The Beetle Parable, or Why the World Needs Love

me and kids fort
Kayden, me, & Paxton,  June 2016

My kids “saved” a beetle today. Why? Because they are kids.

We went for a walk semi-early in an attempt to get ahead of the heatwave.  We were only one door down when my middle son, Paxton–who blog readers know feels deeply, his compassion and heartbreak eternal–squealed with dismay. Oh no!, he kept saying, until Kayden and I and the stroller made our way back to him. He was crouched down, sullen, staring a belly-up beetle in the…well, in the something. Fix him, Mommy!, Kayden yelled. She had joined Paxton’s sense of urgency as soon as she realized the beetle’s legs were moving and he was, in fact, alive but stranded mid-sidewalk. Together, we found a leaf and carefully turned him back onto his legs. Paxton then decided to shade him with the leaf and insisted we check on him when we finished our walk.

Twenty minutes later as we rounded the corner back to our house, the kids ran ahead to check on their friend, now named Jason (of all things!). And there was Jason, back on his back, still on the sidewalk. Mommy! MOMMY! Both kids were distraught now at the thought of this beetle unable to get to shelter and unable to cool down. I picked up the leaf and gentle lifted him to my neighbor’s yard.  We placed him in a shady spot both under a tree and near my neighbor’s irrigation system.  We agreed the damp, cool place would help him thrive.

Fast forward to after lunch.  I needed a few kitchen staples–and an iced coffee–so I shuttled the three littles to Whole Foods.  Somehow, Jason came up in conversation while we were gone, so the second we returned home, the kids ran to our neighbor’s yard and found him, on his back again.  Before I could finish putting the groceries away, Kayden and Paxton made a little eco-system out of an old Tupperware container: they stuffed it with small twigs and leaves and grass and dirt, they poured a little water in the bottom, and they gently placed Jason inside using a sand shovel. He’s our pet! We will protect him and take care of him!, they proclaimed.  I did not, still do not, have the heart to tell them that Jason, their beloved pet beetle, is already gone, that his legs haven’t wiggled since we placed him under that tree.  They saw this creature, no bigger than a peanut and something that would have startled them if they found it in the house, and they cared for it.  They nurtured it.  They loved it, instinctively.

Kids default to love; we model hate.  This is nothing new.  Countless bloggers and authors have explored this very subject.  But today, the day after learning of the terrible tragedy in Nice, I was overcome with this notion as I watched my kids react, feel, and love.

I have no intention of getting soap-boxey or political.  I have no intention of changing your belief system or of persuading you to seek a way to save the world.  The world, unfortunately, cannot be saved.  Our kids, though, we can save.  We cannot save them from harm or from tragedy or from reality. So much is out of our control.  We can save them from their own hate. Model love for your kids.  Model positivity. Model coming to the rescue. Model forgiveness.  If these become our default reactions, our instincts, they just may remain the traits our kids bring into adulthood, too.

And, when you really don’t know what else to do, when the world and people’s actions stop making sense, let your kids house and feed a pet beetle named Jason that never really had a chance in the first place.

My Meal Prep Pointers

My biggest piecIMG_8824e of advice is this: take time NOW to save time later!  The more effort and planning you put into your weekend,the easier your
weeknights–and mornings!–can be! I spend Saturday night meal planning while my husband and I catch up on our DVR and then I spend a good amount of time on Sunday meal prepping.  I take time for family activities and fitness, but I make sure I get as much done now as possible. My weeknights and mornings are better for it. 🙂


  • Meal plan with a purpose!
    • I’ve written about clean eating on a budget and have shared some of my weekly meal planning ideas. I cannot stress how important meal planning is for effective meal prep. Meal prepping without forethought is like going to Magic Kingdom without Fast Passes.  Yes, you’ll enjoy the experience, but you will spend a lot more time waiting and figuring out what could have been done ahead of time. 🙂
    • I meal plan on Saturday nights.  I look at a few recipes I’ve pinned or bookmarked and see how any ingredients may overlap with faves from the the past.  For example, Monday night I am serving Colby Jack Chicken Roll-ups (which I’ll make today!). I’ve added Taco Zucchini Boats to Thursday’s Cinco de Mayo dinner menu since it uses the same cheese. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday’s dinner all use various types of peppers as well.  I am going to have Kung Pao meatballs over spinach for lunch each day, which will overlap the spinach from the Roll-ups as well.  I’ll use leftover onion from the meatballs in Tuesday’s crock pot meal. You can save money and time by overlapping ingredients. When you eat clean and get to know food’s natural flavors as well as the deliciousness that exists in natural seasonings, you won’t even think twice about ingredients showing up again and again. When paired with something new or prepared even slightly differently, new flavors take center stage.
    • When meal planning, I also consider the method and equipment with which I will need to prep the meals. I may plan on Salsa Chicken for lunch for the week since that uses my crock pot and saves the stove top and over for any other meal. Today, I know that the meatballs and roll-ups bake at the same oven temp, so that makes prepping them simultaneously easy. This may seem a little too-focused, but as you get more comfortable with the recipes you love and with coming up with your own spin in the kitchen, this will all become second nature.
This week’s menu
  • Chop and dice as much as you can!
    • It is important to rinse and fully dry any fruits and veggies before prep. Do this as early as you can. Then, an hour or so later once you really are ready, you can get in there and prep.
    • When you chop and dice, think about all of the meals you are prepping today AND all of the snacks and meals you’ll need later in the week.  If I am making fajitas on Tuesday night, I will still slice the peppers and onion on Sunday, seal them in an air-tight container, and have an even easier time making one of my quickest, yummiest meals on a very busy night.  I will also chop up and portion those peppers for school lunch snacks (with hummus!) and add these to my snack drawer. When packed appropriately and when allowed to air-dry, these veggies will hold-up for the week.
  • Don’t forget breakfast!
    • Cliche or not, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is too easy for us working moms to skip eating it ourselves and to rely on packaged goods for our family.  Try meal prepping breakfast and you and your family will truly eat and be well. I’ve shared plenty of overnight oats recipes and cannot say enough about how delicious and easy they are. Feel comfortable playing around with the various recipes I’ve posted or to mixing flavors of your own to come up with the portions and ingredients that work best for you. With the perfect air-tight container (mason jars are awesome for this, though I use my BabyBullet canisters!), these will stay all week for the perfect breakfast on the go for any member of a busy family. Plus, Greek yogurt or protein powder (I prefer Shakeology) added to these gives your family the protein it needs to fuel the day.
    • Your crock pot and griddle are also great for meal-prepping breakfast.  You can make various bakes in the crock pot that set while you sleep. You can also double any batch of pancakes or french toast or waffles that you bake for the family Sunday morning, freeze them, and have them on hand. Leggo my Eggo? No. Leggo my homemade protein pancake, thank you very much!
  • Find reusable containers that work for you!
    • This is a bit of a duh, but it makes all the difference. I like using Pyrex glass dishes to keep my made-ahead meals ready to go.  Be sure to let them sit at room temperature before you bake or reheat, though, so as to not shatter the glass!
    • Mason jars and BPA free Tupperware are easy to clean and to grab and go. If you use plastic baggies for snack portions, don’t be afraid to wash and reuse once or twice.
  • Have clean meals and snacks accessible!
    • Life happens!  Sometimes I may need to take one child to the doctor or am nursing or bathing an exceptionally fussy baby.  That is why you need to consider snacks when meal prepping as well. Having a snack drawer my toddlers can reach and having meals prepped in advance allow anyone–from my five year old to my husband to a grandma or babysitter–to get a healthy snack or meal ready. This saves time and saves money since we won’t be ordering pizza or hitting up Chick-fil-A…at least not as frequently! Plus, kids will eat what is available to them. Placing yogurts and fresh fruit and veggies and homemade granola bars or energy bites where your kids can easily find them makes these the go-to snacks, not bags of Goldfish.
  • Involve your kids!
    • Getting your kids busy in the kitchen is the easiest way to ensure they will eat what you want them to. My daughter now LOVES chicken because I have let her help me prepare it.  We all learn our eating habits, and I want to role model healthy ones for my kids at every turn. On Sundays, I involve my  kids in at least one level of meal prep. Depending on the weather (hey, I’d want to be outside riding my bike, too!), I may have them help throughout,but I want them to get outside and get active and be creative as well.  One way they help is to portion our snack bags. I’ll ask them to count out grapes or baby carrots or slices of peppers.  I can also ask them to help chop.  They are young so I keep it to items like bananas and strawberries, but they are learning kitchen safety and having a hand in our family’s health.  They will help me measure out ingredients or stir up batters and mixtures.  They will help me portion meals into our lunch containers.  They will stock with snack drawer.  Now, my kids even come up with their own recipes for overnight oats or ways we can doctor our protein bars a bit differently.  Their help is a big time saver and also a lot of fun for all of us, and I am confident they are learning invaluable lessons!
  • IMG_8486Use a garbage bowl!
    • This seems like a silly tip, but to me, it is a big time-saver. I keep a larger mixing bowl on the counter that I use for trash: onion and garlic skins, thick asparagus stalks, yogurt lids, apple cores, paper towels, you name it.  Saving myself constant trips to the trash can allows easier multitasking and quicker meal prep. When it fills up, I throw it away, but otherwise, I keep chopping and prepping and cooking away!

