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Deer photo

Well, hello, and happy new year!

You may have popped by during the past week or so and noticed that Slow Mama was hacked. At least the hacker left an “xo” in his message rather than something nasty, but it was still no fun. Thankfully my tech-savvy husband was able to help get everything running again. Phew! Guess that’s what happens when you’re a world famous blog. Haha.

It’s been hard to get moving after the holidays, especially now that it’s wintertime. At this time of year I just want to sit in front of our fireplace curled up in my long johns all day reading a good book. Alas, we are back to our homeschooling schedule and work has ramped up and I’m taking a big breath as I look at the year ahead…

And what does 2017 look like for me and for SlowMama? Well, in my personal life there’s one big goal on the docket and that is… moving! After 12 years (I can’t believe it’s been that long) in our charming little row house on the harbor in downtown Baltimore, we’re way overdue for a change. How it’s all going to go, I can’t say for sure, but the first step is prepping our house so we can get it on the market this spring. We’ve already tackled some small projects and more will be happening in a couple of months. We’ll be staying in the area, but we’re leaving the city (sniff, sniff) and not exactly sure where we’ll end up — right now we’re exploring a few target areas.

As for this little blog, it’s no secret I haven’t been posting much this past year. I’m just not able to devote the time I’d like to blogging right now and I don’t foresee that changing this year. So what I’ve decided to do is switch gears a bit and prioritize social media since I have to be there a lot for work anyway and it takes less time. I’ll still post content here on SlowMama, especially longer pieces, but some of the little things I come across or want to say will go on the Facebook page (and on Instagram at @slowzoe). So I hope you’ll join me on either or both platforms. I hope to still be here one and off, though, so please keep coming back!

I’d love to hear about what you might want to read at SlowMama this year when you stop by. Are you in need of ideas or tips? Inspiration? Escape? Commentary? If you’ve got any input, I’m all ears!

Whatever’s on your to-do list this year — and I expect mine to be very long — I hope each of us will make sure we don’t get swallowed up by the busy-ness and speed of it all and that we’ll find moments to be mindful, breathe deeply, seek beauty, stay connected, and be true to what’s most important.

As always, thanks for visiting my little spot in the cyber world and I look forward to staying connected with you in 2017!

Image: unsplash

 

 

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Sunflower by Olia Gozha

I recently re-read an article in The Atlantic about the science of happy marriages and how a central factor in making a marriage work is kindness.

It’s almost cliche, really. Everywhere you turn, someone’s writing about how we should be kind to one another. The more we hear about it, the less we seem to practice it. Kindness certainly doesn’t seem to be a hallmark of our society these days. Just look at our civil discourse. Not only do many people seem very thin-skinned and offended by anything and everything, others (and often the very same people) are disrespectful and rude. It’s like we can’t seem to find a third way — basic kindness in what we say and do, even when we disagree or even distrust one another.

Maybe it’s because we confuse kindness with being nice. Nice is fine as far as it goes, but that’s just it. Some people don’t seem as nice as others, simply because their temperament or style is not as pleasant or positive. There are also serious things that happen in life and “being nice” doesn’t always allow us to be honest and real.

But it is possible to treat even your worst enemy with kindness. Hard, maybe, but possible. Because kindness isn’t about agreement or approval, or about smiling all the time; it’s about seeing past any differences in one another so as to acknowledge the inherent dignity of the other. No matter someone’s actions or opinions, they are first and foremost a human being. Kindness isn’t a feeling, it’s an actual virtue — an attitude and an action.

In everyday life, kindness includes listening, giving the benefit of the doubt, taking the high road (when the other person is taking the low one), being compassionate, finding common ground, speaking truth in a respectful way, and sometimes just keeping your mouth shut and letting something go. It means patience and courtesy. It means being wise and thoughtful. And it means forgiveness. Kind people forgive.

This week, many of us may be sitting around the Thanksgiving table with family and friends who hold different opinions and perspectives — politically and otherwise. In the aftermath of a contentious election and much ongoing fallout, it’s a perfect time to practice kindness. Gratitude and kindness orbit around each other — the more grateful you are, the easier it is to be kind, and the more kind you are, the easier it is to be grateful. Kindness is actually very simple. Not easy, but simple. Imagine if we could bring more of it to our conversations, our social media posts, and our everyday actions?

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers!

Image: Olia Gozha for unsplash

 

 

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The Day After

November 9, 2016

Road in trees by Geran de Klerk

Wow. Here we are.

