Thursday, February 27, 2014

What I Learned from Walking

Awhile ago I wrote a post about the things I had learned from running. I learned things like:

Running Supposedly Curbs the Appetite  I was hungry before my run. I was still hungry after my run. The only difference was that I was too weak and sore to lift my hand to my mouth. I considered asking my kids to fill a dog bowl with food and set it on the floor so I could crawl over and plunge my face in it, but I was afraid they’d take a picture and Instagram it. Instead, I skipped dinner. That wasn’t a good idea. Later that night, while driving to pick up my daughter from a friend’s house, I hallucinated that I saw armadillos cross the road and I fantasized about eating them. I really should’ve gone with the dog bowl idea.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pink Zebra Giveaway

Have you ever heard of Pink Zebra? I hadn't until I was recently sent some Pink Zebra products to try. They make home fragrance warmers and sprinkles (scented wax beads) to melt in the warmers. I love, love, love these things! Those of you who know me, know I'm all about smell. I buy everything based on smell - shampoo, lotion, laundry detergent, make-up, soap, everything. I have a crazy-strong sense of smell, and I love how strongly smell is tied to memory. Certain scents just bring me back and make me smile.

So here's how these work: There's a base with a lightbulb that you plug into an outlet. Over this sets a colored liner with a little dish. Then you pick out a decorative shade to go around the unit. Finally (the hardest part), you choose the scents you like. As I write this, I'm enjoying the stress relief mint and eucalyptus sprinkles. I LOVE this fragrance so much! It's a fresh, clean scent that just clears my head. And I really like how the fragrance is strong enough to fill a room as soon as the sprinkles start to melt.

I'm totally going to have to get this wine bottle shade for my kitchen which is painted a wine color and decorated with vines and wine bottles! 

Then I'll need to decide between spiced vanilla, patchouli & sandalwood, pumpkin bread, lavender vanilla, island coconut, coffee buzz, ooey gooey caramel, summer berry medley . . . I could go on and on! In fact, you  can even find recipes for mixing sprinkles to create caramel macchiato, herbed artisan bread, and tons more.

Want a chance to win some great smelling Pink Zebra products to fill your home with delicious fragrance? Browse Lara's Pink Zebra site HERE. Pick out your favorite item and tell me what it is in a comment here to be entered to win 2 jars of your choice of sprinkles. I'll choose 2 random winners on Friday, Feb. 28 who will each receive their choice of 2 jars of sprinkles. Open to residents of the U.S. (Also, if you want more information about hosting an online party and receiving free merchandise, or joining Lara's team and selling Pink Zebra, give her a shout by using the "contact us" tab on her site.)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Way Education Should be (Because Making a Difference for One is Still Making a Difference)

