Monthly Archives: September 2009

September 28, 2009

a divine filipino dessert

mini filipino macaroons

mini filipino macaroons

I’ve never considered myself a good cook and we’ve eaten our fair share of take-out and processed foods cooked at home. But lately, I’ve had a recent resurgence of domestication – almost to the point of obsession. I believe I can attribute this plight to the economic recession. I’m trying to save money on food so I can enjoy my other indulgences. Read: dressing my girls in designer and boutique threads that look simply adorable on them. During my quest I have found long lost family recipes – delicious snacks and treats that I enjoyed as a little one.

My recent find is a moist, sweet, and “slightly nutritional” treat that I can’t keep my girls’ hands off. They are so easy and quick to whip up – not to mention they provide a great way to administer fiber in your little one’s diet.

Filipino mini macaroons

14 oz. of shredded coconut

14 oz. can condensed milk

½ tsp vanilla extract

½ cup butter

½ cup light brown sugar

3 eggs

mini-muffin/cupcake papers

mini-muffin pan

Leave butter and eggs out at room temperature for approximately one hour.

Set oven to 350 degrees F.

Once butter has softened add it to mixing bowl and cream it by gradually adding sugar until blended. Then add vanilla extract, eggs and condensed milk. Mix all ingredients well. Once mixed, add coconut and stir into mixture using a spatula. Once all ingredients are incorporated spoon into mini muffin cups and bake for approx. 15 – 20 minutes until they are slightly golden brown on top. Enjoy.


September 22, 2009

Tea’s Top 10 Customer Preschool Memories

Takayama Plaid Top

Thank you to everyone who entered our Preschool Essentials Sweepstakes. We loved reading all of your favorite preschool memories.  Music, reading, and arts and crafts, especially finger painting, were beloved activities.  Nap time and snack time were also highlights in a preschooler’s day.  Meeting new friends, some lifelong, was a cherished memory for many.  Preschool clothes – selecting that perfect outfit was a weekly / nightly activity.  Tears, from both parent and child (not always at the same time), were also a re-occurring theme among the memories.

After reading hundreds of preschool memories, here are some of our favorites and a true testament that children do say the darnedest things!

Our Favorite Preschool  Memories (as shared and in no particular order):

Me crying and my son saying to me “don’t cry you can come pick me up in a couple of hours” – Alejandra

Our son was so excited about his first day at preschool. I picked him up at 12 and asked him how he liked his first day. He told me that first they told each other their names. Then they finger painted a picture, had some milk and cookies and then went outside. He looked at me and said “mommy, I didn’t know school would be so hard, I’m ready for a nap!” – Laura

On Hannah’s first day of preschool, both mommies and preschoolers went together for an hour.  On the second day of school the preschoolers went by themselves for an hour.  I told my daughter Hannah that Mommy would be going with her on the first day but on her next day of school she would be going by herself.  Hannah’s reply was, “But I can’t drive the car by myself.”  It was so funny! – Jen

Leaving on Tuesday, her teacher said, “See you Thursday!”  She looks at me, and says… “They think I’m coming back.” And giggles. – Leslie

I remember my son coming home from kindergarten class.  He told me he was the teacher’s pet.  He had been crawling on the floor and she had asked him if he thought he was a pet. – Doris

First day of school, I was so sad.  And as the tears silently rolled down by face, my then 5 year old reached over and patted me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, it’s just school.  I will be here all day and I will be waiting for you right here at the end of the day, Ok?”  – R. Cherie

My favorite memory is actually mine. Before we had snack we had to thank God for something. I would always thank God for toys. The teachers told me I had to pick something else like my family. I then thanked God the next day for my parents for buying me toys. Then they told me I had to say something else so I thanked God for money because that let my parents buy me toys. When my mom picked me up I asked her what incorrigible means. – Danielle

I went to preschool with one of my best friends.  He was always biting the other kids.  When our moms would pick us up each day I would promptly tell them, “Scott only bit 2 kids today!”  Good times! – Jill

Although few memories of my preschool days still exist, the most vivid are of days on the playground with a friendly boy who would one day become my husband.  – Lindsey

