fitness · food · slice of life · weather

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup, Anyone?

The remnants of Hurricane Ian blew through Pennsylvania this weekend. There was enough rain predicted that our township canceled every age division’s weekend soccer game. Ari’s game was rescheduled for this evening, which meant that I needed to plan something simple for dinner tonight.

I flipped through the pages of my recipe binder on Saturday evening. I came up empty-handed due to the objections of my children who refuse to eat slow-cooker chili or lasagna. One won’t eat baked mac and cheese. The other… Oh, does it really matter?!?! They’re difficult to cook for these days.

“I could make grilled cheese and tomato soup,” I suggested to Ari after he said no to pretty much every recipe I could be made ahead of time.

“I don’t like tomato soup,” he said.

“You’ve never tried tomato soup,” I replied. “But you like grilled cheese. Grilled cheese and tomato soup are a classic combination. You’ll love it.”

I went online and found a recipe for scratch tomato soup, which I made yesterday afternoon. I figured I’d warm it up quickly this evening while making the grilled cheese sandwiches. (Note to any GF readers: Sub Bob’s All-Purpose Gluten-free Flour for AP flour. Also, sub a seeded and/or thick gluten-free bread in the classic grilled cheese recipe.)

This afternoon, I received an email that the township was canceling all make-up games and practices scheduled for tonight because of the ongoing rain. We may not need an ark, but it was cold and rainy enough to warrant another cancelation. So, I could’ve made dinner after all! But, I DIDN’T HAVE TO since it was halfway made.

So there I was, grating cheese and using a panini grill on a rainy fall evening. This turned out to be the perfect meal for tonight’s weather, I mused as I ladled the soup into bowls. In truth, I was giddy about how this would be the best grilled cheese I’ve ever made. I’m going to be a dinner-making hero.

Isabelle’s response was positive. “This is as good as the grilled cheese at Hersheypark!” Not exactly the comparison I would’ve liked. But it was better than Ari’s comment, which was “This cheese is awful.”

Well, at least he wasn’t complaining about the soup.

In the end, Isabelle consumed two-thirds of the child-size portion of soup and her entire sandwich. (In truth, she didn’t love the soup, but she knew she’d get ice cream afterwards if she tried something new without fretting.) Ari nibbled on half of the grilled cheese sandwich and downed a couple of spoonfuls of tomato soup. Apparently, he really doesn’t like tomato soup.

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elementary school · slice of life


“Jack! Kaylee! Aaron! … Grace!”

“Why is he calling out all of the kids, in line order, from his class?” I asked Marc as I emerged from the bathroom after my shower.

Marc gave me a beats me look and went back to trying to wrangle Ari to get ready for bed.

I swept the toner-drenched cotton pad across my face, then threw it in the garbage. Just as I pumped night cream onto my fingertips, I heard the same enthusiasm, but this time in reverse.

“Grace! Russell! Brayden! … Jack!”

I secured my towel over my hair and poked my head out of the bathroom again.

“Why is he calling out the names of the kids in his class backwards?“

Again, Marc had no answer.

“It kind of sounds like a combination of a baseball roster and a TV show. Maybe ‘The Love Boat,’” I replied.

Marc smirked.

I put on a fake Ed McMahon voice. “Maybe “Star Search? Starring Jack, Kaylee, Aaron…”

Marc shrugged — unamused. After all, it was a little after 8 p.m. and our goal is to have Ari in bed for story time by 8:15 so his lights are out by 8:30.

Then the names started coming in random order, but with just as much enthusiasm. “Margot! Wyatt! Mason!”

“What order is that?” I asked Marc.

“Something about height,” he replied.

I shook my head and laughed, “Has he announced the special guest stars yet?”

“Not yet,” Marc replied still seemingly unamused.

Once I was totally dressed, I marched into the bathroom to see what Ari was up to. He marched out while continuing to call out the names of his classmates.

“Dude, I need you to finish getting ready for bed.”

To which he replied, “Jack! Kaylee! Aaron!”

Here’s my son, at 8:38 p.m., finally under the covers and ready for lights out.
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history · September 11th · slice of life

It’s been 21 years…

I woke up, acutely aware of what today was. I texted my friend Rachel once I was fully awake. She’s the first person I reach out to every September 11th morning since she watched the planes hit the Twin Towers from her office window knowing her friend was at Windows on the World that morning. Afterwards, I looked through my Facebook memories and sighed. I shed some tears. Then I put one foot in front of the other and went about my day.

