It’s the thought that counts when it comes to teachers’ gifts

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We are approaching the end of the school year. With teacher appreciation week coming up I found it suitable to write about gifts of thanks!

Parents are the most important teachers a child has and if your child sees you modeling appreciation they are likely to follow suit. It’s always nice to have words of thanks. Sometimes those are the very best and memorable gifts. How nice when you have double the thanks from the parents and the child. It all goes back to what each and every teacher has said to you, “Follow the Golden Rule!” (Treat others as you want to be treated). Everyone needs a pat on the back. Teachers fall in love with the kids in their class every year and think of each student as their own child (if only for a short time). A teacher’s heart is huge and simple words of thanks can mean so much. A token of appreciation coming from a student and the parents can make a teacher beam.

Photo: Second grade teachers celebrate a successful conference with doughnuts!

Gifts to Give

Make it personal: what do you know about your child’s teacher? Last week a teacher celebrated her birthday and was so thrilled to receive tickets to see Jimmy Buffet in a bucket because it was on her bucket list! It’s nice that her class knew her well enough to know she would love this gift! Another teacher once got a “summer of fun” all rolled up! Every time she unrolled more paper she found tickets to summer musicals and gift cards for ice cream, all for her family to enjoy over the summer break.

Homemade gifts, such as small plants in pots decorated by students. (Last year I received a pot decorated with each child’s fingerprint to look like ladybugs. The inside was full of gift cards that suited me! It was personal and memorable).

Notes of appreciation from students (for example, a class photo with the children’s sweet words all around it)

Time! Offer to do her recess duty or pick up the kids from lunch so she might enjoy some extra time. (Last year our Principal gave us the gift of time and showed the kids a movie while teachers got to work in their rooms to complete permanent records and catch up. That was the best)!

Gifts to Avoid

• Teachers are fully stocked in candles, body lotions, and coffee mugs! Unless you know her favorite scent, smells can be too personal a gift.

• A fellow teacher says this, “I always like to compare gift giving for a teacher to any other professional gift. Would you give your lawyer, accountant, or doctor a stack of post-it notes or ball point pens?” Unless they ask for it, it’s just not very personal or thoughtful!

• I have had gifts that cracked me up! As it turns out they are the most memorable: a used gift card, a dusty broken angel with one arm from grandma’s attic, a child once said, “Here Mrs. Cooley, my mom got this in the mail for free and doesn’t want it, it’s your present now!” Yeah, it may have made me feel underappreciated! But, I have to step back and look at the big picture to see it’s the child who is appreciating me! And that’s what counts!

It’s the thought! You have heard it all your life, and it’s true, it really is the thought THAT COUNTS. No gift (in the traditional sense) is necessary. The thought, however, should be sincere and heartfelt. That’s what counts. A “thank you”, expressed in a sincere and meaningful way can fuel inspiration for a teacher to find new ways to reach and help more children in the future.

Be sensitive to your child! When all the students come in with a designated gift and if they don’t have one, they will feel just awful! Many children will come back in from recess with freshly picked weeds or bring back an apple from their lunch because they want to contribute too. Another fellow teacher said when most of her students were showering her with candy, flowers, and gift cards a little girl came up with tears and said: “I didn’t have anything to bring you from home…..but I do have a very special gift for you.” With that being said…she threw her arms around my neck….and gave me a huge hug …and said ….”Mrs. Beaver….I love you so much!” With all of the wonderful gifts sitting on my desk….that was the best!! Giving of one’s self, no matter how small, means the most to teachers.

Teachers give so much of their time, heart, and self to their students and their community, what could be more wonderful than taking the trouble to say thank you, in a wholehearted way.

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Just like in Shel Silverstein’s
The Giving Tree, teachers give and give to their students. What’s nice is that some of those students come back years later when the teacher thinks she has nothing left to give, all the child wants is to share something they’ve accomplished and for you to say, “Good job, I’m proud of you!” The teacher obliges and the child is happy!

Our wonderful PTA gives the sweetest suggestions I’m sure you will find helpful for Teacher Appreciation Week (ours is a movie theme):

Lights: Brighten up your teacher’s day by bringing her favorite flower or a flower from your garden.
Camera: draw a picture; give a picture of you and your teacher, frame, disposable camera, scrapbook supplies.
Action: make a card, poem, or handmade coupons for classroom chores.
Roll out the Red Carpet: wear red to show spirit and/or bring your teacher something red.
Premiere: pamper your teacher to make her feel like a “star”…a note, sweet treats, manicure/pedicure, gift card to the movies, restaurant, or her favorite place to shop).

I’m sure you noticed that these are things you can do with little to no money! After all, it’s the thought that counts.

