Book Fairies do exist

Our secret mission began on a cloudy summer morning. My daughter carried the package under her arm, hoping not to attract attention. I whispered, try to look normal. Zooey surveyed the coffee shop…a dark cozy table with summer flowers in a green vase. Looks good. Casually, she wandered to the table and laid the package (Judy Blume’s Blubber) on the window sill by the flowers. When you’re a book fairy, you can’t attract attention. Zooey would have turned bright read if she heard…Hey, kid, you forgot your copy of Blubber.

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Five ways to ensure a well written thank you note

 

A well written thank you note does not have to be complicated. It’s one of the warmest ways to show our appreciation to our friends and loved ones. Our grandmothers told us that it was necessary but once we write it, we know it’s the right thing to do and it makes the writer feel warm and cozy inside. A well written thank you note is just a small kindness, but they’re meaningful to those who receive them. 

  1. For notes to family and friends, strike through any formal part of the name at the top of the letter to keep things casual. This is what Princess Diana did because she didn’t want her notes to seem stuffy. Striking through name on formal stationery is a quick and easy way to make it a little more informal and a sign that you are a closer friend of that person.
  2. Always write out the date in the far right corner, opposite the salutation and begin the body of the note directly under the “r” in “Dear.”
  3. Use real stationary…it doesn’t have to be fancy but something neutral so that it can be used for many occasions and sturdy enough to be sent in the mail.
  4. A handwritten note is ALWAYS better than any electronic substitute. A handwritten note takes more time and effort than an email but it can become a keepsake. Some of my favorite notes become my bookmarks in my recipe books so I look at them often. 
  5. A punchy envelope liner acts as wrapping paper for your note. Make it even more personal by adding a picture…maybe include a picture from Christmas day opening the gift. 

All that said, don’t get too bogged down in the details. Any thoughtful note is a good one. Send a hug in the mailbox.

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Ebelskivers (Danish Pancakes) perfect for a winter morning

My daughter made me promise, “Mommy, pinky promise that we can make ebelskivers in the morning?” It’s after the holidays, I still have leftover egg nog and it’s 24 degrees outside…the weather couldn’t be better for ebelskivers! I’ve had my ebelskiver pan for a while now and I use them to make these Danish pancakes but it’s also great for meatballs! Ebelskivers have a light, airy batter, and a sweet jam filling goes nicely in the middle. My son prefers Nutella in his. Serve them hot with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top. Turning them over can be tricky…try using chopsticks or shish kabob skewers.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (about 5 ounces) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup milk (or egg nog if you make them during the holidays)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup jam or Nutella
  • confectioners sugar, for serving

Directions: 

  • In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, milk, vanilla and 2 tablespoons melted butter until combined. Stir in dry ingredients. Do not overmix.
  • In a small bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff but not dry peaks form, about 3 minutes. This is my daughter’s favorite part…who doesn’t love using an electric mixer! Fold egg whites into batter.
  • Put ebelskiver pan over medium high heat. Add 1/4 teaspoon butter to each well of the mold (sometimes I cheat and use Pam for baking), add 1 tablespoon of batter. Top each well with 1 teaspoon of jam or Nutella, then top with another 1 tablespoon batter. Let ebelskivers cook until bottoms are golden, about 4 minutes, then flip and continue to cook until tops are also golden, 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil. Repeat with rest of batter, then serve immediately with powdered sugar on top.

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The history of Vail: the no-named mountain

The 10th Mountain Division during WWII

WWII veterans Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton established Vail Ski Resort. They discovered a peak with a good location and snow that they called, “no-name mountain.” We know it today as Vail which opened in 1962 with one tottering gondola and five dollar lift tickets.

In 1957, Eaton led his friend Seibert up a deserted mountain of treeless bowls of powdery snow and skiing terrain so beautiful that Seibert said, “We’ve climbed all the way to heaven.”

Seibert, who trained for alpine combat was in the 10th Mountain Division and fought on skis. The 10th Mountain Division was charged with driving the Germans from the Alps. Seibert was hit by mortar fire in the Alpine Mountains of northern Italy, and his right kneecap was badly damaged. He was evacuated from the front lines and after three days, doctors said he would never again walk. Two years later, Seibert was a ski instructor in Aspen. Eaton was an Army engineer. After the war, Eaton worked on the ski patrol in many slopes, including Aspen, where he met Seibert and he mentioned his secret no-name mountain. Eaton told Seibert that, “It was the damnedest ski mountain he had ever seen and that the only reason someone hadn’t already developed it was because no one could see the top slopes or the miraculous Back Bowls from the valley below.”

