A book that can be shared with women of all ages: The Sweetheart of Prosper County

Thumbnail image for jillalexandersweetheartbook.jpgI remember being 15. It was really hard! Austin Gray, the narrator and main character of The Sweetheart of Prosper County is a delight to get to know. It’s about the journey she goes on trying to become the Sweetheart of the FFA. Austin prospers in Prosper!

This is a mature young adult book and will take you back to the feelings and thoughts you had at fifteen. It definitely reminded me of my high school in Justin, Texas where the FFA is huge! I remember those “Rodeo Naked” T-shirts the FFA kids used to wear! The Future Farmers of America group is a tough hardworking crowd with a lot of heart.

Austin wants to be a part of that group. Don’t you remember how many cliques there are in high school? You have the preps, nerds, cheerleaders, athletes, theatre, band kids, and then the Future Farmers of America. Austin is determined to be the hood ornament on the no-Jesus Christmas parade by becoming the FFA Sweetheart.

I also thought of the movie, Sixteen Candles and E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web because both are about the journey into young womanhood. At fifteen, we’re trying to figure out who we are. This is the age where hormones kick in and friends who are bad influences can make or break you. Without good parent supervision and friend support we might have sunk at the lake grabbling for catfish.

Often, the friends we had when we were fifteen are still our dear friends today because we went through those awful changes of puberty together. Reading this book you will be reminded of that best friend you had before you could drive, the first boy you had a crush on, and how hard it was to “fit in” in high school. These were not easy times. We either toilet papered houses or cleaned up the toilet paper on our houses. I thought it was hilarious when Austin’s mom got up early to take the toilet paper down with a power hose before Dean, the bully, could admire his work.

And where would we be without animals? Animals give us such unconditional love and can sense our fear. Charles Dickens, the rooster, was full of spunk just like Austin! He was the mascot of The Sweetheart of Prosper County. Austin asks for Charles Dickens for Christmas and she hopes he’ll change her life. Austin knows to be a sweetheart she has to join the FFA and raise a farm animal then have it judged at the fair.

Reading The Sweetheart of Prosper County, I fell in love with the characters: Austin (the main character), Maribel (the confident Hispanic best friend), Lewis (the evangelistic Elvis want-to-be), Lafitte Boudreaux (the Creole and former owner of Charles Dickens), Sundi (the marshmallow girl and former sweetheart), Dean (the bully), Josh (the FFA hottie), and Austin’s mom (a hard working hardware store owner who is still dealing with the death of Austin’s father).

My favorite character is the marshmallow girl, Sundi. I’d like to be tough enough on the inside to throw a punch to a bully then brush it off by pulling up “my girls” and whipping out my pink lip gloss. Jill Alexander describes Sundi as a marshmallow girl (pudgy and squishy, soft with no hard edges). She gives hugs freely to all and the same time she has the backbone to send her prize-winning lamb to the butcher and punch Dean in the face. I love it!

The setting of The Sweetheart is perfect! Prosper, Texas is a small rural town in North Texas. I’m a North Texas girl born and raised. I helped my dad pluck quail feathers but I never participated in catfish grappling (bare-handed fishing)! There is also a touch of Cajun and Hispanic influence in Prosper that made me hungry. I’m sure my Julia Child Book Club friends will agree! I was hungry to try Maribel’s Mango kick (hellfire) ice cream, Lewis’s blackberries, and Lafitte Boudreaux’s crawfish boil. Summer in Texas is delicious!

This is a book that can be shared with women of all ages. It’s a mature young adult book because it touches on the death of a parent, drug use, drunk driving, race, body image, bullies, winning and losing. But it still manages to stay light and uplifting. There are wonderful messages for young girls in this book: being true to yourself, not giving up, working for your dreams. My favorite message was pray the problem instead of the solution. I love how Jill Alexander writes in such a gentle way without pontificating. I think her style is unpretentious; young women will hear her wisdom, older women will conjure up memories of what it was like to be fifteen and everyone can learn something in Prosper.

Cheers to Breakfast!

The day can leave me feeling spent! It doesn’t matter if it’s a workday or weekday. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted! That’s why I love the morning! It’s a fresh start, nothing has gone wrong, and everything could go right! Making breakfast can be a fun family affair! We can get so many vitamins and so much energy in the morning with breakfast and it’s nice to start the day off right for our children.

For a great breakfast I think you need a little of everything: fruit, fresh eggs, grains, yogurt, and juice or a smoothie. Julia Child is my patron saint of cooking in the kitchen, and like “Our Lady of Butter”, I like real food! We like whole milk , whole yogurt and real butter in our house. But, my husband and I always manage to balance the healthy with the not so healthy, especially at breakfast. It’s nice to have children develop a natural taste palate, because it’s all about the taste! My daughter loves to be involved in the kitchen, especially at breakfast time. She is learning to cook and loves it!

I am a kitchen gadget girl! Pregnant with my first child, my husband bought me a Breville juicer for my birthday. It’s my favorite toy! Fresh juice in the morning seems like a magical ingredient to the day. Apples and pears are my favorite to mix in my Breville. My daughter calls this “pearple juice”.

