Read, sip, eat, see, wear, listen, and pin…everything summer!

June is the perfect time…summer is young and welcomed by the birds singing, children playing, and the pool is just so inviting! Heighten your senses for this delicious warm season with some très été
recommendations to read, sip, eat, see, wear, listen, and pin everything summer.

Read: Paris in Love and Love in a Warm Climate

Paris in Love: Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about: she sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris. Paris in Love chronicles her joyful year in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Love in a Warm Climate: Helena Frith Powell writes about what do you do if you find a bra in your husband’s luggage that isn’t yours? Or even his! This is the dilemma facing mother-of-three Sophie Reed, shortly after she moves to France with her family to start a new life. As they are unpacking her husband admits to having an affair with a French woman called Cecile. Sophie thinks about throwing him out with the bra. But then what? Should she move back to England? Her inner French woman tells her otherwise.

Sip: Searching for the perfect refreshing wine for warm summer evenings? I love the pretty pink color of rosé . Try sipping these summer wines.

Bottega Vinaia Pinot Grigio, a limited-production, estate-bottled wine from northern Italy’s Trentino region, is setting a new standard for premium Italian white wines. Exceptionally fragrant, Bottega Vinaia exudes an alluring floral perfume of an intensity and persistence uncommon in a Pinot Grigio.

Marques de Caceres rosé has an beautiful ruby color. Expressive bouquet with notes of raspberries, bilberries and cherries, enlivened by a touch of spice and a depth of vanilla. Charming fruit in the mouth with good structure that highlights concentrated flavors and fleshy tannins. Nice complexity on the tasting resulting in good length.

See: Sebastiaan Bremer

The titles of Bremer’s works are each a line of the famous poem, “Ode to Joy,” and it is very fitting for this series, where the colored dots of paint could be compared to bubbles of champagne or child-like balloons of bright colors…c’est magique!

Wear: Italian designer, Guia La Bruna’s bikini says summer fun at the pool. The feminine fabric makes this suit coquettish and girly.  

The girl from Ipanema probably wore a suit like this. The Camilla and Marc one-piece is eye-catching with its color blocking and playful polka dots.

Listen: The Peach Kings, my sister’s band, has a song Fisherman that needs to be on everyone’s summer play list!

Pin: Follow these lovely ladies on Pinterest for summer inspiration.

You can follow me too! http://pinterest.com/ashleyecooley

Eat: Marinated Shrimp and Artichokes: This recipe can double as a side dish or appetizer. Feta cheese, fresh herbs, and a garlic-and-herb marinade give the shrimp and artichokes outstanding flavor. It’s the perfect appetizer for your summer pool party.

Savor the summer…read, sip, eat, see, wear, listen, and pin until your heart’s content.

Jennifer Reese’s: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

 

 

I always look forward to the companionship of my book club friends to eat, drink and be merry while discussing our latest read. My friend Leslee suggested the most recent literary effort, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter and it seemed to be perfect for our book club (The Julia Child Book Club). Our book club is lighthearted and fun and is the kind of group that (as our latest party favor says) reads the wine labels! While this is only half true we did all enjoy Jennifer Reese’s Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, which is so much more than a cookbook.

My mom hosted and I’m sure the author Jennifer Reese would have loved it based on these words in the book; “Entertaining is exactly the right word for having people over. The dinner party is a work of theater, and the linens and candlesticks and ice bucket are props and they are every bit as important as the food.” My mom is a theatrical genius…flowers in the chandeliers, candle sticks a mile long, place cards with hilarious sayings that truly fit each guest.

Reese’s idea for the book came about after she had been laid off from her job during the economic crises a few years ago. She decided to begin experimenting by making most everything herself instead of buying it at the grocery store. She compiled her success and failures in a book that organizes 120 recipes for the reader to decide: should you make it or buy it? How much hassle is it? What is the cost comparison to buying it in the grocery store?

She writes about raising chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats, and even bees. About having chickens, she writes, “I’ve come to believe that having chickens is like having foxy teenager daughters. Trouble will find you.”

