Internet Menagerie

November 24, 2015

Tiago Muraro at Unsplash

Hello friends! I have a lot of links I’ve been wanting to share for a while so here’s a batch of them. Not that you have much free time this Thanksgiving week, but if you’re sitting in an airport or on a train, or you just need a break, you might find something interesting here. Please share some of your best finds in the comments!

  • Lovely short documentary about one woman’s story of bettering her life. (The Atlantic)
  • Making this pie for Thanksgiving. (Smitten Kitchen)

Image: Tiago Muraro, Unsplash


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First Family Pet

November 19, 2015


Rosie Snackers

Say hello to our first family pet. Her name is Rosie Snackers.

I think it was back in June when two little girls and their daddy began seeking my approval for a pet tarantula. I was not an easy sell, but they did a lot of research and kept making their case. Apparently there are approximately 700 different species of tarantula, and none of them have venom harmful to humans — unless you have a rare allergy. (Which I suppose you wouldn’t know until it was too late, but I digress.) A few kinds are particular good for first-time owners, and for children, and we got one of those — a Chilean Rose Hair. They’re extremely docile, easy to handle, and reportedly have no interested in chewing on anything other than their food.

But yes, they are hairy and quite big, and if spiders frighten you, a tarantula is probably not the best idea.

Given that my daughters still have a lot of fears, it’s strange they’re not the least bit afraid of Rosie Snackers — or most spiders. That’s because B loves spiders and has taught them to understand and study spiders from the beginning. S and H still freak out when there’s a fly buzzing around, but a giant, fuzzy, eight-legged, two-armed, spider seems to turn them into mush. Go figure.

Even when Rosie Snackers came home (guess who named her?) I wasn’t exactly happy about it. I had visions of her getting out, waking up to her on my head, being the anomaly who will bite my kids. But, we humans are nothing if not adaptable and I find the longer she’s here, the more used to her I get. She is kind of cute. And my husband, a big animal lover and not a fan of taking creatures from their natural habitats, assures me that tarantulas like Rose Hairs like restricted, comfortable spaces.

Oh, and they can live up to 20 years, so should probably get used to having her around.

There was no room for a kitty litter box in our house, and certainly no room for a dog, and we don’t want to cage any birds, and my husband thinks fish are beautiful but kind of boring. So, the Saint-Pauls have a tarantula. If you didn’t think we were a weird family before, you do now.

What was your first family pet? Would you ever get a tarantula?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul



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Paris from Pixabay

We have all been thinking about Paris. And some of us have been thinking about Beirut, too, where 43 people lost their lives to suicide bombers in a busy market place as they went about their business on Thursday. Beirut didn’t made the headlines the way Paris did.

The terrorist attacks in Paris are no more tragic than those in Beirut, yet they’re more alarming because Paris feels closer to home. It’s a city many Americans have visited and it feels like a “safe” place. Most Americans know nothing about Lebanon and when they think of Beirut they think  “war zone” so hearing about terrorist attacks there doesn’t cause the same reaction. Of course, the media knows this and reinforces it, which is why even though I work in media and read a lot of news, I didn’t see anything about Beirut until Saturday morning.

Regardless of how much attention and value is placed on the terrorist attacks that happen around the world, I believe we’ll be seeing more of this in western cities in the days to come. How do we talk to children about it when it happens? It’s easy to focus on the evil and the fear. In addition to prayer — which I believe has power when it’s rooted in love — the late Fred Rogers had the best answer to date as far as I’m concerned:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

I love this because it focuses us on the good and the beautiful instead of the evil and ugly. It helps to restore our hope and inspires us to be helpers ourselves. We see this in the stories coming out of Paris and out of Beirut — people who sacrificed their own lives to save others. People who rushed to help and to rescue. Strangers who offered shelter and comfort. The helpers are always there, and they give us a way to talk to our children about such horrible things.

Image: Pixabay




Pull Up A Chair

November 13, 2015

Maryland Zoo

How was your week, friends?

