December to Remember


One can only say so much about food without sounding as if one has issues with food (I may, in fact, have food issues in that I love pork belly a little too much but that’s for another blog post) so I will focus instead on what I did and learned during my Christmas vacation.

A couple of years ago, I made a pact with myself to do no shopping for a 2-month period. It was spurred by a purging episode, an episode which yielded about about 12 very full trash bags of clothes-I’m ashamed to admit, some still with tags on them-shoes, unread books.  It was difficult at first but eventually I became cutthroat in my approach and tossed/donated things I hadn’t touched or worn in the last 90 days.  Because I do a lot of online shopping, I received and resisted the temptation to open countless emails everyday beckoning me to a sale or special discount.  But I would not falter.  I survived 60 days of not buying anything but it was a very purposeful (read: difficult) effort.

So this past Christmas, we decided that instead of buying each other more stuff, we would share experiences.  We began December with a lecture at Nourse Theater in San Francisco by one of my favorite coaches of all time, Steve Kerr.  He’s a true leader with a strength, humility and intellect that have earned him commitment from  his team.  He also admitted that winning helped.


Tiny guy on the left with a big message about teamwork, joy, mindfulness

We continued our experience-sharing with a family activity at Roy’s in San Francisco, a restaurant specializing in Hawaiian fusion and occasionally opens during midday for activities such as sushi making, cooking demos and in December, decorating gingerbread houses.  Lunch was included in the package and we were given supplies, one gingerbread house which came from a kit, which by the way, boo Roy’s–last year, their gingerbread houses were baked and created in house.  As a result, our finished product looked like a condemned property, but it was fun nonetheless.



Gingerbread house in foreclosure



It wasn’t all bad though; check out those smiles

My favorite was family date night at the San Francisco Symphony followed by dinner at the House of Prime Rib.  Each year, the SF Symphony puts on a holiday concert series geared towards families and children.  We treated ourselves to the Charlie Brown Christmas concert at the beautiful Davies Symphony Hall and even though we skipped the long lines for hot chocolate (remember it’s not about buying stuff; yes, hot chocolate counts as stuff), this is a memory we won’t soon forget. I mean, how can you outdo playing Schroeder’s piano alongside that humble, albeit sad, Christmas tree.



We ended the evening with dinner at JJs favorite restaurant House of Prime Rib, which he declared as the best restaurant ever–even better than In ‘n Out.


When asked what he liked most about the prime rib, he simply replied, “The texture.”  I’m not sure he knows what that means.

Best Christmas presents ever–and I didn’t even have to wrap anything.


New Beginnings


So this particular post is not about food, it’s about new starts.  As noted previously, we moved J to a new school after a month of agonizing deliberation.  I couldn’t write about it earlier because it was too painful and fears of being an inadequate mom were hard to come to terms with in the past month, but thankfully after some distance I’ve made peace with it.

Out of respect for his other school I will leave out details and show this picture instead, taken the first week at his old school.

Suffice it to say that Js forced smile is atypical and falls somewhere between constipation and repressed misery

IMG_0776And then we met Principal Jocelyn.

IMG_0767The first time I talked to her on the phone, we spent a happy few minutes laughing and talking about the origin of the name we shared.  I had almost forgotten that we were in crisis mode that day as Pru and I were trying to schedule appointments and tours for potential schools to move J to–it was a Friday and we had made a decision remove him from his current school so we didn’t want to wait much longer.  Jocelyn normalized the whole experience and made us feel at ease from the moment we first talked.

By the way, this was taken at JJs last Halloween parade, hence the reason for our attire.  We look like we’ve all known each other forever, right?

So, to make this post useful and not so much a rant or a rave, I will share some key lessons I’ve learned:

1)  When interviewing teachers and administrators, trust your gut.  First impressions are important so if you don’t get a warm and connected feeling to the school and people in it, pay attention to that.

2) Parents are just as much a part of the school community as the children are.  Get involved, help out and learn about the culture of the school through that involvement.  Not all parents have this luxury or the flexibility in work schedules, but if you have time off or vacation days spend at least part of it volunteering at the school.

3)  Not all kindergarten teachers will be warm and fuzzy.  That’s OK; I didn’t necessarily need warm or fuzzy but patience combined with an appreciation for innovation and technology are essential.  A teacher who doesn’t like to email or use the computer is a yellow flag.

