Reminders for Great Teachers

Review of What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most by Todd Whitaker

I’m so thrilled that I get to go back to teaching this fall. I was able to take a position that is part time as I ease my way back in, allowing me to be present as you boys are still small. As I’m heading back in just one short month, I have as one of my summer reading assignments this book about the most important aspects of teaching and how to set your students (and yourself) up for success. I enjoyed the quick read very much and found myself nodding my head and writing, “Yes!” and “Exactly!” a silly number of times. But it made me feel like I was having a conversation with another teacher who was giving me a pep talk and reminding me of my values in the classroom – that I am the number one denominator and that I set the thermostat with my own expectations and positivity. Here are just a few takeaways I’d like to remember and have on hand as I become frustrated and need another pep talk or some guidance:

  • “Outstanding teachers can see things from their students’ point of view… and they know how they come across to others…” (xvii).
  • “When great teachers say something, they mean it. They choose when and how to address a situation to achieve the effect they want” (xvii).
  • He asked an outstanding teacher who had been teaching for 38 years and still had enthusiasm what it was that keeps her inspired. Her response: “This is my thirty-eighth year teaching… but for these students, it’s the first time around” (5).
  • Great teachers don’t focus on ‘What am I going to do if students misbehave?’ They expect good behavior, and generally that’s what they get” (14).
  • On page 23, he has a brilliant idea about a scenario that could be quite likely, which is if you have more than one troublemaker in a class (in this case, 4). Rather than calling all sets of parents, he suggests calling one. But not only that, but to not call the parents of the biggest problem but the parents of the student who will most likely be affected by the call. It is likely that student will tell the others and straighten up in class, causing a ripple effect. I’m liking it.
  • “When inappropriate behavior occurs, we should give ourselves time to think before we react” (24). Much like that famous quote by Lincoln, I think: “When angry, count to ten. When really angry, count to 100.” He made a strong case about how important it is to establish trust. If you don’t handle one student well, the other students will side with their peer, and you’d have all students against you. But the students want you to handle the misbehavior; however, they expect you to do so respectfully (of course).
  • In chapter 7, the takeaway is huge. And that is that when the ship is sinking, there is one person responsible: ME, the teacher. Now, it’s one thing if a student is struggling at home or has an issue that is unrelated to you and your class. But overall, if the class isn’t getting it, isn’t respecting the rules or things are insane in general, I am the variable. Not that I should beat myself up and call myself the worst teacher ever. But to take ownership and realize I’m in control and find ways to fix it. If a lesson plan isn’t working or if students are not grasping difficult material, I’m the variable to fix it. It’s actually empowering to take this approach than to grumble about what awful kids I have this year. It’s all about attitude. And taking responsibility.
  • “Great teachers resist the temptation to socialize when they should be supervising. They know the value of interacting with other teachers, and so they treat their colleagues as the second most important group of people in the school” (46). As a sociable person in general, I needed to hear this. Also, he later explains how it is important to avoid the negative people and not engage in the grumbling about this and that. Once you do, you’re sucked in, and that is not a good place to be.
  • “To be effective, praise must be authentic, specific, immediate, clean, and private” (51). This is a loaded sentence, and Whitaker breaks it down by providing examples and explanations for each. For authentic, this is clear. Students can smell inauthenticity from a mile away. He mentions how important it is to praise when things are going right. Specific relates to focusing on the behavior we want more of. “The behavior we acknowledge often becomes the behavior that will continue.” Immediate is also obvious so as to not allow us to lose the opportunity. By “clean,” he means to be careful about your intentions and to not expect things in return. Never say “but” after a praise. Don’t link a good behavior with a bad one and assume the good one was meaningless. Stay authentic and use the praise when appropriate with no strings attached. Finally, by private, we want to avoid calling students out when they get the highest grade or show favoritism in any way.
  • “We often hear the statement, ‘You have to earn students’ respect.’ Yet the students are on their best behavior on the first day of school. Did we earn that? Did we work with the students and their families one on one over the summer to build that bond? Of course not. On the first day of school, students hand us respect on a platter. We determine what happens to that gift. The best teachers continue to nurture and build respect all year long” (59). If only I’d read that my first year teaching. Ha. Seriously, this is wonderful and so very true.
  • “Effective educators… are so sensitive to every single statement they make or action they take” (66). Avoid cutting words or sharp or sarcastic remarks. Always work on feeding a high level of trust and credibility. Professionalism. It’s everything.
  • “Aim high” “Great teachers make decisions following three simple guidelines: 1. What is the purpose? 2. Will this actually accomplish the purpose? 3. What will the best people think?” (83). I loved this chapter because it broke it all down so well, from unit planning to classroom management. A reminder to not teach to the middle but to the top. If we establish the purpose, we move in a direction that is productive. As for that third one, I really took to this explanation, to think of what my best students will think. Rather than getting upset with the entire class about not turning in their rough drafts on time, the good students will wonder if I got theirs. We should “treat every student with the best students in mind” (86). I love this so much. Treat everyone as if they are good.
  • “Think of the teacher who spends the first day with a finger-pointing lecture about the rules. Which students are most uncomfortable? The ones who don’t need a host of rules to keep them in line. What are the others doing? Plotting!” (91-92). I will not do this.
  • Whitaker also advises against trade and grade. It isn’t good for the low performing students and it isn’t good for the high ones either.
  • Finally, don’t argue with hostile parents. It’s what they want and they will indeed use it against you

