Back to School Juice Cleanse and Other Ill-Timed Bad Decisions

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Sometimes I make bad decisions, particularly when the stakes are high. Like say, deciding to do my first juice cleanse on the week that–A: the kids go back to school; B: I’m planning and hosting a friend’s baby shower; C: the house is nowhere near back in shape after a summer away (2 of 3 suitcases unpacked). I think I was in one of those Richard Simmons gung-ho “We’re going to be the BEST versions of ourselves when we get home!” modes when I ordered the cleanse from a hotel room in Louisville on the way home. Also, it was the morning after I danced with the pasta and bread gods in a glorious end-of-summer Carbohydrate Celebration. Whatever the case, I found a Groupon coupon and felt really empowered to click “order” on a juice cleanse that promised to leave me feeling “unhindered” and “glowing” after a pasta night that left me all hindered and dull. “YES!” I thought. “Unhindered! Glowing! Detoxified! Energized! YES, YES! That’s what I want. 3 days of juices and nothing else? No problem, I LOVE juice.” For the record, you don’t know how bad I currently want to smack that little optimistic bitch of a past self in her bread-stuffed face.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s 5:00 in the morning and I’m up writing because my head hurts so bad, I couldn’t sleep. Well, that and the dog was walking around my bedroom in the dark and from the sound of her toenails on the wood floors, she was either pacing for water or auditioning for Riverdance–equally important, so I got up to help her and pop some Ibuprofen which I’m sure isn’t in the allowed substances of a proper juice cleanse, but neither is the half pound burger I plan on eating later today, so whatever.

If you haven’t guessed yet, here’s the punchline: I’m hungry, and I’m not very nice–which leaves Brett in a very vulnerable position. And it all started when the refrigerated box arrived.

“What’s that?” he asked as I removed each juice and shoved a heap of weird condiments aside in our already disorganized refrigerator to make room for my beautiful display of colorful juice bottles–a section that now rendered my fridge more organized than it’s ever been.

I took his question as a dig, naturally.

“You know, that cleanse,” I muttered under my breath, lining up my bottles a little more intently so he’d see I was far too busy in important work to discuss this further.

“That what?” he asked.

Aw hell naw. The make-me-repeat-it game. I know this one.

“I told you about this last week,” I answered before I launched in a healthier-than-thou explanation of my intentions. After of which he smiled and walked away which–given a good ten minutes to create a fake conversation in my head of words that followed–I fully equated with laughing and telling me I’m ridiculous and won’t make the three days.

“I’ll prove you wrong!,” I yelled in the conversation-that-never-happened in my head. “I’m going to feel so good! You’re going to go crawling to that online juice store!”

Apparently, the hungrier you are the more irrational these silly arguments get because last night Brett overheard me ask Lainey what she wanted in her lunch today and he chimed in, “I know what she wants. She wants a snake sandwich, right Binks?”–the same joke he’s been saying since she was two and uttered her first “I’m hungry” except sometimes “snake” gets switched out for “alligator” or “raccoon” and also it’s not usually said in front of a wife who’s Googled how a few sips of chicken broth might affect the efficiency of a juice cleanse because she’s that hungry. After Lainey graciously smiled at her dad and walked away, I snapped.

“She’s too old for that joke, Brett. Did you see her smile? She’s trying to be nice. She’s in FOURTH GRADE. She’s over it.”

I know, I know, a real gem of a supportive wife, right? Listen, I was hungry. Also, I have a thing about repeated dumb jokes after years of my childhood family doctor looking at my sore throat, pulling his prescription pad out and saying every. damn. time: “Well, I can do one of two things–give you some meds for that or take you out back and shoot you.” And he’d slap his knee and guffaw while I awkward laughed and wondered–even at the ripe ole age of 9–when I’d summon the courage to gently inform him it’s not funny anymore because he had used it up on, like, the 6 sore throats before that one.

The fact is, I timed this very poorly. Which I have a record of. Especially during stressful weeks. And to prove that, I’m going to present to you a small list of ill-timed bad decisions I’ve made during weeks when the important life-altering to-do list was heavy, and time to do those things was scarce.