I hope these tips are helpful!  Share a go-to tip in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you. And if you subscribe to this blog or to my email list by leaving your email below,  I will share one week’s worth of clean eating recipes that are kid-friendly and family-approved. Happy Sunday, y’all!

Almond Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Clean Protein Bars


Obviously, my goal was to come up with the longest name possible for these bars. Mission accomplished!

But I digress. These are delicious. These are easy. These are loved by my entire family. Yep, husband, kid, toddler, and my mom all approved. These are chewy and filling and full of protein. Plus, I know every ingredient since, well, I made them.


I’ve recently discovered–and become obsessed with–Luna bars. As a woman attempting to blend eating clean and following the 21 Day Fix nutrition plan and nursing/pumping for a five month old, I’ve had to find ways to consume healthy fats and complex carbs throughout my day. Enter the Luna bar and various nuts and seeds and avocado in my ShakeO, salads, and overnight oats. I keep one or two Luna bars in my bag at all times, though, so if hunger strikes and I’ve gone through all my snacks, I know I have something healthy and full of real food to nosh on. Two flavors are my faves: chocolate covered almond and chocolate chip cookie dough. Delicious, dessert-like, and perfect for my macros and hunger pangs.

This weekend, I began prepping for an upcoming clean eating group, Clean Eating with Kids. I have almost 40 participants already and want to make sure this 5-day push is helpful, healthful, and happy for all involved. My goal for the group is to educate moms–stay-at-home, working, single, etc–in the ease of clean eating and in the basic ins and outs of an 80/20 lifestyle. I will share a clean menu for all meals of the day, I will provide meal planning and prep tips and strategies, and I will provide motivation and accountability for the participants who wish to “cook along.” Most importantly, though, I want to free these moms, to help them gain more confidence in letting their kids get involved in the choices and cooling that take place in the kitchen. My experience is that the more my kids are involved in creating meals or snacks, the more likely they are to eat these foods. I was going over some of my menu ideas for the clean eating group with my 5 year old daughter and 3 year old son and told them I was considering making our own protein bars. “Yes!” Kayden exclaimed. “Let’s do that now!” So, with no forethought and no new ingredients, we set out to plan our own recipe. The kids checked the cupboards and I read through a few recipes I’ve pinned for granola bars and protein bars and energy bites and, with my two Luna fave flavors in mind, this is what we came up with!


Our recipe can be gluten free, but we did use peanut butter. You can easily substitute another nut butter if there is a peanut allergy. You can even leave out the almonds and/or add in something else–like shakes coconut or dried cranberries or chopped walnuts or whatever!

Almond Chocolate Cookie Dough Protein Bars

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Filling and yummy and gluten free if needed!


  • 2 cups rolled oats, roasted (certified gluten free if you need)
  • 1 cup all-natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup all-natural apple sauce
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (I used Shakeology)
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder (I used Shakeology)
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life dairy, soy, and gluten free morsels and chopped them roughly)
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds (I also chopped these roughly)


  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick coconut oil spray and sprinkle the oats on top. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes. (This brings out the flavor and texture of the oats!).
  2. Let the oats cool, then combine all the ingredients, folding in the chocolate chips and almonds last. Your dough may become thick. We mixed a little by hand.
  3. Regrease your cookie sheet and shape the dough about 1/4 inch thick. It may not fill the whole sheet. A half sheet may work perfectly!
  4. Bake for 22-25 minutes. Allow to cool for 3 or so minutes before cutting into bars.
  5. Store in an air-tight container. Enjoy within 5 days.


Let me me know how they turn out. If you tweak the recipe at all, I’d love to hear that as well!

Want to try Shakeology to make this recipe? You can purchase it here or fill in the “contact me” below and I can send you a sample! 🙂


A Letter to my Middle Child

My Dearest Paxton:


I grew up in a “rich man’s family,” as it’s called: one daughter and one son. I am older than my brother, Uncle Patchy, by four years and enjoyed the privileges of being the first born and of being female. I set the tone for teachers’ expectations of Wrede family kids. I could play Mommy to my brother and get away with–if only in my mind–telling him what to do or telling on him to Nanny and Poppop. I set the play date schedule and extracurricular/athletic activity interests of the family. I felt great power. Uncle Patchy also felt his own sense of power. He could play the “little brother card” and tell Nanny and Poppop I was picking on him. He could often experience freedoms–later curfews or less questioning of his whereabouts–because I had already negotiated our parents through it all. In my opinion, he could get away with a lot more because he was the “baby.” Plus, he had his four years of high school with his sister away at college and was able to take all the attention he wanted. We each felt the benefits of our genealogy.

You, my blonde and silly and wise and emotional middle man, don’t get those automatic rights of passage. Kayden is the oldest, the boss, and the only girl. She will leave the first impression on teachers and micromanage your play and get the first choice for many things. Kellen is the baby, the coddled one, the one who will probably experience few rules and restraints. You are supposed to be the proverbial Middle Child: the neglected one, the mischievous one, the bad egg.

I am here to tell you that you are not. You are our light, our core.


When you grow up, you may or may not remember the summer Mommy was pregnant with Kellen. You may or may not recall the stress of his CCAM diagnosis and the weight of his surgery. I know I’ll remember it all. What I will truly reflect on, though, even years from now, is how you guided me through the emotions and baggage and worry without even realizing it. At 2 1/2 years old, your intuition took over. You frequently walked over and took my hand as I stood at the sink, mulling over the doctor’s latest information. You cuddled up to me on the couch, silently and still fixated on an episode of Odd Squad, when you heard my breathing get heavy or noticed a tissue in my hand. You made me laugh with a silly facial expression or a knock knock joke of your own creation (Knock knock. Who’s there? Joseph. Joseph who? I love cereal!) when I would get lost in my own thoughts again. You made me present, brought me back to reality.

You smiled. Always. Every day. Without reservation. That smile mended the broken heart I was fighting against. You saved me. Throughout that entire process, I could count on you to keep me afloat. That is a hefty burden to put on a toddler, so know it was not something I expected of you nor demanded of you. But you gave selflessly–whether consciously or subconsciously.

Your sister is remarkable. She is brilliant and capable and athletic and beautiful and I love her more than words. But she spent this summer out of her normal school routine. Take Sissy out of her routine and you create a powder keg. Kayden needs time and space to be creative, but she needs to know that time and space exists in a predictable, scheduled way. A summer of countless doctor’s appointments and play dates and shore trips and a Disney vacation and pool visits and you name it left her feeling overwhelmed and unsure of when her next opportunity to play school would come. This overwhelmed her and drained me. We–maybe it is the cliche emotional makeup of females–felt stress in the summer’s randomness and the unknown. You embraced it.

You live optimistically. You love life’s variety. Yes, you have tantrums and breakdowns. You are a preschooler; those are unavoidable. Your sadness arises from some physiological need not being met: you are hungry, you are tired, you are hurt, either physically or emotionally. You feel and take offense, but you care and give. You are the most genuine soul I’ve ever known. Daddy and I may joke to you that you wear your heart on your sleeve, but be assured that is a trait you possess that we will never truly take lightly nor will we take it for granted. We understand that this capacity to feel will make life heavy at times, and we will be here to guide you or hold your hand or smile in your direction.

We also know this means, conversely, that you will celebrate every small win and every tiny joy. I made you a frozen English muffin for breakfast the other morning when we were rushing out the door and you told me I was the best mommy ever. Whenever Daddy makes your favorite shrimp for dinner, you remind him after every bite that it is “mmm, MMM! Delicious!”. You often ask your babysitter for an extra snack to bring home to Kayden when she is at school and you thank her with real, grateful hugs when she relents. You cheerfully yell the name of anyone who comes to visit and praise the dogs when they come in from doing their business. If you feel it, we know it–the good and the bad. And when we feel it, and you sense it and act in a way that makes our feelings valid and supported. Kayden is intuitive, too, in that she thinks situations through and has this endless desire to know all aspects of a situation, even aspects beyond her years. You have an endless capacity to feel alongside a person, to climb into another’s heart. I cannot wait to see how this ability of yours evolves as you mature and grow and engage with more and more of life’s “stuff,” and though I know this will be difficult to navigate at times, I pray you remain genuine through it all. Never be too proud of your emotions, happy or sad. Feel them. Live by example. Don’t worry about the world’s definition of being tough or being a man or being soft. You are all of the above at once. How special is that?