I loved reading this and feel like it brought me back into the mindset of teaching and gave me the boost I need to set up the school year on the right track. I pray that all goes smoothly with this transition for all of us.

Perfect Cutout Cookies!

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Today is Valentine’s Day, and we are having a good one. The weather is perfect, and we had a lot of fun at lunch and drove home with all the windows down. We came home and built Batman Legos, and now we are about to make some Valentine’s Day cookies!

Boys, we make and decorate a lot of cookies on many special occasions. I know it isn’t good. I hope you don’t feel like I failed somehow by making special-shaped and decorated cookies on holidays and special occasions, thereby introducing you to the amazing taste that is pure sugar, but what can I say except that I love making them, decorating them, and seeing you all excited about them.

Well, in case you two are still into them and think they are okay every once in a while for special occasions, and you aren’t shaking your head at me for celebrating with sugar, I’m providing the recipe here. I received it from my friend, Rachel, and it has been the best one I’ve used. I plan to continue using it for years to come. Enjoy!

1.5 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup of sugar
1 egg
2.5 cups of flour

Roll out in between plastic wrap until it’s around 1/8 (for a crispier cookie) and 1/4 (for a softer cookie) inches thick and then put it in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 15 minutes. Cut out the cookies and then bake at 350 until the edges start to turn golden. This usually takes between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on thickness.

Yum! I love you both with my whole heart and then some!

Mom

Today’s Dad

When I was a child, I had a great dad. He was a wonderful late-20th century dad. He worked hard, was home for dinner, encouraged us when we needed encouragement, and got involved in discipline decisions if there was ever a significant offense, which thankfully for us all, was rare. On the weekends, he spent time with us and made us laugh often, but when it came to the day-to-day aspects of parenthood – diaper changes/toilet training, food preparation, boo boo kissing, teacher conferences, homework, etc., it was pretty much all Mom. That’s just how it was for most families — at least the ones I knew.

I’m not sure when the shift happened, but somewhere after the year 2000, more involved dads came into the picture. I’m sure some expert somewhere knows why this happened, but I can only speculate that some dads started to realize how rewarding it is to be involved in the lives of their children, and it just caught on. Now, I realize this is not the case for every family, everywhere, but I like what I’m seeing. I’m seeing more dads at school, more dads with their kids on weekends, more stories from my friends about their husbands taking care of household chores and getting involved in parenting their children. Unlike other cultural shifts, this one is most definitely for the best.

In my own life as a mother, I find that the amount of help I receive from my husband is significant, and I therefore feel less of a burden, less fearful, more confident and in control as a parent because I have a partner who supports me and considers himself equally responsible for raising our children, even though he works many hours during the week. I don’t know if he is like many other dads in this way, but I know it makes for a much smoother ride for us all, and I am incredibly grateful.

Boys, as you read this in 2030, I hope you decide to thank your dad. He’s awesome.

3am. Dad went up to help Prince 2 go back to sleep by sleeping on the floor next to him and fell asleep himself. Prince 2 decided to join Daddy on the floor.

3am. Dad went up to help Prince 2 go back to sleep and fell asleep on the floor next to him. Prince 2 decided to join him. :)

Christmas 2014

Hi sons!

I just received my new iPhone 6. I had to make sure my pictures were transferred over from my old phone and realized I hadn’t done anything with all of our Christmas photos. We took so many good ones, and although I’m avoiding placing our faces on this site for now, I still have some wonderful ones that captured great moments. This year, we had your aunt and uncle and your cousins join us, and it was a special Christmas for all of us. Here are our photos. I hope you enjoy them!

Welcome, family!

Welcome, family!

Welcome, family!

Along with spinach dip, I made endives with blue cheese and pear slices from the pears your MiMi and Grandpa Milt sent us from Harry & David’s. Yum! We feasted on that while they all settled in and then had dinner. After dinner, we decorated sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies. This is one that Daddy made for you boys, which you were thrilled with:

Daddy's Spiderman gingerbread man :)

Daddy’s Spiderman gingerbread man :)

We had a relaxed Christmas Eve and then went to church. After the Christmas Eve service, Daddy prepared this. Lucky us!