I don’t write about politics at SlowMama, but it’s hard to ignore today. I have friends and family across the political spectrum and I knew that whatever the outcome of this election, half the country would wake up deeply sad, discouraged — and even afraid. And I’m seeing this all over my social media feeds.

For the record, I myself am not hiding under the covers. I’m concerned, yes; distressed, yes — but I didn’t have a horse in this race; I was going to be unhappy no matter the outcome, for different reasons. I don’t completely understand how either candidate garnished such strong support — as it seemed to me so much had to be overlooked to do that for either one of them. At the same time, I do get it because I believe the candidates we got reflect where we are politically and culturally in this country.

I empathize with those who are devastated today, but since I’m an optimist and a person of hope by nature (and quite cynical about politics), what comes to mind right now is a quote by Mother Teresa, which I think provides a helpful directive to each of us, no matter how we feel today. Americans are often accused of having short memories, which isn’t good, but the flip side of that is that they, collectively, seem good at licking their wounds and moving on in hopes of a brighter day. It’s one of the things I have come to love about this country in the 20 some years I’ve lived here. So while  it might be too soon for some, these words seem like good marching orders:

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.

Image: Geran de Klerk at unsplash

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Friday Inspiration

August 26, 2016

Chair by the sea

“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains,

at the huge waves of the seas,

at the long course of the rivers,

at the vast compass of the ocean,

at the circular motion of the stars,

and yet they pass by themselves

without wondering.

— St. Augustine of Hippo

 

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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In the bamboo

Here’s a perspective shift:

Professor Alison Gopnik who recently wrote “A Manifesto Against “Parenting” in the Wall Street Journal says “parenting” should not be a verb. She says the term didn’t appear until the late 50s and wasn’t commonly used until the 70s. It’s rise as a verb tracks with societal changes in family life and work:

For most of human history, we lived in these extended family groups. This meant that we learned how to take care of children by practicing with our own little sisters and baby cousins and by watching many other people take care of children.

But toward the end of the 20th century, families got much smaller and more scattered, people had children later, and middle-class parents spent more time working and going to school. The traditional sources of wisdom and competence weren’t available any more.

Today, most middle-class parents spend years taking classes and pursuing careers before they have children. It’s not surprising, then, that going to school and working are modern parents’ models for taking care of children: You go to school and work with a goal in mind, and you can be taught to do better at school and work.

Working to achieve a particular outcome is a good model for many crucial human enterprises. It’s the right model for carpenters or writers or businessmen. You can judge whether you are a good carpenter or writer or CEO by the quality of your chairs, your books or your bottom line. In the “parenting” picture, a parent is a kind of carpenter; the goal, however, is not to produce a particular kind of product, like a chair, but a particular kind of person.

This is true. We tend to think if we parent this way or that, at the other end of childhood will spring forth a child who is everything (or close) to what we believe is “good” in terms of a successful human being.

The author’s point is that we ought to shift our focus from parenting as a goal-oriented enterprise to being a parent, which has love as its aim:

Instead of thinking about caring for children as a kind of work, aimed at producing smart or happy or successful adults, we should think of it as a kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny but to help them shape their own.

I agree with that. And when I think about it, I do value being a parent more than parenting. I bet we all do. I view “parenting” as the doing part, the part I’m often trying to figure out, along with every other parent out there. Not only are most of us raising kids without the benefits of a “village,” the world out there our children are inheriting can feel scary and uncertain. Love drives us to want to make sure we’re not just caring for our children but preparing them for the future.

I like the author’s analogy of tending a garden. It’s a great metaphor for raising children, and for understanding the role of a parent:

A good garden, like any good ecosystem, is dynamic, variable and resilient. Consider what it takes to create a meadow or a hedgerow or a cottage garden. The glory of a meadow is its messiness: The different grasses and flowers may flourish or perish as circumstances alter, and there is no guarantee that any individual plant will become the tallest, or fairest or most long-blooming. The good gardener works to create fertile soil that can sustain a whole ecosystem of different plants with different strengths and beauties—and with different weaknesses and difficulties, too.

Yes. At the same time, a child isn’t quite a plant. As a parent, I still believe in forming my children, instilling the values, beliefs, traditions, and wisdom that I believe helps to make for a good person who can become her best self. I don’t expect all of that will take root in the way I hope or envision, but the point is that love means more than just pulling up weeds and building protective fences to stave off pests.

I don’t think I’ll stop using the term “parenting” any time soon… For me, it’s a synonym for “raising children” and it’s part of the modern lexicon. But this article definitely made me pause and consider how goal-oriented parenting has become, rather than focused on the subjective, personal dimension of the relationship itself and the kind of love that ultimately lets a child blossom.

