November 2015

Poinsettia at Pixabay

Advent began yesterday and I find that observing it changes this time of year. For a lot of people, as soon as Thanksgiving is over (and I’m taking about the US here), the Christmas festivities begin and all of it culminates on Christmas day. Then it’s all over the next day — the trees come down and life starts to go back to normal.

But Advent is meant to be its own season, with its own themes: darkness and light, waiting and anticipation, patience and preparation.  There are also many different traditions or celebrations that make it special. We place an Advent wreath on our table, which we light at dinner time, and we also have an Advent calendar that the girls use to count down the days until Christmas. And S and H will also get treats in their shoes on St. Nicholas Day (December 6), even although we tend to cut back on treats in Advent until Christmas arrives (except for birthdays or special days).

This year, as a family, we came up with a number of Advent activities we’re going to do that center on thinking about others. Here are some of them:

  • Bake something special for a shy neighbor who finds second hand books for the girls and drops them through our mail slot. He knows how to pick them, too — they’re always winners.
  • Bake something for our terrific car mechanic and his staff who’ve gone the extra mile for us this year.
  • Drop off a treat to the local firehouse to thank them for their important service.
  • Create small gift bags for the homeless and street people we encounter downtown and give them out the week before and the week after Christmas. We’re still deciding what to put in the bags, but it will be things like: healthy snack bars, chocolate, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, lip balm, and a little note.
  • Get one dollar bills, put sticky notes on them with little messages of kindness, and leave them in random places for people to find.
  • “Be kind to each other” at home: We’ll cut up small strips of paper (pretend straw) and each time someone does a special act of kindness or thoughtfulness, you put a strip in a little “manger” (a box or little container) for them.  (That’s where the baby Jesus will be placed on Christmas morning.)

I’m excited about doing these with the girls. As they get older, we’ll do other things, like maybe visiting long-term care patients in a hospital, singing carols at a nursing home, or volunteering to serve meals to the homeless.

Of course, no matter what, there are still gifts to buy and mail in the next couple of weeks, a tree to get and decorate, guest to prepare for, menus to plan, B’s office party to attend, and some birthdays to celebrate in the middle of it all (including mine). But a meaningful Advent often makes for a more joyful Christmas, which is all its own season, too.

Do you observe Advent? Any special traditions you have between now and Christmas or Hanukkah?

Image: Pixabay


Happy American Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2015


There are lovely smells wafting from my oven right now. And rightly so —  there’s a 15 lb turkey in there. Only wanted a 12-pounder, but the farmer said the turkeys are big this year so… lots of leftovers! Later I’ll make  a cornbread and herb dressing as well as bourbon maple sweet potatoes (in addition to other sides), and last night I baked this nutmeg maple-cream pie. It was calling my name this year. Then there are the delicious contributions my sister-in-law will be bringing for dinner. And there will be wine, of course. Plenty of wine.

The menu this year is a bit of an ode to north and south — appropriate since we live in Maryland. Next year I want to shake it up a bit more, though, by bringing more international dishes into the mix, especially Ethiopian and Spanish (my sister-in-law’s home country).

What’s cooking at your house today?

Today is, above all, about slowing down enough to consciously ponder all the gifts in my life. It’s easy to take my health, family, friends, good food, safety, clean water, comfortable home, work, opportunities — and so much more — for granted. The world is full of tragedy and pain which reminds me to, in each moment, be grateful for what I have, especially those things I did absolutely nothing to merit.

So, a very happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! And to everyone else, I hope you’re having a lovely day and week. I’m truly grateful you show up here to read my words; it sure makes writing a lot more fun!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul



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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



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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