A family tradition for us on Christmas Eve - Daddy's Chinese food!

A family tradition for us on Christmas Eve – Daddy’s Chinese food!

After, we opened one gift (always pajamas, of course) and set this plate out for Santa:

Cookies and veggies for Santa and Rudolf :)

Cookies and veggies for Santa and Rudolf :)

You sweet and excited boys went to sleep, and Santa came!

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Santa came!

Santa came!

And a picture of our delicious Christmas dinner (turkey, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, brussel sprouts, and cranberry sauce). We ate well, for sure.

Christmas dinner - yum!

Christmas dinner – yum!

It was a splendid Christmas! We then traveled to Chicago for a week to spend time with family there, although we missed the snow! Your favorite parts of that visit were your A-Ma’s cooking (Prince 1, you devoured her hot pot) and our visit to the Field Museum where you saw the dinosaurs. Roar!

I hope you both have the fondest of memories of this past Christmas, and of all your Christmases as kids. We are so lucky to have each other with whom to celebrate!

All my love,

Mom

A Gift for the New Year

Hi sons,

Today is the first day of 2015. When I was young and visualized what this year would be like, I was sure we’d be driving/flying our cars and visiting outer space for vacation. Although these things aren’t happening, life is pretty darn awesome.

I saw this video about a year ago, and it stayed with me. I thought it would be a perfect thing to watch on the first morning of the year. It did not disappoint and inspired me again to stop and pay attention to nature and to life and bask in the gratitude of it all. It really is magnificent. Here are about nine minutes well worth your time. Please watch it, my sons. Every day is a gift. YOU are a gift to the Universe and of course, to me.

Happiness/Gratitude TED Talk by Louie Schwartzberg

I love you.
Mom

At the beach in Carmel

At the beach in Carmel

This Kind of Girl: Inspired by Lena Dunham

I just finished reading a book for my book club. It is one I would not have picked to read since I’ve never seen the show, GIRLS. I’ve heard it is very good, though, and I now plan to tune in. Her book is entitled Not That Kind of Girl, and in it she discusses a number of her life experiences, which are plenty for a young woman in her twenties. I related to her in many ways, and not at all in others. However, I’m so glad I read it. It inspired me to think about who I am and my own experiences, and what I’d say if I were to write such a book. Obviously, there are no publishers knocking down my door asking me to write such a thing, but hey. I can pretend with this blog that I am writing to you, my loved ones.

I learned from Lena Dunham’s book that my life, thoughts, and experiences might not be all that unique and that women likely have a lot more in common than we think we do. We just don’t talk about these details. Her book was shocking in that it was so personal and so detailed and about subjects we don’t discuss with “polite” company, but in a number of instances, they are things that we should discuss. We should discuss the time we put ourselves in a bad situation. We should discuss the time we were sexually assaulted. We should discuss our fears and anxieties. We should discuss the douche bags we let ourselves date and why. We should discuss the time post college when we worked a crappy job and wondered who the heck we are and what it all means. I applaud her honesty and authenticity.

Writing from a place of inspiration here, I’d like to share a personal reflection of my own. In my effort to lose my ego and focus on self-acceptance and love, I’m going to throw some of my “flaws” out there in this blog post. And I’m not talking about the flaws that make people cringe. I’m talking about the job interview flaws. You know, the one that answers the dreaded question, “What is your weakness?” The one the interviewer expects to really be a strength. Because I’ve been learning lately that some of the things about me that I have considered flaws are really just me, and they are indeed strengths and gifts. I just need to see them as such. Here goes. Hoping for writing catharsis here.

