thankful thursdays 04.07.2016

With each page, statistic, and tidbit of information I absorb from Most Likely to Succeed (see last week’s Thankful Thursdays), the more confident, and convinced, I become in my decision to unschool our girls. Previously, I viewed the term unschooling as a bit radical, for the more secular, “let’s break all the rules” parents. As I delve deeper into thinking about what I want their learning experience to be like, it turns out unschooling is exactly my goal. The picture painted by Wagner and Dintersmith of our country’s current education goals, both public and private, is startling and familiar. Familiar, because it is everything I’ve felt was wrong with the system. Startling, because, well, I’m not sure true change will ever be achieved. I’ll elaborate on my thoughts about this at another time. I need to be careful and thoughtful with my words since this is a touchy topic.

A little kitchen project I did with Virginia this week emphasizes how learning math, science and even language arts, in a project-based, experiential way is not only more relatable and palatable, but more likely to be remembered. Virginia loves kale chips. I’d bought a bunch to make a fresh batch, but rather than simply do it myself, I decided to do it with her. We stripped the leaves from the stems, tore them into bite size chunks, and then weighed them before baking. If you’ve made kale chips before, you know that at the start it seems like a plentiful, almost never ending yield. After 20 to 25 minutes in a 375ºF oven, you realize you’ll be making kale chips again in two days if your little one devours them as steadfastly as mine. It makes sense, right? You’re removing something, the water from the kale, through a method of dehydration.

Virginia went “wow, mommy”, when we weighed the kale post cooking. It went from 171 grams to a mere 44 grams. She was excited to subtract her before and after numbers to see how much water weight was lost in the cooking process. As summer rolls around, we’ll continue this discussion of dehydrating, and how it relates to the human body. Why do we sweat in the summer? While the kale provides a yummy snack after being dehydrated, why is dehydration a bad thing when it comes to the human body?

This is a simple example, and one you might likely find in an elementary classroom, where project based learning is given more value. When you get to middle school, where Isabella is now in the seventh grade, the value in project based learning erodes greatly. The most crucial years where we should be preparing them for life with real-world life experiences, we put them in a vacuum of tests that drain them of the true skills necessary to be successful—a love of learning, innate curiosity, how to take risks, and understanding that failure is not a negative word. It is simply that—a word, to interpret as you see fit. I see failure as the path to new knowledge. Failure is not an end; it’s a beginning. The proof in that is quite evident for me as a recipe developer. These are the skills I want our daughters to master, and I know Mikey would be in agreement. So, today, I’m especially thankful to have found clarity and courage to set out on this journey. It can feel a bit lonely and isolating when you feel like everyone in your immediate circle doesn’t quite understand, and perhaps even think you’re a bit crazy for your choices.

DIY advent calendar

Last year the bug hit me to do a proper advent calendar for the girls. Truthfully, I needed something to boost me from my holiday malaise. What better way than to greet each day with squeals of joy? Previously, all they’d experienced were those cardboard ones with a chocolate treat behind each window. A few years back, I brought two Scooby-Doo themed ones home from Paris. Bonus points for the days that had a little toy inside, but still after the first few days they lost their excitement factor.

I imagined a beautiful quilt with a pocket for each one, exactly what one of my best friends has for her kids. Since my urge to set up an advent calendar came after the first of December, time was of the essence. No way I could wait for shipping (note to self: check sales after Christmas this year!). I hit up a few stores at the shopping strip in Kingston. I found one at in Home Goods for whopping $149. Not happening, at all. It seemed a crazy price to pay. So, I decided to make my own ad hoc, a DIY advent calendar.

DIY Advent Calendar |

I bought a bundle of sturdy cardboard gift cards at Target, and hit up a little store, Sparkle, in Woodstock, that has an eclectic array of items. Later that day, I set about writing jokes, creating my own search a word puzzles, and attaching baubles to the gift tags. And then each day, for the remainder of December, I hung a new one on the tree for the girls to find. December was by far the easiest month to pry them from their beds in the morning.

DIY Advent Calendar |

This year I remembered some puzzle websites I used to use to help Isabella with her vocabulary words a few years back. You add the words you want to use, and presto, you’ve got your own custom search-a-word or crossword puzzle. I reduced the print size, and will use them to attach to the tags this year. And I must confess, I did pick up two cardboard advent calendars last week. I saw them at Claire’s, and my inner kid kicked in. I mean, how could I resist an advent calendar with a trinket from Claire’s tucked behind each sealed door? So, this December will be filled with a double dose of excitement each morning.

