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Homemade yogurt: bring on the pleasure

Yogurt is the perfect food to have at any time of the day. It is not only delicious but yogurt helps to make people of all ages strong and healthy.
I enjoy using yogurt in multiple ways…in smoothies, in children’s lunches, in crepes, for dips, snacking…  
Eating yogurt is so good for you. Yogurt is a “super food” with its high calcium, protein and B vitamins. It restores your good bacteria levels and its healthy “probiotics” have the power to protect you in so many ways. Yogurt promotes a healthy digestive and immune system; it relieves cramps, controls cravings…
The best way to enjoy these health benefits is to make your own fresh yogurt. Homemade yogurt is richer and thicker and fresher than anything you can buy at the grocery store.
If I buy yogurt, I buy Greek yogurt. I love Fage. It is just the way I love my yogurt…plain, thick and creamy like a pudding with a sweetener on the side.
European yogurt is not as sweet as American yogurt. Americans like a lot of sugar. I like to make my yogurt plain and then sweeten it with honey or maple syrup.
I think that it’s important for children to develop a taste without the heavy sugar. I like to buy Stonyfield’s yobaby and yokids yogurts for my children because it’s thick, wholesome and organic. I love the fact that it is made without artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners. Stonyfield just came out with a greek yogurt for kids that tastes a lot like the yogurt I make at home. My children also love Yoplait GoGurt; the squeeze tubes are easily portable for their lunch boxes and it’s a perfect freezer treat. As long as they love yogurt, I am happy!
Making yogurt is a science of precise measurement of temperature and
time. I enjoy making yogurt on the weekends, I find it satisfying and rewarding. My children love to help by creating just the right toppings. It’s fun for them to experiment and find their favorite yogurt recipe (it usually involves strawberries).You do not have to have a yogurt machine to make it but it sure makes it easy and neat with the perfect size container. Everyone enjoys watching the yogurt set on the kitchen counter.
So, it’s very good for you, it’s fun to make, delicious to eat, a teaching/learning opportunity for your children (including the lesson about having the “patience” to wait for something as the yogurt takes its time to set) and finally, knowing that you have done all these things brings on the pleasure that comes from going to the trouble to do something that makes you feel good.
Ashley’s recipe for yogurt
4 C of whole milk
Either ½ C of store bought yogurt or homemade yogurt from a previous batch (you can also use a package starter with a little powdered milk). You can add more powdered milk to produce a richer yogurt
In a large saucepan over medium heat the milk to 170 degrees. The milk should look like it’s on the verge of a boil. Remove from heat and let cool to 110 degrees then stir in ½ C of plain yogurt to act as your starter. This will set the yogurt. Pour the yogurt into individual jars turn on your yogurt machine and let it stay warm as the yogurt gets firmer (about five hours).  Cover the cups and place them in the refrigerator until well chilled for at least two hours.

I Had a Favorite Dress: dear mama can make it work

Growing up I thought my mother was magical because she could sew. I remember her sewing me a red dress with red roses in the first grade. She seemed to make it overnight…in fact, I think she did! It was my favorite dress when I was six.
When my friend Margot was four, she remembers her dad bringing back a soft green dress from Italy with stitchery in the front and lace at the bottom edge. When she grew out of it, her mom altered it for her baby doll to wear.
My daughter has several favorite pieces that she’s outgrown. I often wish I was a savvy D.I.Y. (do it yourself) kind of mom who could be like Mary Poppins and magically (as Boni Ashburn says) “make a molehill out of a mountain.
I think most of us have a few items of clothing that we are so in love with that when we wear them out, we are heartbroken!

