Friday Inspiration

September 12, 2014

Einstein Quote
I’d never heard this quote before this week, but I love it. It reminds me how damaging it is to compare ourselves to others, and how important it is to be ourselves.

There’s definitely wisdom here for raising kids: I want to be the kind of parent who helps my children be confident in who they are and find their particular talents — but I also have biases and preferences that rear their ugly heads. I want to be aware of those potential pitfalls so I’m not trying to force any fish to climb trees; at the same time, I want to make sure I challenge cute little fish to swim better and deeper.

I think it applies in a particular way to moms, too. It’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others; there’s always another mom who’s more fit, more organized, more energetic, more together, more successful, and it can be discouraging to constantly feel like you don’t measure up. But I think one of the secrets to happiness is accepting who we are, how we’re made, and what our particular natures and talents are. If we find enough satisfaction with ourselves, we’re better able to celebrate others — even when they possess strengths we’d love to have.

Happy weekend, friends! Hope it’s a slow and easy one, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: etsy, via Pinterest

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner by Douglass Crockwell
Did you guys hear the news?

Researchers interviewed 150 mothers from all walks of life and spent 250 hours observing 12 families in-depth, and they found “that time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials.”

So, the takeaway here is…cooking every night is hard. I think pretty much any mom in the history of ever could have told them the same thing, but duly noted.

Some people find the results more disturbing, though: In her piece “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner,” Amanda Marcotte takes in this information and argues that we should all just acknowledge that cooking is basically the worst:

The main reason that people see cooking mostly as a burden is because it is a burden. It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway. If we want women—or gosh, men, too—to see cooking as fun, then these obstacles [e.g., not enough time, not enough money, not enough space, picky eaters] need to be fixed first. And whatever burden is left needs to be shared.

I’m all for shared burdens, but honestly, you could make the same argument about parenting — it would be so much more enjoyable if we had more time/money/space! — but somehow we haven’t stopped raising kids, or found it less worthwhile. Heck, that’s just life, and we still manage to muddle through.

Still, Marcotte isn’t wrong that the Bittmans and Pollans of the world can sometimes wax a little overly romantic about the glories of a home-cooked meal (only from pastured meats, organic veggies, and sprouted grains, thank you). The fact is, no matter how worthwhile it may be — and I believe it’s extremely worthwhile — cooking for your family (or heck, even just yourself) every day is hard, and we don’t make it any easier on ourselves by expecting perfection right out of the gate and thinking we should be loving every minute of it.

Over at Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle charts a more level-headed course between the two extremes:

We shouldn’t over-idealize home cooking as some glittering apex of human experience that no decent person can do without. But let’s not remedy the cultural overshoot by demonizing the preparation of a decent, healthy meal as a grueling chore that stonkers all but the most privileged and dedicated cooks. Cooking at home is often fun, and it’s almost always cheaper and healthier than the alternative — and tastier, if the alternative is picking up a tray at the high school cafeteria. It can, of course, be stressful — but it can be a lot less stressful if you will repeat after me: “I’m not running a restaurant. I’m running a home.”

McArdle lists some concrete ways that we can make daily cooking chores less of a burden: prep ahead. Share the work. Freeze ingredients. Use shortcuts (and yes, jarred sauces and frozen vegetables can be perfectly acceptable). Make a meal plan (which has saved my sanity more times than I can count). And one of my favorites:

Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the adequate. The primary object is to keep everyone’s stomach filled without giving them Type II diabetes or busting the budget. Do that first, then stretch to more ambitious goals such as mastering coq au vin.

It’s not exactly rocket science, but for the vast majority of Americans who still have to get dinner on the table tonight — regardless of whether it’s fair or fun — it’s a good start.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the study, Marcotte’s response, or McArdle’s suggestions. How do you make daily cooking chores less of a burden? What are some of your favorite tips for eating healthy, home-cooked meals while keeping your sanity?

