4 Years!

October 12, 2016

H and S 4 yrs old

Today is a celebration for us – it’s the day we mark landing at Washington-Dulles airport and coming home to Baltimore to begin our life together as a family. It was quite a journey to get to that point and it was just the beginning of the adventure of becoming a family, which, of course, is not just a piece of paper, but the deepest of bonds and a shared life of love, commitment, and faithfulness.

H and S 3rd grade

And it’s been four years now! My girls have changed so much, as all kids do, but wow, I really notice it when I look at photos and videos from then until now. And I’ve changed a little bit, too. Here are a few things I’ve been reflecting on today…

  • Adopting H and S will always remain the single best thing B and I ever did.
  • In some ways, I’m a different kind of mom than I thought I’d be. I should probably write a blog post about this. Or maybe I already did? Hmmm.
  • My brain seems to have gone to mush since becoming a parent.
  • Mushy brain isn’t always bad… you forget a lot of the hard stuff, too.
  • There are many layers to consider when raising a child and the layer of adoption will always be present.
  • It continues to amaze me just how similar our daughters are to B and me – in temperament, quirks, interests, etc.
  • Being an adoptive parent means you’re always holding joy and sorrow side by side. I’ll always be deeply sad that my daughters and their Ethiopian family couldn’t remain together. And I’ll always be profoundly grateful and happy that I am their mother and we are a family.
  • Children really do grow and change so quickly! I’m trying to savor the moments and the days, which is hard when the demands of life crowd in and you let yourself get distracted by so many things that won’t matter so much in 10 or 20 years.
  • I begin to feel panicked when I think about ever getting on a plane for that long again. But I know some day it will probably have to happen. (Got to stay in the present moment!)

Since it was a regular home school and work day here today and the girls have their martial arts class this evening, we’ll celebrate our “family day” this Sunday. But wow, I’m marveling at four years home today. If you’ve been reading SlowMama since then, thanks for sticking around and sharing this journey!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul








Ethiopia on My Mind

October 7, 2016

Addis, 2012

Four years ago today, B and I were in Ethiopia getting ready to take S and H home with us. It was an unforgettable trip, and many moments are seared into my heart and mind forever.

There’s been a lot of troubling news coming out of Ethiopia in recent weeks. Mainstream U.S. news isn’t carrying it much (no surprise), but some foreign media and independent journalists are talking about it, as well as people on the ground. The unrest began to  erupt when the government began trying to seize land from the Oromo people to expand the nation’s capital, as part of their economic progress plan. This has enflamed deeper ethnic tensions between groups in Ethiopia and citizens are dying as government troops face off with protestors. (That’s my over-simplified explanation of the situation.)

Just this past week, hundreds of people were killed at a religious festival in the town my daughters were born in. The official reports say it was due to a stampede, but many witnesses on the ground, as well as journalists, say this was not the primary reason for the death toll. On Tuesday, an American UC Davis post-doctorate student was killed by a rock thrown by a protestor while traveling by van in Ethiopia. I know of many adoptive families and frequent visitors canceling their travel plans to the country right now because things have become so destabilized.

I saw a tagline on a news story the other day that said, when it comes to what’s happening in Ethiopia: This is Africa, and nobody cares how many protesters the dictatorial government kills. Not the UN, not the State Department, not Black Lives Matter, and not CNN.

Sadly, this is true. Ethiopia is not exactly on anybody’s radar of concern. (Even the U.S. Embassy over there doesn’t seem to get high marks for being very communicative or forthcoming — at least according to people to try to reach them.) Granted, Ethiopia is certainly not the only place worthy of attention right now. But I try to stay updated on what’s going on in my daughters’ native country, and I believe that the entire continent of Africa generally deserves a lot more consideration than it gets.

I don’t know about you, but the end of this week finds me tired. If you’re at all near Hurricane Matthew’s path, please stay safe. In the meantime, I invite you to grab a glass of your favorite beverage – whatever it may be – and catch whatever break you can this weekend. See you back here soon!

Image: Road in Addis Ababa, Zoe Saint-Paul




Goodness: It’s Out There

October 5, 2016

Simpson Petrol photo

Haiti cannot catch a break. It makes my heart hurt. Yesterday I was thinking about how much bad news there is out there. I mean, when does it stop, right? Not just bad news, but tragic news — stuff that’s hard to comprehend at all, like what’s going on in Syria in towns like Aleppo. It can be too much to take in sometimes.

But then, along comes something that reminds you how much goodness is out there, too… little gems of kindness and thoughtfulness that restore your faith in humanity.

Last night I discovered a voicemail I had missed from Monday. The number was completely unfamiliar, but I recognized the voice: It was a handyman who removed some shutters on our house last year. I don’t know him well, and wouldn’t expect him to remember me well, either. During the first few seconds of his message I had no idea why he could be possibly be calling… Did he want to remind me that he was out there in case we needed more work done? (we do!), or did he drive by our house and remember something he forgot when he was here?