The days I don’t make juice, we like smoothies. Smoothies should start with yogurt then you can add whatever you have in the kitchen: bananas, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries…Then you can finish with some different ingredients that can make a powerful smoothie! A handful of spinach and goji berries. What better time than in the morning to get greens in your children’s bellies?

I like spinach because it’s loaded with iron. Since it’s just a handful, you can’t taste it! And if you use blueberries and blackberries, the color comes out purple so it’s pretty! Goji berries which are loaded with antioxidants and have multiple benefits like helping eyesight, boosting the immune system, improving circulation, and promoting longevity. They’re also wonderful in hot tea. A smoothie can be sweetened with maple syrup, peanut butter, honey or Nutella. It’s easy and fast to drink your nutrients and fun to toast to our health in the morning with a breakfast drink!

I think maple syrup is magical! A good source of zinc, it protects the immune system, and supports healing. I feel good giving it to my children and like to add it as a sweetener to everything from oatmeal, tea, sweet potatoes, and even broccoli!

We have breakfast weekday staples in our house, like old fashioned oatmeal and Cream of Wheat (my daughter calls it crème de wheat). We make it with whole milk and add real butter and cream. It’s hearty, healthy, and sticks with us until lunch. For the weekend we like to make Dutch Apple pancakes, sweet potato waffles, or crepes. Toasted nuts and fresh fruit are good on all of the above. On special occasions my specialty is a Tomato Strata, always crowd pleasing and comforting. There’s no gastronomic boredom going on in our house! The kitchen is the most popular place.

Tea has such historic rituals. It’s one of the oldest and most worldly drinks from China to England. To me there’s nothing more wonderful than my ritual of a good cup of hot tea and the newspaper on a Sunday morning. My favorite tea is by far Mariage Frères Éros. When I was pregnant, I would only drink tisanes. Dean and Deluca’s Peppermint Tisane is perfect for this time of year.

Fresh eggs are the ultimate! Once you’ve had fresh eggs, you don’t go back. The color of a fresh egg is a beautiful, vivid orange. It’s such a happy color! It is the color Widow Clicquot designed her Veuve Clicquot champagne labels. Everything about fresh eggs feels right! Lorraine, (the lady I buy them from) has Rhode Island Red hens and one very special hen that lays green eggs! It is so much fun to cook green eggs and ham with my daughter! She calls it, “egg crackin”!

Over the summer I would take my children to Lorraine’s house to pick up eggs. My daughter would be so excited to go to “the egg lady’s” house and see the chicks! It’s nice for our kids to see where food comes from. I think they appreciate it more.

Photo: This Rhode Island hen named Sparrow lays green eggs!

My friend Craig, who is a chef, says this about breakfast, “I have several breakfasts that I love to make for the kiddos. A classic is the egg in a hole; where you cookie cut a hole in the middle of two slices of bread, use a dab of butter in a non stick skillet, and while the bread is toasting, c
rack an egg in each hole. Our eight year old loves the occasional quail egg on her plate. They are so cute and tiny!”

When children in school are about to take a big test; teachers, counselors, principals all encourage parents to make sure their child has a healthy breakfast. I’ll sometimes have children come up to me in the morning and tell me they’re so tired! My first question to them is, “Did you eat breakfast?” Have you heard the Spanish proverb, “The belly rules the mind?” I know it can be a battle at home to get children to eat. Sometimes I’m lucky if my three year old takes a couple of bites. This is another reason I like to drink part of my breakfast. It’s portable and my daughter and son can sip on it in the car. I can’t make them eat, but my hope is with this ritual of breakfast they will grow up wanting it and someday be able to make it themselves.

Starting our day right can boost our energy, increase our attention span, and give us and our children a sense of well being. And, the family fun in preparation and eating around the table together is the cherry on top. Think about the memories you have of the holidays in the morning… It’s all about the food, right? The kitchen always provides the ambience: the fun in preparation, good smells coming from the oven, music and laughter in the background, good conversations with your children, a nice cup of something. It’s the best way to start the day. These are thoughts and ideas, some of which I have learned from others. Take what you like and leave the rest on the table!

Ashley’s Tomato Strata

1 loaf of sourdough bread sliced

8 oz cream cheese, cubed

8 oz fresh mozzerella cheese, torn

4 oz Swiss cheese

Basil pesto (see below)

12 slices prosciutto, sliced thin

5-6 Roma tomatoes, sliced thin

6 fresh eggs

1 cup cream

1 cup milk

Salt and pepper

Arrange bread slices on the bottom of a buttered casserole dish. Top with half of cream cheese, mozzarella, swiss cheese, pesto, prosciutto, and tomatoes. Repeat so you have two layers. Whisk eggs, milk, cream, salt, and pepper and pour over strata. Cover and chill overnight. Before baking sprinkle with herbs de provence and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. Let the strata rest for 10 minutes before unmolding.

