Holidays, Events & Parties

Big Cats!

November 1, 2016

Leopard and cheetah

You may not have heard, but there were two big cats prowling around south Baltimore on Halloween this year — a cheetah and a leopard, to be exact. And don’t be getting them mixed up because they are not the same at all. I only know this because I live with two big cat experts. And those experts are very lucky that they have such a talented grandmother who works very hard to see to it that they’re the best dressed trick or treaters in the neighborhood. Nana outdid herself again this year and the girls had a blast.

I myself wore a crazy frog hat, because I’m that kind of mom sometimes, and gave out candy after we got back. Actually, I mostly gave out little bags of chips and it was the more popular thing by far. I’m a stickler for costumes, though. You think you’re going to get a treat with just a sweatshirt and jeans? That is not the deal. (Okay, I do hand it over, but not with a scowl.)

Did you have tricker or treaters at your house and did your kids dress up and go out?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

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Great Fall Days

October 25, 2016

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Fall is finally here to stay in Maryland — at least, I think so. It’s my favorite time of year, but also usually one of the busiest and this year has been no exception. I was missing in action around here last week because I just couldn’t carve out a spare 15 minutes to get a post up. Some slow mama I am!

My mother-in-law arrived last Wednesday. She usually visits every fall and this year she timed it with the occasion of S’s and H’s First Communion. Usually First Communions, at least in the Catholic Church, are in the spring and early summer, but I can’t seem to do anything the normal way. And since we were preparing them ourselves and I wasn’t ready this past spring and didn’t want to wait until next spring, this October it was.

Those dresses, huh? We borrowed them from my dear friend and the girls’ godmother, who made them. I’m dating myself here but they remind me of something out of Princess Diana’s wedding. I bought some tulle and found a local florist to make the crowns and we were all set. Never mind that S had a bad cold and H – who rarely injures herself – somehow managed a bad rug burn near her right eye. But it was a meaningful and celebratory day and I was very proud of my little princess brides.

October is flying by far too fast, but we’re hoping to enjoy the season before the leaves are all gone and we dig out winter coats. Next up is trick or treating, which I always kind of dread because no one does well with sugar in here. But the dressing up part is so fun! I can’t wait to show you this year’s costumes made by their talented seamstress of a grandmother, so stay tuned. And in the next few weeks we want to get away on a quick overnight to the Catoctin mountains, right here in Maryland. They’re so pretty at this time of year and it doesn’t feel like a proper fall without a trip out of the city to see the colors, and drink some hot cider.

What are you up to this month?

Image: Renata Grzan 

 

 

 

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H and S

The photo above pretty much sums up how S and H felt on our 8 day trip to Nova Scotia last week. They are generally happy girls, but I don’t know that I’ver ever seen them having more fun — endless playing with cousins, swimming and beach time, and running around outside without supervision. They didn’t want to come back and proposed we stay so that “all the cousins can live together.”

While I always like to come home to my own life, I can’t say I was entirely opposed to the idea. If you want to get away from a hot and humid city, work deadlines, stressful news stories, American politics, and anything that makes you weary, the north shore of Nova Scotia is a pretty great place for that. We happened to choose a week of perfect weather — high 70s and 80s with little humidity and lots of sun. One small thunder storm came through which filled the sky with amazing clouds and light and produced a fantastic fully-arched rainbow over the woods.

We also had more sugar, dairy, and refined flour in one week than we did all year. But it was vacation time and we were in the land of delicious homemade baked goods so how could we resist? Not only that, many of my siblings are great cooks so we were the happy recipients of many delicious meals, including an authentic outdoor-made Spanish paella and the best smoked fish chowder I’ve ever tasted. And then there’s just all those crazy Canadian potato chip flavors like ketchup, smokey bacon, “all-dressed,” etc. — and cookouts with smores. I’m more motivated than ever to start a new exercise routine, I tell you.

Mostly, it was just so good to be with family, by the ocean, away from everything for a little while. Towards the end of the trip I found myself thinking up new projects and feeling inspired to do things I’d lost motivation for — all because I had a break from my daily deadlines and commitments. Each of us needs such breaks — they’re so important to our well-being.

Re-entry is proving hard, but while I make attempts, here are a few photos from our trip. (Check out more on Instagram: @slowzoe):

Baked goods My mother’s cinnamon rolls and my sisters chocolate-filled croissants.