This morning, I looked out the window and noticed the rain. It wasn’t sunny, like that brilliant blue sky was on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. I guess G-d is crying this year, I thought to myself. (Oh, the things we tell ourselves to explain gloomy days.)

After breakfast, I headed upstairs to check on the kids.

“Come into my bathroom so I can do you hair,” I called to them.

“Did you know it’s 9/11 today?” Isabelle asked.

Tears sprang to my eyes. I turned away from her and nodded.

“How did you know?” I asked. (I rarely say ‘9/11’ out loud so I knew she wasn’t talking about today’s date. I typically say “September 11th” since the abbreviation has always felt too casual to me.)

“I heard it on the news this morning,” she replied.

I kept my back towards Isabelle and started talking. “September 11th, 2001 was nothing like today. The morning was crisp, but pleasant. The sky was cloudless. The sun sparkled in the sky, which made it so hard to believe that a plane accidentally went into one of the Twin Towers.” My voice cracked. I started to cry, but I continued. “What you need to understand is that it was the worst day of most New Yorkers’ lives. You cannot even begin to imagine the smoke that billowed from Downtown Manhattan. Streets were shut to traffic and soot-covered people walked north. It was a nightmare the likes of which you and your brother should never know.”

When I turned around, Isabelle stood there staring at me. She doesn’t see me cry that often, but I can’t seem to help it any time I talk about September 11th. Even though I was in Midtown and even though my friends and family were safe, life as I knew it was changed forever.

Did I want to tell her that Friday, September 14th was the beginning of bag checks at my synagogue? Did I want to tell her that my parents bought me a cell phone since they couldn’t get a hold of me until I returned to my apartment right around the time the first tower fell? Did I want to tell Isabelle that government buildings installed security checks unlike anything I had ever seen before? (As a White House volunteer in the mid-1990s, we used to pass through a security check that would seem laughable today.)

I said none of it. Isabelle was born nearly a decade after the Towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and the plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field. She only knows of a world where synagogue security, cell phones, and emptied pockets at checkpoints are the norm. There is no before time for today’s kids. They don’t know how innocent the world felt because they’ve never known anything different.

Instead I asked what was gnawing at me. “What else did you hear about on the news?” (I worried Isabelle saw the horrific video footage sometime between the time the kids gain access to the TV at 7 AM on weekends and the time Marc got downstairs to give them breakfast.)

“Well, you already know the Queen died. They were saying that Megan and Harry went back to England for her funeral…”

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food · Hershey · slice of life

A Milkshake Through-Line

It was a scorcher today in Central PA! It wasn’t the kind of day where I want to be anywhere other than a pool. However, Isabelle and one of her friends from a former school in Harrisburg had plans to meet up at Hersheypark so, naturally, I went knowing I’d probably spend the majority of the day with Ari on his rides.

By 1 p.m., I was exhausted. By 2 p.m., I was texting Marc asking how soon they’d be able to meet us at the front of the park. By 2:40 p.m., I marched Ari over to Milton’s, an ice cream parlor at the front of the park, and told him I needed a milkshake.

I reached the front of the line only to discover Milton’s wasn’t serving milkshakes today. (I would’ve asked if I had energy left in my body. But all I wanted was something frozen and copious amounts of ice water.) Ari, on the other hand, wanted chocolate.

“You do know it’ll melt as soon as we get back outside, right?”

He shrugged. He didn’t care and I didn’t want to fight with him.

Just as I ordered a dish of ice cream, Ari decided he wanted something else. An ice cream perhaps? No. A cake pop! Again, I had no fight left in me so I acquiesced.

After I paid for our sweet treats, we carried them out to the patio along with two ice waters. As I got everything set up, my ice cream began to melt! Within two minutes, I had half of a dish of ice cream and half a dish of ice cream soup.

I encouraged Ari to be careful by putting his enormous cake pop down between bites. He listened… until he didn’t. The next thing I knew, half of the cake pop was on the ground.

“Ugh!” he exclaimed.

Of course, that was the moment Marc and Isabelle reappeared with their ice creams. I cleaned up the mess while Isabelle waited for her friend and his mom to join us. As we waited, I wiped cake pop off of Ari’s face and hands because IT WAS EVERYWHERE. As I did this, he whined.

“I’m still hungry. Now I have nothing to eat.”

I went to throw the wet wipes into the trash can. When I returned, I discovered Isabelle was offering Ari some of her ice cream. And not just a tiny spoonful… multiple spoonfuls of her frozen treat.

“Oh, sweetie,” I said. “That’s such a thoughtful thing for you to do.”

Isabelle shrugged. To her, it was no big deal. To Ari, it meant the world.