Ashley’s Pesto

Blend until smooth:

2 cups fresh basil

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

1 garlic clove

Salt and Pepper

½ parmesan cheese

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pulse basil, pinenuts, garlic, salt, and pepper in blender or cuisinart until finely chopped. With the blender still running, gradually add olive oil. Mix in Parmesan by hand.

Shall we Tutoyer?


Please let me start by stating, I am not an expert by any means on language studies. However, I have always had a great fascination with cultures and languages. I’m a xenophile!

When visiting another country that we are not familiar with, Americans should politely and humbly ask residents if they speak English — preferably in their language. I remember when my husband and I were traveling in Italy and we were scared that we were about to miss our train. I ran up to the ticket counter and said with my American manners, “Two tickets please”. Well, this older Italian woman was instantly put off by me and we missed our train. I should have made an attempt to ask in Italian; or said, Mi scusi, parla inglese? It wasn’t funny then, but I learned a valuable lesson. It is respectful to make an effort to speak the language of the country you are visiting! Many people that travelers encounter do speak English, but it is polite to attempt their language.

Part of what makes learning a new language difficult is learning the customs, manners, and correct pronoun usage.
Tu is used in French when you’re talking to someone you know well, like a family member or best friend. Vous is used with people you don’t know very well regardless of their age, strangers, corporate hierarchy, or someone older who demands respect. The French word Tutoyer means to address someone using the familiar forms of the pronoun “you” rather than the more formal forms. Tu is a mark of friendship. I think it’s correct to say, when in doubt use Vous, Sie, Usted until the native speaker says otherwise.

The French address each other with formality, calling each other Madame and Monsieur, which in a way may seem formal to us, but it signifies a respect for the individual which exemplifies the French way of life. It is expected that bonjour or bonsoir should be the first thing out of your mouth as a greeting in shops and other public places. Failing to follow these rules is considered très rude.

Prior to the French Revolution, people addressed each other with tu. It was the way bourgeois or noble people addressed their servants. Tu (French and Spanish) and Du (German) are for children, family members, and friends.

I don’t know about you but I think of Japan as a culture of politeness. I had the pleasure of visiting with some Japanese teachers who came to the school where I teach a few years ago to observe American children in public school. I remember being blown away when the Japanese teachers said they thought America was very strict! I always had the stereotype that the Japanese teachers must be extremely strict because the children are so formal.

My class’ Japanese teacher, Yoshie, was explaining to me that there are five levels of politeness in Japan! They are determined by a variety of factors: job, age, experience, children… There are different ways of speaking: honorific and humble. The Japanese culture is structured by polite interactions. The politeness levels in Japan are tremendously difficult and intricate. The male and female patterns of speech and politeness are much different.

This makes the Japanese seem a bit passionless to me. There’s a lack of familiarity that we have here. On the opposite end, there are places like Brazil where the people are relaxed and have a liberal showing of affection. Here in the U.S. we are comfortable with informalities but not as intimate as Brazil. Language and culture constantly evolves, but I think politeness and respect can always help keep a nice balance.

Think about the difference in pronouns and the constant capitalization of nouns. In German, a word is written the way it is said. The pronoun Sie has all functions of you, him, her, it, and them. Sie is a way to formally address. We have our own special pronoun in Texas, “y’all!” It is very commonly used here but say it in New York and you have an audience of horrified gawkers!

We CAN hear formal English in everyday life but we might not even notice it because it comes so naturally. A perfect example is The Lord’s Prayer Our Father who art in Heaven. But, we don’t speak this way unless we’re in a Shakespeare play or just want to be gawked at!

It’s common to teach babies sign language. My children know the basics: Mommy, Daddy, please, thank you…Children soak up any and all languages when their young. That’s why it is so important to introduce language at an early age.

My brother Sean, who is fluent in Spanish, is always trying to talk me into going to a Spanish language school on my summer break. With two young kids, I don’t see this happening for a very long time. But, it’s a lovely idea!
Mark Twain wrote “a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.” I won’t ever be fluent in anything unless I become a foreigner myself! But I have a long standing date with the Rosetta Stone and hopefully that will at least be an improvement!

I feel guilty using the word foreigner because it means: alien, non-citizen, and outsider. If I were living in a country that I didn’t grow up in, I wouldn’t want to be called “foreigner.” After all, this is their home now.

My husband and I went to Paris with another couple years ago. Our travel companion, Julie, grew up in Paris and spoke fluent French. I noticed how careful she was when she spoke in public, especially to waiters and clerks. She mentioned how embarrassed her mother would get when she went back to Paris to visit her family. She would be teased for her lack of “in the know” new phrases and her Texas/French accent. Language is constantly changing! It’s impossible to keep up unless you are a world traveler!

There is a German tradition I’ve read about that I think is perfect and hilarious! Any time you become close enough with somebody that you switch from Sie to du, you seal it by having a beer together. I just love that!