Seibert handled business affairs and Eaton played an important role in designing Vail’s layouts. Eaton was in charge of mapping and cutting ski trails and building the original lifts. Seibert said, “I’m the founder of Vail, but Earl is the finder of the mountain.” 

Founders of Vail, Eaton in the middle and Seibert on the left.

Today, Vail is full of first, second and third generation residents. It’s the playground for ski enthusiasts from all over the world. Vail quickly grew to become one of the biggest and most popular snow sports destinations in the United States.  

Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the morning to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous…for they may act on their dream…and make it possible.” ~Pete Seibert

Thank you Seibert and Eaton for making the best and most varied ski resort. Vail is the ski trip of our dreams…it’s like nothing on Earth!

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Robert Wyland…an artist inspiring future conservationists

Have you ever listened to a child critique art? They are the best…no filter, honest and very observant of things we might not see at their eye level. The conversations they have about art are priceless. One of my first grade students said while looking at a Wyland painting, “Look, I’m swimming with the turtle and I’m not even wet.” Every year during open house our elementary has a traveling art exhibit. This year we hosted Robert Wyland. Children could not pass by the beautiful art work without stopping to stare. We could only have the banners for one week but it gave children the chance to explore and hopefully recognize Wyland so that when they someday see one of his one-hundred Whaling Walls, they will remember studying Wyland.
Here are some questions, quotes and information about Robert Wyland to inspire you and your children…
 
Robert Wyland:

Wyland is a world-renowned marine life artist who celebrates art, science and conservation. He was the official USA artist for the Olympic games in England. Wyland has painted one-hundred Whaling Walls over twenty-seven years and he did them all for free. Did you know that he has used art and science education to inspire kids around America so they will take care the planet? He’s very passionate about teaching children and has painted with over one million kids in all fifty states and many countries around the world in the last twenty years. He wants to inspire children to protect, promote, and preserve our environment. Wyland’s paintings are a celebration of the wonder of our blue planet. His murals are designed to motivate environmental awareness and stewardship, particularly in children. Wyland says, “You can choose not to go into a gallery or a museum, but you can’t ignore a giant mural like this. If people see this beauty, I know they’ll want to get involved in protecting it.” 

Have you ever met a sea turtle face to face? How about a spinner dolphin or a blue whale? The ocean can be steps away, but their world couldn’t be more different from ours…dive in with Wyland without even getting wet. 
 
Wyland is all about educating children about conservation. Here’s some inspiration from him to help us teach our children to care for the planet…
 
Conservation tips:
When brushing your teeth, turn the water off while you are actually brushing. Use short bursts of water for cleaning your brush and this will save about 80% of the water normally used. 
A faucet that drips a drop a second is leaking 2,600 gallons of water a year…so fix the drip!
Did you know that it takes five-hundred years for one plastic water bottle to break down. Be certain your empty bottles head to recycling centers. Better yet, skip the plastic bottle and choose reusable water bottles filled from home!
Wyland quotes:
The ocean is an amazing, indescribable world filled with color, movement, emotion and light.
The only thing you can hope for is to enjoy every moment and try to keep the balance by giving something back.
Saving the planet is a cool thing to do!
If you happen to see a whale, it’s only because they want you to.
Water is life and we have to protect it.
 
Craving more? Here are a couple of little videos that I showed my class…

 

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Get Lost with your family in Lost Pines (part deux)

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Everything’s bigger in Texas…especially your vacation! Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa has a way of making families feel at home. This year, we brought our puppy with us and he fit right in with the alpaca.

Traveling in your own state is less stressful…it’s more like living part of your life somewhere else. It feels really exciting, especially when we feel good about taking the whole family (dog included).

On our first full day at Lost Pines we couldn’t wait to get started exploring and getting outside. My husband and I knew that we wouldn’t be able to get the kids out of the Crooked River Water Park so we planned our big activities (ziplining and horseback riding) in the mornings.

