Tag Archives: gifts

The Teacher Gift Taboo–What’s So Wrong With Cash?


It’s the most wonderful time of the year–the time when we parents find ourselves just a teensy bit busy with all the holiday to-dos.

I mean seriously–it’s the holidays, the end of school term and the time to use up that money in the flexible spending account. This week my schedule contains 2 potlucks, a wreath decorating contest, a school sing along, one trapeze show, a teacher conference, a dentist appointment, a parade, the elf on the shelf, a tree to water, cats to knock out of the tree, a broken oven, one head cold, a neighborhood happy hour… Plus my full-time job and the three kids, one of whom won’t talk, one of whom talks too much, and the other one just wants to text.

So here’s one place I make things simple for myself: teacher gifts.

I write a sincere note. One year, for Vivi’s teachers, it went something like: “I appreciate all you do to make Vivi’s days fun and interesting. I know she can be a handful so I’m guessing you could use a drink. Have one on us!” Then I slide in some folding money. Gift = done.

When the Cool Kids were discussing teacher gifts and I confessed this, a couple of eyebrows went up. (Libby had to put down her glue gun and glitter holster to clutch her pearls.) Cash? That’s so…not Pinteresty.

I admire people who have the time, skill and creativity to knit a scarf, fold it to look like a cupcake, wrap it in cellophane, print a thematically colored and personalized tag in a festive font, find a hole punch shaped like a snowflake and punch that bad boy right in the center then tie it all up with locally sourced organic raffia…but that’s not my forte.

Card, pen, $20. DONE.

Why not gift cards instead of cash? Well, gift cards are limited. What if they don’t LIKE Panera or Chipotle or Fatz? What if I give a Target card to a Wal-Mart shopper? What if Kroger is too far away?


There’s always origami if you insist on being fancy!

Cash is flexible–you can spend it on a book, a pedicure, a bottle of champagne. Or something more practical. A few years back, I got a note from one of Vivi’s teachers, who told me that the money we gave her paid for a tank of gas that meant she could afford to go home one extra weekend. I will never forget that.

So what do you think about cash gifts? Too tacky? Not enough thought behind it? Or is it the way to say “Treat Yourself to What YOU Want?”

I’ll be over here smacking the cat out of the tree and warming up for the sing along with my freakishly white teeth. Discuss!

A Bear, a Boy, and a Broken Heart


This is Boop.  He was my last Valentine from Richard.  Now he watches over my son.

If you’d like to read the story behind the bear and the boy and the broken broken heart, click the photo to read “Boop.”  It was the first real story I wrote on Baddest Mother Ever!

Moving On

After Richard died and left our house to me in his will, many people assumed that I would be selling it.  As one friend put it, “It will be easier for you to move on with your life if you’re not still in this place.”

I didn’t want to give up our house.  Yes, it was too big for just me.  Yes, it was a lot to maintain on my own.  Yes, every corner and crook held a memory of our time together there.  But I didn’t want to give up my house.  One blazing hot July afternoon, I came home to an HVAC unit that had been struck by lightning, a green pool, and a leak in the basement.  I stomped around cussing and pouring chemicals and mopping and panicking.  I didn’t want to let myself start crying because I wasn’t sure how I would stop.  I remember glaring up at the brick face of the house as I turned the hose on and shaking my fist at it.  To be so huge, it was hugely empty–just me and three dachshunds.  That night, as I watched the Atlanta news and ate my dinner all alone in the den, the anchor introduced a story about kids who needed to be adopted.  Three siblings who hoped to stay together.  It’s hard to find a house with that much empty space–but I had one.  A part of my wretched heart opened up at that story because it dawned on me that maybe the house would give me options down the road that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  Like any gift, my house held possibilities.