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Photo: Mrs. Cooley’s sweet second grade class

Style…It’s Personal

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Style is personal! I think as long as you love what you’re wearing and it makes you happy and feel good, then you have style. It’s easy to spot “the followers” (those who do not have their own style because they copy others). Having style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not caring what others think. It’s a way of life.

I am the average female consumer. I have an endless supply of fashion magazines at home that remind me there are many expensive things to buy out there, but that’s not why I look at them! Style is an art and I find it stimulating, beautiful, and fun!

I’ve had some memorable shopping experiences. My favorites were Galeries Lafayette (a department store in Paris) and Manolo Blahnik shoe store in NYC. Walking into Galeries Lafayette is like walking into a magical jewelry box. No matter which direction you turn, it is charming, stunning, and there is treasure everywhere. I think the equivalent to Galeries Lafayette in Dallas, Texas would be our own, Forty Five Ten because it is très chic with eclectic spunk! I like my closet to feel that way! A woman’s closet should be a happy place.

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Seeing the Coco Chanel exhibit at the Met was like entering the closet of a princess. So many sparkles, pretty colors, and soft fabrics. Coco Chanel said “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury and some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity. “

I think the French have an innate style of their own. They don’t want to give the impression that they’ve made any effort; a woman should look relaxed and charming. I think some people get a little obsessed with how they dress when really no one cares that much. It’s more about feeling comfortable in your own skin. The French don’t care about being liked like we do. I think it’s that confidence that gives French women an edge.

Women should put forth effort in getting dressed and not overlook the details, because we all know accessories pull an outfit together. Style can be a question of education. If your mother was stylish when you were growing up, it is likely you are stylish too. I had the ultimate compliment in Paris when Parisians would mistake me for French and be surprised when I spoke English.

Dancer Isadora Duncan, upon being asked what her dance meant, said, “If I could say it, I wouldn’t dance it.” There are some things you just can’t explain. I feel the same way about style; you wear what you want to wear because of the way it makes you feel. Isadora Duncan loved scarves. I imagine it was because of the way a silk scarf feels on your skin, unbelievably good!

I crack up at the
Bluefly commercial… a woman waits patiently in the security line until she’s asked to remove her shoes (the only thing she is wearing) and then the commercial says, “Bluefly, always there when you have nothing to wear.”

I believe fashion is a freedom of creative expression. I love to watch Project Runway. The designers are forced to think outside the box. My favorite competition was Season 1: the grocery store challenge. I loved the dress a designer made out of a lawn chair and another made out of corn husks. Why not?

Ashley’s Spring Top Ten:

1. Basic Black Dress– Ahh, the little black dress is never wrong! My mother always told me a simple black dress and a good black shoe is a must. You have it for a wedding or a funeral, or a job interview. You can’t go wrong with a wrap or an A-line dress. They are the easiest things to throw on in the morning and make everybody look fabulous.
2. Trench Coat-never goes out of style. It’s a staple that can be dressed up or down. It’s a functional and water-resistant staple. I am on the lookout for a red trench coat after watching the movie,
Paris, Je Taime’ and seeing this chic Parisian woman wearing it, I have to find one! I imagine it being my signature piece. People would know me as “the girl in the red trench coat.”
3. Dress Pants-a soft caramel is so much nicer than black especially in the spring.
4. Nautical Stripe– a classic French shirt that always looks perfect in spring.
5. Jeans– did you know…the average American woman owns eight pairs of jeans. How many do you own?
6. Ethnic Print– easy to wear and no accessorizing needed. Put a braid in your hair and you look like you’re going to Greece.
7. Skirt– floral, feminine, flowing, gypsy-like and sweet
8. The Perfect White Blouse– I think was made famous by Katherine Hepburn who always managed to turn her white shirt into a bit more powerful fashion statement.
9. Espadrille Sandals scream, “Spring is here!”
10. Yoga Pants– I would never ever wear pajamas in public! Yoga pants however, have a healthy vibe. They might say, I’ve just come from class and I’m going to jet to the store. Or…I’m walking the dogs and taking my kids to the park. It’s an easy “I can do anything on a weekend” wear, but they can still look polished.

My style is eccentric, feminine, and me! I love to see my daughter developing her own style. She definitely has one!
There’s a Dalai Lama quote I love…
Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon. I like to approach fashion with reckless abandon. 

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Photos: Three of the most beautiful and stylish women in the world. AND…they’re all mothers! Being a Mother makes a woman more beautiful no matter what she’s wearing.

These three beautiful women are some of my style icons; do you know who they are? Do you have any? Who are they and what do you admire about them?

I Enjoy Being a Girl: Beauty Secrets, Tips, and Shortcuts

25 Mar 1954 --- Original caption: Audrey Hepburn, Dutch born darling of American film, won a coveted Oscar for the Best Performance by an Actress. The lovely 22 year old actress hit the jackpot with her first American film, Roman Holiday. Here, she is shown in the dressing room of the Center Theater, where she changed after coming from the 46th Street Theater, where she was appearing in Ondine. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

When I have a brand new hairdo
With my eyelashes all in curl,
I float as the clouds on air do,
I enjoy being a girl!