The little girl in Boni Ashburn’s I Had a Favorite Dress is so lucky to have a mom who can make alterations that keep her daughter smiling. I very much want to do this for my daughter; I think it teaches resourcefulness.
I love how the mom’s boho-chic style influences her daughter’s appearance in what looks to be like a trendy Greenwich Village neighborhood.
As the girl grows, her salmon colored favorite dress is transformed into a shirt, tank top, skirt, scarf, socks, and hair bow.  The mom keeps saving the day by using her creativity to solve a problem every time her daughter says, “Mama dear…”  and there’s nothing to worry about when mama smiles and does a, “SNIP, SNIP, sew, sew… New shirt, hello!
Julia Denos
The young girl understands that nothing lasts forever and that’s okay because favorite things can be changed and used again in other ways. She dances into the days of the week as the seasons change.
Julia Denos, the illustrator of I Had a Favorite Dress, has a fresh whimsical style that is childlike with an old fashioned 1950’s feel. She is also the illustrator of another book I adore, Just Being Audrey.  
I would like to decorate my daughter’s room with Julia’s illustrations from both of these books.
I Had a Favorite Dress reminds me of a book I read to my second graders, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Joseph has an overcoat that he really likes and it becomes old and worn, but instead of throwing it away, it is altered into a jacket.  The same thing happens to the jacket and he makes a vest, then scarf, necktie, handkerchief, and finally a button. The message is that it’s always good to make something out of nothing or “make a molehill out of a mountain.”
This is such a good lesson to teach to children. As a teacher, I immediately thought about lessons I could teach comparing the two books.
I have already recommended I Had a Favorite Dress to our school librarian. It will be one of those books that never has a chance to be "checked-in!"
All it takes is a little inspiration from Etsy or Pinterest to get creative these days. Making alterations is the perfect answer to keeping hold of your favorite memories. Fashionistas can be green too and reduce, reuse, recycle their favorite items.
I plan to reuse my husband’s old neckties from the 80’s and 90’s and make them into bracelets like I found on Pinterest.
I haven’t yet decided how I will reuse some of my daughter’s favorite dresses but I imagine she’s probably going to think of it on her own sense we read I Had a Favorite Dress almost every night! I may be calling my “Mama dear” for the sewing! In the meantime, I hope to impart to my children and others the philosophy that although both things and people may appear to be used and spent, they may just be waiting for the energy and optimism of creative ideas to fill an old sail with fresh air.

The Avant-Garde Isabella Rossellini


Isabella Rossellini walked into the Nasher Salon gliding with the grace of a ballerina and the confidence of a true Italian-American icon. She speaks with the same loveliness, her beautiful accent (being fluent in Italian and French).
The writer, model, actress, film-maker, mother, twin, and philanthropist graced Dallas last week to speak at the Nasher Salon.
She is known for her intelligence, beauty, style and elegance. She is one of those people who you just know is beautiful on the inside because it radiates from the outside. Her radiance has been seen on the covers of twenty-three Vogue magazines. Modeling was a lucrative job for her; in 1983 she made $9,000 a day. Her style has been influenced by Georgia O’Keefe and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

