The Pits

Epipen Bag

Yesterday I posted this picture on Instagram with the following caption.

Nico is okay with having a nut allergy. He has no desire to eat nuts! It’s one of the few good things about remembering what anaphylaxis feels like. Occasionally, though, he gets down. Usually this coincides with school activities and food made in nut facilities. Holidays (Halloween, Easter) are okay because he knows we’ll have something just for him that he can eat. Anyway, long story wrapping up, I was shopping for teachers’ gifts when I saw this doodlecase. He had a great time decorating his own epipen bag, which I now keep in my purse. Still on the lookout for a cute, boyish fanny pack he can carry on his own. The mini messenger bag we got him kept getting left behind!

Then I gave Nico a generous bowl  of fresh cherries I bought the day before. I debated taking a picture of the bowl and making a comment about how I never eat cherries thanks to that scene in Witches of Eastwick, but then thought to myself, Jules, no. No one cares why you don’t eat cherries, you 2016 over-sharer. I skimmed Instagram for pictures tagged #epipen instead.  I wondered why some people were using the tag when the picture had nothing to do with allergies. I googled it, came up with nothing. I decided I didn’t need to keep up with everything 20-29 year olds do these days. (I admit I’m still curious.) I told the boys to get in the car, we were taking Mikey’s friend home.

Twenty minutes later, with the friend dropped off, we were on our way home. Mikey and I talked about how we were going to relax when we got home. Nico, sitting in the front next to me, said nothing. I looked over and saw him hunched against the door. I asked him to look at me, and he did. His cheeks were pink; he looked terrible. “I don’t feel well,” he said.

“Like you’re going to throw up?”


I pulled off at the next exit and made it to a driveway of a car rental office. I told Nico to walk to the trash can and see if he could throw up. I told Mikey to go inside the rental office and ask for a trash bag. I cleaned out the back seat of comic books so Nico could lay down if he needed to.

Nico never made it to the trash can. But once he vomited (vigorously) he turned around and said he felt instantly better. This is why I don’t eat cherries, I thought. They’re the puke fruit.

The boys got back in the car. I gave Nico the bag Mikey got for him and asked him how he felt. “Much better. I won’t throw up again.”


I tried to get on the freeway, but missed the turn when a larger truck wouldn’t let me in. I took side streets. At a red light, I looked back at Nico. He was quiet but calm, staring out the window. I noticed him scratch his armpits.

At another red light, I saw him rub his face and scratch his forearm.

At another red light, I picked up my phone.

Screenshot 2016-06-15 21.56.22

I felt like the worst mother in the world.

We were next to his allergist office, which is next door to the urgent care. I pulled into the parking lot. I got out of the car and checked Nico’s trunk, his back, his face, tongue, eyes, ears, palms of his hand. Everything looked normal, except for his cheeks which were just the slightest bit pink. Already less pink than earlier. Whatever was going on, it was nothing like what happened in July. We would be okay. (I just reread that post. Yuck. My fear oozed out of every word.)

The doctor wasn’t in, so they sent us to the urgent care. They treated us very well and said that whatever happened, it wasn’t severe–thanks in part to Nico turning into a cherry firehose in the driveway of Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

“Good job puking, dude,” said Mikey.

They couldn’t give Nico Benadryl at the urgent care because it was red, and the pediatrician didn’t know if it had cherry flavoring or color. I went to two pharmacies before I found a dye-free, bubble gum flavored Benadryl. Cherry is a top seller!

“Call his allergist first thing in the morning,” the pediatrician said.

If you read this at or around 8:30am PST, that’s what I’ll be doing: calling Nico’s allergist. What’s so bizarre is that we recently had him tested. His results were so low for nut allergy* that his doctor requested all of Nico’s medical records from Nevada (hospital, ambulance, urgent care). “It great that he may not be allergic to nuts,” he said. “Not so great if we can’t figure out what triggered the event in Lake Tahoe.” His hope is that Nico was never in anaphylactic shock, but just had a really, really bad hive reaction and everyone panicked. In my heart, I know that’s not likely.

I’m hoping he ate too many cherries and that his stomach was just a little upset. I’m clinging to the old medical adage about hoofbeats and zebras.

*Nico did test off-the-scale-positive to a formaldehyde releasing preservative. More on that soon.

The Chocolate Fever Party

Chocolate Fever 1

The end of the school term is fast approaching, which means it’s time for me to party with the first graders. Last year we had a Mercy Watson party after we finished reading the entire Mercy Watson series. This year we had a Chocolate Fever party inspired by the book by Robert Kimmel Smith.

