Strawberry Jelly: the perfect summer gift to say thank you

My mom and I make tabasco jelly for Christmas presents and I thought…why not make strawberry jelly for the end of the school year to say thank you.

After teaching first grade virtually for a few months, teachers needed to return supplies back to the kids. I decided to give my first graders some strawberry jelly with their supplies to say “I miss you berry much!” It was a hit!

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April is for letters

Did you know that the U.S. Postal Service officially designated April National Card and Letter Writing Month in 2001 “to raise awareness of the importance and historical significance of letter writing?” A whole month dedicated to letters…yes please!

Everything about a letter screams “somebody cares”: the name and address in familiar handwriting, the knowledge someone took the time to sit down and write to you and then find a stamp and send it. So when you write someone a letter, you’re literally sending happiness into the world.

Here’s some inspiration to get you thinking about your next letter…

  • Send a friend a recipe along with a letter.
  • Recommend a book that you read.
  • Ask an older relative to record a memory.
  • Share a list of the best movies you’ve seen.
  • Include an old photo and reminisce.
  • Send a re-thank you note for something you use so much that you want to thank them again.
  • Send a clipping of their horoscope.
  • Write a nice note to your favorite teacher.
  • Send a cheer up note and include jokes.
  • Revive a correspondence with an old pen pal.
  • Write to your neighbor telling them how much you love their garden.
  • Include a wordsearch or checkbox questions that can be filled out and returned.
  • Send a letter of thanks to someone in the military.
  • Write a thank you to your own mailman.
My daughter practiced her calligraphy to say thanks to our mailman

My goal for April is to write a letter a day…I’m encouraging my first grade classroom and my own children to write letters too. I believe we all need more happiness. Skip to your mailbox today and stuff it with a letter to spread some love.

P. S. Send someone a love letter, Letters from three famous Americans, Romance of letters & Snail Mail

Traveling art: Monet & Cassatt

Good art can pull you in…only if you simply make the effort to extend your hand.

My favorite week of being an elementary teacher is the week of open house because it’s when I get to have my second dream job as an art docent as the PTA Arts and Education chair.

We started the week with Mary Cassatt, the original American in Paris. Art is most memorable when you can make a connection. I asked the children to walk by her art and see if you can make a connection. “Can you see yourself with your mom in her art?” Mary Cassatt was a genius at capturing a moment between rest and play. She shows you her context and asks you to draw your own conclusions. I would ask the children, “Do you think Mary Cassatt was a mother?” No, she wasn’t! Her whole life prepared her for it…homemaking, embroidery, music and painting but she never married.

Here are a few interesting facts about Mary…

  • She was a huge fan of large hats
  • her father had very strong objections about her being an artist, she was raised to become a mother
  • she had diabetes
  • she supported the cause of women’s suffrage. 
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Why Everyone should be scared out of their mind about melanoma

This is a guest post by my daughter, Zooey. She was working on her eighth grade English writing project and her legacy project that was inspired by her grandfather (my dad, Bill Wood, who is fighting Melanoma).

Imagine spending all day out in the sun without any sunscreen. Sounds pretty innocent doesn’t it? That one day in the sun can give a sunburn that can haunt a person the rest of their life. Most people don’t relaize how dangerous it is to spend all day out in the sun without sunscreen. Even if you’re outside on a cloudy day, it is always really important to protect the skin. This is important because of a really bad skin cancer called Melanoma. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when cells give skin a tan or a brown color. Melanoma can easily develop when skin is exposed to sun or tannning beds for long amounts of time. Researchers studying Melanoma realized that the more sunscreen that is worn, the less chance there is of getting Melanoma. People should also limit the amount of time that they’re outside and wear appropriate clothing like sun shirts and hats.

According to Melanoma Research Foundations, Melanoma does not discriminate by age, race or gender. Everyone is at risk but catching it early could save your life. Prevention is key. For example, if a small mole gets bigger and turns a different color, go to a doctor immediately. The sooner it’s treated, the better chance of the cancer going away. It’s a good idea to start taking care of the skin while young so healthy habits are made for a lifetime.

Right now there are many people who have been fighting this disease for years. Bill Wood is one of them. Bill Wood has been fighting Melanoma for many years and is currently talking to UNC and MD Anderson Cancer Center about another treatment option. In an interview with his granddaughter, Zooey, her shared the best way to prevent skin cancer and this is what he said:

Q: “What causes Melanoma?”

A: “Exposure to the sun without skin protection (either by sunscreen or clothing). No one knows exaclty how long the exposure must be to cause Melanoma but generally it can occur over long periods of time. As a cumulative effect of exposure to the sun.”

Q: “How do you think you got Melanoma?”

A: “When I was a young boy, I spent lots and lots of time outside without a shirt or a hat and wearing shorts while I played sports and spent time at the pool. When I was young, people didn’t know about sunscreen and I was probably thirty years old when I started to use it. I think I got Melanoma from many years of unproteccted exposure to the sun.”

Q: “What could you have done to make yourself safer?”

A: “Always wearing a hat, spending less time in the sun during the middle of the day and wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants would have helped reduce my overall exposure to the sun. I think I would have been safer and could have enjoyed those things.”

