Pull Up A Chair

May 13, 2016

Erol Ahmed cactus photo

So let’s get the weekend started with a lemon lavender gin rickey from Food52. I always want to try whatever I see in my Instagram feed from that recipe site!

I have so many random things in my brain at the moment…

  • Next week is our last at our homeschool academy for this academic year. I love having it two days a week — it  provides structure for our homeschooling and has been great for the girls on many levels. But it will also be nice to have a break from having to get the kids out the door early in the morning and make lunches and deal with homework for their classes there. Gosh, what would I do if they went to “regular” school every day? It would be so excessive. Haha
  • You know you’re busy when a delivery of Frye boots shows up at your door and you’re too busy to even open the boxes for days. Also, picking our boots online is hard! There’s a long story behind these boots. Back when we had our TV trip to North Carolina, a friend gifted me with a pair of Fryes. The problem was, they had a major defect and there wasn’t time to return them. The customer service folks at Frye said they were okay with me wearing them for the show and sending them back afterwards for credit. Which I did, hoping to get another pair just like them. But they were out of stock and weren’t going to be back in for months. So, I waited, and then kind of forgot about them, and then realized my credit was going to run out so I better hop to it! But then I wasn’t sure I wanted the same pair; maybe I should try some other styles just to complicate things? So, I did. And now I’m going back and forth between two colors of these Phillip Harness boots. I wanted the camel color and they’re out so it’s between the cognac and the black. I like the former slightly better, but the latter is more practical with my current wardrobe. I’m not good at these kinds of decisions. They’re just boots, but I don’t get Fryes everyday and I want to get it right!
  • We’ve had so much rain and many cloudy days. But I find it strangely comforting because it reminds me of home. Nova Scotia gets a lot of clouds and rain — a lot like the northwest of the US. So, speaking of boots, I’ve been wearing my Hunters a lot. I love throwing on rubber boots to head out the door.
  • My husband got me hooked on a show called Peaky Blinders. Heard of it? It’s a gangster drama located in the streets of post-war Birmingham, England, on the verge of the 1920s. B liked it right away; I was like, meh… And then it kind of sucked me in. Great performances. And I like that it’s not too violent, at least compared to so many other shows and what you’d expect from a show about gangsters.
  • Did I mention I had a lovely Mother’s Day? Low key and relaxing. The girls made me awesome homemade cards. Those are like pearls to me. And we went out for a special brunch where I had the best Bloody Mary ever. The girls tried to be on their best behavior all day. Sometimes I still can’t believe I have the privilege of being their mom. It’s a gift never lost on me.

Well, there’s more, but that’s enough. How was your week, friends? Hope it was a good one, and hope you have a terrific May weekend. See you back here next week.

Image: Erol Ahmed at unsplash



Jiu jitsu warrior princesses

My girlie-girls who love all things pink, fluffy, and cute are three weeks into Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes and loving every minute of it. I must admit I’m a little surprised they dig it so much. Then again, these girls are always surprising me with their super coolness.

They attend a Gracie Academy school which we found right in our neighborhood, run by a guy trained in and passionate about Brazilian jiu-jitsu. In 1925, a Brazilian family by the last name of “Gracie,” began developing a new kind of jiu jitsu (based on the traditional Japanese martial art) for small or weaker people to defend themselves effectively. Many members of the Gracie Family have since dedicated their lives to developing what they — and many others — consider to be the most effective system of self-defense in the world. (You can read more about its interesting history here.) It’s a grappling art — there’s no punching or kicking involved.

B has always been a fan of martial arts; I, on the other hand, haven’t known much about them and shy away from anything that resembles fighting. At the same time, as a petite woman, I’ve often wished I was well-versed in self-defense. I think it’s a great thing for anyone, especially a woman, to know.

I really like the Gracie kids’ program because it’s not so much focused on teaching kids to fight, but on helping them gain the confidence to diffuse situations, learn to be safe, and only defend themselves physically if necessary. Then it teaches them the skills to do that. What I also love is that they spend at least 10 minutes at the beginning of every class talking about character development. Right now, it’s responsibility. My kids have never been better about doing chores without even being asked — a parent’s dream, right?

Besides helping the girls burn off energy and be physically active, it’s giving them more confidence and a sense of accomplishment. They love their teacher and it’s a positive environment and diverse group of kids. Not only that, S and H seem to be naturals. Who knew?

Look out world, there will be two jiu jitsu warrior princesses on the loose before you know it, and you won’t want to mess with them.

Would you ever want your kids to take a martial art, or have they? What about you?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 


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Pull Up A Chair

May 6, 2016

Erol Ahmed flowers photo

Whew, it was one of those weeks! So many moving parts, and me running to catch up. How does one be a “slow” mama in the midst of days and weeks like this one, which happen so often?