She says about vanilla ice cream, “The difference between even a premium brand of ice cream and homemade is the difference between the poly-blend sheets you inherited from your grandmother and Pratesi linens. I know vanilla ice cream sounds boring, buy homemade vanilla ice cream is nothing like Edy’s. For a sublime variation, try substituting ½ cup honey for ½ cup of the sugar.” I couldn’t wait to try this and…Reese was right, sublime!

Her storytelling is hilarious and entertaining. It reminds me of Julia Child’s commentary in her cookbooks…laugh out loud funny, giving stories about the trial and errors in the kitchen.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is exactly the essence of the book. With a little imagination, we may have found some decision making guidance applicable to choices we all have to make about which of our efforts are worth more of our time. It was thought provoking.

I Had a Favorite Dress: dear mama can make it work

Growing up I thought my mother was magical because she could sew. I remember her sewing me a red dress with red roses in the first grade. She seemed to make it overnight…in fact, I think she did! It was my favorite dress when I was six.

When my friend Margot was four, she remembers her dad bringing back a soft green dress from Italy with stitchery in the front and lace at the bottom edge. When she grew out of it, her mom altered it for her baby doll to wear.

My daughter has several favorite pieces that she’s outgrown. I often wish I was a savvy D.I.Y. (do it yourself) kind of mom who could be like Mary Poppins and magically (as Boni Ashburn says) “make a molehill out of a mountain.

I think most of us have a few items of clothing that we are so in love with that when we wear them out, we are heartbroken!

The little girl in Boni Ashburn’s I Had a Favorite Dress is so lucky to have a mom who can make alterations that keep her daughter smiling. I very much want to do this for my daughter; I think it teaches resourcefulness.

I love how the mom’s boho-chic style influences her daughter’s appearance in what looks to be like a trendy Greenwich Village neighborhood.

As the girl grows, her salmon colored favorite dress is transformed into a shirt, tank top, skirt, scarf, socks, and hair bow.  The mom keeps saving the day by using her creativity to solve a problem every time her daughter says, “Mama dear…”  and there’s nothing to worry about when mama smiles and does a, “SNIP, SNIP, sew, sew… New shirt, hello!

Julia Denos

The young girl understands that nothing lasts forever and that’s okay because favorite things can be changed and used again in other ways. She dances into the days of the week as the seasons change.

Julia Denos, the illustrator of I Had a Favorite Dress, has a fresh whimsical style that is childlike with an old fashioned 1950’s feel. She is also the illustrator of another book I adore, Just Being Audrey.  

I would like to decorate my daughter’s room with Julia’s illustrations from both of these books.

I Had a Favorite Dress reminds me of a book I read to my second graders, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Joseph has an overcoat that he really likes and it becomes old and worn, but instead of throwing it away, it is altered into a jacket.  The same thing happens to the jacket and he makes a vest, then scarf, necktie, handkerchief, and finally a button. The message is that it’s always good to make something out of nothing or “make a molehill out of a mountain.”

This is such a good lesson to teach to children. As a teacher, I immediately thought about lessons I could teach comparing the two books.

I have already recommended I Had a Favorite Dress to our school librarian. It will be one of those books that never has a chance to be “checked-in!”

All it takes is a little inspiration from Etsy or Pinterest to get creative these days. Making alterations is the perfect answer to keeping hold of your favorite memories. Fashionistas can be green too and reduce, reuse, recycle their favorite items.

I plan to reuse my husband’s old neckties from the 80’s and 90’s and make them into bracelets like I found on Pinterest.

I haven’t yet decided how I will reuse some of my daughter’s favorite dresses but I imagine she’s probably going to think of it on her own sense we read I Had a Favorite Dress almost every night! I may be calling my “Mama dear” for the sewing! In the meantime, I hope to impart to my children and others the philosophy that although both things and people may appear to be used and spent, they may just be waiting for the energy and optimism of creative ideas to fill an old sail with fresh air.

 

The Passion for literature and the romance of letters

My friend Pamela gave me a great gift…a very special book that came all the way from Paris’ famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop. A little water damage makes this book even more of a treasure because it’s a paperback that has been loved. The book, 84, Charing Cross Road is easily on my top books ever read list! It’s real people writing letters to each other and developing a beautiful friendship all the way across the big blue ocean…it’s so romantic!