This past Sunday night, the only beings who slept for more than a handful of hours uninterrupted were our two dogs. Your baby brother had a bad cold and a fever from teething and was up nearly every hour. Your sister had a cough and a tummy ache and the nerves of her first standardized test (in kindergarten! More of my feelings on this at another time!) keeping her awake from 12-2 am. Daddy and I were up and about for hours changing sheets from baby spit up and Kayden’s night sweats and calming nerves and cries when, at some point in the melee, we heard you walking around your room. When I peeked in and found you reaching for a shirt in your closet, I asked what you were up to. “I’m getting dressed,” you stated with the matter-of-factness of a man 20 times your age. “You know, for school. Sissy’s not in here so it must be morning.” Bless your heart. Bless your “let me be of little nuisance” mentality. Bless your intuition that taking care of yourself in that moment–even though it was hours before you needed to and something we would never ask of a now 3 year old–would just help. Daddy got you back to bed and I snuck in an kissed you after Kellen finally settled and you know what we both said as we closed your door, 45 minutes apart? Thank you.

That very same morning, but when we actually needed to be awake and getting ready for school, I skipped my morning workout, hit snooze nearly a dozen times, and took a groggy, rushed shower at the latest possible time. When I turned off the water, I was startled into a smile, surprised to hear you singing in your room. You had been awake during the night shift with the rest of us and sleep is so very essential to you. Yet here you were, sitting on your bed singing, “it’s morning! Good morning! It’s morning!” in a tune I didn’t recognize and in a voice so full of vigor and sweetness.image You did it again: turned my mood in a way only you can.

When the dust of the morning settled and everyone had shoveled down some sort of breakfast and was dressed and combed and jacketed to get the heck out to school, Daddy scruffed your fluffy blonde hair and said, “Bud, you get us through.” You really do.

You are not the middle child. You are the center, the heartbeat. You are the rock that grounds us all. Don’t ever forget that. I know I won’t.

Friday Faves: Me Time

I’ve blogged before about the many hats I wear. I do not say this to seem remarkable; I say this to prove that we are all that way. At any given moment of any given day we may be mom, employee, wife, sister, car pooler, team mom, friend, neighbor, coach, daughter, boss, chef, maid, etc. We switch from being needed to needing, from being in charge to following orders, from being free to being structured. This causes chaos in our minds, our bodies, and, often, for our families. I must remember that of all the identities I juggle on any given day, I am always me. Scheduling or “indulging” in “me time,” as most call it, is beyond necessary for our own well-being.

I haven’t been as consistent with Friday Favorites since I started back at work, but I decided this week I am not compromising on it. I am writing this week. Which gave me the idea to write about why I love to write: it is my perfect me time. I am an awe of words and sentences (just ask my students) and often marvel at how they link together and create imagery and worlds and beliefs and arguments and beauty.  I teach my students that they should write like readers and read like writers. I strive to do that, too. When I sit down to write a blog–whether it is planned out ahead of time or rather in-the-moment–I feel a true release of energy and a surge or calm all at the same time. I adore toying with word placement and sentencing, with exploring how I write something rather than what I write. This is when I am most centered, most grounded. This is my favorite me time of all. I encourage you to try it. Get a journal or start a blog or post of Facebook once a day. Even one sentence well-considered is therapeutic for me.

What else do I love to do when it’s just me? Keep reading to find out. You won’t find any earth-shattering on this list, but perhaps you’ll remember what it is you love that helps you find your center. Strive to spend even just 10 minutes each day on “you time” so that your other hats can fit a bit better.

2. Reading: I don’t read enough. I know I’ve previously shared my favorite novels, but that list is deceiving. It takes me quite a while to finish a novel. For one, I am always rereading a text or two for school–not to mention the student writing I read. I really need to make an effort to fit in reading for pleasure. I cannot do so right before bed, though, or I’ll be asleep within 5 minutes. When I do make the time, however–when Mike is watching college hoops or when I have just 15 minutes of hall duty left after grading quizzes–I love it. I escape into another place and embrace the journey.  I marvel at the author’s craft and daydream my own endings.  I let myself be in a moment that belongs to just me.
3. Running/working out: I’ve written before about starting each most mornings with a sun salutation.  It is amazing what those few minutes of yoga and meditation can do for my psyche. But I need to really sweat, to really workout, to feel true to myself.

I’ve grown to love running.  It is freeing to run outdoors, in the fresh air, and to push my pace.  I am not fast but I love challenging myself.  Reach the stop sign before the song ends.  Sprint for 30 seconds every time the song changes.  These mind games fuel my competitive side while quenching my need for health and fitness.  I get grumpy when I don’t get a run in over a long period of time.  Even if I am in the midst of an at-home program or challenge group, I get especially antsy if I haven’t been able to run.  I am still regaining my miles from my pregnancy.  I know it takes time.  The runs I’v been able to tackle, though, inspired me to get back into distance running.  My husband, sister-in-laws, and I plan to run a half marathon in November.  Now it is time for serious mind games.

I also adore working out in my living room, sometimes bright and early and alone, and sometimes with a kid or two or three at my feet.  TurboFire is my go-to.  Chalene Johnson is my best friend in my head.  The mix of HIIT and Fire workouts allow me to do the perfect program in the amount of time I have available.  I’ve had this program for 5 years and is still my favorite. I am in the midst of 21 Day Fix Extreme right now

4. Shopping. At Target. Alone.: Moms, need I say more? Especially if there is a Starbucks. It is like a mini vacation. I would worry the employees all in red look at me strangely for meandering around their aisles for a full hour, but I know I am not the only one. I’ve got my leggings on, I’ve got a list I’ll exceed by at least 7 items, and I’ve got the perfect Pandora station playing from my iPhone. I am home. Until I’m really home with three bags full of dollar-bin items for holidays weeks away that I’ll either A. give to the kids in a matter of days, or B. forget I have entirely until the holiday has passed.

I can also get pretty zen traipsing up and down the narrow aisles of Whole Foods or the wide halls of the mall. Again, my earbuds are in and I’m focused.  I’m trying to send the message that my time is for me only.  No, I do not want to smell your perfume.  No, I am not interested in your miracle hand cream. No, if I wanted a new tub I’d go to Home Depot, not the food court foyer. No, I’d rather not have my eyebrows threaded in front of all these people. If I wanted to be having a conversation with someone, I would have brought my kids along. This is all about me.

5. Cooking: This is a new one for me.  I’ve always been fascinated by recipes, but found most yummy ones intimidated.  I’ve had my standbys, though.  If I was cooking for a crowd or for a holiday, I’d make stuffed shells.  If I was a guest at a party, I’d make my fruit salsa.  If I was cooking on a weekend morning, I’d make pancakes.  Mike and I have differing tastes, so I tended to stick with tried-and-true recipes on weeknights, like my pork chops or chicken ala yummy.  Plus, he often works late, so I lived by the mantra “the easier the better,” which left to countless nights of take-out or boil-out-of-the-box pasta with sauce out-of-the-jar.  My husband never complained, but he rarely praised my cooking.

Now, he does. He often expresses how much he enjoys our new recipes, and I am truly in love with cooking them. We’ve both become increasingly adventurous as we’ve began to understand the importance of clean eating and balancing our macronutrients.  As a result, I’ve curated an extensive library of clean recipes from the vast corners of the internet and am venturing more and more into creating my own.  The most beautiful side of clean cooking and eating is that our meals rely on the natural flavors of in-season foods; you almost can’t go wrong.

I also love getting the kids involved–even though this is listed under “me time”.  This adds many minutes to the suggested “prep time” of any recipe,  but the memories and healthy habits this creates are priceless.  My son especially loves to bake with me; he is always on hand when I make muffins or cookies. Kayden, though she loves to watch baking shows on YouTube, prefers to cook or meal prep.  She loves to sort our fresh snacks or to portion out the ingredients for a meal.  I hope to get them more and more involved as they get older.