Image: Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner, by Douglass Crockwell

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Wheat-Free School Lunches

September 10, 2014

School Lunches
Our family is eating a low-wheat, low-gluten diet right now. (Well, maybe not B, but give me a husband you can totally control and I’ll give you good money. Ha.) Not because we know for sure that anyone in here is intolerant to wheat, but I know my daughters have some food sensitivities, so I’ve eliminated or reduced items that I think are the most likely culprits. Wheat is one of them, and reading articles like this about modern wheat reinforces my desire to keep eating this way.

I’ve tried going totally wheat- (and gluten-) free before, and I find it very challenging, so for now we’re a little relaxed about it – which means acting like we’re wheat-free, but letting things slide when we forget, or when everyone’s just begging for something that has wheat. (Have I mentioned my girls adore bread? It’s one of their favorite things in life. Mine, too.)

Now that I’m packing lunches twice a week when the girls attend their cooperative school, I’m looking everywhere for wheat-free lunch ideas. It hasn’t been too hard to come up with some so far, but since they really, really want sandwiches, I’m trying to find alternatives they’ll enjoy that are also easy for me to prepare. Here are a couple I made recently:

Wheat-free lunch #1:

  • 2 boiled eggs (with a side of sea salt)
  • rice crackers
  • baby carrots
  • apple
  • piece of dark chocolate

Wheat-free lunch #2:

  • sliced organic turkey wrapped around lettuce
  • veggie puffs
  • mini seaweed sheets
  • applesauce

With each lunch they drink water, from those cute little personalized bottles above. The eggs were a little stinky, and the girls thought the rolled-up meat was a bit weird, but they ate it. (I did promise them they can occasionally have a sandwich, but I’m using a sprouted grain bread for that.) I gave them Lara bars the other day for snack time, and they weren’t big fans. Maybe I need to switch up the flavors.

S With Lunch Gear

If you are wheat- or gluten-free — or close to it — I’d love to hear your favorite kids’ lunches, as well as your  go-to websites and blogs for recipes!

By the way, the girl’s adorable water bottles are from Stuck on You. You can choose among many designs and have your child’s name personalized on them — perfect for school! And I found the freezable lunch bags at Mighty Nest; they’ve got a great selection.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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The Written Word

September 8, 2014

Hand Lettering from Seanwes
A while back, I read a post at the Art of Simple about the power of the written word, and it got me thinking. My own handwriting has declined over the years; I always had good penmanship, but keyboards have beaten it out of me. I like working on my computer — I’ve grown used to the ability to think and edit as I go — but it doesn’t quite take the place of writing with pen in hand.

Studies have shown that writing by hand improves memory and creativity and boosts children’s cognitive development (which makes me wonder whether we should really stop teaching kids cursive). There’s something about the process of writing stuff down that’s edifying, even therapeutic: I still make a point to hand-write notes and cards, especially for thank you’s and birthdays. In this digital age, getting a handwritten note in the mail is almost magical. As Warren says in the post I mentioned above, writing by hand is much more personal: It connects us to the writer and makes him or her more present to us. Warren talks about discovering her mother’s letters after her death and what it meant to her. It wouldn’t have been the same had those letters been emails. I totally get that.

I’ve been wanting to keep a regular journal for my daughters, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know why; it’s almost like there’s so much to say, and so much to catch up on, I get paralyzed. But I still want to do it because I think it would mean a lot to them when they’re older — when handwriting may have officially gone the way of the dinosaur.

Do you still hand-write? Has your penmanship suffered at the hands of your keyboard? Do you prefer to get handwritten notes, or does it matter to you?

PS — A few tips to help get you in the habit of sending handwritten notes.

Image: Seanwes 

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Friday Inspiration

September 5, 2014

Seth Godin Quote

In my recent post about changes at SlowMama this fall, I mentioned that I might tweak a few things. One of them is my Friday posts. Pull Up a Chair has been fun, but I think many of us are a little worn out on Fridays and could use some inspiration. With that in mind, I’m going to start posting great quotes I find, or images that inspire reflection, and see how it goes. Hopefully it will put us all in the right frame of mind at the end of the week!