I’ve always believed in the power of correspondence and I very much enjoy reading books that are a series of letters. Recently I’ve read three books that are a series of beautiful letters: 84, Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and As Always, Julia. Each book begins the same way…the characters all receive a letter from a stranger and their correspondence leads to a lasting and true friendship. It is possible to form lasting and deep relationships with people that we have never physically met.

84, Charing Cross Road is a charming book about an outspoken New York writer (Helene Hanff) whose touching correspondence with antiquarian booksellers in London (especially with Frank Doel) develops such a mutually fostering friendship that they become an extended family. Exchanges between Helene Hanff and the Marks & Co. booksellers at 84 Charing Cross Road are all letters and books.

I found the book to be romantic in the sense that their fondness for each other expanded over time, the romance of the cities New York and London are vividly described, the yarn of letters and books flying or sailing across the sea, and there is also a mystery associated with them not officially meeting that I find romantic.

There could have been a potential for romance between Frank Doel and Helene Hanff but I found them to truly care for each other as friends first. There is an unspoken love for each other without ever seeing each other. It’s a real-life love story.

When reading the private letters of Helene and Frank, the reader gets a taste of cultural and social differences that were commonplace in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in London and New York.

Their correspondence went on from 1949 to 1969. Throughout twenty years they exchanged Christmas gifts, news of families and careers. There was always an intention for them to meet but something came in the way every time it almost happened.

A lesson to this is that if there’s something you really want to do, do it when you have the chance or you might miss a grand opportunity.

Through Hanff’s book, the reader is reintroduced to all sorts of old classics with her passion for literature and made to feel inspired not only to write a letter to a friend, but to read a book with either a cup of tea (like Frank did in London) or a cigarette and martini (like Helene did in New York).

There was a lovely movie starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins that followed the book beautifully. Anne Bancroft is saucy and spirited just like I imagined Helene Hanff to be.

Hanff’s personality is humorous, demanding, witty and sarcastic whereas, Doel is the classic English gentleman. Hanff playfully begins one letter in all caps, “SLOTH: I could ROT over here before you’d send me anything to read.” Toward the end of their correspondence Hanff writes, “Frankie, you’re the only soul alive who understands me.”

If you’re lucky enough to find an edition of 84, Charing Cross Road that comes with the companion book The Duchess of Bloomsbury, you will love reading them back to back.

Another book I recently enjoyed that is also a series of letters and similar and many ways to 84, Charing Cross Road was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in post WWII England, it is based around Juliet Ashton, a writer with sharp wit, and a love of books. When Juliet receives a letter from a stranger in Guernsey, a correspondence begins with not just one, but many Guernsey islanders.

One of my favorite quotes from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society that I completely resonate with is, “That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

One last book recommendation that is a series of letters and friendship is As Always, Julia. Julia Child and Avis DeVoto based their friendship on the art of letter writing before they ever met.  I previously wrote about it here

All three books are written with warmth and humor. They have in common that they each find inspiration in the letters to each other, not just for their work, but inspiration for their life.

Through the three books the reader will get a sense of how the power of books and letters sustain readers in good times and in bad. The books celebrate letters in the best possible way. I always look forward to seeing what the closing will be. My favorite closing came from Julia Child’s best friend Avis: Lashings of love. Who doesn’t enjoy reading about collecting books and the pleasures of reading?

I wish for you that you have time to read these books but also find time to write to your friends…do it now, don’t wait! 

As for Pamela’s book, it’s meant to be shared with someone else now. I think I’ll send it by mail…with a letter.

A sick day, a snow day, a just say no day

There are days when we should stop and smell the chicken and dumplings and listen to some Christmas carols. Sometimes when we are so consistently scheduled, it feels really good to break the pattern. When you have a sick child, things have to change and we are all forced to slow down and say no to obligations. In a way it is a blessing! It’s like a bonus day, a snow day…when you have the time for more of those things you don’t usually get to enjoy as long as you wish like coloring, cooking, and cuddling.

You know how there’s a Seinfeld episode for everything that happens to us in life? I think the same is true for Beatles songs…After a long week at work, I kept having a Beatles soundtrack in my head that related to how I was feeling…It’s been a Hard Days Night and we keep having to Come Together at work when all I want to say is Don’t Bother Me because I’m so Tired. I know that All Things Must Pass so I’ll say Ob-La-Di and when I need some, I’ll yell HELP and I Call Your Name!