6. Watching my shows: I feel like one of my grandmothers when I type that, “my shows.” Each of my grandmas had their shows (or her “stories,” as Nanny Agnes called them), and by shows they meant soap operas.  I am not a day-time TV kinda gal, but I do fall hard for one or two shows at a time that I need in my life.  Big time. I will curl up on the couch alone with a cup of tea or a handful (ok, a bag) of Craisins or a huge spponful of peanut butter and just watch.  I don’t binge.  I absorb.  I immerse myself in these characters.  I memorize their lines.  I cry with them and laugh with them and love with them.

I’ve had many shows over the years–Big Love, Swingtown (gone far too soon!), Smash–and am currently hooked on Younger, The Americans, and Nashville. My husband and I watch The Americans together, which makes me feel less guilty that I am currently in long-term relationships with 3 shows, but I couldn’t pick just one.  I am obsessed with them.

Something to realize is that “me time” doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Many times, when I pencil in time to recharge and get back to me, it involves my favorite people.
7. Talking to my mom on the phone: I do this daily. We usually chat blue tooth-style on my short drive to work in the morning and at least once again in the afternoon.  These phone conversations are part routine, part catharsis, completely “me time” qualified because it is like having a conversation with myself.
8. Girls nights: Every person needs a time to recharge his or her batteries.  I refuel once every month or two with a girls night. This usually means a dinner out with some wine and good conversation, it sometimes means a Pampered Chef or 31 party, and it can even mean a meet-up for lunch (a girls day!) at one of our houses.  These social gatherings with one or more girlfriends renews my sense of self and rekindles my ability to be Mom. These get-togethers are good for my soul and good for my family.
9. One-on-one time with each child: I don’t get to do this enough, but that is the lot we chose by having three kids 5 and under.  Someone is always demanding my attention.  When I can devote time for an activity each child loves, though, we reconnect and I feel less mommy-guilt.  Anything that reduces mommy-guilt has to be “me time.”

With Kayden, I play school.  If she had her way, we would play every waking minute of the day. What she doesn’t understand is that I play school every day as a high school English teacher.  Continuing that momentum and those activities when I just want to be Mom feels daunting and draining and droll. I can often swindle my way into being “Miss Pam,” who is conveniently a like-named women who works in the school’s office.  This way I can continue to make dinner or work on paperwork or fold laundry and it is as if I’m completing my secretarial duties. Other times, I can take the role of “Miss Julie,” the college-aged helper who assists all classes in the afternoon.  When I am Miss Julie, I can spend 10 minutes with Kayden in full kindergarten aide mode–cutting circles and folding paper and sorting books–and then assist the other classes for a stretch of time, aka spend time with my other two children.  But some days, she wants me to just be her teacher or just be her student and when I do, when it is just us, I can’t help but be in awe of her imagination and attention to detail and eerie reincarnation of my entire childhood.  This is “me time” for both of us.  I must allow myself to enjoy it fully more often.

Paxton likes waking up early and cuddles and Odd Squad and doing puzzles.  We often spend our one-on-one time while everyone else is still sleeping.  He is naturally an early riser and an immediate eater, so we will head down for breakfast and put on a favorite show and relax on the couch for a few minutes before the hustle and bustle of the rest of the day and family take over.  These few minutes of contact are usually all he needs.  If he wakes up and I am already getting ready for school or doing my workout, he accompanies me throughout the entire process.  He just needs to know I’m there and needs me to know he’s there.  Lately, he’ll do a puzzle on the floor while I get my things together for the day, or he’ll sit beside me as I check in with my challenge groups early in the morning.  He’s my shadow most of the morning and though it can stress me out when we are in a time crunch or when I’m tripping over him at every turn, I have to embrace these moments when Mommy is his number one girl.

Kellen’s an easy sell: give him a few minutes to nurse and he is golden.  I am especially in love with nursing this time, most likely since we plan on Kellen being the final Bus Baby.  I can tell he is beginning to teeth and is a bit antsy, but I am going to ride out this wave with him as long as he’ll have it.  Stay tuned for his big boy mommy-and-me time. 😉
10. TV with my husband: I’ve already told you about my shows.  Well, Mike and I have our shows as well. We love the entire Chicago series: Fire, PD, and Med. We’ll watch Shark Tank and The Big Bang Theory.  We’ve seen every season of Homeland and 24.  And last year we finally got on the Breaking Bad bandwagon and never looked back.  We’ll sit together with cups of coffee or tea or a glass of wine and just watch.  This is the time when we mentally unwind, often fall asleep, and do very little talking, but we love it. We compare notes on predictions or quiz each other on a new character’s identity from a different show or film (well, maybe I just quiz him and then immediately look up said actor/actress on IMDB), but it is this routine that I find most comforting.  This isn’t boring marriage stuff.  This is practiced marriage stuff.  This is “life is so chaotic and our world is often so loud that this televised escape is needed” stuff. Plus, Mike knows I’ll make up all the not-talking with plenty of chattiness the second his head hits his pillow.

How do you sustain you? Tell me in the comments!  And leave your info below!  I’d love to know who’s reading, and I promise–no spam. Just Pam. 🙂

My Kayden

I am looking forward to watching TV later tonight. A co-worker of mine and her husband are competing on this season of The Biggest Loser. They’ve made it all the way to the finale (we hope anyway–cliff hanger!) and, collectively, have lost almost 200 pounds so far. I have not only enjoyed watching Jacky and her husband find health and wellness through tireless hard work, but I have also been moved by the fact that they left their children behind to embark on this mission. They knew the long term benefits far outweighed the few months of separation. They can now live healthier, happier, more active lives, and their kids will do the same.

I’ve watched each episode via DVR with my two sons the morning after it airs. I’ll nurse Kellen and get cozy on the couch besides Paxton and we will cheer for the contestants during the challenges and talk about their struggles. Pax will often ask me why I’m crying, too, as the emotion of the show hits me. He doesn’t get it, though, nor should he at only 3 years old.11935004_10100723596079699_261252315343460429_n

Kayden is in kindergarten full-day and missed my maternity leave Tuesday mornings catching up on the show. On President’s Day, weirdly enough, she asked about it. “Is your friend still on TV?”, she questioned. “Yes,” I said. “Want to see?” So I put on the previous week’s episode: makeover week. I’d watched already and wanted to take advantage of the boys’ overlapping nap, so I started doing laundry and prepping dinner. Before long, I heard sniffles coming from the family room. There was Kayden, sitting tall against a fluffy sunshine-colored pillow, staring at the screen with tears streaming down her face. When I asked if she was OK, she simply told me to go so she could watch alone. My presence was definitely embarrassing her. I stood for a moment, caught in a conundrum, or a momundrum, as I call it: the motherly dilemma we face that seems to only be between equally bad options. Do I stay and talk her through her emotions? No. She’ll get angry. Do I turn off the TV so she isn’t so impacted? No. Life is full of emotions, but does she really need these emotions right now? Do I leave the room, as she requested, and let her fend for herself emotionally? And that’s what I did, option 3.  I knew she would talk to me about this when she was ready.

I headed up stairs with a basket of laundry and as I overturned it on my bed and began to fold, I, too, began to cry. I also began to pray. I began to thank God for Kayden, something I don’t do enough. She is free spirited, mature yet still a kindergartner, strong willed, emotional. I often allow those traits and the chaos of my day to color our interactions. Just get dressed, Kayden. We’ll have time for that later. Yes, you must eat at least five bites for dinner to even count as dinner. Come on, girlfriend. We don’t have time to play school. We have to go to real school.

But Kayden is exceptional. I must remind myself that. She, at 5 years old, gets things. She watched the makeover episode of The Biggest Loser and cried because families were being reunited, because lives were being changed. She’s exceptional because as we sat to eat breakfast on Christmas morning, she asked to offer a new prayer for Daddy’s grandmom Pat–who passed away over the summer–to enjoy her first Christmas in heaven. She is exceptional because when she learned one polar bear at the Philadelphia Zoo passed away, she wailed for a half hour, asking why the other polar bear had to be alone or why so many kids won’t get a chance to see her now.  And then she remembered GiGi Poppop in heaven may see the polar bear and she perked back up.

When Kayden asks a question, especially one that leads to a momundrum, I often take the approach less desirable: I tell her the truth. Last year, Kayden asked me how babies come out. “I know God puts them in all the mommies,” she stated to my joyous surprise, “but how do they come out?” Well, I told her. I told her about the different types of births and gave examples of women in our lives who had delivered each way. I told her how she and Pax were born and that I hoped to do the same with this baby. When Kellen was born, Kayden asked me two questions immediately upon visiting us at the hospital: 1. Did he come out of your belly or like you wanted him to? 2. Did the doctors fix his lung yet? We never hid any of our Kellen worries from her; she would have intuited them if we had.  She may become emotional watching The Biggest Loser, and when a polar bear passes, but when she deals with death or hardships or health issues within our true family, issues she can see and touch in real life, she just handles them.
Kayden is exceptional, but she is also 5. She still throws tantrums, but I am really starting to understand from where they brew. She truly thinks and feels like an adult, but she doesn’t always have the words to express that or the authority to deal zoowith what that means on her own. This plagues her. She spends every waking minute pretending to be an adult: being a teacher or being a mom. These are the moments when she is most exceptional. When she has to be a kid, though, when she has to rely on others or take direction, her mind can’t wrap itself around that.