“I Enjoy Being a Girl” from Flower Drum Song

I do so enjoy being a girl! Oh yes, I am a beauty junkie! Sephora is my great big colorful and very wonderful candy store! I consider myself to be a pretty good resource when it comes to beauty products, because I consume beauty magazines like I do dark chocolate!

I think most Moms want the same thing: to look like themselves, but more beautiful, confident, and most importantly AWAKE! Just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean you can let yourself go! I think it’s fun to try something different! I do it for me but I love when my children, husband, and second graders notice. Making an effort can be fun–trying a hair accessory, using a lip stain, or putting on a favorite fragrance can make us feel like singing I feel pretty, oh so pretty! I find the older I get, the more risks and experiments I take.

The best beauty items that make you look gorgeous don’t even go in a makeup bag! Sleep, water, and vitamins! I know if I don’t get enough sleep it will affect the way I look (red eyes, dark circles, dull skin…) Vitamins are also important. I really like to think I can get all the vitamins (especially A and C) through food. Vitamin A- carrots, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, melons Vitamin C- strawberries, peppers, oranges, grapefruit, leafy greens to name a few are just as important for the body as your complexion. And of course water! Drinking water makes skin clear, smooth, and looking young.

My regimen has changed only slightly since having children with shortcuts for the better. I especially love when I find something I can combine steps with like tinted moisturizer. I have learned to prioritize and plan instead of taking my time. My routine has shrunk from 20 minutes to 5 since becoming a mom.

• Using Tinted moisturizer is three steps in one: color, lotion, and sunscreen (I like Laura Mercier)

• Concealer- Bobbi Brown says to never leave the house without it!

• Powder (I like a loose translucent powder)

• Blush- (tip: sweep blush on doing a backwards Nike swoop starting at the temple)

• Eyeliner/mascara (navy eyeliner makes the whites of your eyes pop; and the blacker the mascara the more the eyes stand out)

These are a few of my favorite things:

• Aquaphor for your baby and then some.

• Neutrogena Body Oil has the most amazing smell and it softens skin almost instantly sinking in so fast I can put on silk hose.

• V05 Hot Oil treatment has been a staple in my makeup drawer even before I could drive! It makes my hair soft and pretty.

• Fresh Soy Cleanser– super gentle and even takes off waterproof mascara

• Shu Uemura eye lash curler

• NARS blush in Orgasm

• MAKE UP FOR EVER Aqua Smoky Lash is waterproof mascara that provides volume, length, and the blackest black color.

• Fresh Sugar Face Polish with wild strawberries smells sooo good that I actually tried tasting it (not bad); it also makes your face radiant.

• Tweezerman tweezers

• Clarins UV Plus sunscreen

• OPI Dutch Tulips because it can look red or pink depending on what you’re wearing

• Clarifier pencils are used on the inner rim of the eye to brighten and widen. This was one of my favorite things after having my first baby because it makes my eyes look awake! Clarifier on the inner rim and navy eyeliner on the outer magically make my eyes look white! My favorite is Three Custom Color 

• BeneFit Benetint works on lips and cheeks

If you could only bring three beauty items to a desert island what would they be? I would take Neutrogena Body Oil, Kiehl’s lip balm, and sunscreen.

Lyndsey Peck, makeup artist and childhood friend, has this to say about makeup:

I have always loved makeup, because it is empowering even magical. It has the ability to transform anybody into whatever or whoever they choose to be. I like to use face oils, like almond or jojoba, to mix with creamy foundation. It gives a nice slip to the makeup, moisturizes the skin and keeps the coverage fairly sheer as the camera picks up every little imperfection. Cakey foundation is ugly and this alleviates that issue. Also, for a pouty lip, you can use a navy eyeliner pencil just in the corners of the lip and blend out with lipstick and a lip brush. It makes the lips look much fuller, but you have to use the eyeliner sparingly.

Photo: My daughter’s first makeup experience was dressing up like Abby Cadabby!

Out of the mouths of babes deux: proverbs written by second graders

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Proverbs give wisdom, the ability to motivate, they help us to empathize and give us hope. They are short sayings that explain a fact or a truth. Some proverbs are difficult to understand, especially for children. Proverbs can be a favorite way for teachers and parents to give age old wisdom to their children.

In preparation for open house, second grade wrote their own proverbs. First we talked about some familiar proverbs to get them thinking like: If at first you don’t succeed: try, try again. The assignment was to take the first half of a proverb and fill in a new ending. With no help, the children came up with some very honest and funny proverbs (some actually make more sense than the original)! I know you will enjoy! 