After singing these songs in my head for a few days, my daughter got sick. I thought…more stress, but it was truly a blessing because I was forced to slow down with her and just breathe. We curled up together sharing a blanket and colored princesses. Isn’t it true that once we relax, answers to problems will often be revealed? What had seemed like such a big deal becomes much less of one. Then we can be more productive in every area… maybe we all need to color more.

I remember enjoying sick days at home from school when my mom would set me up on the sofa with chicken noodle soup, hot tea, warm blankets, a fire in the fireplace, and I Love Lucy. I felt warm, safe, and secure. Nothing beats home when you are exhausted and curling up in your little mom-made cocoon is pure happiness. “Stay-at-home” mom is the dream job for most working moms, but it has a more special meaning on a sick day. We all deserve some “stay-at-home” time. Make sure you take advantage of yours when you can.

Sometimes the most urgent and vital thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest.

~Ashleigh Brilliant

How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward.
~Spanish Proverb

Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself,
your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work.
~Ralph Marston

There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.
~Sylvia Plath

Sick

“I cannot go to school today,”

Said little Peggy Ann McKay.

I have the measles and the mumps,

A gash, a rash and purple bumps.

My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,

I’m going blind in my right eye.

My tonsils are as big as rocks,

I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox.

And there’s one more—that’s seventeen,

And don’t you think my face looks green?

My leg is cut, my eyes are blue—

It might be instamatic flue.

I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,

I’m sure that my left leg is broken—

My hips hurt when I move my chin,

My belly button’s caving in,

My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,

My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.

My nose is cold, my toes are numb,

I have a silver in my thumb.

My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,

I hardly whisper when I speak.

My tongue is filling up my mouth,

I think my hair is falling out.

My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,

My temperature is one-o-eight.

My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,

There is a hole inside my ear.

I have a hangnail, and my heart is—what?

What’s that? What’s that you say?

You say today is… Saturday?

G’bye, I’m going out to play!”

~ Shel Silverstein

 

For your next “stay-at-home” day! Hopefully it will be a “snow day” and not a “sick day!” Read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, listen to She and Him, A Very She & Him Christmas, eat chicken and dumplings, feel a cashmere sweater against your skin, and sip and smell some peppermint tea. You’ll be feeling better before you know it.

 


Chicken and Dumplings

8 chicken thighs (with skin and bones)
Dredge in and brown in 2-3T vegetable oil:
½ flour
Generous amount of salt
½ t cayenne
¼ t black pepper
Sweat in 1 T vegetable oil:
3 leeks, white and light green part sliced in half moons
2 celery ribs diced
2 carrots, diced
1 sweet potato, peeled, cut into chunks
2 parsnips, peeled, diced
2 bay leaves
Deglaze with 1 C dry white wine
Stir in ¼ C more of flour
Gradually add 6 C chicken broth
Stir in browned chicken and juices
2 t fresh lemon juice
1 t sage and rosemary
For the dumplings:
Blend1 ½ C flour
1 C parmesan cheese, grated
2 ½ t baking powder
2 t sugar
Salt and pepper
Heat:
1 C whole milk
4 T butter

Preheat oven to 375. Cut chicken into large pieces. Combine flour and seasonings in a resalable plastic bag. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess in a deep oven proof pot, heat 1 T oil over med-high. Brown half the chicken; transfer to a plate. Brown the rest in a bit more oil then remove and reduce heat. Sweat the vegetables and bay leaves in oil until softened, about 5 minutes. Deglaze with wine; simmer until almost evaporated. Stir in flour to coat vegetables. Gradually add broth then chicken. Cover pot and transfer to the oven; cook for 20 minutes. While stew is in the oven, make dumpling dough. Stir in lemon juice, and herbs before adding dumplings. Blend dry ingredients for dumplings in a mixing bowl. Heat milk and butter until butter melts; blend into dry ingredients. Shape using a small ice cream scoop then drop dumplings into the simmering stew. Braise in oven until dumplings are cooked through, about 20 minutes. 

Here’s to another week and wishing for Good Day Sunshine!