If you tried to stop by Wednesday evening or Thursday and had trouble accessing the site, I think there were some server problems going on — sorry. It messed up my posting schedule so here I am at the end of the week again, offering a drink and thinking about how quickly these weeks keep flying by!

First, let’s get to that drink. I discovered a lovely winery in northern California that’s making authentic Ethiopian honey wine. It’s called Queen Sheba and if I ever make it to the west coast again, I need to check it out. In the mean time, I’m opening a virtual bottle of the Orange Blossom and pouring a few glasses — please grab one!

So, my week… It started off with a field trip I organized for our homeschool academy to the Maryland Zoo, which is right here in Baltimore. After living very close to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., which is terrific, I didn’t expect to be very impressed with the zoo here. Happily, I was wrong. They’ve got a great new exhibit of African penguins and the largest part of the zoo is dedicated to African animals — which my girls love. In fact, they’re obsessed with big cats — S with leopards and H with cheetahs. The zoo happens to have two brand new cheetahs and one walked right by H and me as we stood still and silent behind a glass partition. It was the highlight of her day — and mine. That  animal is gorgeous! There didn’t seem to be a high enough partition between the lions and the humans, though, which made me nervous, but I choose to believe that the people there know what they’re doing.

I still get a little sad to see some of the animals caged. I know we’ve come a long way when it comes to how North American zoos treat and house wild animals, but it seems like big cats should have large swaths of land to run upon, and chimpanzees should be able to swing from real trees without concrete below them. But I’m no expert. I do know that watching these incredible creatures never gets old. This last trip left me wondering if someday I just might make it to South Africa with my daughters for a real safari. That would be pretty cool.

So that was a highlight of the week. A very sad part was the death of a family friend who I’ve known since I was 11. Captain Sweeney was a former Canadian naval captain and lived a fascinating life. He’s the kind of man you might read about in a book or watch in a movie and maybe some day that will happen. It was a surprise to all who knew him that he made it to 93. He passed away on such an appropriate day for him — Remembrance Day in Canada (and Veterans’ Day here in the U.S.). I will always think of him when I drink a snifter of brandy and enter a room with richly colored textured wall paper and I’ll miss him calling me “Lady Z.” May he rest in peace.

I hope you have a lovely weekend, friends. I’ll see you back here next week.

Image: B



Small Is The New Big

November 9, 2015


The tiny house movement has been around for a while now, but I’m seeing more and more articles about people choosing less space to live in more generally. This New York Post article focuses on some famous people who have chosen to downsize, like the singer-songwriter, Moby, who is apparently known for mega real estate purchases, but is trading it in for a much smaller house. Celebrity chef Rachel Ray apparently lives in 1800 square feet in Manhattan with her husband and Warren Buffet still lives in the modest home he bought in 1958.

We are a family of four living in less than 1000 square feet, and we’re hoping to move in the next year or two. I’ve realized that it’s not so much the size of our home that I’m itching to change, but the layout, the lack of storage solutions for basics, and the lack of outdoor space (and a driveway!). As homeschoolers with two growing kids who would like to be able to have guests over from time to time, we could seriously use a new place. But nothing large.  I like the simplicity of less space and how it fosters togetherness and connection. It also saves on housework, which I support!

Living space isn’t a one-size fits-all kind of thing, of course. The space you need depends on your family size as well as other needs and circumstances. B and I both work from home so we need some office space, for example, but other people don’t need that. A close friend of mine has eight kids — you better believe she needs more space than I do. But more American families seem to be attracted to simplifying their lives and that slowly seems to be translating into purchasing (and building) smaller houses. Not sure what will happen to all the McMansions out there, though.

How big is your current home? What would be your ideal home-size?

Image: Pixabay




Pull Up A Chair

November 6, 2015

My Two Queens

I wrote about friendship and then left you hanging all week. Sorry about that! To make it up to you, here are my darling girls off to their homeschool academy last Friday as the Queen of Sheba and Cleopatra. And here they are after trick-or-treating last weekend. (Sorry the photo is blurry… lighting issues.)

