An Open Letter to my 34 Kindergarteners

Dear 2014/2015 Kindergarten Class -

Look at you! You have finished kindergarten, you are off to 1st grade, and you are most likely vacationing or splashing in splash pads all across the city. I hope you stop to read once in awhile or write in a journal (don't forget punctuation!) about your summer adventures. It's summertime - the best season in Chicago and you are at a prime age to enjoy it. You've probably forgotten all about kindergarten and you've probably forgotten all about me - but, I have not, and will not, ever forget you. 

You learned so much in kindergarten. You learned how to correctly identify all 65 sight words, and you can count & write well beyond 100. You read better than even you thought you would, and you've corrected mom & dad on when to use 'an' instead of 'a' (way to go!). Each and every one of you made such amazing progress this year, and I'm immensely (that means very much so) proud of you. I look back on our days together and I smile. My heart feels happy that you learned so much and you made friendships to last a lifetime. But there are times when my heart feels sad and I get that feeling in my tummy you get when you are nervous or a little scared. Remember it's ok to feel those feelings; it's ok for me to feel those feelings, too. I want to explain to you why sometimes I feel a little sad and my tummy hurts. 

Kindergarten is such an important time in your life. So many of you came straight from your comfortable home with mommy or daddy and have never been in a classroom. When you walked into your kindergarten classroom you were leaving mommy or daddy and spending seven (you should know this word, it's a 4th quarter sight word!) hours with me - your new teacher, but yet a complete stranger. It's always been my job to not only teach you your alphabet (identification & sounds), numbers 1-100, nouns, verbs, sight words, etc. but it is also my job to love you and care for you and make sure you are happy, making friends, and given one on one attention every. single. day. 

I have high hopes every summer to create a classroom that makes you feel comfortable, gets you excited to learn, and makes you feel happy - your home away from home. I can do this, and I have done this. 

But my tummy begins to hurt when I think back on the times when I was not able to give every single one of you one on one attention every single day of the school year. I am sorry, Alex, that I  did not get to spend more time in writing workshop with you because you were a confident writer and never appeared to need my help. I'm sorry, Jane, that I did not get to work more with you in math because that was your strong area and there were six (4th quarter sight word!) other kids at your table that needed my help to understand. I wish I could have spent more time seeing how well you know your numbers and can solve math problems that second grade is working on! I'm sorry, Anna, that I could not sit down the minute you walked into the door one morning with a gleeful expression on your face and listen to you about your exciting morning when you saw a helicopter land. I got that much, but I wanted to know more - why? where? Did you feel the wind blow?! 

I'm sorry I could not sit and listen to every story important to you, I could not spend more time with each of you in math, writing, or reading. It was not that I did not want to, or that I did not manage my time better to be able to. It's that there were 34 of you. Thirty four of you who needed love, attention, and my undivided attention every hour of our seven hour day. You are all unique learners and you each have different needs to reach your learning potential. I tried to help each of you reach that potential every day, but because I tried to give you individual attention, it meant some days I did not get to check in with some of you - and that is what makes my tummy hurt. I want a re-do. I want to have you all back in my room, in smaller groups, and talk to you - hear about your mornings, hear about what you did for your grandpa's birthday. 

I am sorry that you did not and could not get the one on one teacher/student experience that is ideal. But you, and your education, were always the center of my attention. My wish for you next year is a smaller class size, so you can obtain the education and attention you deserve. 

Thank you for being one of my thirty four, and teaching me how valuable each student is. Thank you for teaching me that I need to fight harder to keep class sizes low in kindergarten so you, and all future kindergarten students can thrive! 

Mrs. Levin


Cancer Has 'Good Days'

I'm posting a picture I have not shared with anyone but my husband, dad, and sisters. This is my mom, surrounded by her daughters. Sick with cancer, but a gentle smile on her face. 