Once we were back home, Ari declared, “You can draw me a picture instead of giving me a joke note.” (He kept forgetting to have someone read the jokes to him last week in the cafeteria. Seeing as he can’t read yet, I offered to draw him a picture when he told me this.)

“I’m not that good of an artist,” I replied.

“Just draw me a smiley face,” he said.

“That’s boring. I can do better than that. Let me get one of my drawing books.”

I went on a search for an old Ed Emberly drawing book, but couldn’t find it. I found John Burgerman’s Daily Doodle instead. First, I attempted a dog for Ari. I came up short so I traced {🤫}. Then, figuring I might as well knock out Isabelle’s lunch note at the same time, I flipped through the pages to find something worthy. Eventually, I settled on a milkshake. Apparently, despite a shower and a few hours of A/C, I still had a milkshake on my mind!

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elementary school · growing up · raising boys · slice of life

A Member of the Class of 2035

My cell phone rang towards the end of the boarding process. I was comfortably seated with a novel. I felt my phone vibrate. I saw it was Marc and answered it. His words — Ari, crying, hurt — busted loose and jumbled in my ear. As I absorbed what I was hearing, the flight attendant announced they were shutting the cabin doors and that cell phones needed to be turned onto airplane mode. I asked questions. I filled with anger — at the situation and at myself for being in Texas for work rather than there — and fear. I saw the flight attendant walking towards the back of the plane. Tears sprang to my eyes since I knew I had to hang up while my toddler son was hurting. I’d know nothing for over four hours while I flew back to the East Coast. There was nothing I could do but wait.

It feels like just yesterday when we were laying together on the floor with Sophie the Giraffe. I blinked and here we are on the cusp of Kindergarten.

After weeks of trying to articulate how I feel about sending off Ari to Kindergarten, I realized that this was it. Dropping Ari off later this week is going to feel like the plane doors closing. I’ll know nothing until the late afternoon when he returns home.

You might think I would be less emotional since I’ve already sent one of my children off to school. I’ll be honest, I felt nothing but relief when I dropped Isabelle off at Kindergarten. I was puffy, exhausted, and sweltering since I was nine months pregnant when Isabelle started Kindergarten. I was on maternity leave and could spend the midday doing whatever I wanted for nearly eight hours a day. It was blissful (if I forget about the swelling, fatigue, and overheating)!

I know it’s time for Ari to go to school and for me to begin new projects like a podcast and drafting a new book. He’ll be disconnected from me for the first time in 28 months. And, honestly, it makes my heart ache.

It’s my hope the report Ari gives me at dismissal will be as hopeful as the one I received when my plane touched down on the tarmac a four summers ago.

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siblings · slice of life

What should we do today?

Last week, our family spent five days in Bethany Beach, DE. This week is filled with back-to-school activities and more medical appointments than any person without school age children would ever schedule in a month! As a result, at breakfast, my children wanted to know what they’d be doing after Isabelle’s allergy shots.

I offered ideas that Isabelle (who was sporting a fabulous tween attitude) found abhorrent. For instance, when I suggested Ari’s favorite playground, she said, “A playground? That’s boring!” while rolling her eyes.

“What do you suggest?” I asked.

“Hersheypark!” she retorted.

“Hersheypark was never on the table for today. You both have appointments in the mid-afternoon and I have work that needs to be done.”

“What else can we do?” she asked.

“We could go peach picking,” I offered.

“I don’t want to go peach picking,” Isabelle replied. (Ari, on the other hand, was tickled by that idea. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate a freshly harvested peach?!!? Tweens, that’s who!)

“Why don’t you come up with another idea.”

“Well, you know what I’m going to say,” Isabelle remarked.


Isabelle let out her frustration with an audible grunt.

“Do you have any other ideas?” she wanted to know.

“Yes, I do. We could go to Ken’s Gardens to plant new succulents to replace the ones that perished.”

“I don’t want to do that,” Isabelle said while Ari yelped with delight.

“Your brother would be happy at a playground, picking peaches, or going to the planting bar. You can make the final decision, but it has to be one of those three things.”

“How about the pool?” Isabelle offered.

“Make a choice from the three I gave you or Ari and I will make it for you.”

“Fine, we can plant succulents,” she replied petulantly.

In the end, she enjoyed creating a new succulent arrangement. But, ohmigosh, it’s time for her to head back to school!

Top left: Mine; Top right: Isabelle’s; Bottom: Ari’s
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reading · summer reading

A PSA (of sorts) About Summer Reading Loss

Call this a public service announcement. Call this a cautionary tale. Call it whatever you want. I’m sharing this experience with the hope that it will help someone in your life.

