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!

The first week of school from a teacher’s point of view

School has started; the kids are getting into their routine. The first week is a trying one. Training the children in the routines of what, when, and how to do things isn’t easy. Getting to know their personalities and figuring out the best way to reach each child can be challenging, especially with a large class. Everyone learns differently!

Then come the parents…Oh how teachers want to be respected and well liked by the parents. I think the parents feel the same way. After all, teachers are with their children seven hours of the day. It’s only natural that they want to know their child is safe, happy, and in a positive learning environment. It’s a blessing when you have parental support.

What is hardest for me is saying goodbye to being a stay at home mom after being home for the whole summer. I feel that guilt and pang that I should be at home with my own children. The transition is hard on my own kids after they’ve gotten used to having me home all summer. I never know how I will be greeted at the door! It’s honestly not easy on anyone.

During the summer, teachers have the chance to enjoy their family and friends in ways very differently than they do during the school year. I read so many books, played with my kids nonstop, had play dates and parties and swimming galore…! I soaked up the sunny summer like a strawberry slushy!

But when a teacher is working, days don’t start and stop at a certain hour. I am always thinking of something I can do to make tomorrow a great day. I check my school e-mail before I wake my children, spend hours preparing lessons plans, I work really hard to keep positive contact with parents, and I’m constantly looking for ways to REACH a child.

Expectations increase every year as we work to improve standardized tests, and meet needs of learning disabled students. This is why the summer is so important for teachers! We get to reconnect and truly enjoy quality time with our family and friends. This “recharging of the batteries” is necessary to reenergize for the school year. I think of teachers like little Energizer bunnies, especially at the beginning of the year. We are busy buzzing bees!

For me, starting the school year is like pledging a sorority! There is usually some kind of hazing (difficult children or harassing parents)!! There’s always an unexpected surprise that can throw you off your game! My very first year of teaching, 11 years ago, I was 22 and thought I’d be teaching dance, not second grade!

I was teaching during the first week of school and I noticed a student was missing! I had a child run for the principal for help! The principal came in and found him hiding under my desk laughing! The same time I was looking for this “missing child” I had another bipolar child running into the walls (on purpose)!! Fresh out of college, I wondered, what am I doing?!? Well, I’ve remained a second grade because it fits like haute couture!

Teachers are very lucky, we know that! We work very hard and are rewarded in ways that are indescribable and endless. There isn’t a job more important than being a teacher! As parents, we are all teachers! It is a labor of love and a fabulous job to have! The thousands of hugs, smiles, and thank yous we receive every year are priceless. There are certain things we are meant to do, for me…I am a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and teacher. I am proud!

Meet the teacher


Starting off the school year on the right foot is easy if you stay positive and share in your child’s excitement about school. But, if you freak out, they’ll freak out! This is my 11th year teaching 2nd grade and let me tell you, the first couple of weeks are crucial! Parents should make an effort to attend all back to school events, it’s so important to show a happy face, school spirit, and teacher support.

Please, don’t listen to stories about whether or not a teacher is good! There will always be that “favorite” teacher parents hope their child gets. Let your child make the teacher they get their favorite and you will love her too!

Make it a point to start off the new school year right by attending that first “meet the teacher night” and “parent information night”. This is your chance to make a good first impression too. Teachers take note of the parents that are there. Be friendly, and make sure the teacher knows who you are.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but make sure they’re questions the teacher can address to everyone. “Meet the Teacher Night” is not the time to tell her your life story or what a bad experience your child had last year. Teachers don’t mind questions, and being aware of what goes on in class will help you keep your child informed.

Smile! That first impression is memorable, just as it is when meeting anyone for the first time. Lengthy problems or concerns can wait for a private scheduled conference; your first meeting is informal. Teachers want a chance to get to know your children on their turf before conferencing. Children act differently in front of their parents than they do in the classroom.

Make sure to go home and say nice things about the class, teacher, and school. I’ve had children come up with stories that I know I wasn’t supposed to hear! Surely you can find something good to say that will help your child feel positive about being in the classroom.

The kids are excited and ready to go back with new backpacks in tow. Parents are excited too but also apprehensive because they can’t control everything: the friends your child makes in their new classroom, the teacher their child was assigned, school schedules…But, parents can control their attitudes and be optimistic for a great start to the new school year!