We can sometimes have a lack of respect just because it’s in our nature. I have an example as a teacher… If a parent addresses me as Ashley without me asking them to, it doesn’t seem quite right! I think you have to wait for someone to tell you it’s O.K. to call me by their first name. My parent volunteers will start by calling me Mrs. Cooley along with the children. I quickly ask them to call me Ashley because I think it’s nice to be informal and establish a casual relationship. Just as long as you begin your relationship with respect first.
It is a pet peeve of mine when people don’t address you at all. Especially in e-mails if they start jumping into questions without a “Dear Ashley,” I am put off because it feels like they are shouting at me!

When parents in America get mad at their children, we suddenly stop using cute nicknames and use their full names. I remember my mom and dad saying, “Ashley Elizabeth” instead of my regular “Ash”. I knew I was in trouble!

I don’t like feeling frustrated! I can usually laugh off most anything. If not I can certainly say merde and shizer! But, when I’m not good at something it fuels my fire to do it better. So, like Mark Twain said; it may take me thirty years but I’ll get there and so can you!

Friendship is a gift we should treasure like our health

I recently read an article in the Argyle Sun Newspaper about a 101-year-old woman who credits her longevity to her friendships. After I read it I said to my friend Laurie, “I think this woman is right, the secret to living to be 100 is friendship! Just look at Georgie (click here for the article).

I have heard that older people with a strong circle of friends are more likely to live longer. I think this must be true. Have you ever noticed how much information there is about families and marriage but not as much on friendship? Friendship is definitely an undervalued resource. Our friends make our life better. The trick is finding time to foster these relationships.

Friends are protective and nurturing. Think about who walks in Relay for Life? A multitude of supportive friends! Friends can run errands and pick up medicine if you’re sick, bring a meal when you’ve just had a baby, be there through laughter and tears. I think those who have strong friendships are less likely to get sick because they have a lower stress level. A friend is like a free psychiatrist. Friends who have a strong bond know they have someone to turn to, always!

The same day I read about 101-year-old Georgie I went to hear a speaker at the school where I teach talk about how to live to be 100. It was such a coincidence that I was with my dear friend! Dr. Joe had some valuable things to say, but I kept waiting for him to say the secret to living long was love and friendship. That was not on Dr Joe’s five factors to living to be 100! He talked about a healthy body, not a happy heart. I know in MY heart we need both!

I was so tickled at my friend who had agreed to come with me. Before hearing Dr. Joe, we attended a PTA meeting. We kept finding humor in random parts of the meeting and we ended up passing notes back and forth like teenagers. When we stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance, I couldn’t help but think I already know the secret to a long life: laugh, smile, have fun, enjoy each other while we are here! We can’t always be worrying about not exercising enough or eating the right things. That’s not what life is about! Even if we don’t make it to 100, why not just live large now and keep laughing with our friends.

My husband says, “I know how to live to be 100…have lots of sex!” Well, I think he’s probably right about that. I know my schedule may become more challenging after he reads that I agree with him. We’ve all heard how sex increases how long we live. The reason is the body needs intimacy and bonding. There is such value in touch! Think about animals and babies…they need touch to develop. I tend to cup my hands around my children’s faces when I’m talking to them. I know I have their full attention and they know they have mine. More importantly, I do it because I want them to feel my love.

I can’t help but think of another Joe, Joseph Pilates. He believed our physical and mental health is intertwined. He was so right! Pilates lived to be 87. I LOVE that Joseph Pilates lived his life well and made not only his body, but also his heart happy too. His exercises can help you find peace, reduce stress, and be present throughout your life. But, if you really get to know Joe, you will fall in love with his way of living too. He was a man who loved his wife, smoked cigars, participated in winter swimming, and being the German he was; drank his beer from a stein in his studio! I just love that!

I think a regimented, determined person who makes a daily effort to stay in shape and includes friendship and love as a hobby can easily live to be 100. Friendship is a gift we should treasure like our health. But think deeper than just the superficial; the core of our hearts must be nourished as well.

In the quest for better health, people can turn to doctors, spirituality, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they sometimes overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, aide a speedy recovery, slow aging and prolong life; their friends. There is balance with everything! When you find yours, you’ll know it!

Prost to friends! Prost to our hearts! Prost to laughter! Prost to Pilates! Prost to our life now!

Dr. Joe’s 5 factors to live to be 100
Control the quality of the air we breathe: Air is the number one nutrient for nutrition.
Water: Water regenerates tissue, water restores our health
Food: We need carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals…. And eat raw food!
Exercise: Delivery System of Nutrition. Exercise forces movement without movement we die quickly.
Nutritional supplements
http://www.proactiveworx.com/ (Dr. Joe Guarnera)

*Prost: German for cheers

Fashion is like an elegant language

Marie Antoinette, Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn and Miuccia Prada exemplify fashion for me.

Coco Chanel said, “Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

I believe fashion is like an elegant language, with it you can create reality or fantasy…
When I had my first child I was reading The Baby Whisperer, and I remember the chapter on introducing your baby to your home. Well, I took that information and ran to the closet! I told my daughter we will have great fun in here! What little girl doesn’t enjoy playing dress up. I’m still that little girl and I am tickled pink to see my daughter is, too!