“So, what will I be doing?” I inquired of my new boss, the principal at the middle school where I work.
“You’ll be working with the lowest performing kids,” she answered simply.
I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I didn’t want to sound like an idiot by asking her to expound. I figured I would find out soon enough as the first day of school was the following week.
Here I am 2 ½ years later, and I now know what she meant by “lowest performing kids.” You see, this principal has a passion for those kids; the ones who fall through the cracks. She’s not cool with letting kids fail simply to teach them the lesson: If you don’t work hard, you’ll fail. She recognizes that there are some kids out there who couldn’t care less if they fail. The only problem they have with dropping out of school at age 16 is waiting until they’re 16. For too many kids, especially the ones I see from low socioeconomic areas, there has been no role model, no advocate for them. They haven’t been taught that there’s value in education.
So this principal hired me to work with them. I help them get organized, and I try to teach them the importance of staying on top of their work, keeping track of assignments, turning them in on time, studying for tests, etc. I praise them when they do well. I bribe them with candy to do their work. I give them my disappointed look when they fail a test, then I pull out a study guide so I can help them understand the material before giving them a retake. Basically, I force my students to work. Some of them are thankful for a quiet place to study and a friendly face to encourage them to do their best. Some of them are resentful and tell me daily how much they hate my class or school in general. Regardless of their attitudes, I continue to push them. I figure as long as I can help them to stick it out and earn their diplomas, there’ll be one less drop-out in the world, and they’ll have a better chance at a prosperous future. Without these interventions, some of these kids would never pass.
This same principal requires that all teachers (who teach six or seven classes a day with over 20 kids in each class) personally contact every parent when their student is earning a D or an F in their class. She also requires teachers to offer retakes to kids who do poorly on assessments. After all, the end goal is for the child to learn the material (even if it takes a couple tries and it happens later than the rest of the class.) They can also turn in late assignments without points being deducted for the same reasons. She’s even put into a place of sort of study hall where teachers can send kids who fail to complete assignments on time. This sends the message to those kids who are perfectly happy blowing off assignments and getting failing grades, that blowing off work is NOT an option. Failing is NOT an option. We care, and we will do what we can to make sure you pass. Maybe she has these attitudes because she’s from Illinois where education is very different than it is here in Florida. Illinois, where my kids’ old high school called, emailed, texted, and sent snail mail every single Friday if your kid had a D or an F in any class.
There are many who scoff at this principal’s methods. “We’re just setting them up for failure.” “It won’t be this way in high school, and they’ll be in for a rude awakening.” “Why should they have the opportunity to retake a test? They had plenty of time to study for it.” “Why should I call home when the parent can go online and see their kids’ grades?” “Why should I let them turn in late assignments? If they didn’t do it when it was assigned, then tough luck to them. They’ll learn the next time.”
But let’s look at this another way. Here’s a different scenario: One of my sons earned three Fs on his first semester report card. Not a single teacher contacted me. Not even once. I set up meetings with his teachers. I emailed them. “Let me know when he’s not doing his work. Let me know what he needs to work on. I want him to be successful and he’s completely capable, but he needs more motivation than your average student.” Nothing. If he missed an assignment, he didn’t lose privileges from the school. He wasn’t given detention or forced to go to Saturday school. He didn’t have to do the missing assignments. In fact, he wasn’t allowed to turn in the missing assignments! The school basically said, “Oh well, we don’t care if you pass or fail. It’s not our job to make sure you succeed. You lose.” This same son who had dreams of going to college is now starting to say he doesn’t want to go to school, and he doesn’t care if he ever gets a good job. What would’ve happened if his teachers had contacted me regularly? What if they understood that he wasn’t motivated to do his work? What if they understood that he still didn’t care even though I’d taken away all his privileges? What if they’d made him stay after school to do his work? What if they’d cared just a little extra, knowing that he didn’t care at all?
Or how about this situation: I got my 9-year-old’s report card for the first semester. Both quarters he earned straight As. He’s a smart kid, and he does well in school. However, there was a note with this report card that caught my attention. It said that although my son had gotten all As, he couldn’t attend the honor roll movie night because he hadn’t turned in all of his homework. I don’t personally agree that he should have been punished like that. After all, homework is assigned to reinforce the concepts taught in class. If a student is earning As on all his assessments, then clearly, he’s mastered the material presented in class. But my personal feelings aside, I don’t understand how a 4th grade teacher (who has a single class of 20-ish students) could go an entire quarter with absolutely no communication to the parents. I’m usually good at checking my kids’ homework, however there was a short time when I was lax with Clayton’s assignments. If his teacher had called, emailed, texted, left a note in his planner, sent a letter, anything at all, I would have addressed the homework situation right away. There was no communication. No making up the work. Just tough luck, kid. You lose.
I’m all about teaching kids to be responsible, and I do believe that every action should have a fitting consequence. But when a kid, a child, doesn’t turn in an assignment or study for a test, should we let them fail? Is this really teaching them about life? Is this giving them an accurate picture of the consequences for not doing their work? If you fail to complete a task at work, does your boss say, “Oh well, it’s too late. Don’t bother doing it at all now. You’re fired.” Perhaps. But more likely, he says, “You need to do it. I guess you’ll have to stay late or come in on Saturday to finish it.” I know, at my school, if you, oh say, forget to turn in lesson plans on time, the principal doesn’t tell you, “Well, it’s too late to do it now. You fail. There’s the door.” No. She says, “Get them to me by the end of the day.” The punishment isn’t failure. The punishment is feeling bad and having to give up some of your personal time or cancel plans in order to do the work.

