Live, Laugh, Love

There are many celebratory songs that can make us smile and feel grateful for where we are now in life. For me, one of the most popular may be Celebrate good times come on! Let’s celebrate We hear that song at most weddings. For my friend, Laurie, celebrating ten years of being cancer free, I thought of Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time

if you’re lost you can look–and you will find me
time after time
if you fall I will catch you–I’ll be waiting…
time after time 

Laurie had a roomful of people who would “catch ” her Friday morning during a surprise birthday party before school. Honoring her struggle with cancer and celebrating life was truly a miracle and cause for celebration. Laurie found out she had inflammatory breast cancer on her thirtieth birthday; it was stage 3B and she only had a four percent survival rate.

Laurie had mentioned the day of her “cancerversary” how she had been blessed with two families, one at home and one at work. This is so true; we will always have the support of our families, and if you are so lucky, those friendly faces at work you see everyday become your family too.

Laurie said in a letter to her school family, “I hope you will take this opportunity to count YOUR blessings. Even if you are going through a difficult time this season, look closer at how God is working in your life. I don’t know why He chose to allow me to survive, nor do I know if the cancer will return, but I know I will continue to give Him my praise.”
This is the season for us to celebrate life and its many blessings. Laurie is an inspiration and a reminder to honor those true values in life, our family, friends, and our relationship with God.

Winston Churchill said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”There are a million things to feel good about in a day. So much of the fight with cancer is about attitude. Something I have always admired about Laurie is her willingness to do for others. It’s people like her that make the world a better place.

There are times when words can’t describe feelings as well as art can. Sometimes art can move us in ways that we didn’t know were possible to feel; art can be a tap into our emotions. I remember last year seeing a dance piece on So You Think You Can Dance about a woman facing breast cancer. This piece expresses the message of hope, frustration, anguish, and love; it is one of the most moving dance performances ever! It’s impossible not to feel a million emotions all at once watching this beautiful dance.

The art of living is like a dance that may not have been choreographed; we are all dancers! There are lines in Kate Bush’s Woman’s Work like, “Pray God you can cope” and “Just make it go away” that resonate with the emotions experienced by those dealing with cancer. At the end of this dance, you see the person who loves her catch and carry her; that’s what friends and family do! Then she looks up to the sky and you know she has a relationship with God. There’s a passage that starts, Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Thank you God for Laurie; she is a gift to so many!

Live, laugh, love everyday!

Hubbard Street Dance Company Comes to Dallas

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When I was twenty years-old, I auditioned for Hubbard Street Dance Company . I was majoring in dance at the University of Alabama and three other of my Alabama dance major friends traveled to Dallas together to audition for Hubbard Street at the Booker T. Washington High School. I remember being so nervous; stretching and warming up feeling optimistic that I would get my big break! Once the audition began they split the hundred or more dancers into groups of three to do a basic ballet step: tombe pas de bourree glissade assemble. They then picked a select few to stay from that and told the rest of us, thank you very much. That was it!
My mom and I had seen Hubbard Street at Texas Woman’s University in ’94. I will never forget the dancer moving slowly like liquid gold to Willie Nelson’s Georgia on my Mind. I was hooked; this was and always will be my favorite dance company. I saw them again in Dallas after the audition and then more recently on Friday night at the Winspear Opera House.
It would have been a dream come true to have danced for Hubbard Street. They are free-flowing, contemporary, jazzy, strong, athletic, modern, balletic, and full of life. My classically modern body was made to dance for them. Oh Hubbard Street, if only you would take on a thirty-four year old mother of two into your wonderful company! I’m not twenty anymore but I’m still hungry with a passion to dance. What’s unfair about aging to a dancer is that with additional life experience dancers are more capable of demonstrating feeling and emotion than younger dancers who haven’t either seen with or into as many tearful or disappointment laden eyes.
My friend Margot and I sat in the Winspear Opera House on Friday to watch three unique pieces by three different choreographers. Each piece was like a new language (that’s what dance is, the simplest form of language). The first piece, Tabula Rasa (meaning blank slate) had a sense of calm. The second piece, Physikal Linguistiks, fused hip-hop with ballet. The last piece, Untouched, had a Spanish feel and was moving (literally).

There were movements like the ocean when the dancers seemed like calming waves; it was like a built in intermission for the soul. There were also strong poses, matrix moves, and playful manipulation. Hubbard Street won’t let you check out mentally! They make you gasp, laugh, breathe…I love the unexpected! Dancers came out into the audience and for a moment you couldn’t tell if they meant to. One dancer pretended to be an usher and the spotlight kept following her. I also love the added element of sound from the body: a slap of the hand, breath, even talking to the audience all make dance human and relatable.Something I love that Hubbard Street does is their work with children in public schools. Creative movement is a necessity I think! It teaches children that they can have their own unique way of moving through life. I feel that teaching Pilates to kids does this too. With both dance and Pilates children can build confidence in their body and learn control and coordination while waking up the mind. There are so many children who are kinesthetic learners; when Hubbard Street Dance Company introduces creative movement to children, they open up a huge window for creative learning and the expansion of individual pride.

