Honey, there’s a flying squirrel in our dining room

Early Monday morning, we came downstairs to find our two cats going absolutely mental, trying to get at something under our dining room buffet. This is what we could see:

Despite the fact that this is a fluffy tail, and obviously NOT a rat, it took a long time and a lot of logical reasoning to convince rat-phobic Hubby that this was obviously NOT a rat.

Meantime, Monday mornings are crazy hectic at baseline, never mind with a squirrel skittering around behind the buffet, two large cats going insane, and both kids obsessed. “Can I see it? Can I see it again?… Can we keep it?”

I have afternoon clinic those days, and can help get the kids out the door, but it was nuts. Somehow we made lunches/ got kids breakfast/ got kids dressed/ teeth brushed/ cleaned up/ out the door, all while keeping a wary eye on the wildlife situation in the dining room.

I had to leave for work, but before I did, I called my mom, who happens to have a Have-A-Heart trap. (Long story there.)

Meantime, Hubby called an exterminator, and as luck would have it, we happen to have one for a neighbor. He walked over, took one look, and announced “You know what you’ve got here? This is a baby flying squirrel!”

Hubby and the exterminator guy came up with a plan and managed to haphazardly shoo the terrified creature past the cats, up and down Hubby’s leg, and out the front door, where it zigzagged across the front lawn, right in front of my mother, who had just arrived with the Have-A-Heart trap. It scooted past and up the big tree in our front yard.

And then, the most incredible part of the whole saga: the three of them watched in horror as a huge hawk swooped down, grabbed the baby squirrel in its talons, and flew away!

They were all dumbfounded. My mom is still traumatized.

Everyone agreed that we would only tell the kids up to the part where it ran out the front door. “And that was that!”

We still have no clue how it got into our house…

How do you teach kids to be thankful?

A major parenting priority of mine is to raise kids who give back. To me, that means kids who not only recognize that there are people less fortunate than us, but who will also step up to help.  

The basic requisite here is that they realize how much we have, and feel not entitled, but rather, grateful. This is my mission. If I have anything to say about it, these children will know the meaning of There but for the grace of God go I. 

But how do we do this? We can make our kids say “Thank you” a thousand times a day. But how do we teach them to feel thankful?

I imagine that one good way involves volunteering. This Thanksgiving break is perfect, mostly because I have some time off. The clinic is really slow the day before and after the holiday, so I blocked those days to be with my kids.

We regularly volunteer at our local animal shelter, and they love it. But bringing them to interact with people less fortunate could open their eyes to a new reality, and I’ve been determined to do just that. 

A few weeks ago, I began researching. I looked up and contacted multitudinous charity organizations, including several food pantries and homeless shelters. But places either didn’t allow kids this young (ages four and six), or they required a regular commitment, or they were all booked up.

Hmmm. I reached out to our pastor and our congregation. I asked around at work. Finally, I stumbled across a great idea: I have several elderly homebound patients, and a few have no family. Why not arrange a home visit? This would solve several problems: I would love to see these patients who can’t come into the office, but it’s so hard to find the time. So, clinically, a home visit would serve an important purpose. To bring my peppy kids, and good food, too? We could spread oodles of cheer and goodwill! And the kids could have a hands-on volunteering experience. Win-win-win!

So I called around, and thought we had the perfect arrangement. But yesterday, the patients’ nurse contacted me to say, almost embarrassed, that the patient had changed their mind, and just wanted to be alone for the holiday. They sent good wishes, but felt like they just needed to be by themselves.

I offered to come alone, but, it was a no-go. “It was a such a wonderful idea!” the nurse lamented. “I wish she would reconsider, but, I think not… She’s kind of quirky that way.”

Oh well.

So this morning, we went as a family to the animal shelter, bearing cat treats, dog treats, and peanut butter. The kids helped to clean and feed the resident cats, chickens, dogs, and turtle. (Yes, turtle. If you’re looking to adopt a pet turtle, and you live near us, check our our local shelter!) They even helped exercise one of the friendlier dogs, playing tennis ball catch.

So, that was something. Next weekend, we’re throwing a birthday party for Babygirl and her friends, and we’re asking that people bring donations to one of our favorite charities in lieu of gifts. Her party theme is “fairytale storybook”, and so we’ve asked for gently used children’s books. The organization also desperately needs kids’ winter gear, so we’ll update that evite pronto. 

We do something like this for every birthday party, but many well-meaning folks ignore the request, and bring presents anyways. This time, we really hope to gather a huge pile of goods, because Babygirl will be personally delivering it all to the facility, and we’ll spend a few hours there helping to organize. When Babyboy has collected donations for the animal shelter, the two of them have been so proud to present it all. They feel helpful and important, which is really special. 