I’m personally very glad that I work in a school where its understood that not all kids are encouraged at home. These kids, left to their own devices, would be perfectly content failing. And I’m glad there are many interventions to ensure those same kids know there are people who believe in them and are not about to give up on them and let them fail. Like the Starfish Story, it counts when you can make a difference to even one student.

Suave's Moroccan Infusion Smells Mmmmmmm!

I've always liked Suave products. I like how they work. I like how they smell. And (especially as a single mom to half a dozen kids) I like how inexpensive they are! Believe me, I'm about saving a dime. Coloring my own hair - check. Doing my own manicures - check. Getting second-hand clothes - check. Buying Suave lotion that smells and feels like any other brand out there, but for a fraction of the cost - check!

I've been using Suave's Moroccan Infusion shampoo and conditioner for some time now. I use the one with the Moroccan Argan oil (with the green label on the bottle) because it smells so good! I seriously could sit here sniffing my hair all day. I know, I have issues. Anyway, I was so excited when the people from Suave contacted me and asked if I'd like to try their new lotion and dry body oil. The yummy smell of my hair on my body too?! Yay! I'm digging the dry body oil. It makes my skin soft, but it doesn't feel all greasy or oily. This stuff is going to be great after a day at the beach!

The other things I tried were two new "flavors" of shampoo and conditioner. Suave Natural Infusion with macadamia oil & white orchid moisturizing shampoo. Oh my yum! And Suave Natural Infusion with seaweed & lotus blossom all day body shampoo. I didn't like this one as much. There's a light oil spray that goes with the macadamia oil & white orchid shampoo and conditioner that I love. I use it after I straighten my hair to give it a glossy (not oily) sleek shine. It's gorgeous (if I do say so myself!) There's an all-day body leave in foam in the seaweed & lotus blossom scent. My daughter with fine hair tried this and liked it. She said it made her hair "fluffy."I'm pretty sure she meant that was a good thing. Next, I'm going to try the Awapuhi shampoo basically because I think it's just fun to say "Awapuhi."

Check out the new Suave products at a store near you. (That's another thing I like about Suave - you don't have to go to a special store to find it. It's carried in every grocery and drug store that I frequent as well as Target and Walmart. I love that because I hate making extra stops when I'm running errands.) And leave me a comment here to be entered for a chance to win a package with some of these new products so you can try them out yourself! I'll choose a random winner on Wednesday, February 26.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

If I Were One-Hundred Years Old

Brooklyn recently wrote this at school. The title is If I Were One-Hundred Years Old . . . In case you can't quite read it, it says:

If I were one-hundred years old, I would have wrinkles. I would be in a wheelchair. I would have short hair. I wouldn't have much money. I would shrug and be slow. I would live by myself. I wouldn't go to much places. I wouldn't like to go places. I would try to go to the store and get food. I would have a dog and a cat. I wouldn't have a love. I wouldn't see my grandkids at all. I would have grandkids.

Brooklyn looked at me expectantly as I read her paper. When I finished, I laughed a little and asked her, "You'll have grandkids, but you'll never see them? You won't have a love and you won't go anywhere? That seems kinda sad, don't you think?"

Brooklyn blinked, raised her eyes and spoke very slowly, as if I was a learning-impaired monkey. "Mo-om. I'm ONE-HUNDRED years old! Maybe I would visit my grandkids when I'm EIGHTY, but when I'm ONE-HUNDRED, I'm going to be TIRED." 