One of the dearest things about Richard’s gift to me is that he knew how much owning a home meant to me.  He had grown up with a home–his parents lived in the same house from the time he was in elementary school until after he was out of college.  He loved the little yellow house so much that he was furious when the next owners cut down “his” azaleas.  My childhood memories were scattered over several places–the trailer in Greenville, the brown house in Hollonville, the old plantation house, the tin-roofed house on the Circle.  By the time I was an adult, neither my mom nor my dad lived in a place where I had ever had a room of my own.  I didn’t have a childhood home to go back to.  Fartbuster and I had bought a house together, but it never felt like a place to put down roots.  I didn’t know any of my neighbors there…or my husband, for that matter.  When we divorced, I felt like I was being forced into the decision to sell.  I rented two more places on my own before Richard and I bought our house.  After he left it to me, I had a place I would never have to leave unless it was my choice.  So I chose to stay.

Within five years, all the bedrooms were full with three siblings.  Not those sweet kids from the evening news–my kids.  Yesterday, two of them and I were playing in the backyard when I witnessed something that taught me a new lesson about moving on.

The very idea of “moving on” is an illusion.  We put together our lives not by moving away from the past, but by integrating the past into the present and the future, regardless of where we might be.

bluebirdI’ve told the story before about the bluebird who appeared at our backyard wedding (A Tuesday Kind of Miracle).  Well, yesterday, as I sat in the sun and watched Vivi and Carlos playing in her wagon, a pair of bluebirds flitted out of the forsythia bushes on the far side of  the yard.  I thought I was seeing things.  One perched on the fence down by the river–in the exact spot where the wedding bluebird had sat almost nine years ago.  As I was marveling at the beauty of the bluebird–and the memory I associate with them–Carlos caught my eye and chirped, “Hello, Mommy!”  Time collapsed in my backyard as my son stood in the same place Richard and I had stood to say our vows, and called me by my new name.  Mommy.

If I had sold this house and moved in to a new place, I would have missed that moment.  I would have missed seeing my Now blend so seamlessly with my Then.  As I sat there being happy, it dawned on me that that is what HOME is–being somewhere long enough that stories have time to come back around.

Wordless Wednesday–Bluebirds

Today is my first day of this new year.  I am so glad.  


The Navajo identify the Mountain Bluebird as a spirit in animal form, associated with the rising sun. The Bluebird Song is sung to remind tribe members to wake at dawn and rise to greet the sun:

Bluebird said to me,
“Get up, my grandchild.
It is dawn,” it said to me.

Gratitude for This Day

This day is trying so hard to be perfect that it’s just becoming a little show-offy.  Like the beautiful and sweet toothy Midwestern girl who knocked sinewy Miss New York down to first runner up in the pageant.  Here are a few things I’m going to write in my gratitude journal for Wednesday:

navy pier

The weather in Chicago tonight feels like something that the Chamber of Commerce ordered up to persuade people to move here.  Seventy and blue skies with a soft breeze.  While shopping on the Magnificent Mile, I bought myself a little green and white scarf to WARM UP.

green scarf
This city tries hard to be beautiful (and succeeds).  It’s the cradle of skyscraper architecture.  Invented here, not in New York!  I have rested my feet by plinking fountains, marveled at street planters overflowing with orchids and looked out over a lake so blue it’s hard to believe it’s not an ocean.

When I asked the doorman for directions to a pizza place, he winked at me and asked if I was buying.  The waitress at Giordano’s complimented my use of “y’all.”  Gaggles of tourists don’t mind looking like tourists.  I’ve gotten friendly answers from every person I’ve asked for help.  I like Chicago so much because it bustles with NICE PEOPLE.  Even when your car gets blocked in, it’s by an ice cream truck.

good humour

Getting to spend time with Jessica, who lived across the hall from me for six weeks in the summer of 1985, when we were at Governor’s Honors.  I haven’t seen her since high school.  I was a little intimidated about seeing her—she graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and is the managing editor of a prestigious scholarly journal.  And—even WORSE—she has the most beautiful hair.  I had such a good time catching up with her that now I’m going to have to miss her when I go back home!

(That’s her up there dealing with the ice cream truck).

The food, good lord, the food.  A stuffed crust pizza with the perfect balance of salt and butter in the flaky crust.  An engineering marvel akin to the John Hancock Building.  Two glasses of rose for lunch because red would have made me want a nap.  Tapas at Emilio’s for dinner—dates wrapped in bacon, garbanzos whipped with olive oil and served with shaved radishes and grilled peppers.  A cold bowl of gazpacho.  Goat cheese rolled in candied pecans with a pear poached in wine on the side.