I spotted the quote and image above on Verily magazine’s Pinterest feed (made by Belinda Love Lee for Verily). I’ve read Seth Godin on and off for years and his words here remind me that the things I’ve been most afraid of in my life have been some of the best things I’ve ever done: Moving to another country to a place I didn’t know anyone. Getting married. Adopting twin four year-olds and traveling to the other side of the world to do it. And right now I can use the reminder that the scariest stuff might be risky (or at least feel risky), but usually turns out to be the most meaningful.

What about you? When’s the last time you challenged yourself to do something scary (though desirable)? Is there something right now that you’re avoiding or putting off because it makes you shake in your boots, even just a little bit?

Have a wonderful and slow weekend, friends. I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image found at Verily on Pinterest

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New Friends

I like to think that we’re not far from living in a post-racial society, where skin tone means nothing more than any other physical difference between people. But it’s clear we still have a long way to go. We’re still much too segregated. Not only do many of us live, work, and interact with people who look like us, but most of us don’t have many friends of other races. Being in relationship with people who are different from us in appearance (as well as in more substantial things like culture, ethnicity, religion, etc.) would go a long way in overcoming prejudice. At least that’s what I’ve thought for a while.

A recent Huffington Post article reports on a study by the Public Religion Research Institute about friendships among white and black Americans. The results are depressing, but not surprising:

.. 91 percent of the average white American’s friends are white, and just 1 percent of their friends are black. While black Americans tend to have a more diverse social network, they don’t fare much better. The average African American has 83 percent black friends, 8 percent white friends, two percent Latino friends, zero Asian friends, and three percent mixed-race friends. One of the most glaring statistics from the study revealed that 75 percent of white Americans are exclusively friends with those of the same race.

All in all, the Washington Post put it simply: “Blacks have ten times as many black friends as white friends. But white Americans have an astonishing 91 times as many white friends as black friends.”

I’m no shining star here, even as a mom to brown-skinned kids: My circle of closest friends includes people from other countries and cultures, but is relatively homogenous. Mostly because the places I grew up, attended school, and worked were largely populated with people who looked like me — so those are the majority of people I met. That’s a little different now, but many of my closest friends have been in my life for a long time.

If your circles are homogenous and you’d like to change that, what do you do? Friendship is best when it happens naturally and not simply because you’re looking to add more “diversity” to your life. But I think we can be more mindful of opportunities to connect with people outside of our usual circles. That might be making small talk at a work party, striking up a conversation in the grocery store, or choosing to sit beside someone you might otherwise ignore at a conference. Perhaps just starting at the level of the social interactions we have would move us in the right direction. If we were truly open to people who are different from us, we may eventually find that progress has been made when it comes to problems like racism and prejudice.

Are you friends with people who don’t look like you? Do you think befriending people of different races and backgrounds is an important way to bridge racial divides?

Image found at awelltraveledwoman.tumblr.com

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Fresh Starts

September 2, 2014

Mount Vernon, Baltimore

I never seem to do anything special on Labor Day weekend, but there’s always a significant psychological transition that happens in my head; I go from summer to fall in the course of three days – even when the weather is still piping hot. Every time September rolls around, it feels like a fresh start — probably because for so much of my life this month marked the beginning of a new school year and all that it brought… new teachers and classes, new schools and cities, new friends and experiences and opportunities.

Even now, I feel that mix of excitement and nervousness when September arrives. What will the fall bring? Will my plans materialize as hoped? There are hopes and expectations, as well as apprehensions and fears.

I think we all benefit from fresh starts, no matter how they come. Seasons and dates are natural markers, but so are things like moving to a new house or town, starting another job, or adding a new member to the family. Even something like re-organizing or decluttering our home can give us the sense of a embarking on a new chapter.