There are so many kid-friendly activities for all ages. My daughter couldn’t wait to go to the hair-braiding station and my son wanted to get up close with the resident longhorn. Parents can enjoy time to rest and relax at Spa Django while the kids enjoy Camp Hyatt.

There are nine Texas-style restaurants on site to enjoy. Shellers Barrelhouse and Old Bucks were our favorites.  They both have the Austin-style musical feel (with live music most nights).  We couldn’t get enough of the BBQ chicken and pulled pork sandwiches but made sure to save room for s’mores.

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Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort offers their guests a Texas experience that makes you feel like you’re deep in the heart of the Lone Star State. There are plenty of ways to enjoy a Texas-style vacation with out leaving the property… Upon checking in we were given an activity calendar of all the things we could experience: tennis, full-service Spa Django, 18-hole Wolfdancer Golf Club, horseback riding, kayaking, trap shooting, s’mores by the campfire, nature hikes, zipline, rock climbing, biking, archery, wagon rides, face painting, balloon making…My children’s favorite was the Crooked River water park because “a river runs through it!” This water park has a sandy beach, waterfalls, a lazy river, and waterslides.

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Birthdays: Celebrating New Decades!

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Any birthday with a ZERO on the end is reason to celebrate! Almost all of our family has a summer birthday and most of us end with a zero this year…so that means we celebrated new decades together. My mother-in-law, my Dad, husband, daughter (and me too) happily share that zero.

Along with another birthday comes the inevitable question of how to celebrate… The good news about having a summer birthday is that it’s an excellent reason to skip town and celebrate!! The most important thing to remember about celebrating birthdays is that you want to make sure you have your family with you.

MY MOTHER-IN-LAW…

People and Events from 1936

My mother-in-law is quick-witted, business minded and has a love for horses and dogs. My children call her Nana. She is a super energetic Nana, quick-witted, and systematic by nature. Her recipe for a happy life might go like this…read a good book, ride a horse and cook with gas!

Song: Bing Crosby’s Pennies from Heaven

Movie: Anything Goes

Book: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is published

President: Roosevelt is re-elected for a second term

Fun fact: French chemist, Eugene Schueller (founder of L’Oreal), invents the first sunscreen this year.

Cost: gas was 10 cents a gallon, bread was 8 cents and stamps were 3 cents

Icon: Olivia de Havilland

Quote: Between two evils, I take the one I never tried before. ~Mae West in Klondike Annie

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MY DAD…

People and Events from 1946

My Dad said in his lifetime achievement award a few months ago, “Great effort reaps great rewards.” I’ve heard him say that all my life. Another favorite…”The Champion is the one that gets up the most times after he has been knocked down.” My Dad is many things: he’s a coach (on and off the court), a proud Tar Heel, a teacher, a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, most importantly…he’s a good man! My Dad is always optimistic, attracts plenty of attention wherever he goes, he’s wise, and is highly understanding.

Song: Dinah Shore’s Laughing on the Outside

Movie: The Best Years of our Lives

Book: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

President: Harry S. Truman 

Fun fact: Bikinis and Tupperware go on sale this year.

Cost: gas was 21 cents a gallon, bread was 10 cents and stamps were 3 cents

Icon: Ava Gardner

Quote: The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. ~Albert Einstein

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MY HUSBAND

People and Events from 1966

My husband who loves being together with his family, lives for Alabama football, makes a great cocktail and is a huge Beatles fan. He’s positive, diligent, charming and resourceful.

Song: The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black 

Movie: Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

Book: Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls  

President: Lyndon B. Johnson

Fun fact: Mini skirts and color TVs became popular

Cost: gas was 32 cents a gallon, bread was 20 cents and stamps were 5 cents

Icon: Audrey Hepburn

Quotes: Beam me up, Scotty ~William Shatner, as Cat. James Kirk, in Star Trek

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C’EST MOI

People and Events from 1976

I’ve always thought it was cool that I’m a Bicentennial baby! My parents took this picture when I was about three. My parents used to sing, Oh Sweet Pea to me and another one of my Dad’s nicknames for me is his “little quail bird.” I also nicknamed myself about this time, Sizzlean because I loved the name…I also love bacon!