 

 

 

Poetry…the greatest of all arts

People recite poetry at the most memorable events of our lives…retirements, marriages, funerals, graduations, anniversaries, birthdays…poems are often personal and intimate. They may also express humor, spirituality and whimsy. Regardless of the subject matter, poetry can make us think and help to put things into perspective. Just as in art, every person may see and feel differently about poetry and gather inspiration from experiencing it.

 

As we all respond to the history of art, a poet can’t help but build on what other artists have done in the past as the inspirations of today are lofted by creativity.

Fellow Texan, Austin Kleon, was inspired by what Walt Whitman once said, “The true poem is the daily newspaper.” Kleon has a serendipitous approach to creating poetry; starting with a newspaper (rather than a blank page) and eliminating words he doesn’t need. It’s like an adult game of hide and seek.

Stockholm native, Tomos Transtromer recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I think of Chagall when I read Transtromer’s poetry because he is dreamy like Chagall; they both remind us that the world is not what it appears to be…if we look close enough we may find something out of the ordinary.
   

Painting by Mark Chagall:  Me and My Village 

November in the Former DDR

 

The almighty cyclop’s-eye clouded over

and the grass shook itself in the coal dust.

 

Beaten black and blue by the night’s dreams

we board the train

that stops at every station

and lays eggs.

 

Almost silent.

The clang of the church bells’ buckets

fetching water.

And someone’s inexorable cough

scolding everything and everyone.

 

A stone idol moves its lips:

it’s the city.

Ruled by iron-hard misunderstandings

among kiosk attendants butchers

metal-workers naval officers

iron-hard misunderstandings, academics!

 

How sore my eyes are!

They’ve been reading by the faint glimmer of the glow-worm lamps.

November offers caramels of granite.

Unpredictable!

Like world history

laughing at the wrong place.

 

But we hear the clang

of the church bells’ buckets fetching water

every Wednesday

– is it Wednesday? –

so much for our Sundays!

 

~ Tomas Transtromer


Photograph by Gerd Ludwig, National Geographic

 

I love this photograph of these friends who meet Sundays in Sevastopol to sing. I imagine these friends have done this for years; they have the right idea about life…to laugh, sing, and enjoy each other’s company in the moment.

 

The Crazy Woman


I shall not sing a May song.

A May song should be gay.

I’ll wait until November

And sing a song of gray.

I’ll wait until November.

That is the time for me.

I’ll go out in the frosty dark

And sing most terribly.

And all the little people

Will stare at me and say,

“That is the Crazy Woman

Who would not sing in May.”


~Gwendolyn Brooks

 

Painting by Gayle Lorraine: A Common Language Painting

Great are the Myths

 

Great is language…it is the mightiest of the sciences,

It is the fullness and color and form and diversity of the earth…and of men and women…and of all qualities and processes; it is greater than buildings or ships or religions or paintings or music.

 
~Walt Whitman
 

It seems that many artists and poets have found inspiration and creativity under rocks that others would choose not to move.  If language is the mightiest of sciences, perhaps more should seek to find questions and answers that provoke the highest level of pensive spirit lifting in common ordinary places, like the newspaper, the clouds or the faces of people experiencing parts of life we may not know so well. Both peace and power may be discovered by singing more songs, writing more words, looking for things that others might not see…and laughing. Try it, you may like it.

Three Books About Self Discovery: Keeper, Sarah’s Key, & Eat Pray Love

keeper

Three books about self discovery: Keeper, Sarah’s Key, and Eat Pray Love. In each book the characters are searching for who they are and what they want in life. Isn’t it interesting that when we get lost all we want to do is run away to find ourselves. Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves. ~Henry David ThoreauIn each book the sad characters are searching for happiness and see through all the bad in the world. There is always much more good, acceptance and willingness from people than meets the eye. This makes the world a better place.Ten year old Keeper, forty-five year old Julia Jarmond, and thirty-four year old Elizabeth Gilbert are characters from these three books that each reel from depression caused by missing something in their lives; they’re searching for love and love lost. I don’t think everyone always finds what they’re looking for when they run away; but sometimes that’s the best thing for a person, clear the mind and start over with fresh new scenery.