Night Furies

In case it’s not obvious, they’re Night Furies — a particular kind of dragon in a favorite movie of theirs called How to Train Your Dragon. I came up with the queen costumes myself, but the dragons are all B’s mom, an extremely talented seamstress. I’m so fortunate she has taken on the role of official Halloween costume maker for the girls. I won’t take it for granted, but it sure makes my job easier and the girls get so excited about them! They’re requesting cheetah and leopard costumes for next year — but we’ll see if that still stands in 11 months.

How was your week? Before I talk about mine, here’s a drink to virtually imbibe while we’re chatting here — it’s called Smashing Leaves. I was drawn to the name and then I saw the ingredients: bourbon, muddled kumquats, fresh lemon juice, shiso leaves (or mint or basil), and a little simple syrup. Give me citrus anytime, and bourbon… well, I’m slowly becoming a fan. It’s all Margaret’s fault.

So, another crazy week here. Some days and weeks feel well-balanced and others feel out of control. I was proud of myself on Wednesday, though. (I fly solo on Wednesdays because B goes into his office.) Somehow I managed to oversee the girls’ homeschooling, work five and half hours, make all the meals, get the girls outside for some exercise, run an errand, and coach a client that evening. Phew. Some Wednesdays are disasters so I’m always happy when things fall into place.

The post-candy meltdowns were in full swing here earlier this week and now S and H have colds. I got a little nervous because one of their classmates (in their very small class) got sick on Tuesday and the girls were no doubt exposed, but happily, they’re still just sniffling.

This weekend we’ve got a friend’s annual New Orleans gumbo bash — which we always look forward to — and  maybe we’ll even get around to test-driving a couple of cars. Hope springs eternal.

Any exciting plans on your docket? Highs and lows of the week? Pull up a chair, grab a drink, and let me know! If not, I’ll see you back here next week, hopefully with a couple more posts than this week!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul







Puppy Friends

I’ve been thinking about this article in The Atlantic ever since I read it, which is about how friendships change over time, into adulthood. It’s kind of a no-brainer… we all know friendships change. Some all but disappear. I can think of two people I was very close to at one time who I haven’t heard from for many years despite my numerous attempts. Their lives are busy, they live far away, and they don’t seem to prioritize long-distance relationships. I get that. Still, if the communication were there, I sense we’d still be close today.

I also have long-time friends I stay in touch with, and spend time with when I can. They’re important to me — we’ve known and supported each other through many phases of life and we’ve made a lot of memories together. I invest in these friendships to various degrees and each brings something special to my life.

I also have newer friends who reflect who and where I am today. These relationships are satisfying because they’re so intentional. Our lives are very full, yet we make time for each other because we find something life-giving in the relationship. I’m much more aware of what I need and want from a friend now than I used to be.

When’s the last time you mulled over the quality of your friendships and how they’ve changed? And how you’ve changed? I know I sometimes feel conflicted about the time and energy I have to invest, when I should let go, and whether and how to find mutually supportive new friends.

One of the interesting things the article discusses is the “double-edged sword” nature of adult friendships. They take a back seat to our spouses/significant others, children, work, and other commitments, so they can suffer. But because each of us silently acknowledges this fact, there’s a flexibility and freedom to friendship that makes it so valuable. The “voluntary” nature of it makes it great, but can also present challenges because it’s a less-defined relationship. If one friend’s expectations or desires are different than the other friend’s, then hurt and resentment can build up and strain the relationship.

One of the best things about friends, especially close ones, is that they’re not just great in their own right, they’re cheerleaders and supporters for our primary commitments — marriage, parenting, work, etc. Friends also remind us of who we are as individuals so we don’t get lost in our many roles and responsibilities.

Of course, in order to keep a mutually supportive friendship going you do need to invest something of yourself, and that’s where it gets tough when there are only 24 hours in a day. A lot of it does come down to expectations — if two friends have similar expectations of each other, they’re likely to maintain a harmonious and mutually satisfying relationship.