Photo: Mrs. Cooley’s class hard at work.

1. Where there’s smoke there’s BBQ.
2. When the blind lead the blind they’ll bump into each other.
3. No news is no newspaper.
4. A penny saved is a penny in the bank.
5. You can lead a horse to water but not a cow.
6. If you lie down with the dogs you’ll get fleas.
7. If you lie down with the dogs you’ll stink in the morning.
8. If at first you don’t succeed, get a new job.
9. As you make your bed so shall you mess it up.
10. Don’t bite the hand that has claws.
11. Don’t bite the hand that looks dirty.
12. A miss is as good as a kiss.
13. A miss is as good as a Mr.
14. Happy the bride who is pregnant.
15. Happy the bride who gets lots of presents.
16. The pen is mightier than the pencil.
17. Never underestimate the power of my mom.
18. Never underestimate the power of Mrs. Cooley.
19. An idle mind is relaxing.
20. Better to be safe than dead.

Do you have a favorite proverb?

Open House, Spring Break, and Staycations

This time of year can be overwhelming for a teacher! I really have to step back and look at the big picture. My second graders have accomplished a lot this year and I am proud! But, with Spring Break five days away and open house looming, I am anxious for this week to go quickly so I can enjoy some quality time with my family.

Open House is usually scheduled the week before spring break. My second grade team tends to plan our main field trip to the Dallas World Aquarium the same week, and this can make for a stressful time! But when it’s over, it’s done! This is a time for parents to visit the classroom where their children spend so many hours, and see projects and displays of their children’s work. The children really enjoy the reponsibility of showing parents around the class: their desk, projects, work, journals… But what’s on everyone’s mind is the count down to spring break! I always have a constant soundtrack to life running in my head and instead of singing “ I love Paris in the springtime, I’m singing, “I dread open house in the springtime !” But after open house my song will change to Madonna’s Holiday!

DWAclass2009 018.jpg You can turn this world around
And bring back all of those happy days
Put your troubles down
It’s time to celebrate
Let love shine
And we will find
A way to come together
And make things better
We need a holiday

Photo: Two of Ashley’s adorable students from last year’s field trip to the Dallas World Aquarium checking out the sharks!

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Photos: Ashley and her daughter, Zooey at the Frank Buck Zoo.

There is usually a staff e-mail about this time sharing with co-workers where you will be going for spring break. We teachers like to live through each other. So far I haven’t heard of anyone going anywhere exotic! It seems that only a relative few are vacationing now! I believe most Americans will be taking a “Staycation” this year!

“Staycations” are like vacations, except you don’t travel far from home, or away from home at all (which still makes them vacations).

I’ve always loved The Today Show’s “Where in the World is Matt Lauer,” because it made me feel like I was on vacation too. I would Tivo the show and come home from work to see where Matt went. This year, instead of going himself, The Today Show is sending its four anchors on a weeklong journey to find affordable vacations spots. This is perfect because it reflects what’s going on in the world right now.

It seems like only the very rich are going on vacation this spring break. Those of us who are not, need to make the most of what we have to work with. Most people will probably be spending their spring break on a “staycation” instead of a vacation this year. Please don’t get me wrong, travel is NOT wasteful! Only extravagant travel seems wasteful. There really are plenty of places near home to make you feel like you are on vacation. I’d be the first one on the airplane if I could (kids in tow)! My Mom joked that when I was pregnant with my first child and my brother and sister-in-law were deciding wheather or not to get married in Turkey, they said, “What about Ash since she’s pregnant?” She told them not to worry, that I would swim across the Mediterranean just to travel. I crave it!

Keeping a good attitude is one of the keys to happiness… It’s very hip now to do a “Staycation” because we can take advantage of that free time we don’t usually have and spend it locally. It can make you appreciate where you live.
Last year my husband and I did a staycation with our family and truly made the most of it. Going to the Dallas Arboretum acually felt a bit like traveling to a foreign country! There were people with different accents all around us! I remember my then two-year- old daughter picking up on this French conversation she heard with the parents and child. She noticed when this little boy fell, the parents asked, Ca va? She knew that expression because I say it all the time. I felt like I had taken my kids to Monet’s Giverny and not just the Dallas Arboretum.

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Photo: Ashley’s children at the
Dallas Arboretum.

Photo: See Ferdinand the Bull topiary at the Dallas Arboretum! March 6th was the opening Day of Dallas Blooms, Fiesta de las Flores. Mayor Thomas Leppert declared it Dallas Blooms Day. You’ve just got to see Ferdinand (the 12 ft. topiary) for yourself!