I think of other similar popular female characters that are “searching” for something bigger. Francis Mayes’

Under the Tuscan Sun and Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, each find happiness and find themselves with the help from friends (we need our friends).

The first book, Keeper, is a story about a ten year old girl who lives on the Texas coast with her guardian, Signe and dog BD (best dog). Everyone is looking forward to the next “blue moon” but no one more than Keeper, who sails away to find her birth mother Meggie Marie. Keeper believes her real mother is a mermaid capable of making everything right. Signe (Keeper’s adoptive mother) lets her think this, so Keeper grows up believing in mermaids and fairytales. “When a girl is ten, she is full to the brim with wishes.” Keeper wishes on stars, fishes, the moon, toothfairies…My friend’s daughter, Samantha is an avid reader and writer. With Keeper being a young adult book, I couldn’t wait to hear what she thought. Thirteen year old Samantha Rider says this about KeeperThe ending was surprising and not what I thought it would be at all. I enjoyed the plot with the mer-tales thrown in and believed that it was a whimsical fiction. I almost felt like the end wasn’t really the end….almost as if it had something else to offer. Keeper had mystery in it and a huge dose of reality. I liked it and think that others my age might as well.When Keeper has a bad day and everything she does goes wrong, she hurts each one she is close to. I remember being ten and how the tiniest things felt like an earthquake? Well with Keeper, her Earth really does quake; a single day just keeps getting worse.

There is magic and wonderment in this book. When reading Keeper I happened to be in Galveston; Keeper was the perfect beach read. Appelt’s writing feels like the tide, soothing and comforting. With seagulls eating watermelon and magic in the water, you start to believe like you did when you were ten. Young adults have a natural joie de vivre that I wish I could still easily call upon and exploit at thirty-four.

I loved Keeper’s adopted mother Singe; she is strong and loving. I love her response to Keeper’s questions; when Signe doesn’t know the answer she always says, “That is a question for the universe.”

I was lucky enough to have contact with Keeper’s author, Kathi Appelt. I know you will enjoy this Q & A.

1. When we are young, the tiniest things seem to feel like the end of the world. I think a lot of young adults go through this “searching for something” faze. Did you?

In many ways I feel like I’m always searching for something, whether it’s the pencil I just had in my hand or the answer to what my character needs to do next. It’s in us as humans, I think, to always be looking both outside and inside ourselves and perhaps nowhere is this more acute than when we’re young adults. The pressure from the outside world is also intense, isn’t it? From the moment our children are born, we start imagining what they’re going to be when they grow up. We look at a baby’s tiny fingers and say, “oh, she’s going to play the piano.” So, I think we burden ourselves and our kids with “what are you going to do?” and “who are you going to be?” questions. It’s hard for human beings to just be. On the other hand, we’re also dreamers, us humans, and it’s likely impossible to not ask these essential questions. In Keeper’s case, she needed a lot of answers. Because she believed that her real mother was a mermaid, she needed to know what that meant for herself? Was she also mer? So, Keeper needed to figure out how she could balance those parts of herself–mer and human–and even whether or not she could balance them at all. She felt the only way to an answer was to find her biological mother.

2. Do you think after Keeper’s revelation she knows who she is?

I think she might be a little closer to an answer, but she is only ten years old, so she will have a lifetime of asking that question and trying to answer it. Does she still need to search for herself? Absolutely, all of us do. Only in Keeper’s case, she will know for certain that the people who have been caring for her all along will never desert her, even if she makes some big mistakes. And isn’t this a gift to any child, that certainty, that love persists even in the face of disappointment and messing up? 3. Would you like to see Keeper on the big screen?

Be still my heart. 4. What character in Keeper are you most like?

In some ways I’m like Keeper just because she reminds me of how I was as a child. My grandmother lived in Galveston, and so I spent a lot of time there, and I felt like I was seeing the coast again through Keeper’s eyes. But the character I felt most close to was Signe. I understood her as a mother, and I believed in her as a mother too. There was never any question in my mind that she would always be there for Keeper. I also understood her feelings of inadequacy, which I think every mother feels. 5. I recently saw Eat Pray Love with my book club. Do you have a word?

I haven’t read the book, or seen the movie, but I think my word might be gratitude. I try to be grateful every single day. What do you think Keeper’s word is? Hah! I think it’s cooleoleo. 6. What’s your take on encouraging a love for reading and writing in elementary schools and beyond?