See, you wouldn’t have been able to resist either!

 

Paella Spanish paella in the making

Honestly, I think my brother’s paella was better than the one I had in Spain! He had all the authentic ingredients thanks to my Spanish sister-in-law and did it right.

On the sandbar Sandbar races

These cousins like to run and they’re fast!

Roasting marshmallows Roasting marshmallows

A few smores may have been had right before bedtime…

Sunset One of many gorgeous evening skies

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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The 4th of July and Me

July 4, 2016

Blueberries, veeterzy at Unsplash

It’s Independence Day here in the US of A, which means it’s a holiday, with cookouts and fireworks and flags flying everywhere.

More than any other US holiday, this one brings out the national pride. At times, the rhetoric around American patriotism can get a little…I don’t know… much. But 20 years of living in this country has afforded me the chance to understand it better from the inside out, and to love it. Until I spent time in a developing country, though, I didn’t really appreciate the life I have here — the life I’ve always had as a North American. Not because this country (or my native home) is so perfect — heaven knows, that’s not the case — but because there are so many places in the world that are harder to live in; so many places where it’s still very difficult to be a woman, to succeed, to obtain enough food or adequate medicine; so many places that are in the midst of war, or recovering from war; that have no rule of law or fairly elected government.

It was in Ethiopia that I realized how spoiled I am because I’m used to toilets and toilet paper and electricity being on all the time, and access to things, and all kinds of little luxuries and conveniences that make life easier. I love experiencing other cultures and lands and peoples, but at the end of the day, I get to come back to a place that, at least for now, is safe and comfortable, and affords me a life where I have many, many freedoms to be and do what I choose. This really should never be taken for granted because things can change and we never know the future. But despite a rather frightening election coming up, and all the problems I see around me, I can, with sincerity, wave a flag today in appreciation of the many great things this country stands for, and what is has afforded me over the course of my life.

I’ll blame my reflective mood on the gray skies and drizzle outside. No doubt a juicy burger and one of my brother’s martinis later this afternoon will make everything seem bright and sunny. Happy 4th of July!

Image: veeterzy at unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: veeterzy at unsplash

 

 

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O Canada Day

July 1, 2016

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers!

Here’s a little entertainment if you get tired of the cookouts and fireworks:

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And Now They Are 8!

June 27, 2016

Pastries at the farmers market

My beautiful girls turned 8 years-old on Sunday. Eight! It’s hard for this mama to believe. I should perhaps say that we celebrated them turning 8 because as anyone who’s adopted a child from Ethiopia knows, birthdays are rarely accurate. They don’t record birth dates in Ethiopia and don’t tend to celebrate birthdays. Add to that the fact that children relinquished for adoption are often assigned younger ages to make them more “adoptable” and you rarely come home with a true birth date.

Most people don’t do anything about it — unless the discrepancy is vast and it causes issues with school, health, or developmental issues. Changing it on all of the documents that come with adoption would be a paperwork nightmare in my books. So, June 26 it is in our house!

Last year, S and H didn’t want a party so we had just family and godparents over for cake and did something together as a family instead. This year the request was different: they wanted a party with friends. Since it was a busy week after getting back from Kentucky, we kept it simple: Snacks, drinks, cake, and ice cream in our courtyard for about 20 people. Then most of the group headed down to the carousel and water fountains at the harbor, close to our house. Thankfully, the weather was perfect. Then it was gift-opening when we got home. The girls proclaimed it “the best birthday ever,” which is always a good thing.

8th birthday

I didn’t have time to make two cakes like I did last year. Instead, the girls picked out what they wanted at our local WholeFoods bakery. I did, however, make gluten-free cupcakes since as one of our little guest needed it. The vanilla cupcakes themselves turned out really well, which was edifying since I made some substitutions such as coconut palm sugar instead of white sugar. But the frosting was another story…

The plan was to whip up a topping using coconut cream (from a can of coconut milk) and flavor it with vanilla and honey. But when I went to re-whip it, just before the guests arrived, the consistency changed and more or less curdled. No idea why. (Chemistry was never my strong-suit, which is probably why I’m such an  inconsistent cook.) It still tasted good, though, so I went with it, hoping to disguise the mistake with some colored sprinkles on the top (dye-free, of course). But 10 minutes after I put the sprinkles box on the counter, I couldn’t find them anywhere. The whole family ended up getting into the hunt for the box of sprinkles, with no success; they had disappeared into thin air. So, I stuck some dark chocolate chips on top instead.