Women can make emotional connections with their clothes. My closet is like a time capsule of memories. I am still wearing things from my childhood! I also enjoy wearing things from my mom, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Broaches, jewelry, and scarves I used to play with in my mom’s closet have made their way into mine. Accessories can make an outfit personal.

My mom had a chocolate brown one shoulder Halston dress from the 70’s. Oh how I wish she still had it! I am making a lovely trousseau for my daughter!
Fashion does not rule my life, but it’s a very happy part of me and a way to express creativity. I think dressing is an art form; it can be intellectual and the same time playful. We have to get dressed every morning, why not enjoy it. Our style shows the way we think about ourselves. For me, if I love what I’m wearing, I’m going to have a great day.

As an elementary teacher I think it’s important to dress happy! I get hugged, pulled on, even patted in my classroom. My kids (both boys and girls) will lovingly touch my suede shoes and silk scarves. Kids love texture and color. They should have something interesting to look at for the seven hours they’re with me! I’m willing to be their fashion model!

When shopping I go into another world. I was almost arrested in Barcelona! I tend to shop for the whole outfit and after shopping upstairs I went downstairs (to what I didn’t realize was a different store) with a dress in my hands looking for accessories. A very angry Spanish woman grabbed me and took me to the police! I was so stunned that when the police officer was speaking to me I couldn’t even mumble, Habla Inglés! I was in another shopping daze in Paris at my Mecca, Galeries Lafayette! I was singing “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music” in my head the whole time!

It’s been a while since I’ve been shopping. Life happens, but that doesn’t mean moms can’t enjoy fashion. I’ve been a Vogue subscriber since I was seventeen! My mother-in-law teases me about my Vogue magazines! She says someday you won’t want these. But, to me it’s like having my own art museum in my hands.

Being a working mother of two in a bad economy, I look at my closet differently. I see what I already have that can be reworked and take it to my favorite tailor, King Kong!! Alterations can change a whole look. A tailor can make you look better: thinner, taller, younger…Tailors are in vogue now because people want to make repairs on torn, worn-out clothes and shoes. People are too financially strapped to make replacements. A tailor can make an old outfit new again. And you get to be the designer.

Sex in the City was so much fun to watch! I couldn’t relate to the lifestyle but it was my shopping fantasy! My favorite scenes were those of Carrie putting together outfits in her closet, especially when she was packing for Paris! I also love Project Runway. Of course there is the good, the bad, and the very ugly. But, fashion is about experimenting and I like to see a fresh way to dress and always admire those who take risks.

We all have staples in our closets that we know work on our bodies. For me, my staple is a jean skirt. It can be dressed up or down with the right accessories. I also think about color. Certain colors can change your mood from sad to glad. I will forever be searching for the perfect jeans! It’s an ongoing quest for most women I think!

I am delighted when someone asks me fashion advice! I am not a fashion connoisseur, just an amateur who gets pleasure out of playing in her closet.

I have a theory: The sexier you make yourself appear, the less sex you probably have! I think if you are comfortable in your clothes, you are sexy! My husband’s favorite coquetting starts with a fashion show! He is quite the connoisseur! To close with clothes I will say; clothes are meant to hide what is intimate and private, but our style can actually reveal who we really are inside.
Ta-Ta bourgeois boredom, hello King Kong!

Fashion Hits by Ashley
The Devil Wears Prada, The September Issue, Coco Chanel, Valentino: The Last Emperor, Coco Before Chanel, Yves St. Laurent: His Life and Times
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, Love, Loss, and What I Wore
Websites: http://ernaleon.com/home.html, http://www.galerieslafayette.com/

Deep in the Heart of Texas

I went to college out of state in Alabama. Living somewhere other than Texas I became more proud to be a Texan. When I’m away from home and someone asks me where I’m from, it gives me great satisfaction to say Texas!

When my friend Natalie and I were traveling in Switzerland and people found out we were from Texas we had an instant audience!

People who are not from Texas are always dying to know and ask: Do you have cows? Horses? Live on a ranch? Drive a truck? Have you been to Southfork? Texans are used to these questions and like them because Texans are proud! No state is more recognizable, memorable, or loved.

You give kids a puzzle of the United States to put together no matter where they’re from children will start with Texas!

I think of my sister Paige who just moved from New York City to San Francisco and comes home to visit maybe twice a year. When I see her I immediately assess her style! I notice she tries to keep Texas close to her by wearing cowboy boots. She may have lost her Texas accent but she is still proud to say she is a native Texan.

Texas style can be seen as historical. When my friend Margot’s Dad came to visit her from Austria he was on a mission to find a John Wayne “duke” vest. Mission completed in Fort Worth!

When I would get home sick in college I listened to George Straight’s Amarillo by Mornin’. That song just makes me want to get in the car and drive all around Texas!

It brings happy tears to my eyes to hear Kindergarten do their Texas program every year at the school where I teach. When they sing, The stars at night – are big and bright
Deep in the heart of Texas 
it is simply magical.

Texas is known for our “Cowboy Cuisine.” When I was three I would help my Dad pluck the feathers off the quail he brought home from his hunt. My Dad’s specialty is grilled quail wrapped in bacon with a jalapeno pepper inside.

