H and S in tea collection
Yesterday we took my mother-in-law out for a very belated Mother’s Day brunch, since she’s visiting for a week. I made a reservation at one of Baltimore’s signature restaurants called Gertrude’s, located in the Baltimore Museum of Art. While you could certainly drop by casually, I consider it a bit of a special occasion restaurant: You usually need a reservation, there are linens on the tables, and there’s live background music to add to the ambiance.

The place was full and lively; we had a fantastic meal and the girls, as usual, enjoyed themselves. I broke the “low-wheat/gluten” rule I’m trying to enforce at home and let them have buttermilk waffles. (I might as well have told them it was Christmas.)

As we were leaving the restaurant, one of the musicians, who was on the other side of the room from where we had been sitting, got up, came over to B, and said:

“We see a lot of children in here and your children are the happiest we’ve ever seen. I just want to tell you that whatever you’re doing, you should write a damn book.”

While sharing this feels a little like bragging, I think parents — perhaps especially adoptive parents — should celebrate those moments when we feel validated in how we’re doing as a family.

To be honest, I take little credit for our daughters’ joy and joie de vivre. They’ve always been happy girls by nature; they just also happen to have had grief and the effects of trauma to contend with. What I hope we provide for them is a safe place to be fully themselves, to heal, to learn, to feel unconditionally loved and wanted, and to flourish.

Of course, maybe that man says things like that to all the parents who dine there to make them want to come back. Regardless, little did he know that he was actually speaking to a couple of writers, so maybe one of these days we will write a damn book.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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S&H with Dog

These precious girls turn 7 today! It doesn’t seem possible. Recently I was looking at photos from our time in Ethiopia and when we all arrived back in the US and they seemed so little. So many changes since then!

We’ve established a tradition on their birthday of going out for a girls’ lunch together. Luckily, they have good taste and chose a Greek-Mediterranean place we haven’t been to in a while that has lots of healthy choices that make mom happy.

Later today, B’s mother is flying in for a week’s visit and after dinner (they’ve requested crab cakes) we’ll have a few family members and close friends for cake. I’ve made two, of course: a coconut cake with lemon curd and two layers of this chocolate cake with cream, and fresh blueberries. (They picked them out with a little advice from yours truly.) Never mind that I was up until all hours last night because I forgot to put the oil in one of them. Sigh.

Tomorrow we’re going duck-pin bowling — at the girls’ request. For some reason, they love bowling, and duck-pin is better for little ones’s hands.

So, in between putting in some work time and picking up the house so my mother-in-law won’t trip and fall in her first few hours here, I’ll be enjoying a very happy birthday today with my favorite little girls in the whole world. Yay for 7!

Enjoy your weekend, friends.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

 

 

 

 

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Lion As a former actress, radio host, and occasional speaker, I know how important good speech is — but over the years, I’ve gotten lazier about the way I speak and I’ve picked some bad habits.

For instance: Last month, when we were filming the off-grid TV episode, I noticed that I frequently don’t finish sentences. It started to drive me bonkers, but I kept doing it: I’d start a thought and then trail off…even when I wasn’t being interrupted. (I sure hope most of that lands on the editing room floor.)

Another habit I have (and I know I’m not alone here) is using filler words in sentences. I’m not even sure what mine are exactly, though I know I’ve got a bunch. The big offender for most people is “like,” which gets thrown in, like, everywhere. I do it, too, even though I find it ugly; I even hear my daughters use it sometimes, because they hear it all around them (and not just from their mother).

Entrepreneur ran a piece recently about how to change your filler-word habit, most of which fall into one of four categories:

  • conjunctive fillers (such as “um” and “uh”)
  • dramatic fillers (such as “literally,” “like,” and “just”)
  • runway fillers (which begin sentences, such as “So…” or “Honestly…”)
  • check back fillers (such as “you know?” and “right?” at the end of a sentence)

The short article is fun to read, and also a little painful. Apparently, most of us have favorite fillers and we use them repetitively — unless we work on getting rid of them, which is apparently not that hard to do. The article lists four tips to help break these habits — a couple that were familiar, but also a couple that were new to me and sounded promising. I’m totally going to give them a try. (And yes, I think “totally” is probably a filler word. Maybe I don’t have to give all of them up.)