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday. The long weekend feels like a distant memory. Thankfully, I have a bit more stuffing left to make one last batch of these waffles. My mind is already counting down the days until our winter break at the end of the month.

hello, november

I’ve always loved these last two months of the year. People tend to share a kinder side of themselves, perhaps the softening of the soul as we wind the year down with celebrations centered around friends and family. The holidays are also when the bittersweet luggage of memories from times past begin to topple from the recesses of our mind. One must be sure to catch them gently, lest they clunk us on the heads. I’ll be working on that a lot, trying to remind myself that it’s okay to be excited for the future, while still being thankful for my past. Continue reading »

with an open mind and heart

I’m constantly in awe of the way life revolves, continuing on and on, whether or not you’re ready for the ride. Sometimes you can anticipate the hurdles, and other times they come careening out of nowhere. And sometimes the hurdles don’t trip you up; they just make you stop to pause and appreciate or contemplate. The point is we need the hurdles, the challenges, the good days, and the bad days. They’re the ingredients that come together to make a life.

I registered the kids at their new pediatrician today. It was pretty routine, but I was taken aback a bit when requesting their records from Brooklyn to be transferred. The words, “I understand by signing this I’m no longer a patient of this practice,” stopped me in my tracks.

I remember the day I met with Dr. Price, back in 2003, just before Isabella was born. My mom went with me to the appointment. I’d never even held a baby before she came into the world at 8:00pm on May 11th that year. I didn’t know what questions to ask in this meeting, so she tagged along for support. Back then the practice was just three doctors. Over these last 12 years it’s grown, and moved to bigger digs. Dr. Julie became our regular pediatrician, and saw us through some tough times.

Through all the changes, though, the very first receptionist we met there stayed (with a brief break in between). She always had a big smile and warm hello for The Perillos. Even as the staff grew, and the office got busier, I knew I could ask for to help circumvent the craziness. She remembers M fondly, too. In a weird way, that office became an extension of our family. We were only there for annual wellness visits, and the rare sick visit (thank heavens for that!), but these two women never made us feel like a patient in a sea of folders. We felt like real people whom they knew and cared about. Even with my move upstate, I stayed with the practice, unable to break the comfort and security we’d created for the girls.

Saying goodbye to the practice is another one of those not-so-little goodbyes to an old chapter of my life. Every time it happens, a new goodbye, that is, it feels like an updated edition of an old story goes into print. Mentally, it’s a transition from being a widow to a single woman, ready to write new chapters with an open mind and heart.

Music Pairing: Blood, Muscle, Skin & Bone by Brandi Carlile

sunday evening thoughts

I have this habit of curling up with Virginia at bedtime. I’ve been trying to wean her off the ritual, but the truth is that most nights I cherish those few special minutes. As we were curled up tonight, I looked at her profile, thumb in her mouth, the cute little bump of her nose in the dark, and her strong brow bone casting a shadow on the wall from the night light’s glow. She used to suck her thumb constantly, and while strangers felt compelled to tell her to stop, the dentist said she showed no signs of it affecting her teeth.

I’ve noticed she only sucks it at bedtime now. She made the observation a few weeks ago that she used to do it in her old school, but doesn’t feel the need to do it at her new one. Perhaps it’s just her natural development, or maybe it’s the nurturing environment. Regardless, it’s another reminder of the fleeting nature of childhood.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

One of the things I’m most thankful for with our recent move is the regeneration of my patience. I’ve been fresh out it for years, and the stresses of living in Brooklyn left me with an even greater deficit. Life here has given me the chance to slow down a bit, and while we spend a good portion of our time together shuttling back and forth to school in the car, or running errands, the quality of that time has been quite enriching. I’m an NPR junkie, hence the way the girls came up with our cat Ms. Paula Poundstone’s name.

Sometimes I worry about them hearing stuff that’s beyond their age or grasp, but I think it’s important for kids to have that exposure to the world as a larger place. When Scotland was preparing to vote on independence a few weeks ago, they listened intently for days on the drive to school. We talked about how it related to our own country, and got to talking about the Civil War. They were riveted by it all, and later that week when Paula Poundstone admitted on air that she was unclear as to what countries were part of the UK, they chuckled about it. I think this is part of the reason both our girls have such a rich vocabulary.

Recently, our car time has been occupied with listening to To Kill a Mockingbird. I began reading it over the summer, but finding the right time wasn’t always easy. I felt it was too heavy subject matter for before bedtime. We’d try to carve out time during the day, but then school started. I found out Sissy Spacek narrates the audio version, so we made the switch last week. The second we get into the car, before I’ve even had a chance to start the engine, Virginia chimes in “mommy, start the book.” They’re enthralled with the story, and we’re coming up to Tom Robinson’s trial soon, which has prompted me to prepare them for what comes next without ruining the book for them. It may be fiction, but it has stirred some real life conversations about our country’s history, and rather uncomfortable issues such as the crime that Robinson is accused of committing. I realize it may seem odd to broach such subjects with a six year old and eleven year old, but there is a way to discuss these things from a factual perspective without frightening them. And, it’s important that they feel they can talk to me about everything and anything. I’m never really sure that I’m always doing this single parenting thing right, but I know I’m at least doing it in the most honest, human, and respectful way I know how.

catching up…

I’ve written dozens of lines on this screen, and deleted them all, not knowing how to describe what I’m feeling. Being a tightrope walker sums it up a bit, at least the last few weeks. Don’t look down, that’s the key, right? Keep my eyes focused on the path ahead, and getting across to the other side.