It is important to be an involved parent. Attending “Meet the Teacher Night” is a solid way to start. Here are some of the basics you can expect from “Meet the Teacher Night” and/or “Parent Information Night”:

1. Homework, correction policies, and discipline procedures. There is a student handbook that includes dress codes, school rules, schedules, a calendar of events and much more. These are valuable organizing tools for students and a clear-cut way to keep everyone on the same page.

2. Important notes the teacher may write on the board, so be prepared with paper and pen.

3. Your child’s new teacher will share with you her experience, specializations, and expectations for the year.

4. The best ways to communicate with the school and the classroom teacher are by phone, e-mail, a note from home or a personal visit. Be sure to leave your contact information as well and an open mind about keeping positive contact with the teacher.

5. Volunteer opportunities (my favorite)! Teachers want you to be involved! If it is at all possible, take advantage of in-class assignments. It’s an effective, nonthreatening way for you to see how your child is managing school and interacting with her peers and the teacher. Plus, teachers REALLY appreciate it!

6. Whatever your questions or concerns, you have every right to have them addressed. Don’t be shy, but be respectful. Parents who are positive, informed, and engaged in school have children who are as well.

7. Volunteering is different for every family. It may mean signing up to work in the classroom, buying classroom supplies, grading papers for the teacher or helping with special assignments.

8. To find your special niche, look for sign-up sheets in the teacher’s room at “Meet the Teacher Night” You could also contact a member of the PTA and mention your interests. They will find a way for you to help out at the school, the community and your child’s education.

9. Enjoy “Meet the Teacher Night”! Get to know other parents, teachers and administrators. Come with a BIG SMILE on your face!

Every parent wants their child to have a great school year. While some things can’t be controlled, there are many things that parents can do to ensure a stress-free, happy school year. Your positive and optimistic attitude is a step in the right direction.

Good Lessons from Great Coaches

Elephants are lucky creatures. Placed on shelves or by doorways, they inspire luck and longevity. There is a dispute about which way a lucky elephant holds its trunk! The belief is that an elephant with the trunk pointed up brings luck and one with the trunk down is bad luck. I sometimes can give the trunk of one of my many elephants a stroke whenever I feel like I need a little extra help. Try it out!

When I think of elephants, I think of Big Al, the mascot for the Alabama Crimson Tide (my alma mater). It is because of Big Al that I have a fondness for this beautiful mammal. Elephants are all over my house!

How did the elephant come to represent Alabama? Well… In 1930 Alabama played Ole Miss and at the end of the quarter, there was a rumble and an excited fan shouted, “Hold your horses, the elephants are coming!” Need I say more?

Roll Tide Roll! Football season is almost upon us! My husband cannot stop talking about it! Everyday he says, “It’s almost football season!” I’m excited, too, because with football comes fall, food, and family fun! Everything is choreographed around the game.

The house will smell like chicken wings, baked beans, and roll tide rolls (all served on elephant platters)! It will be filled with the noises of my husband, Dad, brother, and kids cheering on the Tide! My little ones like to get in on the action too! Like every normal SEC fan, I deck my children out in Bama gear and teach them the fight song. It’s their birthright!

I am a proud native Texan and like most Americans live and breathe football in the fall. But, it’s not just the game; it’s the ambience that naturally comes with it! The food, Million Dollar Band, Bama cheers, Big Al, Coaches “Bear” Bryant and Gene Stallings (two former coaches who were as dependable and lovable as an elephant)…

The Big 12 is not as exciting to me as the SEC (because I went to Alabama of course). Both are competitive conferences with loads of history and following. But if you’ve ever actually been to an SEC game, it just feels different! I say this having been to my share of Big 12 games and they just don’t compare! My dad will concur and he played football at UNC at Chapel Hill, NC! There’s just something about the South and football!

I will never forget the day I met Gene Stallings (Alabama’s coach 1990-1996) unexpectedly at my school! It was Halloween! I teach 2nd grade, so like all elementary teachers, came dressed up for the fun! I was dressed up like Madeline (from the children’s storybook). When I saw him, I became star struck and just broke down crying and started jumping up and down like he was a Beatle telling him I went to Alabama!

I had the unique pleasure of teaching Gene Stallings’s granddaughter 2nd grade a few years ago. So I met him again the year I taught her and this time I was a fairy! I know Coach Stallings has had numerous fans approach him but I wonder if I was memorable in a sea of dressed up children with fairy wings and a tiara!