What are your favorite — or most overused — filler words? Does it annoy you, or do you barely notice it?

Image: Pixabay 

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Light through the trees I’ve been thinking about what I might want to write about Charleston. If I write nothing, it can seem like I consider what happened there unimportant. On the other hand, what more is there to say?  So many reflections, commentaries, and stories from different angles are already out there, focusing on the issues a tragedy like this brings up — in this case, everything from the Confederate flag to the issue of gun control.

What I think I’m feeling the most right now, besides sadness, though, is anxiety for my children and other people’s children. What can be done about racial hatred? Prejudice has always been part of human history, in one form or another; I don’t expect it to ever disappear completely. But the racial problems in this country are still so serious, so insidious. And they affect my kids, and some of yours — not to mention many of our friends and neighbors and colleagues.

People of color in the United States have to think about racism; they live with it on a regular basis, in small and big ways. But most white people can hold it at arm’s length. We don’t mean to, it’s just not an issue that deeply touches most of our lives much. And the truth is, unless something becomes personal we don’t tend to pay it any real attention.

But I don’t think we can afford to do that anymore. This can’t be a problem somebody else should tackle or pay attention to — each of us has to dig a little deeper and figure out how we can bring some light into this terrible problem.

So what can I do? What can you do? I think it starts with simple, everyday things… like beginning to notice the words we use to talk about these issues in conversations with others and on social media. And making an effort to talk about them in the first place, instead of avoiding them, because racism is awkward and awful.

Maybe we can also start admitting to any defensiveness we feel when we hear the term “white privilege” or when we hear or read something that seems over-the-top or offensive to us. Maybe we can listen better to experiences that are not our own. Above all, maybe we can begin to see ourselves as learners who don’t know nearly as much as we think we do about this.

Sure, we might make mistakes along the way; that’s how we learn. It’s messy. But each of us can bring some light. The nine people who lost their lives at the hands of a homegrown terrorist show us the way, actually. They welcomed their killer among them, and were so kind that he almost couldn’t go through with his evil mission. They were bringing light, and even the darkness that engulfed them can not overcome it.

I’m trying to learn, listen, and question. It starts there for me. Yes, it’s personal; as the mom of  two brown-skinned daughters I can’t brush these things under the rug, even if I wanted to. But this needs to become more personal for white people who are not raising black children, and who may not have close black friends or family members. Otherwise, I fear not much progress will ever be made.

Here are a few short pieces I read over the past week — two by adoptive mothers of black children. If you’ve come across anything particularly thought-provoking or helpful in the wake of Charleston, please feel free to share it in the comments.

Image: Life of Pix

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Here’s to Great Dads

June 19, 2015

B and Girls This is one of my favorite photos of B with the girls and it seemed appropriate to post it again for Father’s Day weekend.

Today, I’m thinking about all the great dads out there like B — and my brothers, and my own father, and numerous male friends of mine. A good dad shouldn’t be taken for granted and sometimes, when compared to mothers at least, I feel like they get the short end of the stick.

Not that motherhood and fatherhood can be compared. We have a pretty egalitarian household here, but B and I offer different things in our roles as mom and dad, and I’m grateful our daughters have both. (This in no way is to denigrate single parents — who I admire tremendously — or anyone else raising children with love and dedication.)

From the age of 12 onwards, I grew up without my father in the home because my parents separated (and later divorced). As an adult, I understand these things from an adult perspective. But I’m also a daughter who knows what it is to miss having a father around. Fathers matter. Whether you’re a child of divorce, or you have a terrible relationship with your dad, or you never knew your dad, or even if he has already passed, something is missing when a loving father isn’t there.

This post is actually supposed to be an uplifting one, though! I write it with appreciation and gratitude for fatherhood and all that good fathers are and do. Mostly, I’m thankful to be parenting my daughters with a man who couldn’t be more committed to his role as father–and as husband. Happy Father’s Day, B! And to my own terrific father, and all the great fathers out there who make a difference in their families and communities.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

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by Margaret Cabaniss

moscow_mule_thrillist
“The Moscow Mule Sucks.”
That was the title of the Thrillist article that popped up in my Facebook newsfeed recently (though the article itself is a year old) — and based on the title alone, I knew I’d have to read it.