1. I am dramatic. Silver lining: I’m in touch with my feelings, and I truly LIVE this life. As a child, I really got into pretend play. I remember playing with my twin brother outside one day, and we decided to play chase around the house in a game of “cops and robbers.” We were about five. I vividly recall that I was the robber running for my life as my brother, the cop, ran after me. I was so into this game that I became the robber, and I was truly afraid as my adrenaline was pumping. I was sure I had lost him, and I just knew he thought I was hiding behind the tree as I found myself hiding behind a bush by the front door. I was wrong. The cop had found me, and I was toast. The moment I saw that cop, I screamed. It was no pretend scream, but a real, “Oh my God. My life is over” kind of scream. It was so dramatic that my brother had to stop and say, “Nancy, it’s okay. It’s just me. We are only pretending.” A few years later, I remember wanting to be Annie. I remember assuming that because I had acting talent and red hair, I should play her on Broadway. I won the school talent show in the third grade for singing “I Can’t Say No” from Oklahoma, so, obviously, the next step was Broadway. I recall trying out for the big fifth grade play and wanting the lead so badly I could taste it. We were going to do Babes in Toyland. I worked hard the week before coming up with the perfect song to sing for the tryout, and I gave it my all. I remember the next day at school, my friends weren’t talking to me. It hurt, and I didn’t understand. So, I approached the one that had been the most chilly while we were on the playground. She said, “I just think you should give someone else a chance.” Well, I guess I had nailed that tryout. It turned out that I did get the lead, but so did she. We split it (I performed for the evening performances, and she performed in the day performances), and suddenly, we were friends again. Once I hit puberty a couple of years later, I lost interest in Broadway and plays. I think I had some new insecurities related to my sudden new body, but that is for another post. What I’m trying to say here is that I was born with a flair for drama (thanks to your grandmother), and I do sometimes make mountains of molehills, but I will say that it doesn’t just mean I have a zest for life. I truly care, and when my heart is into something, it matters to me on a deep level. I don’t half-ass the things and the people to which I commit myself. All in.

2. I’m a Goody Goody. Silver lining: My friendships are true and authentic. I love being around people. I love people. I love to laugh and goof off. I like to make people laugh until their sides hurt. I like to indulge in a little alcohol to relax me, but I like to stop it there. My body hates excess drinking. I don’t get crazy and happy after a few drinks, but instead my body gets sleepy, dizzy, and sick. Not worth it. I learned this in college, and have been totally fine with this reality. But even well before college, middle and high school, I knew I was not going to be the “party girl.” I wanted to be because I liked to laugh and have fun. But it just wasn’t in the cards. I was always well-liked, for the most part, but rarely was I invited to a party that parents weren’t aware of. I was often called “sweet” by the people who didn’t know me very well. A description, by the way, that I hate this very day. The good news is that I avoided disappointing my parents because of this, but I often felt left out of some fun and excitement. But guess what? The real friends I had who sat with me while I cried over a boy… The real friends I made young who knew all about my crazy family and forgave me when I said something stupid or mean… The real friends who spent holidays with my family and I spent with theirs… The real friends who helped me laugh at myself and called me out on my b.s… They are still my friends today, and that matters more than those missed parties. I am finding as an adult mom that I’m still considered a goody goody, but I have some amazing people in my life and deep, deep friendships that I wouldn’t trade for all the partying in the world. But, you know what? As I write this, I am starting to think that I should throw a party to celebrate that.

3. I am not interestingly mysterious. Silver lining: I’m open, honest, and real. You know that cool girl in school who everyone wants to know so they can know her secret of how to be so confident? Yeah. That was never me. I say what I feel and what’s on my mind. I don’t pretend. Everyone has insecurities. Some hide them, while others just name them. That’s me. I don’t pretend (unless I’m playing cops and robbers or Annie, of course), because what’s the point? Some people embrace this “flaw” and appreciate it, while it makes others uncomfortable. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve. In high school, I remember that this didn’t always work so well in social settings, particularly when it involved my hormonal imbalances. If I felt insecure about something, I said it. If something hurt my feelings, I said it. If I liked a boy, I told someone. No mystery here. Ever. Even if I tried to seem mysterious, people would see through me. That is how strong this “flaw” of mine is. And, believe me, in the dating world, it didn’t work all that well in my favor either. If I really liked a guy I was dating, it was doomed. If I liked him okay, it lasted longer. I thank my lucky stars every day that your dad appreciated my openness and honesty, as well as my admiration of him and that he admired me in return. It truly is a miracle. Anyway, this “flaw” turns some people off. But I like to think that for those it doesn’t turn off, well, I have found my people. “Oh, you feel that way, too? You’re real as well and don’t put up any bullshit fronts that you are confident and perfect? Let’s be friends forever!”

4. I am sensitive. Silver lining: I am compassionate. I recall crying when I saw a dead deer on the road as a child. I recall seeing the movie Rocky II with my family and crying over Apollo’s death, not only in the movie, but in the restaurant after we saw the movie, and my parents thinking I was insane because “it was just a movie.” I remember thinking, “Yeah, but it was real to me, and I’m sure someone somewhere has died like that.” I recall just being sad for people I didn’t even know, just because I saw they were sad. It would affect me. It still does. My feelings get hurt easily, and I’ve been called “sensitive” before after someone has said something rude or cruel. The name calling should have gone in the other direction in those cases, but it’s important to mention that when discussing this “flaw” of mine. Reading news stories is not smart for me because I take in the pain of those suffering from the situation that made the news. I went through this recently upon reading about a horrific child abuse case that resulted in the death of a three-year-old boy. I cried and lost sleep over it. How could this have happened? But you know what? As much as I’d love to let stories about other people’s pain roll off my back or the insults directed at me roll off my back as well (I’ll keep working on that last one), I’m glad I have empathy for others and a sense of justice. Sensitive and compassionate people change the world and make it a better place. Not a flaw.