But what is the other side of grief?

It is so hard to shed the cloak of being a widow. It’s a double-edged sword, not wanting to be identified as the girl who’s husband died, our story being interrupted so abruptly. And yet, when people start to see me as I am today, on my own, it saddens me. I have to remind myself they’ve not forgotten him; it’s just the natural progression of things. I’m just becoming comfortable with being seen as a single mother, even though that isn’t exactly how I feel. Yes, I do the daily job of parenting alone, but he is always in my heart, guiding me in the decisions I make for our family.

I am alone, but not really.

Until the memories start to fade…

and the sound of his laughter becomes a distant echo I struggle to remember.

It’s almost two years since that moment, and I’m still standing. I looked down at my boots the other day and realized they’ve strolled the streets of Paris, walked the beaches of Normandy strewn with razor clam shells and a thick layer of snow, and clocked many miles making my way up a mountain in Morocco.

Two years almost down; the rest of my life to go.

Continue reading »

thoughts on day 641

I’ve spent a lot of time talking lately about the nourishing power of cooking. I’m often on the giving end of that relationship, and it’s a role I cherish. Every now and then, though, it’s nice to step out from my usual position behind the stove, and simply be on the receiving end of a homemade meal. After six weeks of traveling to do publicity for the book, things winded down yesterday as I made my way home from Toronto. What an incredible bookend to what started here in NYC at the beginning of April.

Vittoria made her famous rice balls for my arrival in Canada. Nick contributed homemade dried sausage, as well as red and white wine—both homemade, to our dinner. Mary made the most perfect crostata with a jammy plum filling, and a crust that will haunt me until I have time to get into the kitchen and replicate it myself. Marisa made the main course, and what better way to make me feel welcome than with pizza? I felt so at home being with Marisa and her family, that I sat on the kitchen counter mere minutes after meeting her mom, Vittoria, so I could position myself just right to snap some shots of the incredible spread they had all prepared. Continue reading »

the homestretch

My eyelids are refusing to cooperate this morning, as I find myself fighting to keep them open. Changing the clocks ahead one little hour this weekend is proving to be more challenging than the six hour time difference I so often encounter when I go to France. I figure you’re all feeling sort of sluggish and sleepy today too, and what better way to jolt you than with some fun news surrounding the release of Homemade with Love. If you’ve preordered the book, then you likely got the same email I did on Sunday—it’s shipping earlier than expected. As in you may have it as soon as the weekend depending on the shipping method you chose!

The love, security and sense of self I derive from being in the kitchen are feelings I hope to spark in all of you once Homemade with Love becomes a part of your lives. My reason for wanting to write a cookbook four years ago was simple. It wasn’t about vanity or dreams of fame. I wanted all of my positive experiences in the kitchen to become contagious. I wanted to show people in a very genuine way that cooking is about so much more than just eating. It is about feeding your soul, and enriching the lives of the people you love. Continue reading »

why i cook

My relationship with homemade ice cream is a love-hate one. Part of it has to do with the incessant hum of the ice cream machine. If you've never made it before, imagine a power drill going non-stop for 20 minutes.

Yet, here I sit, trying to concentrate and string words together as it whirs in the background. There weren't originally plans to make ice cream today, but you know what they say about drastic times. I was at the Time Warner Center staring at a shiny new refrigerator Vanessa Williams unveiled for Samsung when I saw I missed a call from Mikey.

Then came a text—his mother had fallen at home and he was rushing to catch the express bus to the Bronx. It felt like the worst case scenario we'd planning for, traveling in midday traffic to the Northeast Bronx. She'd apparently taken a fall while City Meals on Wheels was making their daily delivery. When EMS came she refused to go to the hospital. When the social worker tried calling, there was no answer. This went on for 20 minutes until they called Mikey, him being their only child and their emergency contact.

Continue reading »

if he could see me now

I'm on a train, rolling through the outskirts of Maryland, making my way home from D.C. This would have been the better option for my arrival too. Instead I took the bus, emerging looking as if I'd been on a fishing trip. My jeans tucked into forest green galoshes, and a navy slicker thrown over my arm since it was raining when I left New York.

Normally the planner, I hesitated making my travel arrangement to Eat, Write, Retreat. Something was gnawing at me every time I thought about getting to D.C.

I love flying, but in this case it wasn't the sensible choice. So that left me with two options—the bus or train. Neither appealed, so I just left my plans until the last minute.

Continue reading »