I want to share these powerful words from two amazing Alabama coaches that I think can be inspirational to parents:

Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant once said about Alabama football:

“Every time a player goes out there, at least 20 people have some amount of influence on him. His mother has more influence than anyone. I know because I played, and I loved my mama.”

“When we have a good team, I know it’s because we have boys that come from good mommas and pappas.”

And Coach Gene Stallings said after the ’92 Ole Miss game:

“You don’t have to flaunt your success, but you don’t have to apologize for it, either”

To wish you luck rooting for your favorite football team this fall I suggest stroking an elephant’s trunk and making “Roll Tide Rolls” Enjoy!

Roll Tide Rolls
1 cup of Big Al’s Milk
1 cup mashed potatoes
2/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cake compressed or 1 package dry yeast
½ cup lukewarm water
2 elephant eggs
6 cups flour
½ cup butter, melted

Scald milk; add potatoes, shortening, sugar, salt, and cool to lukewarm. Soften yeast in water and add to lukewarm mixture. Add elephant eggs and beat Tennessee, add 1 ½ cup flour and continue beating Auburn. Then add remaining flour to make stiff dough. Turn out on floured board and knead LSU thoroughly. Place dough in greased bowl, grease top of dough; cover and let the tide rise until doubled in volume. Turn out onto floured surface, knead lightly, and roll tide roll to ½ inch thickness. Cut dough into 2-inch squares; pull opposite corners, dip into melted butter. Place ½ of dough in each of two loaf pans alternating positions. Let the tide rise until doubled; bake 350 degrees for 1 hour. Yield; 2 loaves

TRAVELLING TIPS FROM THE FLIGHT OF HARD KNOCKS!

 

Have you ever been delayed and stuck at the airport just dying to get home? Here are some tips and side notes I have now accumulated after experiencing the worst travel delay ever!!

 

(1)  A glass of wine really does solve everything!

(2)  It pays to be an American Express platinum member to take advantage of the sky club: comfortable chairs, nice restrooms, a place to pump, and a glass of wine to ease the frustration of delay, after delay, after delay, then finally cancellation!

 

(3) You should wear comfortable shoes (at least carry some socks in your bag), carry a sweater or scarf that can double as a blanket, and a manual breast pump if lactating!

 

(4)  Pray to Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost and stolen articles. This worked for me!

 

(5)  In the words of a NYC taxi driver, “You can’t leave New York with out getting screwed over just a little bit!” But there ARE angels out there (95% are Southern)!

 

(6)  Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and trust in those who don’t look trustworthy!

 

(7)  Carry a toothbrush in your purse.

 

After a lovely weekend in NYC for my dear friend’s wedding, I was anxious to get home to see my babies and my husband! The weather was not cooperating, so my Mom and I stuck it out ALL night in two different New York airports! Now don’t get me wrong, if there is bad weather, I don’t want to fly! But, let’s be accommodating, PLEASE!

 

Let me start by saying, there is a huge difference between the North and South! I married a Rhode Islander and he concurs! Attitude! Attitude! Attitude! My Mom and I were stuck at JFK airport with birds flying around (the 3rd worst airport in the world). The people working there must hate their jobs! They don’t care about you one bit; they just see another problem and they try to pawn you off on someone else.

 

We were pawned off from one airport worker to another five different times, five different lines! There were children in the middle of the night scrunched up crying on uncomfortable chairs and no offers of blankets, food, water, nothing but, “WAIT IN LINE!” A couple who had just returned from Italy after having their baby baptized, had been up 24 hours and there was no concern about their little baby, no hotel room offered! Like pulling teeth I tell you!

 

All the work is done by the passenger when asked, “What’s another city you could fly into instead of Dallas.” They expected us to have ESP of what was on the computer! The best we could do was leave JFK in the middle of the night for LaGuardia (the other NY airport) to wait for a flight to Memphis the next morning then a connecting flight to Austin to arrive in the late afternoon! Ridiculous! But the best part, they suggested we rent a car and drive back to Dallas!! Is your mouth open yet?

 

Up longer than I can remember (and I’ve had jet lag before, I also have two babies, so I’ve gone without a lot of sleep). I’d much rather sleep on the plane, but when you need to sleep you sleep! I’m not a college kid anymore roughing it because I’m young and invincible!

 

What I saw at JFK were older people sleeping in wheelchairs, luggage carts, and on the floor. People of all ages were seen stretched out at the airport because of delays and lack of hotel availability. We would have gone back to the city to spend the night had we been canceled earlier, but it would have been silly to get a room for just three hours of sleep with an hour to and from the airport.

