. The SlowMama archives are positively busting with great summer dishes; here are some of my favorites that seemed particularly grill-worthy:

Homemade Sodas

Homemade Sodas
You’re so fancy.

If you prefer your lemonade sans gas, try Ann’s basil variety — still one of my favorite summer drinks.

Boiled Peanuts

peanuts
Make them for the nostalgia factor, make them because they’re best eaten when it’s a million degrees out — just make them. (Or, if you prefer your peanuts Thai-inspired, go with these chili lime peanuts instead.)

Guacamole Salad

Recipe: Guacamole Salad
I make this side dish every chance I get in the summer. Would go great with some grilled chicken and corn on the cob…

Panzanella

panzanella2
Another tomato-based side, but a little more Italian-y. If you’re lucky enough to be seeing fresh tomatoes at the market or in your garden already, make this one immediately.

Summer Ceviche

ceviche2
A little something different from your traditional burgers and dogs. This would be amazing as a starter.

Quinoa Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, and Roasted Pepitas

Quinoa
Ann’s technique for making perfect quinoa is the secret to this dish’s awesomeness. A great change of pace for a summer potluck.

Curried Chicken Salad

chicken salad plate
I just made this one last weekend, and it felt like it was gone five minutes later; it’s a total crowd-pleaser. Throw a couple extra chicken breasts on the grill, and you can pull it together in no time.

Triple Berry Pie

Triple Berry Pie
Still my favorite summer pie, hands down — and we’re just about entering peak berry season, when it really shines. (And look how patriotic it is!) If you prefer something a little more traditional, though, try Zoe’s recipe for basic pie crust — and don’t forget the dairy-free coconut whipped cream!

Chocolate Mint Pudding Popsicles


I completely forgot about these! This is definitely happening.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

cookie plate
Can’t have a cookout without ‘em.

I feel like there were so many other recipes I could have added here — the watermelon granita Ann posted just this week, for one, or a Pimm’s cup, or even this peach crisp… Got any particular favorites? What’s on your July 4 menu?

Images: SlowMama

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Pull Up a Chair

June 27, 2014

Birthday Girls
Let’s start with my high of the week: My girls’ birthday yesterday. They turned six! I can hardly believe it. They were just four when they came home… I know that’s how time works, but still, how can this be happening?

We had the best day: A morning playdate with two other families at a beautiful local park on the water (complete with perfect weather); a mom-and-daughters lunch at a gourmet food market (at the girls’ request), where we had a trio of salmon and homemade soup with handmade raw chocolates for dessert and then walked out with a bottle of kimchi and butterfly lime kombucha (are they my girls, or what?); a stop at a floral shop to pick out a flower to honor the girls’ first mother (and they picked out pink gerbera daisies for themselves); a fun afternoon manicure (a gift from their aunt and uncle); dinner made by Daddy, who came home early (their request: his special chopped salad); and a cake party with friends (I made two gluten-free cakes — successfully!) followed by gifts, which included m-cro kickboard scooters that they couldn’t be more thrilled about.

Jinji Chocolates!
I’m writing this in a bit of a tired haze after such a full day, but I can’t believe I get to have so much fun with such awesome little girls. Did I mention they are now six? Sniff, sniff.

As for a low, that’s probably it right there: This time really does go so incredibly fast, and I need to remind myself of this when we’re having hard episodes. (We had one of those this past week, but luckily the birthday bliss is blocking it out.)

As for a drink today, I’m pouring elderberry lemonade, which we served at the cake party last night.  A great alternative to wine when you want something special for adults and kids alike.

H Turns Six
Anything exciting on your docket this weekend? The birthday celebrations here aren’t quite finished yet: Tomorrow we’re planning a short hike and a picnic with some playmates of the girls’, and we’ll be helping my brother and sister-in-law unpack in their new place. Looking forward to it all!

Hope you and yours have a lovely weekend, whatever you’re up to, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul and JWR

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Dinner Guests
Growing up in Nova Scotia, hospitality was a way of life. People there are welcoming: There’s always room for one more at the table, and it’s not unusual for someone to stop by unannounced for tea — or longer.

Given my background, then, I always feel a bit strange about not offering more hospitality in my own home. Creating an extra space at our table is doable (if we can find that lone folding chair), but an extra three or four people is a bit of a feat. Our nine-foot-wide home just doesn’t accommodate large groups — or even small ones — very well.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve also developed the expectation that I need to tidy, clean, and have a special plan in place before inviting guests over – and as any parent with young children knows, that’s not always realistic. Add the needs of my husband (who’s a major introvert) and daughters (who can still act a little weird around people), and I feel like I need to carefully plan invitations to guests.