Texas Hits by Ashley

Music: ZZ Top. Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Stevie Ray Vaughan

Clothes: Stetsons, boots, jeans, BIG hair

Food: steaks, chili, bbq, tamales, tex-mex, pies

BooksThe Sweetheart of Prosper County, Friday Night Lights, L is for Lone Star: A Texas Alphabet

Entertainment: Rangers, Cowboys, Billy Bob’s, Texas Rattlesnake Round-up, Friday night football

Weather: heat, drought, hurricane, twister, flood, and more heat

Other: bluebonnets, armadillos, tumbleweeds, oil wells

Websiteshttp://listings.guidelive.com//, http://www.rattlesnakeroundup.net//

It all began in a garden

I could have so easily fallen for Thomas Jefferson! Sally Hemings would have had some good competition from me had I lived back then! I share Jefferson’s aesthetic for all things French and his love for food. He was experimental, brave, and passionate about food. The father of agriculture, Thomas Jefferson changed the way we eat in America and the way we grow food. He was inspired by the French when he lived there as the minister to France from 1785 to 1789. Living there he became a connoisseur of good food, a gastronome. Paris is where Jefferson developed his palate. Imagine the dinner parties Jefferson must have attended.

He loved French food so much Jefferson paid for his slave, James Hemings to be trained as a French chef. The French have always had a love-love relationship with food. Jefferson recognized this and appreciated it enough to bring the French culinary art home to America.

Our third President wrote, “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden…. Jefferson liked to try new things like growing unfamiliar plants and experimenting with new foods in his garden at Monticello. He grew tomatoes, introduced the potato and grew other vegetables that were new to America.

Many of which were brought back by Lewis and Clark. He also introduced waffles, macaroni and cheese, mustard, and ice cream to America. Can you say merci beaucoup?! Jefferson packed European plants in his bags when returning to America. For years, he ordered seeds from Paris. He wasn’t stingy; he would share his seeds with other American gardeners. I think it was his dream to cultivate and bring the culinary culture of food to America.

Michelle Obama was inspired by Jefferson when planting the White House Garden. I have read her goal is to improve the nutrition for her own family and inspire other Americans to make better choices with their food. This is smart because if children are exposed to and learn an appreciation for food early on, they will have it forever.

Food has always been an art form in France; a meal is something to celebrate. Jefferson recognized this. It is common in France to have a garden. I have a small herb collection and my parents have a nice size vegetable garden. I like for my children to see the fresh picked herbs and vegetables. I know my daughter is learning because when we go on a walk she points out rosemary rubs her hand on it and smells with satisfaction. We also have a beautiful garden at the school where I teach. Children are proud to see their herbs, vegetables, and flowers before they head out to recess.

When I pack my daughter’s lunch, I send her with water and her lunch in a Japanese bento box. I like these bento boxes because they have many neat compartments and I think it makes for a nice presentation.

Schools in France place a priority on lunch. French children eat off real plates with real forks and glasses. This sets children up to the ceremony and pleasure of a meal. They drink water with their meals and the cafeterias use fresh produce and prepare lunch from scratch. They also have a longer lunch time than we do in America. Yes, I know we don’t live in France! But, this sounds nice, n’est-ce pas! I taught a child from France once. It was someone’s birthday and they were passing out Little Debbie brownies; he looked at it and said, “non”!! I imagine what his mother made for him on his birthday was homemade and not out of a box!

My school has adopted a program called CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health). The plan is to promote physical activity and make healthy food choices in school. Thanks to our Health and Wellness committee we also do a “Fear Factor Friday” where the kids have a chance to try something they may have not had before like: cherries, kiwi, mangos, pumpkin seeds…It is delightful to see a child try something new and have a positive reaction to it. Children are learning that eating healthy and being physically active every day is fun and they’re building a positive relationship with food.

I can’t help but think of Joseph Pilates, and how his dream was for children to learn his exercises so they can take care of their bodies forever. I also think of Julia Child. Wouldn’t she have made a fabulous grandmother! Can’t you just imagine her feeding her grandchildren “soul food”? Jefferson, Pilates, and Child are connected in the way they each wanted more for America. These people are all gone but have stamped America with culture, fitness, and a love-love relationship with food. The key is to teach our children early so they grow up with a natural love for their health. I think teaching healthy habits to children inspires parents to change their own relationship with food.

Thomas Jefferson had a love for food. If we can implement a healthy love for food in our children they will grow up to be good eaters. Parents, teachers, farmers, and cooks must pave the road to success. Food is a part of culture and history. Remember, it all began in a garden!

Travel without Traveling

How do you raise worldly and cultured children? Education through culture gives us a new way of seeing things. This is what I want for my children. I want to teach them to embrace other customs, food, and people with their eyes open. C’est la vie!

My second grade classroom and my own children will learn “The Star Spangled Banner,” but also songs, customs, and flags of other countries. My second graders are learning the German and Japanese language thanks to some wonderful volunteers. It is AMAZING to hear how well they can pick up the accent, remember material, and always speak without fear! All the more reason why foreign languages should be taught to children in elementary school. 