I couldn't help but laugh, both because of her reasoning, and because of her expression as she explained to me what I clearly couldn't grasp on my own. "Don't you think you'd want to see your grandkids even if you're one-hundred years old?" I asked.

"Nah, grandkids are too loud. Well, maybe my grandkids could come visit me. For a little bit. But then they'll have to leave because they'll tire me out."

"I guess that's a good plan, Brooklyn."

P.S. Hey Mom & Dad, you might want to come visit your grandkids soon. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Join Margaret at KitchenChat for a Chance to Win!

Grandma, in her clean apron, stands at the stove, stirring a boiling pot, its fragrance fills the kitchen, its steam fogs up the windows. Her daughter pours chilled white wine, the crisp, clear liquid swirling into goblets while she tosses her head back and laughs loudly at the story her brother is telling about the time they shaved the dog when they were 6 and 7 years old. Daughter-in-law sets the table, balancing plates while dancing around the kids darting into the kitchen, chasing each other around the island, and sneaking olives from the relish tray on the counter. Grandpa comes in holding a picture of the shaved dog that he's just pulled out of an old photo album, which triggers another round of laughter. Warm, bread fresh-from-the-oven is set on the table and Grandma calls out that dinner is ready.

My favorite room in any house is the kitchen. It's not because I love to cook (believe me, I don't.) It's because the kitchen is where everyone gathers, where memories are made and relived, and where everyone enjoys each other's company while sharing a meal. That's what my friend Margaret McSweeney's KitchenChat Radio Show is all about. As she says, "Everything always happens in the kitchen." If you don't know Margaret, let me introduce her. She's one of those amazing people who has the ability to put a smile on the face of everyone she meets. She's the kind of person I aspire to be, but alas, people mostly just tick me off. On the other hand, I don't believe I've ever seen Margaret without a smile on her face. Ever. Don't get me wrong; she's not one of those annoyingly happy people you just want to smack. She's just one of those genuine people who everyone loves to be around.

(Here I am with Margaret at Disney's Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival. We had so much fun eating and drinking, sampling all sorts of deliciousness, around the world.)

Margaret insists she's the world's worst home chef. (I've seen the scars from her Thanksgiving mishap a couple years ago!) But that's why she thinks KitchenChat is so much fun. "It's all about food and bringing the best to your kitchen. The chefs know I'm clueless in the kitchen so they're super-patient when I ask questions about stuff like ingredients I can't pronounce! I want to make the culinary experience accessible and non-intimidating for everyone."

On KitchenChat, Margaret talks to famous chefsYou can download her FREE podcasts on iTunes or head over to KitchenChat where you can listen to the podcasts, read her blog posts, and drool over the pictures of delicious food! With titles like these (and many more), you can't go wrong!

Disney Executive Chef Brings Mickey’s Magic to Your Kitchen
Dana Goodyear and Anything That Moves
Cooking Light Magazine, Editor Scott Mowbray
A Chocolate Feast with Eric Lanlard
Robicelli’s: A Love Story, with Cupcakes: And 50 Decidedly Grownup Recipes
At The Family Table with Chef Michael Romano
Truffles and Tribulations – Chef Norman Van Aken’s Culinary Fusion: James Beard and Jimmy Buffett

In fact, you've got to check out her latest experience at Le Cordon Bleu with Chef Suzy Singh. (This one was especially fun for me to see because my son, Austin attends Le Cordon Bleu and loves it!) The event was hosted by NOW foods to showcase their organic and gluten-free product line. If you head over to Margaret's KitchenChat blog and leave a comment, you'll automatically be entered in a fabulous give-away with a bunch of great products from NOW Foods!