I love to tell kids (and adults too), that we are the “story animals.” No other animals, so far as we know, tells stories. We know that other animals communicate. They give warnings. They mark trees. But we’re the only ones who create stories. That means that it’s our stories that make us most human. It’s in us to tell them and to celebrate them. And we’ve been participating in the act of story since our early caveman days. So, I think if we can let our students know that stories are in us, that we’re made up of stories, and that our job is to figure out how to best tell them, then maybe that would be helpful. Being a teacher, this is my favorite question! My second grade team teachers would all agree, writing is the hardest subject to teach. It goes hand in hand with reading, but oh, how to light the fire?!? My motto for all of my students, young and old alike is to “write like your fingers are on fire.” What I mean by that is to write quickly, and write a lot, so that when you’re done, you have to blow on your smoking fingers to cool them down. Later, once a draft is on the page, once the fire of creation is past, then slow down, be deliberative, roll the words and sentences around in your mouth so that you can feel them, feel the rhythm of them. I like to write in quick, five-minute chunks of time, and I’ve found that helpful too. It feels manageable and leads to success. A lot can happen in five minutes. I see writing and reading as the great twin sisters. You can’t have one without the other. They’re intrinsically twinned.

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The second “searching for something book” was Sarah’s Key a haunting story that will make you a better and more grateful person.

July 1942 marked a dark period in the history of France where thousands of Jewish families were rounded up and forcibly kept in the Velodrome d’Hiver. They were then sent off to transit camps in France such as Drancy, before being packed off to Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp. What is so disarming about this whole incident is that the rounding up and accumulation of French Jews for deportation was done by the French police.Based upon this rarely mentioned, little known truth of French history, author Tatiana de Rosnay weaves two stories together–both searching for something; alternating between the past and the present. The past centers around a ten-year-old Jewish girl Sarah Strazynski who is forced to go to the Velodrome d’Hiver with her mother and father, naively leaving behind a four year old brother Michel locked in a secret cupboard with the assurance that she would return to let him out when it was safe. The character in the present, Julia Jarmond, wishes to find Sarah, “I wanted to say sorry, I wanted to tell her I could not forget the round up, the camp…Sorry for not knowing.”

Julia is an American journalist married to a Frenchman; she finds herself being consumed by the story of the Vel d’Hiv roundup. As she digs deeper, she discovers dark secrets surrounding her husband’s family which are connected to the deportations of Jews from France.

Did you know…France is the country where the largest number of Jewish children were saved and hidden by French people, like Sarah. These people then became “Justs of the Nation.”

I have heard Sarah’s Key might be made into a movie. Like Eat Pray Love, I will be anxious to see it with my book club friends.

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The third “self discovery” book I’ve connected is Eat Pray Love. I have read since it was published that people have been following in Elizabeth Gilbert’s footprints and traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia. After reading and seeing the movie, I too want to savor the good foods, smell the cities, and soak up the sights. I loved seeing Julia Roberts eat: pizza, gelato, chocolate, and Thanksgiving turkey…Whatever she ate she tasted it like she might never taste it again. My favorite lines from Eat Pray Love were, “Every word in Italian is like a truffle.” And having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.” Both are ridiculously true!The sense that what you do becomes who you are can be depressing if you don’t like your job. Your job just might be a metaphor for your lifestyle. Gilbert had to run away from hers. I certainly wouldn’t! I do however like what she says about happiness…”Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”

Eat Pray Love is an autobiography; Gilbert is the subject. Fresh out of a quarrelsome divorce, a short-lived romance and a bout of depression, she decided at thirty-four to spend a year traveling in Italy, India and Indonesia. “I wanted to explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well. I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two,” says Gilbert.