My mom tells the story of coming to get me after my first day of preschool and finding me out in the hallway in my cot.  The teachers didn’t know what to do because I wouldn’t go to sleep and kept singing “you are my sunshine” and they didn’t want me to disturb the other kids. –  Kim

September 14, 2009

the gift of a sick day

sick dayFor months now, my son has been eagerly looking forward to his first day of preschool. He played with his lunchbox, asked questions about his teacher, and daydreamed about what fun toys there would be at his school. On his very first day, he swiftly kicked off his shoes at the classroom door and jumped headfirst into the world of preschool with nary a look back at his sister or me. He was fine.

Two weeks of preschool later, and I’m second guessing my decision to send him to school as we already have contracted our first preschool illness—pinkeye. Oh, I know that childhood illnesses are almost a rite of passage for preschoolers, and I’ve heard school likened to a Petri dish, but I honestly thought we would have at least a month of school under our belt before I had to write “sick emails” to his teacher.

While I admittedly found my son’s illness a little annoying and inconvenient at first, at the end of his sick day, I changed my tune. For the past four years, I have managed to have a very open schedule with my children. We have had a playgroup with friends that we have religiously attended and a German class once a week, but that has been it. No music classes, no soccer, no library story times. And that has been all by design because I have completely cherished our slow-paced days together. We can meet friends at the park on a whim and stay as long as we’d like because we have nowhere to be. We can spend all day driving out to the blueberry farm and having lunch in a little town on the way home without feeling like we were missing out on some other planned activity. For someone who is reluctant to commit to structured activities, the past four years have been a lazy bliss.

And this year, with the enrollment of my son in preschool, my gently rolling days have come to a halt. We now have somewhere to be in the mornings, and I have to watch the clock all day long so that I don’t incur the dreaded late pick up fee at his preschool. Just two weeks into the school year, and I found myself contemplating having a preschool dropout for a son. And then comes his pinkeye, and I was gifted with an unexpected day of relaxation. Although the day started off with a seismic battle over eye drops, my children and I quickly realized that it was going to be a fun day—a day of puzzles on the dining room floor, grabbing a scone at the coffee shop, and picking hot peppers from the garden. In the midst of a September that is more black ink than blank spaces on the calendar in the kitchen, this quiet day with just the three of us hanging out was a welcome oasis, a special treat, and it almost makes me look forward to the next sick day.

September 11, 2009

hard work vs. play and the oxymoron that is ‘labor day’


Labor Day recently passed us all by. The picnics, parades, fireworks , and endless speeches always seem to be interpreted as the final celebration of summer. It’s a day that encompasses hard work and play at the same time; it wakes us up to the reality of another school year, another year of hard work while we barbeque and party to our hearts content . It made me wonder: Are work and play really that different from one another, and should they be compartmentalized as such?
In the mind of my toddler, work and play are one in the same; it is hard work to build a stack of blocks or attempt to color a picture within the lines, but she loves to do these things as well. It made me realize that work, and play both have something immensely important in common with one another: passion. I began to think about the different jobs people in my life have, and whether they were happy in their jobs or not. Those who chose their jobs on account of intense passion for their vocation are extremely happy, while those who simply want a paycheck see their jobs as a means to an end. It made me think of how I want my child to view a job. I want her to be passionate about what she accomplishes in life, to find meaning in her daily tasks. I want her to find a job where she can ‘play hard.’ I don’t believe that a job should be laborious; it should fill the soul.
It’s hard to live by such a manifesto as a parent. I not only have to reach for my dreams, but I have to teach my little one to reach for hers, which might mean she has to take risks, which might mean she falls flat on her feet a few times, and it is quite hard to watch your child, no matter how old, fall flat on his or her feet. I intend to remind myself on this past Labor Day, and the others that will come, that my child is the only person who knows her dreams, goals and aspirations. Whether that means she wants to be a lady on a flying trapeze, a policewoman, a doctor, or social worker…I cannot say. I only need to guide her to listen to her inner voice, to give her the confidence to follow her dreams, like a tiny Don Quixote reaching for stars that everyone else tells her are beyond her grasp.