I’m always trying to figure that out, but I think one secret is to be conscious of the present moment as much as possible and in those moments to pause and breathe deeply, be more present to what’s going on, and be grateful. Sure, there are things we could all do to slow our lives down more, and we should consider those things, but the fact is, life is full and busy and some seasons of life are especially this way. Being present to the moment is the only way to live fully in the time we have, no matter what’s going on.

This week, I did manage to get out with a good friend who was in town for the evening. I’m still thinking of the vodka mule I had — vodka plus fresh lime juice and ginger beer. Feel free to grab one and tell me about your week!

And how about your weekend? It’s Mother’s Day — any exciting plans? I know Mother’s Day is not all roses and sunshine for many women, and I get that. Every mother’s day, we bring flowers to a church and place them in front of a statue of Mary, in honor of S and H’s first mother. It’s a way for S and H to do something concrete that acknowledges and celebrates her, and for me to share that day with her in some way and offer a prayer.

In addition to the ways my little family will spoil me, we have a full weekend, including dinner with my brother and his family before they take a trip overseas, and a couple of other events we’re attending. Hope it’s a good one for you, friends, and I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Erol Ahmed at unsplash



Photo by Matthew Wiebe at unsplash

Not a morning person? You are finally vindicated, my friend.

According to a new study, none of us should be starting work — or school, for that matter  — before 10 a.m. I’ve always known this, but the rest of the world has been slow to catch on. Now science is finally catching up with what many of us have long suspected: Most of us don’t do so well when we leave the house at ungodly hours to commute to work or head to school.

The human body runs on circadian rhythms, genetically pre-programmed cycles that regulate energy levels, brainwave activity, and hormones. These 24-hour rhythms evolved around sunlight and not “the business strategies of the nation’s employers.”

In the late 18th century, the 8-hour work day was designed to maximize efficiency. But factory owners didn’t consider the body’s natural clock, they only thought about a 24/7 production schedule.

And though it might have appeared to maximize numbingly repetitive factory work, with the rise of technology and increasing number of jobs where you actually have to think, the 9am start time is completely backfiring.

Oxford University’s Dr. Paul Kelley, told the British Science Festival that his remedy for our sleep deprived society was to move start times forward to 10am so he tested his theory: He moved the start time of a British school from 8:30am to 10:00am and he saw grades improve by an average of 19%.

Kelly also thinks the work world has it all wrong.

Companies who are forcing workers to start earlier than 10am are placing major stress on the emotional and physical systems of their employees and effectively contributing to long-term health problems and higher numbers of sick days. The societal prevalence of sleep deprivation is probably the reason why the average American consumes 3.1 nine-ounce cups of coffee a day. That’s 40 billion dollars a year spent annually by Americans to prevent drool from dripping onto their keyboard.

That’s a good point about coffee. I don’t know anyone who can get up super early and manage to generate the kind of energy they need for the day without their cup of coffee, or two, or three.

As for what this means for those of you who do wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6am every morning, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe your circadian rhythms are off? Maybe you’ve evolved to a higher life form? Maybe you drink too much coffee?

What I do know is that it’s nice to now have some research to show that if you don’t think everything should begin at 7 a.m. it doesn’t mean you’re lazy and will never be successful.

Are you a morning person? What would you think about a 10am work and school day start time? What would be an ideal schedule for you?

Image: Matthew Wiebe for unsplash




Pull Up A Chair

April 29, 2016

Girls with Rosie

Guess who got to hold their pet tarantula for the first time? S and H have been looking forward to this moment ever since Rosie Snackers arrived a few months ago. The terrarium had to be cleaned and it was the perfect excuse for them to finally get some hands-on time. I had visions of Rosie running away, getting lost in our disaster of a bedroom, and flipping out some night as she crawled over my face as I slept. (Yes, she lives in my bedroom. I think that should earn me the wife-of-the-year award.)

But, no. Apparently we’ve got ourselves the most docile and friendly arachnid on the planet. Not only that, Rosie loves being held. She gravitates to the girls, always coming up to the glass whenever they talk to her, and she didn’t want them to put her back—she kept trying to get out to them again. She loves B, too. I came into the room the other night and she was sitting in his hand, sound asleep. When he put her back, she kept coming to the corner, indicating she wanted out again. He thought it was the most adorable thing ever.

Rosie seemed to have a lot of personality from the beginning. She’s quite an interior decorator, constantly re-arranging things in her terrarium. We were surprised to observe she can dig amazingly well, and carry large amounts of dirt around. She also drinks water and grooms herself, washing her feet in the water bowl after climbing on walls, and she curls up into a ball and then slumps over when she falls asleep. She does all of this while being almost blind.