 

At 3:00 AM we walked down a ramp outside the airport to get a taxi in the pitch dark with nobody around. We got into the only taxi there only to realize after he started driving off, it was a little suspicious looking! There was no meter! The taxi driver offered us a cold beer from his cooler that was sitting on the console! My Mom was freaking out! But he was an angel in disguise!

 

He drove us to an all night drug store in the deep dark bowels of Queens, NY to buy a breast pump since mine was in my bag that had been checked and they wouldn’t give me. I was not ready and willing to dry up by choice! Well, the beer drinking Italian taxi driver pulled through for us! Grazie mille!

 

The bathroom at LaGuardia was blocked off at 3:30AM. I was kicked out when I tried to sneak in because I REALLY needed to pump! My Mom and I ended up sitting on a luggage cart because the janitors blocked off chairs for themselves while they were on break!

 

Let me give you a picture! I’m dressed up coming from my friend’s post wedding brunch wearing my favorite pair of Manolos, clutching a very nice handbag, and in a cute sundress! This is not an outfit for a delayed then cancelled flight or a beer drinking taxi tour of the city that never sleeps!

 

Finally, we made it to Memphis and there was a total attitude change for the better! The first person we saw, Pearl, who looked at us with genuine concern and said, “Let me see what I can do for you!” Pearl, the angel from Memphis, got us a flight home Dallas that afternoon. Until then we waited in the luxurious, comfortable Sky Club.

 

You know how you always meet interesting people in your travels. Well, we had a long time to get to know several! Another angel, we nicknamed St. Matthew, had just flown in from Lisbon. Matthew, like us, had his flight canceled. It was his birthday, he was tired, but anxious to share pictures and stories about his wonderful trip chaperoning a bunch of high school kids on a European vacation.

 

We also met a family from Montréal, who spoke French (bien sur) and very little English. The five year old little girl understood my French and asked me to button up her sweater while the Mom watched on approvingly. I also borrowed a cell phone charger from a nice young man from Atlanta at JFK and later again in Memphis from a Sky Club workers husband who she called to bring it to her at work just for me! God bless the South!

 

You usually hear these horror stories around the holidays, but airports can be a bitter enemy even in the summer with all the thunderstorms! I was starting to feel like a lion in a cage, sitting in chairs and luggage carts all day and night! Yes, that first glass of wine did solve everything, but after I finished it, I needed a bed!

 

My Mom and I finally arrived home 24 hours later than we were supposed to. Anxious to grab our bags and get going! Surprise!! There are no bags to collect! My bag was in Oklahoma City, my Mom’s came on a later flight from who knows where! We checked our baggage Sunday afternoon at JFK; the airlines delivered the bags to my house Wednesday night.

 

My grandmother told me to pray to Saint Anthony, Patron Saint of Lost and Stolen Articles. It worked and I’m happy to end this chapter.

 

What have I learned? Passengers should have the right to receive timely and accurate information about delayed, diverted and canceled flights. But, I think most importantly, airline workers should be sympathetic, make an effort to smile and say I’m sorry for your delay, and offer a blanket or a cell phone charger. Home is where we all want to be after the trip is over! Really, “there really is no place like home!”

Cherish the many faces of love

What is a soul mate? The dictionary says it is: One of two persons compatible with each other in disposition, point of view, or sensitivity. I am quite certain we have more than one soul mate! We are full of all kinds of love; the love for our children, parents, significant other, friends, spiritual love…

Ahh love! I am a romantic at heart! I love to escape into a good romance; Jane Austen is a favorite of mine. And to think, she never married and died at 41! Tragic I think because she wrote of love and like me, craved romance. Austin wrote, “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.” The thing about love is it’s easy to get your head stuck in the clouds! I married young, full of romantic ideas. Thinking life would be like a Jane Austen novel! It started out like one, a rescue! What girl doesn’t want to be rescued!

My husband, Derek was my John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility rescuing me from my locked out apartment (yes there is more to that story, but I only share that with people who know me really, really well)! Let me just say it was love at first sight and the romance began!

We would travel (yes, some), cook and drink (absolutely), and have lots of sex (Yes). After the honeymoon I checked marriage off the list and went on to focus on work, check. A little more travel and onto children, check, check! Hello reality! There is no time for romance like there is at the beginning of a relationship when everything is new and you have lots of time for sky rockets in flight afternoon delight!