Song: Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight

Movie: The Bad News Bears

Book: Peter Benchley’s The Deep 

President: Gerald Ford

Fun fact: Apple Computer was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Cost: gas was 59 cents, bread was 30 cents and stamps were 13 cents

Icon: Charo

Quotes: You talkin’ to me? ~Robert De Niro, as Travis Bickle, in Taxi Driver

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MA FILLE

People and Events from 2006

My daughter loves to paint, dance and swim like a fish…I call her my “little mermaid.”

Song: KT Tunstall’s Black Horse and the Cherry Tree

Movie: Cars 

Book: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love

President: George W. Bush

Fun fact: Pluto is downgraded from a Planet to a dwarf planet by The International Astronomical Union.

Cost: gas was $3.03, bread was 97 cents and stamps were 39 cents

Icon: Heidi Klum

Quote: I’d like to grow old with my face moving. ~Kate Winslet said about why she would not consider plastic surgery.

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Many happy returns to my fellow ZERO birthdays!

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Puppy Power

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Our new puppy, Archer, has soft puppy fur, floppy ears, and that curious look that is so darn cute! There’s also that special puppy smell…much like the distinctive scent of a newborn baby. He is full of love and energy…we like to call him, “Puppy Power!”

Meeting our puppy for the first time was quite an experience. As we drove down to Chappell Hill, Texas we were anxious to find out which puppy would be ours. We watched him play with his brothers and then he was the one that really picked us. He grabbed my daughter’s long braid and said, “Hey, I want to play with you!

It’s funny how a new dog makes you miss the old one. Archer takes great pleasure in ripping up a paper towel just like our other dogs. We lost our two basset hounds a couple of years ago. We are so happy to hear the pitter patter of puppy feet again and it’s nice to be reminded of our old dogs too.

Having a puppy is a lot like having a baby again. We are very careful to keep him on his schedule and are sure to have a wake-up call (even on the weekends) if we oversleep.

Sometimes I think Archer is a goat. He’s actually a Labrador retriever. But he sinks his chewy teeth into everything…boxes, barbie dolls, swimming goggles, candy wrappers, my son’s arm and of course shoes!

Our puppy training skills are rusty. Stay tuned to “Puppy Power” part two when Archer goes to school.

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Vail: Rites of Spring

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Sunshine, google tans, spring back to winter snow, cold après-ski cocktails on or off the mountain…the only thing not to love about spring skiing is the inevitable end of the season.

The clock bells chimed four times, that meant the lifts were closing. My husband said, “Hurry, we can still get on for one more run.” We weren’t out of steam just yet! The four of us hopped on the Eagle Bahn Gondola to end the day on a high note. If the lifts are running, so were we! It felt like we were the only ones on the mountain. It had just snowed like crazy and it was perfect skiing…powder on top of powder! We wanted to hold on to the day and the season just a little longer. It’s amazing how so much fun can take your mind off your sore feet and bruised shins.

Vail, how I love thee! Let me count the ways…

  1. Thousands of groomed terrain means there’s something for everyone whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or expert skier. Vail has the best and largest ski schools on Earth to help you get your kids to be future expert skiers. It’s nice to see your kids make friends with kids from around the world. Vail is the giant of ski resorts because it offers 195 named trails and it’s world-famous for its “Back Bowls” that span around 3,000 acres.
  2. Ice skating is a fun activity for the whole family. My daughter even skated with her American Girl Doll, Maryellen. Vail has both indoor and outdoor rinks. The Arrabelle in Lionshead steals our hearts with the beautiful scenery, outdoor fireplaces and twinkle lights.
  3. Vail is a foodie’s haven. These are our favorites: Up the Creek (a treasure by Gore Creek serving seasonal fresh farm to plate meals and signature cocktails), Campo De Fiori (authentic Italian cuisine with fresh and local ingredients), Mountain Standard (enjoy a rustic and relaxed atmosphere where the primal cooking method is over a wood fire), Swiss Chalet (traditional European cuisine in a casual mountain atmosphere).
  4. Vail is known for its relaxing spas. I think it’s nice to start out the vacation with a visit to the spa. After a plane ride and unpacking a massage makes you think, Yeessss! The vacation has just begun! The Spa at the Arrabelle (voted #19 of the top 270 spas in the world) was the perfect way to relax into the vacation.
  5. There’s more to Vail than winter…try hiking and mountain biking during the non-skiing months. Use the staff like you would for ski school and hire a tour guide to take you around so you don’t need the trail map. You can rent a bike and ride downhill. The bonus is that there’s a gondola bike haul.