I’m très guilty for being an ultra over-scheduler, that’s just me! This staycation I have plans to: have a datenight with my husband and use our gift card to the Dallas resaurant Rise, read as much as possible, take my children to the zoo, repeat the Dallas Arboretum and finally, make some incredible things in the kitchen. At the top of the list is making my own lemoncello because it will make me feel like I’m in Italy! I WILL go to Italy again and when I do it will be fabulous! Until then, cin cin to spring break!
Please share your ideas for a staycation!

As G.K. Chesterton said, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

Ashley’s Lemoncello recipe:
4 Cups 100 proof vodka (750ml)
2 pounds lemon skin only (try meyer lemons)
3 cups sugar
3 cups water

Steep the peel of two pounds of lemons in four cups of vodka for one week at room temperature. Stir three cups of sugar and three cups of water in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves; cool. Add to the vodka mixture and stir. Strain the liquid into bottles; seal and chill. Lemoncello makes a wonderful palate cleanser or a nice after dinner drink.

Love, Work, and Lots of Smiles

A smile will almost always make a positive improvement to both the love and work that you have in your life. “Love and work… work and love, that’s all there is. ” According to Sigmund Freud, only two necessities exist for a worthy life – to love and to work. Who knows this better than working couples with children? I think Freud was right as long as both love and work have lots of smiles! A foot rub from my husband at the end of the day can make me smile inside and out and give me the will to do it all again tomorrow. The relationships we have with our friends and family have a far greater impact on our happiness than our jobs do. They are the instigators of our smiles, the sun shining through!

We all need money to support our basic needs, but our happiness is not significantly affected by how much money we make; it is affected by our level of optimism. The Pollyanna in me is optimistic and smiles because I know my attitude can make my day! Being compassionate in all the things we do every day can give us peace of mind and solve a lot of problems simply by realizing that our problems have valuable lessons. Love is always the best solution. If we choose to give positive energy and smile then I think we can become immune to the ups and downs of life and so can those around us.

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Photos: Ashley with her daughter Zooey and son Quincy.

When I was in a bad mood, my Dad would always tell my brother and sister and me, “Smile, you’ll feel better! He’d say, “Just let the corner of your mouth move upward ever so slightly and you have a start on it that won’t stop!” Even if down in the dumps, smiling would always pull me out of my funk! I like to see this working on my children too. Smiles automatically elevate our mood. Have you heard it takes a greater number of facial muscles to frown than to smile? It really is sooo easy!
Some people and cultures find it annoying or unsophisticated to smile too much. Just look at Posh Spice or the French! Americans smile a lot because we are friendly culture. The French, however, don’t smile unless they mean it. That is simply the way of the French. Now Posh, I just don’t get!

Haven’t you noticed, we are naturally drawn and attracted to people who smile? We want to be near people who are happy so we can figure out how to be happy, too. Frowns and scowls put people off — but a smile draws people in. When we smile, our body is sending the rest of us a message that “life is good!” We can say sayonara to depression, stress and worry just by smiling!

I can’t help but think of Nat King Cole’s song:

Smile though your heart is aching;
Smile even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow,
Smile and maybe tomorrow,
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.

I think most people genuinely care about other people. We look after one another if given the chance. I remember the sweet nurses who would smile at me when I was in labor; it was encouraging and made me feel safe. Nurses must have lots of altruism to do what they do.

If we can rescue Freud’s “love and work” every day with a smile, it brings us back to the happy place we are meant to be. All the other problems don’t have a chance to grow. Smiling really is contagious — just seeing a happy face primes our brain and gets us ready to join in on the fun. Everyday smiles can become both a rescue and surrender to life; it really is all good!

I love this time of year. Spring is approaching; it’s a time of new beginnings. People smile easily when they can soak in the sunshine of warmer temperatures, see tulips bloom, and children are anxious to search for leprechauns and bunnies. It’s a happy time for all.

There is an Irish Blessing I know by heart and it always makes me smile. I think it’s perfect for any occasion, but it especially reminds me of spring with the wind, sun, and rain. And being an Irish blessing, it’s the perfect welcoming to St. Patrick’s Day! I hope it makes you smile!

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Photos: Ashley and her husband Derek. Why are we smiling? We are on our honeymoon (in Italy)

It’s National Chocolate Month

February is a special month for chocolate! It is “Heart Healthy Month” and also “National Chocolate Month.” In honor of chocolate being such a heart healthy treat I am doing a follow up blog on fall in love with chocolate…We all love chocolate and guess what? Chocolate loves us back!

Did you know…Chocolate has more antioxidants than red wine or green tea? A daily intake of a small amount of chocolate may: lower blood pressure, offer disease protection, reduce inflammation, have a positive effect on the immune system, help us to stay sharp, promote blood flow, and moisturizes our skin. The potent flavonoids found in chocolate (the same nutrients that are found in green tea, red wine, and blueberries) are naturally rich in antioxidants and have protective effects that guard against disease. What better reason do you need to enjoy chocolate?

hershey's best of life.jpg We eat chocolate when we feel happy or sad. We may even reach for it when our body truly needs it. Chocolate can warm our stomach, perfume our breath, fight disease, and alleviate pain. There should never be guilt in enjoying chocolate.