I know there are more “flaws” I could share, but I will stop for now since, well, there is a lot to soak in already. I think there is a fine line between improving ourselves and accepting/appreciating ourselves for who we are. For this post, I’ve given love to the latter and think I’m coming close to knowing the difference between the two. I’ll never be an insensitive, mysterious, practical-minded party girl, and that is okay! :)

So, what are your “flaws” that are really gifts?

How the Internet is turning today’s parents into freaks

Sons, I had a “moment” this week after reading so much information online about parenting the “right” way according to “experts.” I realized that I’m tired of trying to keep up with all the new research and decided I just want to follow my instincts and keep on loving you and believing in you and God’s work in your lives. In other words, I’ve chosen faith over fear. Anyway, this is what I wrote:

Picture it: 1994. Jennifer, a stay-at-home mom, wakes up, makes a cup of coffee and attends to her children. If the phone rings, she either picks it up or lets the answering machine get it. If the message sounds urgent, she picks up, but otherwise, she just focuses on her kids and feeds them what is reasonable – plain ole’ wheat toast, regular ole’ eggs, Kellogg’s cereal, regular ole’ 2% milk – pretty much whatever the kids ask for (within reason). After breakfast, she breaks up fights if needed and gets the kids off to school. She drives home with a to do list that includes laundry, a nail appointment, and a leisurely jog to get those endorphins going, and she might even make time to find out if Eden and Cruz will get back together on her soap opera before making dinner.

Later, the kids come home from school, and she gives them grapes and graham crackers and lets them play outside for a bit before having them work on homework (or they watch tv for a bit if the weather is bad), because she knows that childhood is a time for play, relaxation, and exploration. No guilt. She’s just following what feels right to her. Later, if the kids have a homework question, she helps them and then encourages them to keep doing their best. Those kids are in their 20′s now and doing just fine overall. Some are rocket scientists, attorneys, and doctors, while others are managers at McDonald’s, mechanics, and jobless residents in their parents’  basements. All of them are, in one way or another, trying to find their way like the rest of us did in our 20′s.

Now, picture it (and it shouldn’t be too hard): 2014 (the Internet age). Meet stay-at-home mom Monica. She wakes up, checks Facebook and reads two blog posts from her Facebook news feed – one about rear-facing car seats (She thinks, “Oh, crap! I moved my tall kid around when he turned 18 months old!”), and the other post about why Montessori education is the only way to raise self-sufficient and confident human beings (She thinks, “Oh, crap! I have always felt strongly about traditional preschool and went that route. Have I been wrong? Are they going to fail at life?!”). The kids come in and say they’re hungry, so she goes into the kitchen and strictly offers only food that is organic, paleo, super, sugarless, saltless, and packed with protein and probiotics – all of which she has heard about from numerous blog posts sent, again, through social media. The kids cry for a bowl of rice crispies, but Monica sticks to her plan out of fear of destroying her children’s bodies. After swallowing their bland breakfast, the kids begin fighting, and she remembers the article she read yesterday about why it’s best to teach kids to work these issues out on their own and the other one she read a few days ago about why one shouldn’t teach her kids to share since it will spread the message that whenever a kid wants something, he or she should expect to get it rather than teaching them to wait their turn.

Somehow, Monica gets the children out the door and to school. She drives home feeling guilty that she forgot to move the car seat back to the backwards-facing position before leaving for school and that she might have been a little too stern about breakfast and a little too laid back about the fighting since little Suzie got the short end of the stick in the fight, as usual.

She arrives home and attaches her Fitbit and makes sure to train for her triathlon coming up and then stops to buy kale at the store for a snack later. The kids come home from school, and she has a plate of homemade kale chips on the table ready for them to devour. While they eat, she checks her Facebook app and reads about the harmful effects of a parent checking her phone and shuts it off with feelings of guilt for checking it right then, and she wonders if she’s ruined her relationships with her kids for all the other times she has checked her phone in front of them.