No, it wasn’t that. He worked on a job for a family a couple of blocks down from us — a mom with a baby and a dog named Batman — who are new in town and don’t know anyone. He thought maybe I’d consider going by to say hello, just to make them feel a little more welcomed, a little less lonely.

How sweet is that? I mean, I know that’s probably not so strange if you’re living in a friendly mid-west town or a rural area, but I live in downtown Baltimore and this is a middle-aged handyman I barely know. Yet he took the time to dig up my number and risk that I might think he was weird for leaving me a message like that.

And, of course, I’ll go over there because if that isn’t a direct invitation to do a small good deed, I don’t know what is.

Of course, my Nova Scotian constitution means I can’t go over there empty handed so I need to bake something… but what? Well, I’ll figure it out. (Leave me some suggestions!)

Let’s be grateful for every bit of light and goodness we see around us these days.

Image: Simpson Petrol at unsplash



Be Kind to Yourself

September 30, 2016

I saw this video a while back and book marked it to share with you. Love Peterson’s voice, love that he’s singing with his young daughter, love the love that it’s all about.

Happy Friday, friends! I’m dragging a bit today… the sickness in our household has not quite been vanquished, but I think we’re getting close. The rainy weather for the past few days made me feel a bit better about holing up at home. Have a great weekend — be kind to yourself! I’ll see you back here next week.




Monday Musings

September 26, 2016

Orioles vs. Red Sox at Camden Yards

Who says Fridays are the only day for publishing random musings? Let’s start the week out with a few things floating around my brain…

First, the exciting news: I have a new niece! Alexandra Claire was born last week in Portland, Maine, the first for my younger sister, Erica. “Alexandra” is my middle name so that’s pretty neat. She’s a total doll and my daughters are thrilled about another girl cousin in the family!


The girls went to their first baseball game — Orioles vs. Red Sox — last Thursday evening at Camden Yards. We live close to the stadium, but B and I aren’t big baseball fans so we never go, but when neighbors offered us tickets we thought it would be a fun experience for the kids. The seats were up high so at first S and H were a little anxious but they settled in, enjoyed hotdogs and peanuts, and otherwise had a fun time. (The Red Sox won, of course — my New England family would have been happy.)


My household has a virus making its way around at the moment. S came down with a cold Friday morning and still has it. B came down with a sore throat yesterday and feels lousy. (A man cold, in other words, which are never fun for anyone.) H is okay apart from a few sniffles. And I feel like I’ve been keeping something at bay for the past four or five days and I’m hoping to keep it that way, but this afternoon I’m feeling a bit worse. Getting called in the night because a little girl can’t breathe well or has lost her tissues or is coughing loudly and waking up her sister means I’m not getting the rest I need to kick it to the curb.


We’re finally getting some fall weather. It’s my favorite time of year around here so I hope it keeps up for a while.


If you’re in the U.S. are you watching the debate tonight? Part of me doesn’t want to, but most of me does because, well, have we ever had an election quite like this? Ugh. (I don’t get political on this site, but for the record, I’m not a fan of either candidate in the least.)

Alright, your turn. What’s going on as your week begins?


Image: Zoe Saint-Paul




{ 1 comment }

Let’s Talk Essential Oils

September 22, 2016


As a natural health enthusiast, I’ve long been interested in essential oils and have dabbled in them a bit here and there. So when Sarah Williams, a reader near Nashville, TN, contacted me to see if I’d be interested in having her share more about oils with SlowMama readers, I said sure! Sarah is a homeschooling mom of four with a penchant for natural living and she became such a huge fan of essential oils that she ended up joining a company called doTerra. I’ve heard good things about doTerra’s products, and am eager to try some, but mainly I wanted to learn a little more from Sarah about oils more generally and thought you might, too.

By the way, if you are new to essential oils, be sure to do your homework. Oils work, which means they should be taken seriously — after all, anything powerful enough to heal can also harm (says the woman who gave her husband heart palpitations by diffusing the wrong oil, which he was clearly sensitive to). So get informed about the best ways to use oils, how to determine safety, what’s advised for children, etc. Essential Oils Everyday is one book that’s been recommended to me. Here’s another that’s apparently the bible of oil safety, but expensive. There are others, I’m sure.

Okay, without further ado, here’s my interview with Sarah…

Sarah and family

What got you interested in essential oils? 

When my oldest child was born over seven years ago, I started learning about nutrition, and about other natural options to support our family’s health. When I was growing up, my mom would take me to the doctor for any little symptom, and that often resulted in antibiotics. I didn’t want to have to go to the doctor and spend that money, or use that many prescription drugs with possible side effects, if there were safer, more natural and effective options. Friends suggested essential oils so I started reading about them and finally tried them out for myself. I have found them to be an amazing tool in keeping my family healthy.