I tend to imagine my favorite things as outfits! So…If chocolate were an outfit what would it be? My chocolate outfit is brown silk pajamas because chocolate is luxury yet it is also a comfort.

One of my favorite chocolate memories was vacationing in Paris with my husband. I had just gotten a chocolate crepe in Montmartre and was looking at paintings in the artist’s district by Sacre Coeur talking to an artist just babbling away when I met up with my husband he said, “Come here Ash!” He wiped down my face like I was a three year old. I had no idea I had chocolate all over my face! That chocolate crepe was so good I must have intuitively rubbed it all over me!

Did you know…Americans eat 13 pounds of chocolate a year? The Irish eat the most, 24.6 lbs (this does not surprise me, I am Irish)!

Chocolate can be an impulse purchase at the store, strategically placed by the check out. Recently, my second grade teaching team went to a conference and during some down time we found ourselves magnets to the Godiva store! See chocolate, must have! We all left deliriously happy with our little bags of treasure!

Chocolate is what milk is to infants, a necessary vital part of happiness and contentment.

Hershey’s is an all American staple. The Hershey’s label is my favorite thing to see when I open up my little pantry! The simple label is so perfect with its big block letters. Hershey’s is an American classic that will never go out of style.
Think about all the different times a year we celebrate with chocolate: Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas…I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite time of year to have chocolate.

Chocolate is so dreamy the way it slowly melts on your tongue, and then tortures you with pleasure. Eating good chocolate can be like a spiritual experience! When we share chocolate with the ones we love I think it is an intimate form of communication. We are sharing a dark delicious secret.

Hershey’s chocolate is the only chocolate to be awarded the “Best Life Seal of Approval.” The best Life Program was created by exercise physiologist, Bob Greene. It’s a program to help people achieve their own personal best life. My life is certainly better with chocolate and if Hershey’s can make me feel good about what I’m putting in my body, I’m all for it! My favorite is the dark chocolate “best life” bar with blueberries, cranberries and almonds. I even put it in my oatmeal and fed it to my children for breakfast!

It is easy and a pleasure for me to write about chocolate. I think most of us have very positive feelings about chocolate. It’s one of the greatest joys in life!
Do you have a favorite chocolate recipe or memory? Please share yours and you could win a chocolate stash of your own courtesy of Hershey’s.
My friend Craig who is a chef and father of young children recommends this chocolate recipe:

*Use small balloons size of a softball

Make dark chocolate ganache by adding a cup of hot heavy cream and tablespoon of salted butter over 14 oz chopped dark chocolate pieces. Whisk until smooth. Chocolate melts at 100 degrees F. And should cool to 88 degrees so balloons don’t pop. Dip each balloon on an angle on each third to create 3 petals on sides of balloon. Set on wax paper, put them in fridge. When firm, pop with knife, remove balloon pieces. Fun for kids!
*if you are allergic to latex, don’t attempt balloons!

Chocolate mousse: 14 oz favorite chocolate melted again with cup hot cream, tablespoon of butter. Whip cup of cold heavy cream to stiff peaks. Fold one-third whipped cream into ganache to temper chocolate. Then fold in remaining. Can pipe mousse into chilled chocolate cups, or spoon in. Add raspberries and or sliced strawberries as garnish. A dry champagne goes exceptionally well with this sweet and rich dessert!

Stop and Smell the Memories


The smell of life is intoxicating! Think about the smells you love…the smell of baby’s breath; the early morning dew in the summertime, rain…These smells can get imprinted in our memories forever.

We can be transported anywhere by smell. If we wish we were at the beach, a spritz of something citrusy will take us there. My Dad always smells tropical to me because he wears sunscreen daily! That mixed with Old Spice is my Dad’s scent. Remember that scene in The Parent Trap when Hayley Mills tells her grandfather she’s making a memory and says, “You smell like peppermints and tobacco?” Well…smells, like songs and food can evoke strong memories: We can associate a smell with an experience and it will somehow leave a unique and lasting impression on our brain forever.

I can remember smashing my face against my grandmother’s soft wrinkly skin to smell her Oil of Olay face cream. That’s why I wear it today, so I can remember her. I cannot smell Gucci Rush without thinking of my other grandmother, Mema; she owns that scent!

I think most women are constantly looking for the perfect jeans, mascara, and fragrance. What fun it is to experiment! I think it also depends on what kind of mood you’re in. I like to wear Anais Anais to my ballet class because it’s light and ultra feminine. But if I were going out for a night on the town I would choose something with more pizzazz like Flower Bomb!