Jane Austen had all the time in the world to keep her head up in the clouds! It was a different time! We get so busy at work and at home. We get involved in other peoples lives: coworkers, girlfriends, playdates…Our relationship with our husband or significant other can take a back seat. We spend a lot of time apart and confide in those people that we share our day with. But when nourishing that relationship even if only a quick break in the day we find ourselves alone, this reminds us of what brought us together and we can reconnect, and indulge in some romance (if only for a little while).

Investing in nurturing the love you have for your family, girlfriends, and husband is necessary for a happy heart I think.

You know those really good girlfriends you have that you might not talk to all the time but when you reconnect, you pick up right where you left off. Well, they are a gift! I’m one of those people who has just a handful of really close friends and I need each of them and would walk across hot coals for them any day!

Did you ever notice after college how hard it is to make friends and find people you have things in common with? Yes, you can put yourself out there in all kinds of uncomfortable situations! You can join moms groups and clubs galore but I think it’s rare to find a soul mate in a friend and when we do we must cherish that friendship! Ultimately, we have to make our own sorority in life! We need our relationships to stay sane in this crazy busy thing called motherhood! Just like in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the sisters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret had each other and their mother to get them through their ups and downs of romantic woes.

We need more than just one kind of love; the love of our friends, family, and soul mate make us complete. My husband and I take advantage of our small windows together. This is key in a relationship I believe. I’ve said this before, my Dad’s best advice, give great effort! Well…we have to put forth the effort to foster our relationships or they fizzle, no?

My husband is my best friend, my soul mate, my missing Pac-man piece! Together we make a great team. I want my children to see how important it is to care for our relationships (both friends and family). I say “I love you” when I feel it instead of reserving it for a special time. My daughter loves to see Mommy and Daddy kissing and hugging. It makes her happy to know we love each other! So…go on call your girlfriends, kiss your soul mate, say I love you, and put forth the effort. That’s Amore!”

Birthday Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Julia Child and food for thought



“Julia Child said, “I see every recipe as a little short story.” What an inspiration she was! She had a zest for life! As the French say, joie de vivre! This blog is for anyone who cares about food, cooking, and friendship.

Blogging is like having a weekly lunch with girlfriends and writing about what we talk about. Well, I don’t know anyone who has time for a weekly lunch with their friends like they do in the show Sex in the City! The book club my friends and I created, The Julia Child Book Club, meets seasonally. This gives us time to read and decide what to bring to the table. Our conversations gradually build into some lively and simulating discussion (sometimes encouraged by some really great wine or champagne)! We go back and forth to the books and food but also our own relationships and our own life.

The other thing I love is I’m broadening my literary knowledge and expanding my culinary skills. Someone might pick out a book I would never have thought to read, or a cuisine I’ve never thought to try. It gets me thinking outside the (lunch) box. But, more than anything it’s about enjoying the company of friends. Women need that! It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of the same old recipes and routines. It’s also good for your children to see you get creative in the kitchen too! Who knows? You could inspire them to try something different!

As a working mom I find I need little outlets that remind me of who I am. For me I find a little daily Pilates can center me, a once a week ballet class can make me a better wife and mother, and looking forward to The Julia Child Book Club is just the icing on the cake! It provides me with a creative cooking outlet and gets me reading! We all need something to look forward to. I used to look forward to travel. Now with two small children, two jobs, and a rotten economy, this is just not possible! Cooking can be meditative, and reading an escape.

I think reading a good book can provide the same kind of nourishment as eating a good meal. And, when you can share a good book and a meal with family and friends, you are nourishing your mind, body, and soul.

Food and books have always been a passion of mine. But, there’s something about sharing it with friends that makes it even better! Our Julia Child Book Club is small (no more than 8) so that everyone can entertain comfortably. It’s very causal and relaxed! As a teacher, I knew I did not want it to feel like the classroom. There are no planned questions. We might not always like or even finish the book but, like I said it’s very relaxed! We are connected through our love for cooking and reading. We drink, talk, and enjoy each others company before we have to go back to work and our daily routine.

I’ve always had a fascination with Julia Child. She is our patron chef! That’s why it’s called “The Julia Child Book Club”!! Julia Child said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” These are words to live by.

If you like to cook and read I hope this will inspire you to get your friends together once in a while to learn from each other, eat a fabulous meal, but most importantly…laugh!