I get to spend four nights in a hotel bed.  No one has played hide and seek in it.  No cats have left hair on the pillowcase.  The sheets were washed by someone else, very recently.  I can sleep in the shape of an X and use all four pillows.  I can turn the air conditioning down to 64 and snuggle under the duvet.

hotel bed

My room overlooks Navy Pier, so I’ve been watching the Ferris Wheel spin around and around.  I think the Ferris Wheel was introduced here, during the Columbia Exposition in…1896?  It was the American answer to the Eiffel Tower!

ww at navy pier

And while I was sitting here watching the Ferris Wheel, I heard an odd booming noise.  Fireworks!  On a Wednesday night!
I got over the delight of that and got back to writing when a huge golden moon appeared out of nowhere.  It’s lighting up the rippling surface of the lake.

pink flower

Like I said, Chicago is kinda showing off.

“Mama? Are We Rich?”


Our “Pretty But Essentially Worthless” chips from Mason Mountain Mine. I keep the “jewelry worthy” stuff in a separate bag!

Just one of the impossible to answer questions that Vivi lobs my way in an average day:  “Mama?  Are we rich?”

I answered, “Well, compared to most of the world, yes.”

“What does that mean?”

“A lot of people in the world struggle just to have something to eat and a safe place to sleep.  Compared to them, we’re rich.  But compared to other people that we know…we’re not rich, just normal.”

“But not compared to anyone, just us?”  Huh.  I had to think a moment.

“I guess so.  Yes.  We always have what we need and we usually get what we want, so I think that makes us rich.  And lucky.”  But if Daddy and I weren’t working, we wouldn’t stay rich for long.  I didn’t tell her that part.

She got me to thinking–“rich” is ONLY a relative term.  It’s always in comparison to some standard.  Of course there are some pretty fair measures.  If you have two commas in your bank account, you’re rich.  If you have more than one house, you’re rich.  If you can work when you feel like it, you’re rich.  But does rich mean safe?  No.  Does rich mean happy?  No.

I’ve already taught Vivi about fool’s gold.  Iron pyrite–it looks like gold but it has no value.  It’s just as pretty and pretty equally useful.  On our trip to Mason Mountain Mine, she was more excited about the calcite and quartz than the rubies and emeralds.  She is saving up her “Athens money” to buy a big pink “diamond” when we go back up there to pick up our jewelry that’s being made by Mr. Tom Johnson.  She has no concept of market value.  She calls American coins “Athens money” as opposed to the Brasilian money that Daddy gathers up to use on his next trip.

G helped her sort through all of her coins yesterday morning.  They separated out the Chuck E Cheese tokens, the Brasilian reals, the Canadian dollars.  He showed her how to stack them according to their percentage of a dollar–dimes, nickels, quarters.  She is just beginning to understand that size isn’t the only thing that hints at value.  Or “goldenness” doesn’t necessarily mean more than “silverness.”

I want Vivi to learn about money from a place of comfort and security.  When I was her age, I remember understanding inflation when Super Bubble went from one penny to two.  Ah.  Same product, twice the price.  I wasn’t much older than she when I realized that we didn’t always have enough money.  I have a lot of anxiety attached to money–I remember the days when we got home from school and the electricity was cut off.  I remember wondering how I was going to get back in to college from one semester to the next.

On the way to Nana and Papa’s house yesterday, I saw this at the gas station:

gas pump

and I realized how long it’s been since I had to watch the pump and make it cut off at five bucks.  We spent more than that on Slurpees yesterday.  Yes, we’re rich.

What sign tells you that you’re rich?  What keeps the money anxiety down?

The Teacher and the Professor

Virginia Bowman Wilcox, PhD

Dr. Virginia Bowman Wilcox

I am tickled pink for my Wesleyan College sister, Virginia Bowman Wilcox, who was just named one of the 20 best education professors in the state of Georgia!  She’s come home to Wesleyan and currently serves as the head of our Education department, where she funnels all her genius and passion for teaching into the next generations of classroom leaders.