1. Line up all of the girls’ dolls and clean the marker stains off their faces with acetone–of course, when their room is trashed and our laundry pile alert level is at VERY HIGH. Priorities: dolls deserve clean faces too. (*note: don’t use acetone unless you plan on also removing painted on freckles and fake blush).
2. Alphabetically organize my spices.
3. Spend 20 minutes designing and ordering personalized bookplates for my kids’ books even though they never leave the house and “this book belongs to” is pretty obvious when you pick it up off their bedroom floor.
4. Sew buttons on that one shirt I’m never going to wear anyways.
5. Clean the soot stains off all my glass candle holders.
6. Start painting a room with no intentions of finishing it.
7. Go through all my nail polish bottles to throw out any that have dried up.
8. Check all my rugs for stray yarn and clip accordingly.
9. Overhaul the catch-all shelf above the washer and dryer, but like, only half way. Like take everything off the shelves and leave it on the floor and then don’t come back to put it all away.
10. Create a new hobby like home brewing or bonsai tree collecting and research it extensively.

The answer is yes. Yes, these are escapes. Yes, I’m too smart not to recognize that there is no easy way out of the hard mundane work of life and that there is nothing that will make you feel better except doing the work–not even things that promise to unhinder and make you glow. You cannot escape good, satisfying hard work by cleaning marker off dolls’ faces or drinking pressed celery for three days. You have to answer the e-mails, do the laundry, wash the dishes, unpack the suitcase, put the running shoes on, get out the door, face the resistance, do the hard things, accept that the good things in life cannot come without the hard work to get there and that that’s what makes them good. It takes time and patience and a lot of self acceptance. The “Best Versions of Ourselves” do not glisten in an oasis of tomorrow but in the glittering opportunities this present day holds. And it probably doesn’t involve snapping at your husband for an attempt to make his kid laugh.

I’m not too hungry to tell Brett I’m sorry and that I know our kid will love rolling her eyes when we ask her where she wants to go to dinner for her thirtieth birthday someday, and her dad says “I know–how about the Snake Buffet?” Now that I think of it, I hope he never stops using that joke. I love it.

As for the juice cleanse, I’m still in it to win it–maybe now just to prove to myself and my husband that I can finish this off. But I am perfectly open to a “valiant effort” badge when I quite possibly give in for, at the very least, a handful of Pirate Booty come witching hour tonight. The good hard work of today awaits.

Summer Reading Picks for Moms & Kids

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I finally got our summer reading list put together. I’ve been collecting books, digging through reviews and finally took the time to put it all together for anyone who wants suggestions. With no further ado…

BOOKS FOR MAMA
I tend to be drawn to memoirs and other non-fiction books, but I do try to read some fiction for variety. I’ve committed to reading the same chapter books Lainey reads, so that covers my fiction for the year. Plus, kids’ chapter books are so great for adults too (Harry Potter much?). Non-fiction picks for moms:

Stop Here, This is the Place by Susan Conley.
I wrote about this book last summer and how much it inspired me, and this new one has me even more excited. A photographer and writer team up to share photos and little stories that make you appreciate this glorious window of childhood. I cannot wait to dig into this, preferably while lying on a pontoon boat, sipping something good.

It’s Okay to Laugh: Crying is Okay Too by Nora McInerny Purmort
I’m halfway into this book, and it’s truly wonderful–touching, funny, highly entertaining.

Shrill by Lindy West
Last summer, I heard an interview with Lindy West on This American Life and was thrilled to see her book out last month and quickly snatched it up for a summer read. West uses her wit and humor to powerfully take on issues of self-awareness, womanhood, body image and more.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
It’s an oldie, but I’ve never read it, and you can’t go wrong with Anne Lamott. After a friend sent me an excerpt the other day, I threw it in the summer read tote.

The 52 Lists Project by Moorea Seal
A fun writing project to start this summer, this beautiful journal is full of weekly list prompts (list your favorite characters from movies/tv shows, etc., list your favorite quotes, list your favorite qualities about yourself) that help you dig into some self-discovery areas. Lists are interspersed with gorgeous photographs.

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CHAPTER BOOKS FOR KIDS
There are so many different suggestions for kids’ books and ideas for encouraging kids to read on their own. I’m all for kids choosing their own books, but sometimes they pick books based on covers alone (don’t we all), and that leaves us with a lot of puppy and kitty chapter books that aren’t always engaging and never get completed. Our schools here use the Sunshine State Reader program–a compilation of books Florida puts out every year that includes a variety of genres and selects books for their wide appeal and literary value. I used to think the list was used as incentive too much (schools run reward programs for how many books you read off the list), but it’s been really successful at our school and the books chosen are always so so good–taking a lot of the work out of finding great reads. Three of our kid summer selections come from the new list for 2016-2017 school year. Also, I doubt we’ll get to all of them over the summer, but I’ll be happy if we can finish 2! I read all the book summaries to Lainey and let her choose the three that sounded most interesting.