Chocolate Fever is about a little boy named Henry Green who loves chocolate. He eats it morning, noon, and night with his parents’ permission because he’s healthy and…they’re negligent? Anyway, Henry’s life is going to plan until one day in class he discovers a bump on his arm. The bump starts spreading, and soon he is covered in chocolate-scented bumps. At the hospital it’s discovered that his bumps are made of pure chocolate, making Henry the first known case of Chocolate Fever! Henry runs away from the hospital, catches a ride with a trucker named Mac, and gets hijacked by a couple of incompetent wise-guys. He’s saved when all the dogs in the county catch his chocolate scent and break into the cabin where he’s being held hostage. Then, before going home, the trucker makes his delivery to a candy store and there they discover the antidote to Chocolate Fever: vanilla.

The book encourages the kids to show moderation in life and has other lessons on courage, caring, and prejudice. The books if from the 70s, so a few parts will shock or confuse the kids.

Shock: hitching a ride with a stranger. The kids almost fell out of their chairs in horror. “DANGER STRANGER, MRS. KENDALL! DANGER STRANGER!” My favorite: “The chocolate made Henry crazy, Mrs. Kendall!”

Confuse: the hijackers steal Mac’s truck because they think it’s full of furs (it’s actually full of candy). The kids did not get why anyone would want a truck full of furs.

“Furs, like animals? So it’s a truck going to a pet shop?”

“No, a fur is a type of coat made from animal fur. It’s just the fur of the animals. People used to wear them in the winter and they were very expensive.”

“People wore dead animals?! Cats? Did people wear cats? Why would you want to wear a cat?”

“Nobody wore cats but, yes, people have stopped wearing furs because it’s pretty sad. We can fill the truck with something else…”

“Can we fill the truck with iPads? I would steal a truck full of iPads.”

Other things they didn’t get: pay phones, walking to school, judging someone by the color of their skin, and eating chocolate ice cream for breakfast.

Chocolate Fever 2

Chocolate Fever 3

If you are going to have a Chocolate Fever party, do it because you know most kids love chocolate and the treats are tasty and easy to source. Don’t do it because the decorations will be cute. If you stick to the book, your party will look like Brown Town with a handful of (brown) dog erasers. One 8th grader passed by as I was setting up and said, “Mrs. Kendall, why is everything so brown? It’s just so…oooh, yum! Is that chocolate?”

So, yeah. Something to think about. A good librarian may not plan her read alouds based on how the party will look at the end, but technically I’m not a librarian, so I’m good. I already have next year’s book picked out (it’s another series) and the party is going to be awesome.


A Slave, a Caliph, a Vampire, a Swimmer, and One Very Twisted 7th Grade Class

The great thing about reading young adult literature the way some people approach eating more greens is that when something is good, it is surprisingly good. Like: no way, there’s broccoli in this? Do I like broccoli now? Check me out, liking broccoli! I become inspired to try more.

This is what happened. I was started eating the greens and finished something really satisfying. This happened not too long after finishing another equally great book. I realized I can do young adult, especially when the books have imperfect characters. I love male protagonists. I am almost never ready to face the crucible of paranormal romances. Ancient civilization settings and retellings are my weaknesses.

Here’s a few I’ve read in the last few months.

A Slave, a Caliph, a Vampire, a Swimmer, and One Very Twisted 7th Grade ClassAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Penguin LCC US Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 464
Buy on Amazon //Check out from Library

Laia is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire's greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

4.5 stars. Maybe 5. So, so great. Tahir had me at “inspired by the Roman Empire.” Public Radio International described it perfectly as having “the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones. I can’t put it in the library–I don’t think, need to discuss with principal–but I’m still happy I read it. So many fabulous talking points with teens, if only I had the chance! This is one I’d immediately approve as a high school librarian.

I could not finish this book. It had everything I dislike about young adult literature, which disappointed me tremendously since going in I thought I would love it based on all the tropes it hit. 1) The insanely beautiful female protagonist who had no idea she was beautiful, despite the boys clamoring to be with her. She was also smart, funny, witty, shrewd, loyal, had hair of onyx, skin like velvet, and was a wonderful daughter. Did I mention she might have incredibly strong but long-hidden magical powers? 2) The moody male protagonist who was just misunderstood. He murders women, but he does it for the greater good. She’s totally going to fix him. 3) Love triangle. Of course who childhood friend has been in love with her all this time. She kind of sort of likes him back, but it’s all so confusing. Decisions, decisions. 4) Adults? What adults? 5) Heavy handed symbolism and imagery, bizarre themes. Shahrzad has onyx hair. Khalid has gold eyes. His competition, the childhood friend, has silver eyes (yes, she really did). You could make a drinking game out of the number of times she references a jewel or mineral.

This book popped up as a recommendation on GoodReads because it had over 3 million in sales and glowing reviews. I didn’t pay much attention on Amazon or I would have immediately realized it’s self published. I have no problem with self publishing and have read some great books that way, but this isn’t one of them. I’m giving the book one star because it takes guts and perseverance to write and publish a book.