What are your thoughts about the piece?

 

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Little Fish

One thing I learned last week was that you really can live without a fridge for seven days. But it throws everything off. What’s a responsible mother to do? Eats what she can, gives the rest away, and take a long road trip with the family…

We’re now in Kentucky hanging out with my mother-in-law (which was planned long before the fridge decided to quit). The patient woman has been waiting for over three years to have her only grandchildren visit. Since S and H came home, she has always come to us, but it was high time for us to make the trek to her. Now that we’re on our summer schedule (with a more relazed academic schedule for the next few months), the time was right.

So, I think this weekend calls for a Kentucky Mule, made with bourbon, ginger beer and splash of lime juice — a bourbon-based riff on a Dark ‘n’ Stormy. I think it will do the trick while I help my mother-in-law plan an open-house gathering for relatives to come see us and meet the girls on Sunday. We’re keeping things easy and casual, but I can’t help but bake. I’ve got these chocolate chip cookies on the brain and may also make this flourless chocolate cake — apparently there are a lot of chocolate lovers among the guests. Plus we’ll do something pretty with strawberries.

The girls have been having a blast — a cute little dog helps! I’ve been posting a few photos on Instagram if you want to follow along. Happy weekend, friends!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

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Rosan Harmens pic unsplash

I’ve been thinking about the great women I’ve known, especially those who’ve passed on.

On Friday, I learned about the death of my friend, Susie Hurley DeConcini. Susie and I met when we were on the board of a Washington, D.C. non-profit that promoted the welfare of women and children. Thirty years my senior, Susie was  always kind of ageless because she had so much energy, enthusiasm, and passion for life. She was at once a dignified lady who knew all the appropriate social graces because she’d been married to a US senator, while at the same time she was completely down to earth, hospitable, and always up for an adventure.

Hailing from a long line of strong women (her grandmother had been a suffragist) Susie’s life was about service and she affected a lot of change in her circles of influence and beyond — including bringing childcare to the US Senate and advocating for troubled youth. Susie was full of stories and would frequently share them at our board meetings, or whenever I had the good fortune of being with her.

I’ll never forget one board meeting trip to New Orleans where Susie invited the late Ambassador Lindy Boggs to join us for dinner at Antoine’s where the two regaled us younger women with great stories, after which we all walked down Bourbon Street to Boggs’ amazing historic home for more visiting. (I wrote about that here when Boggs passed away.)

I didn’t know Lady Lindy Boggs, but she seemed to me a lot like Susie, who embodied so much of what it means to be a great woman: Kind, strong, brave, loving, wise, dedicated to her children and loved ones, faith-filled, successful, a life-long learner, humble, confident, unafraid to be herself.

One of the many things I loved about Susie was that she had plain old common sense — a rarity these days. I’m sure that played a role in how she dealt with her cancer diagnosis. When she learned of it, she decided against surgeries and drugs that might prolong her life but not cure her, and chose to go through the dying process as naturally as possible, spending her remaining time with close family and friends, and checking things off her bucket list.

The last time I saw Susie was at the shower friends threw for us right before H and S came home. Susie was so supportive and interested in our decision to adopt — she herself had one or two adopted grandchildren. My life has been so intense since then and we never got together again. But Susie recently came to mind very intensely for a couple of days and I now know that’s when she died.

The person Susie was, and the way she lived her life, makes me think about my own legacy: What difference will I have made? What kind of woman do I want to be? Great women like Susie inspires such questions. I know she’d be the first to tell me that I’m doing great, and she’d encourage me to keep living my life to the full as best I can.

Rest in peace, dear Susie. Thanks for all that you brought to the world.

 

Image: Rosan Harmens at unsplash

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Pull Up A Chair

April 29, 2016

Girls with Rosie

Guess who got to hold their pet tarantula for the first time? S and H have been looking forward to this moment ever since Rosie Snackers arrived a few months ago. The terrarium had to be cleaned and it was the perfect excuse for them to finally get some hands-on time. I had visions of Rosie running away, getting lost in our disaster of a bedroom, and flipping out some night as she crawled over my face as I slept. (Yes, she lives in my bedroom. I think that should earn me the wife-of-the-year award.)

But, no. Apparently we’ve got ourselves the most docile and friendly arachnid on the planet. Not only that, Rosie loves being held. She gravitates to the girls, always coming up to the glass whenever they talk to her, and she didn’t want them to put her back—she kept trying to get out to them again. She loves B, too. I came into the room the other night and she was sitting in his hand, sound asleep. When he put her back, she kept coming to the corner, indicating she wanted out again. He thought it was the most adorable thing ever.