September 9, 2009

turning one and finding destiny

abacus Our daughter turned the big one a few weeks ago, which meant it was party time!

We celebrated with the usual balloons and birthday cake but we also incorporated a bit of our Chinese and Korean cultures.

One popular tradition when the baby turns one is to try to predict the baby’s future by setting out several objects and letting her pick one. In the past, this might have included items like an abacus to symbolize a career in business and a book to represent a life as a scholar. There’s also thread for a long life.

We decided to have a little fun with it. We set out a microphone for the future American Idol, a push pin for the budding fashionista and/or Project Runway designer, a pencil for the next Hemingway, a golf ball for the future Michelle Wie, a tennis ball for the Venus or Serena Williams-in-training, a stethoscope for a doctor, a spool of the traditional thread, a book and an abacus.

We were at the playground for her birthday party, so we lined up all the objects up on the cement ledge that separates the sand pit from the rest of the park. Then we put our daughter down in the sand, a few feet away. She knew exactly what to do, crawling towards what must have seemed like a bunch of new toys — all for her!

She lunged first for the abacus. She also paused to consider the pencil and to pick up the golf and tennis balls. But then she went back to the abacus. We think the abacus must have looked like the best new toy, the shiny, colorful beads the perfect size for her little fingers, which she could move around and which each made a satisfying clicking sound.

Of course, what that means for her destiny is up to interpretation. Some of our party guests thought it meant she would become an accountant, though another said she could also be an engineer. Or maybe the CEO of some big business.

Given that she showed an interest in not just the abacus, but also the pencil and the balls, I’m hoping that not only will she be brilliant at math (unlike her mama) but also be athletic and a good writer. A mom can dream.

September 8, 2009

Why I love India

You want to know some of the things I love about India?

Colors. Brilliant, vibrant, amazing colors. Fabrics that are spectacular … really and truly … on women that wear this for “daily use.” It is a rainbow of colors just outside my window, on the streets and in the markets.


The sense and respect of family.


The traditions of celebrating – with zest and energy – historical moments, family ties and this country’s story.


The poverty. [I know – you think I typed that in the wrong post, right?] It is consistently there and in my face. I do not go one day without being grateful for my life. [and I wear THIS shirt OFTEN!]

I do not go one day without trying to find some way to teach my children how to be giving and compassionate.


The cheap and easily accessible medication


The ability to quickly and sometimes effortlessly get what you need.  Instead of having to schlep to a bookstore yesterday to pick up the current selection for our book club, I was able to hand over Rs. 200 ($4) to a street vendor and have the book handed through my window while running other errands.


The opportunity to form lasting imprints on my heart.


The fantastic and awesome-ness that comes with having a housekeeper.  Vain, I know, but I LOVE this part of being here!


Fresh produce … that doesn’t rot the instant you bring it home (like the grocery store I used to shop at).


The ability to walk out of our door in the morning and within 10 minutes be at an open air market to buy fresh cashews and gorgeous flowers for pennies.

I’ll post more … as I think of them …

What do you love about where you are?
Commenting is easy … join in the discussion and let me know you’re out there!

September 4, 2009

leaving the nest

school-kidsLast week I let go. Just a little, mind you. But it was for the first time. Annie P started school. Two days a week, she’ll spend the morning with other young toddlers at a Mother’s Morning Out program. Now, I know this isn’t real school. I didn’t send her off on a bus, and she didn’t have to bring any school supplies with her save a box of tissues and a pack of baby wipes.  However, for us it is the beginning.

Not every family with a stay at home parent sends their child off to school this early. But for Annie P and our goals for her, there is no question. It hasn’t come without sacrifice. My husband and I played around with the budget and let the cleaning lady go so we could comfortably do this. I know mothers say they would do anything for their children. If you knew me, you’d know that cleaning toilets fits the bill. As I said, we have certain goals for our child. I should probably pause to clarify what I mean by goals. We’re not those parents with plans to have her quoting Shakespeare by age four and composing original music in kindergarten. However, we do want to give her the chance to do and be whatever her heart desires. I believe one of the keys to this is making the effort to expose the little people we’ve been charged with to new experiences on a regular basis. This builds a passion for life and the willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone.