And, the local food pantry did ask us to deliver Christmas meals to several senior housing apartment complexes. That’s the type of activity we need to do more. 

If readers have other ideas or want to share examples of things they’ve done to teach their kids thankfulness, I’d love to hear about it!

I hope that the kids learn something about giving back by feeding the shelter chickens!

Cooking with Kids: Real Mac and Cheese

It was a cold and windy November day… While many people saw major snowfall today, we got blasts of bitter (and leafy) cold. Babyboy got it in his head that he wanted mac and cheese. Wonderful! Warm gooey comfort food.

But it had to be Wolfgang Puck mac and cheese, from the food court at the Museum of Science downtown, which is one of his favorite museums. But there was NO way we were going to a kids’ destination on a weekend afternoon, when it’s way too crowded, AND Hubby is out of town so I am solo with these two. That would just not be fun.

He perseverated. He begged and wailed. An hour passed and he was still following me howling “PLEASE MOMMY PLEASE CAN WE GO PLEASE PLEASE I REALLY WANT TO GO!”

We were pretty late for church when I finally convinced him that it would be more fun to make Wolfgang Puck mac and cheese ourselves, and then go to Nana’s.

Praying that there was a recipe somewhere online, I did a quick search. And apparently, this particular mac and cheese is a thing. Recipes abound. But the biggest find was an actual video of the famous Austrian chef himself demonstrating how to make his “most requested dish”. Babyboy and I watched, riveted. He wiped his face and cheered up considerably, and I took mental notes. We made a plan: after church, we’d head to the little local grocery, pick up the ingredients, and cook.

Cooking is what I do anyways to disconnect from clinical work. It’s a total soul cleanse. Cooking with my kids is pretty much my favorite family activity. So I was as excited as he was.

The grocery wasn’t that crowded, considering it’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The kids were reasonably well-behaved, corralled in the cart: Babygirl in the front seat, Babyboy in the back, with food items stacked around and on top of him.

We made it home, and got cooking. Yes, we made a roux, and a successful Béchamel sauce. I did mess with the recipe a bit. There’s practically a whole stick of butter and three types of cheese in there already, so I figured, we can skip the three egg yolks.

The effort was worth it. The cheese sauce is basic, but very rich and creamy. Perfect for small children who would NOT do well with, say, gorgonzola or smoked mozz thrown in there. This is just plain good mac and cheese. I was skeptical of the secret ingredient: grated nutmeg. Really. But, it works, and the end result was pretty delish. Plus, we had enough left over after our lunch to bring to the late afternoon football game gathering and feed five more people.

Honestly, it was not a difficult recipe, and it’s so delicious, it’s well worth trying. Healthy? Hell, no. But it’s only got a few very straightforward ingredients, and you can definitely say it’s full of calcium and protein (and fat and carbs, but hey…)

Here is the recipe we (sort of) followed after watching the video. Enjoy!

I take the absolute worst food photos. Good thing this is not really a food blog. Trust me, this mac and cheese was really properly gooey inside, with a crunchy cheesy crust outside.


What’s the meaning of this? 

Today I’ve experienced a small, but odd coincidence that has left me wondering:

Okay. The election happened; Leonard Cohen died; and suddenly versions of Cohen’s famous song “Hallelujah” started popping up everywhere. 

While Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton, Susan Boyle, and Pentatonix are no doubt fantasticly skilled artists, their versions of “Hallelujah” are just… wrong. Sorry. 

So I went on Facebook and posted what I think is the best version ever: Jeff Buckley’s, from his only studio album, Grace. 

And the song has lingered in my head for days. 

Last night, I pulled up the Grace album on my phone and asked my four- year-old daughter if she’d like to hear a cool song. She listened intently, which surprised me, because it’s six minutes long. At the end, she said she liked it, but it was “pretty serious”. 

Tonight, she cried and cried when she found out Hubby’s going to be traveling for a few days. “Don’t leave, Dada! I’ll miss you too much! Please stay home!” 

Poor Hubby was heartbroken, and as he tucked her in, he offered to play some music on his phone while she fell asleep. She asked for “Hallelujah”. He said sure, and mentioned that he had a different version that he likes (Chris Botti’s instrumental). 

“No, Dada, I like the one Mama played last night.” 

So he found the Jeff Buckley version, and while it played, she stopped crying and drifted into sleep. 

I was listening from the other room, folding laundry, and wondering: What happened to Jeff Buckley, anyway? I know he died young, but what’s the story? 

So I looked it up real quick. 

He drowned. May 1997. He’d gone swimming at night, fully clothed, and drowned. 