That’s why I also prayed to be patient with her, to better understand how simultaneously easy and complex the world is for her. She is her own toughest antagonist. She is her own conflict. Kayden is exceptionally tough and intuitive and spiritual and smarter than me.  And I must thank God she is mine.


Friday Favorites: Kidisms

While we were on our way to pick up my kindergartner yesterday, my three-year old son started singing along to the song playing on the radio.  He soon asked, “Is this called ‘Chew on my mind?'” “Excuse me,” I remarked, perplexed.  “This song,” he insisted, “I think it has a silly name, ‘Why I go chew on my mind’!”

I laughed for 5 minutes.

He was referring to Ellie Goulding’s “On my Mind” and while Miss Goulding may have a quaint British accent to me, my son interprets the central thesis of her current pop hit as self-inflicted cannibalism.  I spent the rest of the drive half laughing, half reminiscing over the adorable mispronunciations, misunderstandings, and repeat phrases of toddlerhood that we parents secretly wish our little humans will never outgrow.  And since I’ve been in the throws of back-to-school (for me!) prep and running my first challenge group, today’s content calendar was still blank.  Until my car ride with Paxton, that is.  I am dedicating this week’s Friday Favorites post to the beloved utterings of my kids.  Kellen’s only emissions consist of giggles and potty sounds, so this list will focus solely on the cute and confused kidisms of my two biggest minis.

  1. Kayden’s “Bah”

Kayden and Paxton were both pacifier obsessed. The attachment to a paci for Kayden was entirely my doing, though. She seemed to only sleep when nursing and, as a first-time mom, I catered to any behavior that meant sleep.  Unless I planned on spending all of her sleeping moments tethered to her crib, I needed a solution. Enter binky. I could discretely trade Mommy for a pacifier and her slumber would continue.  I know I am not the only mom who fought the Sleepy Monster this way and, as I’ve said before, a win is a win.  A sleeping baby is win in deed.

Kayden loved her paci.  She napped and slept with it and, before we knew it, we caved and allowed her to have it in the car and when playing and when waiting for dinner and…okay, she had it all the time. Again, we are not the only ones. Before we knew it, Kayden was turning one and starting to really talk and was still sucking on her pacifier whenever she could.  That is when “bah” developed.  We are not sure from where this word emerged, but one day Kayden kept saying “bah” whenever she requested her beloved pacifier.  This word caught on quickly.  Grandparents, her aunts and uncle, and close family friends all knew what “bah” meant.

A few months after Paxton was born, when Kayden was just over 2 years old and still using her “bah”, we heard “bah” for the last time.  I was putting Kayden to sleep when I noticed a tear in the nipple of her beloved “bah.” I was horrified.  I thought she’d choke! I quickly threw it away and searched for a replacement.  Mike and I had stopped buying them in hopes of weaning her from the habit, but I was pretty sure I’d find at least one more in her room before she melted down and realized it was missing.  I uncovered one under her crib (we’ve all found them there, am I right?) but soon discovered this one, too, had a tiny hole.  I stood there, speechless, afraid of what to say to my two-year old. “Bah broken?” Kayden asked.  Instead of looking sad, though, she looked quite serious. “Yes,” I said, sheepishly. “Bah broken. Bah go in garbage.” And before I knew it, she had grabbed her last pacifier out of my hand, marched downstairs, and threw it away in the kitchen trash can. No tears. No yelling. No longing for “bah” from that moment on.  Kayden got it.

Kayden is like this. When she is ready, stuff happens. I remind myself of “bah” often–like when we struggled with potty training or when she has gone through phases of climbing into our bed at night.  Before long, she’ll be ready, just like with her “bah”.  And just like that, whatever is supposed to happen just happens because one day she decides it’s so.  “Bah” helps me to not worry about her so much.  She can handle big decisions and life’s many stages.  When she decided one night this summer that gymnastics wasn’t for her, I knew that even at 4, she meant it, so we stopped.  She just gets life somehow.  She understands when a decision has to be made or a move has to be made, you just do it.  I so admire her for that.

2. “Nong nong”

If I gave you one hundred guesses, I don’t think you would figure out that “nong nong” is what we called yogurt for the longest time.  This was another Kaydenism.  No part of the word yogurt even closely resembles nong nong, but that’s what Kayden called all varieties of the dairy product–be it Gogurt or Greek yogurt or frozen yogurt or whatever.

Just before Kayden turned one, Mike and I were in our good friends’ wedding. As chance would have it, the ceremony and reception were going to be at a country club very close to my in-laws’ house, so all of the groomsmen got ready and had their photos taken there.  Aside from one groomsmen forgetting to bring his rental shoes and some delay in their food delivery, the main highlight (well, that the guys were willing to share with us ladies!) was of Kayden walking around her grandparents’ house requesting “nong nong”.  No, this wasn’t some new-fangled Asian fusion food I found at Whole Foods.  No, this wasn’t some Bachelor party-esque nonsense innocently escaping “from the mouths of babes”.  “Nong nong” was Kayden’s favorite snack: yogurt.

3. “Blankey fall down me!”

If you ask Mike what Kayden is good at, he’ll give you a wonderful, Dad-doting list.  She’s quite smart.  She loves her brothers. She’s responsible about wearing and caring for her glasses.  She is a pro at stall ball. Stall ball?  Fellow parents know exactly what this is.  It is the 10-minute routine turned 45-minute marathon more colloquially known as bedtime. Somehow, there is no thirst like the thirst that strikes a child when a parent says “good night” and no story that is satisfying when read only once.  According to my husband, and I can’t really disagree, Kayden has mastered the act of stall ball. She always has to tell us just one more thing–which is usually eight things–or she has suddenly remembered a dream she had three weeks ago that we MUST hear now or she can’t decide if she wants to stay in her top bunk or join Paxton in the bottom bunk and only seventeen rounds of rock-paper-scissors while solve said dilemma.

This stall ball skill developed rather early.  Mike and I may have to take some of the responsibility for her professional status of late because it was so damn cute when she started. One night after we said prayers, read a story, and I sang The Killers’ “Dustland Fairytale” to her, Mike and I were waving to her at the door when she sat upright and said, “Ooh my blankey fall down me!”.  It was the most hysterical and unexpected thing.  We both laughed so hard that soon Kayden was laughing.  We tried getting her back down and adjusting her tiny little blankey over her tiny little body, but she continued to sit up and yell “my blankey fall down me!”.  This went on for months.  Months.  But, like “bah” and “nong nong”, one day Kayden decided she was old enough to do to bed without blanket dramatics.  Don’t get me wrong; she is still stall ball MVP.  We have plenty of bedtime dramatics.  The cute and well-meaning “my blankey fall down me” just isn’t part of it anymore.  Sometimes, though, Mike or I say it out of the blue.  Just because.

4. “Morn!”

Paxton made me cry a few weeks ago.  No, he did nothing wrong.  Instead, he asked if he could have more water at bedtime (he’s learning from his sister for sure!).  I wasn’t sad that he, too, was in on the stall ball game.  I wasn’t annoyed that I had to go downstairs to refill a water cup I swear I filled five minutes before.  I cried because he said “more” and not “morn.”  Paxton is three and since he could talk, he has always said “morn.”  This, like Kayden’s “bah,” became used among our entire family. I would ask Pax if he wanted “morn” grapes or “morn” Legos or “morn” cuddles.  This was the word I hoped he would say forever.  We never corrected him ; we used it right along side of him.  He believed in this word and in its meaning and this belief was so pure and honest.  I wanted that naivity to last forever.  Or, at least until he started kindergarten.

Just last week, Kayden also noticed Paxton suddenly pronounced “more” correctly. “Aww, Bud, you’re getting so big!”, said the 5-year old to the 3-year old.  Yes, he is.  Yes, both of you are.  And sometimes my heart just can’t take it.

5. “Day.”