Please check out her website! You'll be happy you did!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

How a Bottle of Wine Made me do More Random Acts of Kindness

I pulled my items from the shopping cart and placed them on the conveyor belt in the check-out line — cake mixes, powdered sugar, eggs, vegetable shortening and two bottles of wine. The first four items were for the birthday cakes I was making for Clayton and Brooklyn who were having a shared birthday party on Saturday. The last item was because it was Friday. Or because it was raining. Or because the moon was out. Or because I was wearing pink shoes. (Really, you can insert any reason, any reason at all, here and it would be accurate.)
A woman got in line behind me and put her purchases on the belt. I noticed the pair of leopard print ankle boots she’d set on the conveyor and commented, “Those are totally cute! Ooooo, they’re on clearance too!” praising her sense of fashion and ability to find a bargain.
She returned, “Yeah, they’re a little small for me, but they’re only $11! I can just wear them when I don’t have to do a lot of standing!”
“Totally! What’s a little pain when you find totally cute, $11 boots, right?” I wholeheartedly agreed. “You can shove your foot in those and make ‘em work!”
It was my turn now, and the cashier rang up my cake ingredients. When she got to the wine, I was hit with a wave of panic. She was about to ask me for my ID, and I remembered that I’d taken my license out of my purse and stuck it in my jeans pocket the other day. I was pretty sure I’d never returned it to my wallet. Here’s the thing — I’m 43. Although I don’t think I look especially old, I certainly couldn’t pass for 21. Still, Target cards everyone. I mean, everyone! You could be 95, look like you’re 105, be in a wheelchair, on oxygen, with white hair and wrinkles on your winkles, and they would card you. It’s their rule. Ordinarily, I love that. When they ask for my ID, I gush, “Oh certainly! Here you are! I know, I know, I don’t look like I could possibly buy alcohol legally!” Admittedly, the cashier generally rolls their eyes and/or laughs at me, but still …
Today, however, I was bummed because clearly, I’m over 21, but because I didn’t have my license with me, I couldn’t buy the wine. I looked at the woman behind me (we were best friends now because we had bonded over shoes) and joked, “A night without wine?! However will I survive?” We laughed, I paid for my purchases and called, “Have a good night,” to the cashier and the savvy shopper behind me.
I started to grab my bags and was halted by the woman in line as she told me, “You know what? I’ll buy the wine for you.”
I declined, saying, “Oh, no thank you. Really, it’s no big deal.”
Determined, she continued, “But a night without wine … Let me get them for you.”
“Oh thank you, but it’s okay. I was just joking! I don’t have any cash to pay you, but thank you so much. That’s really nice of you!” I smiled and turned away.
“It’s okay,” she said. "It’s a pay-it-forward kinda thing. I want to do this.”
Now, I’ve been on the receiving end of huge, generous, amazing blessings more than once over the past few years. And every time it happens, I’m touched so deeply. Such random acts of kindness and generosity impart a feeling so profound, it leaves an indelible mark on one’s heart. All-at-once, I feel humbled, thankful, surprised, undeserving, overwhelmed with renewed faith in humanity. Although it feels wonderful when good and unexpected things happen to me, I still have a hard time simply acknowledging them for what they are. I struggle to accept those blessings with grace. My expressions of gratitude feel so inadequate.
On the other hand, I enjoy doing random acts of kindness for others. The feeling I get knowing I’ve made someone else smile envelopes me with the most amazing fulfillment. I try to keep that in mind when someone does something kind for me — that I’m not the only one benefiting from the exchange. The giver is also being filled with that wonderful feeling that comes when you’ve done something nice for someone else for no particular reason other than it feels good to do it.
I thanked the woman in line behind me at Target profusely, unsure of what else to say. I asked her name. Gina. And I promised myself to pay her kind act forward. And how timely was this interaction as my school is celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Week now! I will definitely be paying it forward every day this week, fully understanding how awesome it is to bless someone else and how amazing it is to be on the receiving end of that blessing! How are you going to pay it forward this Random Acts of Kindness Week?

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