So yes, it’s easy to see why people should be scared out of their minds about Melanoma. Learning that this cancer is caused by unprotected exposure to the sun for long periods of time should inspire people to take precautions. By interviewing Bill Wood, readers can learn that they can be safer from the sun by wearing hats, protected clothing and sunscreen. The danger of Melanoma is that it can be fatal if it’s not treated quickly. There is hope that Bill Wood’s next treatment will help him to live longer. It is scary that there is no cure for Melanoma, that’s whey prevention at a young age is imperative.

Chocolate Pots de Creme

My son has been noticing that I’ve been whipping this chocolate dessert up in the kitchen for his teachers and my co-workers and said, “why not us mom?” He’s right! It’s too good and simple not to share. This is my go-to recipe when I want to make something fabulous. They never suspect how incredibly simple it is.

I’ll make it before I go to bed and in the morning, the chocolate will be set and ready to go.

Serve with fresh berries and chocolate shavings. Or if you have any left over Girl Scout cookies, crumble up some Thin Mints on top. 

Chocolate Pots de Creme:

  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cups milk, scalded
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Combine the chocolate chips, sugar, egg, milk, salt and vanilla in a blender.
  2. Blend at a high speed until smooth. Take care not to boil the cream or it may burn…it needs to be hot enough to melt the chocolate.
  3. Pour immediately into six small dessert glasses.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator to set for at least four hours.
  5. Garnish with whipped cream, fresh fruit and a chocolate shavings.

Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients. Using mixer, whip for several minutes.

P.S. Aperol Flourless Chocolate Cake

Aristocratic Americans

Jackie & Lee

Jacqueline and her little sister Lee (born three years apart), dazzled the world with their vibrant wardrobes.

The sisters adored traveling, horseback riding and always made headlines everywhere they went as stylish, aristocractic Americans.

While Jackie was known as the First Lady of Style, for years Lee served as her stylist, helping her find just the right look for state dinners and official outings.

Author Truman Capote adored Lee… “I can’t think of any woman more feminine than Lee Radziwill—not even Audrey Hepburn.”

Five lessons from Lee Radziwill:

  • Never shy away from bright colors. They make you look bolder.
  • Pick a signature color and own it. Think “blush & bashful!”
  • You can never have too many sunglasses… I wonder if Lee helped Jackie pick out hers?
  • Layer in accessories for sparkle…Lee said, “I like to create rooms which are essentially traditional —and then add touches of the bizarre and the delicious.”
  • Curate a wardrobe filled with elegant pieces like fur coats, trench coats, and A-line dresses. Be sure to dress well for any occasion, whether it be attending a dinner party or buying groceries at the supermarket.

P.S. How to be Parisian wherever you are

I always begin a room with the rug; it is literally the foundation of the space. I then go on to the furniture. ~Lee Radziwell


Gemutlichkeit is my absolute favorite word in the world.

This feeling captures the holidays beautifully! Ezra Jack Keats wrote the most gemutlich book…Snowy Day about a small boy named Peter who experiences the joy of a snowy day.

We just returned from a trip in the mountains. Let me paint a picture…Christmas morning it was snowing outside, there was a fire in the fireplace, my children drank hot chocolate, I had a panettone bread pudding in the oven, and was wearing socks that an Austrian Oma made for me. Do you feel it? Very gemutlich!

This German word is used to express a state of warmth and coziness. Also peace of mind and good cheer. You can’t beat this feeling.

Here’s another gemulichen example from this morning… It was cold outside, the Christmas tree lights were twinkling, my children were laughing together, I was drinking a hot chai latte and finishing a good book, baked apples were in the oven. Very gemutlich!

This is so simple and so good…so gemutlich!

  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 4 firm cooking apples, I like Gala
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • optional…dried cherries, raisins & nuts
  1. Heat the oven to 375° F.
  2. Pour the cider into a small skillet and bring it to a boil. Continue to boil over medium heat until the liquid reduces by slightly less than half.
  3. Use a melon baller to dig out the apple core, leaving about 1/3-inch of the apple intact at the bottom. Place the apples in apple bakers, pie pan or baking dish.
  4. Stir the cinnamon, butter and brown sugar into the cider syrup. Pour it into the apple cavities, allowing it to overflow into the baking dish. Bake the apples for 45 minutes, until they are perfectly soft but not caving in.
  5. Serve the apples with warm extra syrup spooned over them. If you want to, drizzle them with some heavy cream, or add a scoop of vanilla ice cream (if having for dessert).

Ich wunsche Euch einen schonen und gemutlichen January.

P.S. Cozy Winter Cocktails & Vail: Like Nothing on Earth

Best Halloween movies for kids & kids at heart

We love Halloween!! Nothing beats a weekend family movie night…especially if it’s Halloween time. What Halloween movies do you watch with your family? Which ones did you like growing up? On our kitchen counter there’s a list of Halloween movies to check off before the big day. We’ve almost checked them all off…two more to go. A good portion of our favorite movies are from the eighties. My husband and I love revisiting movies from our childhood and reveling in the nostalgia.