I have to thank Mike for reminding me about this one.  Paxton was a late talker.  He’s a boy.  He’s the second.  His sister does all his talking for him.  That’s what real grown ups–you know, our parents or doctors or people who’s kids don’t still eat their boogers–would say. We were worried, though.  Kayden seemed to come out talk in full, thoughtful albeit mispronounced sentences; Paxton hardly said Dada or Mama.  But he said “dey” whenever he meant yes.  And, if I do say so myself, it was adorable.  When I was little, I can recall my mom and I joking that my younger brother had a French accent.  He called his blanket his “ooh-vwanky” and napkins were “napcuums,” like vacuums.  Paxton’s “dey” was similar.  It seemed other, almost foreign.  He doesn’t use it anymore, but his dialect remains his own.  He just annunciates in a particular, measured, and occasionally sing-song, ultra-sweet way that only he can deliver.  I swear he is one-part 70-year old retired investment banker sitting on a rocking chair in Georgia drinking sweet tea and one part cartoon character of a full-hearted little boy.  His voice and his observations are somewhere in between.

At the start of the new year, Paxton began attending preschool three days a week. His teachers regularly tell me they forget he’s three. He talks so well!  We have real conversations. We can understand him better than many of the other three-year olds.  I wonder why I worried so much.  He really has come a long way.  But do I miss his little Paxisms?  Dey.

6. “My Bubbos”

Like my brother, Paxton has a special name for his blankets.  Yes, his blankets.  Paxton legitimately sleeps with 12 blankets–mostly receiving blankets–that he’s had since he was a baby.  This collection of cuddlies is better known as “his bubbos.” When he first started really talking, we swore he called them his bubbles or something like that, but “bubbos” it is.  Heaven help us if even one is downstairs at bedtime or, even worse!, in the washing machine.  He will tell you exactly which one is missing.  He has named them after their design.  He has monkey bubbo and elephant bubbo and puppy bubbo and…you get the idea.

He has three Aden + Anais muslin swaddling blankets that are without a doubt his favorite “bubbos”.  These all traveled with us this summer when we took our first real family vacation to Disney World. I kept one bubbo in my bookbag at all times in case Pax needed the security, but for the most part, the excitement of park-hopping and character dining allowed for his bubbo to remain safely tucked away.  On the fifth day of our seven-day vacation, though, giraffe bubbo emerged while we awaited a transfer from Animal Kingdom to Blizzard Beach.  Ten minutes into our water park adventure, a giant Florida sized storm erupted and we were forced to take cover.  For two hours.

This turned out to be awesome: we waited out the storm when hardly anyone else did and had the park to ourselves when it reopened.  This turned out to be terrible: 5 minutes into that 2-hour wait we realized we left giraffe bubbo at the bus stop back at Animal Kingdom. Paxton was devastated.  He wears his heart on his sleeve.  When he is pleased with something, he is beyond overjoyed.  When he is displeased, he is heartbroken.  Every. Time. A lost bubbo and a gigantic thunderstorm created pretty massive heartache in our blonde little guy.  We eventually convinced him that I got a call from our hotel and giraffe bubbo would be there waiting for our return and we refocused his attention on the many water attractions he’d eventually be playing on. Yes, his heartache would–and did–return when we would get to the hotel, but as parents you do what you can to survive.

Our story grew when we returned to NJ from our Florida vacation just in time for September.  We convinced Paxton that another little boy who didn’t have 12 bubbos actually asked our hotel if he could have it and they gave it to him.  He only bought that story until October.  By then, we had to tell him that the characters actually had his bubbo now and when they were finished with it, they would mail it to him.  Christmas morning brought unexpected sadness when, unbeknownst to us, Pax expected to find giraffe bubbo under the tree.

It wasn’t until a week or so later when a package arrived at our front door with a letter from Mickey and the Gang and a brand new (you bet he noticed!) but identical giraffe bubbo.  All is right with Paxton’s world again.  And all will remain right in mine as long as he still calls these his bubbos.

Our kids are only kids for so long.  It is the lapsing of these kidisms that hits me most.  These are memories unique to our very own, most precious little beings.  Our Kayden had her bah and her nong nong and stalled every night with blankey nonsense.  And now she’s in kindergarten and wearing glasses and spends every waking moment playing school and just being sassy.  Our Paxton could only say “morn” and “dey” and and still cuddles his 12 bubbos every night. But now he’s in school, too, and has a new best friend every day and is the proudest big brother there ever can be and just feels all the feels all the time. I’ll hold onto these memories and embrace all that is ours–every sweet habit or gesture or word particular only to our child–among the chaos of everyday life.  As a mom, that’s all I really can do.

Friday Favorites: Fiction Books!

Writing has been my first love for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I constantly wrote stories.  I still remember a few gems. I drafted one story when I was 7 or so in this cool orange pen I found while on a play date at my neighbor Jessie’s house.  The first full page of white-lined paper detailed the characters’ names and the names of all of their pets.  What was rising action?  I didn’t know.  The next story I’ll always remember was intriguingly entitled “The Newsroom.”  This grew out of my fascination with news reporters and desire to maybe become a meteorologist. I scribbled this story–along with illustrations–with a black pen and top-spiral mini legal pad I found at my grandparents’ house. There was a a marriage between the meteorologist and the sportscaster, a wannabe news reporter cue-card holder (this was 1992 or so!), and a purse thief mystery the station was able to solve.  How no one has yet to pick up the television rights to this tale is beyond me.  In second grade, we wrote weekly stories in our Squiggle Books based solely on a line or arc or swirl our teacher sketched on the facing page.  A fan of short story series even then, I made sure my book was called All About Billy and that each story was, in turn, all about a fictional boy named Billy.  I penned a “novel” in 8th grade, Sarah Gold Turns 10 Years Old, which is as ridiculous as it sounds, and have played around with countless other stories and poems since.

But reading?  This was a struggle for me.  I am a slow reader, even now.  I used to hide a notebook in the pages of our in-class reading books so I could write instead. Over time, though, I have come to treasure reading.  Certain books, which I will share in my Friday Favorites today, have resonated with me.  Now, as an adult, I always have a book or two I am reading.  My love for reading came later in life–a fact I share quite honestly with my high school English students.  Let me tell you about the books that, at various points in my life, paved the road to reading for me.  I hope you’ll find a book to spark your interest.  Please comment as well with the book that did it for you! 🙂

1. The first book to stay with me: Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner (genre: children’s lit, ages 8-12)

I will forever remember when we began reading Stone Fox as a class.  I was in fourth grade and had Mr. Sabol, my first ever male teacher and a true rock star in the classroom.  He gave us all fun nicknames and made learning both entertaining and impactful. His wife taught across the hall, and they often engaged in playful banter from room to room with louder-than-usual comments like “I KNOW my class will perform better than HER class on this science project!” or “Just be glad HE’S not your teacher!”  They were adorable and real. He remains a role model for me as not only an educator, but as a spouse as well.

But back to Stone Fox. When Mr. Sabol distributed the thin, pale blue books to us one morning, he said, “Trust me, kids, you will see me cry when we get to the ending.”  He was right.  The day we finished reading aloud, we all cried–boys and girls and teacher. When I got off the bus that day, I urged my mom to drive to the book store so we could buy it.  We sat on the couch and read it cover to cover, and we cried, too.  This is a story of triumph and fear and loss and family and second chances and so much more.  This is the first book that got me. The memory alone still pulls at me.

2. The “pass around the cafeteria table and hide from our moms” book: Forever by Judy Blume (genre: young adult)

Scandalous! That is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Forever by Judy Blume.  This book chronicles a shy girl’s first long-term high school relationship with blunt honesty and without a cheesy, forced romantic ending.  This was a nuanced choice for an author at the time.  Young adult books now, such as those by John Green, consistently push the envelope.  Forever did this first. I remember when I happened upon this book in our school library in ninth grade.  I immediately tore through it and encouraged every girl at my lunch table to read it as well.  It was our own secret little book club.  Forever taught us about relationships in a way our moms and health classes didn’t.  It was a contagious read.  I have gone back and read it a handful of times since.  Though it does have many out-of-date references (it was published in 1983) and technology has completely reshaped high school dramatics, it is still a classic that I may not recommend as a teacher, but I recommend as a girl.

I can recall 10 years ago when my yet-to-be mother-in-law asked me if I approved of her middle school-aged daughter reading it.  I quickly told her, “no way!”.  Then, I sent Rachel, who is now my sister-in-law and a wonderful aunt to my three cuties, an AIM message and told her to finish it anyway and talk to me when she was done.  Sorry, Susan!  It is a teen girl’s right of passage.

3. My favorite series for all ages and stages: Harry Potter by JK Rowling (though The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite one!)