The article also posted his birthday: November 17, 1966. 

It took awhile for that to sink in. November 17… that’s today. 

As I flipped through the other search results, there were many articles and tributes dated today, because he would have been celebrating his fiftieth birthday. 

Hmmm. Weird. But… also cool. So I took a moment to say a prayer of thanks for this wonderful artist and his beautiful song. And I have no idea what to make of the coincidence. Maybe there had been mentions on the news or social media that registered in my subconscious. Who knows. 

Meantime, enjoy the song. 

What would I do if I saw someone being harassed? A story and a guide.

Friday evening on the subway ride home, I witnessed something that made me uncomfortable, and compelled me to step forward.

Was it harassment? Was it a hate crime? Was it any kind of an attack? Not… quite.

Was one human being singled out from the crowd and made to feel like crap for something completely beyond their control?


Was it because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender?

I believe that had something to do with it.

A young mother boarded the train with her two young children. The younger, a toddler, started screaming and kicking. Who knows about what, but as she struggled to calm him, the commuter crowd began expressing their disapproval. We didn’t even make it a complete stop before stares and sighs started erupting all around.

Usually it takes longer, but this particular family was of an ethnicity that, sadly, I believe prompted that much more of a negative response. The child wailed and howled, the mother comforted, commanded, and then begged, while the people huffed and murmured in increasing annoyance and disgust.

I’ve seen scenes like this before, and written about it. What the hell is wrong with these people, I have no idea. The poor woman was obviously distressed, and the child was clearly just being a child. The crowd was even worse than usual, again, I believe due to the fact that the mother and children looked and spoke differently. It was just that much easier, that much more allowable, for the great Americans around me to shit all over them.

I had opened up my trusty PBS Kids app on the iPhone, and was at the ready to save the day, but my plan was foiled by the lack of a connection. We were underground. Dammit.

Luckily I have more than one weapon in my electronic arsenal. Thank goodness Babygirl had insisted on a silly My Little Pony coloring app that doesn’t require internet. Uses up alot of space, but, I was glad to have it. I opened it, made my way across the moving train, and planted myself directly in front of said screaming toddler.

Like magic. Better than ether.

The baby watched, wide-eyed, rapt, silent, as I demonstrated how to pick different colors and designs to style Fluttershy pony. Pink polka-dots! Green stripes! Go crazy!

The baby, as all babies do, mastered the touchscreen painting app in mere seconds. The mother nodded and smiled in weary thanks. The older child wanted to play too, and then the only issue was figuring out how to get the two to take turns, when I didn’t understand or speak their language.

After a few more stops, the crisis was over, and the rest of the train had moved on. The mother sort of waved, said something that sounded like Thanks you, thanks you, and I got it, she was ready for the Pony app to close (It does have the most annoying soundtrack ever).

I understood, and with smiles and good wishes, I moved on too.

But it got me thinking.

What would I do if I saw someone really being harassed?

Sadly, since the election, there’s been an onslaught of hate crimes. Rather than get into the politics of that, I’d like to focus on the practicalities.

What would I do? I’m a five foot two mom and academic. I’m not about to get into it with any skinheads.

Luckily, there’s guides for this, and the most helpful that I have seen is from an artist in France named Maeril. Her step-by-step guide below is great. The whole post has more detail, and actually, she herself sounds pretty cool.

What struck me about this approach, and makes complete sense, is that you don’t engage the attacker at all. You completely ignore them. That sounds safe, and, frankly, way more effective than a shouting match. I can do this.

Take a look, and see what you think:

Hi everyone!
This is an illustrated guide I made as part of my co-admining work at The Middle Eastern Feminist on Facebook! It will be published there shortly.
The technique that is displayed here is a genuine one used in psychology - I forgot the...

Maeril says:

“Some could say: “Yes but you can use that technique for instances of harassment other than Islamophobic attacks!”, and my reply is: Sure! Please do so, it also works for other “types” of harassment of a lone person in a public space!! However I’m focusing on protecting Muslims here, as they have been very specific targets lately, and as a French Middle Eastern woman, I wanted to try and do something to raise awareness on how to help when such things happen before our eyes – that way one cannot say they “didn’t know what to do”! 

I’d like to insist on two things:

1) Do not, in any way, interact with the attacker. You must absolutely ignore them and focus entirely on the person being attacked!

2) Please make sure to always respect the wishes of the person you’re helping: whether they want you to leave quickly afterwards, or not! If you’re in a hurry escort them to a place where someone else can take over – call one of their friends, or one of yours, of if they want to, the police. It all depends on how they feel!”

Where is Captain Underpants when we need him? No, but seriously- How do we talk to our children about the election?