  1. High Spirits
  2. It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown
  3. Ghostbusters
  4. Hocus Pocus
  5. Beetlejuice
  6. Harry Potter
  7. Addams Family
  8. Monsters Inc
  9. Hotel Transylvania
  10. Gremlins
  11. Goosebumps
  12. Labrynith
  13. Casper
  14. Legend
  15. ET
  16. Poltergeist
  17. The Nightmare before Christmas
  18. Monster House
  19. Little Monsters
  20. Scooby Doo

P.S. Goonies is one of my favorites

Happy Halloween!

Be Mindful

My assistant principal does her very best to inspire our little school. I’ve been an elementary teacher for a loooong time! It’s so nice to come to work and know that we will laugh and smile because of something she’s cooked up! She is always dressing up and celebrating special days like national angel food cake, national coffee ice cream day and national chocolate cupcake day. This time she gave the teachers a different Simon Sinek quote on their door. My quote was, “When we help ourselves, we find moments of happiness. When we help others, we find lasting fulfillment.”

Simon Sinek is an author and motivational speaker about life, leadership, and doing the right thing. Sinek’s quote makes me think of how important it is to maintain yourself before you try to help others. My first thought was meditation…It’s like changing the oil in your car! We run better and are more able to help others and do our job when we’ve created space in our heads to focus, de-stress and be our best self. The essence of meditation is kindness…it softens the mind, nurtures the heart, and allows us to reconnect with the people and world around us. 

Sinek reminds me of Andy Puddicombe (the Headspace meditation co-founder). I think that Sinek and Puddicombe are both all about improving relationships and they way we live our lives.

Andy Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk and the voice of Headspace. He says this about meditation…, “No chanting, no sitting cross-legged but rather just a really a quick and easy way to de-stress, focus and improve your relationships, sleep and overall way of living.”

Meditation is a part of my daily life. It helps me de-clutter my mind. There’s a healing and healthy feeling after I’ve meditated that helps me remember my connection to the universe and recover a sense of peace. I chase happy feelings! I chase them right into a ballet class. After I’ve carved out space to take ballet, I feel elated…like my true self. When I’m dancing, I’m speaking the hidden language of my soul. After this gift to myself, I come home a better mother, wife, teacher, daughter… It’s these moments of happiness that prepare us to help others.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite people, Grace Kelly. She said, “I would like to be remembered as someone who accomplished useful deeds, and who was a kind and loving person. I would like to leave the memory of a human being with a correct attitude and who did her best to help others.”

Grace Kelly had the right mindset and was mindful just like Sinek and Puddicombe.

Have you seen the documentary “I Am?”  It has interviews with prominent philosophers and spiritual leaders (including Archbishop Desmond Tutu) about what ails the world and how to improve it. It’s about how we should be compassionate and empathetic towards one another and shows through science how mankind’s true nature lies in helping one another and how some day maybe we can all be truly happy and help others. Everyone in the world should be required to see it.

Watching Tom Shadyac’s “I AM” can be a transformative experience. Shadyac says “The solution begins with a deeper transformation that must occur in each of us.  I AM isn’t as much about what you can do, as who you can be.  And from that transformation of being, action will naturally follow.”

The quote that my principal left on my door made me think about people like Puddicombe, Sinek, Shadyac and even Grace Kelly…what resonates with me and what I feel is natural is to be mindful to yourself so that you can be mindful to others. 

Offer tea, celebrate friendship

When my daughter wants to know if I like someone, she’ll ask me, “Mommy, would you make tea for her?” This is her test to know if I’ve made a friend. If someone that I care about is coming by the house, I will naturally say, “I’ll make us some tea.” My dearest friends know this about me…I’m not just offering tea, I’m celebrating our friendship. It will always be tea…never coffee or lemonade.

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” ― Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

I think I have maybe six tea pots plus my keurig, a copper kettle and a one-touch tea maker. Making tea has always been something I enjoy and I’m not alone… My husband is an iced tea drinker and he makes a pitcher full daily. My children will be content to do their homework with peppermint tea. There’s something ceremonial and comforting about making tea. Tea makes the world a better place.

Here are some enjoyable facts about tea that you might not know…

  • Tea is the most popular drink in the world (after water).
  • Ireland has the highest amount of tea consumption per person…six cups a day. Did I mention that I’m Irish?
  • Most teas…black, green, oolong, and white are naturally caffeinated. They come from the plant Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas are infused by dried herbs, fruits, or flowers like chamomile or echinacea.
  • Adding milk to tea keeps porcelain tea cups from cracking and helps keep teeth white.
  • Loose the tea bag…Tea becomes more flavorful as the leaves expand, which can’t happen when they’re crammed into a small bag. Instead, use an infuser to steep your leaves so they’re able to float around. Then strain before drinking. I love my Breville one-touch tea maker for this reason.
  • If tea is too hot, you can’t taste its subtle nuances…it should be like Goldilocks said, “Just right!
  • The tradition of afternoon tea was begun by Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford in the 1840’s as “a way to quell the inevitable hunger pangs between lunch and dinner.”

P.S. Put the kettle on