Rosie seemed to have a lot of personality from the beginning. She’s quite an interior decorator, constantly re-arranging things in her terrarium. We were surprised to observe she can dig amazingly well, and carry large amounts of dirt around. She also drinks water and grooms herself, washing her feet in the water bowl after climbing on walls, and she curls up into a ball and then slumps over when she falls asleep. She does all of this while being almost blind.

The only one who hasn’t held her yet is me. Can’t say it’s high on my list. I think she’s awfully interesting, and even cute —I’m getting quite a kick out of her. But there’s still something about the way a giant hairy spider moves—even a slow, friendly, personable one—that kind of weirds me out. My girls really want their mama to hold her, though, so I may need to bite the bullet soon and just do it.

In completely different and sad news, the man who’s responsible for bringing us delicious St-Germain elderflower liqueur passed away this week. Robert Cooper was only 39, so his death hit me as very sad since that’s so young. Seems only right to toast him with a lovely spring cocktail with St-Germain. So here’s a Lady Sybil from the Kitchn. Such an elegant drink!

Anything exciting happening this weekend? Lots on my list—we’ll see what gets accomplished. I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

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The Girl in the Picture

April 14, 2016

Do you remember the photo taken of a young girl, fleeing a napalm attack naked during the Vietnam War? It’s a famous picture taken by a Vietnamese journalist and eventually won a Pulitzer Prize. Kim Phuc is the name of the girl in the photo and she is now in her 50s. It wasn’t until this week that I saw the interview she did last year with CBS’ Jane Pauley. I find the photo so painful to look at but her touching story is one of hope, faith, and healing.

 

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Where Is Home?

October 28, 2015

A couple nights ago, B and I watched this episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. It was on Ethiopia and we were excited to see many familiar scenes, yet also so many new ones — the city of Addis Ababa has changed so much in just three years! Not surprising, given it’s one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We loved seeing EthiopiaSkate featured in the show, as well as ZAAF, a high-end fashion brand of leather goods — both of whom I follow on Instagram.

Bourdain viewed his journey through the eyes of renowned chef, Marcus Samuelsson and Samuelsson’ wife Maya, who accompanied Bourdain to their homeland. Samuelson was born in Ethiopia but at the age of two was adopted, along with his sister, by a Swedish couple. He moved to the United States where at the age of 24, he became the youngest chef to ever receive three stars in the New York Times for his work at Aquavit. (He was also named “best chef in New York City” by the James Beard Foundation, won Top Chef Masters on TV, and cooked the first state dinner for President Obama.)

Maya Gate Haile, Samuelson’s wife, a model, was born in Ethiopia as well, and grew up in a small village until she left for Holland at the age of 12. She has her own interesting story, and the couple were ideal hosts for Bourdain.

The show was fun to watch, but also bittersweet. The theme of the episode — the question Bourdain kept asking and exploring — was: “Where is home?” For Marcus, home is Ethiopia, Sweden, and now the United States — Harlem, to be precise — and he describes the feeling of not being fully at home in any of them, but also feeling at home in all of them. Maya says the same, but although she’s lived around the world, it’s different; she remained in Ethiopia until she was a teenager, never left her birth family, and still speaks the language of her small village.

It all made me wonder: How will my daughters eventually answer the question, “where is home?” What losses will they feel the most? Will they feel any guilt (the way Samuellson does) about what their life has become, when they consider those they left behind? How will they take the different parts of the three countries they’ve inherited — Ethiopia, Canada, and the United States — and blend the cultures they experience in each together to form a unique identity?

I can relate in the smallest way to having more than one home country. After living in the U.S. for over 20 years now, it feels like home. And yet it doesn’t. Canada is home, and yet not completely anymore. It’s a strange feeling, uncomfortable sometimes, but I’ve come to be grateful for the discomfort and to forge my own identity, which is an amalgamation of so many factors — family, culture, beliefs, experiences.

My daughters will have to do the same, and their process will have much more loss and many more questions and mysteries than mine ever did. I’m glad there are people out there whose stories they can relate to. Sometimes I imagine the day when we all travel back to Ethiopia together again. I’m not sure how I’ll ever get myself to make that plane trip again, but I will. And I suspect it will be one of the most meaningful trips any of us will ever take.

I think you’ll enjoy the episode of Bourdain’s show. Beware, though: it will make you hungry. (Except when they chop off the sheep’s head…. you may want to look away for that part.)

 

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