I was late to the HP train, but once I boarded at Platform 9 3/4, I became hooked for life.  There are some die hard HP fans out there–my mom and best friends among them–and while I love each word and every crafty sentence of all 7 novels, I am not going to win a trivia contest or receive my honorary doctorate of wizardry from Hogwarts. But I know excellent writing when I read it, and Rowling delivers. The scope and depth of the story and backstories and character lineage alone truly create a world that exists and not just in a reader’s mind; it is that complete and thought-out. I don’t believe one is ever too old or too young to give these novels a try.

I finally “caved” and read the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, during my sophomore year of college. I was completing an independent study in which I co-ran a book club at a women’s maximum security prison and our goal was to read texts that allowed for mental “escape”.  We selected the first HP book, The Giver, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and a few others, but Harry and his hoard of budding wizards won out over the other muggle-driven texts. This book showed me that literature, or even just the act of reading, can create a solace so vitally needed in a person that it saves her.  This book club, and this series, accomplished that for the 7 women I worked with at Edna Mahan.

4. My favorite “just for girls” series: The Ya-Ya books by Rebecca Wells (genre: realistic fiction, southern lit, short stories)

There was a period of time during and after college that I was decently obsessed with audiobooks. When we weren’t at school, Mike and I lived 2 hours away.  Every other weekend, I spent 4 or so hours in the car to and from his house and fell in love with countless characters and tales.  My favorite of these, though, is Ya-Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells.  When I picked up this audiobook, which is a series of short stories, I didn’t realize it was a part of a trilogy and wasn’t even the first book.  I listened, loved, and laughed every minute of my drive.  Not only is the writing honestly humorous and hauntingly sad and femininely silly at the same time, but the voice actress reading the text nailed the southern accents. I have since purchased all of the books in the series and reread them in whole or in part many times.  Each book contains interlocking short stories, so it is a perfect starting point for those who do not feel they have the time to commit to a full novel.

The stories follow the complex and sometimes strained relationships between mothers and daughters as well as the lifelong bonds of female friendships. Like JK Rowling, Wells creates a world for these women that is so vivid and crisp I have a hard time imagining it is all pretend–even the heart breaking moments.

5. The book that reminded me why I want to be a writer: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (genre: metafiction, short stories)

I first read this “novel”–though, truly a collection of short stories–in a creative writing class in college.  Reading this text as a writer rather than as a reader reshaped who I thought I would become as a teacher and reignited my deep love for writing.  This book taught me the value of using the writing of others to inform my own writing.  Tim O’Brien’s use of metafiction is complex and sometimes confusing, but his details are precise and concise in the best way.  I use small excerpts of the stories from this work when I teach craft to my English I students.  Tim O’Brien knows the power of a word much like he knows the power of memory, a theme closely explored throughout TTTC. 

The Things They Carried follows soldiers before, during, and after the Vietnam War.  This makes it a great choice for male readers looking to connect to a text. The short story layout, as I mentioned earlier, speaks to those who can only pick up a story every once in a while.  Some of the details are gruesome, but life can be, too.

6. My greatest reading accomplishment: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (genre: Russian lit, fiction, literary realism)

I read this book during the final semester of college.  Yes–the entire semester.  On top of course work and job interviews it did take months. Plus, the book is really, really long!  That is why Anna Karenina is my greatest reading accomplishment.  This sweeping saga follows a Russian socialite through a personal awakening of sorts that ends her marriage but awakens her soul.  Sappy sounding, I know, but I enjoyed this novel as much for its torrid love story as I did for its look into Russian history and culture.  I fell in love with some characters, like Katia, and despised others.  I embraced the descriptions and coldness of both the people and landscapes.  I just adored the experience.

Reading this book really was an experience.  I remember getting to Dr. Meixner’s seminar class early just so I could sit alone and read a few pages.  I would read while I was on the elliptical machine at the gym. And, oh, I loved the feel of the book.  I had never had that much adoration for the feel of a book in my hands.  I linked the exact version I read so you can understand what I mean.  It was beautiful.  The cover was so soft.  The pages were thin, Bible-like. This book is most likely the reason I have a hard time using an eReader even now. There is nothing quite like having the perfect book in your hands; this one did that for me.

7. My favorite mindless, funny, yet real read: Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella (genre: chick lit)

I have love affairs with authors.  If a book clicks with me, for whatever reason, I will read the author’s entire catalog before moving on to someone new. I am very much like Taylor Swift in a reader kind of way.  Sophie Kinsella’s fun, light-hearted, and self-aware novel Can You Keep a Secret? ignited my love for her and my appreciation for chick lit.  I am a serious English major turned English teacher.  I am supposed to only read classics, right?  No way.  This story and its protagonist, Emma, are as self-deprecating, quirky, klutzy, and anxiety-ridden as can be–much like me.  I find Emma, and all of Kinsella’s other heroines since, so relatable in the most exaggerated of senses.  This was refreshing to me as a reader. I love all of her books, but three other must-tries are Remember Me?, Twenties Girl, and I’ve Got your Number. I actually shed a tear at the end of that last title, and not because the ending was sad.  I was sad to end my reading relationship with the main character.

8. My favorite “everyone should read it or has read it already” novel: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (genre: historic fiction)

This is a must-read.  If you can, though, I suggest the audiobook of The Kite Runner as well as it is narrated by the author.  His authentic accent and bodily connection to the story make for the most perfect experience. This is a story of fathers and sons and friendships in both pre-war and war-torn Afghanistan.  It is eye-opening, heart-breaking, and breath-taking. Hosseini is one of the most gifted writers of exposition I have encountered.  He is so subtle you almost overlook the true depravity of a situation.  But he treats life with a sense of fragility and kindness that makes you feel real emotion, not fictional emotion.

I implore you to read A Thousand Splendid Suns as well.  I actually love this book more than The Kite Runner, but went with Kite for my list because it is more widely recognized.  Suns chronicles a female perspective of life in Afghanistan and how the lives of different women from different circumstances cross paths in unexpected but honest ways. Again, the subtlety and beauty of Hosseini’s descriptions will leave you breathless.

There you have it: my 8 favorite fiction texts.  I cannot wait to read your suggestions as well!


In a future post, I will explore the non-fiction and children’s books that I love and my kids enjoy. Happy reading, now that you have 8 books to add to your list!  😉

My Why

I have been a mom for over five years, but nothing has motivated me to take control of my family’s health and wellness as much as Kellen’s CCAM. While I was pregnant this third time, countless people–from friends to family to complete strangers at the grocery store–felt the need to impart their feelings on “being outnumbered” with three kids: You’ll be lucky to get out of the house! Try to remember to eat! How will you keep their names straight? The laundry! But you already have your boy and your girl! These such positive and supportive comments truly helped ease a mind already panicked at the baby’s health and worried about the impact a newborn would have on a 3-year old and 5-year old.

I am a bit of a control freak. I am the type of person who rearranges the dishwasher after my husband loads it. I adjust the way my mom has placed one of my child’s shirts on a hanger when helping me around the house. I am by no means a neat freak or a clean freak, but I need to be in control of so much of the minutia in life to feel any sense of inner balance. Kellen’s diagnosis really shook me at my core. Not only was his health in question, but my ability to be in control–and, this time, about something so vital, so real–was virtually non-existent.

As I neared and then passed my due date, I realized just how little control I had over many of life’s biggest moments. I couldn’t predict or plan this baby’s arrival.  I couldn’t will him a perfect lung.  I couldn’t even control how he would change the lives of my other two children.

I’ve mentioned my maternal grandfather, Vince, on this blog a few times.  “Let it go” was his signature phrase, one that ties us to him still.  After we learned the CCAM CVR was only a .21, I became open to letting go of so much stress and worry and emotion.  I continued to carry so much weight and so much internal pressure to get everything right, however, in the other aspects of my life. The moment Kellen was born and I heard him cry the most robust, gorgeous cry, though, I finally let it go.  All of it.

What is it? Everything I can’t and shouldn’t attempt to control, to micromanage, to perfect. The irony in this is that just as quickly as I let go of what I couldn’t control, I became more aware of what I could control: my health, my happiness, my confidence, my ability to provide these for my family.

This is my why, my reason for making healthier choices and for making myself a priority. First, I joined a boot camp, this first thing I have done solely for me in a very long time.  This inspired me to rekindle my love of writing and to launch this blog.  The catharsis it allows me is priceless.  Both of these new endeavors have equated to more accountability in my choices.  I am sticking to my workouts and to clean, balanced eating not simply to lose the baby weight or to write about it.  I want my confidence and my control in the most healthy way.  I want to be almost as strong as Kellen.  I want to be a role model for my daughter.  I want my middle child to love cooking healthy meals with me, not just baking cookies. I want all of my children to grow up in a house where we follow our dreams and support one another and don’t stress about the rest. That is why I’ve taken the step to become a Beachbody coach–to inspire my children and other people as well.