Still, hospitality is an important value to me, and I came across a post recently that challenged me to start thinking about it a little differently. The author focuses on what he calls “scruffy hospitality”: the idea that, by inviting people into our homes even when there’s toys strewn about, kid chaos, and a simple dinner on the table, we’re really making space for genuine relationships. Conversely, if we wait to have everything together before welcoming friends, we’re missing out. I really like what he says here:

Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.

Don’t allow a to-do list to disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship. Scheduling is hard enough in our world. If it’s eating with kind, welcoming people in a less than perfect house versus eating alone, what do you think someone would choose? We tell our guests “come as you are,” perhaps we should tell ourselves “host as you are.”

Guilty. It’s so easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking that I need to whip up a Barefoot Contessa–approved dinner and clean my house top to bottom before any guest darkens my door. There’s some pride going on here, too: I’d like to have a better house for entertaining, and I care about providing an all-around lovely experience for guests – but I also know that real friends come for the company (okay, and maybe something slightly yummy to eat). I know I certainly don’t care about mess and kids running about when the tables are turned, so why can’t I cut myself the same slack? It’s a good reminder that hospitality isn’t primarily about entertaining but about building relationships and sharing our lives with each other.

Of course, I think there’s something to be said for balance. I’d feel so uncomfortable having guests for dinner while knowing that our only bathroom is a disaster zone and we have nothing planned to eat. It feels disrespectful to be unprepared for guests, especially if I’ve extended an invitation in advance.

Still, while I think there’s a place for beautifully laid-out dinner parties and special-occasion gatherings, what about the every-day, last-minute, come-on-over kind of stuff? I’d like to be better in that department.

I’d love to know: Are you all about “scruffy” hospitality, or do you prefer to entertain in style or plan well in advance? What do you expect when you’re invited into someone’s home — especially if they have young children? And what are the non-negotiables for you if you’re having guests for a meal at your house?

Image: William-Sonoma via Pinterest

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by Margaret Cabaniss

slow_dads_gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Family Road Trip

May 27, 2014

Road Trip
I have an aversion to traveling on holiday weekends, but when friends invited us to use their lake house in northern Pennsylvania this past Memorial Day weekend, we couldn’t say no. It was a good chance to get out of the city for some special family time and soak in some nature.

It was, technically, our first road trip as a family. We’ve taken our time hitting the road with S and H; they don’t love being in their car seats for long, and for their first year home, we preferred to avoid unnecessary meltdowns. But we figured the “about three hour” trek to Eagle’s Mere, PA, would be a manageable baby step. Of course, that driving-time projection was according to our friends, who are not only familiar with the myriad winding roads you have to take to get there, but never have young children riding in their back seat. It took us five hours each way, which included stopping to eat, and some unexpected road work.

Lake House
Also, I forgot how long it takes to pack for a family — and for this trip, in addition to our personal belongings, we were bringing groceries, bedding, games and art supplies in case we had rain, snacks for the car, etc. (I realized when we got there that I have a ways to go when it comes to mastering road-trip packing: We brought way too much — especially in the clothing department.)

Hiking in PA
All this meant that we left later than intended and arrived later than expected, which gave us only one full day there. But we made the best of it and had a fantastic time: We hiked (there are so many beautiful parks up there, with waterfalls and hiking trails galore) got some beach time at the lake, had a first-class cookout, and roasted marshmallows in the fire pit. The weather was gorgeous the whole time, and our friends’ house was the perfect getaway place. If there’s a next time, we’ll make sure to spend at least two full days up there, but we’re still glad we went.

S at the Beach

Mom, Girls and Marshmallow Sticks
The girls had a blast, and while the trip there was a bit of a bear — they began whining “Are we there yet??” about an hour into the trip — the way home went much better. Napping helped; so did stops at Cracker Barrel. (I think the girls may have enjoyed the rocking chairs out front more than the biscuits.)

Cracker Barrel
We’re already looking forward to our next road trip, but I think we’ll keep taking baby steps. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll find ourselves on a cross-country adventure…

Are you a road-tripping family? What are your tips for making them enjoyable – or at least tolerable — for young children and parents?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul and B

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