In a few weeks, thanks to the Greater Denton Arts Council, our school (as well as several in the surrounding area) will be invited to see the Denton Ballet Academy’s performance of the Nutcracker. In preparation for the field trip and to enhance student appreciation for a story we read about dance, I decided to dance for second grade in my pointe shoes and tutu. I wanted them to see close up and appreciate that ballerinas are athletes. It was also important to me to make ballet cool, especially for the boys!

Anything in the arts has a stereotype. It makes me sad that children get tuned into that so early. A child’s view of the arts is so pure; they see more than we do because they haven’t been tainted with negative opinions. What I love about all of the arts is that everyone will see something different. Children’s pure eyes pull out more than we do. My friend mentioned, I tried to “get it” but I’m not sure I did. As long as it makes you think long after you see it, it’s a great work! Sometimes seeing a piece that is foreign to the eyes takes some getting used to.

My parents gave me the gift of culture exposure early on. They sent me to Europe after high school and then in college to Harvard Summer Dance Program. My friend Ginger and I were thrilled to have Harvard credit on our transcripts! This exposure made me who I am today; it opened my eyes to a life outside my home that was rich with the arts.

The rich aura provided by appreciation of the arts can be icing on the cake of life. Life is simply better with it. It can’t be complete without it. Martha Graham’s words are to me a special resonation of the way I feel about the relationship between the art form of dance and life.

I am a dancer. I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living…. In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God. ~Martha Graham

For you and your little dancers I highly recommend the following movies and sites:

Cupcakes and Conversation shares interviews with dancers around the world.
Ballerina Project beautiful photographs of ballerinas set in New York City.
Angelina Ballerina my daughter loves the books, show, and this site!
The Red Shoes movie is a ballet classic; I cannot tell you how many times I have watched it (this would make an excellent stocking stuffer)!

hubbard street

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.

 

 

Knitting cookies, baking sweaters

 

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The happiest people are those who do things for others. Just put a bit of yourself in a homemade gift. Making something, anything, is one of the very best ways to show your love for family and friends. Children love to do for others if given the opportunity.

I don’t knit, but I appreciate the love that goes into the creation just like baking. I think knitting and baking are similar in the way that both take concentration in putting it all together, but there’s also something very therapeutic and meditative about each process.

I’ve always heard people who practice yoga are some of the happiest people on earth. I think it’s that quiet meditation found in yoga, but it can be found in other activities like baking and knitting, too. It’s that pure creative process that gives off an inner peace. I find that same peace when my hand touches the ballet bar for plies, practicing Pilates and hearing just the sound of my breath, and again when I’m baking and making the house smell good. What makes knitting and baking different from other activities is that it’s a gift. You are creating for someone else, something made from love.

Baking is a great way to get the kids involved in the kitchen and they get to help with a gift for someone they care about. Children can be taught to knit, too. I remember my grandmother teaching me something simple; I made headbands in all different colors for my family. I see knitting and baking as a great activity for children because it can help with fine motor skills.

My grandmother knitted sweaters, Christmas stockings, and blankets for all the grandchildren. They are all little treasures to our family. What better time to think of knitting than with new babies and holiday gifts. I was very lucky to have my friend from ballet knit a baby blanket for my daughter and my friend’s mother from Austria knit a baby sweater for my son. The feel of the blanket and sweater is plush and soft. You can see and sense the work that goes into knitting.

It seems like knitting was becoming a lost art for a while. A knitted gift has such a long lifespan that continued appreciation for them far exceeds feelings for anything “store-bought.” I think of my little red and green stop and go mittens my grandmother made for me that my children now wear. It’s like they are wearing hugs on each hand.

Don’t have a granny or friend who can knit you something? There are websites that let you pick out your own granny to knit a hat or scarf. When you look at the grannies’ faces you can tell the result will make you smile. How could you not love something someone made for you? You may not just see grannies knitting anymore now that Kate Hudson has made knitting hip and young people have taken it up again. There are many books and magazines that have made knitting chic and not just for babies. There was a gorgeous hat Carrie Bradshaw wore in Sex and the City when she was in Paris. I would love to make something like that someday.

Where I am in my life, working with small children, I can’t bring myself to add a “new” activity like knitting right now. If there were only eight days a week, ah the things I would do. I have to pick what to do with my windows and what makes me a happy person is doing ballet and baking. That’s what I have time for now. One day I’ll make room for learning how to knit, until then I will appreciate what others can do.

Click on these links for more knitting information:
http://www.goldenhook.fr/
http://www.stitches-of-faith.com/

Please enjoy a family favorite that my mother, daughter, and I love to bake during the holidays.