Isabella and her daughter Elettra modeling for Lancome

Isabella has been in America since 1979 and is currently living in Long Island, NY. She is the daughter of three-time Oscar-winning actress, Ingrid Bergman and master director, Roberto Rossellini.
Skip Hollandsworth, a journalist for Texas Monthly, had the pleasure of interviewing Isabella at the Nasher Tuesday night to an intimate crowd of two-hundred. Throughout the interview, Isabella would think of many wonderful stories that brought you into her life as if you were sitting at her dinner table. She began each one with “Let-a-me-tell-a-you-a-story!”
My favorite story was the one of her daughter when she was five. She says that when her daughter, Elettra, was little and in school she was being trained to learn her address and phone number. Elettra’s teacher asked her if she got lost in the airport what would she do. Her answer was that she would sit under her mom’s poster. Elettra thought that all around town, there were photos of moms and dads in case kids get lost. She assumed that the world was covered with images of parents, not advertisements.
Her daughter, Elettra is now the spokes model for Lancôme and has her master’s degree in biomedicine.
                                          Isabella and her daughter Elettra and Isabella with her mother Ingrid
Isabella’s parents were divorced when she was two. She grew up in France and Italy. She lived in a separate apartment across the street from her father with her three siblings, the housekeeper’s child and the housekeeper (who she says was a saint). Isabella says of this time that they were four wild kids and she would bring home every stray dog and cat from the street. It seems like Isabella has always lived a bohemian life.
Isabella shared stories from her teenage years and said that for a whole six months she didn’t go to school before her parents figured out she was skipping. She would put on her uniform but then go to the beach. At night she would pretend to go to sleep, and would sneak out and go to night clubs. She admits that she was a terrible teenager and says that if her children had done that she would kill them!
                                                      Isabella's mother Ingrid BergmanGrowing up she suffered from scoliosis. Her mother, Ingrid Bergman, took two years off to take care of Isabella when she had an operation and had to wear a body cast for a year.
Isabella talked about her mother’s passion for acting. She said her mother would say, “I didn’t choose acting, acting chose me.” Isabella said she is grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked with her mom on a movie in 1976, A Matter of Time, in which Isabella made her movie debut in Vincente Minnelli’s film.
At the age of nineteen she came to the United States to work as an American correspondent for an Italian television network and interviewed Martin Scorsese. He fell in love with her and they later married.
She has a joie de vivre; she is always on a curious quest for adventure. She has jumped at any time an opportunity arose to get to know someone that was going to stimulate her mentally. She says it was such a pleasure to be enchanted by Martin for the years they were married (1979-1982).
Isabella says about remembering her mother that the voice is more painful than the image. “The voice is their voice; it takes your breath away.”
She has imaginary conversations with her parents. She says that when you are very close to a person and the person dies, the person is still with you...thinking of them helps keep you company.
Isabella has a love of the avant-garde. She speaks highly of European actors because they disappear into different roles, but a Hollywood star is always the Hollywood star. She mentions how Angelina Joli and Julia Roberts are always the star…their movie is always the adventure of them. Hollywood stars don’t disappear in the role like a European actor. She prefers the avant-garde because it is a release from the financial pressure…it’s more of an experiment…like her bohemian life style.
The biggest problem in her life was reconciling family with work. Work and family were organized at different levels. A woman who has a career eventually pays a price. As she says, “There are consequences with age, so you have to evolve.” She discovered how interconnected life can be and how it naturally evolves as you are open to it.
She spoke earlier on Tuesday to high school students at Booker T. Washington and encouraged them to stay open to new desires and challenges saying that life rarely goes exactly as planned. “As you evolve your career, it never ends.” Fortunately for Isabella, she has always been able to navigate and transition smoothly from one career to the next.
When Skip Hollandsworth asked her, where she is at sixty compared to her mother, her response was that she wishes she had done things earlier…modeling (starting at eighteen instead of twenty-eight), acting (afraid she wasn’t as good as her mom), directing (fifty-six).
Isabella recently bought a farm and says she always wanted to have lots of animals. She bought it on a whim and has become partners with a woman farmer and says she is her kind of girl because she’s organic and plows with horses.
Isabella’s most recent work, a series called GREEN PORNO, seemed to satisfy her thirst for knowledge and love for animals in her curious bohemian way. The series, GREEN PORNO, on the Sundance Channel’s online series explores nature’s sexual habits in a poetic style.
Hollandsworth’s final question was, “if you could be any animal what would you be?” Isabella hesitated answering but then gave the audience the pleasure of an unusual and surprising answer. She began her response by explaining the anatomical specifics of female ducks. Without getting into the graphic detail, her point was that female ducks have something of a trick by which they can chose not to conceive the baby ducklings proposed to be fathered by a male duck (drake) that she does not approve of. I think her point was somewhat feministic; females may have different methods of getting their way that males are not always aware of. Now that’s not so far off the mark, is it?

You've Got Snail Mail...from Italy!