When I think back on why I never shared it, I realize it's the social media society that we live in today. One that covers up 'real life' with filters and fancy #hashtags. This picture has no filter. It's raw. It's a woman. A mom. Battling cancer. No fancy hashtag here. If I were to slap a hashtag on it, I guess I would go with #lungcancer. But I'd also make sure to include #goodday #mother #wife #grandma #friend #love #fighter. And on that day, my mom, sisters, and I were smiling, laughing and genuinely having a good day. It's what you cannot see in this picture that made it such a good day. Here's it is.
My mom was not doing well prior to this day. Doctor's and oncologists had given her a dim perspective on her cancer's progression and we were basically told to prepare ourselves for our mom's 'final days.' Our dad had called us with this news on a cold fall day in early November. I made the drive to Michigan, met up with my sisters, and we made the drive 'home' that night. They let us visit her late that night, but she was tired, we were tired, so we left and came back bright and early the next morning. We had laughs with mom, told her our crazy stories of pooling all our Speedy Rewards together to get cappuccinos on the way to the hospital that morning, and we shed a few tears. I don't think prior to this day my sisters and I discussed mom not being around anymore. We literally lived in the moment. Mom was requesting some comfy pants to wear in the hospital, so one of my sisters and I drove to the nearby K-Mart (yes, they still have those in our hometown) to find mom some pajama or yoga-type 'comfy' pants. While on this outting, my phone rang. It was my mom. It was hard to understand her. Her voice was dry from the oxygen she had been receiving. She said 'come back, you have to come.' My heart froze. I just kept saying 'why mom? why?' My tension eased a bit when I heard my older sister in the background laughing, along with a melody of other laughs. We found the pants and trekked back to the hospital. When we rounded the corner to my mom's room, it wasn't fear I felt anymore. It was bliss. It was happiness. My mom was smiling. She was laughing. She was posing with her hands on her seated hips for pictures. 
My mom had a roommate, also battling cancer, who she was very fond of. This roommate had an incredible set of friends who were making sure their friend was happy in her fight against cancer. They came into my moms room that day to take pictures of their friend to document her life and battle with cancer. They brought wigs, hats, dresses, a Santa suit, purses, and jewelry. My mom was having a ball. In this picture you can see her wig, big floppy hat, and a fancy dress adorning her frail, sick body. 
But along with all these accessories, you can she her living, and smiling with three people who loved her more than words can say. We were fortunate that these were not her 'final days.' She lived on, through Christmas of that year. We had plenty more smiles with her, plenty more laughs, and plenty more tears about losing mom behind closed doors.  We tried to keep things upbeat. That's how my family copes - with jokes and laughter. 
My mom lost her battle with lung cancer, at home, on December 31st, 2011. We were all there and I will never forget that moment. Not a day goes by where I do not think of my mom, want to call my mom, or be angry at the disease that took her life. I am a mom now - a mom learning to be a mom without a mom. It's the hardest thing I have ever done. But my mom sure gave me a genuine set of skills before I became a mom - and she's here with us. She's a beautiful monarch butterfly in the Peter Rabbit book my son and I read before every nap. We say goodnight to her along with Peter and Mr. McGregor. 

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month 


Pumpkin Oat Bran Muffins

I had been looking to make muffins for a couple of days, but Alec had his own plans and never let me. Yesterday he took an awesome nap, so I was able to finally get them made.
 I could not find a recipe for exactly what I was envisioning, so I threw together some ingredients and I ended up with these warm, healthy(ish), and delicious muffins. They are delicious right out of the oven, or even warmed up the next day. Just thought I'd share the recipe in case anyone else wanted to give it a whirl. These muffins are dairy free, soy free, and oil free (can make gluten free if you substitute whole wheat flour with coconut flour) - just a heads up!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin tin or spray with cooking spray (I used liners because I was trying to avoid oils and dairy). 
1-1/2 cups of oat bran 
1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Combine these ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. 

2 egg whites
1 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup of rice milk
2 tablespoons of unsweetened apple sauce
Whisk these ingredients in a small bowl. Once well mixed, stir into the dry ingredients. Once all ingredients were well combined, I added about 1/2 cup of organic dried currants. 

Fill muffin tins, and bake at 20(ish) minutes. 
This exact recipe made 12 regular sized muffins.