The only one who hasn’t held her yet is me. Can’t say it’s high on my list. I think she’s awfully interesting, and even cute —I’m getting quite a kick out of her. But there’s still something about the way a giant hairy spider moves—even a slow, friendly, personable one—that kind of weirds me out. My girls really want their mama to hold her, though, so I may need to bite the bullet soon and just do it.

In completely different and sad news, the man who’s responsible for bringing us delicious St-Germain elderflower liqueur passed away this week. Robert Cooper was only 39, so his death hit me as very sad since that’s so young. Seems only right to toast him with a lovely spring cocktail with St-Germain. So here’s a Lady Sybil from the Kitchn. Such an elegant drink!

Anything exciting happening this weekend? Lots on my list—we’ll see what gets accomplished. I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul



Empathy vs. Sympathy

April 28, 2016

Everyone loves Brené Brown and I must say, I like her stuff, too. In this lovely animated RSA Short, Brown talks about the difference between empathy and sympathy and how we can only create an authentic empathic connection if we’re brave enough to get in touch with our own vulnerability.

But when I watched this, I wasn’t sure I agreed with Brown’s definition of sympathy. She totally disses it. I guess it all  depends on how you define the word. I’ve always thought of sympathy as an early step to empathy, or a simple but valuable way to convey concern or care to someone. For instance, when you offer or send words of sympathy to someone who’s lost a loved one it’s a caring sentiment and conveys thoughtfulness. No, it’s not empathy — empathy is something else, more important, more involved. But that doesn’t mean sympathy is the opposite of empathy.

What do you think? Do you agree with Brown in this video? How have you understood the term sympathy?



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Stefan Kunze for unsplash

Spring weather in the mid-Atlantic is hiking weather. Not too cold, not too hot and humid, no mosquitoes or gnats yet — it’s the perfect time to get out on the trails. It took becoming parents to turn B and me into hikers. Whenever someone would rave about hiking, I thought it was just a fancy way of saying they went for a long walk. Anyway, now we’re big fans. And now there’s a bunch of research that can make every hiker out there like us feel even better about their fancy walking…

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that hiking in nature decreases obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin:

[The researchers] compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.

Not good news for city dwellers like us, but no surprise. Urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Another study by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer concluded that “technology and urban noise are incredibly disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be taxing to our cognitive functions.” That same study found that disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature drastically improves creative problem solving.

Hiking typically burns between 400–700 calories every hour, depending on the difficulty of the hike and your size. And (according to research out of the University of British Columbia) aerobic exercise such as hiking increases hippocampal volume — which is the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory — preventing memory loss. It also reduces stress and anxiety, boosts self esteem, and releases endorphins.

Hiking helps kids, too. A study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that “exposing children with ADHD to ‘green outdoor activities’ reduces symptoms significantly.”

My kids have not been diagnosed with ADHD, but a good hike seems to balance their moods and behaviors out. And I always experience a calming effect myself, as well a mood-enhancing effect — If I’m down or grumpy, even a short hike can really brighten my outlook.

Are you a hiker? Where’s your favorite place to hike? Do you notice tangible benefits from this kind of exercise?


Image: Stefan Kunze at unsplash

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Pull Up A Chair

April 22, 2016

Gouthaman Raveendran pic

I’ve been missing in action for the past couple of Fridays. Sometimes the end of the week arrives and I’m like what, it’s FRIDAY?? and I can’t get to blogging. But I’m here today, so yay for little victories!

It’s Passover this weekend (happy Passover to my Jewish readers!) and have to admit be being intrigued when I saw “Passover Cocktail Recipes for Each of the Ten Plagues.” It’s very possible that none of them are appropriate for  Passover — I don’t know enough about observing Jewish holidays — but they were too fun on their own to pass up (over?!) So, for our end-of-week drink, how about something to mark the first plague — locusts! Grab this Desert Swarm — with white rum, non-grain gin, organic peat juice, lemon juice, fresh egg white, organic blue agave syrup, a couple dashed of orange bitters, and club soda.

Speaking of hopping bugs, I keep reading about how the periodical cicadas are getting ready to erupt from the bowels of the earth here in Maryland any day now. Last time I heard cicadas were coming, I saw one or two, but the time before that was a whole different story. We were living in Washington, DC and for weeks, you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk without the crunch-crunch-crunch of cicadas under your feet and a buzzing so loud it made you feel a bit crazy.

In case you’re curious, some species of cicada come out each summer, but three species are known as “17-year-cicadas” (or periodical cicadas). They have the longest confirmed life cycle of any insect. Much of the mid-Atlantic and some of the northeast will see them a whole lot come May. Scientists don’t know the exact date, but according to Science Alert it will happen whenever the night-time soil temperature hits 64F (17 degrees Celsius) for four nights in a row at a depth of 8 inches (20.32 cm). Things will then get loud as the insects come out, climb trees, shed their exoskeletons, and the males start their mating chorus, which some people have described as “an alien spaceship coming in.”