Scrolling through my twitter feed one afternoon I saw something that grabbed my attention from Jessica Lynn Writes, “POSTCARD SWAP!”  I signed up and impatiently waited…and waited for my snail mail to arrive.
I swapped postcards with Allison who is an American military blogger currently living in Naples, Italy.
A few weeks went by and I found myself skipping to the mailbox hoping my postcard would be in our little white box. When it finally came, I squealed with delight! Receiving snail mail is like opening a present, you don’t know what’s inside and you can’t wait to find out!
Birthday cards come once a year but you kind of know (or hope) they’re coming. A random postcard from another country is a jewel in the mailbox.
I’m a HUGE lover of Italy so when a postcard arrived from Naples, I did the happy dance. It makes me smile to know that someone in Italy thought of me instead of thinking about pizza, pasta, lemoncello…or all the many wonderful things there are in ITALIA!
I found two really fun apps called Snapshot Postcard and Postagram that makes sending a personal card a snap. I thought of my second grade students who have penpals in France. How easy would it be for them to stay in touch and create their own postcard?
I’m a big fan of letters too but getting a visual picture of a place is so satisfying!
Many brides are opting to have postcards as an alternative to a guestbook so when they come back from their honeymoon their mailbox is full of wonderful messages.
I always like to pick up postcards from my travels and when I visit a museum. The postcards I have are a shoebox of memories.
Jessica had a brilliant idea with the postcard swap!
Be inspired to mail a postcard buy or make your own.

Dance Planet, Do it!

My friend Sharon knows how to do the seventies disco dance “the hustle.” This week at work I would sing to her, “Do it! Do the Hustle!” Sharon would stop what she was doing (teaching kids) and “Do it! Do the Hustle!” Ahh, the power disco dance has to make us happy!
This past Saturday I walked into Dance Planet held at Booker T. Washington in Dallas toting my sliver disco ball sequin dance shoes ready to Do it! Do the hustle. I staked my claim at the front of the room next to the instructor, John Chaparro and my fun at Planet Dance began. 
John Chaparro
Dance Planet is the oldest and largest free dance festival in the United States.  For sixteen years this free festival has been for all ages and offers so many different styles. People are so happy to have such wonderful opportunities and new experiences to be exposed to.  There were thirty styles represented: hip-hop, ballet, tap, jazz, cirque silks, samba, cha-cha, folklorico, swing, modern, drill team, kabuki, flamenco, hustle...They even had one-on-one Pilates workouts.
Bruce Wood, my favorite choreographer
Imagine meeting and learning from someone you really admire. I have wanted to take a class from Bruce Wood ever sense he created his The Bruce Wood Dance Company in 1997 and more recently the Bruce Wood Dance Project. Actually, what I really wanted was to be in his company. His classical modern style is what I was born to dance…but que sera sera! Thanks to Dance Planet, I had the pleasure of meeting this brilliant choreographer and taking class as if I WERE in his company (if only for one hour).

Bruce Wood turned up the music to Ray Charles’ I Got a Woman in studio C at the Booker T. Washington School of Visual Arts and tried to remember his choreography to an excerpt of Smoke, a very fun and sassy dance that easily puts a smile on your face.
Melissa Young, dancer from the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, stepped in to give Bruce Wood a hand when she noticed Bruce was leaving out details from the reparatory class. Bruce Wood has said, “I usually don’t explain dances.” He is very much like Nike with the Just Do It attitude and an in the moment, get inspired by the music kind of dancer. He graciously accepted Melissa’s help and we learned the exact choreography from Smoke.
Teresa Espinosa
The most popular style at Planet Dance was hip-hop. The TV show, So You Think You Can Dance has attracted so many more kids. It was hip-hop dancer and choreographer Teresa Espinosa who headlined Dance Planet this year. She has worked with superstars Britney Spears, Pink, Mariah Carey, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and more. The acclaimed hip-hop dancer got her start on Janet Jackson’s HBO special, The Velvet Rope. Espinosa is a Dallas native and Booker T. alumni who lives in LA and teaches at the Debbie Reynolds Studio.
Espinosa says this about dance, “If dance were a food, it would be a stew. For me, dance is more than just steps, it’s about how it all marinates together and comes out with a distinct flavor and a distinct message. It all comes down to expression.”
I think of dance as a language. I love the romance of France (ballet) and the spirit of Spain (flamenco), but we should all be exposed to many languages and styles to understand what Martha Graham said, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body.” It’s up to the audience to translate, and it’s up to us to Do It!