One of my true dreams for my daughter is that she will see more of the world than myself. I’ve seen more than many and yet not near enough.  My husband and I both agree that we’d rather sacrifice in our own lives in order to show our daughter as much of the world as we can before sending her off on her own. We hope it’s a passion we’ll start and she’ll continue.

And so she started school. I don’t expect her to learn much academically this year. But she will have a chance to meet other children her age. She’ll begin to learn to socialize. And she will spend some time away from the comforts of home. This will make the transition to preschool, and in turn grammar school, an easier one. Going off to college will be a breeze. And perhaps later on, she’ll grab a suitcase and head around the world on her own travel adventure without fear.

This week, as Annie P learns to feel comfortable away from home, I’ll dream of the places she will one day see. Sure, she’s only a few miles away today. But eventually, half a world may be between us. The thought will make cleaning the toilet that much easier.

September 3, 2009

preparing for pre-school; one mom’s plan for her first child

  preschool photo

   Next week my toddler will enter a world that will be quite foreign to her: school, or pre-school to be exact!  Several questions have been running through my brain recently: ‘How do I prepare my little one for the new adventure she is about to venture on?’  ‘How do I give her the confidence she will need in the coming weeks?’  ‘How do I take the fear of something new and replace it with excitement of a fresh exploration to come?’  I believe that these are questions that all Moms deal with, especially when their first born flies from the coop for the very first time. 

                My main goal is to make sure my toddler’s ‘fear of the unknown’ does not disrupt her pre-school experience; I must therefore make the unknown known.   I have read that giving out information is quite helpful in such cases.  I have been talking about ‘going to school’ for quite a few weeks now, building the anticipation like I would do with a birthday or special holiday.  I also have told my little one her teacher’s names and let her know the sequencing of events on days that she will be attending pre-school.  Just as ‘Dora the Explorer,’ (a favorite of my daughter’s), takes out her map and sings out the three places they will adventure off too, I took out a mini map and sang to my daughter: “car, school, mommy-time…car, school, mommy time.”  This explains the sequencing of events in a way that my daughter understands it; she knows that I am not leaving her, that mommy will be back shortly after school is over.  She even sings the song herself sometimes.  I also told my little one:  “Mommy is driving you to school, but your teacher is going to unbuckle your seat-belt.  We need to remember to thank your teacher for helping.”  By letting my little girl know this ahead of time, she will not be caught off guard when the teacher assists her out of the car.    By making these ‘unknown’ events a bit more constructed within my little one’s mind, I am making the unfamiliar a bit more familiar, and with toddlers every little bit counts!

                I will also make the day it-self fun and memorable.  My little one attends an afternoon program, so I am going to make her a special lunch: a heart shaped peanut-butter sandwich, a heart shaped cookie, and I also cut strawberries in the form of hearts as well.   I do this to remind her that she has so many people who care for her, and she is going to meet a lot of new friends on the first day of school as well.  I also let my daughter pick out a special outfit at the store, so she will feel extra special on her first day; this also gives her a sense of control.  And finally, I intend to be extremely calm, especially if any tantrums should arise on that first day of school, in hopes that my feelings of Zen will spread to my toddler as well.

it’s all in the family; my Pernatozzi family reunion experience


It had been a while, 3 years to be exact, since my husband and I had made the trip into Pittsburgh for my grandmother’s mother’s Pernatozzi family reunion picnic. And yes, I said my grandmother’s mother’s side of the family; they’re 100% Italian, so to them the bonds of family, no matter how extended, seem to surpass time it-self. My father, (the Italian one of course), always emphasized the importance of family, no matter how distantly related; this taught me to treat everyone I met like a family member. Now, since I had not been to the picnic for a grand total of 3 years, (considered to be eons for the Pernatozzi side), it was ‘highly recommended’ that I make this trip. Italians can be so persistent! As my husband, 3 year-old toddler, and I drove in late on a Saturday night to attend the picnic, I wondered whether it was worth the extra effort. My answer was about to come.