She then loads the kids into the car (and moves that car seat around) for their respective and super important extra-curricular activities, and while she waits for them, she reads another article that popped up on her news feed about a mom who says “no” to screen time for her kids because she wants to see their eyes light up at every possible chance. Monica sighs and wonders if that mom ever cooks or takes care of any household chores. Later, she stays up with the kids until midnight helping them with their homework since Suzie’s friend’s mom posted a photo on Facebook of the beautiful project “they” had finished “together”. Monica then feels afraid of Suzie going to school with something a child would actually make and “helps” her make something that could be a display item in a craft store. She then falls asleep clutching her book she heard about from a Facebook friend about how to get your child into an Ivy League school, because she feels that the next 10 years before they apply to college are going to make or break the path to a successful life for them.

It is an over-achieving, information-overload fest out there in cyber space these days, and it is hard to picture what sort of effect today’s Internet will have on the kids when they are grown in about 20 years, but one thing is certain. The effect on us parents is going to be pretty hellacious if we keep falling into the trap that is the illusion of human perfection. I imagine that if I’m feeling exhausted with all of the information out there crowding up my brain, it is going to have a negative effect on my children.

After today, I’m finished clicking those posts that somehow draw me in because I either want to be validated in that I’m doing a decent job as a parent, or I’m hoping to receive some advice to make this job easier and better for my kids. More often than not, my reading the posts do neither. When I might have felt like I’m doing a decent job as a mom before I read the post, I finish reading and question it all since the author’s point of view is different from mine, and she must have perfect kids since she’s writing about why her way is the best way, right? Well, wrong. The author is a completely different person with different children and a completely different set of experiences in life, and chances are pretty high that her kids are willful and difficult, too, because well, they are human beings (who, by the way, by nature, are imperfect).

Now, I know there is indeed a bright side to social media. I do greatly appreciate informative and helpful “tips” to make my life easier, and I’m all about life hacks and inspiration, and I admit that I have received valuable advice by way of social media. In fact, those things and my connections are why I still use Facebook. But I’m finding that in this day and age when it seems like everyone is trying to over-achieve in every area of life, including parenthood, social media can be less than helpful. In fact, it can drive us all bonkers. I’m only four years into this parenting gig, and I’m ready for a month-long soma holiday from all the pressure.

I can’t help wondering lately who it is we are trying to impress. Our parents? The Jones’s? Ourselves? Each other? Why the competition? And why the obsession with perfection? What happened to the obsession with raising good and decent people who love life and live it with grace and a sense of humor? Why can’t we compete in those areas?

So, yeah. I’m finished with the rat race before my kids are old enough to feel like they have to join in. Instead, I’m going to focus on following my reliable instincts (rather than my fears) and living out the most valuable aspect of parenting: loving on, believing in, and enjoying my kids.

And to my sons who will read this in 2030, I pray that you are proud of and grateful for my approach of going by my own set of standards. Heck, maybe by my letting go of the perfection illusion and believing in you, you have become healthy, happy, and confident (Dare I say almost perfect?).

Love,

Mom

 

How I Met Your Dad

Hi sons,

This past Sunday was Father’s Day, and we had such a great day. We woke up early and let your dad sleep in while we made a big breakfast. You two went in and woke him up, and we all enjoyed eating together and planning our day at the Oakland Zoo. We had a great time there, and it was just a wonderful and memorable day.

Well, in honor of Father’s Day, I’d like to take a moment to share with you the story of how I met your dad. Many people don’t know that I met your dad on a blind date. What many people also don’t know is that I was the first to ask your dad out (because he was taking too long!), and he turned me down. He turned me down because my invitation was for him to accompany me to an outdoor John Mayer concert in Atlanta in the month of August, and he didn’t want me to see him sweat profusely on our first date. He did not tell me that, of course, but I was floored when he said he had a prior commitment since our series of emails and calls before that had been going so well. Thank goodness he asked me out next, and it all worked out.

Our first date took place on a Sunday afternoon for lunch in Virginia Highlands. It should come as no surprise to you at all in 2030 that he was a little late. I waited for him on a bench outside the restaurant, and when he came from around the corner, I immediately felt like I had known him forever. And I’m not just saying that. I really did.

It was a lovely meal and conversation, and we ended up going to a museum afterwards and spent the rest of the afternoon there. We had such a nice time together at the museum that when it came time to leave, we weren’t ready to part and had coffee before he had to leave for a friend’s birthday party. We hugged goodbye, and I floated home. The entire day was so effortless and enjoyable. I felt like I could be myself, yet I also felt attracted to him in a way that just felt right. In fact, as I drove home from our 6-hour date that day, I knew without a doubt I’d marry him.

Your dad and I have been inseparable ever since. He is so loving and supportive, and I am beyond lucky to have married a man of integrity and kindness. As you know, he always thinks of others first. You two are so lucky to have him as a dad. We never doubt that we are his number one priority in spite of his busy work schedule. We know we come first – always. He plays with you boys and makes you laugh and hugs you and tells you he loves you at every chance he gets. He is most often the one to wake up with you two at night, and he is most often the one who wakes up with you if you wake up early in the mornings. He will snuggle with you on the couch and snooze while you catch an episode of Mickey Mouse. He cooks, cleans, plays, and comforts. He is our hero!