Have you ever had a Moscow Mule? It’s a simple combo of vodka, ginger beer, and lime, usually served in one of those gorgeous copper mugs. The bartenders polled in the article didn’t even object to the drink itself so much as its ubiquity: It’s pretty popular on bar menus these days and thus doesn’t really lend itself to distinction. (Of course, that’s really more of a concern if you make drinks for a living; if you just find them delicious, probably not so much.)

It was interesting to read what cocktails they found “overrated” by that standard today — including one of my standbys, a total classic: the Manhattan — and what they suggested ordering instead. Frankly, drink trends come and go faster than I can keep up, and I’m not giving up on my favorites just because the cocktail scene is obsessing over something new — but I did like the suggestions for under-appreciated drinks worth trying, as well as the reminder that any of these drinks are only as good as their ingredients (and I have had enough sad Manhattans to prove their point). Whatever you get, make it a good one — and when at home? Drink whatever you darn well please.

negroni_thrillist
So what do you drink during the summer? Two of my favorites ranked pretty high on the “underrated” list: the negroni and the good ol’ gin and tonic. Both of them are old standbys, I know — but when well-made, they’re pretty much perfect summer cocktails. The Wall Street Journal recently listed some ways to “seriously upgrade your gin and tonic,” and I plan to try them all. (For research purposes, of course.)

One of my go-to drinks at home is actually a play on the Moscow Mule, most commonly known as the Kentucky Mule. You could probably guess the major difference: bourbon instead of vodka. (I am nothing if not predictable.) Something about the bourbon mellows the bite of the ginger beer in the most fantastic way, making them spicy and smooth and delicious. If you like Moscow Mules, consider this an underrated alternative to try; you can find me drinking them pretty much year-round — in a copper mug, naturally.

What’s your favorite summertime cocktail? Any underrated favorites we should give a try?

PS — A few of my other favorite warm-weather drinks: Pimm’s cups, a grapefruit shrub, and a rosemary rhubarb cocktail.

Images: Thrillist

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Puppy by Viktor Janacek I’ve read a number of blog posts and articles over the past few months from parents who’ve decided not to allow their children to have sleep-overs. I’d never thought much about the subject — our daughters are still unable to fall asleep without mom or dad, anyway — but I’ve been mulling it over and talking about it with B here and there. What do we want to do about sleep-overs when the time comes?

The answer at this point is we don’t know for sure. But we are increasingly leaning towards a no-sleep-over policy, too. When I began to read about it, I thought that seemed a bit extreme. Wouldn’t it be denying my kids an important childhood experience?

When I gave it more thought, I realized I myself almost never had sleep-overs. I was allowed to occasionally sleep in tents or under the stars in the summer time with some of my siblings and neighbors — but one of them was our regular babysitter. Later, in high school, I spent a lot of overnights at my best friend’s house. We spent many evenings working in her mother’s clothing store and chatting around the kitchen table over snacks afterwards. Pretty safe stuff.

But I’ve read a lot of accounts of people who were exposed to some pretty nasty stuff on sleep-overs: porn, sexually inappropriate games, R-rated movies, even abuse by other kids and adults. And these were at homes where you’d never expect any of that.

When it comes down to it, I’d rather err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting my kids, especially while they’re young and impressionable.

I was thinking a good compromise might be to do sleep-overs at our house instead. But then I read one father say that he wants to be careful of never being alone with other people’s children so there isn’t even the appearance of something. At first this sounded kind of paranoid to me, but I’m not so sure it is in this day and age. We really do have to think about such things. Which is very sad.

So, the sleep-over thing may be something our girls are not going to get for a good long while — apart from with grandparents or close family — though I’m sure we’ll continue to weigh various factors as we go along.

I’m really curious: Do you have any policy or rules about sleep-overs with your own children? Did you have good experiences as a child yourself? What are your thoughts on this?

Image: Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo

 

 

 

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Life of Pix Ocean & iPhone by Jordan McQueen
I avoided Facebook, like, forever. I didn’t think I wanted everyone from my past “friending” me, plus I know a lot of people and am part of some very diverse circles — how would that work? I was also afraid it would suck up a lot of time; I was online enough already.