As Julia always said at the end of The French Chef cooking show, Bon Appetit! If you like this idea might I suggest starting with Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously and Julia Child’s My Life in France, then you and your girlfriends could go see the movie together next month.

Looking for more ideas? Here is what The Julia Child Book Club has read so far: The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry (French Cuisine), There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell (healthy), Eat, Pray, Love (Italian), Wicked (spooky), My Sister’s Keeper (New England), Julia Child’s My Life in France (French), The Secret Life of Bees (southern), The Widow Clicquot and Abundance (French country).

Hallo, Auf Wiedersehen and Doitashimashite

Learning Language Breeds Humility
Culture is a passion of mine! I am very proud to be an American, but have always felt a desire to explore other places. Learning about a different culture other than your own makes a person more worldly and open to new ideas, people, food, language…I think parents want more for their children. I certainly want my children and the children I teach to have knowledge of what’s out there. I’ve always thought that the very best education is travel because your heart is open to learning about the culture of where ever you are.

 


PHOTO: Ashley’s students displaying their love of languages

In the past few years of teaching I’ve explored teaching a foreign language with the help of some wonderful people. I was also motivated to learn with my children! Motivation is a huge key! It’s easier to do anything when you have an interest in it. I just wish that when my 2nd graders get into their 3rd grade class in August that they could continue to study a foreign language because it’s part of their curriculum. Maybe someday!

The good thing is I know my past students will retain most of what they learned because they learned French, German, and Japanese at 7 and 8 years old (a time when their little brains are like sponges). My past students will catch me in the hall and give me a Comment allez-vous Mrs. Cooley?, Hallo and auf Wiedersehen Mrs. Cooley. And my favorite (after thank you), doitashimashite (you’re welcome in Japanese) because it’s so much fun to say! It’s always thrilling to hear and the other kids that I didn’t teach want to know what they’re saying so they can say it too! Perhaps in high school they’ll pick it up again.

When I’m teaching Pilates to the children in my classroom I am inspired to teach German at the same time. After all, Joseph Pilates was from Germany. The kids learned the history of Joseph Pilates and to count and speak some basic German phrases and words. Ich mach Pilates the kids would say ( I like Pilates)! We would sing a German counting song while balancing. As a teacher, I love the way this adds another element of challenge into the program. I had their little minds and bodies working together.

Young children are ready and able to soak up lots of new information, especially if the learning is fun! Joseph Pilates was right; children do need to learn his exercises because just like a foreign language, when you learn it as a child, it stays with you forever!! I try to use what is available to me. Last year I was fortunate enough to have a room mother from Austria. She would come once a week and teach us German. This year I had access to someone from Japan and we did both German and Japanese. The kids loved it!! And I feel every year I become a better teacher because I am learning too! My toddler can speak and count some basic German, French, Spanish, Turkish, and now Japanese and she absorbs it all!

I really think the key is to introduce foreign language and Pilates as early as possible because as I can see from my former students and my daughter, they soak it up and love learning and being challenged!! America is really behind other countries like Europe in teaching our children culture studies. Most countries start learning a foreign language in elementary school. Learning Pilates, like learning a foreign language, increases a student’s skills in creativity, memory, attention control, problem solving and more. Why wouldn’t we want this for our kids?!?

I have read that kids under the age of 12 can learn a foreign language and speak it without an obvious accent. I don’t know about you, but this is not possible for me! I know my Texas accent carries over into whatever I’m speaking. But, our kids can do it! Children in Europe learn two or more foreign languages during their schooling. I wish language was more of a priority for us in elementary school because the longer we wait to teach them the harder it is to pick up. I know what teachers are thinking! I don’t have time to add one more thing to my day! This is true, I certainly had to make it a priority and I married many things together. If you are motivated to teach and learn, you find the time! My 2nd graders were teaching me too, and I know they liked that!

Another reason we should want our children to learn a foreign language is that people of other cultures are worth getting to know! We should make more of an effort to try to learn to get to know them in their own language. Most countries learn English! I know what you’re thinking!! I’m not going to France anytime soon in this economy so why bother? I’ll tell you why…Learning is fun! Maybe instead of French, learn Spanish! But, take a step into another culture together with your child! I’m sure you will find the history, food, and the people to be fascinating. You will be serving them a giant slice of humble pie too, because learning a foreign language breeds humility.

I love this inspirational quote from Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

Be inspired to inspire your children and learn together.