I’d love to know: Does this time of year feel like a fresh start for you? Are there regular times of year that do that for you, or is a fresh start triggered by something entirely different than seasons or dates?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up a Chair

August 29, 2014

S with Abacus
Most students have started school already, and I know many homeschoolers who’ve begun their new year, too. Not me: I’m hanging on to summer break as long as I can! Somehow I can’t make myself think “school” until after Labor Day — maybe because, growing up, school never started before Labor Day, so it just seems all wrong to sneak school in any earlier. But I think I’m in the minority on that now.

Anyway, this means that my week was supposed to be all about getting ready for next week, which I’ve done, in part — ordering books, shopping for supplies — and this weekend I’ll be setting up our downstairs area a little differently. Some materials may not arrive on time, and things may not be done the way I want them, and I’m telling myself this is okay because easing into things isn’t such a bad way to start school with little ones who are going to miss all the unstructured play time they’ve been used to.

I’m both nervous and excited about the upcoming school year: excited because I have a solid grasp of what we’re going to be learning this year and how we’re going to do it, nervous because of what I can’t control – namely, my daughters, who aren’t always keen to follow my wonderful plans. (You’d think they were kids or something.)

And what is our homeschooling plan, you ask? Well, I can get into more details in later posts, but the girls will be taking a few classes at a homeschool co-op two days a week, and one afternoon a week they’ll be doing an outdoor nature/wilderness program. The rest of the time we’ll be learning at home. B and I haven’t made any final decisions about extracurricular activities yet. It will be full year, but hopefully a good one!

In the meantime, I’ll happily put my feet up and enjoy an end-of-summer drink today. This seasonal Tomato Water Bloody Mary from the Kitchn caught my eye. Have you ever made something with tomato water? I haven’t, but I’m intrigued. Please grab one and tell me your high and low of the week! Here’s mine:

Low: A good friend of mine lost her sister to cancer, a wife and mother of four. So sad. Makes me want to hug all my siblings tight.

High: We’ve had lots of highs this week…getting in some fun play dates with friends that the girls won’t see much once school starts, as well attending our new co-op’s back-to-school year picnic, where I enjoyed meeting many new moms and felt confirmed in our decision to sign the girls up for classes there.

Bonus question: What is the hardest part of this time for you? Saying goodbye to summer? Getting back into a busier schedule? Or are you happy to see fall arrive? This used to be my favorite time of year — it always felt like a time of fresh starts and exciting plans. As a homeschooler, I approach September with a little more fear and trembling now, but it’s still my favorite season of the year around here, so I’m mostly okay with saying goodbye to summer.

Friends, have a slow and wonderful weekend,  and a very happy Labor Day holiday. I’ll see you back here on Tuesday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Summer berries are pretty much gone, but peaches are still hanging around (in my neck of the woods, anyway). Make this while you can!

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

After sulking just a bit longer about my sister’s poor bug-infested garden, I got over it and reminded myself that there’s a produce stand not five minutes from my house where I could buy other people’s perfectly delicious produce with nary a bug in sight. Sold.

So, last weekend, I decided to scoop up some peaches while they were still good for the picking — and since the weather around here has been positively September-y lately, I decided to do a little summer fruit/fall dessert mash-up in the form of a bourbon, ginger, and cardamom peach crisp.

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

I started with Cook’s Illustrated‘s basic fruit crisp recipe and made a few tweaks: a little freshly grated ginger and cardamom (my favorite fall-time spice), a couple jiggers of bourbon, and some quick-cooking tapioca to thicken it all up nicely. (If you’ve ever struggled getting fruit pies to thicken with cornstarch, trust me: Tapioca is the answer.)

As I was loading up my pie dish, I had another stroke of genius and decided to make a couple of individual crisps in small canning jars at the same time. I got the idea from Megan of NotMartha (who has a recipe for the most adorable pies in jars ever), and it turned out to be a winner: a tiny portable dessert that you can throw in a bag and take on a picnic, pass around at a party, whatever.

In short, I recommend making this at once.