When I started SlowMama, I did create a Facebook fan page since many people don’t visit blogs directly; they read through social media. But increasingly I was missing out on information, events, invitations, and conversations that I couldn’t access with just my fan page and were only available on Facebook — particularly relating to parenting and adoption. So I finally raised a white flag and opened a personal account.

Although I rarely post anything to my personal page, I don’t regret signing up — those resources I was after really are super helpful. I find helpful things for my work — and admittedly, I love seeing photos and reading updates from friends and acquaintances.

But Facebook also drives me crazy. As predicted, I end up spending too much time on it… because… well, there’s always an article, a quiz, a cute baby, a heated conversation,  a whatever, to distract me. I’ve also been surprised, even dismayed, by posts and comments from people I know that reflect opinions I wish I never knew they had. Ugh.

I’m not only taken aback by what people post sometimes, I’m amazed at the kind of time they spend there. Don’t people have jobs? Kids? How do they find the time to post so much? I still haven’t figured it out.

So, yes, it’s a love-hate thing with Facebook and I don’t think that will change.

What about you? Are you a big Facebook fan? Or are you one of the rare creatures who has managed to not drink the Kool-aid? Do tell!

Image: Jordan McQueen at Life of Pix

 

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Austria by Marco Berndt
I enjoyed this interview in Kinfolk with Carl Honore, a journalist who’s essentially made himself the go-to expert on all things “slow” since his best-selling book, In Praise of Slowness, came out eleven years ago. Have the concepts of “living slower” penetrated the culture at all since his book came out? That’s what Honore discusses in Kinfolk — which, by the way, is a gorgeous magazine. Pick up a copy up if you ever get the chance!

Here are a few excerpts from the interview, but I encourage you to read the whole thing, which isn’t super long:

Is there any way that technology can help us slow down instead of speeding us up?
Absolutely. People often assume that, as a proponent of the Slow movement, I must be against new technology. They assume slowing down means throwing away the gadgets, yet nothing could be further from the truth. I am no Luddite: I love technology and own all the latest high-tech goodies. To me, being able to speak and write to anyone, anytime, anywhere is exhilarating. By freeing us from the constraints of time and space, mobile communication can help us seize the moment, which is the ultimate aim of Slow.

But there are limits. The truth is that communicating more does not always mean communicating better. You see parents staring at smartphones while spending “quality time” with their children. Surveys suggest that a fifth of us now interrupt sex to read an email or answer a call. Is that seizing the moment, or wasting it? ….

*****

What other countries are approaching work-life balance in an interesting way?
Germany is a shining example at the moment—its economy is a powerhouse of productivity, and yet Germans work far fewer hours than citizens of most other countries. When they’re at work, they focus—checking Facebook is verboten—and get a lot done. And when they’re away from work, they leave the office behind and focus on friends, family and leisure pursuits. They also put up a firewall between work and private life: Leading German firms such as Volkswagen, Puma and BMW have stopped staff from sending or receiving email outside working hours. The German Ministry of Labor has done the same, and has banned managers from contacting staff at home except in emergencies.

*****

A lot of people feel like they don’t have the time to be slow. What steps can we take toward a slower life?
My response would be that if you don’t have the time to be slow, then you aren’t really living properly. You’re racing through life instead of living it. People worry about missing out on life if they slow down, but life is what’s happening right here, right now. As for steps to lead a slower life: Do less. Buy less. Consume less. Drive less. Unplug more. Walk more. Sleep more. Stop multitasking and do one thing at a time. Embed slow moments and rituals into your schedule.

How are you doing when it comes to slow living? Does life feel like it’s going at the right pace for you at the moment?

Image: picography

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Internet Menagerie

June 8, 2015

Life-of-Pix-typewriter-black-white-szolkin
Happy Monday! I’m kicking off the week with a trip around the web. It’s a real smorgasbord this time! I’d love to hear about your own finds in the comments.

  • I’m fantasizing about staying here on our next trip to Ethiopia. (Scott Dunn)
  • 14 Week-old baby seen clapping his (or her!) hands in utero during an ultrasound while parents sing:

 

Image: Life of Pix

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