Can you give me some examples of how you use oils in your family? 

Generally, there are three ways to use an essential oil: aromatically (by inhaling directly or using a diffuser), topically (massaging into the skin), and internally (only if you’re using a high quality oil tested for purity).

I love lavender for occasional bug bites, bee stings, and burns. Just the other day, I stepped on a wasp and got stung. I hobbled inside for the lavender, and just a couple of drops completely took care of that sting. Lavender is also very relaxing and wonderful for decreasing stress at the end of the day and supporting sleep. I use tea tree oil on occasional skin irritations like rashes or pimples, as well as behind my kids’ ears (never in the ear canal!) to encourage drainage. Frankincense is one I absolutely love, as it’s very supportive of immune health and cellular health. I diffuse it, or put in on the bottom of my feet at night to support my immune function and decrease inflammation. (The bottom of your feet is the most absorbent part of your body.)

Now that it’s back-to-school season, I also rub an immunity/protective blend on my kids’ feet every night before bed, to support their immune systems as they’re getting back into close proximity with lots of kids and germs! My husband appreciates the muscle soothing blend rubbed onto his lower back after a long day at work and I love the digestion blend and rub it onto my kids’ tummies when they feel upset. One of my sons woke up in the middle of the night screaming that his stomach hurt and after an unsuccessful trip to the bathroom, I rubbed this on and he was calmly sleeping in minutes. I also love a respiratory blend for supporting kids’ breathing during the night. When they’re not waking up, I’m not waking up!

We have pets and kids and mess, but I wasn’t willing to use chemical laden air fresheners. When I started diffusing essential oils, my husband was thrilled with how wonderful the house smelled.

So what is an essential oil and how is it made?

Essential oils are compounds that occur naturally in plants — in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, or other parts. The oils inside the plant essentially act as the plant’s immune system. They protect the plant from environmental threats and keep the plant healthy. They’ve been used throughout history for their benefits for health care, beauty treatments, and cooking. They are either cold-pressed or distilled from the plants (both methods provide quality oils, it just depends on the plant itself which one works better). When done properly, the oil is removed from the plant without anything else being mixed in. So, ideally, you end up with only what comes out of the plant in your bottle of essential oil. They are antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antifungal. Plus, they smell amazing!

How can someone be sure of getting a quality oil — what should we look for when selecting one? 

One important factor is purity. You want to use an oil that does not contain any additives, fillers, pesticides, or contaminants. To be sure about the purity, you want to use an oil that has undergone rigorous scientific testing to ensure that the oil is what it claims to be and nothing else has been added. The company should be willing to share that testing information and claims about the oil’s purity.

How can we be sure essential oils are safe, especially for kids?

Essential oils are generally safe and effective. Of course, different people have different levels of sensitivity and children especially, may be more sensitive than adults. I recommend diluting any oil you use on a child with a carrier oil. So, for young children, you could use about a teaspoon of a carrier oil for every drop of essential oil, then you can decrease the amount of carrier oil for older children. It doesn’t sound like much, but essential oils are super concentrated. The carrier oil can be pretty much any kind of oil. Some popular options include: fractionated coconut oil (because it is liquid at room temperature), olive oil, almond oil, argon oil, avocado oil … there are so many choices. You can start by applying just a small amount on a child or adult to test for any sensitivity, then increase the amount if desired once there is no adverse reaction.

If you could recommend a few oils every household should have, what would they be? 

I think this depends somewhat on the particular issues that you deal with in your own family. Oils can be targeted to support any area of health. That said, some of the most versatile and easiest to start with may be lemon, lavender, and peppermint. Those are generally considered “starter” oils. However, there are many great uses for oils when it comes to taking care of a family; it’s hard to narrow it down! The “top ten” oils are often considered to be: lemon, lavender, peppermint, tea tree, frankincense, oregano, a respiratory blend, a muscle soothing blend, a digestion blend, and an immunity/protective blend.


Many thanks to Sarah for sharing some basics about oils with SlowMama. If you want to find out more, she has two free live web classes coming right up this month that you can check out. Each has a slightly different focus, but Sarah says attendees will get a good foundation in oils with either one. (After registering through the forms below, she’ll send you a link for the class.)

Essential Oils 101 –  Sunday, Sept 25 at 4pm Eastern / 3pm Central

Family Health Essentials – Tuesday, Sept 27 at 8pm Eastern / 7pm Central

Friends, do you use essential oils? If so, which are your favorites and what do you use them for?