Vail is known around the world as one of the most popular destinations for skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, fine dining, hot air balloons, spas and more. The relaxing vibe and town of world-class athletes makes Vail the perfect place to vacation. It’s the favorite place for serious athletes, foodies, and spa junkies. Experienced skiers and outdoor enthusiasts will agree that Vail is the best and most varied resort. No matter the season, it’s like nothing on Earth!

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Gustav Klimt and Georges Seurat…for children

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Children are the best observers. It was such a joy to come to school while the traveling art exhibit was on display and hear the conversations that children were having about Klimt and Seurat. I heard one of my students say…”Klimt was one of the greatest artists because he used gold swirly whirlies in his paintings.” It was fun to see my first graders be inspired by Seurat and create a painting using dots (pointillism) just like Seurat.  For one week, the school was covered in the happy wallpaper of Klimt and Seurat. Children could not walk by the banners without staring in awe at these incredible masterpieces.
 
Having these beautiful pieces of art at Hilltop made for a powerful learning environment…it gave children the chance to explore, observe and experience art that we can’t just fly off to Paris to see. When you go to a museum, you have the power to choose what to look at…the children now have the pictures stored in your head. The memories created are filed for future reference. It was a pleasure to be a docent for our school and to watch the children gain an appreciation for Klimt and Seurat.
Here are some questions, quotes and information about Gustav Klimt and Georges Seurat to inspire you and your children…
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Gustav Klimt:
Gustav Klimt was one of seven children. Klimt’s father was a gold engraver…around all that gold Klimt was very poor for most of his childhood. It was a difficult time to get work and he was very lucky to be awarded a scholarship to the Vienna School of the Arts. He loved art, life and his cat. Klimt’s style of swirling flowing lines and patterns was called “Art Nouveau” or “New Art.” Klimt lived a simple life. He wore a robe and sandals while he painted all day, every day…it paid off because some of his paintings sold for more than $135 million dollars. Gustav painted highly ornamental figures that appear to float in a dream like space. Exploring Klimt, gives us the opportunity to look at shapes with fresh eyes.

Questions to ask children: When would you have guessed these were painted? What shapes can you see? Why does Klimt like gold so much? Why does he like cats? Think about how Seurat and Klimt grew up…one was poor, one rich. Was money important? Did they both work hard and keep trying?

Quotes to inspire children:
Art is a line around your thoughts.
Look carefully at my pictures and try and see in them what I am and what I want to do.

Craving more? Here’s a little video that I showed my class…Who is Gustav Klimt?

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George Seurat:

Seurat developed a technique called “pointillism” using tiny dots of colors, which become blended in the viewer’s eye. If you have the chance to see it, look at it close up, then take a few steps back and see Seurat’s vision. Seurat never gave up…even when his art was rejected in Paris. He decided to form an independent art society as he developed his pointillism technique that later took off. This new method of painting used dots instead of brush strokes to create the picture was all the rage in Paris. Georges Seurat spent two years working on the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” (French for big river)…it was as bigger than a mini van and was only twenty-six when he completed it. This same painting was on loan in 1958 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City when a fire broke out. The fire damaged some paintings, but Seurat’s beloved work was whisked away to safety through an elevator evacuation plan.

Unlike Klimt, Georges Seurat was from a very wealthy family in Paris during a time when money was hard to come by. Seurat worked with mostly crayons on paper…just like an everyday kid!! His work has been described as the most beautiful painter’s drawings in existence. Do you agree?

Other questions to ask children: Can art and science combine? Did you know that Seurat’s most famous painting has had more screen time than any other piece of art? Here are a few places you might have seen La Grande Jatte: Ferris Bueller’s Day OffSesame StreetThe Simpsons, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action

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Quotes to inspire children:
Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science.
Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.
Under a blazing mid-afternoon summer sky, we see the Seine (that’s the river you see in the painting) flooded with sunshine…people are strolling, others are sitting or stretched out lazily on the bluish grass.

Here’s a video about Seurat that children will enjoy and this video is “artrageous” too!

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