A little note to teachers and parents…All you have to do is ask! People are more than willing to share their culture with you if you show the interest.

I’ve always thought travel is the best education but with this economy it’s just not possible. We must find culture in our neighborhoods and there’s no better time to do that than in the fall! Fall brings families together with an abundance of festivals. After you go to one you feel like you’ve been on a vacation!

Some of the festivals going on right now really make you feel like you’re visiting a different country. We just took our children to Addison’s Oktoberfest. I can’t believe I’m from here and have never been! German cuisine and entertainment…schmeckt und sehr spass!

Next, I’m looking forward to UNT’s World Fest on the Square Saturday, September 26th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There promises to be culture galore, international foods, music, and dance. I’m especially looking forward to seeing some Argentinian Tango!

Did you know UNT has international students from 123 countries? So see, right here in our little metroplex we can find beaucoup of culture without spending money on tickets and hotels.

Finally, on my travel without traveling agenda is the Lebanese Food Festival in Lewisville on October 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. We took our kids last year and ate so well. We also listened to Lebanese music and discovered our daughter can belly dance! Lebanese food is so fresh with the perfect blend of herbs, spices, and earthy flavors. My favorite is the Lebanese baklava that has pistachio nuts and is drizzled with rose-water syrup. Need I say more!! Mon Dieu!

I’ve always been curious about other cultures, I can NEVER get enough. I know it’s time for a trip when something inside me sleeps. These international festivals are like a dose of medicine for my soul.

When I was a child I would make my sister play this game with me…The game just involved pretending to be European. I am a Francophile (an admirer of France and everything French) but it doesn’t stop there. I’d like to experience all cultures for the rest of my life. My husband and I looked into living in Florence, Italy after our honeymoon. We both felt like we belonged there. If I could, I’d move there and raise a bunch of Italian babies!

I feel more alive and passionate about living when I’m learning something new about another country. I’d used to beg my mom to buy me French Vogue so I could try to dress and do my hair like a Parisian and look coquettish. My parents gave me the greatest gift after high school, two weeks in Europe. I think I learned more that trip than I did my entire high school career and I say this as a teacher!!

I daydream and obsess about getting on a plane daily! I can tell you what the weather is like in Italy, France, Austria because I have it bookmarked on my computer and my phone! I crave culture more than chocolate, wine, and shoes! I always have a foreign movie on my DVD player to watch, a book about Italy or France to read, and French music playing in the kitchen. I’m an American “pretending” to live in Paris!

I’d like to share some of my favorite travel without traveling materials with you:

Food: Julia Child cookbooks are my favorite bien sûr! I feel connected to her because she was an American living in France absorbing as much as her 6’2″ frame would allow her too! Mexico the Beautiful and Savoring Italy are two cookbooks I always come back to, The Sweet Life in Paris, AND Cooking for Mr. Latte (our next Julia Child Book Club book) as proven to have some very tasty and worldly recipes.

Music: Carla Bruni (She is the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy) Quelqu’un m’a dit is one of my favorite songs. Edith Piaf (France’s greatest popular singer) — my daughter turns into a classical modern dancer when I play La vie en Rose, Julie Rousseau (you can hear the song Shalom on Sur la Route XM radio, it’s fabulous)

MoviesFrench Kiss, Jet Lag, (anything with Jean Reno, I have a huge crush on him!), Roman Holiday is classic!

BooksLucia Lucia, Abundance, Eight Days in Provence: Chasing Matisse, Paris to the Moon, Almost French, A Year in the Merde, anything by Hemingway, My Life in France, Everything You Need to Know to be Impossibly French, This is Paris (and all the “This is” series. . .) by Miroslav Sasek are wonderful for children, as well as the classic Goodnight Moon in French and Spanish (Bonsoir Lune and Buenas Noches Luna), and La Petite Prince



http://www.dallasartnews.com/exhibit-calendar (a fabulous source for exhibits and art related events)

http://www.frenchaffaires.com/index.htm (celebrates all things French)




“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” ~Jawaharal

Pollyanna Octopus Mom

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There is an exercise in Pilates called “imprinting”. You visualize your spine lengthening and sinking down into soft sand, lightly imprinting. This reminds me of writing your name in wet sand or cement and how it is so easy to make an impression. Well, children are like wet cement in the way it takes the smallest nudge to make an impression. Children are smarter than we give them credit for. They can sense our feelings before we express them out loud. They also pick up on what we’re saying when we think they’re not listening. Here’s to making a good impression and gentle imprinting on our children!

As a working mom with two young children, I am constantly trying to do more than I can achieve. Sometimes with all of my multitasking, work responsibilities, and household chores, not to mention my personal life, I feel like an octopus! My head starts to spin and my arms feel all tangled up! I get discouraged and feel like I’m not doing any of my jobs as well as I could and should be. My top priority is always my family. They are the most important thing in my life. Taking care of my children’s needs and making sure they are happy, healthy, and safe is my most important job.