Images: 1 – Pixabay, 2 – Sarah Williams




Let Your Kids Get Dirty

September 20, 2016

NS Beach

It seems that all those years growing up in the country pulling carrots from the ground and eating them with the dirt still on had its merits: Here’s yet another article — this time in the Wall Street Journal — about how important it is to let our kids get dirty how microbes are essential to good health and help us avoid a range of diseases:

From the moment we are born, we begin getting colonized by bacteria, which kick-start a series of fundamental biological processes, including the development of our immune system. Before birth, the lining of our gut is full of immature immune cells. When bacteria move in, the immune cells react to them, changing and multiplying. They even move to other parts of the body to train other cells with the information they have acquired from these intruders. If deprived of this interaction, the immune system remains sloppy and immature, unable to fight off diseases properly.


Inflammatory diseases (such as asthma, allergies and inflammatory bowel disease) and metabolic diseases (such as obesity and diabetes) are characterized by alterations in our immune system and our metabolic regulation. Knowing what we do now about the role of the microbiota, it is not surprising that these diseases are being diagnosed in more children. They are, to a great extent, a consequence of relatively recent changes in our lifestyle—modern diet, oversanitization, excessive use of antibiotics—that have altered the specific microbes that affect our metabolism early on. We urgently need to find ways to modify our behavior so that our microbes can function properly.

So what’s a parent to do?

Let your kids play in the dirt and mud and don’t be so anal about keeping them clean. Give babies and children a wider variety of foods. Cut out processed foods from the family diet. Be more restrictive about giving antibiotics to kids (and give probiotics supplements when you do). And stay away from anti-bacterial soaps. There’s more, but that’s what this article focuses on.

Does it freak you out to imagine your baby sucking on something she found on the ground? Or letting your kids go without a bath for a week?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Internet Menagerie

September 13, 2016

Wind blown by Benny Jackson

I’m way overdue for an trip around the web! Here are some interesting reads I’ve found over the past couple of months that I wanted to share with you. Would love to hear any thoughts, or any of finds of your own in the comments!

  • This family makes me feel like I have zero financial literacy skills. (WashPost)

Image: Benny Jackson at unsplash



Back to (Home) School

September 8, 2016

Photo by Breather

Like every other family with kids, it’s back to school time around here. Unlike most, however, our kids won’t be going very far. And they haven’t officially started yet. This week we’re still on what we call our “summer schedule,” where there’s lots of play time, but also math and reading. But when our two day per week homeschool academy begins again on Tuesday, we’ll be back to a full academic schedule: science, history, Latin, Greek mythology, art, music, language arts, and yes, still reading and math.

People tend to think homeschooling is cheap, but it isn’t. Certainly more so than private school, but definitely more expensive than public school — especially if you belong to some kind of coop. We pay tuition to our homeschool academy, help with fundraisers, contribute to the supplies it needs, and purchase uniforms. We also buy all our kids’ cirricula and the usual school supplies. It adds up!

Last year, I was stressed out around this time, trying to gather supplies and order curricula. This time, I’m pretty relaxed and not sure know why because I still can’t find the binders the girls need after multiple trips outside the city to big box stores, and I still have to order new math workbooks, and the girls have no matching socks, and H needs a new navy skirt because she keeps growing taller but not wider and I can’t find one to fit her. But I guess as this goes on I get more relaxed about it all.

I still have my eyes on these Planetboxes for the girls. I didn’t order them last year because, well, that price tag. But I’ve looked around and there’s nothing really like it,  and I dig the idea of not using so many baggies and plastic wrap. Moms I know swear by them. We’ll see.

Speaking of back to school, I had to laugh the other day when I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a post from a popular mom blogger surrounded by about 20 other moms in her neighborhood who all gathered for mimosas to celebrate their kids’ first day back to school. My comment was: Guess there aren’t many homeschoolers in that group! But I’d take a mimosa, or three.

Are your kids back to school? How do you feel about it? Do you love getting back to routine, or sad to see summer go?

Image: Breather at unsplash




Nobel Peace Prize History

Sorry it’s been so quiet here this week!

As we go into this Labor Day weekend, I can’t help but think of Mother Teresa who’s being canonized in Rome this Sunday, on the anniversary of her death, and will then be formally known as “Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” A photographer friend and colleague of mine is at her Home of the Dying in Calcutta right now. It was a special honor as the Missionaries of Charity aren’t keen on having press around and he received special permission to be there for the weekend of the canonization, documenting what would have been a lot more important to the community’s founder if she were still alive — the everyday work of caring for the poor and dying.

Mother Teresa had her critics — I don’t think someone like her can not have critics — but those who knew her well, spent time with her, counseled her, corresponded with her, volunteered with her — and I know a number of people who fall in that list — overwhelmingly say that this was a woman totally given over to God and her mission to serve the poorest of the poor.

For some inspiration, as we go into a long weekend here in North America, here’s a handful of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes:

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.
If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I believe that prayer changes us and we change things. 
And this is so good:
  Mother Teresa quote

Happy weekend and hope you get a rest from your labors!

Image: public domain