YG recommended this book to me, and I loved it. Add this one to my dream high school library. Chris Crutcher writes with a confidence and familiarity that suggests a prior career working with young adults. The angst–there’s always angst–isn’t maudlin or sentimental. The Good/Bad Guys were a bit one dimensional and the ending juddered to a stop with red bows streaming, but it wasn’t anything intolerable. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4

Even the young adult books are dark in Denmark. This is the book I spoke of the other day on Facebook. This book, an existential, modern-day Lord of the Flies, was insane. It was edgy and disturbing and thought provoking, so of course I loved it. It was a Michael Printz Honor book 2011 but, though already hailed as a classic in Europe, it’s been poorly received in the United States. We like our 7th graders to moon over classmates and make awkward social decisions. We don’t like them doing…that. Seriously, this book is not for the faint of heart. My favorite hate-it review is this one. That is one pissed of grandma.

Millennial Birds and Other Animal Activity

library Collage

baby bird 2

baby bird


I’m surrounded by animals, all kinds.

Last week was the last week of library for the kids. For me, library is in full force and I’m putting in more hours than I ever have, though some of it I can do at home. It’s hard for the little ones to understand why library is over while school is still in session, and I haven’t figured out a way to explain that every awesome job has parts of it that involve paperwork, late notices, inventories, signatures from people in administration, and tear down and wrapping up all the shelves. We also bought a library management system, and I’m determined to enter in all the books before mid-June. I really don’t want to work over the summer, and the school doesn’t want me too, either. I started off slow but have picked up speed. I’m waffling on how to shelve the books. (More on that, later.)

On our back porch there is a House Finch nest built by the most negligent couple of birds on record. The Mister said to give them a break, they might be first-time best builders (we had this conversation) and I said no, these birds are millennial birds and, I swear, even the millennial animals have entitled attitudes and poor work ethics. Their nest, if you can call it that, is this flim-flam shanty teetering on a thin Bougainvillea branch pushed up against a rain gutter. It was fine, if ramshackle, when it held five eggs. It was not fine with five baby birds that do unexpected things like: move, breathe, poop, chirp in fear. How to describe this nest? Grab a spoon and fill it with soup. Now hold up the spoon like you’re proclaiming something and using the spoon for emphasis; e.g. House Finches build crap nests.

Every day, several times per day, the birds would roll out of the nearly vertical nest and land in the dirt 4 feet below. One–possibly two–birds did not survive Maggie, who would then give us the dead baby bird as a token of her appreciation. Thanks for the kibble I got you carcass omg!

Finally, after two birds tumbled out in quick succession (and then fell out again within minutes of being placed back in the nest), we decided to take matters into our own hands. The Mister moved the nest to a stable location, returned all the dropped birds (much to Maggie’s dismay), and added some bird seed for good measure. He also added a homemade screen made from cardboard boxes because “in this spot they are easy picking for a roaming crow.”

“We’re doing too much for these birds,” I said as I adjusted the cardboard. “Eventually they’re going to have to figure out how to survive on their own.”

Later, Mom and Dad bird returned to the nest in its new and improved site. They acted like it was no big deal that they went from shack to palace with no effort on their part. I’m not sure they even noticed, though surely they were at least a little surprised that all of their birds were in the nest at the same time without clinging for life to its edges.

The Mister felt snubbed. “I just hooked those birds up and they act like it’s their God-given right.”

“Keep your voice down,” I said. “You’ll hurt their feelings.”

The Five Books I Re-read in Middle School

I don’t reread books anymore. I’ll reread  favorite passages at night before bed when I’m too tired to read something new, but rarely do I reread a book cover-to-cover. In middle school I was a huge re-reader, which I think is pretty typical of the age group. Life (friends, school, hormones) is crazy in middle school; you eagerly grasp onto anything familiar and comfortable.

When a child checks out the same book again and again, I’ll ask why. Sometimes the answer is that they really love the book. I’ll gently encourage them to try something new, even if it’s within the same genre or has a similar plot. Other times the child will shrug and shuffle their feet, and I know they’re checking out the same book because they need to check out a book, so it might as well be that book. I’ll stop what I’m doing and work with them one-on-one to find something they might actually attempt reading.

The other day a student arrived late to class, and I could tell immediately their day wasn’t going well. Two weeks prior, I gently encouraged the same to student to try something new. But the other day, the only thing I said when they approached the counter with the same tattered book was, “Would you like to sit on the floor next to me and read your book?” (The answer was yes.)

Here are a few books I reread in middle school over and over and over again.