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

For the topping:

  • 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground, if you have it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • 3/4 cups pecans or whole almonds, chopped coarse (if you’re mixing the topping by hand, chop them fine)

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

In the bowl of your food processor, combine flour, sugars, spices, and salt and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks a bit like coarse cornmeal. Add the nuts and pulse a few more times, until it looks like crumbly sand. (Don’t overpulse, or you’ll end up with cookie dough.) Refrigerate the topping while you work on the filling, at least 15 minutes.

For the filling:

  • 3 pounds peaches (about six medium), peeled, pitted, and cut into half-inch wedges (you can leave the peels on if you’re a rebel like that)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

Preheat oven to 375 and move your oven rack to the lower-middle position. Gently toss all ingredients in a medium bowl until well-combined. Pour fruit mixture into an 8×8 baking dish or a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. (Mine wasn’t deep-dish, and it just barely held the contents, particularly once the juices started flowing; definitely go bigger here.)

Sprinkle the chilled topping over the fruit and bake for 40 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 400 and bake another five minutes or so, until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden-brown and looks too delicious not to eat immediately. Serve warm or at room temperature — with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, if you have it.

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

If you make these in canning jars, the process is the same: I put my jars in the oven right along with the pie plate and cooked them for the same amount of time, and they did fine. My filling was probably a little juicier than it should have been for this particular application, though: Filling it up to the lowest ridge on the lid, it still threatened to bubble over in the oven, and then it collapsed some when I pulled them out. Next time, I would try making it in larger jars (wide-mouth 8-ounce jars instead of the 4-ounce jelly jars) — though really, it still tasted delicious.

Oh, and consider this your safety disclaimer: Canning jars aren’t officially approved for this cooking method, though I didn’t have any problem at these temps. Also, baking in jars and putting a lid on it, while adorable, isn’t actually doing anything to preserve your desserts, so make sure to store them like you would the regular crisp and get your guests to eat them up right away (not like there should be much trouble on that front).

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Waterfall
Over the summer, I reflected a lot on the past school year with my girls, and one thing became very clear: I was doing too much. There were no catastrophes, mind you, and I managed to keep everything going more or less as it should be, but it was just a lot; at times I didn’t feel like anything was getting the full attention it deserved. Homeschooling is almost a full-time job, and when you add in caring for children, doing paid work, managing a household, keeping a blog going, and all the other stuff of life, it’s a lot for one person — or, at least, it is for me.

One of the major themes of this blog is living “slower,” and given my desire to practice what I preach, I’m making a few changes this fall to help reduce the rush factor in my life.

To begin with, our homeschooling schedule will be a little more structured, allowing me more time for paid work, which we’ve determined is important for our family right now. I haven’t worked much since the girls came home, and it’s tough to live on one income where we are (unless one person is making mega bucks). My work will be flexible, so I can put in hours around homeschooling and caring for the girls, but it will require a good chunk of time each week.

For that reason. I’m taking a small step back from blogging this fall. Not a big one — I like it here too much! — but instead of posting every weekday, I plan to post around three times a week (sometimes it might be little less or more, depending). I’ll start scaling back in the next week or two.

You can still expect the same kinds of posts from me: I’d like to write more about homeschooling, feature more books, maybe wade into some tougher issues that are on my mind, as well as share more inspiration about living meaningfully and mindfully. I also plan to continue with my “Parenting Against the Grain” series. (If you know anyone who you think would be a good fit for it, drop me a line!)

I plan to have occasional guest posts, and my contributors will still be here, too: Ann took a break for part of the summer, but will soon be back once a month, and Margaret will be here every other week starting in September. And I’ll still be posting to Instagram (my favorite social media platform) and Facebook, as well.

I’ll evaluate all this as I go along; I’m hopeful that, by organizing my time differently and slowing my blogging schedule a bit, I can be more present to each thing on my plate.

As I consider my posting schedule over the next few months, I’d love to know if there any topics you’d like to read about on SlowMama this fall. Please let me know in the comments! Are you planning any changes in the upcoming year yourself?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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