Parents always try so hard to do the right thing. The constant cleaning, cooking, and working to make our lives better can be exhausting. When I start to second guess myself I know I can find help with a multitude of books and websites but I find the best advice is always a phone call away! Our mothers, grandmothers, and friends hold a wealth of information at their fingertips. They are our fellow octopi!

When I was pregnant with my first child, my friend Jen threw me a baby shower. She set out a book for people to write down advice on being a mother. The best advice came from Jen herself who was not yet a mother! She said, “Call your Mom!” She was right! Our Moms have been there and done that! They hold our hands when we feel like we’ve just ruined our child and caused lifelong damage. They set us straight and get us swimming again!

I have often thought how cool it would be to be an octopus and what I could do with eight arms! An octopus is an intelligent, versatile and curious animal. Aren’t we all! I put such pressure on myself to try to be perfect! With these high expectations I put on myself, I’m doomed to fail. But, I think most working moms have to be overachievers! We must imagine we have eight arms!

If I was an octopus my name would be Pollyanna because like the 1913 novel and 1960 movie, I think I’m an excessively optimistic person! Nothing is impossible! Fran Lebowitz said, “The conversational overachiever is someone whose grasp exceeds his reach. This is possible but not attractive.” My eight octopus arms may not be attractive, but they can exceed their reach and hold a baby, grade papers, cook dinner, change diapers, teach Pilates, do the laundry, read a bedtime story, and dial for advice when I need help! I can do it and I can always find something to be glad about!

One of my heroes is my ballet teacher! She has four children, just got her masters in dance, and still finds time to read. This is the kind of role model I want to be for my children. Someone who continues to do what she loves because ultimately being happy makes us better mothers, wives, and workers!
Our children mimic what we say and do. We must make sure we are good role models so they “imprint” smart choices! My daughter is becoming a little octopus herself! She likes to sweep, cook, and dance all at the same time. She is a joy to watch and I am proud of my imprinting and impressions.

Everyone has their own parenting style, mine is being an imprinting Pollyanna octopus!

Manners are Golden

One of the hardest obstacles children face today is learning good manners without seeing any. It is sad to see adults be uncivil to each other because children follow suit. What are manners? They are a happy way of doing something. Emily Post wrote, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

In my second grade classroom I have three rules: Respect others, be polite and helpful, and keep your hands, feet, and objects to yourself. But the most important rule of all that “happy way of doing” beats them all, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yes, the “Golden Rule”! I think what most parents wish for is that good manners will become natural habits for their child.

Every year so much more curriculum gets added to a teacher’s plate that it might be easy to overlook teaching manners. With growing demands on teaching time, etiquette is rarely a priority. No matter how busy I am I find there is always time for courtesy!

When I ask my second graders and my own children to use their manners; they have more respect for me. I find the best way to teach manners is for us to model it in daily life and practice what we preach! Write thank you notes, tell someone you appreciate them, look people in the eye, greet others with a smile and handshake. It sounds like common sense to us but we must teach it to our children so they see the importance of manners and respect.

People crave respect like a dog craves a belly rub! It is more likely that our children will grow and bloom into wonderful caring adults with manners under their belts.If you ever go to school to eat lunch with your child, listen carefully for manners. You will hear, “I want” and “give me” to the cafeteria ladies and “open this” to the lunch aides. Let’s “pass the manners” and work together to teach children that please and thank you can bring smiles and respect.

Manners shouldn’t be saved for special occasions only! We can use them every day. A simple please and thank you can go a long way! In my classroom and at home with my kids I ask them to use their German and Japanese manners: Danke, Domo Arigatou Goziamasu (thank you in German and Japanese) and Bitte, Kudasai (please in German and Japanese). I’m all about doubling up and catching up! If I can find a way to combine subjects with foreign language and manners, I do it! The little brains of children are ready to absorb and retain everything parents and teachers teach them.

There’s a wonderful book I love to read to my class and my children, Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. This book teaches children the “Golden Rule” with characters Mr. Rabbit and his new neighbors, the Otters. Do Unto Otters shows kids that a simple “please” or “thank you” goes a long way in making friends. AND what I love most is that it teaches please, thank you, and excuse me in four languages: Spanish, French, German, and Japanese (there’s Pig Latin too)!

I always praise my second graders and my children when they show nice manners on their own. Praise is power! My school is encouraging “Random Acts of Kindness”. If someone notices a child doing something nice for someone else, a teacher or student writes it down on a strip of paper called a “kindness link” and the Principal reads a few during morning announcements. This gets children thinking about the “Golden Rule” and the importance of thinking of others. It’s a great way to start off the year and the children can’t wait to see how long the chain will be.

Amy Vanderbilt wrote, “Good manners have much to do with emotions. To make them ring true, one must feel them, not merely exhibit them.” When we say something, it should be sincere! Manners can be an art form especially in a thank you note. But I think as long as we are showing each other the simple respect and kindness everyone deserves, our children will see it’s worth the effort! Because no act of kindness is ever wasted, it’s golden!