Maybe I’ll come up with a cicada-inspired drink for their month-long visit!

Well, enough about insects, how are you? How was your week? Any exciting plans ahead? Things are kind of open here this weekend for a change, but it won’t stay that way for long with spring cleaning/organizing tasks to complete, side projects to work on, and the usual stuff of life. The gorgeous spring weather we’re having makes it hard to do anything but get outside. I wish these temps would stick around. We went hiking last weekend so maybe we’ll do it again.

Hope it’s a good one where ever you are! See you back here next week.

Image: Gouthaman Raveendran at unsplash



A New Kind of Ultrasound

April 20, 2016

When I saw the cover of John Grisham’s new novel the other day entitled The Tumor I thought it was a joke. The Tumor? But a further look revealed it’s quite serious. Grisham wrote a novel to tell the story of a medical treatment he wants to draw attention to — and if this video is any indication of its promise, I can see why.

Focused ultrasound, also known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) (or sometimes MRgFUS, for magnetic resonance guided focused ultrasound) is an early stage medical technology  — in various stages of development worldwide — being used to treat a range of diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, fibroids, and pain. It uses ultrasonic energy to target tissue deep in the body without needing to make incisions or use radiation.

Essentially it’s a sound therapy and the fundamental principle is like using a magnifying glass to focus sunlight on a specific spot to generate burning heat. Each individual beam passes through tissue with no effect, but “at the focal point, where the beams converge, the energy can have useful thermal or mechanical effects.” This treatment can be used by itself or enhance other conventional treatments.

HIFU has already been used in other parts of the world like Israel, Canada, and parts of Europe and Asia, but it’s relatively new in the United States. I’m always amazed when I hear stories like that of the woman in this video. I love thinking about how medicine may be different 10, 20, 50 years from now. I bet we’ll be doing a lot more with light and sound.

Have you heard of focused ultrasound? Does this intrigue you?





The Things You Never Did

April 18, 2016

Sean Stratton

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor and catch the trade winds in your sails…”

I’m old enough to know this to be true — at least for me. When I look back, the things that most disappoint me are those I didn’t do, or was afraid to do, and not so much what I did do.

When we were in the weeds of the adoption process, there were times I was tempted to give up and when I felt scared of the whole thing and wanted to run away. Most days this wasn’t the case but there were moments…. and at those times I would sit myself down and project myself 10, 15, 20 years from that point and ask myself what I would wish I’d done. And the answer would always be the same. Going to the other side of the world to meet two 4 year-olds who would become my daughters was way out of my comfort zone, but it remains the single best thing I’ve ever done. Although, come to think of it, that designation should perhaps go to my decision to marry B. As a child of divorce, I had a lot of anxiety about marriage — but here I am almost 13 years later, wondering where the time has gone. And if it weren’t for B, I don’t think I could have made it through our adoption process. I mean who would have handed me that Xanax and held my sweaty hand when I was having a panic attack on the plane? It was definitely a team effort and his support and encouragement (along with that from friends, family and help from above) made me a mom.

Even the small things we miss can become disappointments. It still bothers me that I failed to keep up with a particular person I met years ago, and I know there are many little things I’ve passed up or ignored only later to say, Shoot I should have done that.

Of course, there have also been things I didn’t do that I’m not disappointed about. Curious, maybe — as to how it would have changed my life — but no regrets. For instance, I remember being offered a dream job right after graduate school and, with no money in my bank account and no other prospects on the horizon, I turned it down. There was no rational reason to turn down that job — it was a hard decision, actually — but I wasn’t at peace about it so I said no. The next job I took, a few weeks later, is where I met my husband.

It does seem though that, generally, it’s what we don’t do that we end up having more regrets about — the opportunities we pass up, the risks we don’t take, the decisions we fail to make, the plans or goals we forget about. There are always reasons, practical, as well as circumstantial, and let’s not forget sheer laziness, which can factor in. But I think fear is always the biggie. It’s an interesting exercise to ponder what your life might look like now, or what you may have in your memory bank right now, if you hadn’t been afraid.

All of us have fears of some kind. Besides drawing on any faith we may have, the only way to overcome fear is to cultivate that which helps us push through it. Love certainly conquers fear — it’s the opposite of fear, really — but a strong sense of adventure, a desire to explore and experience, a deep sense of purpose or mission can also help us have the courage to move through fear into action.

Is there anything you didn’t do that you still feel disappointed about? Does that quote resonate with you?

Image: Sean Stratton at Unsplash