This morning, I sat my math-loving child down and explained to him that we needed to review his sight words, which he’s refused to do since mid-May. (I allowed this since I’m not from the you-must-read-before-Kindergarten camp.) I said, “Ari, you start Kindergarten this month! I know we read books together every day, but I need you to work with me for ten minutes per weekday on reading between now and the first day of school.” He agreed — reluctantly.

Many of you have heard of summer reading loss. It’s a real thing! It’s the reason why I used to go head-to-head with Isabelle in the summers preceding third grade when reading was challenging for her. (Nowadays, she reads for an hour a day without a fight. THANK HEAVENS for that!) Yet, it’s something I didn’t worry about for Ari since he wasn’t reading yet. That said, I was shocked when I compared the number of sight words he could read today versus the amount he was able to read in mid-May.

Am I worried? No. I know Ari will get all of those words back — and maybe more — if we work together for ten minutes/weekday between now and the first day of school. But seeing the number of words he couldn’t recognize gave me pause about the amount of time it’s been since he read decodable texts to me, did word work, and played phonemic awareness games.

Throughout most of my childhood, I put off summer reading until mid-August. (We started school after Labor Day. Talk to me in person if you want to hear me rant about this.) It wasn’t until later in life that I loved to read because it was difficult for me growing up. So, if you have or know of a child who hasn’t found books they’ve loved this summer, help them find something they want to read. Remember: graphic novels and audiobooks count as reading!

books · reading · slice of life

Parenting Fail (or maybe it’s a win)

I knocked on Isabelle’s door. Rather than saying come in, Isabelle said, “Why do you have to keep bothering me?!!?”

I hadn’t even spoken to Isabelle since she went to her room at 10:07 AM to read for an hour. It was 11:20 AM. (For the record, my mother-in-law, Linda, knocked on Isabelle’s door around 11:10 AM to find out what kind of sandwich Isabelle wanted for lunch. I asked Linda to do this so I guess Isabelle viewed this as me intruding on her.)

“We have to leave for your swim lesson in 20 minutes.”

“Ugh, why are you bothering me? I’m trying to read!”

I looked at the timer on Isabelle’s iPad which she fiddled with after she paused her audiobook. I noticed it said 46 minutes were left.

“Did you just start reading? What we’re you doing this whole time? I left you well over an hour ago. I need you to help me pack towels, get on your sunblock…”

She growled at me and turned back to the Libby app. She looked back down at the printed copy of The Witches and proceeded to ignore me. “I started reading at 10:07, Mah-mee! I just messed up the timer when it went off.”

That pretty much checked out. Isabelle must’ve accidentally reset the time for an hour when it went off at 11:07 AM.

“Why are you acting this way?” I asked. “You could just ask me for another minute to finish the page. You have a swim lesson at noon and you aren’t even close to being ready.”

This went on for another 30 seconds at which point I told her I’d be back in five minutes and — at that point — she’d have to go downstairs to get ready.

Five minutes later, Isabelle didn’t get up from her book. By this point, I raised my voice and implored her to get ready.

By 11:33 AM, Isabelle still hadn’t left her room. At that point, I went in, took away the iPad and said, “I am thrilled you’re reading longer than an hour because your book so is good, but you need to get ready NOW. Sunblock. Shoes. Ugggggh!”

Isabelle stomped out of her room and walked downstairs to finish getting ready.

After watching her move at a snail’s pace downstairs, I said, “Meet me in the car or else I’m going to be taking myself for a swim lesson.”

I needed to cool down because I knew I wasn’t going to do that. I let out some frustration in the garage and then took some deep breaths in the driver’s seat while I waited for Isabelle to come out of the house. While breathing deeply, I realized Isabelle wasn’t being non-compliant just to stick it to me because she is 11 and a half (and that’s what kids this age do). No, no… she wasn’t moving from her reading perch because she didn’t care about reading for a certain amount of time just to say she’d read. Nope. She was ENJOYING her book so much that she didn’t care about the time!

Well, crap. I’m the jerk, aren’t I, I thought. Now she’s going to associate her first time reading longer with an argument… what have I done?!!?

This evening, I discovered Isabelle has 37 minutes left in her book. I’m assuming she would’ve finished it if time had permitted.

Isabelle finally got into the car at 11:46 AM. (Good thing I always set our roll time earlier than it needs to be.) As I backed out of the driveway, I said, “I realize now that you were lost in your book. I’m thrilled for you. Are you enjoying this book?”

“Mmm-hmmm,” Isabelle replied cooly.

