a pile of wooden honeycombs that say "shanah tovah" on the handles
(Photo/Julie Levine)

Apples and honey, back-to-school, and pressing reset

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I love how the new school year aligns so closely with the new Jewish year. And as summer winds down, in our house, we begin to get ready for both.

The kids and I clean out their closets and tidy up their rooms. We’ll donate clothes that no longer fit. (They’ll also toss in a few old items that may still fit but don’t quite feel like them anymore.) We find a missing shoe, throw out socks with holes and T-shirts with noticeable stains, and get rid of some tchotchkes that no longer hold meaning. The empty boxes, paper bags and tote bags that have been accumulating in the corner of their rooms all year I’ll flatten out and fold up … and save in a closet for use another time.

They’ll go through last year’s schoolwork and save the books they read that inspired them, papers they were especially proud of from classes they loved and from teachers that stretched them. They’ll keep some tests and textbooks that they may want to refer to this year. They’ll recycle the rest.

I clean out the pantry and wipe down the shelves. That half-uneaten bag of pretzels that’s been sitting on a shelf since last spring will get tossed, along with the open bag of marshmallows and the seaweed snacks no one has touched since last fall.

We’ll do a big back-to-school grocery shop, and my son will join me. We’ll brainstorm about new snack, lunch and dinner ideas.

I’ll clean out the fridge and freezer, too, and make a list of winter house projects: We’ll finally get that squeaky door fixed; I’ll have that light in the kitchen that keeps burning out looked at; we’ll clean the garage.

I buy a new datebook. I’ll start to fill it with dentist and doctor appointments, meetings and deadlines and back-to-school nights. This year there will be a shift in our family as our daughter starts college. I note her school breaks in my calendar not as “spring break” or “winter break” but as “Sophie comes home” dates.

I file my old datebook with all the others, even though I know I won’t refer to it. What I want to remember from this past year isn’t even in my calendar. It’s the family Bananagrams games we played for hours on end; the weekend we drove to the Northern California outpost of Elk and stumbled upon a private, little cove along the river off the side of the road (where the kids spontaneously rolled up their pants and dove right in); movie nights at home with a big bowls of popcorn; and family walks in our neighborhood when we have nothing on our schedules and no agenda, and somehow always end up at Green Apple Books, where we find gems in the dollar bins.

Soon enough, late summer peaches will make way for apples. I’ll start to think about brisket. I pull out my apple cake and round challah recipes from my Jewish holidays recipe folder. I’ll check my son’s suit to make sure it’s clean and not wrinkled, and I’ll check his tie for stains.

My hubby will get a haircut. He’ll wash his car. A few days before Rosh Hashanah, I’ll put my synagogue clothes to the front of the closet because I don’t want to think about what I’m wearing the day of services. Plus, I like to get ready before everyone else, in case someone needs help with something (usually it’s finding a missing shoe).

It’s a new year and a new beginning, a promise to do things better, to be better.

All the cleaning and back-to-school organizing is important, but it’s easy. The real work that comes a few weeks later during the holidays, a different kind of housecleaning, is more difficult. Once the kids are settled back at school, it will be my time to pause and reset as I internally reorganize, declutter and take stock of this past year.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.