I’m mostly worried about the kids.

They’ve been hearing about the election at school, and asking about it.

Babygirl, a few weeks ago: “Mama, Stevie says Donald Trump is a bad man and a bully and he shouldn’t be president. He’s not president is he?”

It felt easy to reassure her. “Oh honey, no, he isn’t and never will be. This is America, and bullies can’t be presidents.”

I believed that. I really believed that in our great melting pot of a country, there could not possibly be enough misogynist, racist, or otherwise grossly misguided citizens to elect someone like Donald Trump as our president.

And now.

Hubby and I were up all damn night. I had my first panic attack around ten-thirty p.m. and decided to go to bed, to try to sleep through the horror. But I couldn’t get my breathing under control.

Several hours, two glasses of red wine, two shots of Nyquil and a melatonin later, I was still awake, as was Hubby. We tried not to check our phones, then did anyways, and began talking about how on earth we would explain this to our kids.

Not just explain, but shield.

Not just shield, but also raise them safely in a country where ignorant and unprepared bullies reign.

Not just raise them, but also give them self-confidence in a country where it’s apparently okay to denigrate women, minorities, and the disabled.

Good God, how do we do this?

Hubby’s first suggestion was “I sure wish Captain Underpants were here to save the day from President-elect Poopypants!”

But then he said: “I suggest we stress that sometimes we’re disappointed, and what’s important is that we be examples of goodness, always trying to make things better.”

I agree. I also think alot of reassurance is in order.

We’re not the only ones for whom this is the main concern. A wonderful article by Huffington Post blogger Ali Michaels, PhD, offers some solid suggestions.

Meantime, I will do my best to model the behavior I want to see in our leaders, for my children.

When I drove into the train station parking lot, the attendant is a middle-aged woman in a hijab. I drove slowly and waved to her, smiling, sending the message I am with you. We’ll be okay. She smiled wryly back.

On the train, reading the coverage, I couldn’t help but get choked up. An African-american man standing across from me saw my face, nodded in solidarity and smiled reassuringly,  sending the message I am with you, we’ll be okay.

As my colleagues drift into the office we barely speak, sharing grim expressions, sad head shaking, sighs. We are with each other. We’ll be okay.

And this is what I want to be for my kids- an example of goodness and kindness, inclusion and acceptance, tolerance and patience, thoughtfulness and open-mindedness.

We’ll be okay.

The one political thing you need to read today was written by a Marine


This one essay by former Marine Corps officer Jake Cusack offers an empathetic and no doubt authentic explanation for both Donald Trump’s popularity, and why we should defeat him at all costs.

Since you know you’ll be obsessively following the election all day, add this to your reading. I’ve been stretching my imagination to try to figure out why, how on earth anyone could even be considering voting for Trump and Officer Cusack offers the best explanation for the frightening phenomenon yet:

“I can appreciate the frustrations of Trump’s base. Values they hold dear now seem smugly derided as quaint. The mainstream media comments on them but does not represent them. Even when reporters deign to visit middle America, the stories often seem written as a subtle inside joke for the coasts. It’s no wonder that people in the heartland have slowly turned to right-wing media, preferring to get their news from sources that do not treat them as dumb country cousins at a metropolitan gala…[] Scroll through the constellation of fear mongering sites that orbit conservative media and try to recognize the America you know in those stories. It makes sense that Trump supporters can believe so wholeheartedly that the country is on the verge of collapse….[]These and other concerns with legitimate roots turn some of my friends and family towards Trump’s aggressive stance and anti-establishment voice, even as they are fully cognizant of his massive personal flaws.”

Ooooh. I can see now. But what makes this essay great is the author’s personal experience in Iraq and elsewhere:

“But what they don’t see is how tenuous it all is. I’ve spent my life since Iraq in and out of conflict zones and fragile states. I’ve seen educated, wealthy communities descend overnight into ethnic cleansing. I’ve seen family men turned into butchers. I’ve seen a charismatic reformed warlord, surrounded by capable technical advisors, steer his country irretrievably into the abyss.I was traveling across Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone when Trump escalated his comments suggesting that he’d try to put Hillary Clinton in jail and doubled down on his assertion of “rigged elections.” People there knew exactly what he meant, because they have heard that rhetoric before. This is the language of lands without strong institutions, bereft of the mutual trust that glues our democracy together. It’s the language of civil wars.”

His conclusion?

“Our choice of leaders matters. Our respect for institutions matters. Trust in the democratic process matters. Freedom of the press matters. An independent judiciary matters. And it matters that America continues to believe itself a country that welcomes “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.””

Read the essay, it’s worth a few minutes, it’s an excellent piece.