Let me tell you a story about Virginia’s early years in school and a teacher who made a deep impact on her for years.  Names have been changed because…well, the usual reason.

Virginia was in first grade, Mrs. Fineman’s class, when she made the magical connection between the words printed on the page and the story they were telling–she discovered that she could READ.  She was ecstatic!  But there weren’t many books in Virginia’s house.  Just two–the phone book and her mother’s Bible.  Virginia hungered for books.

Mrs. Fineman had a shelf filled with books in her first grade classroom.  She told the children, “These are my books.  I bought them with my own money.  You are never to touch them without my permission and they will never leave this room.”  In the way of small children, Virginia knew the difference between right and wrong…but she wanted to read more than anything.  Each afternoon, she found a way to sneak two of Mrs. Fineman’s books into her bookbag.  She carried them carefully back to her bookless house and told her mother that reading them was part of her homework.  The next day, she brought them back to Mrs. Fineman’s book shelf without a scratch or a smudge.  From September to January, Virginia and her mother spent each evening snuggled close together over the purloined books.

But in January….

This is the part of the story where I interrupted Virginia and squealed, “Mrs. Fineman knew all along, didn’t she?  She was LETTING you sneak those books home!”  Shush, shush, Ashley….let the story unfold.  

One afternoon, Virginia had two books in her book bag and was headed towards the bus.  Mrs. Fineman ran after her with a permission slip that had to be signed and returned the next day.  Virginia held out her hand for the paper, but Mrs. Fineman insisted on putting it directly in the book bag so it wouldn’t be lost.  That’s when she discovered the books, HER BOOKS.  She snatched them out of Virginia’s hands and stormed off.  She didn’t need to ask any questions.  This child was stealing.

By the time broken-hearted Virginia got to her house, her mother had already been called by the school principal and had left work early to deal with her daughter.  Even after she understood that Virginia had never intended to steal the books, she punished her daughter anyway for breaking the rule and lying to her mother about homework.  There were no books to read that night.  The next day at school, Mrs. Fineman chastised Virginia in front of the whole first grade then made her move her desk into a corner of the room so she could be ostracized from the group for her crime.

Virginia stopped reading.  She didn’t read another book until she was in sixth grade.  She faked her way through book reports and did the bare minimum on assigned reading.  Mrs. Fineman’s punishment still stung.  Luckily for all of us, Virginia slipped back into reading when she found a book on the school bus and couldn’t resist it anymore.

Obviously, the story didn’t end there.  Virginia went on to be the first person in her family to graduate from college, Wesleyan College.  She excelled in school and got her degree in Early Childhood Education.  While teaching for her day job and starting her family, she finished her Master’s and her PhD at Auburn University.  Virginia landed her dream job–professor of Education–then worked her way up to department chair.  She’s boundless.

And this next part of the story is why I love and respect her so very much.  Back in May, Virginia wanted to do a Kentucky Derby themed fundraiser at the business that she and her husband own, North Macon Crossfit.  She contacted the director of the equestrian center at Wesleyan to see if there was some project that could be funded with a couple hundred dollars.  The director came up with a perfect idea!  There was a young girl who hung out at the stable and helped care for the horses.  She wanted to attend the equestrian summer camp but her family didn’t have the money.  Enter Virginia and her generous friends and her giving heart.  They raised the money and made arrangements to surprise the girl with a scholarship to the summer camp she yearned for.

That little girl’s last name?  Fineman, of course.  Granddaughter of the first grade teacher who hadn’t taken the time to find out why Virginia had “stolen” all those books and returned them without a trace.  A teacher who couldn’t bend her rule to help a child who needed a little boost.  But Dr. Virginia Bowman Wilcox, Professor of Education, gave a little girl a leg up towards reaching her dream.  I asked her what she felt when she discovered the connection, if she wanted to wreak any kind of vengeance on Mrs. Fineman.  Nope, not a bit.  

Nothing stops Virginia.  She’s just that kind of kind.