5 Things

Each time I venture out of the house with Alec I am reminded of some things that I absolutely adore now that I am a mom. All of these things I did not even realize existed until I had a baby. I tip my hat to the creator of these things as you have made my life a gazillion times easier; and I'm sure you've made the lives of other mama's easier as well.
1. Handicap doors with the push button! I know these are doors that are specially placed for those with disabilities. I am not trying to abuse them, but when I am lugging my stroller, carseat, and fifty pound diaper bag into a store, I really, really, REALLY appreciate these silver plates that magically open the doors as if God himself were doing it. 
2. Drive-thru coffee shops. Ok, so I live in a city where these *barely* exist (at least that I know of), but a drive-thru Starbucks opened dangerously close to my apartment. Pair that drive-thru with the Gold card, and it's a recipe for financial disaster. Now, if only they would add rice milk as an option…
3. Parking validation. Each Wednesday my babe and I race to music class and just make in on time before Miss Kim closes the door. The awesome venue we take this class at has two parking options (remember we live in a city, parking lots just do not happen). You can either leave your car with the valet people for free a big tip and let them do donuts with your new SUV, or you can park in a not so crowded parking garage for FREE!!! We have to get there a little early as this involves several floors to potentially drive up, elevators, and a (sometimes sweaty) trek down the block. But after music class the ladies at the front desk give us a chaser ticket and parking is free. FREE! I save $14 every single week- did you read that, hubby?!
Alec watching Miss Kim at music class at Bubbles Academy. He loves this class, and those maracas - we'll talk later about my intense germaphobic fear of his love of these maracas. 

4. Baby friendly places. When I say baby friendly, I mean places like a park, or again, my favorite place right now, Bubbles Academy, where we take our beloved music class. I don't care if somewhere has a changing table or high chairs (yet), but as long as there is a place tucked away where no one cares if I nurse my son, I am a happy camper. He's eaten in the car {a lot}, but it's nice to be somewhere where no one cares if you nurse your baby, because, well the baby has gotta eat (and he doesn't care where we are)!
5. The BabyShusher. Yes, the BabyShusher. It does exactly what you're thinking. It says 'shhh. shhhhhh.' Call me lazy, call me crazy. I call the people who made this ingenious. I have to admit, hubby and I saw this when I was pregnant at Right Start and laughed at it. We can say 'shhh' we don't need to buy a device to do it for us. Fast forward 6 months and we made our first road trip to Michigan where baby started crying and we took turns 'shhh-ing' over our shoulders (for hours). When we got back to Chicago, I made an emergency run to Right Start and paid the thirty some odd dollars for this device. I only use it in the carseat, but when we need it, it works. You can go get yours here and then thank me later. 


I Can Wait...

Four months after my sweet baby boy was born, I have slowly began to realize something- I can wait. I have made the executive decision to stop saying "I can't wait!"
There have been so many times in my life where I have found myself saying "I can't wait until {insert something big here}!" Well, now I know, yes, yes I can wait. If I stop saying "I can't wait!" maybe time will slow down a little bit and those {inserted big moments} will stop flying by so quickly. 
When I was an awkward middle schooler I would always say, "I can't wait until high school!" High school has come and gone and now that I've been out of high school for (gasp) 11 years, I want to cry. High school was great, but so was that moment in my life when I said "I can't wait for high school!" I just couldn't see it because I had a serious case of 'the grass is greener…' You know how that goes. 
When I was pregnant I said, "I can't wait until I get to meet this baby!" It was true I was excited to meet the baby, but I could wait. I needed to stop looking into the future so much and just enjoy that moment. Enjoy that time when hubs and I were still just the two of us with a family of three on the horizon. I should have just enjoyed those sweet movements of my baby in utero. Why? Because now he's here, and while I love every single second I have with him, I miss those days before he was born. Just like another mom said at our mommy/baby music class yesterday about another baby in the group, "I can't wait until Johnny can sit like that!" No, mama you can wait. Because before you know it he will be sitting, then rolling, then crawling, then walking, then driving, then graduating, and you will yearn for those moments when he was three months old again and loved being held and snuggled by you. 
Currently my hubs and I are dealing with a 20 week old baby who does not refuses to sleep at night. Naps during the day are golden. Unswaddled, asleep on his own, in his crib. Night time rolls around and you would think his crib was made of spikes that hurt his little body. Arms and legs flying, screaming, and well, not sleeping. Where does he fall asleep in the blink of an eye? In my arms. Immediately. So while I fight the demons that tell me my baby will never have a bedtime routine and will need to sleep in my arms until he's 30, I am going to enjoy this time with my baby. With my husband. This precious time in my life. 
Because life happens fast, and I can wait. 
Few days old 
19 weeks old

Yes. I can wait. 