Perfume means “through smoke.” This is going to sound so Bob Ross, but I think of scents like happy little clouds waiting to be discovered.

I can think of many smells that evoke happy feelings: I love the smell of school: crayons and pencils. When I smell the combination of cigarette smoke, car exhaust, leather, and the warm sun I want to bottle it because that smells like Italy to me! I love the smell of paper; newspaper, books, magazines, I love the smell of silk, my friend’s car, my mom’s kitchen, the Catholic Church, my babies T-shirts before I wash them. These are smells of life. They are delicious!

Last thing I do before leaving for work is spray myself with perfume then hug my children so they smell me all day. I like to smell like them, too. Especially at night after I’ve bathed them. Mustela and Johnson and Johnson lotions are some of the most comforting and sweetest smells ever! I think these lotions will always be a part of my bedtime routine.

When you love someone, you love their natural smell. I think my husband naturally smells like pineapples! I love to bury my nose in his arm. I remember my sister-in-law saying her dog Dixie smelled like a chocolate cake; I know she meant it because she loved her so much!

A student once said to me…”Hmmm Mrs. Cooley, your house must smell good because you smell good!” I made sure I hugged her every day!

Fragrances react differently on different people. The fragrances that you wear bring out your persona, your style, and taste. Have you ever smelled someone’s perfume you didn’t like and then discovered you don’t really like them much either? I think that’s called chemistry!

Perfume is meant to tease, tantalize and seduce. I think of Marilyn Monroe who proudly said that she slept in nothing but Chanel No. 5. I’m sticking to my baby lotion but I think smell is far more important in determining who we are than we realize; I’ve even read that there’s evidence that those who have no sense of smell tend to be very emotionally detached. I think if you smell it to be true, it must be true!

Do you have a favorite fragrance that has been imprinted into your memory?

Photo: Stop and smell the roses! Pink peonies are my absolute favorite flower. I love everything about them! I think they look like scoops of strawberry ice cream and smell heavenly! I hope my children remember them as the essence of Mommy! Here is a painting by Doug Swinton that I think is beautiful.

Marie Antoinette and her upside-down fairy tale

You know that question…if you could invite anyone to dinner, who would it be? I would so invite Marie Antoinette!

Born Maria Antonia the 15th daughter of Maria Theresia, Empress of Austria, Marie Antoinette was a loving mother and wife whose story is like an upside-down fairy tale. I resonate with Marie Antoinette because like her, I adore the arts, fashion, chocolate, flowers, dance and music. More than that, my family and friends mean the world to me. If I could go back in time I would want to hug her and help her; she was such a good person.

God Bless her Habsburg heart! The Hapsburg house of Austria was the oldest royal house of Europe and the empress proudly gave Marie away to the enemy, France. Marie requested to be addressed in French the moment she stepped on French soil so she could embrace her new French self and leave her native German tongue forever. She never said, “Let them eat cake!” She was not ignorant or rude! She was a good hearted and kindly Queen who tried to aid the poor of her country because she knew it was her duty. The French disliked her from the beginning because she was not French! She was an Austrian princess who threatened the French culture.

Photo: Marie Antoinette with her four children: Marie Thérèse, Louis Joseph, Louis Charles, and Sophie Béatrix painted by her friend Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun

Her true character became more apparent after the birth of her children. She had so much compassion and did everything she could for Austria and France. Marie was a devout Catholic and did what her mother (Maria Theresia) told her. Marie and her mother had more of a business relationship than a loving mother/daughter bond. Marie Antoinette very much always wanted to be a mother herself. She wanted to devote the attention to her own children that she felt she did not receive as a child.

Marie Antoinette was a loving wife and mother above everything. What pulls on my heart the most is that she breastfed her own child when they had an abundance of hearty wet nurses. She did it because she loved wholeheartedly and wanted to be with her babies (this was uncharacteristic for royalty). From what I’ve read about France, they have never been a country to breastfeed because their breasts are thought to be for their husbands not their children. Marie made sure she was involved with her children in every way, especially their education. Marie grew up with everything under the sun; then went to live at the “Sun King’s” Palace of Versailles. Talk about a fairy tale! But, Marie did not let her kids grow up the same way. She didn’t give them everything, exposed them to poverty, and was careful not to spoil them.

I love Marie Antoinette! What I love the most is the incredible love she had for her children. I think she was extremely unselfish for giving up her heritage and family (she never saw her mother again once she left).

She was not perfect! But I’ve always thought it’s the imperfections that make people so very beautiful. The mistakes she made, she made because she was bored. She immersed herself into a life of pleasure and careless extravagance because of this boredom. This included masked balls in Paris, gambling, and extravagant fashion (honestly, who could blame her). Her husband, bless his pudgy heart, was as slow as a French snail consummating their marriage! It was seven years before this happened. Of course being a foreign woman, she was to blame and scorned for her inability to produce an heir.