The Ghost Next Door || Wylly Folk St. John

The Ghost Next Door

Sherry Alston had never been told about her dead half-sister Miranda. So when Sherry came to visit her Aunt Judith, no one could explain the odd things that started to happen. Who was the elusive friend Sherry said she saw in the garden? Was she an imaginary playmate – or could she be the ghost of Miranda who had drowned in the pond years ago? Uncanny reminders of Miranda began to turn up – a blue rose, a lost riding whip…

Lindsey and Tammy, who lived next door, decided to delve into the meaning of the apparent psychic phenomena. They soon found themselves drawn deeper and deeper into an intriguing mystery.

I’ve written about this book before, and on that post the great niece of Wylly Folk St. John left a comment. My “frenemy” in middle school was a huge horror fan, and I wasn’t. This book, which she considered lame, was my attempt at reading something cool and scary. I will never forget about the owl with the love in its eyes.

Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade  || Barthe DeClements

5th grade A fifth grade class, repelled by the overweight new student who has serious home problems, finally learns to accept her.

As a middle school kid, I was pretty convinced my parents were clueless to everything I worried about. But, looking back, my mom sure did buy me a lot of books featuring chubby girls sitting on the outer limits of social circles. I remember Elsie at one point lost so much weight that she repeatedly stared down at her feet because, for the first time in her life, she could see them. I might read this as an adult. One thing I hate about chubby-girl books from the past is that their lives are only better once they lose the weight. They get the guy, the friends, the super cute outfits. That probably wasn’t the message I needed to read at the time–or now, actually.

Miss Perfect || Jill Ross Klevin

Miss Perfect


Super athlete, straight-A student, president of her class, editor of the school newspaper — Kim excelled at everything. That’s what her father expected of her. But her friends notice that Kim doesn’t smile much anymore, and her boyfriend Brad is afraid that Kim doesn’t have time even for him.

Kim is so busy, Kim is perfect. But her achievements are beginning to demand a very high price…

A few years ago, I had a student who struggled with anxiety and perfectionism. She reminded me of myself at that age, and I spent many nights worrying about her. Thinking of her reminded me of this book, which my (again oh-so-clueless) mother bought for me. Sadly, I remember wanting to be Kim and thinking that if she had just been a little bit tougher, she could have handled all her commitments. Oh, Teenage-Jules.

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit || Paula Danziger


Marcy’s life is a mess. Her parents don’t understand her, she feels like a fat blimp with no friends, and her favorite teacher just got fired. Ms. Finney wasn’t like the other teachers, and she was helping Marcy feel good about being herself.

Now that she’s gone, Marcy doesn’t know what to do. She’s always thought things would be better if she could just lose weight, but the loss of Ms. Finney sparks something inside her. She decides to join the fight to bring back her teacher, and in doing so, she discovers that her voice might matter more than she ever realized.

Once again, my “clueless” mom gave me a book about a chubby girl trying to fit in. You guys, maybe my mom knew more than 12-year-old me suspected! In 2006 the publishers released a 30th anniversary edition of the book. I’m going to reread it (!!) and see if it’s a good fit for the library. If it hasn’t been updated, I can always shelve it under (gulp) historical fiction.

You Shouldn’t Have to Say Good-Bye || Patricia Hermes

You Shouldn't Have to Say GoodbyeThirteen-year-old Sarah Morrow doesn’t think much of the fact that her mother winced a little when she hugged her. In fact, that first small indication of something wrong escapes the whole family. Three weeks later though there can be no escape. Sarah’s mother has been diagnosed with incurable cancer and the love this family shares becomes a desperate clinging.

But Sarah’s mother has a gift. A gift for reaffirming life. And even as she leaves that gift, another one, a letter, will help bring Sarah through the most painful and trying time she has ever had.

I adored everything about this book. I wanted to live in that house and I wanted my mom to wear that outfit. This is the first book to make me sob–maybe the only book to make me sob. It was reissued in 2008, and it’s free right now on Kindle Unlimited. I’m going to reread it (!!) and see if it’s as wonderful as I remember. I’m buying a copy for the library.

There is one other book I reread, but I think it was in high school–freshman year. I can’t remember the title! I can’t remember much of it, actually. A sister had a huge crush on her older brother’s friend, who paid very little attention to her (naturally). One Christmas he gave her a perfunctory kiss under the mistletoe. Then, plot happens. Maybe a mystery? Maybe the brother and friend go off to college? Time happened, that much I can tell you, and I think she grows up and he realizes she’s grown up. At the end of the book, it’s Christmas years later and she’s walking down the hallway in her home when she bumps into him. He kisses her and says, “I don’t think we need the mistletoe anymore.” Or something like that. Total cheese, but 13 year-old-me read that line and had to fan herself and guzzle a liter of Diet Rite.

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