When we approached the park site, a plethora of images ran through my head: I saw my Uncle Kevin leading the kid’s games like the egg toss or three-legged race. I saw the men gathered in a circle making gestures with their hands as they shouted out strange words like ‘due’ and ‘otto.’ I imagined my Grandmother and her sister swaying and singing along to Italian song, Funiculi Funicula. I envisioned figures in the distance tossing red and green balls toward a fixed target. And I could almost smell the sweet savory scent of smoked sausages through the intense summer heat.

We finally reach the picnic, and it’s as if no time has passed. There is still a spread of Italian sausage, fried eggplant, cheese, fruit and some American fare on the tables. There are still men within a circle playing the Italian hand game of morra. The competitive bocce game remains as distant cousins play games of horseshoe nearby. Dynamic would be far too temperate a word to describe the energy of the day; it was an explosive event full of life and energy. And that’s what I love about the Italian part of my family; they constantly remind me to live life to the fullest, although I think Laura Pausini sings it best in Andrea Bocelli’s song, Vivere,

“Try looking at tomorrow, not yesterday, and all the things you left behind. Oh those tender words you did not say, the gentle touch you couldn’t find. In these days of nameless faces, there’s no one truth, but only pieces. My life is all I have to give. Dare to live, until the very last. Dare to live, forget about the past. Dare to live, giving of your-self to others, even when it seems there’s nothing more left to give.”

I hope we can all ‘dare to live.’

September 2, 2009

through new eyes

IMG_3033This summer, like so many Americans, we made our annual voyage to the beach. For ten days, we planned to soak in the sun, play in the sand, and simply enjoy time away from the daily demands of life at home. Even though I grew up near the beach, I honestly don’t think there was a summer in my childhood that didn’t include a vacation on the water. For people throughout the world, there is something about time at the beach. Life seems simpler, calmer. Stresses melt away with the sound of the surf meeting the shore.  It’s relaxing and exhilarating all at once.
In recent years, our annual trip finds us on the coast of South Carolina, in a small town my brother-in-law and his family call home. My husband Kevin and I chose the beach they live near as our wedding location. Who could ask for a better backdrop for reciting lifelong vows than the edge of life-giving water and the site of the renewing tide? Since that day, Kevin’s family has grown considerably. With a whole new crop of Phelan’s, beach trips have become a mainstay as a way to reunite when school is out and the sun sticks around for a bit longer.  Our special beach is the perfect place.
And so this year we found ourselves headed to the coast with one small difference. We were bringing Annie P – toddler Annie P. Last year, Annie didn’t spend much time in the sand. She was still napping frequently and had just learned to sit. The inside of the beach house and a trip or two to the pool made up her first trip to the beach. Not so this year. As a beach lover, as this trip approached I grew nervous. I am the type of person who can sit from sunrise to sunset, reading a book (or two) and staring out to sea. What if Annie didn’t share my opinion? What if she hated the sand between her toes and found the waves alarming, even downright scary? I prepared as best I could. We came armed with an arsenal of beach toys, sunscreen in many forms, floats, snacks, and even a pair of water shoes in case she simply couldn’t stand the sand. If it took downright bribery, Annie P. was going to hang at the beach.
I’m sure you can guess where this is going. That’s right. All my fears were for naught. From day one, the girl was sold. For ten days we watched her jump in the surf, chase sandpipers, dig in the sand, and run along the shore as fast as her little legs would take her. Unbelievably, we only hit the pool a couple of times the entire trip. I personally found the daily trip to the beach exciting and new, like I was seeing it for the first time.  Through my daughter, I saw the simple beauty and raw excitement the seashore brings. I used all of my senses to take it in, as I knew she was. It had been a long time since I played in the sand. It really is a great time.
Although we were sad when the trip ended, I am pleased with the outcome.  Sure, the toys and snacks helped. But when we returned home, I found the water shoes at the bottom of a bag, seldom used and long forgotten. Beach lovers never mind the sand between their toes.