Love,

Mom

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Southern Comfort

We had quite a day today. Since the weekend was so nice and restful and I had the time to really think through what food I wanted to make this week, I decided to run with the idea of cookin’ up one delicious Southern meal, and you two boys “helped.” Well, like some say, you can take a girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl. :)  Of course, don’t worry, my 2030 boys, I’m sure you know that I don’t feed you all bacon and butter every day. I do shop at Whole Foods, so you get plenty of healthy vegetables, fruits, and lean meats. But sometimes, it is okay to have a nice treat for a meal like we had tonight, particularly since lately, I miss home.

I’d like to clarify, I love where we live. I can list a thousand reasons why I’m glad God moved us here. I wouldn’t change it, but there are many things I miss about the South, and the food is definitely one of them. Even though the food here is amazing with all of its outstanding ethnic restaurants, I just wish I could place an Old Hickory House in our neighborhood and put it right next to a Waffle House. Of course, I also miss the friendliness from strangers, the “How’s your mama?” inquiries, and the numerous people with their large families dressed in their “Sunday best” at restaurants at noon on Sundays. Although there are drawbacks to the South, which I won’t go into, it is so much a part of me, and I don’t ever want to forget it. In fact, I don’t want you two to forget it either. So, here is tonight’s Southern meal – with recipes and photos. Note: For you, Prince 1, they are wheat-free and nut-free (and no one would ever know it)!

Menu: Brunswick Stew, Southern-style Spinach, Cornbread  Dessert: Peach Cobbler

Brunswick Stew

Many people out where we live have never heard of it. This is shocking. Did you know there is a controversial debate among Southerners about where this stew originated? Those who live in Brunswick, Georgia swear it came from there, while those in Brunswick County, Virginia swear it was created in their home town. The reason there is an argument at all? Because it is deeee-licious!

First, cook up some chicken and shred it.

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Then, heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions and celery. Saute it over medium heat until soft. Add the ground meat and brown it. Do not drain, but if you must, don’t drain it all. Tonight, I chose ground beef since that is what I had on hand.

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Add, chicken broth, ketchup, a can of diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, a dash of ground mustard, a dash of red pepper flakes, frozen or fresh vegetables, and the barbecue sauce. Tonight, I used this kind from Trader Joe’s:

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At this point, your stew should look like this:

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Simmer, stirring occasionally for two hours. Feel free to add more barbecue sauce and/or salt and pepper. However you like it. YUMMY!

Brunswick Stew Recipe (taken from a few recipes I found on the Internet and then modified over time by yours truly):

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 Cup chopped onion
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef (or 1/2 lb ground pork and 1/2 lb ground beef)
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
  • 1/4 Cup ketchup
  • 1/4 Cup BBQ Sauce
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans chicken broth
  • 1 8oz can tomato sauce
  • Frozen vegetable medley or fresh (eyeball it)
  • Dash of ground mustard
  • Dash of red pepper flakes

Method of Preparation:

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and sauté until soft. Add ground meats and brown. Do not drain. Add everything else and cook for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. Add more barbecue sauce and salt/pepper to taste. Enjoy!

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Cornbread

This recipe came from Cup 4 Cup (a gluten free flour). For those not familiar, for our family, “gluten free” means that the product is free of wheat, and our son is allergic to wheat, which means he would end up in the ER if he ate it, so we aren’t on a fad-diet health kick. We absolutely must buy gluten free products.

Anyway, here are the ingredients:

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Here is the recipe, which can be found at www.cup4cup.com Because I don’t like it too sweet, I used 1/3 Cup of sugar rather than 2/3, and it was soooo perfect.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup cornmeal
  • 1 Cup Cup4Cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 Cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/3 Cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Cup milk

Method of Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Butter an 8×8 baking dish.
  3. Combine melted butter and sugar together. Add in eggs and whisk to combine. Add in milk and whisk.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda.
  5. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and put batter into buttered baking dish.
  6. Bake in oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until done.

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Peach Cobbler

Oh, how I love this dessert. The hot cobbler mixed with the cold vanilla ice cream… Heavenly. You two scarfed it up and exclaimed, “Mommy, you should make this again!” I do believe I will. You will be amazed at how easy this recipe is.

First, melt a stick of butter in a 9×13 pan. Yes, that’s a lot of butter.

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Then, mix up the Cup4Cup flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, beaten egg, and milk. Pour it on top of the melted butter. No need to stir!