I’ve let go of much of my panic and embrace my life’s chaos and unpredictability.  I’ve let go of bad eating habits and perpetual snacking and have made room for healthful choices and real meals.  I’ve let go of the me who held herself to an impossible standard and welcomed the work-in-progress me.

In doing this, I realize I have real time on my hands.  Yesterday, I spent two hours at a hair salon highlighting my hair.  It is something I have wanted to do for years, but chickened out with worry of how I’d look.  At least that was the excuse I said out loud. The truth?  The idea of doing something alone and just for me and at such a cost made me almost sick.  I am a working mom and my husband would never tell me I couldn’t pay for something like that, but I still felt such guilt. The expense! The time away from the kids! I let these excuses weigh me down.  I let go of such excuses on November 11th.  And I still had time for life.  I spent the morning at CHOP for Kellen’s follow-up (all is perfect!), took my daughter to get her new glasses, did some laundry (with the help of my mom and I didn’t fix any hangers!), and made two meals, one for dinner and one for lunch for the week. I am not listing this to brag. I then ended the night working on my Beachbody coaching business plan and doing some training while watching the Iowa caucuses and college hoops with my husband.  I didn’t get a long workout in, which I would have liked to do, but I had me-time, family-time, husband-time, and healthful-time regardless.  I will celebrate victories, especially Kellen’s, and not pay attention to what didn’t work or didn’t happen.  I’m thrilled with what I can control and the rest, well, I’ve let that go.

Friday Favorites: Fit Family Activities

Round 2 of my Friday Favorites! I am taking a break from talking about food and clean eating and am talking about my true love: my family.  I am a mom of three, all autumnal babies: a 5-year old daughter, and 3-year old son, and an 11-week old son as well.  These tots–especially my oldest two–keep me plenty busy and plenty entertained.  Like any other mom, regardless of how old our kids are, I am also kept pretty insane thanks to these cuties as well.  They sure know how to push our buttons and fill our heart with love like no one else.

I am blessed with the world’s best career.  I am a high school teacher.  I may be on maternity leave for a few more weeks, but I know that it is like to be a working mom on a budget–both with our time and with our pocketbooks. I want to share with you some of the fun activities I do with my kids when the hours are short and the days or long. Most of these are free and allow me to share my interests and maybe a little fitness with my kids as well.

I am by no means reinventing the wheel here. We all know that kids love to ride bikes or go swimming or sled in the snow.  As moms, we have other tricks up our sleeves that keep our families busy or healthy or, simply, prevent our house from getting too messy. My husband often wonders why I spend most summer days playing with the kids elsewhere.  Less to clean!

Anyway, leave a comment with your favorite fun family activities so we have a growing list to tap into when needed.  Here is what the Bus clan loves.

  • Treasure hunts!
    • My kids and I enjoy two different types of treasure hunts.  When it is nice outside, regardless of the season, we will head out for a trek around the neighborhood with a list of “must-find” items and have a typical scavenger hunt.  The kids will create a pictured list, almost like a Bmeal on the goingo board, and we see if we can get a full line before we return home.  This fall, we had much luck finding cats and spider webs thanks to Halloween decorations.  My son loves putting swings on his board since he knows there is a swing set three doors down.  Have fun with this!  Sometimes, I’ll load the kids in our red wagon or jogging stroller, with breakfast or a bowl of ice cream or something, and just get a scavenger hunt moving because we have been in the house too long.
    • The second type of hunt, our real-deal treasure hunt, grew out of a funny story. One day, I was changing the sheets on my bed and had my comforter flung over the end of my bed.  My kids crawled underneath and started calling it their “pirate cave.”  Their obsession with Peter Pan Live! at the time may have been at fault–who knows!  Well, within 5 minutes, a cave wasn’t enough.  One of the kids said we should have a real treasure hunt. I thought about this for a minute and realized I could get a few quiet minutes if they had to stay in their cave while I prepped the treasure hunt. I filled two empty shoe boxes with some forgotten toys (You know what I mean, moms! Those Peppa Pig figurines they couldn’t do without a treasure mapfew months back that have spent more time under the couch lately?), hid it in the far reaches of the family room, and drew up a little map.  I may have also arranged the kitchen chairs and couch cushions to create obstacles, but that is unnecessary! The kids, and I, had a blast, were up and moving, and have designed their own for me and my husband as well. I even used this as a get inside from the snow before you get frostbite! ploy this weekend with a map that led to hot chocolate.
  • Playground obstacles & picnics
    • This is the easiest of all my suggestions and the one that involves the most fitness for you.  Next time you take your kids to the playground, make a little obstacle course or HIIT workout for yourself.  Do pull-ups on the monkey bars and stair steppers and calf raises on the steps. Is there a bench?  Tricep dips!  I’ll also run laps around the equipment, do jumping jacks, or jump rope while my kids play. They often like to chase me or run alongside, which is great to get their little bodies moving.  If your kids are anything like mine you will also get a decent arm workout pushing them on the swings for 15 straight minutes. Don’t let a work schedule get in the way of this fun activity, either.  On nights my husband works late, I’ll eat dinner when he gets home and my kids often have dinner at the playground while I get a workout in.  They love the picnic-aspect of it.  We are lucky to have a playground a few lots from our home, but don’t let proximity stop you!  On weekends or days in the summer when the temp is bound to get real hot real fast, we have breakfast playground picnics.  I promise that you will enjoy these as much as the kids. playground
  • Our bounce house
    • A few birthdays ago, we enlisted the grandparents in getting our daughter a bounce house for her birthday.  We went with a rather simple one, but the fun has not stopped.  I will set this up in our front yard–another upper body workout in and of itself!–and before long neighbors arbouncee over and everyone is bouncing.  My kids are staying healthy without even realizing it!  I’ll join them once in a while or do another HIIT workout in the yard, but mostly like to sit in a lawn chair reading a good book and soaking up their giggles.
  • Silly sports
    • I dread the days my kids are actually a part of competitive sports.  I fear the parent-politics of the sidelines and the imbalance between “in it to win it ALL” and “everyone gets a trophy.”  For that reason, I embrace silly sports for my kids. What I mean is, I give them the equipment, take them to the field or court, and just have a blast. No rules, no score, just silliness.  soccerWe are BIG fans of two of these in particular: soccer and tennis.  I can get an amazing cardio workout in running from goal to goal, ball or no ball, while my kids try to shoot soccer balls passed one another. We are lucky, again, that their is a huge soccer field across from our development. We head there right after school before the practices begin and just have a blast. Tennis is fun, too, because my kids will occupy themselves for long stretches just trying to make it over the net.  I can practice my serve (which is awful!) on a nearby court or even run the perimeter.  You can almost always find an empty or free court at local rec centers.  I sometimes think my kids’ favorite part of tennis is seeing who can pick up the most balls before it is time to head home.  tennis pat
  • The library
    • We love going to our local library.  It brings back memories of going with my mom when I was a kid! Maybe that fueled my passion for reading and writing.  Either way, this is a free and safe place to be regardless of the weather.  Most local branches have kids clubs, story hours, arts and crafts, etc., that make them even more fun, but we often go first thing in the morning or right after school and simply explore. My kids love checking out kids movies as well.  If your local library doesn’t seem very kid-friendly, check out a Barnes and Nobel near you.  They host story hours as well and often have Lego and/or train tables–and Starbucks!  One near by B&N has a Petsmart next door–even more free fun checking out the fish and animals! library
  • The zoo (my favorite!)
    • We have had a membership at the Philadelphia Zoo since our 3-year old was born, and I am obsessed with it. We go countless times over the summer and whenever we have a day off from school during the fall, winter, and spring.  Yes–even during a winter in the northeast.  Not all of the animals remain in their habitats, but there is still plenty to see.  Rainy days work well, too, because of all the indoor exhibits we often skip when the weather is nice.  Plus, the zoo is often less crowded on not-so-great weather days. zoo me.jpgWe get plenty of exercise moving from exhibit to exhibit and, since we know we will be back again, never mind if we don’t get to every animal each time.  Having the membership also allows us to go at various times of day.  Some animals are more active early in the day while different animals get moving in the afternoon.  We know many of the animals names and learn more interesting facts from the zoo keepers every time we go. A membership is a great gift idea, too; that’s how we got ours! tiger

So those are my “Friday Favorites” this week! Can you tell I am ready for the snow to be gone?! Please comment with fun outdoor or indoor activities that are family-friendly!