I could relate to Gilbert trying to meditate and having difficulty because her mind would not be still… Gilbert, thinking about painting her future meditation room says, “paint it gold. Or maybe a rich blue. No, gold. No, blue. . . . Finally noticing this train of thought, I was aghast. I thought: . . . How about this, you spastic fool — how about you try to meditate right here, right now, right where you actually are?” I can hear my yoga teacher telling me to count my breaths but I still feel my thoughts wondering…things to add to my grocery list, laundry to do, what to make for dinner… A woman’s mind is seldom still.What I couldn’t relate to was Gilbert’s struggle to continually not be able to get it together. She was on a search to find and heal herself from a severe emotional and spiritual crisis. I found her to be selfish and needy and I couldn’t relate to that! What I could relate to is the need to travel; the need to have your five senses awaked somewhere else, the need to hear another language… I don’t need it right now like Elizabeth Gilbert, but I need to look forward to it (and I do)! I can be content with that.

Like some of these characters, we all have a word. What’s yours? Do you think it’s possible to choose a word that will keep its truth for a lifetime? I have a strong feeling my word will do just that. Gilbert’s word is “antevasin” (Sanskrit for one who lives at the border), Keeper’s word is “Cooleoleo,” I think both Sarah and Julia’s word would be “past.” After thinking long and hard I’m very happy with my word…”culture!” What’s your word?

A hand-written thank you note is a little treasure that won’t be forgotten

 

A letter in the mail is a gift! Thank you notes can be an art form. Consider the stationary, the penmanship (you can see personality in someone’s handwriting), the formulation of thoughtful words, even the choice of stamp is a special detail. A hand-written card is a little treasure and it is not forgotten.

Writing a thank you note lets the recipients know that you took the time to sit down and think of them; it’s sincere and thoughtful. It’s about thanking people for thinking about you and your family even if the gift is not your cup of tea!

In this time of texting, facebooking, twittering, and e-mailing, it seems so simple to just take the easy way out and say thanks electronically. Anything not in your own hand has an emotional distance and can seem impersonal. This makes hand-written notes rare and much appreciated. A thank you note shows the giver how much you value him or her. Older generations definitely expect them. I always write one to my grandmother first! It’s respectful and considerate to put forth the effort. Can you imagine the disappointment when the person who hand knitted your child a sweater is thanked by an e-mail with smiley faces?

Photo: Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid from my favorite museum in the world, the incredible Frick Collection in New York . Notice the writing set and quill, this truly was an art form.

After Christmas, you don’t feel like doing much of anything. You’ve had the in-laws, survived the Christmas mess, made and cleaned up many meals, and slowly want to go into hibernation after too many egg nogs and entertaining. But, I find if I don’t do it right away my balance is off and I can’t sleep. I like to have my all my ducks in a row. My mantra for most things is very “Nike”! “Just do it!”

A late note is better than no note at all, but it’s probably best to write them as soon as possible. I can whip a thank you note out best if I don’t contemplate too much about what I’m going to say. I have a little formula that’s similar to what I teach my second graders: Greeting, express gratitude, share how you will use the gift, add something personal, thank again, and regards. Giving thanks doesn’t have to be a chore if you make the effort to keep it interesting.

It seems we are raising a generation of technical wizards! Those wizards need to know how to use a pen and attempt nice handwriting in this information age. After the holiday break, my second grade class will begin learning cursive. This is a good time to get them to write thank you notes because they’re just dying to try out their new cursive handwriting. Think back to the times of quills! I have a copy of the Declaration of Independence in my classroom. The children are always in awe of the tiny and very beautiful handwriting.

Everyone likes to be appreciated. When friends and family see you took the time to thank them with a nice note, they’re more likely to give an encore performance. A tip I would give to my second grade classroom (but I think it works for everyone) is to write honestly. The truth is always more interesting, even if it’s obvious it was a regift! We can all find our inner “Pollyanna” and discover something about a gift to be glad about!

A thank you note is one of the loveliest ways to share our love and appreciation for someone. A warm and heartfelt thanks is like a hug in the mail. It is gracious and the right thing to do, but also makes the writer feel good.

Here are some ideas to make your thank you cards more interesting, some of which I have learned from others. Take what you like! I’m all ears for your ideas too, especially since I haven’t written to my grandmother yet!

1. Personalized M&M’s are sweet in addition to a hand-written card!
2. If you have left over Christmas cards, insert a photo of your children playing with what that person got them.
3. Have your child draw a picture to go with the note, it’s personal and your child will feel good about participating in on the thanks.
4. Design your own thank you card on Kodak gallery and fill it with pictures of Christmas morning.