4) Interview and tour your potential school.  Attend open houses (mostly scheduled during the week-ends) and bring your child along.  Kids are so often used to having things done to or for them, we forget to do things with them.  Have them sit in the classroom and let them get the feel of the environment they will spend the next 5-9 years of their lives in.  It’s only fair.  Then ask them questions about how they felt, what they liked or didn’t like.  You’ll be surprised at how useful these little people are in this process.

5) During that interview ask about things like support available to teachers for large class sizes, resources available to parents and students if or when the child starts to struggle.  How often do you communicate with parents and what’s the preferred mode of communication.  Do you welcome visits to the school and how are they scheduled?  What are appropriate learning and developmental milestones for incoming kindergarteners, 1st graders, etc?  In other words, what do you expect them to be able to do or how to act?

6) Don’t be swayed by your ideal of what a school should look like.  I fell in love with the beautiful building and surroundings of the first school because it looked like the school I attended as a kid.  I also thought that my child will benefit from this environment but remember, it is just a building.  It’s the teachers and the staff and principal that set the tone and foster the learning and growth of the kids–nostalgia and pretty, not so much.  That was a parenting fail on my part by the way.

7) If your kindergartener tells you they don’t like school and it’s only been two weeks, listen to that.  Investigate, ask more questions and meet with the teacher.  Have the principal involved in that meeting so everyone is on the same page.  In the end, we are all on the same side.

8)  Lastly, if it’s not a match between the school and your kid, move them.  Don’t wait until relationships suffer  and communication breaks down.  There was mutual courtesy, we gave them notice and were very transparent with the principal on the reason for our move, giving her some pretty candid feedback that we hoped would benefit the teacher and ultimately her students.  Begin that feedback with, “I hope you take this feedback in the spirit in which it is intended.”  In turn, she was gracious, tried to talk us out of moving and thanked us for our honesty.

This is the after to the before picture

IMG_4864-1Most importantly, I’ve learned once again that we are all works in progress.  Just because we moved schools doesn’t mean that we as parents are devoid of responsibility for the learning and growth of our children.  If the kid acts out in the old school, chances are he will act out in the new one.   Constant vigilance and reinforcement as well as discipline at home go a long way towards helping teachers do their job.  We don’t just drop our kid off and expect the school to do all the work.  Pru and I look at it as a partnership where we all work towards a common goal.  Yes he still misbehaves and gets in trouble but we feel comfortable addressing them head on with the knowledge that he’s not perfect, teachers are human and in the end we’re all in this together.

An Open Letter to Preschools


This has nothing to do with food.  But I feel compelled to post this PSA now that we’ve just emerged from another school year smarter and relatively unscathed.  We sent our son to preschool for the first time this year and the experience was nothing less than amazing–he is loved and cared for, learns the joy of being with other kids (he’s an only child).  The process of searching for a preschool was nothing less than harrowing and stressful and suffice it to say that there were moments when I thought humanity was doomed given the state of some of the places we visited.

But I have hope.

So here’s an open letter to pre-schools everywhere before the advent of the next school year:

I am offering the following advice as an anxious parent entrusting you with my only child for the first time.  I intend for this to be helpful so forgive the snarky tone but as you’ll read below, said snark is warranted.

  • Clearing out your house of all the furniture and calling it Learning Adventure Academy doesn’t make it a school.  You may want to update the formica counters and 70s wood laminate cabinets if you’re going to do that.
  • If you call yourself the director, consider wearing something other than a tanktop that has cutouts down the front of your chest revealing cleavage.  Your aide should probably lose the “It’s Official.  Second sucks” No Fear tee.  Neither of these outfits inspires confidence.
  • Please don’t use an old and semi-deflated truck tire as a playground toy.
  • Don’t ask me to donate my child’s old toys before I even enroll him  in your school.
  • When I ask you for advice on whether you believe that a full or part time program is best, please give me an answer that conveys your expertise as an educator or at least something more helpful than, “It’s up to you.”
  • When I ask if you provide meals and snacks, I’m really hoping for an answer that doesn’t start with “The cook quit recently and we only offer vegetarian options.”  Because that really translates to, ‘No, so  we’re hoping your kid gets full on some celery sticks and a handful of baby carrots.”
  • Sticking 24 kids in a 20×10 room and having them sit on a multi-colored rug all day spells trouble.  I don’t care if you call it a “magic carpet” or  “indoor play.”  You don’t have a playground, those kids are stuck inside all day, you do the math.
  • You might want to do the enrollment process in a private setting so that I don’t hear questions like “Will you reinforce the restraining order I have against my ex-husband at the school?”  That would make any parent want to flee, including this one.

A parent now considering homeschool