Life sure has changed for us here... 
We welcomed our baby boy into the world on May 8, 2014. It is such a new and fabulous adjustment for us, but we wouldn't change a thing! He is already 5 weeks old, and now that I feel like I have more of a hang of things I am going to keep blogging.
 I have some friends that are going to have babies very soon and, for them, I am going to post about my favorite baby items that have helped us out this past month. Then, I found this awesome new mom challenge that I can going to participate in. I am going to use my blog to document my hopeful survival of this challenge! 

Meet Alec Timothy


Drop Everything and... Travel!

This post is happening because usually this time of year we are blissfully planning a trip overseas to some new-to-us location. We are using Trip Advisor to help us find non-sketchy places to stay, fun places to explore, and places to find the best (and worst for you) desserts local cuisine known to man. This year, we are not blissfully planning an actual trip, but we are planning for the adventure of our lives. We are planning for our first-born child to arrive in somewhere near 4 weeks!
While the unknowns with having a baby and traveling to a foreign country are seemingly familiar, the anxiety and excitement factor are much higher when planning for a new baby.
We are aware that having a baby does not mean we will never travel again, but it is bittersweet that we are hanging up our traveling hats and tucking our suitcases away for a little while. But all of this has had me thinking for a few weeks that getting out and booking a trip to foreign locations was one of the best things we have ever done. In our entire lives. Period.
My first trip outside of the US, Mexico, and Canada was to Spain. Looking back, it was so random. Most people go to some well-known city like London or Paris for their first trip to Europe. Not I- nope I hit the ground running with my hubby and in-laws (cousins and all) in a random country and city after city after city. We arrived in Madrid and I felt like I was already in over my head. I didn’t speak Spanish- what the h*ll was I thinking?! Turns out it was fine, and amazing, and I absolutely LOVED Spain. We went to Madrid, Segovia, Granada, Seville, Barcelona, and so many places in between. We ate SO much ham we thought we would never touch it again, and when we finally found a chicken based food (donor kabobs) you would have thought we struck gold! We got in trouble with our tour company for drinking more than our share of wine one night, and we got completely and utterly lost in a walled city when I was in charge of the map.
Turns out, traveling is much like the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series… if you let an Abby travel, she is going to want to do it again and again. So we weren’t home but 2 days and I was already planning my next get away. So we sat down and booked a trip (just hubby and I) to London, Paris, and Amsterdam the spring of the following year. It started by me saying:
“Paris, I have to go to Paris! I want to eat a baguette under the Eiffel Tower, drink wine outside, wander through the Louvre, people watch, and eat the best macrons possible!”
But I also had to go to London. Everyone talked about London- and it’s British. I had to hear the British accent in it’s homeland. Then hubby chimed in and had to go to Amsterdam because he had a lay over there awhile ago and thought the city looked awesome from above with all of it’s canals and such. Great! Let’s go! I like water and boats, plus tulips come from Holland. I was sold.
So spring arrived and off we went. London. OH. MY. GOSH. To this day I cannot get enough of London. If it so much as resembles the British flag I own it. I want need to go back. I dream of London, and I’ve asked my husband repeatedly if he would ask his company to transfer him to their London office- to no avail. Amsterdam was equally amazing. No, we did not go enjoy their ‘coffee shops’ but we had a pretty awesome time. We got upgraded in our already fabulous hotel, and we almost never left. Free booze in the lobby! Free espresso in the room! Free food at breakfast! We were scavengers and are not afraid to admit it. We wandered through the Red Light District and loved it. We got the munchies without even going to the ‘coffee shops’ and ordered fries in a cone with mayo and ketchup. You just have to… when in Amsterdam. We had the most delicious and decadent treat in a local outdoor market- a warm, gooey stroopwafle. If you can get your hands on one, do it- immediately!

And then we have Ireland. We just went to Ireland last summer (2013) and spent two amazing weeks traveling the entire country. This trip was enjoyed with my in-laws and my husband. It was just a wonderful trip. I have so many memories that will last a lifetime and I would never trade those memories for anything. We drove on the wrong side of the road, five of us were crammed in a small car (van we requested wasn’t available), and we had more luggage than anyone could really need for a two week trip. We laughed over a pint (or 2, 3, 4, or 5) of Guinness and Smithwick’s. I am so thankful for my family and travel.

Long story short, just travel. Get out and do it. No matter your age or your financial status, just book a trip and go. Think of it not only as an investment in your time, but think of it as an investment in your life. Get out with the ones you love and see places you have only dreamed of.
Life is short – grab on and embrace it while you can!