I had to laugh, though: after all that, the little guy I made them for didn’t like them! All the adults did, though, and the other kids, too, so the cupcakes still got gobbled up. (Oh, and I found the sprinkles later hiding under our Japanese wood cutting board. Turns out, the little box fit perfectly underneath the board, and rather than lift the board up, we kept simply pushing it around the counter in our search. Good grief.)

Anyway, back to the birthday girls… They are growing and changing so quickly and I’m trying to be present to the everyday moments, knowing they pass all too fast. I don’t want to be a mom who’s always upset that my kids are getting older — and in my girls’ case, they need encouragement as they are sometimes unsure they want to get any older — but I can’t help feeling a little wistful to see their younger selves transforming before my eyes. Just a part of motherhood, right?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

 

 

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Good Friday

March 25, 2016

Lukas Budimaier

Image: Lukas Budimaier at Unsplash

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Pull Up A Chair

February 12, 2016

Greg Rakozy for Unsplash

A few unrelated things to cap off the week…

First, I want to share this flourless chocolate cake recipe from Nigella Lawson that the girls and I made Tuesday in place of a king cake. (I just couldn’t make the traditional Mardi Gras treat happen this year. Plus, somehow the the plastic baby got lost somewhere. So that was that.) All the women in this house love chocolate so it seemed like a no brainer for the day before Lent.

Since I typically don’t keep white sugar or white flour in the house, I dug up this recipe and was reminded why it’s the perfect go-to chocolate cake. I used coconut palm sugar (stuck it in the Vitamix to make it superfine) and everything else was the same, except for adding dark chocolate chips to make it extra chocolatey. The three of us ate the whole thing in a day. And I still felt good afterwards, which is what happens when you fake your body out with a yummy chocolate cake that actually has no flour, dairy, or refined sugar!

Speaking of sweet things, Valentine’s Day is Sunday. Any plans? I’ve grown to like the celebration a bit more since having kids, but I’m still mostly a humbug about it. Maybe the girls and I will make some decorations, or I’ll surprise them with a treat. Lent and Valentine’s Day don’t really go together in the treats department, but at least it’s on a Sunday.

In honor of love day, and especially on this very cold winter weekend, I’m thinking this broiled grapefruit daiquiri may do the trick. I gave up alcohol for Lent, but virtual imbibing doesn’t count, and I think you’re going to love this one. (Can you tell I’m on a grapefruit kick of late?)

What’s on your docket this February weekend? Hope you stay warm and I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Greg Rakozy at Unsplash

 

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Lent 2016

February 10, 2016

Lukas Budimaier for Unsplash

Lent has arrived super early this year! I don’t think I’m alone among those who observe Lent who would say that I have a love-hate relationship with this season. Mostly love, though, as I find the themes and practices edifying, even if sometimes challenging. If Easter is all about light and new life, Lent is the winter twilight. I don’t know what it’s like to celebrate Lent where it’s still summer, like they do in the southern hemisphere; but it seems to lend itself so well to the cold, dark days of winter.

Today I’m making a simple lentil stew for dinner and bidding a temporary farewell to my glasses of wine with dinner and regular dark chocolate indulgences. I have a couple of spiritual books I’ll be reading, and I’ve stocked up on healthy snack bars and bottled water to give to the homeless when the girls and I are out and about. I’m also doing something I just heard of, which is to take a calendar and write someone’s name down on each of the 40 days of Lent — family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors, etc. and then each day I’ll be praying for that person and his or her needs.

There are a few other ways I’ll be marking this season, but I try not to make it too much about doing and more about the spirit of the whole thing. It’s also another opportunity to teach my children about the Lenten themes of sacrifice, simplicity, humility, faith, and generosity. By the way, S and H have decided they’re giving up candy for Lent. Not going to be hard when they ever actually eat candy. Ha.

Do you observe Lent? If so, do you have any common practices?

 

Image: Lukas Budimaier at Unsplash

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My Favorite MLK Jr. Quotes

January 18, 2016

MLK Jr at Pixabay

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States. Here are some of my favorite quotes by him:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.
Image: Pixabay

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