Spiced Cardamom Cookies
5 ¾ C flour
1t baking soda
1T salt
1T ground cardamom
1t ground allspice
¼ t ground pepper
¼ ground cloves
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 C dark brown sugar
½ C sugar
½ C dark corn syrup
¼ C water
¼ C heavy cream
1 large egg
2 t vanilla

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cardamom, allspice, pepper, and cloves in a large bowl. Place butter in a mixer bowl. Bring sugars, corn syrup, and water to a boil in a large saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour hot sugar mixture over butter, and then beat on low speed until combined. Beat cream egg, and vanilla in a bowl, then add to butter mixture, Beat on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Divide dough into thirds, and flatten each into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 350. Roll out 1 disk between lightly floured parchment to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out shapes with holiday cookie cutters. Spacing them1 inch apart on cookie sheet. Bake cookies until edges are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. If small start checking after 8 minutes.

Birthday Monsters

You’re not awake. It’s 6 o’clock. You hear a ring. You hear KNOCK KNOCK. You hear the door come crashing down- THE BIRTHDAY MONSTERS ARE IN TOWN!”

This is the beginning of my daughter’s favorite book of the moment, Birthday Monsters! By Sandra Boynton. Zooey recently turned three and our house was visited by the “birthday monsters” for about a week! We waited for them on the porch, we looked for them in the kitchen, under the beds, in the closets…This is a game she came up with! She was determined to find those “birthday monsters”!

It seems they only came when she was asleep leaving behind a mess of wrapping paper and crumbs from an eaten cake. Zooey was so excited about her birthday! She would say for weeks, “My birthday is coming up soon!” When it finally arrived she wanted to know, “Is my birthday down now?” Well, her birthday was on a Tuesday and her party not until Saturday. So…Zooey’s birthday and the “birthday monsters” stayed DOWN for about a week!

Who are the monsters? In Sandra Boynton’s book, they come make a giant whirlwind of a mess, leave with the presents and cake, then come back to clean up. I think the “birthday monsters” are real! They could be a number of things: a wild birthday girl, grandparents spoiling your child, you spending too much money on a birthday party…Poor pathetic parents (myself included)! Always cleaning and working so hard to make time with their child special, meaningful, and unforgettable.

Kids just want to feel special with the simple things. My 2nd graders want to share cupcakes with their class and have “Happy Birthday” sung to them! My three year old wants cupcakes too, but more important are balloons and lollipops! I think children don’t care as long as they’re having fun with their friends and Mom and Dad are smiling with them. Simplicity with a heaping cup of thoughtfulness is the best, always!

I remember my birthday parties; they were homey parties with a splash of extra love and care my Mom always threw in. I like home! I like to bake my own cupcakes, do my own planning, and try to make it about family and friends celebrating my child’s special day. Like Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like home! This is true for birthdays but also the holidays. Think about the memories you have of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, The Fourth of July…!

It’s all about the food, right! The kitchen provides the ambience: good smells coming from the oven, music and laughter in the background, good conversations with family and friends, a nice cup of something. That’s contentment! I remember being in the kitchen with my mom baking vanilla cupcakes, I’m sure that is what heaven will smell like! Whenever I smell cupcakes, memories of Mom’s kitchen come into my mind. I hope I can do that for my children.

Cooking is one of the very best ways I can think of to show my love for my family and friends. I love to see my daughter and son’s round tummy pooching out! I know it is full of love and I am content knowing I made what went into that adorable pooch! As cheesy as it may sound I think the secret ingredient that makes anything taste divine is love.

The “birthday monsters” come and go, but what lasts are the memories. When Zooey asks me with a giant smile, “Mommy, do I smell cupcakes?” I know I’ve made her happy with a simple birthday pleasure and she will remember the smell! Smells have a way of getting stuck in your memory. You know what I’m talking about! Now, go make something yummy and feed your child’s belly with love. And if Daddy eats the leftovers you can call him a “birthday monster”!

Birthday Monster Cupcakes
2 C cake flour
2 t baking powder
¼ t salt
½ C whole milk
2 t vanilla
1 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ C sugar
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350. Using a stand mixer, beat butter with the paddle on medium speed until creamy. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Drizzle in eggs one at a time. Add dry ingredients a little at a time alternating with milk and vanilla. Beat just until combined. Pour batter into lined muffin tins using an ice cream scoop. Bake 18-20 minutes.

Cream cheese frosting
1 stick softened unsalted butter
8 oz pkg. softened cream cheese.
4 C powdered sugar
1T vanilla

Mix butter and cream cheese together and gradually add powdered sugar beating until smooth and creamy. Stir in 1T vanilla. After frosting cupcakes, sprinkle with coconut. (At Christmas we freeze the cupcakes then roll in coconut and call them snowballs).

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