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt
I’m really excited about this one–reminds me a little bit of  the kids’ book Wonder which slayed me. This one’s about a girl who has dyslexia and struggles with fitting in at school.

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners
For science fiction lovers–Gabby Duran gets a top secret babysitting job and discovers who new charges are aliens.

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.
The summary totally got me–lakeside summer adventures, photography contest and two kids who learn that photos can show more than people want to see.

Swing Sideways by Nancy Turner Steveson
Deals with a summer friendship between two girls. I started reading this on my own and loved the first few chapters. I ended up buying the audio version for us all to enjoy together on our road trip up to Michigan. Might need tissues.

We read The BFG together earlier this year–a great one to read before the movie (comes out next week!)

PICTURE BOOKS FOR LITTLE LITTLES (or big littles who love picture books…me, me, me!)

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Prissy & Pop: Big Day Out by Melissa Nickelson
Based on the Instagram sensation pigs, this little adventure is chocked full of the cutest photos kids will return to again and again. I could barely turn to the next page without my kids wanting to go back and point and laugh again at every single picture.

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Good Morning Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Wake up Story by Miriam Gates 
We fell in love with the Good Night version of this book last year, and I’m so happy to discover a new one. Such a great introduction to yoga poses for kids and sweet affirmations that go along with each one.

The 50 States by Gabrielle Balkan
This gorgeous hardbound treasure is a keepsake for families and a great addition to summer road trips and travels. Every state is represented with colorful illustrations, maps and fun facts about our country and the people who make it great.

Lastly, for anyone looking for fun reading incentives for kids, let me just say I believe in bribery. I fully support using it in parenthood, and I can’t imagine doing this gig without it. You can have my stroller, the sippy cups–hell, take the iPad. But do not take my bribery. I need it. Yes, reading should be for fun and pleasure, but it’s up against a lot of distractions these days, and sometimes it takes some creative convincing to pick up a book.

I found The Idea Box Natural Rewards at a darling shop in Santa Monica earlier this year (Brooke Rodd) and scooped them up. On each side of every wooden coin is a simple reward for kids–from “take the day off–no chores today” to a fun activity to do with mom and dad. I don’t like to create too rigid of an incentive system because I don’t usually follow through, but these are great for loose rewards, and I love that they don’t hinge on buying something new (although I don’t object to that either–Shopkins are KING).

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Maybe kids get to pull one out after they finish reading a certain number of chapters, maybe a few for every book finished. Lots of flexibility there–but look, so cute, eh?

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And one of the greatest ways to get kids engaged in chapter books is to read them yourself so you can talk about every chapter together. Make your own mini book club, even if it’s just you and your kid.

Happy Reading! Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. 

First and Last Impressions

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The hallway is empty now–bare bulletin boards that, just last week, were covered with colorful projects and pictures and sign-up sheets for the end-of-the-year party. The emptiness speaks of the fullness that’s been here the past nine months. This hallway is usually Main Street in the morning, a steady stream of in and out–parents leading the way and little ones following behind, dragging their tote bags, stopping in front of bulletin boards to find their hand print, their leaf project, their construction paper kite with the yellow yarn string.  There it is! The pink one! You made that? It’s beautiful!  Classroom drop-offs and hugs and Have-a-Great-Day!’s. Moms in yoga pants shuffling away to workouts and e-mail boxes, stopping outside the door to catch up–let’s do breakfast, let’s have a play date, let’s remember these preschool mornings forever.

Today it’s different. Classrooms have been cleaned out, projects sent home and the name tags that have personalized desks and job lists and cubbies have been removed to transition this sacred room for next year’s lucky students. The only last bits of this year reside at the table in the center of the room, covered in a summer table cloth, scattered with party treats. There are games, crafts, pizza and cookies; and I volley between Nella and Dash’s classrooms for events–a class photo picture frame craft and a montage slideshow to that ukulele version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow that always makes me cry. Today is no different.

I realize how much I truly love this place–for its smallness and coziness but mostly its greatness: behind each classroom door is a world leader. A preschool teacher who holds the key to an individual’s entire world of education with the power of a first impression. There will be many teachers that follow–classrooms, policies, tests, memories of projects and field trips, routines, and over the years a cumulative folder that grows fatter with reports. But there’s something about that very first classroom, that very first person who believed in you and knew you not by a student number–but by your first name. Your favorite book. The way you hold your pencil. How you learn. What grabs your attention. How it takes you a little more time but, man, how you shine when you’ve got it.