“Wonderful! But listen, the way you yelled at me as soon as I knocked on your door made me feel bad. I know you were being bothered again, but you could’ve said, ‘I just want to finish this page or chapter and then I’ll come down.’ You didn’t do that. I yelled back at you and then you yelled at me some more. Both of us did a lot of shouting and that’s not cool. We can both do better.”

“Okay, I know,” she replied.

“So, reading the paper copy of the book along with the audiobook is really helping you enjoy the books you’re reading more, isn’t it?” I asked.

“It is,” she said.

I have begged her to listen and follow along with her eyes since November when Colleen Cruz suggested this at the TC Dyslexia Institute. As much as I wanted to do an I-told-you-so, I resisted.

I didn’t need an apology for her giving me an agonizing 25 minutes. All I needed was the knowledge that she was finally able to get lost in a book. (Maybe she needs to start reading a wee bit earlier now that she’s fancying reading because it’s a bit easier.)

This evening, just before shutting Isabelle’s bedroom door, I said, “I love you. Let’s aim for being better versions of ourselves this week. I think we can both do better. Sleep well and sweet dreams.”

To that, I got a “Good night, Mommy. I love you too.” I guess all had been forgiven on both ends.

bedtime stories · picture books · slice of life

Woolly Bears Aren’t Bears

I’ve read Sweet Dreams Lullaby by Betsy Snyder HUNDREDS of times since it was Isabelle’s favorite bedtime book when she was a tyke. So when Ari said, “Where are the wooly bears?” when I read it aloud to him last night, I had no answer. Instead, I shot this video. (Why did I shoot it? No one really knows.)

But, yet, they were RIGHT THERE… in that last spot!

How did I figure this out? (Well, it wasn’t from googling because I was envisioning grizzly bears… or even black bears!) On the endpapers, there are constellations with the words of what they are beneath each constellation. There was one that looked like a caterpillar that said woolly bears beneath it.

“Wait a second! It says woolly bears beneath that constellation. Do you mind if I look this up on my phone?” I asked Ari since my iPhone isn’t out at bedtime.

“That’s fine,” he replied.

Moments later, I found myself on the Farmer’s Almanac site and discovered that woolly bears are caterpillars.

No wonder Isabelle never thought to ask “Where are the woolly bears?” Perhaps she knew, all along, that they were caterpillars.

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animals · bedtime stories · meditation · slice of life

Guess Who?

After we finished reading Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, I shut the light, and we meditated using the Headspace app. While guided meditation used to help Ari fall asleep, he’s gotten sillier during the wind-down exercises each night. Sometimes I notice his eyes are open while other nights I notice he isn’t laying on his back like the instructor suggests. Lately, Ari has been having one of his stuffies, Oreo (who really didn’t need to come to live with us — just sayin’.), sigh during the meditation. This evening, all three of those things happened.

Once the meditation finished, I said, “I’m going to ask you a question and I want you an honest answer. My feelings will not be hurt, no matter what you say. Okay? Will you be honest?”

“Yes,” Ari said peering back at me in the dim darkness.

“I’ve noticed you seem less focused during the guided meditations. Would you like to keep doing them or would you rather have extra snuggle time with Mommy?”

“Extra snuggle time,” he answered immediately.

“Really?” I asked since that wasn’t what I expected to hear.

“Really,” he replied. After a beat, Ari shoved one of his stuffies up to my face. “Guess who!” he said.

It was pretty dark. I couldn’t see whose nose was rubbing mine.

“Well, the nose is soft so it’s an animal from Team Soft Guy.” (Ari recently divided his animals into Team Hard Guy and Team Soft Guy to describe their noses.)

“Guess who it is!” Ari said stroking the animal’s fur against my face.

“Percy?” I asked.

“That’s right!”

This continued about three more times until I said, “How about I try two out on you and then we say good night.”

“No, ten!”

“We’re not doing this ten more times. It’s past your bedtime,” I replied.

Ari giggled as Barnsie went nose-to-nose with him.

“My bedtime is 9 p.m.”

“No, your bedtime is 8:30 p.m. and it’s 8:38 p.m. Three more and that’s it.”

“How about five more?”

“Three more. Final offer,” I said.

Ari quickly learned that it was hard to determine who was nuzzling his nose with his eyes closed! (Perhaps if he didn’t have 15 stuffies in his bed this would be easier, but that wasn’t the case.) He figured out one of the three… and then it was time for sleep.

Starting tomorrow night, we will take a break from Headspace after storytime. However, I have a feeling some version of this game will show up once we turn off the overhead light.

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