Once she had children she spent less time gambling and more with her family. She was nicknamed “Madame Deficit” because of her hobbies, gambling and fashion. There was also the “Affair of the Necklace” which she was framed for.

Marie just wanted to be loved. Imagine growing up without praise, hugs, and attention then leaving your family at 14…She had a bond with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart whose mother’s attention he was always trying to gain. Mozart and Marie were close in age and played together as children. They both desired to please and capture the love and affection of their mothers.

She very much cared for and respected her husband, Louis XVI! She had a small close and supportive inner circle of friends who she could trust and supported her to the end including the Princess de Lamballe and Count Axel von Fersen.

I so would have liked to come to Marie’s defense seeing how the French treated her so unfairly. If you take anything from this, let it be Marie was a wonderful mother. She said, “I have seen all, I have heard all, I have forgotten all.” Marie will never be forgotten.

Do you know anyone like Marie Antoinette that you would like to invite to dinner?

Fall in Love…with Chocolate!

Chocolate…there really isn’t a more perfect food; it’s like gold, it has a universal appeal.
Vosges, Fauchon, Maribelle, La Milka, Dove, Hershey’s, La Maison du Chocolat, Godiva, Lindt may come to mind when you think of sampling chocolate.
Have you ever had a food-related expression of excitement like the one Meg Ryan had in When Harry Met Sally? A really good chocolate bite can make me close my eyes and moan. I will definitely spend the rest of my life trying to eat more chocolate! Et toi?

There is such pleasure in enjoying chocolate. At the end of a bad day, a little chocolate can set me right again. I think most people can have chocolate everyday at any time of the day!

My favorite thing to eat in the world is a chocolate soufflé. Commander’s Palace in New Orleans has a chocolate soufflé they keep a secret! It’s not even on the menu; you’ve got to ask for it. The best I’ve ever had was in Rome at the Lord Byron Hotel. A chocolate soufflé so amazing I smile and salivate just thinking about it.
Each of my five senses came alive when I ate that soufflé and I’ve never forgotten it. You can tell good chocolate from the look of it; chocolate should be gleaming. The taste and feel of it in your mouth should: melt, snap, and have a strong chocolaty smell. Voulez-vous chocolat?

When I think of hot chocolate, Marie Antoinette comes to mind. During the 1700s, chocolate was primarily consumed as a beverage. It wasn’t hot cocoa she was drinking, but hot chocolate. She hated taking medicines and suggested taking them with the hot chocolate she was used to drinking in Vienna. Brilliant idea — but the heat would make the taste and smell of the medicine worse! The Queen had her chemist make a coin shape pistole; her favorite was almond milk.

There is a big difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate, the primary difference being that hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder (which doesn’t have the fat of cocoa butter), and hot chocolate is made from melted chocolate bars mixed with cream. Hot chocolate was enjoyed mostly by the rich upper class because it was extremely expensive. What did the lower class drink…? Coffee!
The French court also introduced chocolate as an aphrodisiac. Madame du Barry (Louis XV’s lover) encouraged her men to drink chocolate in order to keep up with her. Then there was Venice’s Casanova (known as the world’s greatest lover), who was known to use chocolate with champagne to seduce the ladies. Ooh la la!
The history of chocolate is vast! Beginning in the Amazon then many cultures and people claiming chocolate as their discovery and making it better than before: Mayas, Aztecs, Columbus, Italians, Austrians, Spanish, and Swiss…

Many movies have been made with chocolate as the theme! Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Chocolat, Like Water for Chocolate, and Consuming Passions are each delicious in their own way.

Did you know there is such a thing as a chocolate sommelier like they have for wine!?! As with wine, chocolate is all about origin. Knowing where one’s chocolate comes from matters just like knowing where olive oil, coffee, wine, and cheese come from. Terroir (a French word for a sense of place) matters in chocolate too.
I’m sure when you buy wine, you’re not looking at the label to select by the percentage of alcohol. It’s about the taste! Chocolate and wine go together like peanut butter and jelly! It’s magic!

A smart way to discover chocolate would be to sample it in a tasting kit. One of the most fun food adventures I’ve ever had was the selection of our wedding cake. I think a chocolate sampling party would be a blast! I enjoy seeing my daughter developing her decisive chocolate palate. She prefers milk chocolate, not surprising to me because she adores chocolate milk (what child doesn’t)!
As with anything you put in your mouth, you listen to your palate. It’s not about the percentage or origin; chocolate is a gourmet food with grand history for us to love and share. Chocolate is a never-ending taste test that gives us pleasure and as a bonus, lowers blood pressure. What better reason do you need!
This Valentine’s Day fall in love…with chocolate!!!

And how about you? Do you have a favorite chocolate treat or recipe or chocolate destination to share?