I learned about the power of a first impression working in health care. In college, I had a number of jobs at the hospital where my dad worked–a hospital well-known for its incredible patient satisfaction reviews. Every employee, from valet parking assistants to cardiac surgeons, went through extensive training to provide exceptional patient and visitor service–to recognize that walking into a hospital automatically presented vulnerability and to recognize and respond to that vulnerability with utmost attention for every single hospital guest. I see you. I know that you might be anxious or scared and that you don’t really want to be here. I’m here to make it better. Assure you, support you, offer you a warm blanket, listen to you, connect you to the right place that can help. As a patient transporter, I was paid a lot less than, say, a doctor. but I was often one of the first people patients encountered as I picked them up from waiting lounges and patient rooms to take them to their procedures. I remember being told–and believing–that I might be the most important person that patient interacted with; that my presence, words and care could be the ones that changed that person’s entire hospital experience into a comforting and calm one. I had the power of a first impression. We learned that patients, without even thinking about it, expect that doctors are licensed, nurses are trained and that machines that keep your heart beating are working properly, but what they judge you on–what their entire health care experience is truly about–comes down to being seen. Feeling valued, listened to, loved.

Education is a lot like health care in that sense. I assume and hope I can certainly expect that my children’s schools are up to code–that teachers are properly trained and text books are up to date.  But what their entire educational experience is truly about comes down to being seen. Feeling valued, listened to, loved. I was reminded of that recently by another teacher and a parent of a child with Down syndrome when I had IEP Tunnel Vision: the document. Make sure it covers everything. Focus on the plan. The wording. The accommodations. The legal rights.

“Remember,” she wrote me, “an IEP is a fluid document that can be changed at any time. What’s better than a great IEP is a great team of teachers behind your student.”

Like health care, I know that I can’t control everything and that little minds are a lot like little bodies. But as we prepare for Nella to go to kindergarten and enter a much bigger world of friends, teachers and experiences that will continue to shape her entire world of learning, I’m comforted by the foundation that’s been laid by a lasting first impression–this little school and a teacher who has taught my child that she is incredibly capable of very big things, and that she is valued, listened to and loved.

I hug her teacher one last time yesterday, unable to let go. “Thank you, thank you,” I whisper. “You’ve given me a gift. I’m not anxious anymore.”

We’re now in the bridge between two sides–the ground that launched Nella into the public school system and the side that will receive her next year. And this week, we venture into another first impression as the principal of the school she’ll attend next year takes her hand and leads her to the kindergarten classrooms so she can explore and get comfortable. “We cannot wait to have her here next year,” the principal assures me. “We’re ready for her, Kelle. She’s going to do great here. We love her already.” With tears, I hug her before we leave. “Thank you, thank you,” I whisper. “You’ve given me a gift. I’m not anxious anymore.”

I know there is much to be done across the country in the world of education, especially when it comes to special needs. I’m prepared for setbacks and frustrations in coming years and understand the power of advocacy and the importance of growth and change. It gets harder every year, I know, and as the gap between learning pace becomes more prevalent and she’s more aware of her differences, I’m expecting it won’t be easy. But right now I have two powerful first impressions that drive our next step and cushion our new beginning.

I wipe my tears after our last goodbye yesterday and take Nella and Dash’s hand as we make our last walk of the year down the empty hallway of the preschool. But wait–I forgot to take a picture. We turn around and pop back into the classroom one more time. “Can I get one last picture of you two together?” I ask her teacher.

“Of course,” she answers as she kneels down and hugs Nella. And just before I hit the button, Nella shifts her eyes to her teacher and I see it–the all powerful look. Her worth, reflected by the one who’s revealed it to her this year.

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Teachers, you hold the keys to our everything. How you see them is how they see themselves.

Later at home, I read the letter Nella’s teacher wrote to next year’s teacher and rifle through projects and reports from the last few weeks. “She is wise enough to know that she’s at a different level than her friends, but smart enough to know that she can fit in,” her teacher writes. “She has a wonderful stubborn streak that reminds you that she knows herself well and won’t settle for less. She is most comfortable being treated as equal and being given the same responsibilities as her friends.” Oh, to have your children seen for who they truly are.

For this little one, I’m so thankful that her launch has her sails full spread, pushed by the wind, guided by those who love her.

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