What are your greatest challenges when it comes to friendship at this point in your life, and what is most important to you in a friend?

Image: Picjumbo 

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Pull Up A Chair

October 30, 2015


Seriously, friends, how did it get to be late October?

We’ve had some warm days this week, but fall has definitely arrived so here’s something to celebrate the end of the week while you’re putting those last touches on Halloween costumes and carving pumpkins — a Szarlotka (also know as Polish Apple Pie Cocktail). Chamomile-infused vodka? Sounds extra relaxing. And such a simple drink to make! (If you can find that vodka, of course.)

So while I lift my glass, I want to tell you that I finally got around to selling one of our cars, but the process ended up a getting a bit complicated. After money was exchanged and the car was gone, I discovered there was a title issue and I needed a lien release letter before the new owners could register the car in their names — and that was going to take five-to-seven days. So I prayed the couple would keep it parked off the street, as they said they would, because essentially it was still my car. Then I got a distress call the next day from them saying they tried to move the car and it was completely dead and it seemed to be an electrical problem. They wanted their money back. The car was still in my name and on my insurance — and I really didn’t want these people to end up with a total junk heap — so I agreed to refund their money and made plans to have the car towed to our mechanic.

Long story short, the new owners trouble-shooted the problem further before that all happened and discovered a simple fix to the problem. And they still wanted the car. So I’m happy to report that as of yesterday, the car is no longer ours. Now it’s time to figure out what to do with our other car and get to the business of buying a new one. Baby steps.

But enough about cars, on the roster today are happier things like an All Saints’ Day party at the girls’ homeschool academy, pumpkin carving, and getting ready for a little boy’s birthday party tomorrow as well as trick-or-treating. We keep it simple here, taking the girls to a handful of houses in the neighborhood and giving out treats from our front step. The big excitement for S and H is getting dressed up and my super talented mother-in-law made their costumes again this year, out-doing herself yet again. Can’t wait to snap a couple of pics and show them to you!

What are you up to this weekend? Hope it’s a wonderful one at your house, whatever you’re doing. I’ll see you back here next week.

Image:  Zoe Saint-Paul




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.)



Woman in Meeting

Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of men professionally. I like men and find them easier to work with than women in certain settings and situations. I’ve also been in a lot of meetings, and in those meetings I’ve frequently been either the only woman, or I’ve been in the minority. While I think I’m kind and sensitive, I can also be a take-charge, get-things-done kind of person. I prefer when people are upfront and clear; I don’t take disagreement personally; and I don’t mind confrontation as long as it’s respectful.

It didn’t take me long, however, to learn that I had to be careful about how I stated things in meetings. If I was as matter-of-fact or blunt as the men were, it usually wasn’t well received. I was interrupted or talked over way more than any man in the room, but if I spoke in a no-BS, tell-it-like-it-is manner, it wasn’t always perceived the way it was when the same thing came from a man. (Maybe because women remind men of their mothers and wives?)

All this may be why I laughed out loud when I read this article in The Washington Post last week about “famous quotes the way a woman would need to say them during a meeting.” Here’s a sample:

“Give me liberty, or give me death.”
Woman in a Meeting: “Dave, if I could, I could just — I just really feel like if we had liberty it would be terrific, and the alternative would just be awful, you know? That’s just how it strikes me. I don’t know.”

“I have a dream today!”
Woman in a Meeting: “I’m sorry, I just had this idea — it’s probably crazy, but — look, just as long as we’re throwing things out here — I had sort of an idea or vision about maybe the future?”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Woman in a Meeting: “I’m sorry, Mikhail, if I could? Didn’t mean to cut you off there. Can we agree that this wall maybe isn’t quite doing what it should be doing? Just looking at everything everyone’s been saying, it seems like we could consider removing it. Possibly. I don’t know, what does the room feel?”

Really, you’ve got to read the rest to get your week started with a good belly laugh.


Image: Pixabay