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Drain two cans of peaches halfway and pour 1 can and half of the other over the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon on top. And yes, that’s a lot of butter.

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Put it in the oven and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, and enjoy the heavenly smell that is sure to fill up your home. But be sure to hold onto your oven mitts so that you have them when it’s ready! :)

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Peach Cobbler Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 Cup)
  • 1 Cup flour (Cup4Cup for us)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 Cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Cup milk
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 1/2 Cup canned sliced peaches (but one could use fresh fruit, too, of course!)

Method of Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Melt butter in a 9 x 13 pan.
  3. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, milk, and egg, and pour over butter. No stirring necessary.
  4. Drain the peaches about halfway, and pour those evenly over the flour/sugar/egg/milk mixture. Again, no stirring necessary. Sprinkle a little bit of sugar and cinnamon on top, if desired.
  5. Bake in oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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Enjoy!

My sons, I hope that when you read this in 2030, you also have a love of the South as well as of the native country of your grandparents. I also hope you have a love of your own home and of the food from each place. They all represent all that you are and in all of your uniqueness!

Lots of Love,

Mom

Operation Relaxation

Dear sons,

This may or may not come as a surprise to you in 2030, and in my heart of hearts, I hope it is a huge surprise since that will mean I have reached my goal, but I have struggled for years with anxiety. It’s not fun. It was awful before you came into the world, but it has bothered me even more since I became a mother because I do not want you to suffer from it or have to carry any burdens that come from my own struggle with it.

I want to explain, though, that I do not suffer from anxiety nearly as badly as some. I don’t ever end up in a situation that would require medical attention; however, I have experienced it to the level of it affecting my relationships, productivity, and health. After I recently experienced a very difficult battle with it, I have decided to take control of it, and I’m calling it “operation relaxation,” because I am committed to the changes.

So, here is my list of advice to myself, and hopefully, to you. I hope you already do these things because I will have taught them to you between now and 2030:

1. Conscious deep breathing.
I find that when I am not paying attention to it and suddenly do, I am often taking shallow breaths. When I take a moment and center myself again by focusing on my breath, I become much more relaxed. If I do this more often throughout the day, I’m making headway with this operation. This blog post from Psych Central is a helpful one on this subject. Also, I often turn to a website called calm.com and it helps me tremendously by removing me from my current distractions.

2. Pay attention to your body. Notice what muscles are not relaxed and relax them. For me, it’s my jaws since I tend to clench my teeth when I am stressed, which is sadly, a good bit of the time. No wonder I get headaches! When I realized this recently and started forcing myself to relax my jaws, I noticed the rest of my body relax, too. Interestingly, my headache went away.

3. Prayer and meditation. This seems obvious, and for spiritual reasons, I need to do this more often, but I plan to spend more of my energy in a place of gratitude and surrender. All of the things I get anxious about are out of my control. It’s time I truly lived a life of faith within my own mind, in addition to my words and actions.

4. Drink plenty of water, eat a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, and when you snack, choose fruit. I have been paying attention to my body’s needs lately and have been much more focused on this goal and already feel better. As odd as this might sound, I think our moods are very much affected by our diets. I’m cutting down on my sugar intake and know this is one good step in the right direction. I’d also like to add that I am very wary of any advice that tells me to cut out an entire food group. Healthy moderation is what I try to keep in mind.

5. Move. I’ll be honest. I don’t really like exercise for the sake of exercise. It has to be enjoyable for me, or I’ll quit. True story (a bit embarrassing, but true). I recently tried CrossFit for a few months, and well, it wasn’t for me. My wrist, elbow, and knee agree. So, I’ve started yoga. It just makes sense, and I really enjoy it.

6. Get a massage whenever possible. I know this is a luxury, and for many people, it is nearly impossible to commit to, but whenever I have a good one, I am ten times better off and feel great for days. I had a massage a couple of months ago that was amazing, and I felt like a new person for weeks. I believe it has great power in relieving our stress and pain.

7. Practice positive self-talk. This one is tough for me as I have often been very tough on myself. Saying nice things to myself feels strange at first, but it does have great power as well.

8. Do something nice for at least one other person at least once a day. Even if it is to ask the server how his or her day is going or to smile kindly at someone as they pass you in the store, it reminds us that this life isn’t all about us and that what we do for and say to others can have an impact. We can have an impact.

9. Talk or write to someone about your daily struggles. We all need a trusted confidante. Find one.

10. Get out and have some fun! Really. That’s an order.

I pray that as you read this, you feel equipped to handle stress. Unfortunately, we can’t avoid it altogether, but we can control it so that it doesn’t take over our lives. Remember, you come from love, and perfect love casts out fear. Breathe. Namaste.

All My Love,

Mom

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